I’ve been asked to continue to story of Joseph, whom you met as a first-grader in a story called The Sojourner. You can find it posted on Feb. 11, 2018, at dorisreidy.com.
Laughter from down the hall exploded into the room. Heads were raised from school books. Rueful smiles were exchanged. They were missing out, but they knew they should be used to it by now. Amish kids never saw movies.
Joseph squelched the guilty thought that he’d like to be with the rest of his class in the gym watching No Time for Sergeants. It sounded like fun, although he was told it was sinful. The population of the rural Indiana public school that compelled his attendance in 1958 was made up of predominately Mennonite and Amish students. None of them were allowed to attend a movie in a theater, but somehow it was deemed acceptable for the occasional film to be shown in school assembly as a special treat. Acceptable for Mennonites, that is. Amish kids were herded into one classroom where they were told to read quietly. Usually, the movies were religious in nature, but somehow the Andy Griffith comedy had sneaked in under the radar. Joseph and the rest of the Amish eighth-graders knew they’d be treated to a blow-by-blow description of the entire hilarious event with some scenes reenacted. They’d smile politely, but it was never that funny second-hand.
Eighth grade was the stopping point for Amish education in public schools. The grade would be repeated as many times as necessary until the legal leaving age of sixteen was reached. Joseph enjoyed his school years despite occasions like today, when he was reminded that he was different and would never really fit in. He was smart, Joseph was, and learning came easily to him. His report card was made up of straight A’s. Once he’d overheard his new, young, science teacher speaking confidentially to an older colleague.
“It’s just a shame that Joseph Hostetler can’t continue in school. He’s college material, sure to win an academic scholarship. The only way I can keep him interested is to let him work ahead of the class. If he had access to a top-notch science program, there’s no telling what he could become.”
“Just let it go,” the older teacher advised. “It’s not going to happen, and you don’t want to get crossways with the Amish community.”
Anyway, Joseph knew what he’d become: a farmer working in fields and barns and woodshops alongside his Pop. He’d known that since he was a toddler. His sisters would work with Mom, and they would all learn how to be sober, God-fearing Amish adults. It had seemed like a good life until about the time Joseph reached sixth grade. Then his mind seemed to catch fire. He wanted to know. He wanted to learn, even if he never had the occasion to use that knowledge in real life. His parents noticed and were concerned. They talked to him earnestly about the temptations of the English world and the importance of staying true to the Amish faith.
“This is where we belong,” Pop said. “ We aren’t better than anybody else, but always remember that just by living our lives as Amish, we are setting an example.”
It was a long speech for Pop. Joseph didn’t mention school much at home after that.
Anna May Miller caught his eye and smiled shyly. A couple of years ago, she would have winked or made a funny face. But now they were almost of courting age and it was no longer proper for her to do that. He smiled back. She was cute, with her blond braids in a coronet under her sheer white head covering. Joseph knew she liked him. They might even get married some day, if their parents approved. But that was a long way off, and meanwhile, they sat together in isolation, protected from the temptations of the world. Sometimes Joseph felt like his nose was pressed up against the window of that world.
“Do you ever think you’d like to go high?” he’d asked Anna May once. “Going high” and “being English” were Amish terms for those who left the church.
“Oh, no!” she answered, her eyes round with horror. “And be under the miting? Never go home again, never eat at the table with my family, or talk to my Mom and Pop? Oh, no, I’d never want to do that.”
Miting, or shunning, meant Amish families wouldn’t talk or eat with those who left the faith. It was a scary prospect, and although Joseph didn’t want that either, he couldn’t help envying his classmates who had so many options open to them. What if he could be a doctor? Or a school teacher? Those were the loftiest careers he could imagine. But he didn’t voice his thoughts to Anna May. No point in scaring her.
The English kids were returning to their classrooms, boisterous and loud as they repeated the jokes and acted out the funny scenes they’d just seen.
“I thought I’d die laughing when all those toilet seats went up!”
“And the manual dexterity test! ‘He did it completely wrong!’”
“And when Will had to take over for the radio operator!”
Joseph smiled and nodded, but he thought if he could change places with an English kid, he wouldn’t waste his time on films. He opened his history textbook to the unit on World War II and read a favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “It is not good enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
That seemed to sum up his life. So far. Could it ever be any different?