Continued from Chapter Two: In the Shadows
Out of nowhere, Datt got a job. He helped with chores morning and night on the Hale farm up the road by hauling pails of milk from the barn to the milkhouse. He came home tired, which meant that Mem and Joey had to do our own farm chores.
When Datt returned home one night, he told Mem at the supper table about an argument he’d had with a man who wasn’t Amish. He was one of our egg customers and we called him “The Yankee.” On this night, the Yankee had gone to the Hale farm to buy milk, and he’d parked his car in the way of Datt hauling the heavy pails of milk. Datt had asked him to move the car, and the Yankee refused. Datt was agitated and upset.
Later that night we’d all gone to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I was hot under the covers, and my nightie was sticking to me in the heat and humidity of late summer. I was looking at the chimney on the wall at the foot end of our bed when I saw it light up. A car had just come in our lane. The lights went off and a car door slammed. Someone yelled out in a raspy, harsh voice, “Simon!”
It was The Yankee.
Datt stayed still. He said in a whisper so we could all hear him, “Stay quiet and he might leave.”
The Yankee didn’t leave. He kept yelling louder, “Simon! Siii-monnn!” He knocked on the outside door and yelled my father’s name. Mem and Datt were having a whispered argument. Mem was telling Datt he needed to go find out what the Yankee wanted, but Datt wouldn’t move. We heard the Yankee walking up the stairs to the kitchen and walking through the door. I held my breath. He rattled the handle on the water pail, and he kept yelling my father’s name. Still Datt didn’t answer. So the Yankee walked to the bottom of the stairs that led to our bedrooms. He opened the door and yelled upstairs. Still Datt didn’t stir. My fear was too big to swallow. I wondered what would happen now. Mem got up out of bed and walked to the top of the stairs.
She said, “You’re waking the children! What do you want?”
“I want some eggs!”
“Come back tomorrow and I will give you the eggs.”
“But I’m hungry, and I need some eggs!” he demanded.
Mem stepped down into the darkness of the stairs and said, “I will give you some eggs, and then you need to leave! I could hear the fear in Mem’s voice. She went all the way down to the basement in her bare feet. A few minutes later, she came quickly up the stairs, her feet slapping against the wooden stairs. Out loud she told Datt, “I gave him some eggs, now if he doesn’t leave, you will have to deal with him. He smells like alcohol.”
I thought Mem meant that he smelled like rubbing alcohol, like what she used to clean our cuts or scrapes. I couldn’t understand why the Yankee would smell like rubbing alcohol. I didn’t know that people can consume alcohol and become drunk.
The next day, Datt put up two brackets on the inside of the door frame at the bottom of the kitchen stairs. At bedtime he dropped a two-by-four over the brackets to bar anyone from coming in. At first I felt safer, knowing the Yankee could no longer come into our home in the middle of the night. But then I realized I couldn’t reach the bar. It made me feel trapped. Danger lurked in the shadows of our home, and it didn’t always come in from the outside.
* * *
One morning Joey and Lizzie had gotten on the school bus and Mem was just pouring hot water into the dishpans in the sink for me to wash the dishes when her friend Grace Bradley drove in our lane. Mem quickly finished preparing the dishwater, as Grace walked slowly to our door. Mem welcomed her in, and then Grace’s face lit up when she saw me. She oohed and aahed about how much I’d grown. I knew she was talking about that when she motioned with her hands that I had been “this tall” last time she saw me.
I loved Grace Bradley. She had kindness written into every wrinkle of her face, and she paid attention to us children when she visited. I was sorry when Mem and Grace went through the door into the living room. Mem turned around and said, “Lomie, do the dishes now.”
Datt got off his rocking chair and headed outside. He didn’t like when other people saw he was sitting inside in the middle of the day.
The water was too hot for me to put my hands into, so I played with the soap bubbles and tried to listen to Mem and Grace Bradley. I didn’t understand English, so I could only catch a word here and there.
During a pause in their conversation, Mem said to me, “Lomie, ich heah dich ken cha vesha. — Saloma, I don’t hear you washing any dishes.”
I picked up a cup and put it into the water. I swished the dishcloth around inside the cup, then dunked the cup into the rinse water and set it into the drainer.
Then I stopped. I thought I heard Grace and Mem disagreeing. I had never heard that before. I listened, but I could not tell what they were saying, only that Mem’s voice sounded hurt and defensive. I thought she might even be crying. Things got quiet in the living room, but it was not a comfortable quiet. Then Grace got up and came through the kitchen door. I could tell she was leaving. Mem followed her to the door, but she didn’t say, “Come again!” as she usually did. She watched Grace departing with sadness in her face.
“Vass iss letz — what’s wrong?”
“Are you and Grace mad at each other?”
“She thinks I shouldn’t make you work so hard. But without Datt’s help…” Mem’s voice faded into tears and she went through the door back into the living room.
Seeing and hearing Mem cry made my tummy feel like it had a tight knot in it. I felt sorry for her. To show her I wasn’t working too hard, I set about washing the dishes with a will. I didn’t dare think about the feeling down deep — being glad that Grace Bradley cared about me and had stuck up for me.
[End of chapter 2]