Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mennonites and Old Men

Leaving KC Airport we witnessed a rare sight…millions (okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there were MANY) Mennonites. We thought, “how odd…don’t they denounce all things modern and chose a life of utmost simplicity?”…we were totally perplexed as were most travelers coming and going.

We got to Atlanta and while we were sitting having a bite to eat, up walks one of the Mennonites that was on our plane from KC, and sits down at our table with us…without a word. No pleasantries, just pulled out his chair sat down, opened his McDonald’s bag, took out his Quarter Pounder and started to eat. He then realized he didn’t have napkin.
Mark kindly handed him a napkin and thus began our conversation:

“Thank you”, he grinned gratefully, “You’re welcome”, our eyes smiling back.
I asked, “Did you just arrive from Kansas City? I believe you were on our flight”.
“Why yes! I was at a brethren conference south of Lawrence KS”. This reply really peeked my interest…”A conference?” “Yes we have an annual conference every year. This year it was in Lawrence. 7,000 in attendance!” (okay…I think 7000 mennonites traveling from all over the USA equates to millions!) Of course questions are just swirling in my head (isn’t it against your beliefs to travel using modern means? What do you do at the conference?) but I refrain from letting them fly out of my mouth. He goes on to tell us it great fun and that he goes every year traveling between CA, PA, KS and his congregation in Florida. He was on his way to Germany, just outside of Frankfurt where there was going to be a huge 300 year anniversary celebration. (I’m beginning to think it’s all a façade and Mennonites just like to party!) Whatever his life entails it does him well…he’s 86 years old and looked more like 65...even if his long white beard tried to tell his real age. As he wishes us well and leaves us, Mark and I say to each other at the same time…”maybe there is something to be said for the simple life”.

Speaking of old men and the simple life…another perhaps even more random run-in occurred on our way to watch the Giro d’Italia. As the road weaves though pastures and old hillside towns, we would wave and shout “ciao” out our windows to the townspeople. Most people just waved and shouted their greeting of choice, “Ciao!” “Buon Giorno!” in response…but there was one little old man that shuffled his way into the middle of the road in front of our car so we had to stop.

We stopped (Mark with slight look of “oh crap” on his face) and he came around to my window…talking non-stop Italian in a dialect we REALLY couldn’t understand (or maybe his slurring was because he had dentures/no teeth?). Before we could say “non parlo Italiano molto bene”, like a flash, he was in the back seat of the car!!!

Mark and I looked at each other with a “what do we do now?!?” as he continues to rattle in Italian…”go, go! drive, drive!”. Somehow I decipher that he wants to go to he next town. He asks us our names, we answer and I think he tells us his, but can’t be sure. He sits in the back seat with his hands neatly folded in his lap looking ever so dapper in his nice shoes, suit and cap (quintessential attire for Italian men of his age – which by the way, we think is probably at least 86 like our Mennonite friend only his weathered skin and craggily smile show his true age…life in the Abruzze is simple, but rugged). We arrive at the next town and he starts in again with his strange version of Italian, so we assume he wants us to stop and let him out. We stop, he opens the door gets out, “grazie” and with a wave, he leaves us. As we drive off, we see him shuffle his way down the street, continuing on with his day as this was his routine.

Mark and I have to wonder which incident was more random ... A jetsetting, McDonald’s eating Mennonite or an old Italian gentleman who hitchhikes with American strangers for transportation? Whichever, both are reminders that you never know what you’ll encounter on your travels.

Ciao Ciao

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