15 The Women
Monday, Feb. 15
The sun had been out all day yesterday and melted most of the remaining snow. Though it remained cold, the ugly brown mountains of snow that had rimmed the parking lots in town had been reduced to low-lying foothills. The sun was out from behind the clouds now, and the day was warming up; the forecasters had predicted temperatures in the high sixties. For February in western Pennsylvania, sun and warmth were rare treats.
The old van was lightened now with empty crates and no children. Just a few bagged supplies — mostly for Mary — were tossed hurriedly in one of the empty crates in the back. Elizabeth had shed her coat before she had climbed in to make the drive home. The kids had stayed at Mam and Pop’s house yesterday after church; today they would take care of lessons, lunch, games in the afternoon, and someone, her pop most likely, would bring them home tonight after supper. This was becoming a routine for them, and she loved it. She had free days occasionally now. And these free days, actually freed her up to love her children better the rest of the week. And the best part was that her parents loved it and the children loved it too. Since her parents had purchased a used Dodge Caravan, they could now manage all four kids in one vehicle. She smiled. It had been last fall when her mam had asked her how she was doing — Mam had noticed the frustration and opphaulse. Sometimes those Plautdietsch words were just right. Burdened. Yes, she had been burdened with four children, bees, chickens, gardening, cooking, schooling, and everything suffered. She had felt that she wasn’t doing anything well. Praise God, that she had a loving, caring mam who knew, who remembered, who offered to help.
She turned into the Prices Corner’s General Store parking lot, which had been enlarged and re-paved last year when the old gas pumps had been finally taken out. Oh so glad they are gone, she thought — not only were they an eyesore, but it had been difficult for her to maneuver the big blue van around them each time she delivered eggs and honey to the store. She jumped down from the van and walked around to open the heavy back doors. Ben appeared from around the corner of the store to help. “Hello, Elizabeth. What a day, eh? Does the soul good to see some sun.”
“It surely does, Ben. How are you both? I haven’t seen you since last Wednesday. Are you quite well?”
“Well enough,” Ben said. He enjoyed talking to Elizabeth; her Mennonite-isms were sprinkled throughout her conversation in such charming ways.
“That’s your crate of eggs, and I brought some honey. I wasn’t sure if you needed any yet, but I packed a few jars — they’re in the box next to the eggs.”
“You’ll have to ask Leah, that’s her department. I think she has some egg cartons for you, if it doesn’t take too much of your time to stop in for a second.”
Elizabeth was already holding open the door. “Thank you, Ben. It’s kind of you to lift and carry for me.”
Leah was waiting at the cash register with the egg cartons. She was glad for the extra honey and took money from the cash register to pay for it. They chatted about the sun and how many eggs the store might need for the next delivery. A pause in the conversation allowed Elizabeth to ask Leah the same question she had asked Ben. “And Leah, are you quite well?”
Leah shrugged. “Do you get the newspaper, Elizabeth?” she asked. Elizabeth shook her head and Leah bent down to retrieve a folded section of the Adamsford Chronicle under the counter. “You might want to read this. It seemed foreboding to me, but… well, I don’t know. I’d be interested in your take on it.”
“Oh, it’s about the accident. Yah. We did read that — Mary gave it to us. She was worried about the article too, the editorial, to be specific.”
“This road that winds through our homes and our lives might be about to be yanked up from under us and remapped. The state can take our property, and we have no recourse but to take their money and shut up. It happened before. We weren’t here, but the editor has sure reminded us of it.”
“Yah, but Leah, it’s a bad road. Curves and hills and nowhere to pass. And more and more truck traffic. Perhaps something should be done.”
“You might not think that if it’s your land they are going to mess with.”
“Yah,” Elizabeth nodded. “But I’m not going to worry about what may or may not happen. And you, mustn’t either, Leah. Do not worry about tomorrow for each day will provide trouble enough of its own. Does your Bible have that verse?” She smiled.
“It does, unfortunately.” Leah threw out her long arms. “I should have it carved on a sign and put it where I can read it daily. Hourly.”
“I’m stopping at Mary’s to take her some groceries — I’d like to have a loaf of Lucy’s delicious bread to take to her as a treat.”
Leah pointed to the cupboard that was filled with her sister’s bakery treats. “The freshest ones are the rounds with sunflower seeds. And grab two of those ham and cheese scones and tell Mary and Rufus they are Lucy’s newest best-seller. They’re on the house. And give them both a hug for me.”
Ben had come in then and overheard. “I think I’ll go visit Rufus soon, and maybe see what Mary needs doing around the house. Thanks for the reminder, Elizabeth.”
After Elizabeth had gone, Leah looked up at her husband. “You’re a good man, Ben. You know Rufus may not recognize you?”
“Ah, but I can get him talking about the old days, and Mary might get a little break. I think I’ll go tomorrow after lunch, if that’s all right with you.”
“I’ll mind the store,” she said.
“Uh oh. What do you have in mind?” he asked. He ducked out the door just in time to miss the folded newspaper that flew by his head, hit the wall, and fluttered down to land on the scarred wooden floor.
Mary and Rufus were sitting in the front yard in their yellow lawn chairs when Elizabeth turned into their driveway. She laughed out loud at the lovely picture they made.
“What, have you mistaken this for a summer day?” she called as she opened the back of the van to get their supplies.
Mary looked sheepish and started to get up, but Elizabeth interrupted her. “You just sit right there, Mary. I’ve got a treat for both of you from Leah, and it will be perfect for your lunch. Your first picnic of the year.” She handed them each one of the scones.
“Oh my,” Mary exclaimed. “These look wonderful. In all my born days I’ve never made scones. Do you ever make them, Elizabeth?”
“Well, no. I just stick with drop biscuits mostly. Rufus liked it.” They both turned to look at him; all that was left of his scone were some telltale crumbs around his mouth. Mary laughed and brushed the crumbs away.
“Can I have another one?” he asked.
“Those were a present from Leah, Rufus. Do you remember Leah and Ben who own the store?”
“But I did get you a loaf of bread.” Elizabeth pulled the loaf out of one of the bags.
“Oh Elizabeth, you didn’t have to do that. But we will love that homemade bread. Rufus,” Mary ordered, “would you take in those bags Elizabeth brought us and put them on the kitchen table, please?” Rufus got up from his chair, picked up the bags obediently and walked toward the house.
“Sit, Elizabeth, we might have a few minutes,” Mary said.
Elizabeth gathered her dress around her, sat down in the lawn chair, and stretched her legs out in the warm sun. “Will Rufus put the groceries away?” she asked.
Mary shook her head. “He might not remember to put them on the table…and I’ll have to hunt for them when I go inside. It makes the day interesting.”
“If you ever need anything, Mary, please, please let me know. If I can’t come, I’ll send John or one of the boys. Promise?” She looked straight into Mary’s eyes. “Even if it’s little. Even if it’s big.”
“Thanks, dear. You’re so good to us already — getting us groceries every week. How much do I owe you?”
“The slip is in the bag,” Elizabeth told her. “I’ll send Pretty over to get it tomorrow when they get home.”
Mary smiled. “Such a perfect nickname for that child.”
“She’s a mischief maker!” Elizabeth laughed. “The boys tease her and call her Pretty Putsendoona.”
Mary was used to Elizabeth’s vocabulary, and she had learned several Plautdietsch words. Putsendoona was one of her favorites. Jack had been her own putsendoona and she had teased John and Elizabeth that their house was famous for raising up mischief makers. Mary stood up. “I’d better go check on Rufus. I hope he didn’t hide the cheese. Or eat it!” She sighed. “I guess we all have our Putsendoonas, don’t we?”
Suddenly from the south came the choppy roar of helicopter rotors. Both women looked toward the sound of a helicopter flying very low and following the path of the road. Elizabeth shaded her eyes from the sun to see it better. She could plainly see four people inside who were looking down at the women. The chopper was so loud, John came out from the barn across the road to see what was going on. He looked over and saw the women in the yard watching, so he put down his buckets and headed in their direction.
Even Rufus was startled by the noise. He came back out into the yard and looked up to see what the ruckus was about. “Hell’s bells, that thing is low,” he exclaimed. They followed it with their eyes until it disappeared over the trees.
Mary looked stricken and sank back down in her chair. “It’s road people. They’re following the road to see what they can do about it. How they can straighten it. And we can all see that giant bend right up there.” She pointed to the end of their dirt road where it intersected with Rte. 592. “And it can be straightened up right through our properties.”
John walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. “Nah, Mary. It could be anything. It could be gas folks looking at the topography. It could be a training helicopter — I sure hope they don’t crash over that hill.”
“Maybe so,” Mary allowed.
Elizabeth smiled gratefully at him. “Anxiety is traveling down this road today. Leah was as jumpy as a rabbit this afternoon. I’ll not let a noisy, annoying helicopter spoil this beautiful afternoon.”
“I’d better go check on the groceries,” Mary said. “Thank you Elizabeth, for everything you do for us.” She hugged the thin woman in the plain blue dress. “And don’t forget to send Pretty Putsendoona over tomorrow. I’d give you the money now, but I always look forward to her visits.”
“You spoil her, Mary. But she loves it.”
John hopped in the driver’s seat of the van. “Woman, can I drive this buggy for once? I never get to drive it.”
“That’s because you never leave the farm,” Elizabeth said mildly. “Come into the house before you go to the barn. I’ve brought you a Lakjabeskje from Leah’s store — a ham and cheese scone. They have been declared delicious by everyone who’s tried them.”
“Let me go wash up, and then you should come to barn to see what happened in your absence.”
“Another lamb?” she said delightedly.
“Plural,” he said. “Twins.”
“Are you going to let the girls name them?” she asked.
“Yah, it’s their turn.”
“Are you prepared?”
“Can’t be worse than Xanthia, Yosef, and Zenobia.”
She giggled. “The boys took their job to heart, and the girls will try to outdo them. I can’t wait to hear their names, Mr. Schaeffer.”