Pure in Their Own Eyes
by James Krehbiel
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3
The sound of rifle shots and the pelting of tin reverberated over the fields. Dented cans snared up in the wall of mesh rigged up behind the fence. In a moment of frustration, Joseph had purchased the Winchester to keep foxes from raiding the chicken coop. He’d never shot anything other than tin cans with it.
Anna stood at the kitchen window watching her husband firing away. He’d become a good shot from twenty to thirty yards. She walked out onto the back porch, wiped her hands with a dish towel and sat down wondering what his parents would have thought of their son shooting a gun.
“I’m not sure you need to practice anymore,” she said.
Joseph turned to her.
“Don’t think I’ve seen you miss in days.”
Joseph walked over, engaged the safety and sat down on the edge of the porch. “It’s all part of my routine,” he said. “Have to stay sharp!”
“Come sit with me for a moment,” Anna said, as she pulled a chair up alongside hers.
Inwardly, Anna chuckled. Sunday morning spent surrounded by fellow Mennonites, their mission of non-violence and the afternoon, firing bullets from a gun.
Joseph sat down and placed the Winchester on the picnic table.
“Can you imagine what your parents would say if they could see you shooting that thing?” she asked.
“I’d rather not.”
“It’s a different world, isn’t it?” Anna looked around as if there was something she needed or wanted. “Are you thirsty? Do you want something to drink?” She rose and started for the back door.
“Sure. Maybe some iced tea or something — whatever you have,” he said.
Anna stood at the kitchen window, pouring iced tea. Joseph sat with his back to her, his once jet-black hair now veined with streaks of silver and his shoulders curved slightly inwards. He’d been a handsome man, still was, as far as she was concerned and certainly a son that tried to follow in his parents’ footsteps. Although she couldn’t help but think Joseph felt like the rope in a futile tug of war game, half-trying to abide by the old ways and half-trying to find his way in more modern times.
Anna returned carrying two glasses of iced tea. She handed one to Joseph and sat down. She glanced over at the picnic table.
“They’d be appalled,” she said, as she tilted her head at the gun.
“I know. I have a feeling there’d be a lot they’d be appalled at if they were still with us.”
“And perhaps a few things that happened while they were alive as well?”
“No doubt,” Joseph said.
“Like you and Maria sneaking off to be alone before you married? Or stealing penny candy from the five and dime when you were a little boy?”
“Stealing is such a harsh word,” Joseph said.
“Reality can be harsh sometimes.” Anna smirked. “Don’t forget my dear, I’ve known you since the beginning.”
All six hundred and eighty-three residents of Pretty Prairie knew one another. They attended the one and only school, ran into each other at Bert’s five-and-dime, and every Sunday they worshipped together at the First Mennonite Church on the corner of Route 41 and Main Street. They worked together, socialized together and prayed together. They were too closely knit for secrets.
Anna took a sip of her iced tea. “You know, sometimes it’s tough to remember that none of us were saints growing up.” She ran her hands over her apron, smoothing out the wrinkles. “I wonder how different we were from our own children,” she said.
Joseph looked over, studying her face. “You talking about Daniel?”
“Perhaps,” she said. “Is he that different from us when we were his age?”
“I never had dreams of college. I was content to stay here and raise my family,” Joseph said.
“And you never dreamed of anything else?” she asked. “I remember when they landed on the moon. We saw the picture in the newspaper. You said, ‘Boy, that would be so cool. I’d like to do that!’ Don’t you remember?”
“I do, but I was just a kid then. All kids thought that way.”
“And your dream of walking on the moon? Is it really any different than Daniel’s dream of going to college? A dream is a dream, isn’t it?”
Joseph was silent for a moment. “It’s just not the same,” he said.
“I know. His is more realistic.” She paused. “Well, I don’t see much difference.” Anna stood up with her glass in hand. “Are you finished?”
“Yep, I’m done. Thanks.” He handed his glass to her.
Anna started towards the back door but stopped just as she was about to enter the house. She turned back to Joseph. “There is one thing I do know,” she said. “The more a kid’s dream is squelched, the more it’s likely to flourish.”
She left Joseph alone with his thoughts. She imagined they drifted back to the sneaking off with Maria, the penny candy that he slipped into his pocket when Bert was in the storeroom, and his parents’ thoughts, had they known. And she remembered a plaque that hung on the wall of his childhood home just above the kitchen table. He must have read it before every meal.
CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love and scatter sunshine.
* * *
“You look like you just got out of bed!” Sarah said. “You should see your hair.” Sarah thought he should at least run back inside and run a comb through it.
The two of them stood at the end of their driveway, Daniel wiping sleep from his eyes, his hair tangled and dangling down over his forehead. “I did just get out of bed!” he laughed. “It doesn’t help that I went to bed so late.”
Sarah reached up and brushed a clump of hair from his face. “Why so late?”
“I was trying to finish up the family tree for Mr. Burke.”
“Did you get it done?
“Yep, as much as I could. I hope it’s enough.”
“I wonder where Mr. Reimer is.” Sarah lifted her hand to shield the morning sun as she gazed down the road in the direction of Sam Reimer’s house. “He should have been here by now.”
“Ah, there he is!” Daniel pointed at the cloud of dust swirling behind Sam’s red pickup truck as it rattled towards them. He pulled up alongside Daniel and Sarah, the brakes squealing.
Sam rolled the passenger window down. “Mornin’, Sarah. Daniel. You kids are both gonna have to sit in the back today.”
Daniel peered in the open window. “What happened to your seat?” he asked.
“Don’t right know. Somehow it got stuck like this.”
The front passenger seat back was tilted forward at a forty-five degree angle.
“Last night I grabbed somethin’ out of the back and when I tried to push the seat back into position, it wouldn’t go.” He pushed the passenger side door open. “One more thing I gotta take care of, I guess. Hop in now, we’re already gonna be late!”
Sarah and Daniel climbed in. They had always taken turns sitting in the cramped back seat and today, with Daniel’s backpack, Sarah’s books and the two of them mushed into the small space, it felt claustrophobic.
“You kids got enough room back there?” Sam threw the truck into gear, metal grinding and they were off.
Sarah and Daniel’s shoulders were pressed together, hunched up to get a bit more room. His backpack had been forced down on the floor in front of him causing his knees to sit just below his chin and his head hovered inches from the roof. Sarah had her arms and legs scrunched in against her.
“Yep, we’re fine!” Daniel said.
Sam Reimer loved small talk. Put him in a room with a bunch of strangers and he’d start right in with it. “So, what’s new with you guys?” he called, back over his shoulder.
The windows were wide open; heavy air whooshed in mingling with the crunching of gravel as the truck clanked along. The twang of a steel guitar coming from the radio competed with the crunching and the wind and the clanking. If Daniel had been half-asleep as he and Sarah waited out front, she imagined he was now jolted into aural chaos.
Sam might as well have shouted his question, and they still wouldn’t have been able to hear him. Daniel tried to lean forward, cupping his ear but it was pointless. There was nowhere to lean. Finally, Daniel caught Sam’s eye in the rearview mirror, pointed a finger at his ear and shook his head, no. Sam nodded in response and started singing along with the radio, seemingly content to forgo the usual chit-chat.
It wasn’t that Sarah and Daniel didn’t like shooting the breeze with Mr. Reimer, but today it felt nice, although cramped, to be together in the back seat. They chatted freely, knowing that Mr. Reimer wouldn’t have a prayer of hearing anything they said. And it’s not that their conversation was much different than usual.
They leaned into each other, their heads tilted together — touching, Daniel’s hand resting on Sarah’s knee. They laughed, rolled their eyes mischievously and found their incarceration rather enjoyable. They seemed lost, sequestered in their own world and oblivious to Sam’s surveillance.
As the truck rattled into the school parking lot, Daniel finally glanced up and there in the rearview mirror, fixed on him, were Sam Reimer’s eyes.
* * *
David Burke’s desk looked as though a cyclone had blown through. Trees scattered, covering the entire surface. He looked up to see Joseph Neufeld come clanking into the room, his tool belt slung low on his hips, hammers, wrenches, measuring tapes colliding as he squeezed through.
“Joseph! Thank God you’re here,” David said. “There’s a couple that are in pretty sad shape.” He pointed to two windows at the far end of the room. One was stuck halfway open and the other swollen shut from the humidity.
“How have you been, David?” Joseph walked over to David Burke’s desk and propped himself against a student desk directly in front of David’s. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full there.” His eyes grazed over the mass of family trees.
David chuckled. “You know, I give these assignments, thinking it would be an invaluable learning experience for the kids, but I don’t ever seem to keep in mind that I’m the one who has to go through all this stuff! It always ends up being more than I had anticipated.”
“Guess that’s why they’re paying you the big bucks!” Joseph chided.
David looked up and grinned. “Ah, but they’re never big enough.” He shuffled through a few family trees which were piled in front of him until he found Daniel’s. He pulled it out from the bottom of the stack and glanced down at it. “I’ve asked the kids to make up a family tree as part of their final,” he said. “I was looking at Daniel’s earlier. It’s interesting.”
Joseph’s eyes drifted down to Daniel’s tree. “Oh?”
“Well, I have to say, I’m a little confused. I thought your wife’s name was Anna,” he said.
“It is. Why?”
“Daniel has the name Maria down here as his mother,” David said. He looked up at Joseph.
Joseph’s eyes widened. He lifted his hand to his forehead, fingers massaging as if he had a headache.
“Well, ah... yes,” he stammered. “Maria was... well, she was my first wife.” His voice took on a timbre of embarrassment.
“But her branch only goes back two generations,” David said. “I’ve asked the kids to trace back at least three or four. He’s followed it through well on your side but not Maria’s.”
As if he’d been caught stealing penny candy, a look of guilt washed over Joseph’s face. “I suppose that’s my fault. I haven’t told him as much about his real mother as I probably should have.”
“I don’t mean to pry, Joseph, but I assume he must have asked, given my assignment.”
Joseph fell silent for a moment. Then finally, he said, “Well, actually, no. He didn’t.”
David glanced down at Daniel’s tree, then back to Joseph. He wanted to ask but didn’t. He picked up Daniel’s tree and set it aside. “Well, I guess that explains it,” he said.
A putty knife, a block of wood and a few knowledgeable taps solved the problem. “These windows are in pretty bad shape,” Joseph said, as he slid the worse of the two up and down. “They’ll need to be replaced.”
“Do I put a request in for that or do you?” David asked.
“I’ll do it. We have forms for that kind of thing,” Joseph said, smiling. “Okay, my work is done here. Now it’s onto the boys’ clogged toilet on the third floor!” He glanced heavenward in jest.
“Thanks, Joseph. I appreciate it. Always good to see you.” David stood up, gathered up the family trees and put them in his briefcase. “I’m about done here, too.”
The two men walked down the hallway together. Joseph headed for the third floor; David, for the parking lot.
“Oh, by the way,” David said, as they were about to part ways. “I met your daughter, Sarah, the other night at the dance.” He shifted his briefcase to his other hand. “She’s a nice girl. You should be proud of her, Joseph.”
“I am. She takes after her mother.”
“And Daniel, too. He’s a good kid. They both are.” There was no response. “They’re very close, those two, aren’t they?”
But it didn’t sound like a question. More, an observation.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by James Krehbiel