The cold spell had broken in Reading, Pennsylvania. The sizeable Mennonite community was full of life on this bright spring day as the men set out to work in their fields before the rising of the sun, plowing the ground in preparation for a new crop of corn, hay, wheat, soybeans, barley, potatoes, beans, and other vegetables. Women could be seen tending to their vegetable or flower gardens. Children too young to attend school were digging in the dirt next to their mothers. Those of school age could be seen walking to the school house.
On this sunshiny Monday morning, Rebecca Stoltzfus felt compelled to stop by and visit with her brother Jacob and her sister-in-law Eva before her brother left to do his day’s work. She was disturbed by the conversation she overheard between her parents, Bishop and Mamm Stoltzfus, the previous evening.
“What happened? Daed and Mamm were having a heated discussion yesterday about putting you and Jacob out of the church,” Rebecca said once she was seated at the breakfast table sipping a cup of coffee with them. “From what I overheard, I’d say he’s not just speaking idle words. He’s highly disturbed that you and Jacob would disrespect him by breaking the church ordnung. He kept carrying on about you both bringing the world into the community and into the church and defiling both. Of course, Kezia was mentioned in the conversation.”
Jacob and Eva related to Rebecca the conversation Jacob had with his father the previous evening. “He’s upset because of the new dress Eva wore, claiming it was a definite defiance against the dress code for women. He claimed that that disrupted the services and that it was going to cause a string of rebellion among the women. He then mentioned how Kezia’s presence has disrupted the peace in the community,” Jacob shared with his sister.
“You know how good he is at hiding his emotions,” Eva said. “Anyway, he was surprised when Jacob told him that he was the one who bought the material for the dress and he gave me permission to wear it and that I had nothing to do with it.”
“Yes. I gathered that much from what I overheard,” Rebecca said. “He kept telling Mamm that he did not believe you, Jacob, when you said Eva had nothing to do with it, and that he had no doubt Eva talked you into buying the material for her and that he did not raise you to have your wife rule over you. He said you were bringing Gott’s wrath down on your haus, and he was not going to have anything to do with you both because he has warned you.”
“I heard him out,” Jacob said, “but when he started to talk negatively about Kezia, I had to shut him up. I told him that this was my haus and I will let whoever I pleased to let enter. I also told him I was not going to tolerate him saying anything negative about Eva or Kezia.”
“That is just so fickle; so immature,” Rebecca said. “He nit-picks at everything and takes disagreements so personally. I mean, nobody wants his position as Bishop.”
“How’s Mamm holding out?” Jacob asked.
“She’s trying to remain calm. He came home blaming her for everything, saying she had been too soft with you when you were younger and had let you run wild during your rumspringa years, and that she was trying to get both you and Eva to side with her to work against him.”
* * * * *
“How can you even fix your mouth to say such a thing? I have always stood with you, even during those times when we didn’t see eye to eye,” Mamm Stoltzfus said.
“Well, you need to stand with me now because your son is being more rebellious than ever. Did you know he is the reason she wore that dress? He told me so with his own mouth. Of course I don’t believe him. I believe that wife of his talked him into buying that ghastly dress for her.”
“I don’t know Jacob to be a liar,” Mamm Stoltzfus said.
“Well, now you know,” Bishop Stoltzfus said.
“And Eva would never pressure him into going against the church ordnungs,” Mamm Stoltzfus continued. “She loves Gott and has too much respect for her husband.”
“There you go taking up for them when I have explained to you clearly that they are both wrong,” Bishop Stoltzfus said “And, to cap it all off, he has the audacity to attach our last name to that baby’s name. They are going to rain down Gott’s sudden destruction upon us. Those people are going to call the law on us; soon they’ll be accusing us of stealing one of them.”
“Now you know that is far from the truth,” Mamm Stoltzfus said. “Do you know what I believe? I believe you have a problem because that baby girl is black and you know it. I notice you never respond to the black folks whenever we go to town and they greet us. You even tried to get me to act cold towards them by telling me not to wave back or say anything verbally to them—not even a greeting. What’s wrong with saying hello to someone who is of a different color? And remember when we were courting you told me you did not want me to invite Beatrice Armstrong, my black friend, to the wedding. I was too blinded by love and so looking forward to getting married to question you about it. But I have thought about it down through the years.”
Bishop Stoltzfus slammed his fist on the table. “I will hear no more! You are out of place.”
“I rest my case,” Mamm Stoltzfus said, raising her hand. “But I would like to know, where is that precious baby supposed to go? Whoever left her on Jacob’s doorstep apparently trusts them and us. Doesn’t that say a lot about our community?”
“I know what you are doing: You’re trying to team up with them against me: hugging that . . . that . . . I don’t even know what to call it! Telling Eva how beautiful she looks in that ungodly garb she had on, and . . .”
“For Gott’s sake, the baby is not an ‘it.’ She is a human being; she has a name. Her name is Kezia. She just needs a loving father and mother. Right now, Jacob and Eva are her father and mother, at least until we find out what’s going on.”
“And we’re not her grandparents!” Bishop Stoltzfus said. “Giving that baby our last name.”
Mamm Stoltzfus chuckled. “I can’t believe you feel threatened by a little baby.”
“Threatened? Woman, you have it all wrong!” Bishop Stoltzfus said, slamming his fist on the table again.
Mamm Stoltzfus cleared her throat. “The world has changed and is changing among the young people, the twenty-somethings like Jacob and Eva,” she said. “We can’t expect them to see eye-to-eye with us on everything all the time. There’s no use fighting some of the decisions they make. We may as well accept those decisions as long as they are not outright sinful. Jacob is not going to live his life in the exact way we have lived ours. My Gott! There is another world out there. It’s not just us hiding in our little cloister.”
“That is what is causing this problem!” Bishop Stoltzfus said, glaring at his wife.
“Gott, have mercy upon us! Please have mercy upon us,” Mamm Stoltzfus muttered. “You are not talking sense at all. Is anything wrong with change? A change in the way we dress as long as it is modest attire and covers you up? A change in us being more open and not so closed up in our community as though we’re the only folks in the world with no one else to reach out to? We can’t remain stagnant forever. That will bring about a slow death to our community. Plus, these are minor things you’re making a big deal about—things that are not going to matter in the long run. It’s your heart that’s going to matter in the long run. Check your heart because you’re straining at a bunch of gnats.”
“How dare you speak to me like that! Do you want to be put out with your son for talking back to me, your head?”
“Good Heavens! What are you talking about?”
“If they don’t conform to the church ordnungs, they will both have to sit in The Box and remain there for however long they remain in rebellion. That was the best thing I did: create The Box. It has cut down on folks rebelling.”
He paused expecting a response from his wife. She said nothing.
“As I was saying: no one will be allowed to speak to them, including you. I’ve already warned them verbally. However, if they persist in their rebellion, they will be brought before the entire church; maybe even by-pass being brought before the church leaders.”
“Nee! You wouldn’t!”
“What else can you do with rebellious folks in the community,” Bishop Stoltzfus said. “And if you don’t want that to happen, it would behoove you to speak with your son and daughter-in-law and try to talk some sense into their heads.”