We don’t have turnpikes in California, only toll bridges. Imagine my surprise as I’m cruising down the interstate in the middle of the night somewhere in Pennsylvania, suddenly stopped at an electronic booth and told to take a paper ticket. I’m not exactly sure what to do with the ticket, but I stuff it in the center console for safekeeping. Mike and the kids are all sleeping. An hour, or less or more, later I come to another booth where the attendant asks for my aforementioned ticket. I give it to her and explain that we’re from out of town. She smiles and asks me for $35. Thirty. Five. Dollars. CASH. Who carries that kind of cash anymore?! Is Pennsylvania full of drug dealers and restaurant servers?
Fortunately, there is a safeguard built into this archaic system for clueless outsiders like me with a seven day grace period where you can pay fees online. I have to ask for this grace at the next turnpike as well. The following turnpikes accept credit cards, as they should since the trip from Virginia to Indiana ends up costing us over $60.
Indiana is flat, but green. The neighborhood our friends live in is a row of well-manicured homes on large lots. I dock the Mars(den) Rover in the driveway. I get out and hug our friends, the Brummel’s, then climb back into the RV to freshen up while Mike and the kids go in the house.
I join the grownups at the kitchen table a little later, gratefully accepting a warm mug of coffee as we all catch up. Mike and Suzanne were youth leaders at the church we attend when Mike and I were in high school. We laugh about all that has changed as time has passed. Mike and I answer questions about how’s so-and-so from church, and ask them about their recently married daughter we knew as a little kid.
“Have you ever had Amish donuts?”
I don’t remember if it was Mike or Suzanne who asked this question, but I was all-in for wherever this was about to take us.
“We can have [our grown kids] watch your kids and we could go get some?”
All the YES.
We four adults climb into the Brummel’s minivan and head out to Shipshewana, Indiana: Amish country. We buy delicious donuts. Mike and I also buy smoked sausage bread and a jar of a dessert-worthy peanut butter-marshmallow fluff mixture. We drive slowly behind a black horse-drawn buggy on our way to a cheese factory (where we buy a small block of tangy sharp white cheddar). I’m amused at the honey shop that it looks closed, because: no electricity. I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures and this was no exception. I’ve practically got my face pushed up against the window and we drive (twice!) by an Amish baseball game; everyone in plain, simple clothes and dozens of bikes and buggies lining the street.
The next stop after leaving the Amish area has my Mike’s face pressed up against the glass: a fireworks warehouse. He can’t stop smiling as he fills his red plastic handbasket. Most places in California don’t allow fireworks. I remind him of this and of the drought of the last three years. He pretends not to hear me.
That evening the Brummel’s have invited us to join them at a friend’s house for dinner. The house is full of kids and friendly faces. My crew quickly scatters. This property is actually a small working farm. We see chickens, geese, roosters, dogs, cats, a bunny, and cows. One cow is swollen with pregnancy, due any day. I shudder in sympathy remembering feeling the way she looks.
Conversation is easy and the food is plentiful. I’m reminded at church with everyone the next morning of the gift of fellowship in community. During the service we sing the hymn Because He Lives. The last time I sang this was with a group of Africa New Life staff during their mid-week devotional service in Kigali, Rwanda this past February. How beautiful the Church can be, made up of brothers and sisters from across the chapel and around the world. A touchstone of welcome across cultures. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
After a lunch of butter-burgers, cheese curds, and frozen custard at Culver’s, we bid our dear friends goodbye and thank them for their generous hospitality. With a hymn in my heart, we pull back onto the road—Google map set to AVOID TOLL ROADS—for the (mercifully) short drive to Wheaton, Illinois.