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SOMEWHERE to BELONG
By Judith Miller
Bethany HouseCopyright © 2010 Judith Miller
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Chapter OneMarch 1877 Amana Colonies, Iowa Johanna Ilg
Rigid as a barn pole, I stood planted in the parlor doorway with my gaze fixed upon the pink feather-and-plume bedecked hat. Sparkling pins held it atop wavy dark tresses that crimped and coiled. The girl's hair reminded me of the curly leaf lettuce we forced to early growth in our hotbeds each spring. An artificial rose peeked from beneath the curvy brim like a vigilant watchman. Although the visitors to our villages sometimes adorned themselves in outlandish costumes, the hat perched upon this young lady's head surpassed anything I'd ever seen. She appeared rather young to be wearing such an ornate headpiece. Not that I could imagine anyone attaining any age where they thought that hat becoming.
Touching her fingers to the garish chapeau, the girl's lips curved in a patronizing smile. She'd obviously noted my attention. "The latest fashion from England. My parents purchased it for me on their last visit."
My mother waved me forward. "Come in and meet our guests, Johanna." I tried to force myself to look away from the hat, but my eyes betrayed me as I stepped into the room. I couldn't stop staring at the unsightly mixture of fabric and fluff. My mother cleared her throat. "Come, Johanna. Meet Dr. and Mrs. Schumacher and their daughter, Berta. They arrived only a short time ago. You remember we've been expecting them."
I turned toward the well-dressed couple who sat side by side on our horsehair-stuffed divan. Berta, who looked to be sixteen or seventeen years old, had obviously inherited her dark curls and fine features from her mother. As if prepared to take flight at the earliest possible moment, the girl sat balanced at the edge of her chair. And given the size of her hat, it would take only a slight wind to carry her aloft.
"I am very pleased to welcome you to Amana. I hope you will be happy living among us."
Berta's dark eyes widened to huge proportions. She shook her head with such fervor I expected the decorations to tumble from her hat. "Living?" She glanced around our parlor with a look of disdain. "We are merely vacationing for a short time. My father's family is from Germany, and we have a distant relative living in Middle Amana. My father thought this would be a pleasant place for our family to visit. I think he wanted to provide us a glimpse of his homeland without the expense of a voyage to Europe. Isn't that correct, Father?" When Dr. Schumacher didn't immediately reply, Berta leaned forward in her chair, her eyes flashing with impatience. "Well, isn't it, Father?" Her voice had raised several decibels and panic edged her words.
One look at my mother confirmed that I'd misspoken. I longed to stuff the welcome back into my mouth, but that wasn't possible. The damage had been done. Yet no one had forewarned me. How was I to know Berta hadn't been advised of her father's plans to move his family to the Amana Colonies?
The multistriped woven carpet that covered the parlor floor muffled the stomp of Berta's foot. I arched my brows and glanced toward my mother. The girl was behaving like an undisciplined two-year-old.
"Now, Berta, please. You must remain calm." Mrs. Schumacher unclipped a hand-painted fan from her waist and handed it to her daughter. "Use this. I don't want you fainting and embarrassing yourself."
Berta grabbed the fan from her mother's hand and slapped it atop her skirt. "I don't need a fan. What I need is an answer to my question." She waited only a moment. "Well, Father? How long will we be visiting in Amana?"
Dr. Schumacher shifted toward his daughter and inhaled a deep lungful of air. "We will be making our new home here in Iowa, Berta. I trust you will remain quiet until we can speak in private. I should have told you before we embarked on the journey, but I wanted to avoid a scene."
"Did you?" Berta jumped to her feet, a horror-stricken look in her eyes. "You don't really believe I'll agree to live in this place, do you?"
Before either of her parents could respond, our parlor door opened and my father entered the room with his flat felt cap pressed between his callused fingers. A few pieces of straw clung to his dark work pants. He smiled, and crinkles formed along the outer edges of his sparkling eyes. Today his eyes appeared green.
When I was five or six years old, I'd asked him about the color of his eyes. He'd told me they were hazel, but my mother said they were brown. I argued they couldn't be both.
"Hazel is light brown," he'd explained before scooping me onto his lap. "But hazel eyes change and look different colors depending on what you wear. Sometimes they look green, and at other times you can see golden flecks." He'd nuzzled my neck. "Some people call them cat eyes. Do you think I look like a cat?" he'd asked. Remembrance of that long-ago conversation warmed me. I was glad Father was home. Perhaps his easy manner would calm Berta.
He extended his hand and stepped toward the doctor. "Willkommen!" His deep voice filled the room. "We are pleased to have you join our community and to have another doctor in the villages."
Berta glared at my father as though he'd committed a crime. "We won't be staying in Amana, Mr. Ilg."
My father's brow creased. I was certain he was expecting Berta's father to reprimand her for such rude behavior. Instead, Dr. Schumacher held a finger to his lips. "We will discuss this once we are settled in our rooms, Berta."
"First, you must tell me we aren't going to stay here more than one night," Berta said before tightening her lips into a pout.
The doctor stood. "If you could show us to our rooms where we can have a private family discussion, I would be most grateful."
My mother signaled me. "Johanna will be pleased to show you to the rooms. We must depart for evening prayer service soon. You are welcome to join us."
"Not this evening," Mrs. Schumacher said. "Another time."
As I led the Schumachers upstairs, I couldn't help but compare Mrs. Schumacher's gown to the blue, black, or gray calicos that were woven in the Amana mills and worn by the women of our colonies. No one longed to wear the bright calicos woven for those living outside the colonies-at least no one ever spoke of such a desire. We didn't object to the sameness of our plain waists or the wide-banded full skirts. Even our shawls, aprons, and caps were worn without thought to their sameness. Would Mrs. Schumacher, in her pale green silk dress, adapt to our ways with more enthusiasm than her daughter?
I pushed down the metal latch and opened the door leading into the rooms that would be the Schumachers' living quarters-for how long was anyone's guess. If Berta had her way, they would be gone before sunrise. "The rooms are sparsely furnished, but I'm sure when you add some of your own belongings, they will seem more like home."
"This will never be my home!" Berta flung herself onto the overstuffed forest green divan with a theatrical flair that defied protestation.
I motioned toward the bedrooms. "Your sleeping rooms are to the rear." I backed toward the door, certain my work here was done.
Mrs. Schumacher motioned that I should remain. "The kitchen?"
Dr. Schumacher grasped his wife's elbow. "Don't you recall that I explained we will be eating our meals in a communal kitchen? There will be no need for you to cook or wash dishes. Isn't that grand?"
"Given that I've done very little cooking in my life, I suppose it is grand. Especially for you and Berta." Mrs. Schumacher rubbed the back of her neck.
Berta arched forward and glared at her father. "Why are you even discussing where we will eat? I am not living here!"
I took another backward step. "I must go downstairs. I don't want to be late for prayer service. We won't be gone long. The meeting is short-usually no more than twenty minutes or half an hour each evening." Reaching behind my back, I unlatched the door.
"You have prayer services every night?" Mrs. Schumacher took a step toward me.
I turned toward the doctor. "Did the Bruderrat not explain our ways before you arrived?" Surely, the council of elders who guided our village would have told them what to expect in their new life among us.
"Yes, of course. I received information from the Grossebruderrat, as well," Dr. Schumacher replied.
I tried to hide my confusion, but I didn't understand. If he'd been informed about life in the Amana Colonies, why did his wife and daughter appear so angry and bewildered?
Seeming to sense my confusion, Dr. Schumacher said, "There are many details I haven't shared with my wife, as of yet. I didn't want to burden her unduly."
Mrs. Schumacher crooked her finger and beckoned me forward. "Why don't you explain, Johanna? I'm certain you can more easily clarify these terms and rules. Exactly what are the Bruderrat and Grossebruderrat?"
"Each village has a Bruderrat, which is composed of a group of local elders and a trustee." I glanced at the doctor. He offered a feeble smile and slight nod.
"Do go on, Johanna," Mrs. Schumacher said.
"The members of the Bruderrat meet and appoint the foremen for our industries and discuss crop planting schedules, construction projects, work assignments, and such. In spiritual matters, the head elder has the final word, but in matters related to work duties, the trustee has the final say."
Mrs. Schumacher nodded. "And the Grossebruderrat? What is that?"
"They are the trustees who oversee matters that affect all of the colonies."
"Like what?" She leaned forward in her chair.
"When we build factories, they decide which village it should be built in and when the construction should begin. When the millrace was dug, they decided the place and how we would complete the work. They also settle disputes that are appealed from the Bruderrat. The Grossebruderrat meets once a month, taking turns among the different colonies."
Mrs. Schumacher glanced at her husband, then back at me. "Thank you for taking time to explain, Johanna."
I bobbed my head, mumbled a hasty good-evening, and hurried down the stairs, glad to be away from the anger and confusion that swirled within the upper rooms.
"Ach! I thought you were never going to return. What took you so long?" Before I could reply, Mother handed me my woolen shawl and propelled me toward the front door. "We must be on our way. Put your wrap around your shoulders. It may be March, but the air is still cool in the evenings."
"Ja," my father agreed, leading the way.
I took the shawl without argument. Although I'd turned twenty-one last month, my parents sometimes treated me as though I were still a child. A fact I sometimes disliked but at other times found endearing. Tonight I disliked the admonition and decided some of Berta's hostile attitude must have rubbed off on me.
"The doctor and his family appear to know little about our ways." Though I walked beside my mother, I spoke loudly enough to ensure Father could hear me. Since he was a member of the council of elders, I knew he would have been involved in the decision to grant the Schumachers permission to move into our village. I hoped he would shed some light on the odd situation.
"Dr. Schumacher understands our ways as well as any new arrival to the colonies. Eventually his family will do well."
"I am surprised the family wasn't sent to live in Middle Amana with their relatives," my mother said. "It would have made things less painful for Berta, don't you think?"
My father shrugged. "We already have Dr. Zedler in Middle. There's no need for two doctors in one village. Dr. Schumacher knew they would be living in Main Amana rather than in Middle. Brother Gustav, Dr. Schumacher's second cousin, vouched for them so that they would be easily accepted into the colonies, but I doubt living in the same village with him would make this change easier for Berta."
I silently agreed. Berta Schumacher wasn't going to adapt easily to our ways-relatives or not. To make matters worse, I had been assigned to assist Berta through the transition into our village. She would be working in the kitchen with me. Although the Küchebaas was in charge, I would be expected to teach Berta. Just as the young girls who finished school and then transferred into our many kitchens and gardens throughout the villages, Berta would need to be trained.
"What if she resists her training, Vater? What am I to do?"
"Pray for guidance, child, and I will do the same. The girl needs a good influence in her life, and you are the perfect choice."
Perfect choice? If Father knew some of my private thoughts and feelings, I doubted he would think me a suitable choice for the task at hand. Truth be told, I worried Berta would sway me more than I would influence her. Though I loved life in Amana, those feelings didn't stop me from desiring a peek at what lay beyond the confines of the twenty-six-thousand acres owned by our people. I didn't want to move away permanently, not like my brother Wilhelm, who had left our village to make Chicago his home. But there were places outside the seven villages I longed to see, and Wilhelm hadn't proved a valuable source of information because he seldom returned home to visit.
Through the years, I'd daily traversed the wooden sidewalks of Amana. I'd been in most of the communal residences, attended the Amana school, and knew most of the families in our colony by name-not all five hundred residents, but at least their family names.
Granted, I didn't know as many people in the other six villages that formed our colony, but still I cared deeply about their welfare and safety. No matter if they lived in East or Middle or High Amana. What difference if I lived in Main and they called South or West or Homestead their village. A common cord of love and belief in our Lord united us. The few miles between each of our villages hadn't unraveled our group while we lived in New York, and it had continued to hold fast in Iowa. So why did I want to know about other places?
For a time I'd thought it was because I'd never seen our previous home in Ebenezer, New York, where our people had settled and created six villages. I'd heard my parents talk about how they had moved from New York to the new settlement in Iowa, and they'd told me many stories about life in Ebenezer, but it wasn't the same as seeing or experiencing the old community for myself.
When I'd spoken to Mother, she'd said, "All young people go through a time when they think they'd like to see how people live outside the villages. As you grow older, such thoughts will flee from your mind."
I'd seen fear in Mother's eyes. After all, such thoughts hadn't fled from the mind of Wilhelm. He'd left the community and had no wish to return and live among us. My mother had lost one son to death and another to the outside world. I knew she didn't want to think of losing me.
Much to my father's relief, we arrived for prayer service on time. The small brick building where we attended evening prayers was not far from our home. Unlike our Sunday church meetings, prayer service was held in small meetinghouses in each neighborhood. I sat down on one of the hard wooden benches beside my mother, and soon more women joined us.
On the other side of the room, the men gathered on their benches, but before we began our prayers, my father stood. "Our new doctor and his family have arrived. I would ask that you pray that these new arrivals will easily settle into our community."
I noted the surprise on several faces. The women were obviously full of curiosity, but this was a time for prayer, not questions.
The moment the final prayer had been uttered and we'd been dismissed, Sister Schmitt grasped my mother's elbow. "So the doctor is living upstairs from you, ja?"
Mother gathered her shawl tightly around her shoulders. "Ja."
"Seems not such a gut place for a doctor-living upstairs like that," the old woman said.
"The Bruderrat assigned their living space, not me. You should ask them if you question their decision, Sister Olga."
"Ach! I was not questioning, Sister Emilie. Just making a simple statement. No need to take offense. How many in the family? Any young people to help in the fields or the kitchens?"
"One daughter. She has been assigned to work in the kitchen." My mother patted my arm. "Johanna will help her learn her duties."
Sister Schmitt's smile revealed several missing teeth, and she quickly covered her lips. "Then she will do fine. Johanna is a gut worker, for sure."
Excerpted from SOMEWHERE to BELONG by Judith Miller Copyright © 2010 by Judith Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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