Friday, December 19, 2008

Amish Christmas Story

This story, which was a bit of a writing exercise for me, is a dim memory recollected from a dusty corner of my mind. I thought some of my readers might enjoy it as a Christmas story. It's been many years since it's been retold, and the absolute accuracy of details can't be verified any longer. It's my present to you, so Merry Christmas.

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 Indiana, muted grays, taupes, and earth colors. With what color we acquired during the summer now faded from our skin, we had an ethereal appearance that blended us into that place and time. Aunt Dorcas’ gnarled fingers deftly worker her lap embroidery, while Uncle Eli worked at the kitchen table on some bookkeeping for his oldest son’s tac shop. My cousin Liz’s children, numbering seven, filled the air with their energy and excitement for the joyous celebration of the Savior’s birth. Two hired girls, including one who never smiled, fluttered about picking up errant crumbs even as they readied their own suitcases for the return trip to their families for Christmas. The driver would come shortly to take them back to their home communities. Liz’s husband Atlee was on a constant run between the house and shop building where there was a phone, as he coordinated transportation and relayed messages from distant family. The shop was a good distance, and when the phone would ring, the sound could be heard clearly across the flat landscape. But that didn’t bring the phone any closer to the house. It occurs to me today that this was a time before cell phones, and that today in an Amish house, someone would more than likely admit to having a mobile phone.

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 LaGrange County.

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 Far East as they thought. No worse for the wear, a missing button, muddy pants and shoes. The boys felt terribly embarrassed and feared the worst upon their return, and were pleasantly surprised that their families were simply relieved that the boys came home unharmed.

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.”


  1. Hi Monica. I have tagged you for a reading meme. I am a little confused I have done my tags out of order! Hopefully everyone knows now.

  2. What a beautiful story, Monica. I felt as though I was right there. Thank you for such a wonderful gift! I'm so happy that you enjoyed the gingerbread recipe :-)

    You know, I just saw the link about Dyscalulia. I'm not sure how I missed it on your other blog! I also suffer from this disability and it has been very difficult over the years. I had no idea that it even existed, so it was a true relief when I realized that it was not an intelligence issue. I carried a lot of shame for years because of it. I always said that I am not a "math person" but it was nice to know why. :-)

    Wishing you a blessed Christmas!


  3. Told as only you could. I love your stories.


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