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By Gregg Olsen
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1990 Gregg Olsen
All rights reserved.
December 24, 1985
It was time for a haircut. Chuck Kleveland felt the annoying fringe of sandy hair crowding his ears and knew that with the approaching holidays he couldn't let it go much longer. He kissed his wife, Kathy, swallowed his last bit of coffee, and put his shotgun in the gun rack of his '83 Ford pickup. He planned to do a little hunting on the way to the barber in Hebron.
It was 10 A.M., Christmas Eve.
Kleveland, age 44, pulled out of the driveway of his ranch-style home in Chester, a dozen miles due south of Hebron. Chester, a tiny town whose skyline consists of a pair of grain elevators, is within spitting distance of the Nebraska–Kansas state line. To nonresidents, the town doesn't seem like much, except maybe a good place to gas up or pick up a pack of cigarettes.
Hebron and Chester used to be the kind of nice, friendly prairie towns where people spend their entire lives. Now they are the kind of towns young people abandon for careers in Omaha — or, if they can bear to pull away from the heart and soul of their parents' and grandparents' birthright, they move away even farther, to one of the coasts. Family-owned farms have grown more scarce; a few are fallow.
Kleveland was of the generation — the last generation, some claimed — that still envisioned a good life on the bleak prairie of rural Nebraska. Although he had studied business at the university in Lincoln and lived in New York for a couple of years, Kleveland had returned to Chester, where he owned and ran Foote's Truckstop in Chester and a similar business in Kearney, a couple of hours to the west.
Kleveland drove east on Harlan Street before turning north on U.S. 81, a trace of snow mottling the road's shoulder. He could have stayed on 81 and been in Hebron in fifteen minutes, but instead he made a quick right on a farm road bordering a local corn grower's spread. Kleveland knew the field was a good place to find orange and gold ring-neck pheasants — stray grain kernels littered the ground and provided fodder for game fowl. His wife had another Christmas menu planned, but she would make room for the pheasants on the holiday table. Kathy Kleveland liked the way her husband fixed them.
He took a left and drove north, squinting as he scanned the slightly hilly terrain. The icy earth bristled with hard, dead cornstalks, their frosty surfaces sparkling in the cold, even light. No birds were startled into flight by the noise or movement of the cherry-red pickup.
The jangly sound of steel guitars from a country music radio station broke the bleakness of the morning.
From the corner of his eye Kleveland saw a small bit of blue against the brown and gray field. The color was out of place in the dull winter landscape. He braked to a stop and backed up to get a closer look. When he stepped from the cab, the 30-below-zero wind chill slashed through his parka. Standing at the edge of the roadside drainage ditch, he looked into the field and immediately spotted what had attracted his attention. Partially hidden in a brambly nest, the spiky remnants of yard-tall prairie grass, was a dead body.
It appeared to be a little girl dressed in a blue, one-piece blanket sleeper. Her hand was glazed over with ice and her body lay flat and stiff on the frozen ground. The child's dark hair was clean and neatly parted, but her head was tilted back, so Kleveland couldn't quite make out her face. From his vantage point on the roadside, it appeared that the child's hand had been placed over her heart.
Kleveland had seen enough. He did not move closer to the small corpse, which lay only fifteen feet from the roadside. He didn't want to mess up any footprints or other evidence, and he sure as hell didn't want to be part of any evidence. He studied the field, then looked down the length of the dirt road. He wondered if whoever had left the child was still around, watching, as he walked back to his still-running pickup. Picking up the mike of his commercial two-way radio, installed to communicate with his truck-stop fleet of tank wagons, he called his bookkeeper in the office at Foote's.
"Joyce?" His voice was steady. "I think I found a dead body out here. Call the sheriff." He stopped short of giving the exact location. There were plenty of police scanners in the small, neatly painted homes in Thayer County. Kleveland knew that if word got out — and in Chester and Hebron one could bank on that — bystanders would be out at the scene in five minutes.
"I'll be on the highway, a mile north of town," he said.
Kleveland stared at the corpse. He had seen dead bodies before; he had picked them up when he worked as a volunteer for the local ambulance service, and he had found his mother when she died at home. But this was different, and unsettling in a different way.
You don't put a child's body out in a ditch, he thought, unless you've got something to hide.
Kleveland drove back to the highway and waited for the sheriff on the northwest corner of the square-mile grid where he had found the body.CHAPTER 2
Wayne and Holmes counties, in the Ohio Amish Country, are aligned vertically, with Wayne to the north. The landscape is pastoral, with steel and wood buggy wheels slicing through the rich earth like cleavers through paraffin. Whitewashed picket fences and farmhouses mark the line where nature ends and man's influence takes over. Yet, in Amish Country the demarcation is subtle. Fields are still plowed with horses; oat, corn, and hay crops are rotated; the land is cared for with the love and respect that outsiders reserve for humankind. No telephone poles, electric power lines, or television antennae clutter the sky.
Although adult Amish dress in black and white, their world is one of vivid color. Farms are planted in a quilt of green. Amish girls are allowed the deep hues of aqua, purple, and celery for their long dresses, secured by neat rows of straight pins instead of buttons. The men, however, are allowed hooks and eyes as clothing fasteners. Buttons are considered worldly, even militaristic.
Since draft horses are used for plowing, farms are appropriately small, with few topping eighty acres. The twicedaily milkings are done by hand. Most Amish farmers own fewer than ten dairy cows. Due to the antiquated milking methods, and the people's refusal to pasteurize, Amish milk is sold solely for cheese-making.
The Amish, descendants of Dutch and Swiss Anabaptists — "rebaptisers" — might have drowned in their own blood, so much had been spilled during the Protestant Reformation. The first Amish came to Penn's Woods in America in the 1730s; a century later, they migrated across the Alleghenies to Ohio, where the world's largest settlement continues to thrive.
Tourism bureaus would have people believe that all Amish people are the same, cut from the same nondescript pattern, but that is not the case. However, all do live by strict interpretation of the Bible. The Amish believe in adult baptism, nonresistance, and separatism from the world. Many of the forty different sects are named for their founding bishops — Troyer, Beachy, Swartzentruber, and so on. Different groups have their own ways, their own quirks. Yet, nearly all resist change. "Where is it written in the Bible that we should change?" they ask.
The Swartzentruber Order founded settlements in the Ohio villages of Apple Creek, Kidron, and Fredericksburg. This ultraconservative group took the most rigid stance against change, curling up like potato bugs to shut out the modern world.
While the rules of Scripture never changed, the Ordnung — the rules of the Order as set by the church's district bishop and its members — did. The Ordnung accounted for some of the differences among Amish church districts; for example, the fact that some men are allowed only three-inch hat brims while others are allowed four or even five inches, and the fact that some could use farm machinery with rubber tires while other were permitted only wooden or steel ones.
As other Amish orders slowly made concessions to some modern ways and methods, the Swartzentrubers remained true to centuries-old traditions. They were considered "low Amish." Those who used some modern conveniences were considered the antithesis; when an Amishman left for the modern world, others said he "went high."
Strips of deep purple and blue fabric used as wicks float loosely in the base of the gas mantle lanterns Amish use to illuminate their homes. Kerosene burns fast, and its smoky vapors discolor and stain walls and ceilings. The smell of the burning fuel, along with the aroma of hearty foods cooking, fill Amish homes.
Many Amishwomen use pressure cookers to preserve chicken and beef, although some of the more progressive rent freezers in town for storage. This practice is less common among the Swartzentrubers than higher Amish. Still, at the end of winter, many wonder where all the food has gone. "A whole cow should last us the winter, but with nine kids it doesn't," they say.
Photographs are banned, and Amish girls play with dolls that have no faces. Such representations are in conflict with the commandment forbidding graven images. Small boys play farmer, sometimes using old batteries to mimic milk cans. The batteries are for flashlights, a convenience the Ordnung allows.
At home, the Amish family speaks a dialect of German and Swiss with a little English mixed in — outsiders call it Pennsylvania Dutch, or Deutsch. It is only during dealings with the outside world that the Amish speak English to Englischers, or non-Amish.
The Amish seem nearly communal, with several branches of a family often sharing a farm. The Grossdaadi, or "grandpa house," is a smaller dwelling, often attached by a breezeway, where the grandparents live. In Amishland, grandparents never suffer the humiliation of a rest home.
Church is held every other Sunday in the homes of the congregation members. It is an all-day affair, starting about 9 A.M. and going into the afternoon. The words of the preacher, spoken not in Deutsch but in "high German," are often unintelligible. The Amish hymnal, the Ausbund, is better known for its bloody recounting of the lives of the martyrs than for its melodies. Hymns are long and dirgelike and, to children, tedious.
On Sundays no work is done, no money exchanged. The only chores permitted are those involving the care of animals.
The "in-between Sundays" are for visiting, a favorite pastime in a world without telephones.
Like a collection of scattered, great white boxes, the Eli H. Stutzman farm sits on a grassy hill above Welty Road in Apple Creek. The ruts of buggy wheels reveal that the home is Amish. No power lines mar the clear Ohio sky. The middle initial on the mailbox is an essential clue in discerning who resides there — the H stands for Harvey, Eli H. Stutzman's father. With families sometimes having a dozen or more children, such initials are a necessary kind of brand. Stutzman's roots were in the Amish settlement outside of Berne, Indiana, although his father moved the family to a farm a mile or so from Kidron in 1929.
When Eli H. Stutzman was 18 years old his hand got caught in an antiquated sorghum press. Infection set in and he lost some fingers. He was fitted with a hook and thereafter was known as One-Hand Eli. Such a nickname is essential in a world with so many named Eli, Levi, and Amos and a proliferation of the last names Miller, Swartzentruber, and Yoder.
Stutzman married Susan Miller, and in exhausting succession that left her with a stooped back and a stretched belly, the Amishwoman bore him thirteen children. The fourth child, a son named Eli, was born on September 28, 1950.
Eli E. (to avoid confusion with his father, the family called him Eli Ali) was a bright child with a slight stutter. He showed an early interest in horses and a disdain for farm-work, and he enjoyed being the center of attention.
Said a cousin: "Eli always thought he was a little too good for the rest of us."
School friends remembered Stutzman as a boy who could break the rules and convincingly place the blame elsewhere. By 6 or 7, it was apparent that the Amish boy was a habitual liar.
Years later, Susan Stutzman would clutch her hands to her breast and shake her head. Try as she could, she could not find a reason why her son was untruthful. "If I could understand ... he was always that way ..." she said.
Once, Eli and his brother Andy played with a cart to which they had attached a small gasoline motor, taking turns riding the contraption down the hill by the barn. When the engine fell off and broke a pulley, they had to come up with a story for their father. It was Eli who covered it up.
"Eli learned how to lie then," Andy later said.
When the boys hooked up a couple of heifers to the same little cart, their father found out about it and confronted them. Eli again came up with a tale. "I think he lied too good," Andy said.
However, Eli's father wasn't fooled by the boy's lies. Although the stories were detailed enough and told with great sincerity, the elder Stutzman saw them for what they were.
One-Hand Eli was a minister in his church district. He had been chosen by lot, as the Amish have done for centuries. (Copies of the Ausbund are arranged on a table. Selected men each choose a hymnal, one of which contains a slip of paper with a verse. The man who gets the piece of paper is the one they believe God has chosen to preach His word.)
A small, gray-haired man whose hair was just a bit longer than that of some of his neighbors, the senior Stutzman held great faith and unyielding belief in the old ways. He would not accept any misbehavior by his children. A whipping was his swiftest and most effective remedy for disobedience.
As a father, he had a responsibility to ensure that his children followed the Ordnung. As a minister, he was under tremendous pressure to see that his children, more so than others, toed the line.
His problem was the son named for him, a bright but rebellious boy who had an eye for horses, money, and the modern world. At home or at school, Eli Ali found new ways to get into trouble. The incidents were small at first, but grew with age. The more his father held him down, the more he tried to break away.
A neighbor of the Stutzmans remembered the young Eli: "He didn't seem to work as hard as the others when we were out in the field or at a husking. Eli didn't feel well or he had some excuse — or his mind was on something else."
As the boy grew toward manhood, it seemed the Amish neighbor was right.
The Dog House, a rundown little Wayne County beer joint, was a popular hangout for Amish boys going through rumspringa, the equivalent of sowing wild oats. The fun was generally harmless — a couple of beers and a few laughs at the ways of the old folks. Young Eli Stutzman belonged to the Wild Westerns, a group of rowdy Amish youths who frequented the Dog House.
The boys in Stutzman's circle souped up their buggies with decals and bumper stickers. Radios were tucked out of view and country music blared from inside. Sometimes pranks were played. Buggies were torn up or trashed in a pond or a field. Once Eli stole a boy's bicycle. Mostly, it was done in fun.
However, Stutzman, whom many considered popular, later told friends that there were times when he had been treated as an outcast by some members of the Order. "Some boys who didn't like me hung a dead, skinned cat in my buggy," he claimed, although he had thrown out the carcass before anyone else saw it. "I don't know why they didn't like me," he added.
Rumspringa is also the time of dating, and the Amish girls liked Eli Stutzman — especially his eyes, which were as blue as new denim. He was small and slim, standing about five feet six inches and weighing 140 pounds. Dressed in his white shirt, black coat, and broadfall pants, he was perfectly proportioned — compact and solid. His brown hair hung over his ears in the kind of severe Prince Valiant that was the cut of the Swartzentruber Order. His wild and rebellious streak was his biggest plus. For the Amish, who value and insist on conformity, Eli Stutzman was fun to be around. He was different from the others.
Among the higher Amish, bundling, the courtship custom of an unmarried couple's occupying a bed without undressing, was seen as an archaic and dangerous invitation far too tempting for young people. The Swartzentrubers, however, held tight to the tradition, but not without a price. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies occurred occasionally. After all, birth control was not only against the Bible, it was in violation of the Ordnung.
Gossip among the Swartzentrubers frequently targeted girls who bundled "too hard." If such talk could be substantiated, the girl's dating was curtailed and monitored by her parents.
Amish adolescents learn little about sex from their parents, and there is no Amish school program to give even basic information. The teenagers learn by watching farm animals and by asking those whom they trust. Occasionally, boys get their hands on forbidden men's magazines.
Excerpted from Abandoned Prayers by Gregg Olsen. Copyright © 1990 Gregg Olsen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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