Whenever I tell someone about the rules in my childhood church: no dancing, movies, cards, mixed swimming, eating out on Sunday, secular literature, theaters, circuses, carnivals, jeans, earrings, makeup...they ask "Were you Amish?"
No, but I have Amish roots.
My biological grandmother, Orpha Maye Young, was descended from an Amish family. LaGrange County, where she and my biological grandfather lived, has the largest Amish population in the United States. 30% of the county speaks Pennsylvania Dutch (their German dialect).
By the way, many Amish work in factories, not on farms, and some do, in fact, use electricity.
When I was growing up, our visits to Indiana often included Shipshewana, the Amish capital, about 20 miles from Aunt Nora's house in Rome City. On the way we saw the Amish trundling down the country roads in their horse-and-buggies.
Once we arrived, we saw them at the Flea Market, at the Country Store, and on the streets, groups of boys, young unmarried men (without beards), and married men (with beards), all wearing their trademark black woolen hats, long-sleeved homespun shirts, and black pants (fastened with buttons because the Bible doesn't mention zippers).
I found them fascinating, strangely erotic in spite of their attempt to appear modest. Or because of it.
I'm not the only one, judging from the popularity of reality tv programs like Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia, which seemed designed for the sole purpose of getting Amish men out of their clothes.
Not to mention fictional tv series like Two Broke Girls, in which the sleazoid pair does their best to corrupt two innocent Amish boys (Jack DePew, Brandon Jones, top photo).
The largest concentrations of Amish in the U.S. are in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania; they are extremely rare elsewhere. So I saw none while I was living in California or New York.
But in the summer of 2001, on my way from New York to Florida, I saw some in the most unlikely of places.
On the I-95 South, just after crossing the Florida-Georgia border, you come to one of those mega-rest stops with gas, a restaurant, a video arcade, a convenience store, showers for truckers, and who knows what else? I stopped, got gas, and sat down for a lunch of fried chicken, "dirty rice," and french fries.
Later I found out that there are bus companies that specialize in transporting the Amish from Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to Sarasota, Florida. Why wouldn't they want to go on vacation?
A dozen Amish men were heading to the rest room. I jumped up from my seat and headed there, too.
It was trough-style.
I took my place between an unmarried young man and a married older man, unzipped, and did my business while surreptitious glancing at my partners.
The older man unbuttoned his pants, pulled up his shirt, and pulled out an impressive-sized member. No underwear.
The younger guy pulled his rather smaller member from a pair of red bikini briefs.
Red bikini briefs?
I had to know more about this guy!
He smiled. "Yah, I got them at Penney's. I like yours, too."
Apparently he had been sneaking a peek at me while I was sneaking a peek at him!
But I was wearing regular white briefs. He must be referring to something else....
"Name's Amos. I'm eighteen in October."
"Boomer. Older than that."
We shook hands. He had a hard, firm handshake that he held a moment "too long."
Wearing underwear was against Amish policy, especially red underwear., Amos said. But the elders understood adolescent rebellion: "They don't get too mad if a teenager starts to wear fancy clothes. Or if he learns to drive a car, or goes to a movie."
"Or goes to a gay bar?"
Amos started to blush red around his ears, and looked the other way. "Nah, we don't like the gays too much. God wants you to get wife and children."
He didn't sound very enthusiastic. That, plus the red underwear -- and checking me out -- he was gay!
The other Amish were starting to lope toward the bus. .I only had a few seconds left.
"There are gay-friendly churches," I said. "You don't have to choose between gay and God. Do you go on the internet?"
"Yah. You think I'm a dope?"
"Search for 'Metropolitan Community Church.' They're all over."
He grinned. "Ok, thanks. I gotta go." He held out his hand for me to shake again. This time he squeezed it hard. "Bye, now."
It's been almost exactly 13 years since that day in June. Amos is 31 years old. I hope he's out and proud.
I hope our five-minute chat helped.
See also: The Bodybuilder and the Teenage Underwear Thief; and A Glimpse of Supreme Beauty at a Highway Rest Stop