It was the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, and the sky was low and grey with an occasional snow flurry in the air. The dresses in that community were the color of the winter landscape in
A few sparse decorations marked the time of year, a small shelf of cards, a candle on the table. It was the smell of toasted nuts and cinnamon and ginger that made this day feel like the Season. That, and the anticipation of familiar visitors.
As the sky darkened, a black van arrived to carry off the hired girls. Supper preparations were under way, and extra food would be made for visitors who wished to stop by. Festive jello salads and breads and pickles and pie. Uncle Eli would stop his work and wander over to the window about every half hour, seemingly searching the sky. I joked that he was looking for Santa, as some of the children were indulged in that myth. It was then he confessed that he was looking for the North Star, and I understood because my whole life I too had looked skyward for that special star on Christmas Eve. It was then he told (or retold) us the story of how when he was a boy, he and some other boys got it in their head one Christmas to follow the Star ala the Three Wise Men. After all, it had worked so well for them!
This was back in the 1930’s, Eli, two of his brothers, a neighbor boy, and a cousin set off in early evening when there was still a hint of light thinking that they would probably make it to Bethlehem in about six hours. Of course, when the boys disappeared this caused a huge worry that extended for miles as word got around, and soon, family, friends and neighbors were searching on foot and by horseback for the “five kings.”
A man in a car drove by, and soon he was searching, too. Meanwhile, the young not-so-wise men managed to cross two swamps, climb six fences, and eat their entire night’s worth of provisions (cookies and pop corn) in the span of a couple hours. The conversation reportedly centered on how much the land, no matter how far they traveled, continued to resemble
Eventually, the boys were found, cold, hungry. A couple of men standing outside at a family Christmas celebration saw this bedraggled band of Amish boys meandering down a dirt road and decided to ask questions. Raising a lantern, a man addressed Eli as he was the oldest. Their muddy clothes must have been a given that something was amiss.
“You boys look worn. Would you like to come inside and rest by the fire?”
“No Sir,” replied Eli. “We’ll be traveling on.”
Eli and his troop had managed a little over three miles in a north-easterly direction, and not nearly as
Many years later on the day my great-uncle Eli (Hostetler) Yoder was laid to rest, four elder men in their good Mutze jackets and hats huddled together in solace and shared memory.
“He finally traveled on,” I overheard one say. “Without us.”