My ankles brush against the tall dewy blades of grass as my brother (I'll call him Derek) and I trek down the apple orchard towards a rustic white barn house nestled into the side of the valley. From where I was standing, I could see the clusters of billowing skirts and rustling straw hats-- the tell-tale signs of an Amish family reunion.
Wading deeper into the hillside, Derek and I catch the eyes of some Amish relatives-- they look us up and down. I can tell the cogs are moving; these must be Samuel's kids. Looking around me, I notice the women are wearing dresses that barely brush the ankle of their Dr. Martins-- not to mention their white coverings that no doubt cocoon their waist-long locks. Suddenly, I am very self-conscious of my curly chin-length hair, my dress as it only reaches my mid-thigh, and my exposed purple toenails.
Not long after, Derek and I find a picnic table placed under the shade of a large oak tree-- a perfect location to play cards. Jake's eyebrows wiggle as he whips out his pristine deck of cards, setting up a game of Gin. It gets pretty lively, I start wooting and booing, not aware of the growing number of skeptical gazes landing on the back of my head.
Later, I would find out from my father that playing cards, to our Amish family, is the same as gambling. And gambling is sinful-- so therefore our game of Gin was sinful. Not to mention the alcoholic beverage brought to mind in the game's name.
And then I get a tap on the shoulder. It's my great uncle Irvin, looming over the picnic table. "Would you like to join our croquet game?"
I'm beaming. An opportunity to play a game with my Amish family-- what a great way to bridge this seemingly gigantic cultural gap.
We all congregate around the flattest chunk of land on the property, equipped with our croquet mallets and matching balls. I won't narrate the entire game, but let's just say I was making a remarkable come-back and then . . .
Clunk. I watch the glistening croquet ball pave a path in the grass towards the wicket-- however it veers left as it comes into contact with a rock. Reacting to the significant blunder, I blurt loudly, "Dang it!" I could swear now that the words echoed throughout the entire valley.
Immediately, I shove my hand over my mouth and glance around me, gauging the responses. My great uncles give me the hairiest eyeballs they can muster and their wives stare at me in shock. My cheeks flush in embarrassment and I try to appear nonchalant as I slowly withdraw from my croquet ball and gesture to the next player.
To me, "dang it" is a completely innocent verbal exclamation. However, to my Amish family, I had just uttered a "byword"-- a word used in place of an actual swear word (in this case I was substituting "dang" for "damn"). To them, "dang" is just as nasty as "damn" because I'm still thinking about the swear word when I say "dang"-- I'm still sinning regardless of my substitution.
It's easy for me to forget that my Amish relatives are very sensitive to bywords. And me blurting one out in the midst of a serene croquet game, was beyond inappropriate.
Ever since I was born, I have attended numerous Amish and Mennonite (religious cousins of the Amish) family reunions. Every time I go, I feel like the sore thumb. I appear to be the cosmopolitan alien plaguing them with my worldly influence. However, when we get past our differences, we can have a quite amiable conversation about my younger brothers, school, and how delicious the yamazetti (a popular casserole consisting of noodles, ground beef, Velveta, and mushroom soup) is. Those are the times when I discover how much we still have in common, despite our radically different beliefs and outward appearances.