Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Scribbings: Character Sketch

The City Market in Kansas City, MO is filled with fascinating people. None more so than a tightly wound Amish girl of about 12 to 13 who intently observes the world from behind her table of homegrown flowers and slow cooked foods.

Although the majority of the Amish folks at the market seem to have dark hair, this young woman's hair is the sort of ash brown that trendy girls highlight into blonde. It is drawn in a simple bun, which is protected from view by a prayer cover, a half-bonnet of translucent white fabric shaped by tiny pleats and held in place by pins. Its short, narrow strings fly free in the breeze.

She is slight, almost frail, and her enormous blue eyes are all but hidden by thick lenses encased in close-to-clear plastic frames. Those coke-bottle-bottom lenses magnify the differences between her world and the one walking past her table. Her fleeting smiles reveal a surprise—braces on her teeth—but it takes several minutes to be sure because the smiles are so brief and the flashes of metal so small.

Her simple pale blue dress stops just below her calves, so we are afforded a view of her black stockings and sturdy black shoes. The dress is covered by a white apron and, because it is a chilly morning, by a dark blue jacket with pockets at the side seams. Her jacket fits her form closely rather than hanging from her shoulders like a sack in the way of most of the other Amish women at the market.

The pockets of her jacket reveal the girl's secret dreams. So does her right foot.

When not conducting business, her hands—hidden in the depths of her pockets—keep time to the music drifting across the market from a nearby jazz combo. Not tapping or clapping, mind you. No, her hands tremble to the beat; movements so slight they're no more than a fervent wish. Her right foot is braver than her hands. It taps out the Morse code of her desire to dance, to twirl on her own or in the arms of a man.

If she were a character, her name would be Sarah. One of her personality quirks would be that she refuses to touch celery in any way. (Planting celery is an important part preparing for an Amish wedding.) November, the month of weddings, would be the cruelest month for her, a harbinger of things to come. She would keep a secret countdown toward her Rumspringer, the year in which she will be allowed to explore the world of the English before choosing (or not) to be baptized and join the community. She would be torn between wanting time to fly toward those months of "freedom" and wanting it to crawl toward the end of her days at school.

Sometime after she turned 16, Sarah would make that sojourn into the outside world. Shortly after arriving, she would find herself unaccountably craving celery. She would eat it with peanut butter for breakfast, sauteed with onions and peppers for lunch, and braised with roast beef for dinner. She would be embarassed to remember herself once shoveling Campbell's cream of celery soup into her mouth straight from the can.

She would find the music for which she once longed painfully electrifying and eventually retreat into silence. Dancing would mystify her and the exploring hands of boys annoy her. The library, though, would be heaven on earth. She would collect reading lamps in all sizes and shapes and revel in staying up late to read through the night.

When her year drew to an end, Sarah would be paralyzed with indecision. The choice she once thought so simple would turn out not to be simple at all. She would ask herself whether the pull toward joining the community was simply the lure of the known over the unknown or a calling toward her true home. She would question the value of buttons and zippers. She would, in the way of all women, dislike her body in "fashionable" clothes, and the jeans she once yearned for would rub the tender insides of her thighs raw.

Sarah would, however, adore driving a car. She would be fascinated with dishwashers and clothes washers and microwave ovens. She would be surprised by how much time can be eaten up by things she hadn't known to want, like electronic Yahtzee and text messaging. Her favorite spot, other than the library, would be a corner table at a Chinese restaurant, from which she could watch people picking up their take-out orders while talking impatiently into their cell phones and consulting their DayTimers.

The need to hurry would sit on her soul like a canker sore.

To find more Sunday Scribblings, go here.

18 comments:

Remiman said...

Jerri,
Simply, I'm hooked!
Finish this story please ;-) !!
rel

Suzy said...

What a stunningly beautiful story- Geez! KEEP GOING!!!!
Wonderful writing,, I am in awe!

liz elayne said...

oh i don't want it to end...
please write more...

this is fantastic fun my dear. loved every single morsel.

Mystic Wing said...

Great sketch. And self-revealing, I think.

tinker said...

So glad you tried your hand at fiction (I've heard it called the lie that tells the truth and in this case I think that holds true :)

Great storytelling - left me wanting to know the REST of the story!
Please??!

hundred and one said...

Beautifully written. I could picture her so cleary and I felt a bit of sadness when you discribed how she kept a beat to the music drifting by with her hands hidden in her pockets.

Well done!

paris parfait said...

This is wonderful - amazing attention to detail makes a photograph unnecessary. Well done.

Pacian said...

Cool! I like the nuances to this.

PS. Write more fiction! I think you have a knack.

Living Part Deux said...

This is great. I echo the pleas of everyone else: tell us more, tell us more. Wonderful writing.

Gemma said...

Sarah is lovely...what will she do?

Anonymous said...

I agree...Sarah's story should continue! Beautifully written portrait!

Michelle said...

I would enjoy reading an entire book featuring this character. I really enjoyed the bit you have up.

Autrice DelDrago said...

I agree. This would make a fascinating story.

~NanCourt~ said...

As I live among the Amish here, I can tell you that you captured, so clearly, a young girl I see quite often. Have you been secretly shadowing me?

Beautiful, descriptive, and the way it should be.

Don't stop.

Catherine said...

What wonderful details you have added to this ... like the celery. It would make a wonderful novel.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading this. Felt like I was there with her.

I grew up in Pennsylvania, with an Amish community close by. You've brought back some clear images from my memory...with your words.

Thanks.

Ann L Babcock said...

hi, I have a liking for this article
and would want it finished. I have read
books about amish from other authors
and love reading them and learning the
culture. I am looking for a recepie
for the old amish celery soup that
is mentioned in many of the stories I
have read and am having a hard time
finding one. If anyone knows the real
true amish recepie for wedding soup/
cellery please send it to

Ann L Babcock said...

send recepie for real amish celery
soup to babcockal@adelphia.net thank
you....