Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pennsylvania Dutch

Two days ago, I woke up and said to myself, "you know, I think I want to be part of a Mennonite shingling crew today." This day was to be one of, if not the most, interesting days I have had at CAP thus far.

The day started out with Ross and I up on the roof here in Macon County Tennessee, trying once again to figure out how to shingle a roof with limited experience, limited time, and limited tools. Last week, we had been rescued by Emanuel, our Mennonite friend who happened to be passing through. Emanuel is a general contractor and seemingly by Providence, happened to be randomly driving by, saw our work site, and helped us to shingle a part of the giant roof we were working on. But now he was gone and Ross and I were left to fend for ourselves.

Just as we were getting started, we saw a white truck pull up. We both gasped in amazement and sheer disbelief. "It can't be..." I said. To which Ross replied, "Oh yeah, check out the hat...he's back!" Emanuel had come back to work with us, and he had brought a buddy who had one of the sweetest beards I had ever seen! Turns out, Emanuel's buddy, named Toby, is a Mennonite as well and also a professional roofer. Toby was the man when it came to roofing. He had on a pair of tan coveralls, a stocking hat, and his tool belt worn from many many years of construction. I asked him how long he had been growing his beard out, to you know, try to form some beard fellowship. He replied, "uh, I don't know...forever I guess."

So, Ross, Emanuel, Toby, and I started to fly on the roof, laying down row after row of shingles. And, I thought to myself how fortunate we were and how it literally couldn't get any better. Then, just as I was thinking this, an entire bus of Old School Mennonites pulled up looking for work. Our jaws dropped. Here were 30 Emanuels ready to work.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Mennonites are similar to Amish people in many respects. Christian, pacifists, and very anti-modern and simple. However, there are various sects of Mennonite. Emanuel and Toby were in a way "new school Mennonite." They will use power tools, drive cars, etc. The bus full of men who pulled up were "old school Mennonites." They used no power tools, wore black, dark blue home made clothes, did not talk much, and kept to themselves. A perfect example of their anti-modernity was that when someone tried to take a picture of them, they turned away so as to avoid it because it is a modern, computerized device. Oh, and most of the old schoolers have beards. Both old school and new school speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a variation on German, I suppose.

So, as the bus pulled up, Emanuel says to Ross and I, "I'm going to yell down to them in Sherman (Pennsylvania Dutch) and see what they do! a heh heh heh!!" (At this point, Emanuel told us that he was an ex-Amish and we gathered that he was kind of a renegade and a trouble maker, but all in good fun). Emanuel also said, "They would really be upset if they knew that the camera from earlier is actually my camera, a heh heh heh!" Toby then said, "Oh boy, they won't want to work with us, they'll probably go work on another project." He was right. The old school Mennonites went to work on another job and we continued working.

However, during lunch, Emanuel went over to the bus of old school Mennonites and started talking with them in their language. He returned to us and said some of them might come work with us. Twenty minutes later or so, four old schoolers came over... Elam, their Foreman of sorts, asked only one question, "Do you mind if we work with you?" I said, "We'd be gad to have you." Then, the four of them started ardently measuring and laying shingles. They spoke very little while working and when they did speak, it was in Pennsylvania Dutch. Toby and Emanuel would run the nail guns because the Old schoolers would not use power tools of any sort. It was quite interesting to see the old and the new ways of working melding together to form an unstoppable shingling force.

As time went on, more and more old schoolers came up on the roof until there were 25 Mennonites ripping off old shingles and laying down new ones. All of the CAP people got off the roof, except for me. Elam would come over and check in with me from time to time, just seeing how our progress was going. I told him about CAP and he said, "It's nice to work together isn't it." It certainly was, they were dominating the roof like you wouldn't believe. They were like a machine (ironically), a human shingling machine that was nearly flawless and as efficient as you could imagine. They used no nail guns but just got in a long row, hammers in hand, and went up the roof, shingling old school style. When I realized I was the last CAP person there, I asked Elam what I could do. He said, "Get in the line." So that's what I did, I fell in with the other Mennonites and began hammering my way up the roof.

Fiver or Six of them came up and talked to me, just very basic things like where I was from. The rest of the time they were talking in Sherman (Penn. Dutch) They would laugh and smile from time to time, but mostly just worked very hard and efficiently. I did my best to keep up and not to embarrass myself. One of the men asked me if I spoke Pennsylvania Dutch and if I could understand them. I said, "No. Not at all ... are you talking about me?" He chuckled and said, "Oh no, heh heh heh."

After we had completed the roof, I thanked Elam for teaching me how to shingle Mennonite style and for all they had done. He just said thanks and we shook hands. Then, all the old schoolers quietly got on their bus and left. I waved goodbye, but all left without a word, save for Elam. Sherry, our manager for the trip said, "That's now Mennonites work, they come in quietly, do the best job you can imagine, and leave quietly. They don't stay for all the patting on the back."

I felt much like I was participating in a barn raising. It was such a blessing to work with such hard, dedicated workers who were so different from me and who seemed to hearken back to an ancient time of community living. I could have easily been in the 17th century doing a roof on a house. It was just neat, what can I say. I also have a theory that they accepted me mainly because of my huge red beard. Later, a couple of the workers that were with us thought that I actually was Mennonite. When I came back to the gym for dinner, they said to me, "you're with us! ... we thought you were one of them." Maybe it's time to shave ... no, it's not.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful story, Andrew, my "official" stance on men and facial hair has been eliminated. Now, you don't have to worry about eliminating your beard! (i know that's been keeping you up at night.)

Your friends did so much more that help with a roof.

P.S. Did you give them our address?

Christopher J said...

How could you dare to shave it when it is your secret latch-key to unlocking all sorts of free and interesting adventures--not to mention help!

There may come a time though, my friend, when it only unlocks trouble and division... Beware!

Anonymous said...

Mother put in the first anonymous, FYI.

I recommend you get a copy of the Harrison Ford movie "Witness" and enjoy it now that you have lived part of it.

There is little more you will ever enjoy more within your work or volunteer life than to work on and with a team of unassuming volunteers, quietly, energetically and ernestly working on a big project with smiles and no need for praise.

Remember this day and use it to fuel you when you need it.

taye said...

im so jealous...should have stayed i guess. do not shave the beard.....i repeat do not shave the beard!

KJ said...

U sprekt un klein beitj (Pennsylvania) Nederlands? Goed werkt!