Sarah’s Courtship, Part I

The diapers flapped in the wind as Sarah pinned the corners to the clothesline. She looked up at the white cotton clouds in the bright blue March sky and took a deep breath. What a nice wash day, she thought.
Sarah remembered the day several months before when she was hanging out sheets at her Aunt Martha’s in Geauga County. She had gone to help after Aunt Martha had a baby. That’s when she first saw Jacob. He was nailing boards on the milk house walls for Martha’s husband, Lester. She watched him from behind the sheets. He looked towards her and waved. She was glad he was too far away to see her face turn red, but she waved back. The following Sunday she saw him at church. She liked his headful of auburn curls.
That same evening, Lester asked Sarah if she would accept a date with Jacob. She knew young folks in Geauga used bed courtship as their dating method, like they did where she lived, in Mercer County. The first date with someone could be embarrassing, especially if they didn’t go to a young folks’ gathering first. She twisted her head covering strings and accepted the date.
Sarah watched Jacob through her window as he unhitched his horse from the buggy and led him into the barn. She lit the oil lamp on the nightstand and put on her light blue night dress.
Sarah’s stomach did a somersault when she heard Jacob coming up the stairs, but she sat calmly on the edge of the bed. She looked at the squares of the patchwork quilt until she heard the soft knock on the door. “Come in,” she said. The door opened, and Jacob came in, looking nervous.
“I found the room all right. I didn’t want to wake the little ones,” he said. He took off his hat. He smoothed down his curls, but it did not good. They stuck out like unruly springs. He was short and stocky with big shoulders, a round face with freckles, and blue eyes.
“Did Lester tell you which room?” she asked, aware how tight her night dress fit over her breasts. She felt bare without her hair covering.
“Yes, but sometimes he likes to play tricks on people, so I wasn’t sure,” Jacob answered. He paused, then he asked, “How many children do they have now?”
“They just had their fourth.”
Jacob sat on the chair by the window to take off his shoes. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and took it off, leaving his white undershirt on.
His feet don’t stink like Joe’s, Sarah thought as he went to the other side of the bed and pulled back the covers. Jacob got underneath the covers with his pants on.
Sarah leaned over and blew out the lamp. They found each other in the dark and settled in for a night of shmunzla (hugging and kissing). Jacob smelled of fresh air and faintly of horses.
Sarah hadn’t enjoyed her other dates. Henry’s teeth had gotten in the way, and John had grabbed at her night dress, trying to open her buttons. She pushed his hands away, but he kept trying. Finally she said, “Do net!” (don’t!) and he had turned his back and gone to sleep.
Jacob was different. His kisses were smooth and gave her new sensations in parts of her body she hadn’t felt before. When they fell asleep in each other’s arms, their sleep was as soft as their kisses.
At four in the morning, Jacob hitched up his horse and drove home for chores. Sarah missed his warm body next to hers. She lay awake and imagined another date with him next week.
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7 thoughts on “Sarah’s Courtship, Part I”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Even though I’ve read about the history of this custom, it still puzzles me. Too much potential for things to happen, I think, but perhaps I am missing something. Look forward to part two.

  2. Hello Susan,

    Yes, the practice still occurs today, in some communities. Bed courtship has been the reason for many upstart Amish settlements. People recognize that changing such a tradition in communities that were established while it was being practiced, is nearly impossible. Therefore, it is easier to start a new community in which that is done away with from the start.

    There is much shame that goes with this practice… even the Amish who do practice it don’t want the outside world to know specifics because they are ashamed of it themselves.

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