Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gott in Himmel! - The Hochstetler Family

It had been more than a month since Amos Hochstetler’s dear wife Sarah had passed. Four children she had brought into the world, four beautiful, healthy children. She had been so happy to find that she would be bearing a fifth. Nine long sim-months passed just as they had with the other children, but when the time came, something was different. Something was wrong.

It wasn’t their way to bring outsiders in, and when Miriam Hershberger, the community’s Amish mid-wife, told Amos with a hint of panic in her voice to hurry and call a doctor, Amos hesitated. Surely Miriam, with her decades of experience bringing Amish children into the world, could keep the situation under control. If only he hadn’t waited to call Dr. Vogel. If only he had listened when she’d told him the first time….

Now Sarah was gone, and with her, their baby. The close-knit Amish community of Simmersburg had come together to provide support for the grieving family, but Amos wanted nothing of it. All he wanted was his dear wife back. Even his everyday chores were often peppered with instances of being unable to keep the tears at bay.

Amos wasn’t the only one feeling Sarah’s loss profoundly. Young Susanna, just barely fifteen and having completed her schooling, was left alone as the woman of the household with three small children. She missed her mother’s sweet voice singing as she hung the laundry on wash day. She missed that together-time every night after supper, when Sarah would stand with her eldest daughter at the sink, working over the day’s dishes, and talk about the girl’s day. She missed her mother’s level-headedness, her caring, her gentle way she kept the house running.

Now it was all left to Susanna. The cooking and cleaning and laundry and gardening; the sewing and the mending; the minding of the children and the looking after her father. The twins, Sol and Leah, were too young to take on more responsibility than they had - minding the dogs and horses, helping Dat on the farm after school, keeping up with their homework… it was enough for them. They still had to be children.

Susanna stood in the kitchen one night preparing supper. Her father was putting the horses up for the evening out in the barn, and judging by the squeaking of the floorboards above Susanna’s head, Sol and Leah were playing upstairs. Little Caleb was near, as he always was, playing with a wooden spoon and a few old, dented pots and pans, making what Susanna wouldn’t have necessarily called music, but a tune nonetheless.

When dinner was ready – a tasty, sweet ham with the last of the harvest’s fresh corn, her mother’s smashed potatoes and fresh baked rolls – she called her family to the table, tearing Caleb with some difficulty from his make-shift drums and setting him in his seat at the end of the table.

It didn’t escape Susanna’s attention that her father’s eyes were red-rimmed again, and she frowned deeply as she spread a napkin on her lap. Amos didn’t wait for a comment from his eldest as he closed his eyes and bowed his head, his children following in suit, ready for prayer.

“Unser Fodder, dar duh bischt im Himmel…”

“I don’t want to pray.”

Susanna’s eyes popped open, coming to focus on Leah, sitting wide-eyed across the table from her. She glanced at her father, who seemed to be struggling to process his daughter’s words.

“Why would you say such a thing?” He finally asked, and little Leah didn’t bother looking abashed.

“Gott took Mama. I don’t want to pray to Him anymore.”

Susanna felt her jaw go slack. “Leah!” She admonished quickly, stunned that such a thing could come out of her sister’s mouth. “Sufnix!”

“But I don’t!”

“Muss ich dresche dich?! Speaking so at the table! What would Mama say?”

“Mama isn’t here. And I don’t want to pray no more.”

“Leah, you listen here…” Susanna began again, but her father held up his hand.

“She is angry, Susanna,” he said softly. “She is allowed to be.”

Susanna gaped at her father. She had expected a thorough tongue-lashing for saying such rutsching, at the supper table no less! But it seemed that there would be no such thing happening, and Susanna didn’t see it fit.

“Ach, Dat, she’s being lippy….”

“Jah, and so are you, talking back to your dat.”

Susanna felt redness creeping to her cheeks as she searched for words. Before she could find them, her father bowed his head again, and began anew. “Unser Fodder, dar duh bischt im Himmel…”

Susanna bowed her own head, scowling at Leah, who sat straight and didn’t participate. Sol looked stunned at the exchange he had just witnessed, but one look at Susanna’s sour expression, and he crosses his hands in his lap and dipped his head.

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