Authors: Mindy Starns Clark,Susan Meissner
I turned over in my bed and pushed the curtains away from the window above the headboard. Moonshine bathed me in pearly radiance. A patch of clouds hung low, and a single star glimmered in the open space between the heavens and the earth. The sky had looked just like this on my first night in this house. I didn’t remember arriving or much of the long ride that had brought us here, but I did remember some of the events leading up to that. I remembered the afternoon my first life ended and my second one began.
Closing my eyes now, I could see myself in my
funeral clothes—gray slacks, a new clip-on tie, a blue button-down shirt that was still wrinkled from its packaging. Just prior to the service, my father pointed out a couple I’d never met, saying they were my mom’s mother and father, my grandparents. They were so oddly dressed, I wouldn’t have believed it except that the woman looked like an older version of my mother. She had the same beautiful eyes, the same, though far more wrinkled, heart-shaped face.
After the service, I sat in the tire swing of the chapel playground while funeral-goers sipped punch and munched on tiny chicken salad sandwiches and talked softly among themselves. My dad, in his dress uniform, stood talking to the man he’d said was my grandfather. But this was not the grandfather I already knew, my dad’s father, the one who walked with a cane and smelled like cigarettes. This other grandfather had a beard like Abraham Lincoln—whiskers with no moustache—and a broad-brimmed black hat.
The other grandmother was with them as well, but she didn’t seem to be paying attention to their conversation. Instead, she just stood there in her dark dress and black bonnet, looking back at me, her face a strange mix of happy and sad.
I couldn’t hear everything my father was saying to them, but I picked up snatches, such as “only for a year” and “just until I can figure out how to do this on my own,” and “Sadie was the one who did everything.”
And then my dad walked over to the swing and knelt down. He looked tired, and the rims of his eyes were red. He told me my grandparents had a farm in the country and they wanted me to come to see it. He said there were cows and horses and a big house and other kids my age.
“And a pond,” I replied, remembering the night of the storm when we still lived in Germany and my mother was still alive.
“There’s a pond at the farm. Mommy told me.”
“Uh, well, okay. A pond. You’ll have a great time there. And you get to ride a train.”
I asked when we were leaving, and his face took on an odd expression as he said, “No, Tyler, you don’t understand. I’m not coming. It’s just you and your grandparents.”
My eyes widened.
He looked down at his hands. “I have to go far away to supervise all the people who take care of the helicopters.”
“Are you going where Mommy is?”
“No.” He shook his head.
“When are you coming back?” In my head I was attempting to keep the details straight.
Mommy is far away, not coming back. Daddy will be far away, so…
“I’ll be gone a while. It may seem like a long time, but I will come back.”
“How will you know where to find me if you don’t take me there yourself?”
He put a hand on my shoulder. “I know where your grandparents live, Ty. I’ve been there before.”
He nodded. “When your mother and I were first married, right before we left for Germany. We drove out to the farm and I met her family and she got to tell them goodbye.”
“Did I come too?”
“No. You weren’t born yet. That was back when it was just your mom and me.” His voice cracked at the word “mom” and then he looked away.
I was not as close to my dad as I had been to my mother. He was away from home more often than he was at it. But at that moment, he was all I had that felt safe. I didn’t want to go on a train with people I didn’t know.
“I want to stay with you.”
He shook his head. “Families can’t come to the place I’m going to, Tyler. It’s not like Germany. I can’t bring you with me.”
“Then stay here.” Tears, hot and wet, pooled in my six-year-old eyes.
“I can’t, Tyler. I have to go. It’s my job.”
I wiped at my wet cheeks as he added, “You’ll be happy there. Trust me. You really will.”
“I don’t want to go,” I wailed. And across the playground, my grandmother wiped her eyes with a tissue. My grandfather was talking to her and stroking her back. She looked at me and tried to smile.
“Sometimes you have to go somewhere even when you don’t want to. I’m sorry, Tyler, but I’m only doing what’s best for you. I can’t…I don’t…you need someone like your grandma and your grandpa. They already love you. They always have, even though you’ve never met. And they have other kids. One is almost your exact age. You’ll be happy there. You have to trust me on this.”
“I want my mom,” I sputtered.
“I know you do. I do too. But she’s not coming back.” Dad stood up and held out his hand. “Come on, son. Let’s go meet your grandparents.”
Reluctantly, I climbed off of the swing, took his hand, and let him lead me over to the people who were going to take me home with them to live.
After we were introduced, my grandfather shook my hand as he asked me to call him
“That sounds like ‘Daddy,’ I said softly.
He smiled. “
, it does. But it’s spelled differently. And it’s our word for grandfather.”
,” my grandmother said, kneeling down and opening her arms tentatively for a hug. I hesitated, but there was something so familiar about her kind face that I couldn’t help but move into her embrace.
I couldn’t remember anything about the rest of that day, not packing up or saying goodbye to my father or getting on the train.
I did remember waking up next to my grandmother a long time later, when the train blew its loud whistle. She helped me settle more comfortably across her lap, and she said something soft and gentle in another language. It sounded so familiar, like something my mother would say. Then I drifted back to sleep.
Jake and I hadn’t had to share a bedroom for a number of years now, but we did back then, and I remembered my first night, lying in this bed and listening to his gentle snores from across the room. We were both six.
had turned out the light, a funny little lantern that sounded like it was breathing when it glowed with flame. And I began to cry because I was afraid of the dark and there were no outlets for my Power Rangers night-light.
returned quickly, and after I told her why I was crying, she pulled the curtain open above the bed. “Here is your night-light, Tyler. The same one your
had when this was her room.”
Outside the window, near a diamond-bright star, sat the moon in a cushion of clouds, its light shining across my pillow in a broad streak of white.
“Can you show me the pond?” I whispered.
stroked my forehead. “
In the morning, my grandparents walked me out to my mother’s pond, and it was just as beautiful as she’d told me it was. Even better, there really was another me—another world—reflecting back from the glassy water, just as she’d said there would be.
and the farm became my solid ground when my dad let me go. They gave me a home, a big family, a place to belong, and a faith in a heavenly Father on whom I could hang my every hope. Though my loss had been great, somehow over the years their steadfast love had helped to fill the empty, aching places inside. They hadn’t just given me somewhere to live but, ultimately, a new life.
When I was eleven and my father asked me if I wanted to live with him and Liz and Brady—
, not told—and I said no, my grandparents had been the ones to comfort my aching heart once they were gone.
When I was sixteen and about to jump into my
had been the one to show me what godly manhood looked like through his own example, and then he guided me through the worst of it with lots of prayer and an enormous amount of patience.
When I was twenty and learned that Rachel would be joining the church,
had been the one to encourage me to join as well, saying that this was where I belonged. My visits to California had stopped by then, the dividing line between my world and my father’s more distinct than ever before.
Now it was three years later, and though I knew I would always have a home here, a big part of me still couldn’t fully accept that fact. As I’d told Rachel earlier, something out there was calling to me. Something beyond myself. And that was what needled me as I lay unable to sleep. I wanted to believe God wanted me here, wanted me to be Amish. Yet it almost felt as though
was that something, that Someone, who was calling to me from outside.
Could this restlessness be of God?
If so, I couldn’t begin to fathom why.
omewhere deep in the night, I finally managed to fall asleep, only to be awakened again at five by the clomp of Jake’s heavy footsteps in the hallway moving past my door. As the house slowly came to life around me, I forced myself to yank the covers off. Sitting up, I placed my feet on the cool wood, hoping it would startle me fully awake.
Morning chores needed to be done before breakfast and devotions, and then after just an hour or two of work, I would be giving Jake a ride to the bus. After that, I would join in with the massive, post-wedding cleanup effort at the Bowman farm, which would likely last until sundown. It was going to be a tiring day, made worse by my lack of sleep the night before.
I came downstairs yawning. Jake, standing at the sink eating an apple, regarded me with comic concern. “You look terrible.”
“Thanks. I’m going to miss hearing that.” I snagged a mug, hoping to down a quick swallow of coffee before heading out to help him with the family horses.
“I mean it, Ty. You look terrible.”
Jake tossed his core in a bowl for the compost pile. “Aw, you miss me already.” He laughed and headed for the mudroom. “Either that or you ate too many dumplings at the wedding.”
I swallowed the hot liquid and winced at the burn at the back of my throat. “I’ll be out shortly,” I rasped.
“Okay. See you there.”
I blew into the cup, listening as Jake paused in the mudroom to suit up and then headed outside into the last vestiges of night, the door slapping shut behind him. We usually went to the stable together each morning, laughing and joking all the way, but he was eager to wrap things up before it was time to go, and I was in no mood for socializing. Moving to the sink, I stood and watched through the window, spotting
in the light of the henhouse just as Jake rounded the side of the barn.
Outside the window, a slender line of light was sneaking onto the horizon. I’d hoped for a few quiet minutes alone, but
came into the kitchen just then to start making breakfast, and she shooed me away. I took one final sip and then gave her cheek a quick kiss before moving into the mudroom. She began humming a quiet tune as I pulled on my boots and then grabbed my hat and coat off their pegs and slipped into them. I swung the door open to see Timber there waiting for me, eagerly wagging his tail.
I greeted him warmly, and then the two of us walked side by side toward the stables. As we went, I couldn’t help but wonder how different my growing-up years would have been if Jake hadn’t been around. If I had gone to live with my dad and Liz when they asked me, the only brother figure in my life would have been little Brady, who was nine years younger than I, far too young to tease or knock around or share banter with.