Excerpt from Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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To Be or Not to Be Amish

by Tom Shachtman

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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 304 pages
    May 2007, 304 pages

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As the party gets into full swing, and beer and pot are making the participants feel no pain, a few Amish girls huddle and make plans to jointly rent an apartment in a nearby town when they turn eighteen, as some older girls have already done. Others shout in Pennsylvania Dutch and in English about how much it will cost to travel to and attend an Indianapolis rock concert, and the possibilities of having a navel pierced or hair cut buzz short. One bunch of teens dances to music videos shown on a laptop computer; a small group of guys, near a barn, distributes condoms.

As such parties wear on, the Amish youth become even less distinguishable from their English peers, shedding their demureness, mimicking the in-your-face postures of the mainstream teen culture, with its arrogance, defiance, raucousness, inner-city-gang hand motions and exaggerated walking stances.

“The English girls prefer us Amish guys because we’re stronger and better built and we party harder,” insisted one young Amish man at a similar party. Another countered that it is because the Amish guys have more money in their pockets—the result of not having to spend much on food and shelter, since most of them are living at home. The English guys are also partial to the Amish young ladies, this young man added, because Amish girls are “more willing than English girls to get drunk.” Of temptation-filled parties like this, one Amish young woman will later comment, “God talks to me in one ear, Satan in the other. Part of me wants to be Amish like my parents, but the other part wants the jeans, the haircut, to do what I want to do.”

Couples form and head off into the darkness. Some petting goes further than exploration, and this night one of the girls who earlier walked that country lane loses her virginity. Another partygoer becomes pregnant; several weeks from now, when she realizes it, she will simply advance her wedding date so that her child, as with about 12 percent of first births among the Amish, will be born before her marriage is nine months old. This evening, as well, a few female partygoers will bring boys home, and, with their parents’ cognizance, spend the night in “bed courtship,” on the girls’ beds but “bundled” separately.

During parties like this, as the hours wear on, the boys frequently damage property. There are fistfights; one partygoer recalled a particularly bad incident in which a lad in a fit of bloody rage ripped the earring stud from another young man’s ear. At first light, the farm’s owners and their children move about the area, to herd in and milk the cows. One farmer’s daughter, spotting a partygoer about to throw up, smilingly hands her an empty pail.

An hour later, the sun is fully up, but most of the exhausted partygoers in various sheltered locations around the back acres are still asleep. Undisturbed, they will wake again near noon. Some have made plans to go to a mall, twenty miles away, to shop and see a movie before continuing the party tomorrow evening in another semideserted location.

Near Shipshe, Berlin, and Intercourse, those Amish youngsters walking on the wild side of rumspringa during this weekend will party on until, late on Sunday, they return home to sober up and ready themselves for Monday and the workweek. Most have no plans to tell their parents, upon returning to the family hearth, precisely where they have been for the previous forty-eight hours, or with whom they spent their “going away” time. While the parents may well ask such questions, the children feel little obligation to answer them.

Excerpted from Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Shachtman. Published in June 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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