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   Chapter 5 No.5

Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 23674

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


At Aunt Rebecca's House

Several weeks after the eventful apple-butter boiling at the Reist farm, Aunt Rebecca invited the Reist family to spend a Sunday at her home.

"I ain't goin', Mom," Philip announced. "I don't like it there. Dare I stay home with Millie?"

"Mebbe Millie wants to come along," suggested his mother.

"Ach, I guess not this time. Just you go and Phil and I'll stay and tend the house and feed the chickens and look after things."

"Well, I'm goin'!" spoke up Amanda. "Aunt Rebecca's funny and bossy but I like to go to her house, it's so little and cute, everything."

"Cute," scoffed the boy. "Everything's cute to a girl. You dare go, I won't! Last time I was there I picked a few of her honeysuckle flowers and pulled that stem out o' them to get the drop of honey that's in each one, and she caught me and slapped my hand--mind you! Guess next she'll be puttin' up some scare-bees to keep the bees off her flowers. But say, Manda, if she gives you any of them little red and white striped peppermint candies like she does still, sneak me a few."

"Humph! You don't go to see her but you want her candy! I'd be ashamed, Philip Reist!"

"Hush, hush," warned Mrs. Reist. "Next you two'll be fightin', and on a Sunday, too."

The girl laughed. "Ach, Mom, guess we both got the tempers that goes with red hair. But it's Sunday, so I'll be good. I'm glad we're goin' to Aunt Rebecca. That's a nice drive."

Aunt Rebecca lived alone in a cottage at the edge of Landisville, a beautiful little town several miles from the Reist farm at Crow Hill. During her husband's life they lived on one of the big farms of Lancaster County, where she slaved in the manual labor of the great fields. Many were the hours she spent in the hot sun of the tobacco fields, riding the planter in the early spring, later hoeing the rich black soil close to the little young plants, in midsummer finding and killing the big green tobacco worms and topping and suckering the plants so that added value might be given the broad, strong leaves. Then later in the summer she helped the men to thread the harvested stalks on laths and hang them in the long open shed to dry.

Aunt Rebecca had married Jonas Miller, a rich man. All the years of their life together on the farm seemed a visible verification of the old saying, "To him that hath shall be given." A special Providence seemed to hover over their acres of tobacco. Storms and destructive hail appeared to roam in a swath just outside their farm. The Jonas Miller tobacco fields were reputed to be the finest in the whole Garden Spot county, and the Jonas Miller bank account grew correspondingly fast. But the bank account, however quickly it increased, failed to give Jonas Miller and his wife full pleasure, unless, as some say, the mere knowledge of possession of wealth can bring pleasure to miserly hearts. For Jonas Miller was, in the vernacular of the Pennsylvania Dutch, "almighty close." Millie, Reists' hired girl, said," That there Jonas is too stingy to buy long enough pants for himself. I bet he gets boys' size because they're cheaper, for the legs o' them always just come to the top o' his shoes. Whoever lays him out when he's dead once will have to put pockets in his shroud for sure! And he's made poor Becky just like him. It ain't in her family to be so near; why, Mrs. Reist is always givin' somebody something! But mebbe when he dies once and his wife gets the money in her hand she'll let it fly."

However, when Jonas Miller died and left the hoarded money to his wife she did not let it fly. She rented the big farm and moved to the little old-fashioned house in Landisville--a little house whose outward appearance might have easily proclaimed its tenant poor. There she lived alone, with occasional visits and visitors to break the monotony of her existence.

That Sunday morning of the Reist visit, Uncle Amos hitched the horse to the carriage, tied it by the front fence of the farm, then he went up-stairs and donned his Sunday suit of gray cloth. Later he brought out his broad-brimmed Mennonite hat and called to Amanda and her mother, "I'm ready. Come along!"

Mrs. Reist wore a black cashmere shawl pinned over her plain gray lawn dress and a stiff black silk bonnet was tied under her chin. Amanda skipped out to the yard, wearing a white dress with a wide buff sash. A matching ribbon was tied on her red hair.

"Jiminy," whistled Uncle Amos as she ran to him and swung her leghorn hat on its elastic. "Jiminy, you're pretty---"

"Oh, am I, Uncle Amos?" She smiled radiantly. "Am I really pretty?"

"Hold on, here!" He tried to look very sober. "If you ain't growin' up for sure! Lookin' for compliments a'ready, same as all the rest. I was goin' to say that you're pretty fancy dressed for havin' a Mennonite mom."

"Oh, Uncle Amos!" Amanda laughed and tossed her head so the yellow bow danced like a butterfly. "I don't believe you at all! You're too good to be findin' fault like that! Millie says so, too."

"She does, eh? She does? Just what does Millie say about me now?"

"Why, she said yesterday that you're the nicest man and have the biggest heart of any person she knows."

"Um--so! And Millie says that, does she? Um--so! well, well"--a glow of joy spread in his face and stained his neck and ears. Fortunately, for his future peace of mind, the child did not notice the flush. A swallowtail butterfly had flitted among the zinnias and attracted the attention of Amanda so it was diverted from her uncle. But he still smiled as Millie opened the front door and she and Mrs. Reist stepped on the porch.

Millie, in her blue gingham dress and her checked apron, her straight hair drawn back from her plain face, was certainly no vision to cause the heart of the average man to pump faster. But as Amos looked at her he saw suddenly something lovelier than her face. She walked to the gate, smoothing the shawl of Mrs. Reist, patting the buff sash of the little girl.

"Big heart," thought Amos, "it's her got the big heart!"

"Good-bye, safe journey," the hired girl called after them as they started down the road. "Don't worry about us. Me and Phil can manage alone. Good-bye."

The road to Landisville led past green fields of tobacco and corn, large farmhouses where old-fashioned flowers made a vivid picture in the gardens, orchards and woodland tracts, their green shade calling invitingly. Once they crossed a wandering little creek whose shallow waters flowed through lovely meadows where boneset plants were white with bloom and giant eupatorium lifted its rosy heads. A red-headed flicker flew screaming from a field as they passed, and a fussy wren scolded at them from a fence corner.

"She'll have a big job," said Uncle Amos, "if she's goin' to scold every team and automobile that passes here this mornin'. Such a little thing to be so sassy!"

As they came to Landisville and drove into the big churchyard there were already many carriages standing in the shade of the long open shed and numerous automobiles parked in the sunny yard.

A few minutes later they entered the big brick meeting-house and sat down in the calm of the sanctuary. The whispers of newcomers drifted through the open windows, steps sounded on the bare floor of the church, but finally all had entered and quiet fell upon the place.

The simple service of the Mennonite Church is always appealing and helpful. The music of voices, without any accompaniment of musical instrument, the simple prayers and sermons, are all devoid of ostentation or ornamentation. Amanda liked to join in the singing and did so lustily that morning. But during the sermon she often fell to dreaming. The quiet meeting-house where only the calm voice of the preacher was heard invited the building of wonderful castles in Spain. Their golden spires reared high in the blue of heaven... she would be a lady in a trailing, silken gown, Martin would come, a plumed and belted knight, riding on a pure white steed like that in the Sir Galahad picture at school, and he'd repeat to her those beautiful words, "My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure." Was there really any truth in that poem? Could one be strong as ten because the heart was pure? Of course! It had to be true! Martin could be like that. He'd lift her to the saddle on the pure white horse and they'd ride away together to one of those beautiful castles in Spain, high up on the mountains, so high they seemed above the clouds...

Then she came back to earth suddenly. The meeting was over and Aunt Rebecca stood ready to take them to her home.

The country roads were filled with carriages and automobiles; the occupants of the former nodded a cordial how-de-do, though most of them were strangers, but the riders in the motors sped past without a sign of friendliness.

"My goodness," said Aunt Rebecca, "since them automobiles is so common abody don't get many how-de-dos no more as you travel along the country roads. Used to be everybody'd speak to everybody else they'd meet on the road--here, Amos," she laid a restraining hand upon the reins. "Stop once! I see a horseshoe layin' in the road and it's got two nails in it, too. That's powerful good luck! Stop once and let me get it."

Amos chuckled and with a loud "Whoa" brought the horse to a standstill. Aunt Rebecca climbed from the carriage, picked up the trophy of good luck and then took her seat beside her brother again, a smile upon her lined old face.

"That's three horseshoes I have now. I never let one lay. I pick up all I find and take them home and hang them on the old peach tree in the back yard. I know they bring good luck. Mebbe if I hadn't picked up all them three a lot o' trouble would come to me."

"Have it your way," conceded Uncle Amos. "They don't do you no hurt, anyhow. But, Rebecca," he said as they came within sight of her little house, "you ought to get your place painted once."

"Ach, my goodness, what for? When it's me here alone. I think the house looks nice. My flowers are real pretty this year, once. Course, I don't fool with them like you do. I have the kind that don't take much tendin' and come up every year without bein' planted. Calico flowers and larkspur and lady-slippers are my kind. This plantin' and hoein' at flowers is all for nothin'. It's all right to work so at beans and potatoes and things you can eat when they grow, but what good are flowers but to look at! I done my share of hoein' and diggin' and workin' in the ground. I near killed myself when Jonas lived yet, in them tobacco patches. I used to say to him still, we needn't work so hard and slave like that after we had so much money put away, but he was for workin' as long as we could, and so we kept on till he went. He used to say money gets all if you begin to spend it and don't earn more. Jonas was savin'."

"He sure was, that he was," seconded Uncle Amos with a twinkle in his eyes. "Savin' for you and now you're savin' for somebody that'll make it fly when you go, I bet. Some day you'll lay down and die and your money'll be scattered. If you leave me any, Becky," he teased her, "I'll put it all in an automobile."

"What, them wild things! Road-hogs, I heard somebody call 'em, and I think it's a good name. My goodness, abody ain't safe no more since they come on the streets. They go toot, toot, and you got to hop off to one side in the mud or the ditch, it don't matter to them. I hate them things! Only don't never take me to the graveyard in one of them."

"By that time," said Uncle Amos, "they'll have flyin' machine hearses; they'll go faster."

"My goodness, Amos, how you talk! Ain't you ashamed to make fun at your old sister that way! But Mom always said when you was little that you seemed a lit

tle simple, so I guess you can't help it."

"Na-ha," exulted Amanda, with impish delight. "That's one on you. Aunt Rebecca ain't so dumb like she lets on sometimes."

"Ach, no," Aunt Rebecca said, laughing. "'A blind pig sometimes finds an acorn, too.'"

Aunt Rebecca's table, though not lavishly laden as are those of most of the Pennsylvania Dutch, was amply filled with good, substantial food. The fried sausage was browned just right, the potatoes and lima beans well-cooked, the cold slaw, with its dash of red peppers, was tasty and the snitz pie--Uncle Amos's favorite--was thick with cinnamon, its crust flaky and brown.

After the dishes were washed Aunt Rebecca said, "Now then, we'll go in the parlor."

"Oh, in the parlor!" exclaimed Amanda. "Why, abody'd think we was company. You don't often take us in the parlor."

"Ach, well, you won't make no dirt and I just thought to-day, once, I'd take you in the parlor to sit a while. It don't get used hardly. Wait till I open the shutters."

She led the way through a little hall to the front room. As she opened the door a musty odor came to the hall.

"It smells close," said Aunt Rebecca, sniffing. "But it'll be all right till I get some screens in." She pulled the tasseled cords of the green shades, opened the slatted shutters, and a flood of summer light entered the room. "Ach," she said impatiently as she hammered at one window, "I can hardly get this one open still, it sticks itself so." But after repeated thumps on the frame she succeeded in raising it and placing an old-fashioned sliding screen.

"Now sit down and take it good," she invited.

Uncle Amos sank into an old-fashioned rocker with high back and curved arms, built throughout for the solid comfort of its occupants. Mrs. Reist chose an old hickory Windsor chair, Aunt Rebecca selected, with a sigh of relief, a fancy reed rocker, given in exchange for a book of trading stamps.

"This here's the best chair in the house and it didn't cost a cent," she announced as she rocked in it.

Amanda roamed around the room. "I ain't been in here for long. I want to look around a little. I like these dishes. I wish we had some like them." She tiptoed before a corner cupboard filled with antiques.

"Ach, yes," her aunt answered, "mebbe it looks funny, ain't, to have a glass cupboard in the parlor, but I had no other room for it, the house is so little. If I didn't think so much of them dishes I'd sold them a'ready. That little glass with the rim round the bottom of it I used to drink out of it at my granny's house when I was little. Them dark shiny dishes like copper were Jonas's mom's. And I like to keep the pewter, too, for abody can't buy it these days."

Amanda looked up. On the top shelf of the cupboard was a silver lustre pitcher, a teapot of rose lustre, a huge willow platter with its quaint blue design, several pewter bowls, a plate with a crude peacock in bright colors--an array of antiques that would have awakened covetousness in the heart of a connoisseur.

A walnut pie-crust tilt top table stood in one corner of the room, a mahogany gateleg occupied the centre, its beauty largely concealed by a cover of yellow and white checked homespun linen, upon which rested a glass oil lamp with a green paper shade, a wide glass dish filled with pictures, an old leather-bound album with heavy brass clasps and hinges. A rag carpet, covered in places with hooked rugs, added a proper note of harmony, while the old walnut chairs melted into the whole like trees in a woodland scene. The whitewashed walls were bare save for a large square mirror with a wide mahogany frame, a picture holder made from a palm leaf fan and a piece of blue velvet briar stitched in yellow, and a cross-stitch canvas sampler framed with a narrow braid of horsehair from the tail of a dead favorite of long ago.

"What's pewter made of, Aunt Rebecca?" asked the child.

"Why, of tin and lead. And it's a pity they don't make it and use lots of it like they used to long ago. For you can use pewter spoons in vinegar and they don't turn black like some of these things that look like silver but ain't. Pewter is good ware and I think sometimes that the people that lived when it was used so much were way ahead of the people to-day. Pewter's the same all through, no thin coatin' of something shiny that can wear off and spoil the spoons or dishes. It's old style now but it's good and pretty."

"Yes, that's so," agreed Amanda. It was surprising to the little girl that the acidulous old aunt could, so unexpectedly, utter beautiful, suggestive thoughts. Oh, Aunt Rebecca's house was a wonderful place. She must see more of the treasures in the parlor.

Finally her activity annoyed Aunt Rebecca. "My goodness," came the command, "you sit down once! Here, look at the album. Mebbe that will keep you quiet for a while."

Amanda sat on a low footstool and took the old album on her knees. She uttered many delighted squeals of surprise and merriment as she turned the thick pages and looked at the pictures of several generations ago. A little girl with ruffled pantalets showing below her full skirt and a fat little boy with full trousers reaching half-way between his knees and his shoetops sent Amanda into a gale of laughter. "Oh, I wish Phil was here. What funny people!"

"Let me see once," asked Aunt Rebecca. "Why, that's Amos and your mom."

Mrs. Reist smiled and Uncle Amos chuckled. "We're peaches there, ain't? I guess if abody thinks back right you see there were as many crazy styles in olden times as there is now."

Tintypes of men and women in peculiar dress of Aunt Rebecca's youth called forth much comment and many questions from the interested Amanda. "Are there no pictures in here of you?" she asked her aunt.

"Yes, I guess so. On the last page or near there. That one," she said as the child found it, a tintype of a young man seated on a vine-covered seat and a comely young woman standing beside him, one hand laid upon his shoulder.

"And is that Uncle Jonas?"

"No--my goodness, no! That's Martin Landis."

"Martin Landis? Not my--not the Martin Landis's pop that lives near us?"

"Yes, that one."

"Why"--Amanda was wide-eyed and curious--"what were you doin' with your hand on his shoulder so and your picture taken with him?"

Aunt Rebecca laughed. "Ach, I had dare to do that for we was promised then, engaged they say now."

"You were goin' to marry Martin Landis's pop once?" The girl could not quite believe it.

"Yes. But he was poor and along came Jonas Miller and he was rich and I took him. But the money never done me no good. Mebbe abody shouldn't say it, since he's dead, but Jonas was stingy. He'd squeeze a dollar till the eagle'd holler. He made me pinch and save till I got so I didn't feel right when I spent money. Now, since he's gone, I don't know how. I act so dumb it makes me mad at myself sometimes. If I go to Lancaster and buy me a whole plate of ice-cream it kinda bothers me. I keep wonderin' what Jonas'd think, for he used to say that half a plate of cream's enough for any woman. But mebbe it was to be that I married Jonas instead of Martin Landis. Martin is a good man but all them children--my goodness! I guess I got it good alone in my little house long side of Mrs. Landis with all her children to take care of."

Amanda remembered the glory on the face of Mrs. Landis as she had said, "Abody can have lots of money and yet be poor and others can have hardly any money and yet be rich. It's all in what abody means by rich and what kind of treasures you set store by. I wouldn't change places with your rich Aunt Rebecca for all the farms in Lancaster County." Poor Aunt Rebecca, she pitied her! Then she remembered the words of the memory gem they had analyzed in school last year, "Where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise." She could understand it now! So long as Aunt Rebecca didn't see what she missed it was all right. But if she ever woke up and really felt what her life might have been if she had married the poor man she loved--poor Aunt Rebecca! A halo of purest romance hung about the old woman as the child looked up at her.

"My goodness," the woman broke the spell, "it's funny how old pictures make abody think back. That old polonaise dress, now," she went on in reminiscent strain, "had the nicest buttons on. I got some of 'em yet on my charm string."

"Charm string--what's a charm string?"

"Wait once. I'll show you."

The woman left the room. They heard her tramp about up-stairs and soon she returned with a long string of buttons threaded closely together and forming a heavy cable.

"Oh, let me see! Ain't that nice!" exclaimed Amanda. "Where did you ever get so many buttons and all different?"

"We used to beg them. When I was a girl everybody mostly had a charm string. I kept puttin' buttons on mine till I was well up in my twenties, then the string was full and big so I stopped. I used to hang it over the looking glass in the parlor and everybody that came looked at it."

Amanda fingered the charm string interestedly. Antique buttons, iridescent, golden, glimmering, some with carved flowers, others globules of colored glass, many of them with quaint filigree brass mounting over colored background, a few G. A. R. buttons from old uniforms, speckled china ones like portions of bird eggs--all strung together and each one having a history to the little old eccentric woman who had cherished them through many years.

"This one Martin Landis give me for the string and this one is from Jonas' wedding jacket and this pretty blue glass one a girl gave me that's dead this long a'ready."

"Oh"--Amanda's eyes shone. She turned to her mother, "Did you ever have a charm string, Mom?"

"Yes. A pretty one. But I let you play with it when you were a baby and the string got broke and the buttons put in the box or lost."

"Ach, but that spites me. I'd like to see it and have you tell where the buttons come from. I like old things like that, I do."

"Then mebbe you'd like to see my friendship cane," said Aunt Rebecca.

"Oh, yes! What's that?" Amanda rose from her chair, eager to see what a friendship cane could be.

"My goodness, sit down! You get me all hoodled up when you act so jumpy," said the aunt. Then she walked to a corner of the parlor, reached behind the big cupboard and drew out a cane upon which were tied some thirty ribbon bows of various colors.

"And is that a friendship cane?" asked Amanda. "What's it for?"

"Ach, it was just such a style, good for nothin' but for the girls of my day to have a little pleasure with. We got boys and girls to give us pretty ribbons and we exchanged with some and then we tied 'em on the cane. See, they're all old kinds o' ribbons yet. Some are double-faced satin and some with them little scallops at the edge, and they're pretty colors, too. I could tell the name of every person who give me a ribbon for that cane. My goodness, lots o' them boys and girls been dead long a'ready. I guess abody shouldn't hold up such old things so long, it just makes you feel bad still when you rake 'em out and look at 'em. Here now, let me put it away, that's enough lookin' for one day." She spoke brusquely and put the cane into its hiding-place behind the glass cupboard.

As Amanda watched the stern, unlovely face during the critical, faultfinding conversation which followed, she thought to herself, "I just believe that Uncle Amos told the truth when he said that Aunt Rebecca's like a chestnut burr. She's all prickly on the outside but she's got a nice, smooth side to her that abody don't often get the chance to see. Mebbe now, if she'd married Martin Landis's pop she'd be by now just as nice as Mrs. Landis. It wonders me now if she would!"

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