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   Chapter 11 POP! I FEEL TO BE PLAIN

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 14552

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The psychical and, considering the critical age of the young girl, the physiological processes by which Tillie was finally led to her conversion it is not necessary to analyze; for the experience is too universal, and differs too slightly in individual cases, to require comment. Perhaps in Tillie's case it was a more intense and permanent emotion than with the average convert. Otherwise, deep and earnest though it was with her, it was not unique.

The New Mennonite sermon which had been the instrument to determine the channel in which should flow the emotional tide of her awakening womanhood, had convinced her that if she would be saved, she dare not compromise with the world by joining one of those churches as, for instance, the Methodist or the Evangelical, which permitted every sort of worldly indulgence,-fashionable dress, attendance at the circus, voting at the polls, musical instruments, "pleasure-seeking," and many other things which the Word of God forbade. She must give herself up to the Lord absolutely and entirely, forswearing all the world's allurements. The New Mennonites alone, of all the Christian sects, lived up to this scriptural ideal, and with them Tillie would cast her lot.

This austere body of Christians could not so easily have won her heart had it forbidden her cherished ambition, constantly encouraged and stimulated by Miss Margaret, to educate herself. Fortunately for her peace of mind, the New Mennonites were not, like the Amish, "enemies to education," though to be sure, as the preacher, Brother Abram Underwocht, reminded her in her private talk with him, "To be dressy, or TOO well educated, or stylish, didn't belong to Christ and the apostles; they were plain folks."

It was in the lull of work that came, even in the Getz family, on Sunday afternoon, that Tillie, summoning to her aid all the fervor of her new-found faith, ventured to face the ordeal of opening up with her father the subject of her conversion.

He was sitting on the kitchen porch, dozing over a big Bible spread open on his knee. The children were playing on the lawn, and Mrs. Getz was taking her Sunday afternoon nap on the kitchen settee.

Tillie seated herself on the porch step at her father's feet. Her eyes were clear and bright, but her face burned, and her heart beat heavily in her heaving bosom.

"Pop!" she timidly roused him from his dozing.

"Heh?" he muttered gruffly, opening his eyes and lifting his head.

"Pop, I got to speak somepin to you."

An unusual note in her voice arrested him, and, wide awake now, he looked down at her inquiringly.

"Well? What, then?"

"Pop! I feel to be plain."

"YOU! Feel fur turnin' plain! Why, you ain't old enough to know the meanin' of it! What d' you want about that there theology?"

"I'm fourteen, pop. And the Spirit has led me to see the light. I have gave myself up," she affirmed quietly, but with a quiver in her voice.

"You have gave yourself up!" her father incredulously repeated.

"Yes, sir. And I'm loosed of all things that belong to the world. And now I feel fur wearin' the plain dress, fur that's according to Scripture, which says, 'all is wanity!'"

Never before in her life had Tillie spoken so many words to her father at one time, and he stared at her in astonishment.

"Yes, you're growin' up, that's so. I ain't noticed how fast you was growin'. It don't seem no time since you was born. But it's fourteen years back a'ready-yes, that's so. Well, Tillie, if you feel fur joinin' church, you're got to join on to the Evangelicals. I ain't leavin' you follow no such nonsense as to turn plain. That don't belong to us Getzes. We're Evangelicals this long time a'ready."

"Aunty Em was a Getz, and SHE's gave herself up long ago."

"Well, she's the only one by the name Getz that I ever knowed to be so foolish! I'm an Evangelical, and what's good enough fur your pop will do YOU, I guess!"

"The Evangelicals ain't according to Scripture, pop. They have wine at the Communion, and the Bible says, 'Taste not, handle not,' and 'Look not upon the wine when it is red.'"

That she should criticize the Evangelicals and pronounce them unscriptural was disintegrating to all his ideas of the subjection, of children. His sun-burned face grew darker.

"Mebbe you don't twist that there Book! Gawd he wouldn't of created wine to be made if it would be wrong fur to look at it! You can't come over that, can you? Them Scripture you spoke, just mean not to drink to drunkenness, nor eat to gluttonness. But," he sternly added, "it ain't fur you to answer up to your pop! I ain't leavin' you dress plain-and that's all that's to say!"

"I got to do it, pop," Tillie's low voice answered, "I must obey to Christ."

"What you sayin' to me? That you got to do somepin I tole you you haven't the dare to do? Are you sayin' that to ME, Tillie? Heh?"

"I got to obey to Christ," she repeated, her face paling.

"You think! Well, we'll see about that oncet! You leave me see you obeyin' to any one before your pop, and you'll soon get learnt better! How do you bring it out that the Scripture says, 'Childern, obey your parents'?"

"'Obey your parents in the Lord,'" Tillie amended.

"Well, you'll be obeyin' to the Scripture AND your parent by joinin' the Evangelicals. D' you understand?"

"The Evangelicals don't hold to Scripture, pop. They enlist. And we don't read of Christ takin' any interest in war."

"Yes, but in the Old Dispensation them old kings did it, and certainly they was good men! They're in the Bible!"

"But we're livin' under the New Dispensation. And a many things is changed to what they were under the Old. Pop, I can't dress fashionable any more."

"Now, look here, Tillie, I oughtn't argy no words with you, fur you're my child and you're got the right to mind me just because I say it. But can't you see the inconsistentness of the plain people? Now a New Mennonite he says his conscience won't leave him wear grand [wear worldly dress] but he'll make his livin' in Lancaster city by keepin' a jew'lry-store. And yet them Mennonites won't leave a sister keep a millinery-shop!"

"But," Tillie tried to hold her ground, "there's watches, pop, and clocks that jew'lers sells. They're useful. We got to have watches and clocks. Millinery is only pleasing to the eye."

"Well, the women couldn't go bare-headed neither, could they? And is ear-rings and such things like them useful? And all them fancy things they keep in their dry-goods stores? Och, they're awful inconsistent that way! I ain't got no use fur New Mennonites! Why, here one day, when your mom was livin' yet, I owed a New Mennonite six cents, and I handed him a dime and he couldn't change it out, but he sayed he'd send me the four cents. Well, I waited and waited, and he never sent it. Then I bought such a postal-card and wrote it in town to him yet. And that didn't fetch the four cents neither. I wrote to him backward and forward till I had wrote three cards a'ready, and then I seen I wouldn't gain nothin' by writin' one more if he did pay me, and if he didn't pay I'd lose that other cent yet. So I let it. Now that's a New Mennonite fur you! Do you call that consistentness?"

"But it's the Word of Gawd I go by,

pop, not by the weak brethren."

"Well, you'll go by your pop's word and not join to them New Mennonites! Now I don't want to hear no more!"

"Won't you buy me the plain garb, pop?"

"Buy you the plain garb! Now look here, Tillie. If ever you ast me again to leave you join to anything but the Evangelicals, or speak somepin to me about buyin' you the plain garb, I'm usin' the strap. Do you hear me?"

"Pop," said Tillie, solemnly, her face very white, "I'll always obey to you where I can-where I think it's right to. But if you won't buy me the plain dress and cap, Aunty Em Wackernagel's going to. She says she never knew what happiness it was to be had in this life till she gave herself up and dressed plain and loosed herself from all worldly things. And I feel just like her."

"All right-just you come wearin' them Mennonite costumes 'round me oncet! I'll burn 'em up like what I burned up them novels where you lent off of your teacher! And I'll punish you so's you won't try it a second time to do what I tell you you haven't the dare to do!"

The color flowed back into Tillie's white face as he spoke. She was crimson now as she rose from the porch step and turned away from him to go into the house.

Jake Getz realized, as with a sort of dull wonder his eyes followed her, that there was a something in his daughter's face this day, and in the bearing of her young frame as she walked before him, which he was not wont to see, which he did not understand, and with which he felt he could not cope. The vague sense of uneasiness which it gave him strengthened his resolve to crush, with a strong hand, this budding insubordination.

Two uneventful weeks passed by, during which Tillie's quiet and dutiful demeanor almost disarmed her father's threatening watchfulness of her; so that when, one Sunday afternoon, at four o'clock, she returned from a walk to her Aunty Em Wackernagel's, clad in the meek garb of the New Mennonites, his amazement at her intrepidity was even greater than his anger.

The younger children, in high glee at what to them was a most comical transformation in their elder sister, danced around her with shrieks of laughter, crying out at the funny white cap which she wore, and the prim little three-cornered cape falling over her bosom, designed modestly to cover the vanity of woman's alluring form.

Mrs. Getz, mechanically moving about the kitchen to get the supper, paused in her work only long enough to remark with stupid astonishment, "Did you, now, get religion, Tillie?"

"Yes, ma'am. I've gave myself up."

"Where did you come by the plain dress?"

"Aunty Em bought it for me and helped me make it."

Her father had followed her in from the porch and now came up to her as she stood in the middle of the kitchen. The children scattered at his approach.

"You go up-stairs and take them clo'es off!" he commanded. "I ain't leavin' you wear 'em one hour in this house!"

"I have no others to put on, pop," Tillie gently answered, her soft eyes meeting his with an absence of fear which puzzled and baffled him.

"Where's your others, then?"

"I've let 'em at Aunty Em's. She took 'em in exchange for my plain dress. She says she can use 'em on 'Manda and Rebecca."

"Then you walk yourself right back over to the hotel and get 'em back of? of her, and let them clo'es you got on. Go!" he roughly pointed to the door.

"She wouldn't give 'em back to me. She'd know I hadn't ought to yield up to temptation, and she'd help me to resist by refusing me my fashionable clo'es."

"You tell her if you come back home without 'em, I'm whippin' you! She'll give 'em to you then."

"She'd say my love to Christ ought not to be so weak but I can bear anything you want to do to me, pop. She had to take an awful lot off of gran'pop when she turned plain. Pop," she added earnestly, "no matter what you do to me, I ain't givin' 'way; I'm standin' firm to serve Christ!"

"We'll see oncet!" her father grimly answered, striding across the room and taking his strap from its corner in the kitchen cupboard he grasped Tillie's slender shoulder and lifted his heavy arm.

And now for the first time in her life his wife interposed a word against his brutality.

"Jake!"

In astonishment he turned to her. She was as pale as her stepdaughter.

"Jake! If she HAS got religion, you'll have awful bad luck if you try to get her away from it!"

"I ain't sayin' she can't get RELIGION if she wants! To be sure, I brung her up to be a Christian. But I don't hold to this here nonsense of turnin' plain, and I tole her so, and she's got to obey to me or I'll learn her!"

"You'll have bad luck if you whip her fur somepin like this here," his wife repeated. "Don't you mind how when Aunty Em turned plain and gran'pop he acted to her so ugly that way, it didn't rain fur two weeks and his crops was spoilt, and he got that boil yet on his neck! Yes, you'll see oncet," she warned him "if you use the strap fur somepin like what this is, what you'll mebbe come by yet!"

"Och, you're foolish!" he answered, but his tone was not confident. His raised arm dropped to his side and he looked uneasily into Tillie's face, while he still kept his painful grasp of her shoulder.

The soft bright eyes of the young girl met his, not with defiance, but with a light in them that somehow brought before his mind the look her mother had worn the night she died. Superstition was in his blood, and he shuddered inwardly at his uncanny sense of mystery before this unfamiliar, illumined countenance of his daughter. The exalted soul of the girl cast a spell which even HIS unsensitive spirit could keenly feel, and something stirred in his breast-the latent sense of affectionate, protecting fatherhood.

Tillie saw and felt this sudden change in him. She lifted her free hand and laid it on his arm, her lips quivering. "Father!" she half whispered.

She had never called him that before, and it seemed strangely to bring home to him what, in this crisis of his child's life, was due to her from him, her only living parent.

Suddenly he released her shoulder and tossed away the strap. "I see I wouldn't be doin' right to oppose you in this here, Tillie. Well, I'm glad, fur all, that I ain't whippin' you. It goes ag'in' me to hit you since you was sick that time. You're gettin' full big, too, to be punished that there way, fur all I always sayed still I'd never leave a child of mine get ahead of me, no matter how big they was, so long as they lived off of me. But this here's different. You're feelin' conscientious about this here matter, and I ain't hinderin' you."

To Tillie's unspeakable amazement, he laid his hand on her head and held it there for an instant. "Gawd bless you, my daughter, and help you to serve the Lord acceptable!"

So that crisis was past.

But Tillie knew, that night, as she rubbed witch-hazel on her sore shoulder, that a far worse struggle was before her. In seeking to carry out the determination that burned in her heart to get an education, no aid could come to her as it had to-day, from her father's sense of religious awe. Would she be able, she wondered, to stand firm against his opposition when, a second time, it came to an issue between them?

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