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The Stubborn Father
By Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2016 Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter
All rights reserved.
That son of mine can sure get under my skin," Eustace grumbled, pacing the living-room floor. Never once had Joel apologized for the hurt he'd caused his family by leaving the Amish church. Even worse, he only came around whenever he wanted something and didn't act interested in being part of their family. With the exception of Eustace's eight-year-old grandson, Scott, Joel had hardly spoken to anyone during his visit here tonight. It would have been nice if Joel had actually stayed the night and the two of them could have visited like any normal father and son. But no, Joel let his temper get the best of him and stormed out the door.
Guess I can't blame him, though. Joel was upset because I wouldn't loan him twenty-five thousand dollars. Eustace frowned. It was a lot of money to ask for — an amount Joel would probably never pay back.
It wasn't because Eustace didn't have adequate funds in the bank — he had more than enough to loan Joel. But if I'd given it to him, what would it teach my selfish son? He hasto learn responsibility sometime in his life. After all, he's twenty-six years old.
Eustace stopped pacing and stared at his wife's old rocking chair, empty and void without her. "This is your fault, Effie." He pointed at the chair as if she were sitting there. "Our son has become ungrateful for everything we've done for him. You spoiled him rotten from the time he was born."
Eustace stood by Effie's chair, using his foot to get it rocking in motion. As the chair creaked back and forth, he could almost see his wife looking defiantly back at him. The more he thought about what Effie would have said if she were there, the more he had to admit she'd probably be right. After having three daughters, Eustace had been so excited to have a boy when Joel came along that he'd been a bit too permissive as well. He'd often looked the other way when Joel had done something he shouldn't, and he'd given him things he probably didn't need.
In some ways Joel reminded Eustace of himself. As a youngster he'd been full of energy, anxious to explore the world, and always looking to try new things.
But I was grounded in my faith. Eustace sat down in Effie's rocker, grasping the arms of the chair. Well, at least in most things. I stayed true to my church and family. That's more than Joel can say.
Eustace's gaze came to rest on the Bible lying on the small table beside him. Effie's Bible. When the children were all living at home, their mother would gather them around the rocking chair every evening while she read a passage of scripture out loud. Then after the children were grown and out on their own, she'd read to Eustace. Afterward, they would discuss the verses and how they applied to their life. Eustace missed those days. He missed everything about his dear wife and all they'd done together. He and Effie had been deeply in love, and he'd never grown tired of learning more about her.
Because Effie is gone doesn't mean I should neglect Bible reading. Eustace picked up her Bible and opened it to a section in the book of Luke she'd marked with a white ribbon. Holding the book made him feel closer to Effie. He noticed the page had several verses underlined — in fact, a whole passage about the prodigal son that started at verse 11 of chapter 15.
A lump formed in Eustace's throat as he read the story. Joel was like the prodigal, only he had never come back repentant. His vision blurred, and his heart ached for his son. He needs to repent, Lord, Eustace prayed. Even if Joel never comes back to live as an Amish man, I hope he will find his way back to You. If there is anything I can do to help my son see the error of his ways, please show me how.
Wiping tears with his shirtsleeve, he murmured, "My job as Joel's father is to help him get on the right path. Effie would agree with me wholeheartedly on that. My kinner are too important for me to look the other way. As long as there is breath in my body, I need to keep looking for a way."
He sat staring at the Bible then closed his eyes for a while. Finally, an idea popped into his head. It might not be the right thing to do, and perhaps Joel would never change, but at least Eustace could find solace in making an attempt to bring Joel to the Lord. Rising from Effie's chair, he turned off the gas lamp and made his way down the hall to get ready for bed.
* * *
"Wh–where am I?" Joel moaned when someone's cold fingers touched his forehead. "Kristi, is that you?" He was surprised when he opened his eyes long enough to see a middle-aged woman with short brown hair looking down at him. What's going on here?
"You're in the hospital. Please lie still. I'm Karen, your nurse and I need to take your vitals now. Dr. Blake, your attending physician, doesn't want you to try and get up yet."
This couldn't be true, even though Joel's body hurt in places he didn't know he had. A small attempt to shift his weight made every muscle scream out in pain. "Wh–what happened? How'd I get here?"
"You were in an accident and brought here to Union Hospital by ambulance." Her touch was gentle as she lifted Joel's arm and took his blood pressure.
"Oh, yeah, now I remember." Joel squeezed his eyes shut as he attempted to block out the pain. "A crazy driver swerved into my lane and came straight at me. I'll bet he was drunk." Joel moaned, a little deeper this time. "How bad am I hurt? Was there much damage to my truck?"
"Your condition isn't serious, but you do have a mild concussion, so we are keeping you overnight for observation. If you're having a lot of pain, we can give you something to help. I'll get in touch with the doctor and see what he will allow for the discomfort." The nurse gently patted his arm. "Try to rest now. The doctor will be in to see you soon."
"But what about my truck?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I imagine a tow truck was called, so your vehicle was probably taken to the impound yard."
"Great." Joel grunted in frustration, turning his head to the side. "Where's my cell phone? I need to make a call."
Speaking softly, the nurse replied, "When you were brought to this room, only your clothes and wallet were with you."
"I have to call Kristi so I can let her know what's happened. Maybe she can find my car, and my cell phone, too."
"Is Kristi a relative?"
"No, she's my girlfriend. I don't have any family. At least none who care about me." Joel couldn't keep the bitterness from his tone. After the way he'd been treated at Dad's tonight, he didn't care if he ever saw any of his family again.
"There's a telephone right here you can use to call your girlfriend." She gestured to the phone near his bed.
A searing pain shot through Joel's head as he shook it vigorously. "Her number is programmed into my cell phone, and I don't have it memorized."
"If she has a landline, we can look it up in the phone directory."
Joel clenched his teeth, which also made his head hurt. "It's a good idea, but Kristi only has a cell phone." A sense of panic rose in his soul. He felt trapped here in the hospital with no cell phone, unable to get ahold of Kristi. Joel needed her now, more than ever.
* * *
"I appreciate you coming over to help me today." Kristi Palmer's mother smiled and leaned on her hoe. "These weeds are getting the best of my garden, and since your dad's back is hurting, he's not up to helping right now."
Kristi dug her shovel into the ground. "I'm glad I could do it, Mom. Since Joel spent the night out of town somewhere, I won't be seeing him until later today."
"I figured he must be doing something else, or you would have been with him, like you are most Saturdays." Mom's tone wasn't sharp, but Kristi sensed an underlying message. Her mother had made her views on Joel quite clear. She didn't approve of Kristi's boyfriend and thought she spent too much time with him.
Kristi's throat felt dry as she swallowed. "I'm going in for a drink; my throat's parched. Want me to bring you something when I come back out?"
"I wouldn't mind a glass of lemonade. Help yourself to some. I made it fresh this morning."
"Thanks, Mom. I'll check on Dad while I'm in there."
When Kristi entered the house, she picked up her cell phone, which she'd left on the kitchen counter, and glanced at the message icon to see if Joel may have called or sent a text. No messages showed, so apparently he hadn't tried to get in touch with her.
He's probably not back yet. Or he might have gotten busy with something and forgotten to call. Maybe I should call him.
After checking on her father, Kristi went back outside with the lemonade and her cell phone. "Here you go, Mom."
Mom smiled and reached for the glass.
Kristi took a gulp of the cold liquid. "This sure tastes good. Do you want to take a break while we cool off?"
"You go ahead if you want to. I'm going to keep working." Mom tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "I'll join you after I pull a couple of these more stubborn weeds. Some of them feel like their roots go all the way to China."
Kristi smiled as Mom set her glass down to play tug-of-war with a weed. Mom could also be stubborn, so those weeds didn't have a chance.
Taking a seat on the grass, Kristi punched in Joel's number. When it went to his voice mail, she left a message. "Hi, Joel, it's me. Just wondered if you're still out of town or back home by now. I'm at my mom's, helping in the garden, but I'll be home sometime this afternoon. So give me a call when you can and we'll make plans for later."
For the next few hours, Kristi kept busy pulling weeds and then picking green beans and cucumbers. Mom's garden had done quite well this year, even with the weeds threatening to take over. Kristi wished she could have a garden of her own, but living in a condo with only a deck didn't allow for growing much of anything. Kristi had managed to squeeze in a few pots of flowers on the deck, but a barbecue grill, small table, and two chairs took up the rest of the space.
Someday when she and Joel got married, she would have plenty of space for gardening. Joel had two acres of land. Even with his single-wide mobile home, garage, and shop, his yard had plenty of room for a garden as well as fruit trees. She was glad he'd chosen to live outside of town and not in the city like she did.
Of course, being in the city had some advantages. In addition to being closer to stores for shopping, Kristi worked at a nursing home not far from her condo. She'd have to commute once she and Joel were married, but it was a small trade-off. Having grown up in the suburbs of Akron, where Mom and Dad still lived, she had always longed to live in the country.
Kristi reflected on the trip she and Mom had taken nearly a month ago to Holmes County. The best part of the weekend had been seeing all the Amish buggies, homes, and farms in the area. She'd heard that Holmes County had the largest population of Amish in America, and tourism was on the rise every year. If Kristi had her way, she would live among the Amish, but moving there would be too far from her job. Besides, Joel had shown no interest in even visiting Amish country, so she was sure he'd never agree to move there.
Kristi brushed the dirt from her gloves and stood. "It's almost noon, Mom. Should we stop and have lunch? I'd like to try calling Joel again, too."
Mom wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. "Stopping's a good idea. We've done enough work for one day." She rose to her feet. "I'll go in and start lunch while you make your call."
After Mom went inside, Kristi called Joel again. Still no answer, so she left another message. She tried not to worry, but couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Please, Lord, she prayed, keep Joel safe, wherever he is. And let me hear something from him soon.CHAPTER 2
Eustace sat at the kitchen table, staring at the untouched bowl of soup he'd heated for lunch. It was hard to eat alone. Maybe I should have gone into town and had my meal at the newly opened restaurant owned by an Amish family, he thought, rocking the ketchup bottle back and forth with his hands. I may have run into someone from the community who could have sat at my table. It would sure beat sittin' here alone. If I'd been thinking, I would have called my New Order friend, Henry, and asked him to meet me there.
Eustace got up and poured the soup from his bowl back into the pot. Once it cooled off, he'd refrigerate the soup to have another day. Soup season was fast approaching. Over the winter months, any kind of soup was good, as long as it was hot.
He walked out to the porch and breathed deeply of the September air. Where had the time gone? Resting against the porch post, Eustace viewed the swaying trees along the back of his property as soft winds blew past the area. The leaves from the branches fell delicately, like feathers, to the smooth lawn. A smile crossed Eustace's face. Maybe I can work up a better appetite if I take a walk.
Eustace headed straight for the tree line. No better time than the present to pick out the tree where I'll build Effie's tree house.
Many large trees, especially maple and oak, silhouetted the azure sky. As Eustace walked from tree to tree, he came upon one of the largest: a huge maple standing quite high, with branches jutting out in every direction. This tree had been there since the children were little, and even then it had seemed tall. Many times Effie packed a picnic basket, and the family enjoyed lunch under the shade of its branches.
Eustace stood at the base and looked up. The view from those branches must be beautiful, he thought.
Luckily, the tree had enough low-lying branches he could easily latch on to. As he pondered what to do next, the urge to climb won out. Reaching toward the first limb, Eustace was surprised at how effortless it was to get up on it.
Climbing from one branch to the next highest was easier than he expected. Each time he stopped to get a good foothold, he surveyed the landscape. Maybe the next branch will give an ever better view.
Midway up, he came to a spot where many branches on the sides and back part of the tree cradled toward the middle, giving him a wider area to stand on. The front had an ample opening. Eustace knew immediately that this was the perfect tree. He leaned back against the main part of the trunk, which at this height was still quite wide.
No wonder Effie wanted to be up here with the birds, he mused, looking out over their property. From here, Eustace could see the entire farm, the rolling fields where his horses lazily fed, and the hill his son used to venture to when he wanted to be by himself. Joel had never been aware anyone else knew of his special place on the hill. Eustace never let on, respecting his son's need to be alone at times.
Without a doubt, Effie's tree house would be built here. He looked toward the sky at a big puffy cloud and imagined his wife sitting upon it. "This is it, Effie. I found a perfect maple for your tree house."
Eustace's goal would be to have it finished before winter set in, so he could enjoy going up there without fear of snow. His excitement grew. Now he'd have a project to do, keeping him busy for the next several weeks.
Guess I better get back to the house. Maybe I'll put the soup away and head into town to try out the new restaurant. I'm getting' kinda hungry.
Eustace pushed himself away from the tree, but didn't get far. Something felt wrong. Why couldn't he move from the spot where he stood? Something was keeping him in place. Moving this way and that, but to no avail, Eustace suddenly realized his suspenders had gotten hooked on something behind him. He tried reaching back to undo whatever he was caught on, but unfortunately it was out of reach. Now what in tarnation am I gonna do?
Eustace's thoughts halted when he heard a whinny off in the distance, followed by the faint clip-clop of a horse's hooves coming up the driveway. From his vantage point, he saw his eldest daughter, Elsie, climb down from her buggy.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Eustace yelled, to get his daughter's attention. He saw her stop and look in all directions, but she hadn't spied him yet. Next, he gave out a shrill whistle. After a few more tries, she finally heard him. He watched as Elsie quickly tied the horse and sprinted up to the tree, now holding him prisoner. "What are you doing, Dad? You're up there pretty high, aren't you?"
"I'll explain later. Right now, I need your help. I'm stuck on something." Eustace pointed toward his back. "Do you think you can climb up and help me? As I recall, you used to love climbing trees when you were little, and I made it up here pretty easily myself."
"You're talkin' years ago, Dad, but I'll give it a try."
Eustace watched his daughter start climbing, as if she were a little girl again. Soon, she made her way up, smiling when she stood next to him. The spot had enough room for them to stand side-by-side.
"See here." Eustace leaned forward. "It seems my suspenders are caught on something. I couldn't reach around to get them unhooked."
"Somehow you got one suspender strap caught on a notch in the tree where a branch snapped off, possibly years ago."
"Thought I felt something digging into my back, but the view up here was so wonderful, I ignored it."
Eustace was glad Elsie had no trouble undoing his suspender. "Danki, Daughter. You came in the nick of time."
"You can tell me why you are up here later. What I want to know now is why didn't you simply unhook your suspenders from the front of your trousers?" Elise looked at him quizzically. "You would have been freed immediately."
"I didn't think of it." Eustace snickered. "Now that you mention it, I feel kinda silly."
Excerpted from The Stubborn Father by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter. Copyright © 2016 Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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