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A Christmas Gift for Rose
By Tricia Goyer
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Tricia Goyer
All rights reserved.
ROSE Yoder had hoped the last rays of evening light would fight harder against the building storm clouds, but the sky was dark as she stepped from the shelter of the barn doors with milk bucket in hand. A gentle breeze stirred particles of dust and chaff. Somewhere in the distance an automobile's motor could be heard, chugging down the gravel road beyond the farm. Golden light glowed from the lantern hanging in the kitchen window, marking her way over the frozen snow, but the light didn't penetrate far enough. She struggled forward, leaving earthy smells behind her, trusting her heart to find the way to the front door when her steps weren't sure.
Was there certainty anywhere these days? No, especially not deep in Rose's heart.
Jonathan and I should be married by now ... maybe with a boppli on the way.
She pushed that thought from her mind and shook her head, her breath freezing in the air. That wouldn't happen now. Not after what he d done. Joining the military. Traveling overseas. And to think he'd had the nerve to return to their small Amish community and don his Amish garb like nothing had happened—like he hadn't shamed their community, shamed her.
"I'll be back in Berlin before Christmas, Rose. Let's not wait until next harvest to get married." His last letter had contained those words. But tomorrow was Thanksgiving Day, and he'd already been here a week. Maybe to say good-bye to his family once and for all before leaving for good. And after their last conversation, she didn't imagine she'd get a goodbye when he did.
Rose's lower lip trembled. She doubted he'd even come see her. Why would he? She'd stated plainly that things were over between them. After all, how could she give her heart fully to someone who promised her a good Amish life and then turned to the world? The Second World War had taken so much from their country—from their community. But Rose's soul felt as if it was a personal attack on her. On her dreams. On her future.
During the war, their town had changed the pronunciation of its name. Burr-lin, the locals practiced saying. And she'd done her own practicing: "I don't love you, Jonathan. Not now. Not ever." If only her feelings agreed with her words.
A cold wind stirred her kapp strings. Rose quickened her steps, careful not to slosh any of the steaming milk from the bucket. Mem needed every drop for the shoofly pie, Rose's favorite. Tomorrow was their Thanksgiving meal and all of the family would be gathered. So why did it feel as if the bucket weighed a hundred pounds?
The darkness pressed in, and she sucked in a cold breath. Her foot slipped slightly on the layer of ice under the snow. She adjusted her gait, saving herself from a tumble. The farm was buried under a layer of snow. Even the birdhouse, set on a high pole, was covered with a thin layer, its emptiness magnifying her ache.
Something else nagged at her, an unknown angst that twisted her gut. The same anxiety visited her every year at this time, but like a morning shadow it never fully revealed itself. There was something she needed to do, wasn't there? Something she needed to remember ... But for the life of her she couldn't think what.
A cold wind nipped at her nose, and with her free hand Rose tucked her scarf tight under her chin. She slowly walked up the wooden porch steps, telling herself she wouldn't let the stones in the pit of her stomach keep her from enjoying her family—her dat, mem, and the younger siblings still at home. If she had nothing else, they were enough. It was a good Amish life, one she wouldn't trade for anything.
Rose opened the door and stepped through. A wall of warmth and the scent of fresh bread and lentil soup greeted her. Those smells mixed with Mem's baking, the fragrance of dried apples and pies, and the wet clothes drying on a line strung up behind the woodstove.
Two steps in, someone rose from the wooden rocking chair near the fire and turned. Her brother's round face, dark brown eyes, and new beard greeted her.
"Marcus!" A smile filled her face. After she'd met Jonathan three years ago, and with their care for each other growing so quickly, Rose had thought she'd marry before Marcus. But the war—Jonathan's choice—changed that. Marcus had taken her spot, marrying Katie just last month. It was good to have him visit. Rose had missed him. And tomorrow her sister Vera—older by less than a year—would arrive with her husband and son.
Her older brother reached down and took the heavy milk bucket from her hand. "Rose, I could have done that. I would have liked to greet ole Bess yet."
She smiled at the release of her burden. "Oh, you're jest trying to tickle me happy so I'll make you an apple cake."
"I haven't had one in months. It wouldn't hurt yer bruder to try now, would it?" Tenderness filled his gaze. Even though Rose had seven other siblings, two-years-older Marcus had always been her favorite. He watched out for her. He treated her as if she needed caring for. She'd never minded.
"I cut boughs for you from my property." He pointed to a burlap sack near the door with fresh greenery spilling out. The scent of pine widened her smile. "I know how you love to decorate the windowsills, much to Dat's dismay," he added.
Rose nodded, but knew she'd see a glimmer of appreciation in Dat's gaze once she'd finished decorating. As an Amish preacher, he lived up to the standard of the Plain lifestyle, but for some reason he had grace with Rose's desire for simple touches of beauty around their home.
"Thank you. Now where's that bride?" Rose glanced around, noting his wife, Katie, in the kitchen with Mem. A dozen pie shells lined the countertop in two rows, waiting to be filled. Katie tucked a spoon under the lid of a jar of cherries and pressed upward, breaking the seal.
"It looks like you're making a dozen more pies yet?" Rose took off her coat and scarf and hung it by the back door. "Need help?" She washed her hands in a basin of cool water.
"You can roll out those crusts." Mem's fists kneaded a mass of bread dough. "Or start on those dishes. But change your apron, Rose, please. You jest came from the barn."
Rose glanced down at her blue dress and apron—the exact style and color as her mem and sisters.
Laughter rose from her cluster of brothers and sisters in the living room as they played jacks. Elizabeth, who was in her last year of schooling, sat watching them as she spun wool. Only five-year-old Louisa stayed in the kitchen to watch.
Rose turned to her youngest sister, whose hair was as dark as the sky outside. "Louisa, would you be a dear and grab a clean apron for me? It's in the trunk."
"Ja!" At five, Louisa loved helping out. It made her feel older when she could be a part of the bustle and not treated like a baby, even though she was the youngest.
Mem removed an apple pie from the woodstove and placed it on the cooling rack.
"I made extra pies to share with our neighbors." She tucked a strand of gray hair back into her kapp, leaving a spot of flour at her temple. "I was wondering, Rose, if tomorrow you could take two pies over to Mr. and Mrs. Ault, before everyone arrives for our afternoon celebration."
Rose dipped two fingers into a jar of cherries, pulled one out, and popped it in her mouth. "Ja. Of course."
Katie pinched the edges of a pie crust with her fingers. "But aren't they having company—a big gathering of their own? I expected aunts, uncles, cousins to come around ... with Harold being home and all."
Harold? Had Rose heard right? She placed a hand over her quickened heart. "He's home?"
How many times had her family prayed for their neighbor's safe return? He'd been fighting on some island in the South Pacific and had been injured. For the first few months she'd asked Mrs. Ault about news of her only son every time she saw her. But when no word came Rose held in her concern. The unknowing—the fears—had been evident in Mrs. Ault's eyes.
Rose glanced out the window in the direction of their neighbors' farmhouse. She could barely see the glow of their electric light on the front porch. Surely if things were gut Harold would have stopped by. What type of injury did he have? Had he lost an arm or a leg like a few other soldiers from their town?
She swallowed hard, thinking once again of Jonathan, of all he had seen as a medic. More than he'd expected to, she supposed. How could she ever truly trust her heart to someone like that, after all he'd done—all he'd seen? He'd left their community behind. He'd lived among the Englisch. He'd received military training. He'd worn a uniform, confirming who his allegiance was to. To be Amish meant to be a member of a community of fellow followers of God. Jonathan had walked away from that community and aligned himself to the military. Turning his back on her in the process.
How could Jonathan return and commit himself to being fully Amish after that? And how could she commit her heart to someone who'd made such a choice?
Rose removed her soiled apron. Many thought that the Second World War hadn't had much impact on the Amish of Ohio, but they couldn't be more wrong.
"Harold is home." Mem's words were flat. "I stopped by the Aults' house a few days ago. I had extra eggs ..." Her words trailed off.
What was Mem not telling them?
Rose glanced around at her younger siblings. They'd stilled their play to listen, but she knew Mem wouldn't reveal whatever sad news her gaze hinted at. Mem rarely spoke of things that pained her heart. Dat said it was because her tears—which came too easily—embarrassed her.
Rose's stomach knotted as she considered going over there. "I'm sure it's gut to have him home, whatever the condition." She tried to sound convincing. Would seeing her childhood friend break her heart?
Did Jonathan know Harold was back? Since he'd just arrived back in town, Rose doubted it. Still, she imagined Jonathan's concerned gaze. He wouldn't be fearful of what he'd see. He'd seen it all, hadn't he? Not that she'd ask him.
Rose couldn't get Jonathan off her mind. He'd captured a large slice of her thoughts since that first evening three years ago when he'd stared at her over the fire pit at the Yoders' place during a Singing. Distance had not lessened her care.
When he'd gone overseas, Jonathan had written and told her he worked at the hospitals away from the front lines. Rose should have been thankful, but as a pacifist he should have had no part in supporting the war—not even in the hospitals. If Jonathan had been drafted, that would have been one thing, but he'd volunteered. And while other young Amish men waited out the war on the home front, growing gardens in the small county prisons or working for the Conservation Corps, Jonathan had left their Amish community and traveled to a distant country with armed soldiers. He'd trained in their camps and made friends with outsiders. The shame! And she was the one left to see the disapproval in the gazes of her fellow Amish. To hear the women's comments around the sewing circle. She was the one who'd received a visit from a very unhappy bishop upon the discovery of what Jonathan had done and where he'd gone.
"Pretty soon he's going to stop being Amish. Most likely he's already made that choice," the bishop had commented after it was discovered that Jonathan was in France. His disapproval had been clear. Though they were friendly with their Englisch neighbors, there was a dividing line. Though invisible, the barrier was all Rose had been raised to know. There was "them" and "us." Rose knew there was no middle ground.
Being among the Englisch had no doubt changed Jonathan. Supporting the war most likely did too. In all their months apart her feelings for him had never waned, yet how could she continue loving someone who had chosen to follow the world's way?
Rose stepped forward and ladled water from the warming reservoir on the stove, preparing to set to work on the endless pile of dishes. Steam rose and fog condensed on the window above the kitchen sink. The glass reflected Louisa's approach.
"I found this apron in Mem's trunk, Rose. It even has your name on it!"
Rose flicked the water from her fingers and turned.
Mem's wooden spoon clattered to the floor. "No!" The word burst from her lips. Faster than Rose had ever seen her move, she snatched the flour-sack apron from Louisa's hand, gripping it with taloned fingers.
Katie chuckled. "It appears someone found your Christmas present—a fancy Englisch apron nonetheless. Only you would be given such a pretty gift."
A present? Rose looked at Louisa's wide-eyed shock and trembling lower lip, then turned to Mem's face. What she saw had her stepping back, pressing herself against the counter behind her. Wetness seeped through her dress at the small of her back, but she gave it no mind. A dozen questions fought for answers, but only two reigned.
Why did Mem have a look of sheer terror in her gaze as she clutched that Englisch apron tightly to her chest?
And what is my name doing on it?
The lumber wagon creaked and groaned. Jonathan Fisher held the reins with his right hand and blew warm breath into his left mitten. Winter had taken hold. A black cape of ice-rimmed darkness draped over the countryside, reminding him of the frozen Belgian woods. Had it really only been a year ago he'd tramped through the waist-high snow as they set up their field hospital during the Battle of the Bulge?
It seemed a lifetime had passed since he'd been in those foreign woods. Jonathan closed his eyes, but he couldn't block out the memory of fresh red blood dripping onto the white snow. Ambulance drivers had carried litters filled with injured soldiers to overcrowded tents that echoed with moans. He'd done his best. He'd offered prayers along with his skill, but it was not enough for some. Never enough.
His stomach tightened, but not only from the cold. Up ahead was the Yoder farm. Before the war, on his lumber runs, he'd driven by the farm with excitement, hoping to get a glimpse of Rose—his bride to be. And now? Now he feared she'd be outside, finishing up chores when he passed.
Why did I come this way again? Am I trying to punish myself?
It was hard enough that she'd told him she had no desire to marry him. Worse was knowing she turned away, ignoring his presence, when he was close. Jonathan had even attended church in the neighboring community of Charm for that very reason. His heart split in two at the disdain in her gaze, the turn of her back.
He stared ahead as he passed the house, refusing to look through the windows hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Then, in the dark night, something caught his eye to the right of the road. A shape. A huddled form. Then movement of digging.
Was that a person?
"Whoa." Jonathan pulled back on the reins and jumped down from the lumber wagon. He took a step forward. Even in the dim light he could see it was a man, lying down, propped up on his elbows and peering over a snow drift. Jonathan looked down the road in the direction of the Ault place. What was the man looking at? He hadn't moved and didn't seem concerned about the approach of the wagon and horse.
Jonathan hurried forward. The man was ill prepared for this weather, dressed in only pajama pants and a thin cotton shirt. "Hullo?" What else could he say? Was this man mad?
The man looked back. His short cropped hair stuck up from a sweaty brow. Even in the dimness, the whites of his eyes glowed, widening in horror. The man didn't speak, but motioned for Jonathan to get down. Jonathan instinctively hunkered over. He again glanced down the snow-covered road. Was something out there?
Only silence met his ears, and he saw nothing but the ruts in the snow where another wagon or buggy had passed earlier in the day.
"What is it?" Jonathan slipped to the man's side, kneeling in the snow. "Are you okay?"
"The Japs ..." The man's words came out as a hiss. "They'll see you." He lowered his gaze. "The Japs killed them ... killed them all. I was the only one to escape."
Pain pounded in Jonathan's heart. A lump grew in his throat. Though he tried, he couldn't swallow it away. He reached his hand to the man's shoulder, but knew better and pulled it back. Instead he studied the man's terror-filled face. It was only then Jonathan recognized Harold. Even though the man was a few years older—and had gone to the Englisch school—Jonathan had seen him around town. Yet with his pale face and wrinkled brow the man looked twenty years older. Rose had said Harold had gone to the South Pacific. She'd been worried. So many in the town had sent up a million prayers, cried a million tears, over their sons.
Excerpted from A Christmas Gift for Rose by Tricia Goyer. Copyright © 2013 Tricia Goyer. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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