Rollerblades are just plain smart transit Many Amish using jazzy in-line skates

September 09, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

INTERCOURSE, Pa. -- Cars are taboo, of course. So are motorcycles, minibikes and mopeds. Bicycles? Forbidden, too.

So what's the progressive-thinking, agile-footed Old Order Amish child buying these days if he wants to get from here to Gordonville or Bird-in-Hand in a hurry?

How about in-line skates, often known popularly as Rollerblades?

That's right. The jazzy-looking skates, whose high-tech single-row-of-wheels design is a striking contrast to the simple horse-and-buggy transportation usually associated with the Amish, have become a hit among the Plain People.

Although few observers are willing to classify the phenomenon of Amish on in-line skates as a rage, they do say they have been seeing more over the last few years, similar to the increasing popularity of the skates among the non-Amish.

Around these eastern Lancaster County parts, Amish children wear them to play hockey and ride to friends' homes, and adults strap them on for exercise.

One Amish woman in her 20s is known to ride her skates from her home to her restaurant job.

"They get around with them a lot," said an Amish man working at Esh's Sharpening and Sales, an Amish-owned hardware store in Intercourse that sells them. "Instead of hitching the horse up, you just hop on your Rollerblades."

The Amish man, who asked that his name not be used, estimated that his store would sell more than two dozen pairs of the skates this year. They range in price from $59 to $114.

"They are really quite a way to get around," the man said. "This is something we're allowed to use."

As nearly everyone knows, the Amish are guided by set of religious principles and traditions that require them to devote their lives to God, their family and community, and to refrain from things considered worldly.

Those rules mean that Old Order Amish, in contrast to Mennonites and some so-called New Order Amish, do not have electricity or telephones in their homes and do not own cars, although they do ride in them when necessary.

At first glance, in-line skates would seem to be a sort of futuristic intrusion into the old-fashioned ways, but the Amish store worker said he was aware of no stir among church leaders over them.

"It never came into question as far as I know," he said. "It's just a later-model roller skate."

Stephen Scott, who researches and writes about Lancaster County's plain sects for the People's Place, a cultural center and museum in Intercourse, said he, too, was unaware of any problems caused by the skates.

"Rollerblades weren't considered sufficiently different. As far as I know, it didn't become controversial," he said.

It's often difficult to explain why some modern items are acceptable to the Amish while others are not, Mr. Scott said.

"I'm not sure there's a logical explanation for it," he said.

The idea behind prohibiting bicycles and cars is to preserve the emphasis on home and family, he said. With a bike or a car, it's easier to travel farther from home and stay away for a longer

time.

The Amish have used roller skates for years, but in-line skates, because they have better wheels and bearings -- not to mention better support for the foot -- are viewed as a better for gliding along roadways.

In a recent publication, the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau suggested that Amish children wearing Rollerblades might be a common sight now that the county's 105 Amish, one-room schools are open for another year.

But an Amish boy at the hardware store who's worn Rollerblades said he expected most Amish youths to get to school the old-fashioned way -- by walking. Most attend schools only short distances from their homes.

Who wants to take the time to lace up a pair of skates for such a short trip? he said. "It wouldn't be worth taking your shoes off."

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