The Black Mennonite Episode 1 by Daniel Whyte III with Meriqua Whyte

Episode 1

Chapter 1

The unexpected addition

Eva Stoltzfus climbed under the thick quilt and burlap blanket grateful that her day had finally ended. It was extra cold tonight in Reading, Pennsylvania. I can’t wait for this cold spell to pass. You’d think with all these blankets one would be warm enough, she thought as she snuggled up to her husband of two years pulling the sheet, quilt, and blanket tightly around them and wrapping her arm around his chest as tightly as she could. Two are certainly better than one, she thought. Jacob was breathing deeply but steadily. Eva loved his outdoor woody smell. The wick from the kerosene lamp sitting on the little wooden stand next to their bed emitted a flicker of light that sent a faint but warm glow across the room—a glow that seemed to be in competition with the chilly air. Tomorrow I’ll put the finishing touches on the quilt for Englischer Rothchild. Englischer Rothchild owned the small Things & Things shop tucked between a restaurant and a lawyer’s office. She sold ceramic figurines, wooden carvings, decorative household items, keepsakes, bedding material, table cloths, cloth napkins, kitchen towels, and sewing notions among other things. 

As Eva’s eyes were on the verge of closing for the night, rapid knocking on the front door caused them to fly open. She listened. Ach! Am I dreaming? she thought as the pounding continued. Who could that be at this time of night and in this cold?

Eva and Jacob Stoltzfus were members of one of the small but growing Mennonite communities in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was a self-contained community whose members lived more like one big family sharing in each other’s griefs and joys, helping with each other’s sowing and harvesting, sharing in the celebration of the birth of a child, or sharing in the grieving of the death of one of their members. Members of the community, especially those under twenty years of age, just over the last three years, started venturing out into the world beyond their fenced-in community. Eva had always felt safe in the community and accepted things as they were, even though she had her own thoughts and opinions about some of the rules and regulations of the community. But things were starting to change—even in her young family.

“Jacob! Jacob, wake up! Someone’s pounding on the door,” she said shaking her husband vigorously. “It sounds like an emergency.” She thought about her parents, Daed and Mamm Zwingli; and Jacob’s parents, Bishop and Mamm Stoltzfus; and his sister, Rebecca, thinking something must be wrong. Maybe someone got sick or severely hurt for them not to wait until the morning, she thought as she shook her husband more vigorously.

“Wh-a-at . . . what’s going on?” Jacob said as he rolled over.

“Someone’s knocking. Sounds like an emergency,” Eva said, tossing the covers aside and quickly sliding her feet into her old worn-out everyday black shoes. She shook her husband again then turned up the wick in the lamp. She quickly slipped into her robe securing the strap around her waist.

“What’s going on?” Jacob asked again, propping himself up on both elbows. “Don’t tell me it’s time to get up already. Seems like I just went to sleep.”

“Well, seems someone hasn’t been asleep yet,” Eva said. “That someone has been pounding on the door for the past five minutes.”

Jacob, now fully awake, threw the covers back and swung both legs over the edge of the bed. “This had better be an emergency,” he said as he grabbed his overalls from off the chair and pulled it up over his thermal long johns. He thrust his arms into the sleeve of his thermal shirt and quickly buttoned the two top buttons while pushing his feet into his boots. Taking the lamp from Eva, he led the way through the short hallway, down the stairs, through the all-in-one kitchen-dining-living area to the front door. Eva peeked out the front window by the door after parting the thick curtains to see who their midnight caller might be.

“I don’t see a horse or buggy outside. I can barely make out the form,” she said. “Open the door quickly. Whoever it is is bent over as if in pain. Hurry!”

Jacob handed the lamp to his wife as he quickly removed the thick wooden bar from across the door while turning the lock. He pulled the door open just in time to see a lone figure fleeing across their yard and disappearing behind the cluster of trees that created a fence on the left side of the yard and into the thick underbrush.

“Hey! Wait up!” Jacob shouted. His attempt to follow the stranger was intercepted by a box that sat in front of the door. With flailing arms he plunged to the ground.


Chapter 2

Sleep is stronger than kaffee

“Dear Gott! Are you alright?” Eva cried out. She pushed the box aside with her foot and reached down to help her husband to his feet.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” he said pushing himself up while looking in the direction of the trees. “Who do you think that may have been?”

“Beats me. But whoever it was had on a dress, so it must have been a woman,” Eva said, turning her attention to the box.

“But why would a woman be out this time of the night and in this cold only to drop off a box  and who apparently does not want to be identified?” Jacob asked. “We’re just breaking into spring, but the nights are still too cold to be out and about. It has got to be two in the morning.”

Eva let out a gasp. “Jacob, the box! It moved,” she said. “I saw something move inside the box.”

The medium-sized wooden box contained what seemed like scraps of cloth wrapped around something living. Whatever the cloths were shielding from the cold was trying to break free. They heard muffled sounds.

“Let’s take it inside out of this cold before whatever it is suffocates. It’s probably a litter of kittens that someone wants to get rid of,” Jacob said.

“That could have waited until morning,” Eva said locking the door behind them. She hurried over to the table and eagerly watched her husband carefully remove the scraps of cloth one piece at a time not knowing what to expect. As he was about to remove what they thought were the last scraps of cloth a wailing sound greeted them.

“Whoa!” Jacob said. He quickly tossed the last scraps off to reveal a baby—a brown-skinned baby—wrapped in a delicate white woolen embroidered blanket, crying loudly.

Jacob and Eva exchanged quick glances as their anxious looks broke out into sighs of relief.

“Well, here goes your litter of kittens,” Jacob said, reaching down to pick up the baby.

Ach, she’s a cute one,” Eva said, taking the little boppli from her husband who then slid a chair in front of the hearth.

“Come, sit here while I stir the embers and get the fire going. She needs all the warmth she can get.”

“Yes. Poor little one; your cheeks are so cold,” Eva said touching the baby’s cheek with the back of her hand. “Maybe if I cuddle her a little she’ll quiet down.”

Jacob had the fire blazing within seconds. He ran upstairs and returned with the quilt that was on their bed and placed it over his wife’s shoulders and around the baby. But the little boppli still hollered.

“I believe she’s hungry,” Eva said. “Maybe there’s some milk in the box for her.”

“Nothing here. Just more white cloths,” Jacob said as he rummaged through the box. “And more cloths. I can run down to the cellar and get some milk.”

Eva stood and placed the baby over her shoulder and began to pace the floor in front of the hearth. “Stop! She is too young for cow’s milk,” she said to her husband who had already taken the few steps towards the cellar. “Maybe she needs to be changed.”

Pulling the quilt to the floor before the hearth, Eva laid the baby down and checked her diapers. “Jah. She definitely needs to be changed. Let’s see what’s in the box.”

Eva pulled out ten neatly folded cotton cloths similar to what the baby wore on her bottom and a couple plastic pants to pull over them. Having experience in changing a baby from babysitting infants of the community, Eva smoothly and quickly switched the wet one out for a dry one. “There you go.” The baby put its thumb to its mouth and started sucking vigorously.

“What are we going to do when she gets hungry?” Jacob asked.

“I think we’d better put the kettle on for some kaffee. I believe we’re in for a long night. All the babies I’ve had to deal with were breastfed. Maybe some warm water with enough sugar added to it will satisfy her until the morning. We can run by Mamm Custer and find out what she fed her last baby. They said her breast milk had dried up after having so many children. She had to feed her last child something.”

Jacob pumped the water through their indoor pump, one of the ‘modern’ things he had built into their home as a wedding gift to Eva, which his father, Bishop Stoltzfus, had strongly objected to. “You all are bringing trouble into your home. Gott does not want us to get caught up in the things of this world. When we live life too easy we then begin to turn away from Him,” he told them. Mamm Stoltzfus loved the indoor pump but had to curtail her joy in the presence of her husband knowing it would take an act of God for her husband to give in to her having one installed inside her kitchen.

“I think we ought to just spend the night down here before the hearth where it’s warmer. We can bring the rest of the bedding down and camp out here for the night,” Eva said. “Who do you think she belongs to?”

“Beats me. I have seen some blacks around on the way to town. I could ask them when next I go to town, whenever that will be,” Jacob said with a yawn.

“Why would anyone leave a new baby at our door at this time of night? She can’t be more than a month old, two months at the most.”

“Someone who does not want to be seen and who obviously trusts us,” Jacob said with another yawn.

“Some good the kaffee is doing you,” Eva said, slipping her husband’s arm around her and pulling the covers over both of them and the baby.

“Sleep is stronger than kaffee,” he mumbled as he fell off to sleep.

Chapter 3

What’s the meaning of this?

Eva remained awake for a long while. As her husband and the baby slept, she made a mental list of what she would possibly need for the baby and who to contact as she tried to come up with a logical explanation for this strange event. Whoever she belongs to went through a lot of trouble to bring her here and must not live too far from us. I did not see a buggy close by unless it was hidden in the bushes. Was the baby’s life in danger? What is the meaning of all this? I’ll keep you with us for a few days in case whoever dropped you off changes her mind and comes back for you. With these thoughts, Eva fell off to sleep.

The cold spell broke by late morning. Jacob left his wife asleep as he went to take care of the animals among other things. He stopped by Mamm Custer’s and returned with her and her daughter. He left them with Eva while he took a quick trip into town. He was unsuccessful in getting any information that may have shed some light on who this baby was.

“Her name is Kezia,” Eva told Jacob when he returned. “I found a note at the bottom of the box with the words: ‘Pleeze take care of Kezia. Keep her with you at all times. I will pay you.’”

“Now that’s a mystery,” he said. “I’ve never heard that name before. I guess you’ll be her new mama until we find her real mama and figure out what’s going on.”

Curious members from the community with the exception of Jacob’s father, stopped by their home throughout the week as news got around. Jacob’s mother and sister spent all day with Eva helping her with the baby. A few of the mothers dropped off things for Kezia. Kezia’s presence created an exciting buzz among the people during the Sunday services which were held at the church building located in the middle of this flourishing Mennonite community. After the services, Bishop Stoltzfus, overseer of the church and the community and who was the final decider on matters of dispute, stood staunchly among the people as his deep set eyes scanned the folks. His gaze rested on those who had gathered around Eva and Jacob. His wife Elizabeth Stoltzfus, stood beside him; you hardly ever saw one without the other. As the congregants dispersed to the eating hall, Jacob approached his parents.

Daed, it’s so good to see you. This is Kezia, our newest addition. I don’t know how long she will be with us, but whoever left her wants us to keep her,” he said. “I’m sure Mamm‘s told you all about her and how she came to be with us.”

Mamm Stoltzfus smiled as she gave her son and daughter-in-law a hug. She took Kezia from Eva. “Gott bless you, my child. I pray His protection upon you,” she whispered into Kezia’s ear but loud enough for the rest of the family to hear. “She’s so beautiful. Sorry I was not able to come by the last two days like I wanted to,” Mamm Stoltzfus said to Eva. “Have you found out yet who her parents are?”

“Not yet, but we’re still searching and asking around town,” Jacob said.

Bishop Stoltzfus’s menacing silent glances created an uneasiness among the three.

“I don’t know if you know this, but there’s a bl–” Mamm Stolzfus began.

Forcefully and loudly clearing his throat, Bishop Stoltzfus’s deep booming voice cut into the air. “We must be going now. I’m sure they’re waiting for me in the eating hall to bless the food. Come on, Mamm.”

He nodded to his son and daughter-in-law as his wife with a not-too-pleased expression handed Kezia back to Eva. Mamm Stoltzfus smiled at Eva with her lips, but the sudden suppressed brightness in her eyes gave way to what was going on in her heart. “Please stop by and visit us this week,” she said to Eva as she turned to follow her husband.

Eva looked up at Jacob. He gave her an understanding look as they greeted other folks before heading to the eating hall.