Do young Amish men drive motor vehicles? For most non-Amish adolescents, acquiring a license at age 16 or thereabouts–usually followed by a beater of a car–is an assumed rite of passage.
For Amish youth–many of whom enjoy freedoms similar to that of non-Amish during their “running around” years–the choice is not so obvious.
While it’s safe to say the majority do not, more than a few Amish youth do get their hands on cars, particularly in faster settlements like northern Indiana and Holmes County, Ohio.
With that in mind, Jim Cates shares the story of one young Amish man’s foray into the world of motor vehicles.
A Young (Amish)Man’s Fancy
Men and cars. To speak in generalities for just a moment, women do not develop a bond with their vehicles the way men do. Especially young men. As in adolescents. Even Amish adolescents, who are supposedly protected from such worldly pursuits.
For when an Amish boy’s longing turns to the devil’s playground, where can he go? Music, alcohol and parties are passé these days. No, in the larger and more liberal settlements the vehicle, that symbol of the world, is guaranteed to drive the most tolerant parent to the brink of despair. And yet the power, speed, and control the motorized vehicle offers, from the pick-up to the little sports number, is a Siren’s song luring many a young man to disaster. And so it was, on a hot summer day, a youngster whom we shall call Aaron took his life savings – a few hundred dollars – and arrived home with his newly purchased pride and joy, a car.
Bear in mind, at this point Aaron proudly possessed a learner’s permit without a driver’s license, had neither insurance nor money for insurance, and nowhere to garage a car. He was, therefore, planning to leave it on his parent’s farm on this beautiful Friday afternoon. They would be hosting church on Sunday. I should also mention this was not just any car. This was a 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible.
If, perchance, in the intervening 50-plus years you have forgotten what a 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible looked like, it was a battleship of a car, with the pronounced tailfins that were still de rigueur in the 1960s. It had beautiful, sleek lines and purred down the highway. With the top down it announced to any and all who saw it that it was the “King of cars.”
In the early years of the 21st century, this one needed help. A lot of help. In point of fact, if the disciples had to choose between the resurrection of this car or Lazarus, they probably would have still chosen Lazarus. It was a miracle in itself that he was able to drive it home. The one good point was that no one knew who he was. No one could see him through the smoke billowing out the exhaust pipe as it burned almost equal amounts of oil and gas.
It so happened that I was meeting Aaron’s parents that Friday evening, and was playing taxi for another Amish couple who were meeting with us as well. Aaron’s parents were last on the route, so the other couple was in my car as we pulled into their drive. And there, partially hidden behind the barn was “Lizzie,” as he had chosen to name this behemoth.
At that point however, none of us knew that we were viewing Aaron’s “Lizzie.” All we knew was that above us on the hill, behind a carefully tended Amish barn and in front of a field full of carefully tended Amish cows protruded four feet of rusted and bondo’d Lincoln Continental tailfins. At first, no one spoke. And then, looking appropriately guilty, Aaron walked from behind both barn and car.
He smiled painfully and waved hello, his hand jerking upward so awkwardly he looked like a puppetmaster had pulled the string for a marionette. We alighted and stood for a moment, unsure what to do or say next. And in a teaching moment for parents everywhere, the Amish man with me, a father of several adult sons, said “That’s a fine looking car. Let’s have a look.” We all trooped out to inspect Lizzie as Aaron’s parents walked to the door. Another moment of tension ensued as Aaron and his father made eye contact. And yet, I swear I saw a twinkle in his father’s eye before he said, in a gruff and frustrated tone, “Might as well go see it. It’s going to be here for a while.”
I was given to understand that Lizzie was towed to an older brother’s farm before Sunday. Apparently the drive to Aaron’s was too much for her, and she refused to start again. She was also the first in a string of vehicles he purchased as time went by, although the latter were properly titled, registered, insured, and driven under legal license as well.
And in a few years Aaron began to consider the future in a bit more somber fashion than he had previously done, and quietly sold the last of the line to another Amish youth just beginning the Rumspringa run. And when his daughter was born, I asked if he had thought about naming her Elizabeth. His wife, who knows his history well, very firmly told me “no.” No need to recall his wild youth any more than necessary. Except of course, when it can bring a smile, and remind us that even the most indiscrete youth can turn into the most mature adults.
Jim Cates is the author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals. He can be contacted through this blog or his website at servingtheamish.net.
Image credit: improbcat/flickr