The Black Mennonite Chapter 9 by Daniel Whyte III with Meriqua Whyte

Chapter 9

Rachel Steinzberg


Bishop Stoltzfus trudged through the front door and plopped down on his chair before the kitchen table too tired to remove his hat. His wife took his hat off his head and placed it on the nail next to the front door alongside his Sunday hat. 

“You are going to run yourself ragged,” she said. “Isn’t it about time you did what Jethro Moses’ father-in-law told him to do, and that is get more people to help you?”

“I have the elders helping me,” he said with a yawn.

“Yes, but you’re still breathing down their necks even after sixteen years. You must learn to delegate and fully trust those helping you so much so that you step aside and allow them space to breathe freely.”

“That’s how a lot of mess happens. Remember what happened in our sister community? Rachel Steinzberg got put out of the community because she took a trip into town and somehow bought a . . . a . . . what do you call that ungodly music thing?”

Mamm Stoltzfus chuckled. “A guitar.”

“Yes. A guitar. The Bible does not even mention guitar.”

“The Bible calls it a harp, a stringed instrument,” she said in almost a whisper.

Her husband quivered his eyebrows at her. She smiled sweetly. “Go on,” she said quietly. 

“A harp is a harp. David used his harp to quiet the sheep and to praise God—not to play and sing that worldly music. As I was saying: how she slipped that worldly box into their community, pass her mamm and daed and into her room is beyond me. Her parents were not breathing down her neck enough. That’s the problem. How could they let her go into town at her age without accompanying her is beyond me.”

“She was fifteen and in her rumspringer years, and courting already,” Mamm Stoltzfus said. “Plus, she was with a group of young people.”

“I still believe some in that group knew she had bought that idol music box. They made a silent pact to keep it quiet,” Bishop Stoltzfus said. “Young Joseph would have been the perfect husband for her. He waited a whole year for her to give up that thing, join the church, and marry him, but she refused. It had such a stronghold on her she just could not give it up and take the church vow to join the church. What she did was evil. Her familye had no choice but to send her away.”

With sadness, Mamm Stoltzfus remembered how harshly Rachel was treated. Rachel had hidden the guitar by the creek up in a tree at its highest branch. She wrapped it in thick plastic and placed it in a burlap sack and tied it to the tree branch. Rachel lied for a few months, having everyone believe she had thrown it away. Their neighbor’s son Jason got suspicious after seeing Rachel climbing out her bedroom window a few times. Jason followed Rachel one night thinking she was sneaking off to visit with Joseph. He was surprised when Rachel after climbing out the window hurried to the tree, climbed it, and sat on the branch where she had hidden her guitar and quietly played and sang for about an hour. Jason followed her a few times before he reported his finding to Joseph. Joseph and Jason followed Rachel one night.

“I’ll take care of it. Don’t mention this to anyone,” Joseph said to Jason.

It was a little over a week before Joseph followed her to her hiding place. He confronted her as she hopped down to the ground.

“Huh!” Rachel said.

“Nice music. I thought you told us you had thrown the guitar away,” Joseph said. 

“Well, I didn’t and I shan’t.”

“I shan’t marry you either; not until you throw that thing away. Why cause a problem when there is no need to? Just throw it away, let’s get married, be a nice wife at home canning vegetables and fruit, tending the flower garden, and keeping haus while I tend to the land Daed has already given to me. You won’t be wanting for nothing.”

“Well, I shan’t be giving up what I love and I shan’t be wanting for nothing,” Rachel said.

She stomped off and ran the rest of the way home ignoring Joseph’s plea for them to talk it over.  Less than a week later, Rachel and her parents were standing before the elders. The verdict: Rachel could no longer stay in the community if she refuses to give up the guitar and her love for music. Her parents, being more liberal-minded than others in the community and who thought it absurd to prevent their daughter from exercising her God-given love for music and playing a musical instrument be it a harp, a timbrel, an organ, a psaltery, or a guitar, although not pleased with the elders’ decision took the blame for not restraining their daughter and made arrangement for Rachel to live with an aunt in another state. That aunt and others like her, even though of the Mennonite belief, mingled with the Englishers in their town. They had all of the modern conveniences of that time. They enrolled Rachel in a regular school where she was taught voice lessons and learned to play various musical instruments. She also won a scholarship to a music academy. “And she’s doing exceptionally well,” was her mother’s last report to Mamm Stoltzfus.

All’s well that ends well, Mamm Stoltzfus thought as she tuned in to her husband’s speech.

“So you see I have to be at the next corn-husking to oversee things. As you know I have eyes at the back of my head. When I’m around folks stand at attention.”

“Well at least sit back and let someone oversee things and give the orders this time around. You focus on the sermon you’ll be delivering on Sunday,” Mamm Stoltzfus said.

Bishop cleared his throat. “We’ll see,” he said with a yawn.