Feeling awkward and hesitant, I joined my husband in the middle of the Amish family’s yard. Never having an acquaintance with the Amish before, I didn’t know what to expect. A pleasant breeze swirled around me, a coolness that wafted under the large oak tree that towered over us. Its shade provided a welcome relief from the high temperature, a surprise gift from nature in the first week of June. Beside us, our champagne-colored Chevy glistened in the noonday sun in sharp contrast to the black of the buggies beside it and the equally black horses at the front. They stomped out messages, their hooves stirring up the dust of the driveway. Perhaps they announced the arrival of strangers.
Devoid of architectural embellishment, the stark white farmhouse stood tall beyond the black buggies. I looked around for the familiar yard ornaments or flower beds found on my street. Nothing. Its plainness seemed to judge my city ways: the cell phone in my pocket, my sleeveless v-neck top revealing my bare skin. I returned to the car for my sweatshirt and retrieved it from a pile of supplies in the backseat and pulled it over my head. Still standing next to the car, I eyed the yellow rose which I had brought along for the ride. Some impulse propelled me to grab it from the vehicle, and I held it between two large thorns. I noted the head of the rose, still considerably fresh, mature.
My husband appeared comfortable in his shorts and turquoise polo. He scanned the property from under his St. Louis Cardinals cap. A greenhouse sat to our left, unmarked sheds and outbuildings were before us, and an expansive barn was to our right. Its wide mouth of a door had been pulled open, its dark corners hiding the activity I assumed went on inside, the shoeing of horses and the bending of metal at the workbench.
My husband chose the small unmarked building with a windowless door. “This one,” he said pointing.
“Shouldn’t we wait for someone?” I put my hand on his arm, holding him back. He relented and put his hands in his pockets.
I held the rose. The day before had been Mother’s Day, and the traditional flowers were handed to all the women in church—widows whose children were grandparents themselves, empty-nested mothers whose offspring circled the globe, pregnant women and single women, each held a yellow rose in their hand as prayers went up for strength and a sense of humor.
And now a day later, the rose traveled with us. It was a day for planting potatoes and for watering fruit trees on our land, a few miles short of Amish country where the John Yousts and the Peter Yacobsons raised their families, lost their loved ones to the outside world, buried the stillborn, loved their own. Standing now in their private space, I insisted we wait for instructions of what to do next.
A girl of fifteen years or more suddenly appeared in a black dress and lilac bonnet. She flung open the front door of the farmhouse. Its weathered screen slapped a loud clack as it swung back in place. Her stride was exuberant, her black laced boots pounded on the wooden surface of the porch. Skipping the steps altogether, she jumped from the porch in our direction, I couldn’t help but imagine her a classmate of my daughter in shorts and running shoes, and our high school logo on her shirt. I wondered if girls of this world were allowed to run, were free to yell to their brothers, “I’ll race you to the corner!”
The teenager motioned us to the building my husband had chosen, and he shot me a satisfied grin. The door was smaller than standard, and we ducked our heads and entered– Amish girl, American father and mother.
“Your catalog at the corner store said you’ve got quality seed potatoes,” my husband announced.
“Yah, over here,” she answered, her gaze drawn to the rose.
The slender girl played the role of clerk, providing customer service in timid tones, “Yah, here in this bin. Come and look.”
My husband circled his hand through the pocked-marked chunks of potatoes, inspecting their halves and quarters. He kept his head down and continued, “I wouldn’t call these quality. They look kind of old.”
I cringed inside. Let’s not make a scene.
“It’s what we have,” the girl replied.
“Will you take eight dollars for fifty pounds?”
“The sign says twelve dollars, Sir.”
“Sure you won’t take ten?”
“Yah, okay. Ten dollars. I’ll get my brother. He’ll find a bag and carry it to your car.”
She stepped toward the door, her eyes avoiding mine. She called for her brother from the doorway, and he burst into the little storeroom, sweaty and out of breath. His brown head was uncovered, his white shirt-sleeves rolled up above the elbows.
“A fifty-pound bag of Yukon gold, ” the sister told him.
The boy turned on his long thin legs, and my husband followed on the boy’s quick heels to the barn. I was a little jealous: he would get to look into its mysterious depths.
While the men retrieved potatoes, I looked around the store. Calendars and handwritten notes were tacked to the wall below the window, shelves held small piles of hardware, and bags of vegetable seeds sported notes in careful handwriting. Early Girl Tomatoes, 100 seeds, $2.00.
I stepped closer to the desk where the girl had stationed herself, so that I found myself within an arm’s reach of her. I dared myself a long look at her face, so porcelain and inexpressive. For just a brief moment, I chided myself. She was not the daughter at all! Maybe she was the new bride, the head of the house. But she had said “brother,” hadn’t she?
“Nice Day,” I greeted. “I guess I should pay you.”
“Yah,” she eyed the rose like a hungry artist, focused on the twist of the stem as it crooked a few inches below the bud.
“Yesterday was Mother’s Day,” I ventured.
“Yah,” the contours or her face were changing.
My arm extended the distance between us. “Would you like to give this to your mother?”
“Yah, she would like it.” She reached for the gift with an ease that surprised me. She pushed her nose into its fragrant petals, and looked up at me over the top of the rose, her crystal clear blue eyes dancing. Her face blossomed into a wide and open smile, and I felt my body relax.
“Or maybe its for you?” I teased.
“No, I’ll give it to my mother. She raised six children. The youngest is just two. I’m the oldest.” She switched the rose to her left hand and extended her right in the familiar greeting, “My name’s Hannah, what’s yours?”