Will Annie find acceptance in the Amish community she left behind?
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A Simple Amish Christmas
By Vannetta Chapman
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Vannetta Chapman
All rights reserved.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania December 1, 2009, 6:55 a.m.
Annie Weaver threw her coat and scarf into her locker, slammed it shut, and twirled the lock—once, twice, three times as Jenny had shown her.
Turning to go, she nearly ran over her best friend.
"Tell me you are not headed out on the floor." Jenny's voice sounded like Annie's first-year teacher—stern and low and slightly disappointed. Sporting short blonde hair and a figure even slimmer than Annie's, Jenny looked nothing like an Amish schoolteacher.
"You are, aren't you?"
Blue eyes laughed at her, even as Annie tossed a panicked look at the clock—six fifty-seven a.m.
Annie's hand flew to the top of her head and met only a mass of curls. Searching, she found her nursing cap slid to the back and side of her head.
Looking down, she realized she'd left it—
Left them both in her locker.
As she turned and fumbled with the combination on her locker, Jenny re-pinned Annie's nursing cap firmly in place on the top of her long, chestnut hair.
"I'm running late," Annie explained.
Annie shook her head. "I was up early enough, but I made the mistake of turning on the radio. The music reminded me that it's December."
"They're already playing Christmas songs," Jenny fussed. "I still have leftover turkey in the fridge."
"When I heard the music I realized I hadn't written home this week. I thought I had enough time, but then a letter to my parents was followed by another to my schweschder." Annie's voice trailed off. How could she explain that the Christmas decorations popping up everywhere were making her homesick?
Garlands hung from the halls of her boarding house. Colorful displays crowded the store windows lining her walk to work. Lights blinked above the streets, and Santas rang bells at nearly every door.
She longed for the simple celebrations of home.
Annie grabbed her I.D. and stethoscope, allowing her fingers to brush over the engraving, marveling that it bore her initials.
She had actually earned her R.N. degree. One year she had studied and earned her high school equivalency, then for two years she had been enrolled in and graduated from the local nursing program.
Three years of living with her aenti.
Three years working among the Englisch.
Three years away from her family.
She spun around to face Jenny. "I shouldn't have spent so long writing my mamm and dat this morning, but ya—I was a little homesick because of the holidays."
"Your mother and dad will appreciate the letter. Why don't you stop by my place after your shift ends? I'll make baked ziti, a giant salad, and fresh rolls—your favorite meal."
Annie blinked through the tears that suddenly sprang to her eyes, accepted the hug Jenny offered, and hurried out to the floor, glancing again at the clock as she passed underneath it.
Only one minute late.
* * *
"Good morning, Annie." Jeffrey's voice was as sweet as shoofly pie, too sweet.
She'd been dodging his flirtations for weeks. Though he was a nice enough co-worker, his attention left her confused.
As did the smile he shot her way.
"Gudemariye," she mumbled, pretending to check her pocket for pen and stethoscope.
"Careful—you know I love it when you talk plain to me." Tall and redheaded, Jeffrey winked, then walked over to the copier machine.
"Don't tease her, Jeffrey." Shelly issued her command in a don't-mess-with-me voice. "Annie just arrived, and you know it takes her a few minutes to readjust to our ways."
Peering over her reading glasses, Shelly waited for Jeffrey to return his attention to his work, which he did. She was their shift supervisor, and she was the perfect mother hen. Dark ebony skin, tall and somewhat on the heavy side—no one doubted she could handle whatever presented on their floor.
She waved Annie toward the little boy in room 307. "Go on, honey. Kiptyn has been asking for you since his five a.m. check."
"Danki," Annie replied, glancing up at the status board. "I mean, thank you. I had hoped to check on him first. He rested well last night?"
"As well as can be expected." Shelly's face took on the protective look Annie had come to love so well over the past six months. "Remember, Annie, care for your patients, but don't let them break your heart."
"Ya. I know. You have warned me before." Annie smiled, felt in her pocket for the item that had arrived in the mail yesterday.
Christmas music played softly over the hospital sound system as she hurried down the hall toward Kiptyn's room.
She entered quietly.
The boy didn't seem to hear her over the buzzing and beeping of medical apparatus. An oxygen machine hummed beside his bed. A heart monitor beeped with the rhythm of his heart.
And cartoon characters fought to save the world on the television set.
Kiptyn didn't seem to notice any of it.
The eight-year-old boy sat staring at the wall. Annie could see, even from across the room, what an effort it was for him to breathe. She pulled in a deep breath, as if it would fill his lungs as well as her own, and cleared her throat, alerting him to her presence.
"Good morning, Mr. Kiptyn. It seems you are my first patient today. You must be very important indeed."
"Annie." The little boy's voice reminded her of a song, one that could tear at your heart while still making you smile. His blue eyes brightened as he struggled to sit up straighter in his bed.
But even from the doorway she could tell that the sixteen hours since she'd last seen him had taken their toll. The circles around his eyes were a bit darker, his skin even paler, and— though it didn't seem possible—she wondered if he might have dropped below the forty-four pounds she'd recorded yesterday.
"Let me help you, kind."
Moving efficiently to his side, she gently repositioned the pillows behind him with one hand and used the controls to adjust his bed with the other.
"What does kind mean? Is it an Amish word?"
"Ya. It means child. Sometimes I slip back into the plain language."
"I like when you speak Amish." Kiptyn rubbed his nose, knocking his oxygen plugs askew.
Annie reached forward and adjusted them, taking a moment to let her hand rest on the top of his shiny bald head.
She'd seen the pictures his mamm had brought, so she knew the boy had once had curly blond hair. Kiptyn's parents took turns staying with the child each night, then hurried off to their respective jobs early each day.
"Actually what my people speak is Dietsch."
Kiptyn laughed even as he fought for a full breath. "Don't you mean Dutch?"
"It's a type of Dutch," Annie agreed, slipping the blood pressure cuff over his small arm. "Actually Dietsch means Pennsylvania Dutch."
"'Will you teach me more Dietsch today?" Kiptyn asked.
"Do you remember what I taught you yesterday?" Annie took his pressure manually and noted the numbers on her chart.
The monitor could have done it electronically, but she'd noticed that he had begun bruising where the machine tightened the cuff around his arm. After speaking with Shelly, she'd received permission to take his pressure manually during the day.
Annie also felt a person's touch was more personal than a machine—anything to make his stay easier. It was her responsibility to care for these precious children.
"Gudemariye." Kiptyn said the word as if he were practicing for a presentation in front of a classroom.
"And good morning to you," Annie responded. She placed her stethoscope in her pocket, then tapped her chin, as if she were having trouble remembering any other words in her native tongue.
"I heard my parents talking last night. They thought I was asleep." Kiptyn's voice grew softer.
His hand crept out, and he traced the pattern of dark blue material on her sleeve, letting his fingers run down to her hand until it rested there on top of hers. "They're thinking about having another baby. Something about how a brother could help save me. How's that possible?"
"Perhaps you shouldn't be eavesdropping, boppli." Annie corrected him gently. She moved to check his IV drip.
"I'm not a baby, Annie." Kiptyn smiled up at her again. "You taught me that word on Monday. What I'd really like is to have a brother—someone I could play ball with when I'm well. Do you have a word for brother?"
Kiptyn's question caused a pressure to form around Annie's heart, and she felt as if tears were being wrung from it—tears she couldn't show this precious kind.
She sat gently on the side of the bed, taking the boy's hand in her own. Earlier in the week, the doctors had told Kiptyn's parents the chemotherapy wasn't effectively battling his cancer. They wanted to move on to a new experimental drug treatment, felt it was his only hope of survival.
"Ya, we have a word for brother. I have a brother, did you know that?"
"How old is he?"
"Twenty-two. He is a grown man." Annie hadn't been able to visit her family in the fall, and now for the second time since waking she was nearly overcome with homesickness. Adam would be married next year. She looked out the hospital window at the snow that had begun falling and thought of Leah, the pretty, slim girl who would soon be her schweschder.
"So how do you say it, Annie?" Coughing wracked his thin frame, and she reached forward to rub his chest. "How do you say brother?"
"Well, that's easy." Kiptyn laughed again and pulled in a deep breath. "Bruder. Sounds like our word."
"Ya, it does." Annie stood and started out of the room, had nearly reached the door when her hand brushed up against what was in her pocket. She turned back around.
"Kiptyn, remember when I asked you if it was all right to tell my onkel about you?"
"Your Onkel Eli, who builds things. Yeah, I remember."
"Well I wrote him, and he sent you something." She reached in her pocket, pulled out the wooden horse. It was handcrafted of maple wood and fit in her palm. The detail was exquisite. Walking back to Kiptyn's bed, she placed it on his tummy.
The boy reached out, picked it up, and studied it.
"Cool beans!" A smile covered Kiptyn's face, and for a moment he merely looked like a little boy instead of a cancer patient. "Could I write him and say thanks?"
"He'd like that, I'll—"
The door to Kiptyn's room burst open, and Shelly stepped through.
"Annie, could I speak with you in the hall, please?" It wasn't a question at all. The look on Shelly's face was somber, more so than Annie had ever seen before.
"Of course, I was finishing up here. Kiptyn, I'll check on you again a little later. Press your button if you need anything."
She followed Shelly into the hall, confusion and worry sending beads of sweat down the back of her neck. She suddenly wished she'd pulled her long, brown hair back into a clip, anything to help with the wave of heat washing over her.
Shelly turned as soon as Kiptyn's door closed, then reached out and placed a hand gently on Annie's shoulder.
"Annie, you have a phone call at the desk." Concern mingled with sympathy. "Sweetie, it's Vickie."
"Mrs. Brown? My landlady? I don't understand."
"She's calling about your father, Annie. There's been an accident."CHAPTER 2
Mifflin County, Pennsylvania December 1, 2009, 9:30 p.m.
Samuel Yoder sat up straighter in the hard wooden chair, stared at the simple furnishings in his neighbor's bedroom, and struggled against the fatigue that threatened to overwhelm him. A glance at Jacob Weaver told him that nothing had changed in the man's condition. He still slept; his breathing remained labored but steady, his pulse beat within normal range.
Sighing heavily, Samuel unfolded his lanky six-foot frame and walked to the room's single window. He could see nothing in the darkness—the quarter moon did little to shed any light on Jacob's fields.
Samuel stared at them nonetheless.
Memories of finding Mary and Little Hannah that other December night, so many years ago—frozen and gschtarewe in the snow—merged with finding Jacob last night. His left arm began to shake, and he massaged it with his right, knowing the tremor would pass in a few moments.
The tremor always passed, though the memory remained.
He couldn't bring back his fraa and boppli. Their deaths were a burden he would always carry.
The man behind him could still be helped, and for that he was grateful.
If only he'd found his friend earlier.
Perhaps the cold wouldn't have settled in his lungs.
Perhaps the infection wouldn't have crept into his broken leg.
If he hadn't kept Jacob so long looking at the fields on his place, perhaps the accident wouldn't have happened at all.
A gentle tap at the door pulled his thoughts from questioning himself.
"Are you sure you won't eat something?" Rebekah peeked around the door, her voice hopeful, her round face creased with worry.
"No, Rebekah. Danki, but I couldn't eat now." Samuel moved back toward the bed.
"Was iss letz?" Anxiety sharpened her tone, and Rebekah hurried to her husband's side, her hands smoothing the blankets covering Jacob.
"Nothing's wrong, nothing more than an hour ago. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you." Samuel sank back into the chair, ran his fingers through his beard. "It's only that—"
He stopped, realizing his confession would do nothing to ease her worry. Families looked to him to be the healer— though truth was he frankly claimed to be a farmer with a minimal amount of knowledge regarding herbs and medicinal workings.
Still, his place was to ease pain.
"What is it, Samuel? We have known each other too long for you to keep things from me." Rebekah's brown eyes pleaded with him, her hands still clasping those of Jacob. "I'd rather know whatever you have to say. God will see us through, but I need to know."
"It's not about Jacob. Not really." Samuel considered again adding the burden of his guilt to her shoulders. The Bible did command people to confess and be honest with one another.
Taking a deep breath, he plunged forward with the truth.
"I blame myself. It's my fault he was traveling the main road. Jacob normally takes the back road home, but he'd stopped by my place to look over my fields. I'd been thinking about changing my western field to alfalfa hay, and I asked him to give me his opinion."
"So if you hadn't asked him to stop by, he would have come straight home yesterday afternoon." The words came out as a statement, not a question as Rebekah's expression and tone changed instantly, from concern to one he knew all too well— he'd been scolded by her often enough as a boy.
"Ya. I know what you're about to say, but if I hadn't kept him late talking about crops, he wouldn't have been driving the rig home in the dark."
"And when did anyone have to encourage Jacob Weaver to stay and talk?" Rebekah placed her hands on her ample hips.
Samuel cringed, knowing he was trying her patience. Perhaps he should have settled for dinner and kept his worries to himself, but she still didn't understand that he felt he was responsible for Jacob's current condition—one which might result in his being laid up until late winter or even spring. The thought of it turned Samuel's stomach sour, and all notion of eating fled.
"He won't be able to work for months, Rebekah. Who will take care of things? Who will plant in the spring? I know Adam has already purchased his own place. You won't be able to do this alone."
"And we don't plan on doing it alone. Does the Scripture not say the Lord will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied?"
"And do we or do we not believe the Scripture?"
"Well, of course, but Rebekah—"
"Don't worry about my husband's fields, Samuel Yoder. You're a gut man with God's gift for healing, but there are some things you don't see clearly. Our fields will be fine."
Samuel pulled in a deep breath, stood, and walked around the old wooden bed with the hand-stitched quilt. Turning Rebekah toward him, he looked down into her eyes.
Her face had been gently wrinkled by time, and despite her confident words her eyes brimmed with tears.
"Rebekah, you're going to need extra help caring for him. You listened to Doctor Stoltzfus at the hospital, right?"
She nodded, tried to speak, but he pressed on.
"The cold will settle into his lungs if we don't help him up and see that he is moving regularly. He'll catch the pneumonia. Perhaps we should have left him in the hospital."
"No. I'm glad they were able to set his legs, but he'd never agree to stay with the Englisch. You heard him yourself last night."
"Ya, but we plain folk are always in a hurry to come home when we are away. Now that he's here ..." Samuel again turned and glanced at the dark scene outside. "He might feel differently when he wakes tomorrow."
Rebekah swiped at her tears and shook her head resolutely. "We will go back to the hospital if you tell us his condition is worse, but I'd rather take care of him here—at home."
"He's going to need constant care."
"Because of his breathing?"
"Ya, and his legs. One was a clean break, as the doctor explained. But the infection in the other one will require that someone change the bandages regularly."
"Plus the medicines." Rebekah scowled, not even attempting to hide her distrust.
Excerpted from A Simple Amish Christmas by Vannetta Chapman. Copyright © 2010 Vannetta Chapman. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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