All her life, Anna has been a “gut” Amish girl. She has cooked, cleaned, and cared for her younger brothers ever since their mamm passed away. She hopes that will change as she prepares to leave her teen years behind and enters her rumschpringe, her running around years. She yearns for a little adventure, a little romance! Is that too much to ask for?
Her older brother David is a deacon in the church. He expects her to behave perfectly, so it will not reflect badly on him. He will not tolerate her riding in cars, dating Englisch boys, or heaven forbid! Wearing make-up! Anna’s actions put her face to face with some tough decisions. Will she make the right choice?
?Benjamin! Aaron! Hurry now, or you?ll be late,? Anna called to her younger brothers. Although school had started two weeks ago, they still had not adjusted to the new schedule. They took too long with their morning chores, dawdled through their breakfast, and could never seem to get out the door in a timely manner. Daed had threatened to give them a bletching they wouldn?t soon forget if they brought home one more tardy slip, but the boys knew as well as she did that Daed would not carry through on his threat. The arthritis was bothering him something fierce these days. Anna could not remember the last time her daed had seen fit to discipline her, much less her little brothers. The older boys resented that something awful, but it wasn?t Anna?s fault and there was nothing she could do about it.
?I don?t feel right,? little Aaron whined, stuffing another pancake in his mouth.
She tousled his straight blond hair, cut in the bowl-shaped style of their Order, as she clucked at him. ?Any little boy who can pack away as many pancakes as you do, can?t be all that sick. And with no fever besides, I?d bet it?s just a good case of School-itus. I could give you a shot??
?I think I feel better,? he blurted, scampering out of her reach.
Benjamin laughed. ?He?s just ferhoodled, because he has to sit next to a girl.?
?Imagine that! A sweetheart already and you being only eight years old. What is this world coming too,? Annie teased.
Aaron?s face colored a cute shade of red. ?I ain?t ? I ain?t got no girl!? he stammered.
Anna gave them both a playful swat on the rump, then shoved their lunch boxes into their hands. ?Out mitt du,? she said firmly, mixing a little English with their native Pennsylvania Dutch.
Her brothers grinned as they scooted out the backdoor, letting it slam shut behind them.
She stood and rubbed her lower back, surprised that it should be aching already and the morning not yet begun. She?d risen early to get the laundry washed and on the line before breakfast, which was a hefty meal of pancakes, sausages, fried potatoes, coffee, milk, syrup, and applesauce. She?d packed lunches for the younger boys, and kneaded up a batch of bread ? soon to be shaped into six loaves after it rose a little more. There were more apples to be picked, washed, quartered, cooked, and canned, and finally, she would need to scrub the entire house down from top to bottom in preparation for the gathering tonight.
Her birthday! Today she turned sixteen! The time of her rumschpringe had finally arrived, and not a moment too soon. It was a special time in the lives of Amish teens, when they were allowed to experience the world of the Englisch and parents would look the other way. They believed that if they had taught their youngster right from wrong, the child would find his or her way back to the People, and be stronger for it. Usually, it worked just fine.
Not always, though. Jacob Lapp had taken to drink, and not just a beer here and there, neither. He?d drunk so much, then got into his fancy car he wasn?t supposed to own, and drove it into a tree. He had survived, and thankfully, no one else had been injured, but he might never walk again ? and how was an Amishman going to support a wife and family like that? Then there was Sarah Yoder and Ezekiel Stolfutz. They hadn?t gone fancy, but they?d spent a few too many nights together and got a little too cozy, if the rumors meant anything at all. They were hurried through baptism classes and married right quick, and already had their first boppli and Sarah not hardly two years older than she was!
That wasn?t for Anna. Oh, she loved children, and figured she?d have a houseful someday, as that was the Amish way. Just not right now. Her mamm had died birthing young Aaron, and Anna had practically raised him herself, with a little help from Daed. Benjamin barely remembered their mamm at all, being only two when she?d passed. Anna had been eight years old, but sometimes even she could barely remember what mamm looked like.
?Just take a quick peek in a mirror some day, and you?ll see what mamm looked like,? her older brother Levi liked to tell her. ?You look just like her.?
Fine thing for him to say. He knew Daed didn?t allow looking glasses in the house, although they weren?t specifically forbidden by the bishop. ?Mirrors promote vanity and pridefulness,? her daed insisted. And heaven forbid she should show either of those sinful traits! Why pridefulness was almost a bigger sin than making a boppli before being lawfully wed! Sarah and Ezekiel had made their kneeling confession, and were forgiven in the eyes of Gott and man. No one would speak of their sin again, and little Zeke would never know of his parents? transgression.
Anna shook herself, mentally scolding herself for woolgathering when there was so much work to do. She scraped the breakfast plates and filled the sink with water heated on the gas stove. Hopefully, the sunny weather would hold at least until the laundry dried. Otherwise her birthday dinner would be held beneath a maze of twine and dripping broadfalls and sopping cape dresses. Nothing smelled quite the same as when it was allowed to dry in God?s sunshine! She hummed a favorite hymn from the Ausbund as she set about completing the day?s tasks.
?Such a fierce scowl, and the day has barely begun,? Naomi said, refilling her husband?s coffee cup. ?Today is a day to celebrate, no? Your younger sister is turning sixteen!?
?Young being the operative word,? David grumbled, tugging thoughtfully on his beard. ?Anna is so immature. She should wait a few more years before going through rumschpringe.?
?Ach! You can?t mean that, David,? she scolded.
He swallowed coffee to avoid giving her an answer. Yes, he did mean it! Just because he had been appointed deacon in the church didn?t mean that he had to like it. Part of his duties included gathering alms for those in the community who might be suffering financially, usually from medical bills. Just last night he?d been to Samuel Lapp?s house. Such a shame. Young Jacob had always been such a gut boy. Being the youngest son, he stood to inherit Samuel?s farm one day. But for a moment?s foolishness, and all their lives were forever changed. Jacob had spent weeks in the hospital, and now although he was home, he was confined to a hospital bed his parents had been allowed to rent. They talked about time and rehabilitation, but their eyes told the truth. Jacob would never walk again.
?Daed has not been strict enough with her. She is benzel ? a silly child.?
?And you are grumpy. Just because your daed gave you more bletschings than your little sister, you think he has gone soft. Maybe you were just naughtier.?
David chuckled at his wife?s teasing. He pulled her onto his lap and smacked a noisy kiss on her cheek. ?And you should show your deacon more respect. Maybe you need another bletsching??
?Ach, no! David, please!? she squealed, trying to squirm out of his grasp. All her efforts had the opposite effect. He tugged her over and landed several firm swats to her posterior that stung despite the heavy fabric of her dress.
She laughed even though she gasped at the discomfort. ?I?m sorry, my deacon husband! I shall be far more respectful in the future, I promise! Oh, ow! And I won?t tease you about your running around years, ow! Stop, please!?
David let her up, then pulled her to sit on his lap. He held her tenderly, bringing her hand up to lay a kiss on her palm. ?I do not regret our marriage, Naomi. Never! But I do wish that I could present myself to Gott free from our sin.?
?So we kissed before we married. And, and I let down my hair? we never let it go any further than that. Surely that is not such a great sin??
?Nee, all sin is sin. It does not matter if you sin big or small in the eyes of Gott. He is punishing me. That is why I was chosen deacon. Because I was nixnutzich, now I must discipline others. Every time I must discipline someone, I am humbled by my own unworthiness.?
?You are too serious, Davey,? Naomi insisted. ?You were not so naughty that Gott will not forgive you. We are all sinners! And fall short of the glory of Gott. Does it not say so in die Biwwel??
He nodded, acknowledging her words. Amish did not memorize the scriptures by chapter and verse like some Mennonites or Englisch Christians, but he did know right where that powerful verse was found. It was Amish to believe that once a kneeling confession was made, the repentant was completely forgiven, the sin erased from the book of sins. It was as if it had never been made, in theory, at least. Still, he felt like a hypocrite when he had to chastise his brethren for sins he had once committed.
?Speak with your sister, then. Tell her the burden of your heart. Let her know how much you care about her. Don?t go over there like a thundercloud, like you usually do, and start telling her what she can and can?t do. You?ll just get her dander up, and she?ll be likely to go and do it just for spite.?
David rose, helping his gentle wife to her feet. He kissed her forehead, then stepped back. ?You are wise, Naomi. How am I so lucky to have you for my wife??
?My Daed always said that opposites attract. It was certainly true in their marriage. My Daed was quiet and humble, but no one crossed Mamm in my family. She gave most of the bletschings, at least until we were nearly grown. And then Daed got out of it by saying that we were just in our rumschpringe and it was right to look the other way.?
David?s face darkened. So opposites attract, do they? If his wife was wise, then did that make him foolish? He swallowed the bad taste in his mouth. Only time spent in prayer and fasting would help him to mend his ways. As for his sister? well, she wasn?t too old yet for a gut bletsching!