Inviting Strangers Home

My long-time friend, Lynn Erickson, wrote me about what happened in her life last Tuesday. It is a fascinating and edifying true story with a message. Here is what Lynn had to say.Dear Art,After your project about interpreting the quote on sweetest pleasures, I had to write you about Tuesday evening. While slightly off topic, the term “sweetest pleasures” best describes my night following a typically hectic day at work.I received a call from my daughter advising me of some commotion on our little back road – a covered wagon being pulled by four horses, displaying the following slogans in red paint: “Lancaster County to Mohawk Valley, NY… I Love New York Country” and, of course, “Mohawk Valley or Bust!!!”The four horse team was being driven by an Amish boy with a cast on his leg accompanied by three other young men – one in a Hawaiian style shirt carrying a red flag for traffic control, one with a leather vest and cowboy hat, and one sitting in the back of the wagon playing a guitar.You know I can’t resist a horse related story so I left the office to see if I could catch the spectacle. Gretchen said that traffic was backed up because of all the (other) gawkers stopping to take pictures. When I got within a mile of home, there they were, just as she described, stopped along the side of the road. I pulled alongside and asked if they needed help; the most pleasant young man with the broadest smile replied that they were just resting the horses.Their wagon looked too small to be carrying many supplies so I suggested they could water their horses a mile up the road at our farm. Omar (cowboy hat) thanked me and then sheepishly, with the same full grin, asked if we had a field where they could camp for the night. Sure I did.I drove home to tell the family that we were having company and to move horses around to make some room for their tired team. I was met with a mild rebuke concerning the fact that I would invite 4 strangers home. Kurt met the skepticism with “Yeah, I guess they could rob us blind and then, what, outrun us with a horse drawn wagon?”About twenty minutes later our horses started whinnying and dashing around the pastures as an unmistakable clop-clopping signaled the visitors’ arrival. Of course as the boys unhooked their team, I wanted to cross-examine them about the whys and wherefores but uncharacteristically refrained. We offered them the opportunity to hose off their horses. – as you recall it was quite hot and humid. We all pitched in and Gretchen gave their lovely well-cared for horses a liniment sponge bath. They had liniment for them but had never seen it done that way. They thought it a great idea and for some reason that tickled me.During these chores and chit chat, I discovered that these four young boys – younger than I first assumed – had decided to take their vacation by driving via Haflinger-drawn wagon from Lancaster County to upstate New York – a trip that would take about two weeks.At around this time, Omar asked me if they could have some of their friends come over and join them. I had one kid dressed in Amish attire, three “regular” young men, and now they wanted to bring a bunch of others along to party. In my mind, it occurred to me the family was right in their suspicion. I half-reluctantly agreed and cautioned against a major festival. Omar smiled and said he thought it would be quiet.Thirty minutes later a van pulled up and unloaded fifteen or so people of varying ages, from child to elder – all clad in traditional Amish attire – with all the fixings for a grand picnic. Not wanting to disturb us as per my caution, the men dragged the wagon up behind the riding ring and set up their temporary camp. What struck me, besides my modern-times suspicion, was their gentle peace and the simple joy they had in a plain ole’ picnic and enjoying each other’s company.When I did night check on the horses, the sweet giggles, pleasant conversation, and the sounds of cicadas and evening birds was just too attractive. In the twilight I cautiously strolled up to their encampment and told them they could build a fire if they wanted from the wood in the shed. (Bill-the-cabdriver-to-the-Amish, as he calls himself, had advised me that he expected to be waiting for his fare for several hours). Omar met me with questions about – get this – mapquest! He was joined by the elder and a half-dozen young boys, ostensibly to help in hauling wood. As I asked how he knew about mapquest, I realized that I had become the object of curiosity. Unlike the Amish, I was quite aware of being scrutinized and found myself hedging my words and walk. While I close all my emails wishing the recipient the peace that I thought I was enjoying, I realized that night that I had so much to learn about real peace. The four young men were Amish despite the attire and guitar, roller blades, and cell phone. They were happy young men without blasting rebellious music and optimistic despite the long road ahead. Meeting them that night – and plotting a country road route via mapquest with a fascinated Omar in my living room yesterday morning – was the sweetest pleasure of this summer.Peace…as redefined,Lynn*Images: Lynn Erickson, 2007

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