Lauer / A SIMPLE AUTUMN
Ask, and it shall be given you;
Seek, and ye shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
A lull covered the congregation like a warm blanket. The preacher had been talking about faith for so long that his voice was now a gentle hum in the back of Jonah’s mind.
Now was the time.
Jonah King knew that church wasn’t meant for ogling people, but it wasn’t often these days that he was under the same roof as Annie Stoltzfus. He turned his head, just a few inches, to find her among the women seated on the other side of the barn.
There she was . . .
Her face was framed by golden hair twisted back and tucked under her Kapp. Her blue eyes flashed his way, quick as lightning, and he looked away quickly. All it took was one quick glance to get hope frolicking in his chest. Ya, he had it bad. Here he was, a grown man, and his heart got to racing at the sight of a girl.
But there had always been something special about Annie. She wasn’t quiet and agreeable like most Amish girls. Annie was stubborn and spirited and willful. She loved to laugh, and she would stand face-to-face with a player twice her size in a volleyball game. Annie could hang tough; he knew that from years of skating with her on the pond or playing board games with his sister Mary and her. But when it came to children, Annie melted like butter. The little ones were her soft spot, the true way to her heart.
Ya, Annie Stoltzfus was no ordinary Amish girl, and it was all the things that made her so different that pulled Jonah to her time and again.
Of course, he never spoke about it. No one in his family knew that Annie Stoltzfus had hooked him ever since they were kids.
How many years had he watched her and waited, hoping she’d notice him? They had learned their lessons together in the one-room schoolhouse, and when they were children she’d come to their house countless times to visit with his sister.
And all those years, she only had eyes for Jonah’s brother Adam. Ya, Adam had been the name on Annie’s lips. She’d baked many a pie for him, and she’d fretted about him when he’d gone away during his Rumspringa, the time when Amish youth were given some freedom to date while their parents looked the other way. Adam had taken his rumspringa to extremes, leaving home for three years.
Jonah glanced to his left, where Adam sat with that squinty-eyed look he got when he was thinking. Adam surely had a lot to think about. He was the oldest, and now the head of their family, a big responsibility for a man so young. Even with sister Sadie gone to Philadelphia, there were still ten of them at home—eleven if you counted their grandmother, Mammi Nell, a widow who lived in the Doddy house just behind the vegetable garden. Seated here on the men’s side, with Jonah, were Simon, Gabe, and Adam. Five-year-old Sam sat over in the women’s section with little Katie, who was only two. Mary, the oldest King girl, kept them under her watchful eye with help from twins Leah and Susie and twelve-year-old Ruthie. In Amish families, no child was too young to learn a chore, so there were usually plenty of brothers and sisters to mind the little ones.
When Adam had returned to head up the family after their parents’ deaths, some folks had expected him and Annie to wed. But Adam had chosen to marry someone else, an Englisher girl with a yearning for a loving family and a heart big enough to help him raise the King children here in Halfway. Now that Adam was out of the running, Jonah wondered if Annie would finally see him in a new light. The Bible said that there was a time for every purpose under heaven. Maybe fall was the season that Gott might answer his prayers and plant a seed of love in Annie’s heart.
He could always hope; nothing wrong with that.
Jonah turned his attention back to Preacher Dave, who was still talking about the Bible passage “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
“Judgment is a chore for the Heavenly Father to take care of,” Dave was saying. “It’s not our task to look at our neighbor, our brother or sister, and judge them. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? One less chore on my list for the day. We must let Gott be the judge. It’s not our place to look to the man or woman beside us and decide whether the things they do are right or wrong. . . .”
Jonah straightened on the wooden bench, pressing his hands flat on his thighs. As his palms brushed the coarse broadcloth of his Sunday trousers he saw the truth in Preacher Dave’s sermon. Ya, everyone knew they shouldn’t judge their neighbor. It was a lesson taught among the Amish all the time. Jonah took a deep breath, wishing folks could take it to heart and stop passing judgment on him and his brothers and sisters.
The congregation seemed equally restless. Someone coughed. Little Matthew Eicher came toddling toward the men’s section, crossing from his mother to his father. A child fussed over in the women’s section, and in front of him the Zook boys nudged each other.
Everyone’s itching to file out of the barn and catch the tail end of summer, Jonah thought as specks of dust glimmered in a shaft of sunlight from the hay-mow. Although they were more than halfway through the service, there was more to come.
It was a fine September morning, one of those days that wasn’t sure whether it wanted to hold on to summer’s heat or let the trees and barns begin to cool from the breeze sweeping over the hills. The morning had been crisp and cold, but now, with so many people filling the barn, there was enough body heat to bring to mind a summer day.
Rubbing his clean-shaven chin, Jonah frowned as the Zook boys stirred again.
Eli Zook leaned into his younger brother John and whispered in his ear. John was brother Simon’s age, nine or so, and Eli had all the vinegar of a boy pushing into the teen years. Eli proved himself a bully, pinching his brother’s arm. That brought a glare from their father, Abe, though none of the other men sitting nearby was paying him any mind.
The weight of Simon sinking against him told Jonah that the boy was falling asleep. Jonah slid an arm around his brother’s shoulders, boosting him up.
Simon’s heavy lids lifted.
Can’t let the boy doze off during Preacher Dave’s sermon, Jonah thought as his younger brother looked up at him with sleepy eyes, then took a deep breath.
Big John Eicher watched from the bench off to the side. And Jonah noticed that Big John wasn’t the only one. Other men had their eyes on him and his brothers.
Always watching. And judging? Even though the preacher had hammered away at them not to judge, Jonah felt disapproval heavy on his shoulders.
A cloak of self-consciousness had hung over the King family these past two years. When their parents were killed, people had rallied to give them support. Casseroles and baked goods had appeared on their table and jars of beets and peaches had stocked their pantry. Nearby Amish families had invited the children over after school to distract them from their grief and give the older family members like Jonah, Adam, and Mary time to get the household chores done. Neighbors had helped with the spring tilling and planting. The whole community had turned out to raise the new milking barn.
The good folks of Halfway, Amish and Englisher, had been more than generous with their help during the Kings’ time of need. But the farm was running smoothly now, better than ever with the new automatic milking equipment and the larger herd. Thanks to Gott, the family no longer needed assistance. Jonah had been relieved when folks were able to start greeting him without a veil of pity over their eyes.
And just when things seemed to settle back to an even pace, Remy McCallister, Adam’s Englisher girl, had come along and turned everyone’s heads again. And then there was sister Sadie, who was hoch gange—gone high. Over the summer she had left home to sing with a group of Englisher musicians. He suspected tongues were still wagging over the King family.
Jonah didn’t like the extra attention. It was like a splinter stuck under the skin. The skin healed over it, but the dull ache lingered. That was the problem now with his family. So many folks saw the Kings as different from other Amish families, and it wasn’t going to change anytime soon with Adam about to marry an Englisher girl, an Aussenseiter. Ya, Remy was working hard to learn their ways, but good and kind though she was, she was still Englisher inside.
As one of the other ministers spoke about the evils of gossip that came from judging others, Jonah recited a silent prayer in his heart. Gott knew the Kings were a good, obedient family that followed the Ordnung, the rules and regulations of their church district. If only the people here could see that. “Help them see us with fair and honest eyes.”
Excerpted from A Simple Autumn 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.