Days turned into weeks and then into months. Sarah looked out at the windmill on the hill above the barn and watched it turn around and around as she did the dishes. Her life was like the windmill, turning in circles, yet staying in the same place.
It will be at least eight years before Susie is old enough to take over the household duties, Sarah thought. Jacob will probably find someone in his own community to marry. I will be an old maid. My only hope of getting married then would be to a widower. Like Dad. Sarah nearly gagged.
Jacob’s latest letter was tucked in her bottom drawer, underneath her black stockings. Sarah had his last lines memorized.
I asked Mem and Dad if they would pay for the wedding and they said yes. We can live in the little house on the farm.
I know you would have to leave without your father knowing, but I can help you. I miss you more than I can tell you. I remember those afternoons at Martha and Lester’s when we played checkers and carom. Remember the red-headed woodpecker we saw on the walk to the south woods? That was before everything changed. I would so much like to talk with you.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Lots of love,
Sunday night Sarah’s father went to town and didn’t come home for supper. She put the children to bed and then she went to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. She listened to the clock chiming every half hour. Her anger made her thoughts clear for the first time and she didn’t feel guilty about them. There wasn’t enough money to pay for groceries before he went out drinking tonight, she thought. This week I will have to make meals from the canned goods and milk and eggs from the farm. This isn’t fair! Aunt Martha said to me, “Your mother needs you at home with all those children.” Even Mem would have a hard time and this was her family. Why do people expect me to, when I’m only nineteen, and this is not my family. Sarah heard the clock strike two. A little later her father stumbled through the living room. She lay still, hardly daring to breathe.
In the morning her father slapped eight-year-old Henry across the face for making too much noise when he was eating his eggs. Sarah looked at her father and he turned on her. “What are you glaring at?” he demanded. Sarah looked at the eggs and toast on her plate and bit her tongue.
As soon as the children were on their way to school and the menfolk had gone to the barn, Sarah took out the paper and a pen. If her father found out, he would punish her. If she didn’t, things would stay the same.
October, 10, 1919
Dear Aunt Martha,
I have to hurry and get this letter out before Dad knows I wrote it.
You probably know Dad is not allowing me to see Jacob. He says I have to stay and take care of the family. Jacob writes, but I don’t’ know if I get all the letters. I write to Jacob and Dad doesn’t know.
Mem was your sister and I don’t know if she ever told you Dad drinks. He has been going out and getting drunk lately. He did it again last night. So far he has come home when we were all in bed, so he hasn’t hit us, but he scares me.
The reason I am telling you this is because I am wondering if you would let me come visit you. While I’m there, I would arrange to see Jacob. I need to talk to him again. I know there is a van load of people going to Geauga week after next. If you could let me know if this is all right, then I would plan to go with them. I would tell Dad I went to visit Anut Anna and Baby Mary and I would be staying at your house.
I have to get the day’s work done. Please write back soon, so I can make arrangements.
Aunt Martha’s letter came with the answer Sarah was hoping for. She sent a letter to Jacob. She asked her father permission to make the visit to Geauga. He said, “I guess you can, but don’t go seeing Jacob while you are there.” Sarah said, “Thank you,” walked up the stairs and threw herself on the bed. She spread her arms out and hit the quilt several times. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” she mouthed silently. She heard Susie’s footsteps on the stairs. Sarah got up and pretended she was straightening the dresser scarf. Susie came in the room and looked at Sarah with a serious expression and asked, “Are you coming back?”
“Of course I am, why are you asking me that?”
“I would be really scared if you didn’t. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Sarah looked at Susie sitting on the bed. She sat down beside her and said, “I don’t know if I am coming back or not. Since Mem died it’s been hard for all of us. You have helped out so much. If I wasn’t here, all of you children would probably be living with other families by now. Sometimes I wonder if that would be better. Dad scares me when he goes out drinking. He will probably lose the farm if he keeps it up, since there will be no money.
Sarah stood up and took pins out of her dress to get ready for bed. Susie unbuttoned the back of her dress. Sarah noticed it was getting tight on her. Pretty soon Susie would need her first “front-closing” dress since she was beginning to develop. It was a decision for mothers when to have their daughters change from a girl’s dress to a woman’s. They would show their daughters how to use straight pins. Sarah thought, Maybe someone else with daughters can make this choice instead of me.
On Saturday Sarah and her sisters cleaned the house. She got baths started early, next to the stove in the living room. The menfolk were out doing chores and would bathe after supper. Sarah braided her sisters’ hair. Then she made a big pot of chicken soup. She wondered if this would be the last meal she would make for her family.
Sarah went upstairs and put on her black wraps for the walk up the hill to meet the van. She picked up her suitcase and walked downstairs. Her family was eating supper when she walked through the kitchen. She as about to close the kitchen door, when she saw the scared and helpless look on Susie’s face. Sarah hesitated.
“Close the door, you’re letting the cold air in!” her father said.
Outside she made a tight fist. She turned into the wind, to walk up the long hill. Her hot tears quickly turned cold on her cheeks. She turned around and looked back at the light coming from the kitchen window. This had been her only home. Sarah remembered the pained look in Susie’s face and a sob came up from her chest. She turned back into the sharp wind, with her tears, on the dark and lonely road.
Sarah watched the familiar sorrel horse turn in the driveway at Aunt Martha’s. She had almost forgotten what Jacob looked like. She watched him unhitch the horse from the buggy. He took off the horse’s bridle, gave him a drink, and led him into the barn. She fidgeted with the quilt on the bed until she heard Jacob coming up the stairs. The door opened and they looked at each other for a long moment. The Amish ways of not being forward and doing things in a prescribed way were ingrained in both of them, but it didn’t matter. Sarah forgot where she was in their passion and Jacob’s soft lips. The sound of one of the children crying drifted up from the living room below. Sarah and Jacob looked at each other for a long time before he picked up his hat that had fallen to the floor, and put it on the dresser. They heard Aunt Martha singing, as she rocked one of her little ones to sleep. Sarah mouthed the lullaby sung by Amish mothers, “By yooli yoo baby, by yooli yoo by…” Jacob laughed. His eyes reminded Sarah of the sky on a clear day.