SERIAL NOVEL: The Black Mennonite (Chapter 17) by Daniel Whyte III with Meriqua Whyte

Chapter 17

Breaking the dress code

Eva, at her husband’s insistence, started working on the dresses that very evening. She sewed Kezia’s first. “Your wardrobe is growing little by little,” Eva said as she fitted the dress on Kezia the next day. “Perfect.”

Eva went to the chest where she kept Kezia’s clothes and removed the silky white dress with layers of lace that the anonymous person had left for Kezia to wear to her baby dedication service. She held it against her cheek. It’s so soft. Will you ever get to wear this? she wondered.

“Do you think your father will perform a baby dedication service for Kezia?” she asked her husband. “That was her mother’s wish. It would be a shame for such a beautiful dress to go to waste.”

“Mm. I don’t know. I haven’t heard whether or not he’s had a change of heart towards Kezia being here with us. I do know he’s still cool towards me. You could talk with Mamm about it.”

“It sure would be nice if her mother and father could be here for that,” Eva said thoughtfully.

“It would be nice; but don’t get your hopes up. They obviously left her for a reason,” Jacob said. “And even if Daed did perform the dedication, we’d have no way of letting her mother or any relative of hers know.”

Eva sighed.

She worked faithfully on her dress throughout the week. It was completed late Saturday evening.

“What do you think?” she asked her husband as she fitted the dress for him to see.

“Wow! You look elegant. You’ll be the talk of the other ladies,” Jacob said.

“That’s what I am afraid of,” Eva said. “Now that I have finished it, I’m not so sure I want to wear it tomorrow. I mean, why cause a problem when there’s no need to.”

“You’re not causing a problem. I’m the one who bought the material and insisted on you making a dress and wearing it,” Jacob said. “If anyone expresses having a problem with it then you send them to me. I don’t want you getting into it with anyone.”

Jacob and his family arrived just in time for services. Eva, in her new dress with Kezia in her arms wearing a matching dress, quietly took her seat close to the back of the room next to Rebecca who she sat beside most Sundays and on Wednesday nights for Bible study. She tried to ignore the stares coming her way from almost each corner of the room. Some of the older ladies immediately showed their disapproval of her attire by the disgruntled looks they threw at her and at each other. Whispers floated back and forth among them.

“Well, I never,” she overheard one person behind her say.

Outspoken Ant Maude Lapp, never caring what others thought of her, voiced her opinion loud enough so those close by could hear. “That’s a beautiful dress; it looks lovely on you, Eva. That’s what we need: some brighter colors in this place. I’m so glad you could make it out to worship with us today and with that beautiful boppli.”

If anyone thought the opposite of Ant Maude’s statement, they kept that thought to themselves as Ant Maude, not one to take any gossip or negativity from anyone, had gained the respect of just about everyone in the community—including Bishop Stoltzfus.

The younger ladies tried not to verbally show their approval of Eva’s dress by nodding their heads at each other while trying to smother their smiles.

“You are brave to go against the norm,” Rebecca whispered to Eva. “I wish I was brave enough to act out my thoughts and opinions.”

Eva held Kezia closer to her pounding heart as Bishop Stoltzfus, after he had taken his place in front of everyone to deliver the sermon, cast a disapproving look across the room. His eyes alighted on her. She could ‘feel’ her father-in-law’s austere gaze cutting into her throughout the services. She expected him to say something about her new dress from the pulpit—his place of dominance. Eva did not put that far from him as he had put down others from the pulpit before the entire congregation more than once. To use his words: he “put them in their place for going against the church ordnungs.”

Eva’s eyes met her husband’s. He was sitting on the right side where the men sat and had turned around to give her an encouraging smile, one that said: Don’t worry; everything will be alright. Eva smiled back. Rebecca caught the exchange and layed a reassuring hand on Eva’s arm.

Jacob held a steady stare at his father as Bishop Stoltzfus directed the services; it was a stare that dared his father to say anything negative from the pulpit about his wife’s dress. He knew his father was zealous about the keeping of the church ordnungs so much so that he was crazy enough to without discretion, right then and there, bring the matter to the attention of the congregants. Jacob prepared himself for the public tongue lashing to rain down but was not rewarded with such. His father did not speak one word to him nor to Eva after the services. Jacob was sure others noticed this as it seemed many of them went out of their way to converse with him and Eva. They, too, knew what possibly laid ahead for the young couple knowing they had a Bishop who was no respecter of persons and who would put any dissenting person out of the church and out of the community in a heartbeat.

“You look lovely,” Mamm Stoltzfus said as she gave Eva a hug after the services. “And so do you, little boppli,” she said, giving Kezia a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. Other young ladies whispered similar words to Eva as they fellowshipped during the after-church meal.

“Well, we survived what could have turned into a nasty situation,” Jacob said on their way home. “You carried yourself with dignity and class, and might I add, you were the most beautiful woman in that church.”

“Denke, although I was quite nervous,” Eva admitted. “This is one Sunday I am glad to leave the church building.”

Jacob chuckled. “I wonder what the Bishop would say if you turned up in a bright red dress on next Sunday. Maybe I should start wearing more colorful shirts myself.”

Eva laughed. “Let’s not push it. I can just picture your daed looking like a fire-breathing dragon.”