Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fiction: An Okie, a Buckeye, and a Disco on the Rhine

Welcome to Friday Fiction! My contribution is a story I wrote based on my trip down the Rhine in the late 1970's. This one earned an Editor's Choice in the Faithwriter's Writing Challenge--the topic was "Fellowship--among believers". For more great fiction or to add your own contribution to the fun, hop on over to Laury's blog, In My Daddy's Arms. Thanks for reading!

An Okie, a Buckeye, and a Disco on the Rhine
©By Dee Yoder

A sodden tree branch whaps me across the face when the fraulein ahead of me lets go of it as she steps onto the dock. I look up and catch the eye of my former roommate, Rosie. It’s summer break, and I thought it’d be fun to come home with her to Germany for a few weeks, but I’ve forgotten about the fun I’m supposed to be having. As it turns out, I’m a lousy traveler. The food, which was tasty and exotic when I sampled her German recipes at home, has turned into my worst nightmare. The Wiener Schnitzel we had for lunch yesterday gave me an awful case…well, never mind. The castles and the ancient churches we’ve seen have thrilled me, but the language barrier and the food-borne illnesses have made me irritable. Plus, I’m so homesick that I stood outside the American Embassy this morning and cried while I watched the flag being raised. Pathetic.

And now, here I am at the beautiful Rhine River. I should be ecstatic, but I’m not. It could be because Rosie’s Mom decided that an ordinary tourist cruise would be boring, so instead, she booked us on a disco river cruise. Yes, disco.

Rosie and I finally make it onto the boat just in time for the loud party to shift into high gear. It’s so packed that I imagine a headline on the news tomorrow “One Thousand Tourists Drown as Crowded Disco Boat Sinks in the Rhine.” An overweight man stumbles backward onto my foot; he’s already drunk.

Rosie and I fight our way to one of the tiny tables placed along the sides of the stuffy room. We sip our cokes while we watch the disco ball spin silvery slivers of light across the floor, the ceiling, and the gyrating dancers. I stare out the window at the famous Rhine. No one else is looking at the river. It’s black gleaming water slides past the pulsating party boat like a silent boa. My head hurts.

“I’m going topside,” I shout to Rosie. She arches her brows in question, but I shake my head. I need a moment alone to sulk.

The fresh air shocks my lungs back to life as I stumble my way across the top of the rolling boat to seats lining the rails. An American Marine greets me with a grin.

“Need some air?” he laughs.

“Yeah. Wow! I never realized how much Europeans smoke.”

“I’m Robert from Oklahoma,” he says as he puts out his hand to me.

“Abby from Ohio.”

“Hi, Abby-from-Ohio. Buckeye, huh?”

“Yep. Okie, huh?” We laugh at our feeble small talk.

A grand cathedral lit with white and red lights comes into view. Its stained glass windows glitter in the spotlights like colorful shards of Christmas candy.

“I love old churches,” I say quietly.

“They’re awesome, aren’t they?”

“So sturdy and steadfast. They remind me of the theologians and hymn writers of old.”

“Like Luther.”

“Did he write hymns?” I ask in surprise.

“Uh-huh, many famous ones.”

I nod at this information. Robert looks at me curiously.

“You a Christian?” he asks.


“Me, too.” He smiles at me.

I feel a kinship with this brother in the Lord. We exchange salvation stories and talk fondly of our home churches. The cruise boat glides on, the distant noise of the party below drifting in and out of our hearing as we share our faith. Finding a Christian on this party boat is like a gift the Lord has given to my lonely homesick heart.

Another beautiful cathedral, its steeple shining in the night, appears on the shore. Suddenly Robert jumps up, and as we pass the gothic structure on the banks of the Rhine, he begins to sing, “A mighty fortress is our God…”* He looks down at my astonished face, eagerly gesturing for me to join him.

I laugh as I stand to face the ancient church, and we boldly sing the two verses we can remember. We sing hymn after hymn, our voices echoing across the water, until the boat finds the dock again.

I take Roberts’s hand in a warm clasp. “I’m glad God brought you here tonight. He knew my troubled spirit needed this fellowship.”

“Same here, Abby. Best disco cruise I’ve ever taken.”

“Keep in touch, OK?”

“OK” he replies with a grin.

Rosie and I find each other on shore.

“Who’s the smile for?” she asks.

“God” I laugh.

*A Mighty Fortress Is Our God words by Martin Luther 1527, music by Martin Luther 1529.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Warning: Don't Read This Post If You Don't Want My Honest Opinion!

This post has been on my heart for quite a long time, but I hesitated to write it since I'm loathe to hurt the feelings of my friends or family. But I feel compelled to say a few things about church denominations. Before I go much further, let me say that I was raised in a denominational church and was a very BIG proponent of denominations and the importance of choosing a church based on that idea...until my husband, Jim Brown, died of cancer in September of 1995.

A curious thing happened to me one night in the hallway of the hospital. I was leaning against the cold wall, waiting outside my dying husband's door as the nurses administered yet another dose of pain killer, and I thought of how much I was aching. My heart was literally shattering into a thousand pieces because Jim was my everything. He was the father of my little 3-year old knight in shining armor...the rock that stabilized our home and our marriage...and one of the sweetest men I had ever met. He was my best friend and I simply could NOT imagine life going on without him in it. To say that I was sad was a gross understatement--I was broken. I was a wife and mother with a HUGE hole already growing in my heart, and getting bigger by the second, as Jim's death came creeping nearer.

As I stood there, I felt God, my Abba Father, wrapping himself around me and suddenly, I knew that all the things I'd thought were so important to my walk with the Lord: staying in a Pentecostal church, attending every Sunday--every time the doors were open, being at church 24/7, or whenever the church called me, making sure I "looked" right, "acted" right, "sounded" right didn't amount to a hill of beans in my most desperate moment in life. Suddenly, all that mattered was that the promise God made--and Jesus fulfilled--eternal life--was REAL. I felt God murmuring His peace and His promise into my heart: "You will see Jim again someday--you WILL".

But it was not enough! No, I didn't WANT to see Jim again in heaven, I wanted to see him here on earth--forever. And that revelation, that all the things I thought I believed, tipped my spiritual world upside down for a time. Slowly, as I adjusted, and I mean painfully adjusted, to life without Jim, I regained some of those spiritual truths back...the ones that matter, that is. Like: Jesus saves! And heaven is our REAL home, and God is LOVE. But some of the things I thought were so important, never came back. They were winnowed out by misery and pain and loneliness and strength and knowledge of how great God is and all the things that seem to be a base for Christianity. The basics.

Now I do go to church, but I really don't care about fitting into ALL aspects of their doctrine--just be sure you preach Christ and salvation and the Second Coming, and I'm pretty much happy. Some things are silly to me often to go to church, how long the service should be to feel "spiritual", how much I show up during the week, and a host of other things that just can't be as important as living my life with my family and friends and showing love and grace and...mercy. And making a connection in real life with those I go to church with, not just shaking their hand on Sunday morning. How shallow I was when I thought that was enough.

In the last couple of years, my family and I have been searching for a new church home. And here is where doctrine is getting us into trouble with others. We are connected now to many people with many different doctrinal views and some of them are being a bit pushy about what a "good" church is. The thing is, I just can't take many of their ideas seriously! Some are adamant that Pentecostalism is "wrong". They're pretty sure it has to be "of the Devil" (though they confess to have never been in a Pentecostal service at all). Then, on the other side of the street, are my Pentecostal friends who insist that a church without the Holy Spirit working in it through tongues and interpretations can't POSSIBLY be a good church. Sigh.

Here's the thing they seem to be forgetting: they're talking to a gal who thinks being in a church service for more than hour now is "burning daylight". I have little patience any more for all the rules and regulations. Some of my ex-Amish friends seem to have merely exchanged one set of rules for another, their new church doctrines are so stringent and precise. And some of my Pentecostal friends just can't see beyond that one gift of the Spirit. It's all or nothing for many. Oh dear.

Both sides remind me of the old joke about going to heaven and seeing a huge walled area. The person asks: "Who's behind that wall?" To which God answers: "Oh that's the (insert a doctrinal church body of your choice here). They think they're the only ones up here."

As for my family and me, we're striving to find a balance. A church that accepts us and loves us as we are NOW--and prays and helps us grow toward what God aspires for us to BE. We're looking for a church family that is not afraid of the hard questions or a pastor that doesn't always have all the "right" answers. (Struggling to KNOW is not a sin, in my humble opinion.) But offering mercy and grace and peace and love is a good way to get my attention.

I don't want to go to a church that expects me to check my brain at the door and hands me a doctrinal manual to live become a Stepford Christian just so I can look and act and be what everyone else in the church already is, or is pretending to be maybe.

But, here's the rub: I am not a natural born rebel. It takes the heart out of me to struggle with these kinds of issues. I'd rather run and hide than to deal with them straight on. I'd rather pretend I understand their doctrinal standards than to say, "No--I don't get that!" or simply to ask "Why?".

So this is my confessional moment: talk to me about God and Jesus and how things are going in your life. I REALLY want to know! But PLEASE, leave your doctrines at the door. I'm tired of trying to sort them out and find niches in my Christian walk that will satisfy all of those rules. I need and desire God wholly and truly, and without cliches and rules that make little sense to me in my dark moments of life. I need to get down to the nitty gritty and LIVE my life fully with Christ in it, of it, and surrounding it FIRST. Sometimes lately, it feels like I just can't see Him through all the doctrinal veils I'm looking through.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Friday Fiction:

I'm happy to be hosting Friday Fiction this week. Thanks, Peej! If you'd like to add your creative work to the list, just click on McLinkey at the bottom of my post. Be sure to read the other great stories, too. Thanks for stopping by!

My story is based on my experiences as a college student at an isolated country church in Copperhill, Tennessee. The strip-mined land has since been relcaimed.


©By Dee Yoder

“Lemme get this door open. Mercy, this ‘ol key is just about ready to break off, it’s so rusty. I’ll flip these lights on…y’all can just throw your stuff over yonder.”

There’s a smell in the air that makes my nose involuntarily wrinkle. The sunbeams are laden with dust as they shine through the few windows inside the sanctuary. I search my jeans pocket for my reserve allergy tablets as I glance around at the two rows of pews lined up in this tiny room. At the end of a dark hallway, is a bleak looking kitchenette.

“C’mon back, y’all, and get yourselves somethin’ to drink.”

The old gentleman points to a refrigerator that I’m sure must have been a new model--in 1957. It’s working hard to cool its innards, judging by the noise emanating from it. I gingerly accept a cup of water, and he leads us back to the sanctuary. As we pass by, he proudly points to a side room.

“That’n we use for Sunday school an’ prayer meetin’.”

In the sanctuary, he informs us he has to “fetch his wife” for church, and heads on out the door.

“Can you believe this old place?” I mumble.

“Is there even a piano, or…or anything to play for worship?” Stacy stares around at the room in question. Against the far wall, an ancient up-right piano leans on its shaky legs, a rickety homemade bench in front of it presenting the only place for the unfortunate instrument player to perch. She approaches the piano slowly, her mouth turned down in disappointment.

“I can’t get over the shear desolation outside” I comment. “I’ve never seen a strip mining community before; there isn’t a single blade of grass growing on any of the hills around here. Bare red dirt everywhere!”

My best friend, and the person who arranged this experience, shakes his head at our observations.

“I told you guys it was poor. What did you expect? These people barely have two nickels to rub together. Some churches up here don’t even have a building, let alone a piano, and, besides that, it’s fairly well tuned.”

Too bad Stacy proves him wrong with the C chord she fingers. She looks at him and laughs.

“Well, anyhow, we better get our stuff together. The service is supposed to start in fifteen minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes? Where’re the people, Phil?” I ask.

“They’ll be here, don’t worry. They don’t waste time standing around talking; they hit the door about two minutes before service starts.”

This time, he’s right. As we finish up our preparations, running children, smiling adults, and even a mangy puppy, suddenly surround us. The mother of the puppy’s owner smacks her son on his arm and instructs him to “git that nasty ‘ol dawg outa here. This’s God’s house, Benny.” I glance around and wonder if He would lay claim to her last statement.

The people excitedly pump our hands in welcome, and tell us how happy they are to have college students willing to fill in while they look for a new pastor. Their greetings warm my heart and give me, for the first time since we arrived, a feeling that maybe God IS directing this day.

I sit next to several children on the first row; their grins light up their smudged faces when they look at me. We begin the service with a rousing hymn, and the church people happily leap to their feet and begin enthusiastically clapping and praising, oblivious to the cacophonous piano.

Phil delivers his sermon in a simple, straightforward manner, and I’m impressed with his ability to reach the hearts of these isolated Christians. Their eyes are glued to his, and they listen with respect and understanding, punctuating his words with vigorous “Amens” and “Preach it, brother”.

I came today, after many weeks of begging on Phil’s part, with a pious spirit. I patted myself on my spiritual back for sacrificing my Sunday to help these poor, backward Christians have an encouraging service so they could resume their impoverished lives on Monday. In my heart, God is showing me that He is their Encourager. His Word and grace have already filled their spirits with riches my own soul lacks today.

My eyes fill with tears as I watch their whole-hearted worship.

Suddenly, Benny turns to me and asks, “Ain’t this doggone fun?” He wipes his runny nose with his sleeve, and I return his grin.

“Yes, it is, Benny” I laugh.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Fiction: Baltasound on Unst

Here's a mystery I wrote that won an Editor's Choice in the Faithwriter's Writing Challenge when the topic was "United Kingdom". For more great fiction, head over to Sara's Fiction Fusion to read more, or to leave your own link. Thanks for reading!

Baltasound on Unst
©By Dee Yoder

My feet slip along the path to the beach where the snow is light. The edge of the sea is close at hand; I must be careful not to slide too far. I look out on the ocean, and nothing keeps the fierce wind from blowing against my face. The waves are breaking on the shore and scouring the rocks free of any loose debris; the sediment falls to the sand to continually feed the beach.

I’m weary of this far-flung northern Scottish island. It welcomed me at first, but the mystery of my husband’s death has changed the islander’s welcome. Being American, I am not the native son Bill was. I’ve done everything I can to settle his estate; his parent’s croft house was left to him years ago when they both died within months of each other. Bill was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I met him on my journey through Europe on a tourist visa. Our marriage was quick, but wonderful.

It was the beginning of summer when we came to Unst on a lark. He wanted to see the croft and try his hand at starting a B & B. The tourists, surprisingly, were coming to Unst in flocks during the warm months, so, not counting the archaeologists who claim a strand of sand from time to time to look for Viking relics, we had a steady stream of guests. But then, while walking along the shore one night, Bill vanished.

I spent agonized days and nights, along with the islanders, walking the beaches repeatedly, calling his name and searching the angry waves for any sign of him. Weeks of investigation led the authorities to assume he had slipped off the cliffs and drowned, but the mystery of not really knowing made the islanders grow distant toward me.

Now as I turn away from the sound, I decide to go to the Baltasound Hotel. I have aching memories of the times I spent with Bill in this small island restaurant. From outside, I can hear the sounds of the local band playing a Shetland reel.

The boisterous group of people pay me little mind, but as I make my way to the table in the corner where Bill and I spent many a happy evening, faces turn to watch me. I seat myself with my back to them. I instantly retreat into the memories of Bill and me listening to the bands and whispering our future plans, our heads close together as we dream. How I long to hear his voice again.

I feel a wince of pain as the familiar strains of the Mavis Anne waltz spreads through the room. I remember how Bill pulled me to my feet on the night of the Up Helly Aa* at the village of Uyeasound. The bonfire on the beach roared and provided the fiddles and the bass guitars as fitting backdrop to our firelit waltz.

My memories consume me until I feel the soft touch of a hand on my shoulder. I look up at Shelley, a wait staff girl, who seems to be one of the few willing to speak to me.

“You’ve had your dinner, then?” she asks with her soft Shetland accent.

“No…I was walking by the sound.”

She eyes me sympathetically and sits across from me. “You have to let it go, now; you have to move on,” she said quietly. “You need to be with your family in the States.”

“I can’t leave…Bill.” I shake my head miserably.

“The investigation has run its course…staying here…it only makes you suffer.” She glances at the patrons in the room. “And this lot…well…they could do to stop having a gossip at your expense.” Her frown shows the disgust she feels toward the other islanders.

“I wish they understood…I wish I could go…” I sigh and drop my eyes to the worn tabletop.

She says nothing but stands and walks to the kitchen. A few minutes later, she’s back with a plate of fish and chips. “Eat, please, Emily.”

I nod absently. After a while, the low murmur of voices interrupts my daydreams of Bill, and I stand awkwardly. The music pushes me out the door…it is too happy.

Outside, the wind catches my breath; once again, I turn toward the cold ocean and stare out at the frothing waves.

“Where are you, Bill?” I whisper through tears. The steely waves pound and the ferocious wind roars, but the cold Atlantic keeps her secret…still.

*Up Helly Aa : Is the largest fire festival in Europe. This event celebrates the influence of the Vikings that arrived in Shetland many years ago. The festival features a procession of torches carried by islanders wearing costumes as they parade through the streets. They end the ceremony with the burning of a full-sized replica of a Viking longship on the beaches. The festival is often repeated for tourists in the summer months.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Things Are Changing

Things are changing for my MC! Leah is right on the cusp of making a momentous decision. In the midst of all these changes, I want to keep her honest, but sometimes, it's hard for me to figure out exactly where she's going.

I have so many voices in my head from the ex-Amish and their many stories and experiences. Any of these could lead my writing in different directions, but one thing is common to all of them: missing their families is uppermost in their hearts.

One of our ex-Amish friends recently received a letter from his parents and sister. They were quick to let him know that unless he gave up his English life, he was no longer welcome at home. They made sure to tell him that this ban included weddings, funerals, and any other family event he may want to attend. The words were stark and clear: he was no longer considered a part of the family!

Why so harsh? What was his crime? He had told them that he was getting baptized. Yes. Baptized. In this day and age, you'd think parents would be jumping for joy that their son was doing this, but not in the Old Order world. It hurts, no matter what your folly, to be rejected by your parents, but when your folly is no folly at all, and is really a very personal and spiritual act, it makes the rejection even harder to live with.

The main character in The Miting, Leah, is an amalgamation of all these precious young people who have come in my life and opened their hearts. Leah is filled with indecision, hurt, love, Christian enthusiasm, and pain, just as these friends of mine are. I pray that my writing can adequately reflect all that is represented in each of their stories.

In the coming weeks, I'll post another excerpt from The Miting. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Friday Fiction: The Secret Money Vine

Welcome to Friday Fiction! Catrina is hosting today at A Work in Progress. Head on over to read more great fiction, or to add your own fiction to the the list.

My story today was written for the "Write a Children's Story" Faithwriters Writing Challenge. I received a Highly Commended, and as that was a first for me, I was very happy!

The Secret Money Vine
©By Dee Yoder

Sam found a seed. It was green, shaped in a square, and had writing on it.

“Look!” he said to Robert. He held out his hand with the weird, green, square
seed in it.

“That’s strange,” said Robert.

“I know”, replied Sam. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Let’s plant it and see what grows.”

“Ok. I’ll get a shovel”.

The friends planted the green seed at their fort in the woods, and every day, for two weeks, they came to look at the spot where it was planted. Nothing ever showed above the dirt. After a while, they decided the square, green seed with writing on it was not going to grow any plant at all. They gave up looking at it.

One morning, many months later, Sam rode his bike to the fort. He noticed something very strange. A leafy vine was waving in the air above the fort. The leaves on the vine were square, green, and had writing on them!

“Well, look at that!” he exclaimed.

He ran around to the side of the fort where he and Robert had planted the weird seed many months before. There, growing tall, and straight, was the biggest vine Sam had ever seen.

“Wow! I gotta go call Robert!”

Robert came riding up ten minutes later. He was just as excited as Sam when he saw the giant vine with the square, green leaves.

“Sam, look!” Robert pointed to a leaf that was sticking straight out from the vine.

Sam picked it. He held it in his palm and examined it closely. When he looked at Robert, his eyes were shining and his lips were quivering.

“Robert”, breathed Sam, “It’s!”

“What?! Give me that!”

Robert looked the leaf over carefully and decided Sam was right. It was money!

“Oh, man! We are two lucky dudes, Sam!”

“Don’t I know it!”

The boys ran to the vine and began harvesting the money leaves right and left. Soon, they had so much money, stuffed in their pockets, in their shoes, in their hats and in their hands that they couldn’t hold another leaf. They decided they would each take some and hide the leaves in their closets until they could think of how to explain the money to their parents.

“Have fun hiding it, Robert” called Sam as his friend pedaled away.

“I will! Tomorrow let’s go downtown and buy whatever we want!” replied Robert happily.

At dinner that night, Sam could barely hide his excitement. He wanted to tell his Mom and Dad what he and Robert discovered that morning, but the pact he made with his friend stopped him.

“Sam, I found your new soccer ball in the road this afternoon”, said Dad suddenly.

“Uh, you did?”

“Yes, and I want you to know that I don’t appreciate the way you’re taking care of it. That ball cost a pretty penny, son.”

“Sam, you know money doesn’t grow on trees”, scolded Mom.

Sam nearly spit his milk out on the table. He wished he could tell her that it grows on vines! He choked a little and his parents eyed him closely. Sam kept his head down through the rest of dinner, but later in bed, he dreamed of all the things he would buy tomorrow.

The next day, Robert and Sam discussed their problem. They couldn’t figure out how to spend the money without their parents finding out about the secret vine. Finally, they decided to say they found it buried in the woods. The boys took a big box, filled it with dirt and stuck several money leaves in it. They carried the box to Sam’s house. Sam’s Mom was outside when they got to his backyard.

“Mom! Look!” called Sam to his mother.

Mom was startled when she saw the money in the box; she hurried to the house to call Sam’s Dad.

While the boy’s parents talked about the found money, Sam and Robert began to feel guilty for the lies they had told. The time was right to tell the truth. The two friends started to speak when Sam’s Mom suddenly pointed to the box.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.

Everyone gathered around the box. Inside, nothing but dirt, and little crumbled pieces of leaves remained.

“Well, isn’t that odd?” asked Robert’s Mom.

Robert and Sam looked at each other sadly. Their dreams crumbled in their heads just like the leaves.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fuzzy Brained--Is This Forever?

If you know me at all, or even look at my profile picture, you know that I am not a spring chicken. I am, in fact, past the half century mark. And I have to say that in the last few months, I don't think it has ever been harder to focus on writing for the FaithWriter's Writing Challenge. It used to be that my stories flowed from my fingers...easy peasy. I only had to carve out an hour or two to get a good, and sometimes, even pretty good, story into Microsoft Word. But now...ugh.

There seems to be a foggy curtain that has been hung across the part of my brain that is inspired to write those lively and challenging stories. I try to pull the curtain back once in a while to get a glimpse of that pristine area of my brain that so easily whirled and clicked a few months ago. But even lifting the curtain is too much for me. My feeble brain cells are too weak to lift a veil that appears to be made of lead.

I think it is my age. I am at that point of no return for females where the body begins its inevitable morphing into the non-mother mode. That time of life when we "change". I remember as a girl hearing older women talk about "the change" and it seemed so wonderfully mysterious; like women were becoming another sort of exotic and wild species right before my eyes.

Well, I'm here to tell you that there is nothing mysterious or exotic about it at all! It is nothing but a body winding down and gears becoming loose and brain cells becoming very very lethargic. Activity is a foreign word. Exercise is as simple as getting off the couch and trudging to the bathroom. Oh, that hallway looks mighty long sometimes!

Just a couple of years ago, I was ecstatic that I was "changing". I felt good! I felt free! I felt like I had licked the Big M with one arm tied behind my back. But then, just when I was least expecting it, wham! The Big M showed me her muscles and I was whipped in one fell swoop. Pitiful.

I have heard that better days are coming....the fog WILL lift...the body will finish its morph...the woman will come forth whole and well. Gee, I sure hope so.

In the meantime, I stumble through the fog and attempt to peer through dimly lit veils. I want my brain back--without lists and post-it notes and calendars firmly attached. I want to write freely again, and more than that, I want to write with a frolicking spirit! Now that would be something--a bonus that I feel I'm owed after wading through this war zone of The Change. Stay tuned: I'll be sure to tell you when that happens. I'd better write that down, so I'll remember to let you know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Fiction: Hallo the House

Welcome to Friday Fiction, hosted by Shirley at Summer Glade. I wrote this for the FaithWriters Challenge when the topic was "family reunion". Thanks for stopping by to read my story!

Hallo the House
By Dee Yoder

Dad guided our Chevy wagon to the berm of the road and pulled the emergency brake with a jerk. The car listed at a sharp angle as a muddy stream rushed just inches from his door.

“Well, nobody’s in the yard. Wait here while I roust somebody.”

I watched as he eased out his door, his dress shoes sliding on the steep bank as he jumped clear of the water. He rolled his white shirtsleeves up as he headed to the dirt driveway, the sun reflecting its heat off the top of his black Brylcreamed hair. He stopped at the gate.

“Hallo the house!” he called. He waited several seconds before raising his hands again to his mouth.

“Hallo the house! Anybody there? Jack? Lester?”

He hesitated and then started back to the car. About the time he reached the stream, a thin voice called out “Izzat you, Raymond?”

Dad spun on his heels. “Naw…it’s just another ol’ hillbilly, Lester, come home for supper,” he called.

“I’ll send Jack’s boy down to unlock the gate, you ol’ Buckeye. Anybody with you?”

“Yep…we’re all hopin’ for some beans and cornbread,” Dad laughed. I glanced at Mom. Her eyes held a brightness that made her look brittle and unsure. I gave her a quick smile before I looked back out the window.

I watched a scrawny, soil-laden boy shuffle his lanky body down the lane, the dirt devils rising all around him like he was the eye of an approaching storm. He unlatched the gate in a languid manner and welcomed my dad with a shrug.

Dad loped back to the car and eased the Chevy’s fat whitewalls through the shallow creek and onto the dry drive. Our tire tracks left fancy prints in the red dirt behind us.

I watched as a flock of nervous chickens made a pitiful attempt at flight as our car encroached on their favorite pecking grounds. They squawked their complaints in loud screeches when we passed by.

As Dad pulled the Chevy to a stop under the limbs of a shaggy-looking oak, his family gathered on the porch to stare as we climbed from the car. Dad moseyed his way to his kin, taking time to ruffle a couple of heads as he went. There were no hugs or smiles and only a few slight grins, but he seemed to know he was welcome. I wasn’t as sure, and Mom was standing as stiff as an ironing board between my sister and I.

“Grandma in there?” Dad asked, jerking his thumb at the holey screen door.

“Yep. She’s makin’ some cornbread an’ beans, right now. Y’all gonna c’mon in and take supper with us?” asked a woman who was wearing the exact same coveralls as the men. Children began to ramble out to us; their freckled faces lighting up with admiring grins. I suddenly realized they were my cousins.

The woman in coveralls called down to my mom, sister, and me. “Y’all c’mon in and take a rest. Mighty hot out’chere. I got some tea inside.” She didn’t wait to escort us in and we awkwardly followed her through the relatives to the house.

Inside, the kids scattered and the grown-ups sat in groups as Mom tried to make polite conversation.

“It’s nice we got a chance to stop in on our way home after the funeral,” she said.

Everyone silently nodded as a clock ticked in the quiet room.

“How’s your Mom taking Mr. See’s death?” a man asked.

“She’s doing fine, I guess.” Another long silence made Mom’s cheeks redden and she sighed.

We stayed through supper, and then sat around some more. Finally Dad stood.

“Well, it’s time we head home. We’ve got a ways to go and I have to work tomorrow.” The relatives moved as a group with us out the door and onto the porch.

We made our way to the Chevy and Dad waved his goodbyes all the way down the lane; his family lazily lifted an arm or two in farewell. I watched them as they sauntered back to the porch.

We pulled out onto the blacktopped highway and pointed the nose of our Chevy north. Mom rolled her window down and let the wind blow her blond hair away from her face. Her smile echoed the relief I felt as the house and the family we quickly left behind became just another memory. We wouldn’t have to visit again for a long time.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Questions and Curiosities: Answers!

I received several questions about the Amish from Tuesday's post. And the questions are very good ones! I'm going to answer them according to what the ex-Amish I know have said, and according to what I know from my Amish in-laws, from my husband's experiences, and from my own personal experiences. So, here we go!

1. Joanne asks: "I'm kind of curious about the gender separation, Dee. How early does it start? At what point, for instance, does a boy stop sitting with his mother at church? And what other things do they not "mingle" with?"

When I went to my first family reunion with my husband, I noticed that the men and the women stayed in separate groups. They came in as families, but then settled into distinct women-over-here and men-over-there pods. I think they do this just the way we English do in our tend to talk to men and women to women in social settings.

In church, the men and women sit apart for religious reasons: 1.They each have different roles in church services and, 2. The emphasis is on the family of God--not the individual family. From what I've seen, most Amish dads are quite comfortable handling toddlers, so I think when boys become old enough to sit on their own, they are placed with their dads in church. Church is held in people's barns or sheds, so there is no formal church building. A bench wagon is driven to each home and the barns are cleaned. The benches are set up in the barns or sheds, and church is held every other week. My husband was raised in the Mennonite church, and until he was in his teens, the church still practiced the separation of men and women in their Mennonite services.

2.Calina asks: "Do the Old Order and New Order Amish communicate or does the Old Order turn their backs on the New Order ways of thinking? You may have already done this post, but can I ask, How did you meet your husband? What does your family think of your marrying an Amish man?"

The Old Order tend to NOT mingle with the New Order Amish. It is part of their tradition to not be conformed to any but their own Ordnung. The New Order church typically is perceived by the more conservative churches as "modern". However, I think it really depends on the location of the Old Order groups. In my area of Ohio, the Old Order are very inward and have little contact with any other churches. But my husband's family have New and Old Order groups that mingle at reunions, etc. They are all from the Holmes County, Ohio area where the Amish seem to be a bit more tolerant of other Amish traditions.

My husband isn't Amish, but his dad was. His family is mostly still Amish or conservative Mennonites (there are several groups of Mennonites, too--that's another story!). Since I grew up in area of Ohio with Old Order Amish, who are surface friendly, but not as open to English as my husband's family are, there was some concern in my family that the Yoders might not be welcoming.I was ahppy to find out that tis was not an issue!

Also, sadly, in my area of Ohio, rumors of abuse among the Old Order groups have permeated the Englisher's view of the local Amish. There was some concern from my family because of those rumors, too, when I first began to date my husband. I even asked questions about that myself, but abuse is not something I've heard any rumors about in his family group. I do address that issue, though, in my novel.

3. Andrea asks: "From the outside, the Amish appear to have the makings of a beautiful family unit. Is this true?"

In most cases with my husband's family, I believe it is true. But since the Amish are very patriarchal (the men rule the family), it is really dependent on what the men in the family tolerate or allow. It is also true that a certain church group could be more stringent with their women and children than another group.

I do know that, in some cases, women and children are not treated as well as we in the English world think they should be. In the case of abuse (physical and sexual), the church has the final say in how abuse is handled. Often, a man will be "punished" by being banned from the church service for a period of weeks. You can imagine what a slap on the wrist a punishment such as this would be for a man with a really abusive nature. Since most of these abuses are not reported to outside authorities, abused wives and children could be very isolated for years in their situations. Again, a good, kind man would would tend to have a pretty happy family, just as in any English home. But if a man is abusive, there is a chance that his family would suffer in silence for many years. Also, unlike English cultures, parents have authority over their children for LIFE. So having unhappy parents could result in many years of unhappy children.

4. Sunny asks: "What percent of young Amish leave their families after being out on rumspringa?"

The interesting thing about rumpringa is that among the very conservative Old Order groups, rumpringa is HIGHLY frowned upon and is not allowed. If it happens, the teen will have a most uncomfortable home life! Among less strict churches, it is allowed, but not at all promoted. Many times, if teens are rumspringa, they are hiding this from their parents. If parents know, they pretend not to know. It is not discussed! And is NOT encouraged at all.

One man, who left a very strict Amish group, said to me just last Saturday that he laughs when he hears English talk about rumspringa--it didn't happen among his group! You joined the church--or else. But among those who leave, it is a very small percentage who leave the church permanently. This is one reason why rumspringa is sometimes "tolerated", among a group. About 90% will return to their Amish community and join the church. Since it is REQUIRED for a young person to join the church before being married, most do join--especially when they have a love interest in mind.

The ex-Amish that I have knowledge of are leaving their Amish culture. Period. They are not rumspringa, or testing their wings. They just want out. Many are leaving because they have become born again Christians and that is not allowed in their conservative groups. They would love to have the best of both worlds, but they have no choice. They are either in...or they are out. Some have not joined the church before they left, and in their cases, the Amish families are a bit more tolerant of allowing visits. But for those who joined the church and THEN left, shunning and ex-communication are for life.

Of those I know who have left, many are barely of age (18) and a few are even younger. It used to be that the law was not called when an under-aged child left their Amish family, but lately, bishops are starting to encourage parents to call the local law authorities if doing so will bring the child back home. The ones I know have left as soon as they could. If they know others who have left, they will cling to them. The ex-Amish young people will more often leave, too, if they know they have somewhere to go and others from their families or communities who have also left.

5. Sunny asks: "Also I know schoolteachers in Amish schools are young women
(often under 20?). How do they know what to teach, without outside influences? What books do they use for history and Science? Or don't they teach those subjects?"

The Amish do have publishing companies that can supply their schools with books. A great selection of these resources can be seen in many Amish stores (or Amish Wal-Marts, as my Amish cousins call them!) Since they don't educate past the 8th grade, any girl who is intelligent and has left school in the 8th grade may teach. Many do until they marry.

One of the worst things about Amish education is that often the ex-Amish are inadequately prepared for the English world. Their studies are fairly simple: reading, writing, and arithmetic taught as basics only. I don't think they do much history or science, and when they do, it is elementary. In some communities, Amish are schooled with English children in public schools. I know of many Amish kids who attended elementary school with my husband. It depends on whether there is an Amish school available and whether the local bishop allows this kind of schooling.

The biggest problem that many of the ex-Amish face is knowing English as a second language. They only learn it when they begin school, and it is rarely spoken in the home. To study and gain their GEDs takes time and much patience. Some will give up and not receive their GED at all. It can be very difficult for them.

Thanks for these great questions! I hope I've answered your questions, but if you have more, please feel free to leave a comment.