The early morning frost coats the branches of the pines surrounding them like thick sparkling sugar. Every now and then, a horse trots past their car, the ringing hooves against the blacktopped road announcing it long before they can see it. Each buggy is examined, and each time she sighs when the Old Order Amish family inside is not her own.
“How long do you want to stay?” he asks softly.
“Do you mind if we wait a bit longer?”
“We need to be at the Stevenson’s by noon, Honey.”
“I know…I was just hoping that this year…” her voice trails off as they hear another horse-drawn buggy approaching. She leans forward and presses her forehead against the windshield of their car. She watches closely as the buggy nears their parking spot at the side of the road. He wonders how many more Christmas mornings in the future they’ll be doing this same thing, but when he glances at his wife’s eager face, his bristling heart gentles.
“Not Daet and Maem, I’m afraid.” She eases back against the seat and looks down at her joined hands in her lap. She sighs again. “I need to see them on Christmas morning…just once more, Jacob. I know last year, it was hard, too…but after this, I promise, no more.”
He leans over and takes her left hand in his, wrapping it in loving comfort. “I know. I don’t mind waiting just a little longer. Bishoff Miller is very punctual with the start of church, so they should be coming along any time now, Leah.”
She reaches to click on the radio. “Let’s see what kind of Christmas music is on, Ok?” she asks brightly. The sound of a church organ permeates the quiet atmosphere of the car, and they both smile as they lean their heads back to listen. Leah sings along.
“O, come all ye faithful…joyful and triumphant…*” she breaks off as another buggy catches them unaware.
Leah immediately recognizes Sparky’s manner and she wonders how she could have thought that any of the other horses she’d been watching that morning were him: the way he trots...the way he lets the collar ride his broad shoulders…and the spark of excitement he shows in his prancing legs and bobbing head. Her hands ache to pat him and groom him. Then her eyes move quickly from the horse to the buggy. There’s Daet!
His beard is still nicely shaped—not jagged in its natural curve as some Amishmen’s are, though he never dares to trim it…against the Ordnung to trim his beard. His white eyebrows rise above his blue eyes like winged birds, and the soft expression on his face surprises Leah. She hasn’t seen that look in a long time. The shunning that she and Jacob received two years ago after they’d claimed to be “born again” had brought nothing but censured, reproach-filled looks from her Daet. But this Christmas morning, his face looks kind and gentle.
She swiftly scans Maem’s face. Tears form at the corners of Leah’s eyes as she takes in the graying hair and rosy cheeks of her Maem. It’s shocking how much older she seems, Leah thinks…have I caused that? “Oh, Maem…” she moans aloud. Jacob, still holding Leah’s hand in his, squeezes it hard.
Maem suddenly turns her head toward the spot on the side of the road where Leah and Jacob are sitting in their car. Leah sees her eyes recognize her daughter’s face. Maem’s calm expression suddenly changes as a look of longing passes rapidly over it. Leah raises her right hand in greeting…but Maem breaks the bond and looks away. The buggy passes by.
Leah begins to cry, her heart breaking anew over the harshness of the miting that she and Jacob are under. No contact…no simple greeting…no “Merry Christmas” from her family again this year. She watches the buggy until it disappears around a corner far down the road.
Jacob reaches across to her and pulls her tight against his chest. She can hear his heartbeat and its familiar sound eases the pain in Leah’s own heart. They lean against one another for several minutes while the music of “Joy to the World”** flows from the radio.
“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Leah sings it as a prayer. She wipes her eyes, and looks up at Jacob with a watery smile. “Let’s go now. We don’t want to keep our adopted family waiting…it is Christmas day, after all.”
Ordnung= letter of strict rules which govern each local church and the lives of the Old Order Amish. The rules may be added to or deleted from the Ordnung by each presiding bishop.
Bishoff= bishop or presiding church leader
*”O, Come All Ye Faithful” words and music by John Wade, 1743
** “Joy to the World” words by Isaac Watts, 1719; music by Lowell Mason, 1836
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