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Jenny's Choice (Apple Creek Dreams Series)

By Patrick E. Craig

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Chapter One
The Departure
— November, 1978 —
Jenny Hershberger walked slowly into the room that had been their refuge. Boxes were piled in the middle of the rug waiting to be carried out to the wagon, and a heap of clothing was still spread across the bed. With a weary sigh she brushed back an errant curl that had escaped from her kappe and looked around. It was as though each item she looked at had a mouth and all of them clamored for her attention, each with a story to tell or a memory to unveil.
This will be the hard part.
She went to the dresser. It was made of clear pine, and it was the first big project that Jonathan had undertaken after Grandfather Borntraeger began to teach him woodworking. The detailing was coarse and the lines of the piece a bit awkward, but she had loved it from the moment Jonathan moved it into their room. She remembered him standing proudly beside it as she ran her hands over the top and opened each drawer as though it was a treasure trove. She loved the smell of the linseed oil that he had rubbed into the wood and when she spread a lace piece over the top and placed her things there, it had become a symbol of all that Jonathan had left behind from his old life, and all that he had become to be with her. Now she picked up one of the objects on the top of the dresser, a small box. A sharp, almost physical pain touched her heart as she opened the lid. Inside were several folded pieces of paper. She took one out, slowly spread it open on the dresser, and began to read.


My precious Jenny,
It is the end of another long day here in Paradise. I have been in the fields since daybreak with Grandfather Borntraeger. As soon as the thaw came and the soil started to warm we began preparing the ground for spring planting. This is the hardest work I've ever done; yet at the same time it is the most fulfilling. Your grandfather is a kind man, but he is very strict and does not put up with any complaining or questioning of his methods. Since I am so new to this he must teach me as we work. I feel like a little boy all over again, but he is very patient with me, even when I make mistakes.
I am beginning to comprehend so many things, especially about God and His Son, Jesus. The Bible is a wonderful book. Did you know that God made the first man out of dirt? I wonder if that is why I feel so at home on the land? When I am out in the fields with Grandfather Borntraeger, and I am walking behind the plow, I feel as though my life finally means something: like this is the most natural and real way I could ever be. As I work, I remember the words of a song I heard the Amish men singing when I first came to Apple Creek.
'Let him who has laid his hand on the plow not look back! Press on to the goal! Press on to Jesus Christ! The one who gains Christ will rise with Him from the dead on the youngest day.'
That is who I want to be – the one who has laid his hand to the plow and will not look back!

Jenny did not finish reading but folded the letter and placed it back in the box. Tears formed in her eyes and rolled silently down her cheeks. She stood alone in the room, lost in her sorrow.
"Mama?"
A quiet little voice spoke from the doorway. Jenny turned to the young girl who stood there. She was small, with dark hair and deep, sea-blue eyes.
She has his eyes – she is so much like him.
Jenny went to the girl and stooped down as she took the little one in her arms and lifted her into a hug. The girl felt the tear on her mama's cheek and softly touched Jenny's face.
"Why are you crying, Mama?" the girl asked.
"It is nothing, my Rachel," Jenny answered. "I was only reading your papa's letters, the ones he wrote to me before we were courting, when he lived here with your great-grandfather and learned the Amish ways. He wrote to me every day of the two years we were apart. I kept the most special letters in this box so I could read them now and again, and let du lieber Gott remind me how much He blessed me by sending me your papa."
"Is Papa happy in heaven?" Rachel asked.
"Oh, yes, my dearest, Papa is very, very happy, for he is with Jesus and all the angels."
"Why do we have to go to another place, Mama? I like our house. What if Papa decides to come back from heaven and he can't find us? Won't he be sad?"
Jenny sat down on the bed and set Rachel down beside her. She felt as though her heart was being crushed in a great mill-press. It was hard for her to put into words the immense emptiness that filled her life and the need she had to be safe in her own mama's arms, to feel Jerusha's heart beating, strong and sure. It was the only other place in her life that she had felt completely safe. How could she explain to her daughter that she needed to be in a place of healing, in her papa's house?
"Your papa won't come back from heaven, my darling. He has gone ahead, and once you go there, it is so wunderbar that you don't ever want to come back. And we wouldn't want to call him back to this world, once he's been with Jesus. Instead, he will wait for us there, and one day we will meet him and be with him again. In the meantime, we are sad that he is gone…very sad. It is very hard for your mama to live here without Papa. There are so many things that make me remember him and it makes my heart break again each time I see them. I need to go back to my old home and be with my mama and papa, so they can help me not to feel this way. And they will help you to be happy again. Your grossdaadi can't wait for you to come, and Mama, my mama, has prepared a special room just for you. You will love being with them. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here soon and it will be comforting to be in Apple Creek with our family and friends for the holidays."
"Oh, yes, Mama, I love Grossmudder and Grossdaddi. It will be nice to see them. But won't we ever come back to Paradise?"
"Only der vollkluge Gott knows the answer to that question, my darling. Now, do you have all your things packed up like I asked you?"
"Mostly I do, Mama. Can you help me with the rest?" Rachel asked.
"Yes, dearest. I will be there in a bit, when I finish here. Run ahead."
Rachel bounced off the bed and ran from the room. Jenny smiled as she watched her go.
She has her pappa's eyes and my bounce!
Jenny sighed again as Jonathan crowded back into her thoughts. She stood up, grabbed an empty box and quickly put the letterbox and the rest of the items from the dresser top into it. Then she folded up the linen piece, placed it on top of her other belongings and closed up the box. She set it with the others, piled the clothing on a chair by the door, and then pulled the quilt and the linens from the bed. She folded them and put them into the last remaining empty box. She surveyed the stack of boxes and then went to the closet and took out her suitcase. Carefully she packed her clothing in it and snapped the latches shut. The click of the latches echoed in the room like tiny gunshots. Finished. Ended. She took a deep breath.
There! I'm done! That wasn't so bad. Cousin Borntraeger can carry all this out for me and take it to the storage place. Mama said to just bring our clothes for now.
She heard boots on the front porch and her heart leaped. Then just as quickly reality smashed her down. Another deep sigh was torn from her. How many times had she heard Jonathan coming up the front stoop and walking across the porch to the door? It was always such a comforting sound at the end of the day. And now…
There was a knock at the door and then a voice calling.
"Jenny? Are you ready, then?"
"I'm here, Cousin, in the bedroom. Can you help me with these boxes?"
Lem Borntraeger walked down the hall and into the room. He glanced around at the emptiness and pulled his black hat from his head.
"Jenny, are you sure this is what you want? We all want you to stay. I know it won't be the same without Jonathan, but you have family here."
Jenny looked at her tall cousin. He had been one of the blessings God bestowed on them when they had come to Paradise ten years before. He had taken her into his heart from the first day they met, and after she and Jonathan married, he became their good friend and helper. She reached over and patted his arm.
"I have to go home, Lem. I just need to be with my mama and papa. You will run the farm and it will prosper in your care. For me, there are too many memories. Sometimes it feels like my remembrances of Jonathan and our days here are like cobwebs that stick to me and hold me fast. They keep me from going on with my life. And I need to go on now or I will die inside."
"Will you ever come back?" Lem asked.
"Right now I would say no," Jenny answered. "But who knows the road ahead? We may come back someday, when I can be in this house without weeping every time I turn around."
Jenny managed a weak smile.
"I need to go, Lem."
"All right, then," Lem said, "I understand."
He stood for a moment with his hat in his hands.
"Jonathan was a good man and he was my friend. I will miss him deeply."
Then Lem put his hat back on and smiled.
"It's enough. Now let me load these boxes."
Jenny watched him as he picked up two boxes and went out. She took one last look at the room and then turned to go.
"Jenny!"
She stopped and turned, thinking she had heard Jonathan’s voice. But it was only the echoes of unspoken longings that filled her aching heart.
She went one last time to the bed and touched it softly.
"Jonathan, oh, Jonathan. You are my true love. There will never be anyone like you for me. Thank you, my dearest, for loving me so deeply. Thank you for being a good man, a wonderful husband and a loving father to Rachel. May God be with you on your journey."
Jenny stood silent for a moment and then picked up her suitcase, turned, and left the room. She went into Rachel's room, gathered up the few things that were still out and packed them in her daughter's suitcase. Then she took Rachel's hand and together they walked down the hall through the empty front room and out onto the porch. A carriage waited for them in the driveway. She boosted Rachel up as Lem put the suitcases in the back and then she climbed in. She nodded to the driver who clicked his tongue and set the horse in motion. The carriage rolled slowly down the driveway. Jenny looked straight ahead. She would not look back, she was going, it was done. But then just as the horse turned onto the main road, her resolve crumbled and she looked back. The blue, two-story house stood in the middle of the now harvested fields. As she looked she could see Jonathan behind the plow, waving to her as the rich soil turned and broke beneath the sharp blade. She could see his smile and his wonderful eyes. She could feel his strong arms around her as they stood together on the porch, looking out over the land - their land - in awe of the blessings of God. She put her face into her hands and silently began to weep. The clopping hooves beat out a slow and mournful cadence –
"…He's gone, he's gone, he's gone."

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