Every year, the historic Patrick Ranch in Durham hosts an old-fashioned Country Faire and Threshing Bee for two days. For the past three years our kids have played their bluegrass and folk music at this event with some of their fellow students in the area. This year it was just “Freedom Hill” – our children and those of another Catholic family – playing on the flat bed of an old farm truck.
There are several close-knit Mennonite communities in this area, and every year we see some of them at Patrick Ranch. They are typically farmers, and the Country Faire has lots of things of interest to farmers – especially farmers who prefer the old ways. The Mennonites are easily recognizable by their distinctive dress, large families, and respectful behavior. Our girls take notice because the Mennonite ladies also dress in a feminine and modest way.
As it happens, I was standing in the hot dog line behind one of these families – a young man, maybe thirty to thirty-five years old, with his wife and two very small children. He complimented me on the performance (as if I had anything to do with it!), and we struck up a very friendly conversation. I told him how much we appreciated seeing them at these events, and how they set a good example of family life for my own children. I spoke with his wife for a few minutes as well, and she told me about the music training all the Mennonite children receive. (They do not play instruments but are taught to sing and read music at an early age.) We then got our lunch and went our own way.
About 30 minutes later, after we had eaten, this same gentleman walked up and wanted to introduce his grandparents. The grandfather looked every bit the part of a Mennonite patriarch with 33 grandchildren. He had many kind things to say about the Freedom Hill children, whose performance he had also heard, and asked me to contact him and let him know when the next performance would be. After talking a little while longer and finding even more common ground, he invited us to play music at their family home in exchange for a meal, promising me that his wife (who was standing beside him) is an excellent cook!
And so, two traditional Catholic families and one large Mennonite family will soon be getting to know each other. I have always respected and admired these people – from a distance, of course – and am quite humbled by this warm and spontaneous invitation. It should be a very interesting encounter. I pray that we, at least, will be as much a credit to our Catholic Faith as they are to their own.