Church, in central Pennsylvania, wasn’t so much a right
as it was an inescapable weekly expectation, securing a
justified place alongside Benjamin Franklin’s guarantees
of death and taxes. Life in the region was enjoyed
simply. People worked hard, drank at the Selinsgrove
Raceway on Saturday evenings, and listened to WYGL—
a rowdy country radio station that inexplicably followed K-
mart’s rather unimaginative example and dropped the
clever nickname “Wiggle Country” in favor of the more
blatant epithet, “Big Country.”

And each Sunday morning, everyone in the area awoke
to the rooster’s call and traveled to the same, blandly
comforting, thoroughly white-bread church that their
parents and grandparents had attended. Each
parishioner viewed such traditional dedication to a
specific church with resolute pride, all the while secretly
ruing the misguided beliefs of every other congregation,
even though the assorted denominations of the region
differed by little more than the varied spellings of their
names or size of the golden cross atop each steeple.

Here, the term “diversity” is used to measure the
quantity of brand names in a hunting rifle collection. For
some, diversity could also be characterized by the
spectrum of AM stations transmitting the impassioned
one-sided rants of Rush Limbaugh. Diversity, too,
encompasses the ratio of farmers to missing index
fingers lost in freakishly routine hay bailer accidents both
in and around the picturesque borough of Middleburg.


Situated as the intersecting rural hub for two of the main
roads dissecting Snyder County, Middleburg has
remained wholly unaffected by the bustling influences of
larger communities like Lewisburg, Selinsgrove, and
Harrisburg. Beyond such commonplace destinations as
my high school, my family’s church, and the RV factory
where my father worked, Middleburg played host to its
very own roller-skating rink, the nearest video rental
store, and, most significantly, the Middleswarth snack
chip factory—producers of the most exquisite and
addictive potato chips on either side of the Susquehanna
River.

In fact, their allure was so intense that there wasn’t a
child in the region who did not succumb at least once to
the bloated salty ecstasy of a Sunday afternoon
Middleswarth-induced coma. Of course, in order to
achieve this zenith of intestinal nirvana, I first had to
endure the scheduled mid-morning session of dull moral
pontification.

Despite the diversity of the half dozen non-Amish
churches pleasingly located a scant five minutes from
our rural neighborhood, my family loyally maintained
membership at the Valleyside Testament Church, a
petite red brick Baptist church located a grueling twenty
minutes away guarding the abrupt periphery of
Middleburg from the vast wilderness of nothing beyond.