Oh, send the sunshine down my way. . . .” Sadie King sang the bright song to the green juniper bushes and the chickens and little Sam and Katie and anyone else who wanted to listen on this glorious morning.
All around her on the King family farm, plants and animals were coming alive, blossoming and sprouting green leaves and pushing up strong shoots through the earth. Birdsong filled the air around them, along with the scents of honeysuckle and warm grass. The sweetness mixed with the sharp smell of the fields, where her brothers had turned manure in to the warming soil to make it fertile for more things to grow.
Signs of spring surrounded her and she poured her joy into the melody that flowed from her heart. God was renewing the farm, breathing life into everything.
Sadie was in Rumspringa, and her new life included an Englisher boy named Frank Marconi and the wonderful good bounty of music he had shown her. Music outside the Amish community wasn’t just used to praise God. There was jazz and rock and roll, music to dance to, folk music and songs to sing along to. The English had songs to make you sad and songs that made you feel like you were soaring between puffy clouds.
Like “Blossom,” the song she was singing this morning as she steered her youngest siblings toward the chicken coop.
“Stay out here, Katie. You can start feeding them.” Sadie removed the heavy lid from the seed bucket and grabbed a small handful.
Two-year-old Katie giggled as she tossed feed onto the ground, attracting the flapping hens. “Eat now! Eat!” she ordered, enjoying this almost as much as the chickens.
“Why do we gather eggs twice a day?” Sam asked as he shooed a handful of hens from the coop. At the age of five, Sam was full of questions.
“If we let the eggs sit for too long, the chickens might hop onto them and break them,” Sadie explained as she reached to the hook inside the coop for a pair of leather gloves. “Besides, we want our eggs to be fresh as can be.”
Most of the chickens had fled the coop, but as usual cranky Lumpig perched on the edge of a nesting box. Her beady eyes dared anyone to come close.
“She always stays inside.” Sam put his pail down, frowning. “Why is she so mean?”
“She’s just keeping watch over her little treasures. Aren’t you, Lumpig?” Sadie held up her handful of feed for the hen to see, then tossed it out the doorway, onto the ground outside the coop. “Skit-skat.”
Immediately Lumpig hopped from the nest, flapping her wings and scurrying to her breakfast.
“How do you do that?” Sam asked.
“Just distract her with the feed.”
“Can I do the eggs today?”
“That’s fine, but mind you’re quick about it. Lumpig will be back to guard her eggs again.” Sadie reached for the broom. “You do that, and I’ll sweep up.” As she started to sweep old hay and manure from the corners of the small hut, she launched into a song that made her think of Frank.
“Daydreaming and I’m thinking of you . . .” When their band was choosing music to learn, Frank always wanted songs that Sadie could belt out, songs that allowed her to hold the notes a long time. “Bluesy songs,” he called them.
“Look at my heart,” she sang, caressing each note with her voice.
Sam worked just fine while she sang; he never minded her music, though one day he noted that she knew a lot of songs. And why did he not hear Sadie’s songs at Sunday church?
“Because . . . ,” Sadie had stammered, not sure how to explain the hundreds and thousands of songs to be learned and enjoyed in the world beyond their Amish faith. “Because they’re not in the Ausbund,” she had told him.
Sam seemed satisfied with her answer, but it shifted Sadie’s thoughts to the Ausbund, a book published over four hundred years ago. There was no music printed in the book, only words, but the melodies had been passed down over generations. Was that the reason why music seemed to be part of her very soul? Even as a little baby she had been brought by her mamm and dat to Sunday services, where Vorsingers led the congregation in song. Over time, the German songs were carved into each person’s heart.
Amish songs were very different from music in the Englisher world. Sung without an organ or piano accompanying it, an Amish song was slow and haunting. Sometimes it took more than fifteen minutes just to do three stanzas. Most of the songs in the Ausbund had been written by Anabaptists while they were prisoners in the dungeons of Passau Castle so very long ago, back in the 1500s. Amish songs were the music of her childhood, part of her heritage. Sadie believed they had unlocked the voice inside her and opened the door to her curiosity about music.
She had met Frank because of music. They both worked at the Halfway Hotel, Sadie as a housekeeper and Frank on the maintenance staff. One day Frank had heard her singing as she pushed her cleaning cart down the hotel corridor. She’d been singing a popular hymn that teens might do in youth groups. She couldn’t remember what exactly, but she did remember how he came tromping down the corridor with a rake in his hand.
With his dark hair that stood up straight from his head and the little triangle of a beard on his chin, Frank had frightened her at first. He was just a bit taller than her, but his shoulders were broad and he reminded her of an angry bull as he stomped toward her. Oh, he’d scared her.
“Is that you singing?” he demanded, leaning the rake over one shoulder. “What’s a church girl like you doing with a voice like that?”
She pressed a hand to her mouth. She had already stopped singing.
“What’s the matter?” He squinted, studying her. “Are you shy?”
“I . . . I thought you were mad.”
“I’ll only be mad if you let a voice like that go to waste. Do you do any singing professionally? Choir? Band? The shower?”
She laughed aloud, and that eased things between them. Although Sadie wasn’t comfortable talking while she was supposed to be working for her boss, Mr. Decker, she agreed to meet Frank after work. They went across the street to the pizza place, and Frank bought two slices of cheese pizza, one for each of them to eat while they chatted.
The whole thing still made Sadie’s heart race when she recalled how she had gone on her first date with an Englisher, just like that. They had talked and laughed, and before they parted she agreed to sing for him—just one verse of “Silent Night” in the parking lot.
Oh, the courage she’d had that night! And foolishness, too. Dates with strangers in town and performances in dark parking lots were not the sort of activities Amish girls engaged in. Even Amish girls in rumspringa, their “running around” time as teenagers.
But Sadie knew she was no ordinary Amish girl. It wasn’t about Hochmut, or pride. She wasn’t proud of the fact that she was different. But there was something driving her from inside, something in her heart, and she believed it was Gott pushing her to use the gift that He’d given her—her voice. All good things came from the Lord in heaven, and she was grateful to have music in her heart.
Soon after she met Frank, he brought his friend Red to meet her after work. And a few days later, the three of them, along with a girl named Tara, were “hanging out” in Red’s garage, making music. Real music! Red had a drum set and a deep voice, thick as molasses. Tara played bass guitar, which Sadie was convinced was music from the belly of the earth. And Frank’s fingers danced over his guitar, finding melodies or strumming to make a field of sound that surrounded Sadie’s voice, broader and bolder than any field she had ever worked.
The band had been rehearsing at least once a week ever since, and they’d even taken some trips in Frank’s van to Philadelphia to perform some songs at clubs. These clubs allowed groups to come up to the microphone and give it a try. “Open mike night,” Frank called it. So far Sadie enjoyed performing with her band, but she hated having to sneak away from home to do it. She had never lied about what she was doing—not exactly—but she suspected that their bishop would not approve if he ever found out.
Phew! It made her heart heavy to worry about such things . . . especially on such a beautiful spring day. And she had much to look forward to today. After she finished her chores here, she would scooter into Halfway and work a shift at the hotel, cleaning rooms and pushing the big, growling electric vacuum over the rugs. She wasn’t sure if Frank was working tonight, but the band would surely be practicing at Red’s house in the evening, and that was the part of her day that truly warmed her heart.
She pushed the load of dirty hay into the compost heap. It would make good fertilizer for the vegetable garden.
Having finished with the feed, Katie squatted down with a stick in hand, scratching in the dirt. Katie loved her crayons and was always drawing something.
Sadie and Sam made quick work of putting fresh straw in the henhouse.
“Can I carry the eggs?” Sam asked. He was a good boy, always wanting to take on more grown-up jobs on the farm.
She tested the buckets, finding the lighter one. “Ya, you can carry this one. . . .”
As they walked down the lane, little sparrows chirped and jumped in the dense bushes, while a handful of blackbirds soared overhead, heading toward the barns and silos, then circling to the right, down toward the fields and pond.
“Look at those birds, so happy to be flying over God’s land,” Sadie told the little ones. “Our dat used to take care of them, putting out seed and making sure they had a safe place to live.”
“And now he watches them from heaven,” Sam said.
Sadie smiled. “Ya.” Sometimes, when she was singing, Sadie felt like those birds, gliding on the wave of a breeze. The music could lift her right out of these old sneakers. She couldn’t wait for tonight’s rehearsal. She was already dressed and ready to leave the farm, with her blue jeans on under her dress, the cuffs rolled up over her knees so no one in the family would notice.
Excerpted from A Simple Spring by Rosalind Lauer. Copyright © 2012 by Rosalind Lauer. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.