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    Mac Rountree
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Discovering Home - 20. Meet the Family


“Why would you need to speak to my father?”

Sidney was chuckling to himself, thinking of how over the top Sean was being. His brother was at his mischievous best.

“Well, this will be a Philadelphia society wedding, and we need to start the planning. Events like this take time and money.”

Eli had no color in his face.

“I’m sorry. I need to leave. I am not feeling well.”

Eli put Clay back in his chair, kissed Sidney, and practically ran out the door.

Sidney and Sean sat in befuddlement.

“What just happened?”

“I don’t know, Sean, but I think you scared off my boyfriend. I think it has to do with his family.”

“Well, tell me about his family.”

“I don’t know anything other than he grew up in eastern Pennsylvania somewhere. He is always vague when I ask him about his time growing up.”

“You need to get to the bottom of this. I have never seen Eli like that.”

Eli ran out of the house and threw up in the bushes. He had left his family behind, thinking he would never have to deal with them again. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He found the love of his life, and now it was over. Nobody could know about his past. They just couldn’t. Sidney would never speak to him again, and Sean would probably make light of it. They wouldn’t understand. He walked around the block to where he had parked his motorcycle. Damn, he had bought Sidney a helmet the day before, hoping they would ride together. He would return it for a refund because it was obvious that the Rector of an Episcopal Church wouldn’t want a former Amish man for a husband.

Eli grew up in Lancaster County, PA., actually, between Bird in Hand and Lancaster. His family had a large farm that they had tending since coming from Germany in the 1740s. The farm had been passed down to the oldest son through generations, and he was the oldest son of the oldest son. He had ten younger siblings. One day the farm would be his, along with all of the responsibilities. He grew up plowing fields, tending chickens, working in the woodworking shop, and driving his mother in the buggy every Tuesday and Saturday to the farmer’s market in downtown Lancaster. During the planting and harvesting seasons, he would drop his mother off and then head back to the farm to work for a few hours before coming back into town.

It was a Tuesday morning, which was generally slower in sales than on Saturday, that Eli first saw Jason. Eli was out by the buggy when a handsome boy walked past and then turned and looked at him. They both started smiling. Eli couldn’t help himself after looking at the teenage boy. Jason approached him. Eli was too shy to initiate a conversation with the boy from town. It was clear he wasn’t Amish; he wore store-bought clothes. He looked like he had a lot of money.

They had spent an hour chatting when Eli saw his mother approaching. His cheeks reddened as he told Jason he had to leave and ran to help his mother. She saw him talking to a boy but decided to keep that to herself. His marriage to a girl in a neighboring family had already been arranged. In another year, he would be old enough to marry her. Eli’s mother had already confirmed that the girl was a hard worker and would be able to contribute to the family farm.

After packing the few things that did not sell, they headed back to the farm. Luckily, Eli’s mother was an excellent cook, and almost everything she made had been sold at the market. Often, there was nothing to take home except the money she had collected during the day. Today, there was a shoo-fly pie that had not sold and some bread. He loved the shoo-fly pie and would have a slice with a glass of milk after supper when he went to the barn to have some time alone. It was almost impossible to find any time by himself with such a large family. He would climb into the hayloft to think and dream until it was altogether night. His father would sometimes poke his head out the backdoor and call his name. More than once, he had to put himself back in his pants and try to rearrange his man bits before climbing down the ladder and running across the yard. One time he had beat-off, and as he was squeezing past his father through the door opening, his father sniffed the air. He grabbed Eli by the shoulder and sniffed again. He then smiled. He patted Eli on the shoulder and told him to wash up good before going to bed. Eli and a younger brother shared a bed. In the winter, it wasn’t unusual for the children to be wrapped around each other to keep warm. There was a fireplace in the front room and another in the kitchen, which also heated the house. Eli would be the first one up, break the ice in the water pitcher before pouring water into a basin to wash his face before heading downstairs for breakfast. The food was plentiful and hearty. After their chores, they came into the house for school lessons. After lunch, all of the children would work on the farm. The boys would be working on equipment or in the woodworking shop, and the girls would be sewing, washing, or cooking.

Eli wasn’t able to go to the next market in town, and his younger brother Abraham drove their mother. Eli had promised Jason that he would see him, but he couldn’t help it. There was no way to call him. Eli didn’t even know Jason’s last name, which didn’t matter since they didn’t have a telephone. When Abraham came back from the market, Eli wanted to ask if a fellow named Jason had asked for him. He knew he wouldn’t be able to explain if Abraham wanted to know how he knew a town boy.

The next market, Eli had Tina and Tiny, the two horses, at a fast trot into town. His mother asked him why he was in such a hurry. Eli said he wasn’t in a hurry, but he wanted to keep the horses in training in case he needed to be in a hurry, which he wasn’t. His mother just looked at him and smiled. There was no sign of Jason until the last few minutes before the market closed. Eli’s insides were in a knot all morning, wondering where his new friend might be. Finally, he showed up, and they both apologized for missing the other. They were grinning at each other when Eli’s mother came and introduced herself to Jason. She said that everything had sold, and she had a couple of empty bread baskets in her hands to take back. She told Jason it was nice to meet him, but they must get back to the farm.

Nothing was said all of the way back to the farm. Eli’s mother hummed an old German hymn tune as she looked at the cornfields. She was deeply disturbed by what she had observed. She had grown up in the Amish community and had a brother who had run away when he was eighteen. Her brother was always different. He did what was expected, but he took no joy in the work. He was handsome, and all of the girls chased after him. He paid them no attention. One morning when the family came down for breakfast, he wasn’t there. He had left during the night. No one heard of him again. She didn’t want her oldest son to leave in the middle of the night, but he too was handsome, well-built, quiet, and had no use for girls. She could see his need sometimes through his trousers. It was quite noticeable and made her think of the horses in the barn and her husband on nights when they made love.

Eli went about his chores when he got home, but his mind was on the handsome boy in town. It was during this spell of inattention that he dropped a piece of lumber on his foot. Eli fell to the floor in pain. He was in the woodworking shop, and someone came immediately to help. After getting him to the house, his mother wrapped his foot, and put him to bed. When his toes turned purple, his father contacted a doctor. The doctor arrived and declared that he had broken his foot and needed surgery to repair it. The doctor said that since it had been a week since the break, they needed to take Eli to a specialist. When Eli’s father asked what would happen if he didn’t have the surgery, he was told of three possible outcomes: a lifelong inability to walk on that foot, amputation of the toes and feet, or finally, death from gangrene. No man could run a farm with only one good leg, so Eli underwent surgery. Eli was reminded of that every day afterward because the money from the farmer’s market went to the doctor and the hospital to pay for his care.

It was while he was lying in the hospital bed one day that he saw a familiar face. It was Jason who was volunteering at the hospital. He couldn’t believe that Eli was a patient. Jason promised to return the next day when he was not volunteering, so the two could spend time together. As he was leaving the room, Eli's mother was coming in to visit. She saw Jason and recognized him. She convinced the doctor that Eli had to leave that afternoon. She promised that she would take care of him and do as the doctor ordered. The doctor reluctantly agreed, knowing the family had no insurance. A neighbor from the next farm brought a buckboard to the hospital and loaded Eli in the back, where he rested on a pallet of quilts. The ride was rough as the team of horses trotted down the country roads. The sun was setting, and being on the road in a buckboard after dark was dangerous. They made it back to the farm just as the sun was going down. The farmer said he would walk home and come back the next day for the horses and buggy. Abraham was sent to the barn to unhitch them, feed them, and brush them after their workout that afternoon.

A bed was moved into the downstairs front room as there was no way Eli could climb the steps. Eli lay in bed grieving for a love that never was. He had no privacy as fall moved into winter. His mother would try to bathe him, but he protested. He didn’t want his mother to touch his most private places. He would have his mother heat some water, pour it into a basin, bring it into the room, and then leave. His younger brothers would help him to the outhouse once a day to do his business. He was living a fairly miserable life. His father would ask at least every other day what was on his mind that he would drop a timber on his foot. Eli kept saying he didn’t know, but his father was suspicious.

After Eli was able to walk, his father said that Abraham would continue to go to market with their mother. Eli was gutted. Abraham would come back and talk about the pretty Amish girls who worked at the market. Their father swelled with pride and said that maybe one would agree to be his wife. Their mother would get misty-eyed when she thought of Abraham choosing a bride. When she would mention to Eli that he was to get married that summer, he would just stare at her and say nothing. His mother would then say that she had started making a wedding quilt for his marriage bed.

Eli never went back to the farmer’s market.

Planting season was generally difficult, with long hours working in the fields. Eli was still favoring his left foot, thinking he would never be able to walk normally again. By the time he would get home at night, he would untie the laces to his work boots, and his foot would be red and angry looking. He would prop it on a pillow at night, and the next morning he would stuff it back into his work boot.

Also, that spring, he sat with Emily at church on Sunday mornings. It was their social time together before the wedding. Emily felt that she had gotten the best hand in life because her future husband would inherit a large, profitable farm. She was the envy of many of the girls. Eli died a little each week.

The week before the wedding, the barn was cleaned, and tables were put together for a wedding feast. Eli’s mother did not go to the farmer’s market that week; instead, she baked and cooked food to be eaten by the community after the wedding. She knew that Eli loved shoo-fly pie, and she had made plenty. When Eli said he wasn’t hungry that week, she laughed and said he was saving his appetite for the wedding feast. His sisters were giggling and laughing while trying on their clothes for the wedding. His brothers were envious as hell but also glad that their brother was getting married. His wedding allowed them to get married because they couldn’t marry until the oldest son did.

Eli’s father sat him down to talk about what happened on the wedding night. He explained, the best he could, about a woman’s anatomy and what he was to do. Eli had never seen a naked woman and was almost physically sick when his father explained to him how to please a woman. When his father talked about a woman sometimes smelling like fish, Eli was ready to throw up. He would eat most any food, but seafood always made him sick. Eli thought he just had an allergy to it, and now to find out that a woman’s thing smelled like fish pushed him over the edge. He didn’t love Emily. He had no love feelings for her though he thought she was a nice person.

That night he packed a simple bag with his few belongings and some money that he had saved through the years. It wasn’t enough to live on for very long, but at least it would get him off the farm. He dressed in the dark and slowly climbed down the stairs. His father was sitting in a chair by the front door, so he crept to the back door where his mother was sitting in a chair. They knew.

He decided his leaving might lead to a fight, and he wouldn’t fight with his mother, so he crept back to the living room where his father was standing guarding the door.

“Move, papa. I am leaving.”

“No, you’re not, son. Now go back upstairs.”

“Why are you and mother guarding the doors.”

“She told me about your visitor in town and at the hospital. You are not that way. You are marrying Emily.”

“No, papa. I am leaving.”

“Well son, you have to get past me first. I will stop you.”

Eli was sure of his own strength, but he didn’t want to use it against his father. As he tried to reach for the door, his father pushed him back. They tussled, and finally, Eli did what he didn’t want to do. He cold-cocked his father. It was instinct. The older man went down hard, and Eli grabbed his sack, ran to the door, and then down the lane to the highway. He knew his way into Lancaster, where he could catch a bus.

It was barely daybreak when he was on the bridge that crossed over Route 30, which ran east/west across the state. He saw a truck stop and decided that he needed a glass of milk and an egg sandwich to give him enough energy to get to town. He walked down the embankment and across the parking lot. A lot of people gave him a strange look, and he realized people knew he was Amish by his clothing. He went into the gift shop and bought a tee-shirt with a picture of a rock and roll band he had never heard of before. He also bought a pair of scissors and then went into the bathroom where he put his hat in the trash can, and cut his beard as best he could. He needed a razor but didn’t have one. He put on the tee-shirt and left the bottom hanging loose.

When he left the restroom, he noticed that most men had on sunglasses, so he found the cheapest pair on the rack and bought those. He ordered his food and sat at the counter, waiting for it to be prepared. A man sat beside him and commented on the band and asked if he had seen them in concert. Eli had no idea who they were and said that he hadn’t but really liked their music. The man said he did also and had several CDs of their music. Eli didn’t know what a CD was but kept that thought to himself. The man asked Eli where he was going and when Eli mentioned Philadelphia, the man said he was heading to Philly and would give him a ride. Eli agreed.

They got into the man’s car, and the man took a round plastic disk and slipped it into someplace in the front of the car, and he heard music, unlike anything he had ever heard.

“Great song. I think it is their best. Don’t you?”

Eli could only nod his head because it sounded like a racket to him. Finally, he started to tap his finger to the beat of the music. Then he smiled. The man handed Eli the jewel case and said the artwork was incredible. Eli paid attention to the man’s speech – its cadence, the words he used, and his enthusiasm. He was absorbing a new way of talking.

Once they were in Philly, the man asked Eli where he wanted to go, and he would drop him off. Not for the first time that morning, Eli had no idea what to say. He told the man he had just left home and had no idea where to go or what to do but just had to get away. The man pulled over on the side of the road, shifted the car into park, and turned to Eli.

“You ran away from home. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know where you are going, where you are staying, or what you’re even going to eat for lunch.”

Eli could only nod his head in agreement. He hadn’t thought out his plans very well. He was a stranger in a strange land.

“Well, little brother, you better be glad that I am a nice guy. What are you a Mormon or something? I mean, Mennonite. Or are you one of those Amish guys?”

“I am Amish…. I guess now I should say I was Amish. I don’t know what I am, but I knew I had to leave.”

“Okeydokey. Onward Christian Soldiers or some such saying. What do you know how to do?”

“Well, I am good at plowing the fields. I can plow a straight row with the right pair of draft horses. I am good at harvesting.”

The man, whose name was Britt, started laughing.

“Well, there aren’t any fields to be plowed in Philadelphia proper. What else?”

“I am right good with woodworking. I love making furniture.”

“Okay, we are getting somewhere. How are you with plumbing?”

“I know how to dig a hole for an outhouse and how to prime the pump for the kitchen sink.”

Britt laughed until tears were falling down his face.

“I picked up a goddamn Amish dude. Go figure.”

“I’m not even going to ask about electricity.”

“I figured out how to hook up that little light on the back of our buggy that we take to town, but I don’t know how to do more than that.”

Britt just chuckled and kept driving until he reached a corner in town where he found a parking place. They got out of the car, and Britt led him to an outdoor café.

Eli looked at the menu and did not recognize most of the things listed. He saw a liverwurst sandwich on the menu and thought that was safe. He wasn’t a big fan of liverwurst, but at least he knew what it was. When the waiter asked him about sides, he didn’t know what the handsome fellow meant. After explaining, Eli said he would take chips. When asked what he wanted to drink, Eli said a glass of cold buttermilk.

“Darling, did you just come off the farm? We don’t serve buttermilk to drink. We have regular milk, tea, coffee, soft drinks, sparkling waters. We also have a full bar. You name it. Would you like a Pellegrino?”

“May I have a glass of water? Can I get that?”

“Yep, sweetie.”

The waiter squeezed Eli’s shoulder as he walked away, and Eli sprang a boner. He looked around and saw nothing but handsome men. He smiled and knew that he had come to the right place.

The food arrived, and each time the waiter walked by, he would touch Eli. He would squeeze his shoulder, rub his hand across Eli’s back, touch his biceps, or run his hand across Eli’s neck. Eli almost stopped breathing when he felt the waiter’s hand on his neck.

Britt was watching and was amused but also worried. It was evident that Eli was young and would be taken advantage of by more knowing people. Eli was handsome with a buff body from working on the farm. He also had an innocence that was rare with city guys. Britt decided to continue to be the good guy.

“Okay, Eli, let me suggest a plan of action. I have a spare bedroom that you can use. A good friend runs a home repair business, and he is always looking for a reliable helper. I trust you know what a hammer is.” Eli smiled and said he did. “Good, Russell is an honest guy and will teach you the trade without taking advantage of you. You can stay with me for a month, not a month and a day, not a month and two days, but a month. That will give you enough time to locate a room to rent, have some money for groceries, and enough time to learn the neighborhood. I am assuming that you are gay.”

Eli looked at him and didn’t know how to respond.

“Gay, Eli. Are you gay?”

“I don’t know what you are asking me.”

Britt was dumbfounded. Everyone knew what gay was. But maybe not.

“Do you like other guys?”

Eli’s face could not have turned any redder. He couldn’t look up at Britt. He was about to piss his pants. Could Britt see through him? Was Britt about to tell him to leave? How was he to answer? He didn’t know what to say.”

When he finally looked up, he saw a man approaching the table, who then leaned over and kissed Britt and asked about the chicken.

Eli knew that Britt had not ordered chicken, and neither had he. What chicken?

Britt chuckled and said it was a long story. Britt then introduced Eli to Russell.

Russell took a seat, and Britt explained that Eli was new in town and needed a job. He said that Eli knew woodworking but not plumbing or electrical. Russell asked Eli to stand. Eli did and then turned when Russell asked.

“You’re rather wiry, which is good for some jobs. How much weight can you lift?”

The questions started, and by the time Russell had finished his BLT, fries, and Coke, he told Eli he would pick him up at seven the next morning. Eli broke into a grin.

“By the way, are you even old enough to work?” Eli assured him that he had just turned seventeen and was able to work full time.

“How about your high school diploma?”

“I never went to school?”

Both men looked at each other with astonishment.

“Can you even read and write?”

“I can do numbers right good. Go ahead and test me.”

“Russell did, and Eli calculated everything exactly right.”

“But can you read?”

“I can read good enough to lay out a barn, cut boards to the exact length you need them, figure out how many board feet of wood we need, and write the order so a woodworker would know how to produce it. I’m not a book reader or anything like that, though. I figure working on houses is not like reading books. The only book I ever had was a Bible, and it was in German.”

“You know German?”

“Well, I know how to read the Bible in German, and I know what those words mean.”

“Well, Britt, you sure know how to pick ‘em, buddy. This young’un may prove to be an interesting helper.”

Four years later, Eli had saved enough money so that he had a nice apartment, a motorcycle, and aspirations to be more than a helper for Russell. He went to Britt’s apartment to talk with him. Britt and Russell had saved his life and introduced him to the gay life in Philadelphia. Eli fell in love at least twenty times the first month he was there. Russell and Britt would listen to him each time his heart was broken. They finally helped him understand that fucking and love were two very different things. What they didn’t say was that a lot of guys wanted to fuck the young Amish guy. Eli had innate intelligence, and after the first couple of months of learning this new culture he had moved into, he was like an old hand. He was still young in age emotionally, so he would occasionally turn to his friend and boss for advice.

On his twenty-first birthday, he invited Russell and Britt to join him for dinner, where he announced he wanted to start his own business. Both men gladly helped him establish himself into his own handyman business, with Russell being one of his biggest supporters. He referred new customers to Eli and heard nothing but praise for his former employee. Eli’s business flourished because he was an honest man who provided his customers with excellent service. His upbringing served him well as he engaged with customers.

Occasionally he would think about his family. After he bought his motorcycle, he drove to Lancaster one Saturday. He saw Abraham with the buggy at the Farmer’s Market. He rode by the farm and saw his father working in the field. He saw his brothers and sisters outside. He didn’t stop. They probably wouldn’t have recognized him anyway. He was more muscular, had a mustache, wore aviator sunglasses, and a leather vest when riding his motorcycle.

He only went to Lancaster that once and didn’t feel the need to travel there again. When some of his friends wanted to spend a day in “Amish Country,” he declined. He didn’t tell them why, but he had left that life behind.

Now, Sean wanted to talk to his father about him wanting to marry Sidney. Boy, he handled that poorly. Eli hadn’t thought of his father in a long time. He supposed that Abraham was now the number one son.

Eli then knew what to do. He called Sean and apologized for his behavior and said that they would meet that Saturday at the café. He called Sidney to tell him he loved him, and they were meeting his family on Saturday at the café. In the meantime, Eli had work to do. He made telephone calls and explained everything.

On Saturday morning, a table for six had a reservation card on it. Eli was nervous as a cat on a porch filled with rocking chairs. He had arrived early and started pacing the sidewalk. Sidney and Clay were the first to arrive. Sidney and Eli spent a long time holding onto each other. This was the first time they had seen each other since Eli’s abrupt departure on Sunday. Sean arrived next and warily greeted Eli. He apologized for causing an upset and said he was trying to bring levity to a highly emotional situation. Eli said it was quite okay and that his parents were on the way. They sat down and had just ordered drinks when Eli jumped up from the table. The others turned to see a big burly man and a woman heading to their table.

Russell stuck out his hand and greeted everyone, and then introduced Britt.

Sidney could not close his mouth. Sean was trying not to have a giggling fit. Once they were all seated, everyone had figured out that Britt was actually a man. Britt started by saying that he should tell the story of giving birth to Eli on Route 30 one morning many years prior. By the time breakfast was over, the story of Eli’s life had been explained, and all arrangements for the marriage ceremony had been completed, including what color dress Britt would wear for the wedding.

Copyright © 2020 Mac Rountree; All Rights Reserved.
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Fascinating presentation of Eli's life.  Britt is something else!  I ended with a chuckle for sure!  Seven days is a long time till the next chapter, hint, hint.

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