Published in the Piker Press July 2013.
No it’s very flat. It’s not like here,” she said, indicating the surrounding mountains with motioning hands. “It was hilly in spots but not much. Where I grew up, next to my Grandpa’s farm, we used to spend a lot of time working the land- but also spent time in all corners of the property. His farm joined our farm at the landing, a place we called the landing, which was where both farms met the river.”
“Was that river like this river? Or was it wider and deeper, more like a real river?”
“No it was smaller than this but it wasn’t very deep either. I used to walk across it to visit my friend, the one I told you about that I’ve known since I can remember, and that I still keep in touch with. I’m going to mail this letter to her today. Callie’s her name.” She had been holding an envelope and showed it to me. “She’s gotta be up around eighty by now, I don’t know exactly, but she’s a few years older than me. She would walk across the river and our farm to my house when my Mother wasn’t able to take care of us. You know when she was too drunk. Although at the time we called it “sick”. I don’t know why we said “sick”. We knew what it was.”
“Oh so you’ve kept in touch with her, that’s nice. Even after all these years.”
“Well yes. She was like a part of our family and is my only lifetime friend. We spent so much time in the water going back and forth, and my Grandpa had a pier at the landing too, with a rowboat. So a lot of time we would get in the boat and go downriver, and float through the town. Sometimes we would get off and do some shopping or whatever. You know, just to pass the time. There really wasn’t anything else to do but that. I mean but to be outdoors- when we weren’t doing the farm work. My Mother and Father were too busy to pay much attention to us kids. I mean he was busy wondering where she was or taking care of her when he could. He was so busy with the cows and then the crops. The only time we really saw him was in the winter months when it was too cold to work outside and there was a lot of inside work to do, so he was around more.”
“Were you close with him? Or were you with your Mother?”
“I was close to him later in life, after I was married, but not growing up. Like I said, he never really had much time. Plus he was an Amish minister, and so was his Daddy, and his Daddy before him, so he was very involved with helping the parishioners and the goings-on of the church. He had a lot of activities all the time that didn’t involve us. I mean until we got a little older that is.”
We looked out over the water in silence. I thought about how older people have so much history- and so many things we could never imagine when we look at them today. I don’t think society takes enough interest in them generally, do you? I mean they’re often dismissed and have so much to offer.
“By the time I grew up the only thing to do, or the thing that was natural anyway, was to get married and have kids. That’s what the women did as soon as possible. Being that we really knew nothing more than the farms and the church, I wound up marrying an Amish boy. Soon thereafter we moved from Indiana to Oklahoma, so he could go into the Mennonite seminary there. Then soon thereafter I was pregnant with Rachel and we stayed there for a few years until he finished school and became an Amish minister himself.”
“How did that all suit you? I mean you’re so different now, I would have never known. I can’t imagine you ever being Amish as you’re quite modern and not at all conservative.”
“It suited me fine for a while. I was quite dedicated to the church and to God. It’s just what I’d always known. Once he graduated from seminary and we started to get settled into our new life, he got called back to Indiana for an assignment in a church in the next town from my Mother and Father. So I found myself back there and became quite involved in church life, just like my Mother did before me and her Mother before her. My father insisted that Rachel help out on the farm, and me too even. Callie still lived across the river and had gotten in a bad way, so I didn’t really see her much then- when we first got back from Oklahoma. We wound up being inseparable again once my Mother died, and then once I had to go into the hospital.”
“Oh, what happened? I mean why did you have to go into the hospital?”
“I guess I rebelled against it all. I guess I wasn’t happy about what I thought at the time was the disparaging of women. I became too big for my britches, I mean being a minister’s wife and all. And I believed that God was speaking through me. So they sent me to the hospital. I think it was really just to hide me that they sent me away.”
She spoke quietly and slowly. I had to lean in to follow the conversation. She was stoic, not emotional. It was simply a recitation of the facts.
I didn’t want to pry. “Well did you ever dream of or want to leave that life? I mean had you ever been to a big city or seen anything different?”
“Well I hadn’t been to a big city until they sent me to the hospital in Chicago. I had cousins, we called them our New York cousins. They’d come to visit us and would tell me about how they lived. I used to dream about it- the big buildings, all the excitement, people of every stripe. And once they sent me to the hospital in Chicago they put me on the top floor and when I looked out the window I could see the Chicago River and Lake Michigan beyond. When I looked at the river—it’s green ya know—I could see boats going up and down and people spending time there soaking it in. It reminded me of my landing back home, but it was a whole different landing. Plus I could see the whole city, the skyscrapers I had only imagined before.”
“And what did you think of all that?”