An Amish Short Story
“An industrious wife is the best savings account.” Amish Proverb
Rebecca balanced a clothes basket on her hip as she pushed open the screen door that led to the side porch. The squeaky hinge echoed as it slammed behind her scattering a small flock of barn swallows hovering at the bird feeder. A cool mist hung in the air as she walked to the clothes line. Beads of sweat formed on her upper lip and her mouth watered as she swallowed hard trying to keep from being sick.
As she rounded the corner of the house, a flutter of blue and black in her neighbor’s yard caught her eye.
“Not again – how’d she get that laundry out so early?”
Dropping the basket to the ground, she sighed as she bent down and picked up a pair of her husband’s pants. She snapped them hard to release the wrinkles and pinned them to the line. The morning sun was just starting to rise above the clothesline as she peered into Lydia’s yard. She hoped the woman wasn’t outside and wouldn’t notice how late she was in getting her laundry hung out to dry.
Taking a look at the haphazardly way she was hanging her clothes she remembered how her mamm’s clotheslines always looked like a kaleidoscope of colors. She stopped and rustled around in the basket sorting the colors so she could hang them in neat rows of blue, black, and white. She felt like her life was a mangled mess and she could at least hang her laundry in an orderly fashion.
She wished she’d taken on more of the household chores growing up instead of spending so much time in the barn with her alpacas. Her mamm tried to teach her how to run a home, but she preferred to work at her datt’s stand at the Flea Market instead. Now that she didn’t have her sisters, Anna and Emma, to do her share she was struggling to do it all by herself.
A wave a homesickness overcame her as she stood looking at the house she’d just moved into. She’d only been married for a few weeks when Eli moved them to Sugarcreek so he could take a job at his cousin’s Furniture Store. She missed her sisters in Willow Springs and wished she could talk to her mamm. No matter how hard she tried, she felt like she was failing at being a good fraa to Eli.
Waking up that morning to the lingering smell of burnt meatloaf and not being able to pull herself out of bed to make Eli’s lunch left her feeling worthless.
As she pinned the last towel to the line, she stood and turned her face toward the sky as she said a silent prayer.
“Dear Gott, please help me be a good fraa to Eli. Help me to find joy in my home today, and most of all, help me not to burn dinner again.”
As she walked back to the house, she noticed small tufts of snow leftover from the last snow storm were starting to melt, and Eli had turned over the soil in the garden. The daffodils that lined its border were starting to bloom, and they gave her a glimmer of hope that maybe her day would get better.
Inside she sat at the table and sipped a cup of peppermint tea to soothe her stomach, and started to make a list of what she needed to accomplish. Above everything else, she wanted to make Eli his favorite dessert, homemade chocolate pudding. A lump formed in her throat as she thought about sending him to work without breakfast or lunch. What was her problem? Why was she so tired that she couldn’t even force herself to get up with him that morning?
Enough is enough she thought to herself. There’s no sense in feeling sorry for myself, and I’m not getting this list done just looking at it. She forced herself to get up and put her cup in the sink as she looked out the window only to notice Lydia working in her garden.
“There she is again, doesn’t she ever stop?”
The round woman was bent over tying a string between two stakes to make a perfectly straight row. It reminded her that Eli had brought home a bag of seeds from the mercantile and she needed to add planting radishes and peas to her chore list. She reached up and rubbed the back of her neck as she closed her eyes and blew out a long breath. She looked at Lydia in her garden again and wish she could talk to her mamm. Without giving it another thought, she grabbed her shawl off the peg by the front door and walked across the road to Lydia’s house.
When she reached the spot where Lydia was working, she just stood and stared. Lydia’s gray hair was coming loose from the bun secured at the back of her neck, and the wind was blowing her blue scarf up over the back of her head. Taking a deep breath and willing herself to speak she said.
“How do you do it?”
Startled, Lydia turned to look over her shoulder only to see Rebecca with her arms crossed over her chest standing at the edge of the garden.
“My goodness dear, you scared me. You shouldn’t sneak up on an old woman like that.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“What’s the matter, child? You look like you’re about to cry.”
“I feel like such a failure and need to talk to someone.”
Lydia laid the hoe down at her feet and walked over to her.
She put her arm around her shoulder and guided her to the porch.
“Come, let’s go sit, and you can tell me what’s bothering you.”
Before they even got to the porch, a sob got caught in the back of her throat, and she made a funny hiccup sound as she reached into her apron pocket for a hankie.
Giving her a chance to calm down, Lydia started to reminisce about being a young fraa.
“Ya’ know we moved to Sugarcreek from Lancaster, when I was just about your age, and I’d just gotten married myself.”
She started to giggle as she settled back in her chair to get comfortable.
“Boy, did I mess things up when I first got married, I thought everything had to be perfect. Being the new girl in town, I felt everyone was watching everything I did. I thought the house needed to be cleaned until it shined, fresh bread made every day, the laundry on the line by eight o’clock every Monday morning, not a weed in the garden, and not a hair out of place when Joseph came home. I was running myself ragged trying to keep everything just so. I was so obsessed with keeping house and proving to everyone I was the perfect fraa I forgot the most important thing.”
Rebecca leaned in hoping to learn the secret to being a perfect fraa, as she asked.
“What was it? What’s the most important thing?”
“I was trying to please the wrong person. I was being prideful, and I was comparing myself to others instead of trying to please the one that means the most. It was Joseph who brought it to my attention. He reminded me that my primary focus was to please Gott and I was to humbly serve Him with all my heart in all areas of my life and that included homemaking.”
Once I realized that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone else I fell into my own natural rhythm of being a good fraa. Ya’ know keeping a home is more than having a spotless house. It’s about serving Gott with a happy heart, and when we do, it spills over to being a good and faithful fraa to our husbands.”
“Now tell me why are you feeling like a failure?”
“Oh, Lydia you have now idea how I needed to hear those words today. I’ve been beating myself up for weeks, and you’re so right I’ve been comparing myself to my mamm, my sisters, and to you. But most of all I haven’t once thought about me being a fraa had anything to do with serving Gott.”
“I’m embarrassed to tell you that I couldn’t even pull myself out of bed this morning to make Eli breakfast, and I sent him to work without any lunch. I’m so tired all the time, and I think I’m homesick because I’m crying over everything.”
She stood up and leaned down to hug the older woman.
“Thank you so much. I’d better head home, I want to make Eli his favorite dessert for dinner, maybe he’ll forgive me for not getting up with him this morning.”
“He’ll forgive you as soon as you tell him why you’ve been so tired lately.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re expecting, you silly girl.”
Rebecca sat back down and tried to let Lydia’s words sink in.
Could it be, was she really going to have Eli’s baby?
Between Lydia’s motherly advice and putting all the pieces together at why she’d been so tired, it looked like Gott had his own plans on how this day would turn out. Lydia was right, it was time she started to embrace whatever chore she had with the heart of a humble servant. At that instance, she realized she had lots to be thankful for and none it revolved around how clean her house was or what time she got her laundry on the line. She couldn’t wait for Eli to get home, she had so much to share with him.
“I hope you enjoyed this short story about my favorite Amish family, Jacob and Stella Byler and their four children. I invite you to come back each month as I take you inside their very simple life centered around faith, family, and community in the fictitious town of Willow Springs, Pennsylvania. Willow Springs is modeled after New Wilmington, PA, a small town that plays host to an Amish community I grew up near. If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to visit the Simple Life Amish Tour Company. Susan, the tour guide will take you on a ride through Amish Country, explain the Amish Culture, answer any questions you may have and take you to visit several Amish farms and businesses. A truly memorable experience!”
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