The night air grew heavy with promised rain as Red John’s Leah waited for her friends. It was her rumspringen, or running around, summer and Leah never missed an opportunity to leave the stifling confines of her parent’s home when Matthew, Henry, and Rachel came for her. After supper every evening, Leah watched for Matthew’s dark blue Chevy to pull into the lane. Her parents, Red John and Ruth Yoder, kept their heads turned as Leah gathered her things and went out the door.
Since the day she turned 14, she longed for her turn at rumspringen. Her parent’s disapproval had held her back three years, but this summer, she hadn’t hesitated. She’d known that Matthew would soon be ready to settle down and join the church. They’d get married and her days to taste freedom from the Ordnung, the church’s laws, would be over. Day after day in the store where she worked, she’d silently watched the Englisher girls shopping, laughing; wearing their make-up and pretty clothes and her heart grew restless. Their lives seemed easy and most of all, free. But this summer, each evening after work, Leah had her turn to do what the other girls did. She rode in a car with the windows down through the hot summer nights; she cranked up the music as she laughed and danced with her friends the way the Englisher’s did.
She wished her parents wouldn’t look so hurt every time she went out with her friends. They didn’t understand that she wasn’t like her sister, Mary. When the time came for Mary to decide about the church, she never hesitated. No thought of rumspringen entered Mary’s head; she joined her parents in the church without question.
Leah felt sure that the taste she would get of the Englisher’s world would not cause her to turn her back on her Old Order Amish family and its ways. Her parents, however, were not. None of their other children had felt the need for it until Leah, and she knew they worried about her.
“Hey, girl, join the world,” said Rachel, interrupting Leah’s thoughts.
“I’m thinking, Ok?”
Henry laughed. “Leah’s thinking of you, Matthew, and the day you two get settled down.”
Matthew’s smile was shy and embarrassed as he nodded firmly. “Jah, Leah and I
will have a gut life together, won’t we?” he asked Leah.
“Do you think the hochtzich will be this fall?” probed Rachel.
Leah glanced at Matthew from the corner of her eye and waited for his response. Rachel was always trying to get them to talk about their wedding, but they wanted to keep it a secret. Besides, Matthew hadn’t officially asked her yet. Also, though she was positive her parents would agree to the marriage, Leah knew they blamed Matthew for the rumspringen. She and Matthew would have to join the church and smooth things over with her family before further talk of marriage.
Leah and Rachel changed their clothes in the bathroom of the local fast food place before re-joining Matthew and Henry in the car. They drove a few blocks to the theater.
As Leah sat in the darkened room with her friends, she was conscious of the feel of the denim jeans against her skin, her hair loose on her neck, and guilt that crept into her heart each time she came here. The growing guilt made her wonder if she was closer to accepting a lifetime of commitment to the Ordnung.
After they dropped Rachel and Henry off at their houses, Leah and Matthew sat in the car which he’d parked in the over-grown farmer’s road near his Daet’s barn. He’d hidden it there all summer so his parents and their Amish neighbors couldn’t see it.
They talked about their future together, but finally, Matthew told her he was ready to join the church.
“I’ve had fun, Leah, but I’m tired of rumspringen. It’s time for me to grow up. What do you think?”
Leah looked out the window. She listened to the music playing softly on the radio and thought of Maem and Daet. The commitment to her church and family still felt heavy sometimes, but she sensed her heart needed the ties. She was no longer a little girl and the Englisher life didn’t tug at her spirit as much now.
Yes, it was time to grow up. She looked at Matthew and nodded.
He grinned. “Gut! I’ll sell the car to Henry in the morning.”
Word Count: 748
Author’s note: In some Amish communities, teens nearing adulthood can “sow their wild oats”, called rumspringen in Pennsylvania Deitch. They may be allowed to drive cars, wear modern clothing and do other things English (non-Amish) teens might do. Hiding the car or parking it in an inconspicuous place is a way for teens to own it without offending their parents. After a season of rumspringen, most Amish teens will choose to join the church. In Amish families, because of the many common names, the wife and children of an Amish man will often have their husband’s or father’s first name placed before their first name to identify which family they belong to. For example, a wife might be known as John Ruth.
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