Now I will tell the story of how one of my sisters and I did the unthinkable when Mem was in the sugarhouse one spring. However, first I need to set the background.
Every church district in every community varies in its adherence to the set of church rules or “Ordnung.” And then each set of parents within a given church district varies in how strictly they adhere to the rules. Within the community, our church district was pretty strict, and my parents were stricter than all the other parents in the district. What this means is that there were certain things we had to put up with that others didn’t. This only added to the fodder for us to be treated as the black sheep family in the community. We had to put up with other children making fun of us at school for these old-fashioned ways.
One of the biggest embarrassments for my sisters and me was that Mem had two sets of bonnets for us… one for summer (which is what all the other girls were wearing year around), and the other set of bonnets were thicker and were called “iva-kappe” which translates into “overcaps.” In English we simply called them winter bonnets. These winter bonnets had several layers of material, plus paper flower bags sown in between black material. Summer bonnets were stiff, because they had “bonnet board” sewn into the bonnet, but the winter bonnets were not only thick, but they were also floppy. When we wore them, every sound was muffled, because they impeded our hearing, and they were deep enough that we couldn’t see anything out of our peripheral vision. We hated wearing our winter bonnets with a passion. We called them our “deafs and blinders.” Every winter when Mem took them out of the cedar chest, we put up a fuss about not wanting to wear them, but the more we resisted, the more Mem insisted that we wear them.
One fine spring day, when we came home from school, there was a note with instructions that Lizzie should go out to help Mem in the sugar house, and that Sarah and I should clean out the lunch boxes, bake for the next day’s lunches, and make supper. Susie had gone home from school overnight with her friend, Wilma, so that left Sarah and me in the house alone. We had brought Susie’s winter bonnet home, so she wouldn’t have to be embarrassed when she went to the Yoders’ house. There were all four of them — Lizzie’s mine, Sarah’s, and Susie’s — all lined up on the sideboard in the dining room, with their sides flopping inwards. Sarah and I started talking about how much we hated wearing them. We started tossing them back and forth to one another. Then we played tug-of-war and one of the flaps from the bottom of the bonnet ripped. We laughed and egged each other on. We realized we were going to get into trouble, but we also knew that Mem would probably sew the flap back on and make us wear them anyway. We kept each other going, by ripping the flaps completely off the bonnets. At some point we realized we had done damage beyond repair, so we got scissors and cut them all to pieces. I said something about getting a whipping for this, and Sarah said, “I’d rather put up with a whipping and have it over with than have to wear these all the time.” I didn’t agree with that thinking, because I’d gotten some pretty severe whippings from Mem before, and I’d never done anything this daring.But I also knew that what was done could not be undone — I was now going to get the whipping, no matter what. Now that we had them totally destroyed, we didn’t know what to do with the pieces of the bonnets. We decided to burn them in the woodstove. While we were at it, we also burned Lizzie’s and Susie’s, just in case Mem would make us wear theirs as a punishment.
The next morning when we were getting ready for school, I asked Mem if we could wear our summer bonnets. I figured if she found out just before we had to go out the door, she wouldn’t have time to whip us. She sighed one of her heavy sighs as she bent over the oilstove, turning out the burner. She said, “They are still packed away in the cedar chest, and I don’t want to go get them right now.”
“I’ll get them then,” I said a little too eagerly.
Mem said, “Just wear your winter ones.” Sarah and I looked at each other, then I said, “We can’t.”
Mem turned around and looked at me and said, “Why not?”
The words got stuck in my throat when I opened my mouth. Sarah came to my aid and said, “Because…we burned them.” Mem just stood there for a minute with her mouth open. I expected her face to get that cold, dangerous look and for her to walk over to the china cabinet and grab the whip off the top, in her determined and angry way. Instead, I thought she almost smiled, and then she clamped her mouth shut. She looked at Sarah, then me, and said, “Well, I didn’t realize you hated them that much.”
Sarah and I giggled and poked each other on the way out the driveway, wearing our summer bonnets with their cedar smell, saying over and over, “I just can’t believe it!” Lizzie walked behind us and said, “Boy, are you girls lucky you didn’t get clobbered!”
I looked at her and said, “Aren’t you going to thank us for burning yours too?”
“I don’t know if I should. You could have gotten me into trouble too.”
“But, just think, we will never have to wear them again!” I said.
“Mem can make other ones.”
“But she didn’t say she would.”
“You’re just plain lucky, that’s all,” Lizzie said. I thought I saw her suppress a smile. Sarah and I hooked our arms together and skipped as though we were six and seven years old instead of eleven and twelve.
To this day, I do not know how we got away with burning our bonnets without a punishment. Perhaps Mem realized it wasn’t fair for her to make us wear them when it was something we hated so much, and that those bonnets only gave the girls in school a reason for making fun of us. As was the case with many issues, I think Mem was often of two minds… on the one hand, she wanted to hold to the older traditions, but on the other hand she questioned the Amish ways herself. Whatever the reason, it was one of the only times I remember getting away with such a strong act of rebellion.