Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mennonite Grocery Sandal Scandal

I shop for groceries at as many as five places: The local Weis Market, a modern, typical grocery store; the local Super Walmart for a few items that are crazy expensive elsewhere; the Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and the Flea Market on Thursdays for fresh and often local produce; and the nearby Mennonite grocery store where nearly everything is amazingly inexpensive.

I call it the Mennonite grocery store because every woman I’ve seen working there wears traditional Mennonite dresses and bonnets. Mennonites are not far removed from the Amish, and the similarities apparently appeal to the local Amish population: there’s a hitching rail in the parking lot, and on most Wednesdays several Amish buggies pull up and their riders step out to shop.

On a particular Wednesday, the Amish shoppers arrived wearing what I imagined was their most formal attire: the men wore dark pants, button shirts, jackets, leather dress shoes, and black hats—altogether natty. The women wore dark dresses and heavy bonnets.

I, on the other hand, had chosen an old tee shirt, shorts, and sandals (without socks). Oh, the scandal!

At first, I paid no thought to my attire; I dress this way often, as do many of my fellow Americans. But then, at the end of the “oops, we backed a truck over it cereal” aisle (there’s a reason things are inexpensive in the Mennonite grocery store), I noticed a young Amish boy in his dress finest pointing at my feet with one hand, and trying to hide a laugh with his other hand.

I wasn’t mortified; but I was suddenly very self-conscious. Do Amish, I wondered, have a dress code against sandals? Do my bare ankles offend? How fortunate for me that the adults showed restraint about my apparently tasteless foot gear!

I stewed about this for months; I even took to wearing socks and shoes on my Wednesday shopping trips.

In time, I came to believe that my sandals hadn’t been scandalous in the first place. Many patrons of the Mennonite grocery store wear sandals without socks… and there’s no doubt: if you live in the United States, you’re going to see a lot of naked ankles. So, I’m back to wearing sandals on my Wednesday shopping trips.

Still, I wonder: whatever could that Amish boy have found so funny about my feet?

My Feet

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rural Moonglow

Here’s something I enjoy a few times every month or so: moonglow. It occurred to me recently, that moonglow might be a completely unknown phenomenon to someone who lives in the city. Sure, city dwellers see the moon, but they also see the light from thousands of electric-powered lights; except during a power outage, there’s never a time when the moon lights up a city. Often in the countryside, the moon provides the only light.

To appreciate moonglow, it helps first to appreciate darkness. On an overcast night, when the moon is down—or when the clouds are particularly thick, it can be very dark indeed. In the city, I never wandered into a place even vaguely as dark. These nights aren’t light-free; in a small town, there is always light bouncing off the clouds, and your eyes adjust so you can make out shapes in the darkness.

However, get rid of the clouds and the moon, and the world becomes impressively dark—still not so dark that your eyes won’t adjust, but dark enough that you can’t make out textures and changes in surfaces. Is there someplace you can experience this level of darkness without fleeing the city? Maybe in a windowless room with the lights off, but with a dim frame of light leaking in around the door. If there’s digital equipment throwing off blue, red, green, or orange light, you’ve got it too bright for comparison.

When I first step out into a night so dark, I step slowly, and feel for the stairs with my feet. Even after five minutes, I can’t make out shapes along the side of the road; looking into the distance, I might be able to make out a tree, a tree line, or a house against the sky—but the darkness has almost no texture at all where I happen to be walking.

In contrast, it’s astonishing how bright the night can be when lighted by a full moon. Holding a book or a newspaper, with 20/20 vision, you can read by moonlight. It can be bright enough not only to see shapes, but to make out colors—though barely. Once your eyes adjust to the moonlight, you can walk and play outdoors reasonably effectively without other light sources. And on a clear, moonlit night when the land is covered in snow? Wow!

This isn’t some amazing discovery, but it seems worth mentioning for people who have never experienced it. Take a trip some time: go where there is no concentration of streetlights, cars, and porch lights—far from a city. Find a secluded road or path and walk it at night not just once, but on several nights. See what it’s like moonless (walk cautiously), and compare it with another night when the moon is up—and maybe even full.

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Also, please visit my blogs about growing your own vegetables and fruit: Your Small Kitchen Garden and Your Home Kitchen Garden

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Small Town Values

I enjoy the comedy of John Stewart on the Daily Show, and was quite amused on Friday by his piece on small town values. (Follow this link if you want to see it.) Ignoring the political focus of the segment, I imagined myself trying to answer the question, “What, exactly, are small town values?” It’s a challenging exercise.

Uniquely Small Town Values?

The only value I can think of that may be uniquely small town is that of preferring to live in a small town. After that, it seems you can find any “small town value” in every community… and you can find just about any “value” imaginable in a small town.

Lewisburg, for example, has people who value education, who value religion, who value family, who value friends, who value health, who value stuff, who value freedom, who value their careers, who value community, who value sports, and who value TV shows. There are folks here who value their own interpretations of right and good to the degree that they expect everyone to share those interpretations. Other folks value diversity so much that they won’t express a position on either side of an issue. In short, there is absolutely nothing that makes “small town values” any different from what nearly every American would refer to as “values.”

If you want to politicize the notion of small town values, consider that there are Christian-raised, small-town, family-loving folk who are drug addicts, pregnant but not married, divorced, kleptomaniacs, rude, war-mongering, hateful, and all kinds of less-than-perfect. You can find a whole bunch of similar folks living in cities. I believe that neither small-town- nor urban-America would claim these as their values.

And Your Values?

While I haven’t been able to pin down what makes values “small town,” I have noticed a significant difference in how people relate to their values. My acquaintances in the city were never shy to reveal their points of view… but they also rarely injected moral, religious, or political commentary into a conversation. In small town USA—at least in the small town USA I know—for many people, religiousness is almost a calling card; sometime during a first meeting, it’s common to be asked what church you attend.

So, based on my experiences, I can add a second value to my short list of small town values: making sure other folks know what you value.

Across the US, our core values as basically the same. We differ in interpretation, in expression, in policy, and in behavior… but ask us what we value, and the answers will be boringly consistent. No group, organization, region, city, or town has a lock on values… Go ahead: ask anyone.

For the complete City Slipper experience, visit my web site at

Also, please visit my blogs about growing your own vegetables and fruit: Your Small Kitchen Garden and Your Home Kitchen Garden