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Mennonite Memoir: Fun In A 'Little Black Dress'

Everybody knows the morning-after embarrassment of the mysteriously random sex dream. My most unlikely dream partners have been Dan Quayle and an Amish farmer. While I'm at a loss to explain the first, the second is no doubt the result of seeing the movie Witness at an impressionable age; I'm secretly aroused by the thought of bonnets flying.

So I came to Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home with a slightly pornographic curiosity, only to learn that life with the plain people mostly involves Super Scrabble, agrarian history field trips, and borscht in thermoses.

I wanted author Rhoda Janzen, a middle-aged professor who returns home to the Mennonites, to offer a glimpse into an exotic world; instead, it was like visiting my own aging parents, who live by 150-watt bulbs and drink Taster's Choice.

When I was first out of college, my roommates and I had a rule: When watching a 9 o'clock movie, if nobody was having sex by 9:15, we changed the channel. It's closing in on 11 before the recently divorced Janzen finally meets a hot, young Mennonite fella. He takes her for a spin on his motorcycle, and she becomes a cougar:

Well OK.

If the guilty pleasure is a little slow in coming, there's still some G-rated fun to be had along the way. Janzen is like a funny, self-deprecating BFF who complains about her butt and reminds you to notice how your new boyfriend treats the wait staff.

Mind you, I'm not sure Janzen has any business dispensing dating advice. This is a woman who accidentally married a gay man, and lets herself be picked up by a born-again Christian wearing a Crucifixion nail around his neck.

Living in Ohio, I still long for the Hollywood version of the plain people. But instead of Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis ripping off their dark clothes, I see the young Amish couple at the supermarket buying Pampers and baby formula. The pies they sell to tourists are made with a pre-fab filling that's heavy on the corn syrup, and the laundry billowing on their clotheslines is polyester.

If pigeons in Manhattan are rats with wings, Janzen's memoir reminds us that the Mennonites are just contemporary Midwestern farmers with bonnets.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wendy MacLeod
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