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Article by E. Jean Carroll
What happens when America’s most fabulous advice columnist fires up her polka-dot car and hits the road to ask total strangers about love and cleaving in a bunch of tiny towns called Eden? Let’s just put it this way: Paradise is Regained, and John Milton himself would have said, “Oh. My. God.”
“Have you been cleaving?”
“You and Betty Jane have been cleaving right here in Eden?” I ask.
“Ya,” says John.
The luscious Betty Jane starts chuckling.
“You’ve been cleaving right here in Eden Township, Pennsylvania, just as the Lord commands in the Bible?”
Clip clop clip clop clip clop. A buggy goes by.
“Ya,” says John.
I glance inside the buggy. The carved-wood interior is so fabulous it looks like a duke’s library. And the horse? It could be entered in the Miss Universe pageant.
“So you and Betty Jane have cleaved outside—repeat, outside—in the garden, right?”
Betty Jane’s fantastic bosom has been shaking with silent laughter for the last minute or so, and now she lets go with a merry screech.
“Ya!” she says.
In America, you can stroll up and ask a stranger just about any question if you frame it with the Bible. I know this because I’ve been booming down the East Coast of the USA, visiting every town called Eden that comes my way—and by God, nearly every state has a little town called Eden—to speak with folks about Adam, Eve, ribs, apples, snakes, temptations, and so forth. My mission: to right past wrongs committed by Outside magazine.
I’ve been reading Outside for 40 years. Hell, I started writing for it in 1980, and I’m aware that everybody has one question when they finish an Outside story: How did those climbers defy death on that mountain? But I always have a second question: Did those climbers have sex on that mountain? That’s what I want to know. Did those hikers, climbers, skiers, kayakers, divers, snowshoers, those ladies and gentlemen with their $2,000 titanium bikes, those adventurers with all their glamour, joy, stamina, calf muscles, and grit—did those people I’m reading about in Outside shag on the spongy bank of that raging river? Outside rarely tells me. Bah!
Therefore, I’m on a summer road trip. I’ve packed three apple pies, three ShopRite birthday cakes, two bags of miniature Snickers, three bags of Unique pretzels, a carton of extra-thick French onion dip, and a block of Colby cheese—I’m eating only forbidden fruits on this journey—climbed into my Prius, and sallied forth with my giant poodle, Lewis Carroll, to ask Edenites all over the eastern and southern U.S. this question: “Have you ever made love outside—in Eden?”
If they say yes, then, in the great award-winning Outside tradition, I plan to take a spectacular photo of the persons standing in the very spot where they cleaved. And thus we will all have a record of heaven on earth.
Not to leave the luscious Betty Jane and her husband hanging, but a word about the word cleave. You may quarrel with it. You may say that it’s imprecise, that it’s too divine, but I can’t go running around Eden, Pennsylvania, or Eden, Maryland, or Eden, North Carolina, or Eden, Georgia, or Eden, Alabama, or Eden, Mississippi, asking people if they’ve boffed, can I? Banged? Come on.They’d laugh me out of paradise. Therefore, cleave will be the verb of choice. John and Betty Jane know their Bible and grok this word like a plate of ribs. John, however, doesn’t seem as sure as Betty Jane about the cleaving outside part.
“It was so long ago, I can’t remember,” he says. John is about 30, tall and lean, with a face as long as a loaf pan, sharp gray eyes, a big, beautiful black hat, and the beginnings of a pointy, buckwheat-colored beard.
“Phoo! Phoo!” I say. “How can you forget? Look at her!” I nod at Betty Jane, a woman so good-humored, so creamy, so pink, so white, with such a little turned-up, sunburned nose, and wearing such a pretty apron and cap, that there’s no way John can have “forgotten” possessing her in the garden.
“I expect we have,” says Betty Jane, chuckling and looking at John through her dark lashes.
“Ya,” says John. He was born across the road on this very hilltop, and the tender, homely beauty of this Eden, with its lovely green hills and blue dales and lilac-gray clouds, is so delicate that I want to throw myself on the ground and roll down the hill and just keep rolling. The massive barn is built of pale, rose-colored stone. A litter of German shepherd puppies is tumbling about in front of the wagon shed; beyond, great glistening silos rise like rocket ships to Mars.
“Oh. You remember now, eh?” I say to John.
“You’ve cleaved outside!” I say, laughing. “You’ve cleaved in the garden of Eden—in the barn, in the buggy, in the yard, right?” They both burst into happy laughter. Lewis Carroll, with his head out the car window, starts barking ecstatically. At such a moment, not even John Steinbeck’s Charley could have maintained strict canine silence.
“Now, I’d like to take your photo in the garden,” I say, reaching for my iPhone. The laughter dies. John looks at me in dismay. John and Betty Jane are Amish. Eden Township is in the heart of the heart of Lancaster County. To many Amish, appearing in a photo would be “calling attention to oneself.” Creating vanity.
“I don’t mind,” says Betty Jane. Gloria Steinem at the barricades. She glances at her husband. “But it’s up to John.”
“Why do you want our picture?” John says gravely. His first language is Pennsylvania Dutch, and he speaks, by some strange miracle, with a melodious Scots accent. He’s a cradle maker, a witty, serious chap with the air of a young Silicon Valley engineer who has given up the company Ping-Pong table for a month. I can already see the decision in his face.
“Meeting you is an important moment in my life, John,” I say. “And Outside may run the photo.”
“I was taught not to be photographed,” he says. And that’s that. I can take a picture of Betty Jane’s pink hydrangeas, the blond mules, the black-and-white cows, the red rooster, and the gray hens, but not of Betty Jane and John. And I would have squandered all my iPhone storage on them, I loved them so.
About 900 yards outside Eden Township I run into Zach, a cage fighter coming out of the Body Extreme Fitness Center in a town called Quarryville. He’s wearing black MMA shorts, and Kayla, his girlfriend, a college student, a gentle, modest, sweet young woman who works at the gym, is with him, and they both become so worried about a dithering old lady with a broken arm who’s struggling with her bag and her notebook and her pen and her Unique pretzel bag and her water bottle and her giant poodle that Kayla takes the leash so that she and Zach can walk Lewis Carroll down to a little park. Before they even know what happened, we’re deep into the interesting subject of cleaving.