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A Bond Never Broken
By Judith Miller
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Judith Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOctober 1917 Amana Colonies, Iowa Ilsa Redlich
I had failed.
There was no other way to justify our presence at the train station.
My brother, Albert, tipped his head and leaned down to look into my eyes. "Please smile, Ilsa. I don't want this to be a sad occasion. I want to remember your engaging smile and the twinkle in those big blue eyes."
I tried, but even his reference to my eyes didn't help. Gaining control over my trembling lips would be an impossible feat. "Please don't ask me to smile. To see you depart does not please my heart." The headpiece of my woolen cloak had fallen to my shoulders, and I touched my index finger to the black cap that covered my hair. "My head will not accept your choice, either."
Once Albert stepped onto the train, nothing would ever be the same. The war had changed everything, and who could say when I would ever see him again.
As if reading my thoughts, he rested his arm across my shoulders. "They've told me I'll serve all of my time at Camp Pike, and I'll probably get to come home for Christmas."
I nodded. "They told Dr. Miller the same thing. Did that stop them from sending him to Europe?" I didn't wait for my brother's answer. "The same is true for you, Albert. Those people can tell you anything they want, but it doesn't mean they will keep their word."
He tightened his hold and squeezed my right shoulder. "You worry too much, Ilsa. All will be well. You must put your trust in God."
Passengers skirted around us, eager to purchase tickets or locate a seat near the station's wood-burning stove. "Like Sister Miller? When I saw her at the Red Cross meeting last week, she didn't think all was well. She was in tears when she spoke of her husband." I lowered my voice. Speaking against the war was not a good thing, especially for those of German heritage. "And she was angry, too. She said her husband was told he wouldn't be sent overseas because of his conscientious objector status, but still they sent him."
"Ach! Who can know what happened with Dr. Miller? Not me or you. I am only certain of what I've been told: I will serve at Camp Pike and then return home."
He wasn't going to listen, so I bit back any further arguments. Not knowing when I would see Albert again, I didn't want to spoil our parting with cross words. Mother had kissed Albert's cheek, said her good-bye, and hurried to the kitchen to prepare the noonday meal for the hotel guests, but I hadn't failed to notice the tears she'd squeezed back. And Father had murmured a hasty farewell and pulled Albert into an awkward hug before heading to the wheelwright shop after breakfast.
Around us, the clamor of conversation rose and fell. A train whistled in the distance. "You promise you'll write? Mutter and Vater will worry if they don't hear from you each week."
He wagged his finger back and forth beneath my nose. "It is not Mutter and Vater who will worry. They have peace because they trust God. But you, dear Ilsa, are not so quick to find that peace."
"Nein. Probably because I prayed you would be spared from the draft, yet you received your notice. Then I prayed you would file a request to be released from military duty because of your religious beliefs, but you didn't. Instead, you only checked the box saying you are a conscientious objector. So then I prayed you would fail the physical exam, but you passed with flying colors. My prayers failed on all accounts, and I find it hard to trust that God will answer my prayers to keep you safe."
"God heard your prayers, Ilsa, but He has other plans for my life, and those plans include serving in the U.S. Army. It's as simple as that."
I glared at a group of boisterous passengers congregated nearby, angry that their lives remained unchanged while mine was being turned upside down.
"I promise I'll write," Albert said, "but you shouldn't expect a letter every week. I don't know what my duties will be, and I don't want you to be disappointed." He grinned. "Maybe you could bake me some cookies and send them."
I forced a tight smile. "Ja. You know I will."
He pecked a kiss on my cheek. "I will be happy to have some, even if you burn them."
I gave him a playful shove. He never failed to tease me about the first cookies I had baked without Mother's help. Tearful when they had burned, I fretted there would be no dessert for the hotel guests. Albert had come home and joined me in scraping off the black crust. He'd declared them perfect, though I don't think the guests had agreed.
Tears threatened and I swallowed hard to keep them at bay. I could cry later. But not now, not during these precious final minutes with Albert.
With only an eighteen-month difference in our ages, we'd been close all of our lives, unlike many of our friends who didn't get along with their siblings. Perhaps that was why I'd taken it so personally when he refused to take my advice to remain at home. Then again, maybe it was because I feared his decision would influence Garon and change my life even more. And it had. Not only had Albert's decision wreaked havoc in my relationship with him, it had also caused problems between me and the man I was pledged to marry.
"Unless the elders tell us the government wants us to use even less flour and sugar than we already do, I will do my best to send you something gut to eat at least once or twice a month." I did my best to keep my tone light.
The station doors burst open, and a group of travelers flooded inside. Teeth chattering, they hurried to cluster around the stove. A cold gust of wind swept across the wooden floor, and I drew my wool cloak close. It was early for snow and ice, but not so unusual that we hadn't faced the same circumstances in the past. If we were fortunate, this cold weather would pass and warmer fall weather would return for a few more weeks. Garon followed the group inside. He'd been to the depot at Upper South and driven the passengers to Lower South in the special carriage used to transport travelers back and forth between the two train stations in South Amana.
Give or take a few, our population in South had remained at two hundred residents for more than thirty years, but the constant flow of train passengers and visitors made it seem bigger. And though we were smaller than Main Amana with its more than five hundred residents, we were the only village with two train stations. A point of pride, though pride wasn't considered a good trait among our people. Nowadays we didn't worry so much about boasting, for the elders didn't enforce the less significant rules with the same strictness that had prevailed in the early days of the settlement.
Garon stomped the light dusting of snow from his boots and yanked the woolen cap from atop his thatch of coffee brown hair. He grinned at me. "Got a few passengers planning to stay overnight at the hotel. Hope you've got rooms for them."
"Ja, we can take care of them."
"I told them I had to stop at the depot before I could take them on to the hotel, but they didn't seem to mind." Garon clapped my brother on the shoulder. "Didn't want you to board the train without saying a proper good-bye, Albert." He leaned closer. "I may be joining you soon, so be sure to write."
I snapped to attention. "What do you mean, Garon?" Panic gripped my stomach in a tight knot, and I was thankful I hadn't eaten much breakfast. "Have you received your notice to report for a physical?" My fingernails dug into the soft flesh of my palms.
He shook his head. "Nein. For sure I would have told you if it had come." Doubt must have shone in my eyes, for he stepped closer and leaned down until we were nose to nose. "I give you my word, Ilsa. I have not received my notice. If I hear anything from the local draft board, you will be the first to know."
His words didn't soothe me. What I truly wanted was a promise he wouldn't join the army no matter what. But I knew I wouldn't hear that—at least not right now. I had quit arguing with my brother, and look what had happened. I would not make the same mistake twice.
Albert and Garon continued their talk of service and patriotism until the train rumbled into the station. I clung to Albert's arm while Garon strode alongside us, carrying my brother's bag.
"Well, this is it until I get leave to come home. I hope it will be for Christmas." Albert pulled me forward and smothered me in a bear hug. "Don't forget those cookies you promised, Ilsy-Dilsy."
Ilsy-Dilsy—how long had it been since he'd called me by that name? When I was a little girl, I would stomp my feet in anger when he called me that. Now it caused a lump in my throat. I lifted a gloved hand and swiped the tears from my cheeks.
"You'll find a tin of cookies in your case. I wasn't going to tell you, but you might get hungry on the train."
"Thank you. For sure they won't go to waste. If I don't eat them on the train, they will fill my stomach once I get to Camp Pike." He released me from the warmth of his embrace and waved to Garon. "Come and take her home. I don't want her standing on this platform catching a cold. Then she won't be able to bake me any more cookies."
Albert was doing his best to sound cheerful, but his laughter rang hollow, and I detected a hint of sadness in his eyes.
After a slight nod, Garon touched his forehead in a mock salute. "You should not worry about anything except your army duties, Private Redlich. I will take gut care of Ilsa, and I promise to taste any cookies before she sends them—to make sure they are gut enough for you."
My brother laughed and took his bag from Garon. "Better get those folks over to the hotel, Garon. I'm sure they are warmed up by now."
After a final peck on my cheek, Albert turned and loped toward the train. With one last wave, he stepped aboard. I gestured in return, longing to remain until the train was out of sight. But Garon propelled me toward the station before I could put voice to my desire.
"Will only make you sad to remain until the train departs." Garon opened the depot door and gently pulled me along.
Mouth agape, I stared at him. How did he know what I'd been thinking? "But I'd feel better if ..."
He shook his head. "Nein. You would feel worse. Come with me, Ilsa. We must not keep the hotel guests waiting any longer."
I wanted to argue, but I knew he was right. I wouldn't feel any better if I waited, and the hotel guests deserved to be settled into their rooms. I waited inside while Garon assembled the group and assisted them into the oversized buggy before I stepped outside and joined him.
We hadn't gone far when the train blasted two long whistles. I twisted around on the seat and strained for a final glimpse of Albert. Garon flicked the reins and urged the horses to a faster pace so I could catch sight of the train when it passed. I removed my neck scarf and waved it overhead. The dark wool strip whipped in the wind like the flag that hung outside the general store— the American flag we raised and lowered each day to show our loyalty to this country. At least that was the hope of the elders. But if waving a flag had helped ease feelings of hatred toward German-Americans, I hadn't noticed.
I wanted to believe my brother's service and the service of other Amana men in the armed forces would ease outsiders' doubts and suspicions about our people, but I remained unconvinced.
Chapter TwoMarengo, Iowa Jutta Schmitt
At the familiar jangling of the bell, my parents and I raised our heads and looked toward the front door of the bakery. "I'll go," I said, signaling for the two of them to continue with their work. I glanced at the clock near the long wooden worktable. "It's time for Mrs. Woods to come in and argue with me."
My father laughed and nodded. He disliked being interrupted in the midst of preparing dough for the oven. Should he stop for even a minute, he worried his loaves wouldn't rise to the proper height or his crusts wouldn't glisten with the perfect sheen. I didn't see how a few minutes could make a difference, but that is why I waited on the customers and my parents took care of the baking. Father said each job in the bakery was important, and I was best suited to help the customers. He said they liked my smile and pleasing personality, but I knew it was mostly because I understood English better than he or Mother.
We were a good fit, the three of us, each enjoying our particular duties in the shop—at least most of the time. I wanted to run and hide when cranky Mrs. Woods came into the bakery to buy bread. Each morning she'd arrive and each morning she'd find fault with every loaf, hoping I'd give her a discount. It had become a game of sorts, a game that had begun shortly after we moved from the Amana Colonies to Marengo when I was sixteen. It was a game I had tired of after ten years.
Swiping my hands down the front of my white apron, I stopped short as I crossed the threshold into the front of the bakery. Lester Becroft stood at the counter with a shiny brass badge pinned to the lapel of his ill-fitting woolen jacket. Strands of red hair poked from beneath his hat. Another man I'd never before seen stood by the door. He was wearing one of the badges, as well. I tried to read the black lettering on Lester's badge, but I couldn't see it from my current vantage point. I considered taking a step closer but hesitated. For instead of his usual despondent gaze, Lester's eyes shone with either defiance or anger—I couldn't be sure which.
"Did Martha send eggs?" I asked. The Becrofts had been trading eggs for bread. And even though my father had made an agreement with a local farmer to supply eggs for the bakery, he'd been unable to refuse Mrs. Becroft's request. "They need our help," he'd told my mother. "So many little mouths to feed." And Mother had agreed, giving the Becrofts any leftovers when they appeared late in the afternoon.
Lester's lips curled in a snarl. "Ain't here to talk about no eggs."
I took a backward step, stunned by his frightening behavior. He motioned to the stranger, who turned the wooden sign that hung inside the front door to read that the bakery was closed.
I shook my head and waved to the man. "Please, turn the sign so that people will know the bakery is open for business." I forced a smile. "We cannot afford to turn away any customers."
When the man at the door didn't heed my request, I gained courage and stepped forward. The moment I circled around the counter, Lester grabbed my upper arm in a tight grip. "Stop right there, Joota." We'd lived in this town for ten years and still most people couldn't pronounce my name. Instead of dropping the J to properly call me Utta, they transformed my name into a number of strange-sounding words. I tried to free my arm, but Lester tightened his hold. "We will say when the sign can be turned around, not you."
His large frame towered over me. My eyes were now level with the shiny badge pinned to his chest and the black letters circling the outer rim, which read Iowa Council of National Defense. On the inside in smaller letters, I read the words American Protective League. I swallowed the lump in my throat and did my best to appear calm. I'd heard a number of frightening stories about the men who wore those shiny badges, but never would I have guessed Lester Becroft was one of them. For the past two weeks I'd noticed strangers positioned across the street from the bakery. I'd mentioned them to my father, but he'd said it was only my imagination at work. Now I knew I'd been correct. This stranger was one of those men I'd seen loitering nearby.
The stranger stepped away from the door. "We got questions for you and the other Huns back there." He pointed a thick finger toward the bakery kitchen.
"We are Americans," I replied. "You can ask Mr. Becroft. He has done business with us for years." I turned to Lester, hoping my reference to the kindness we had shown him and his family would halt this alarming confrontation.
"You're Huns—no different than the Huns who are killing our American soldiers."
I sucked in a deep breath. How dare he say such a thing! I wanted to retaliate and defend my family, but anger would likely escalate the situation.
"I hope that your children are all well, Mr. Becroft." I kept my voice low, hoping I could appeal to his sense of decency. For a fleeting moment, regret flashed in his eyes, but the hard look returned as quickly as it had departed, and I knew I had failed to reach him.
Excerpted from A Bond Never Broken by Judith Miller Copyright © 2011 by Judith Miller. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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