The Amish generally get married in November after the crops are in for the year. After the wedding, they spend the months before planting time visiting relatives from house to house. Harry and I did not visit all of our relatives, but in one way or another we connected with quite a few before we left for Portugal.
The days flew by like a Spine-tailed Swift! One of our projects was writing thank you notes for wedding gifts. People had asked what we needed/wanted and we always told them something that will not break. A few brave souls gave us things like crystal candle sticks, but most of them gave us blankets, sheets, towels – and money. The money, of course, is long gone, but we are still using some of the blankets. Harry manned up and wrote his share of the thank you notes.
While we were still at Central Oak Heights campground, we pulled out some board games one day. Harry wanted to play Monopoly with me, and I demurred. I had given up Monopoly after the summer that I spent hours on a friend’s porch playing it with friends. Finally he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: he said if I beat him in a game of Monopoly, I would never have to play that game with him again. One down! Then we pulled out the Dutch Blitz cards and I did not fare as well! I think he cheated. 😀
We spent a week at my grandparents’ home. The first night we were there, we discovered that my mischievous little granny had talked my grandfather into short sheeting the bed and putting corn flakes in it. The next morning before we were awake my grandfather knocked twice and then opened the door. He told us to get busy as he was going to build the crates into which we would be packing our things to be shipped by boat. Those crates survived the trip to Portugal and a few moves after that. At times the preparation to move felt surreal.
Our next temporary abode was Harry’s sister’s apartment. She and her husband were heading to Grand Rapids for a week. The next morning we were to head out to Harry’s mom’s family reunion in upstate Pennsylvania. My newly minted father-in-law was knocking on the door at 7 a.m.! That was a long day. There were about 120 members of the family there and they all wanted to talk to the newlyweds, and to me in particular. The apex of the day was when they discovered that the people who were supposed to wash the dishes that year. Apparently, being newlyweds in the family makes one the automatic default for picking up the slack.
Everyone we knew wanted to see us before we left. This entailed a lot of shuffling of dates and commitments. And, of course everyone waited until the last week before we left. But early one morning we said our last goodbyes to family and boarded a plane headed for Frankfurt, Germany where Word of Life was holding a conference for all of the Word of Life missionaries in Europe.
Along about the first week in June I was on the road with Harry again. We were heading up to the Adirondacks where the missions organization was holding the Missionaries in Training classes. I was familiar with the founder of Word of Life. Jack Wyrtzen, who began ministering in New York city as an evangelist. Word of Life was also famous back in the day for Word of Life Island – a camp for teens.
I also knew that he had been blackballed by a well-known Christian university for going to talk to a group of Roman Catholic priests somewhere along the way. The first time that I saw him in person, he was speaking in chapel at the Bible college I attended. His first words were, “How does a girl get pregnant in Bible college?” Yes, he did get everyone’s attention! He was one of a kind.
In fact, I was about to meet a large group of characters. I think that being a character was required to be part of the organization. One of the first things that happened was that Harry was caught with his mustache. One of the Bible club teachers walked up to him and told him to lose the ‘stache, thus dashing my dreams of being married to the mustached man.
Frankly, I remember only three things about that week with any kind of clarity. One was my interview with Jack’s wife, Marge. And, yes, she too was a card carrying character. She told me that when she and Jack got married, her doctor advised her to not have children due to her poor health. Marge and Jack went on and had five children, and she lived to a ripe old age. She was the detail person of the Jack and Marge duo. When she looked at a prospective missionary woman, she always knew if the woman had what it takes. If she said, “No”, it was no go.
The second thing was fielding the question of why my home church would not support us financially. Multiple times. I was embarrassed. The WOL leadership found it incomprehensible. Some of it probably had to do with the nature of Harry’s position as a business manager instead of being a preacher (even though he was deeply involved in the evangelistic part of the mission); some was Word of Life being a non-denominational entity (even though WOL was and continues to be a conservative Christian organization). The bottom line was my church practiced second degree separation.
The last thing that left an impression was that nasty black fly that bit me on my ring finger and left a scar.
On the way back to Pennsylvania I asked Harry what he would have done if Marge had looked at me and said I wasn’t fit to be a missionary’s wife. He said that he would have resigned. Since we were only three weeks out from the wedding, that was probably the right answer. I was relieved.
Christmas was over. The decorations, as always, had come down on January first. My sister’s baby was overdue. She felt clumsy, and desolate. For over nine months, she had nurtured this beloved little life in her own body. But she had agreed to give this child up for adoption to a family. She was told the family could give her baby a good life. Her heart felt first ripped in two and then shredded. She wanted the baby. Someone who would be hers. I don’t know how she got through those days. Some days we waited with her at the edge of her pool of despair as she waited to birth a baby that she would never cuddle. Something just did not feel right.
Two weeks past her “due date” in the middle of the night of Tuesday January 16 into Wednesday January 17, my sister got my mom and dad up to take her to the hospital. Those were the days that I could go back to sleep easily, and being superfluous in this part of the adventure, I went back to bed. Wednesday was a school day.
I was up and dressed for school when my parents returned from the hospital. They told me the baby was a boy who weighed about nine pounds. My sister would be coming home in a couple of days. Alone. When she did come home, there was no way to comfort her. She had handed her son over to the couple who wanted to adopt him. She was dejection on an island of abandoned hope.
But unknown to me, she did have one hope. The baby’s father is a kid magnet. He loved my sister and he loved kids; she knew he would fight for his baby. Pennsylvania adoption law requires a signature from both parents before the adoption can be finalized. The baby, who was born on his father’s birthday had an advocate. A week after my sister walked away from her baby, she was in the lawyer’s office where she picked up her son up to bring him home.
On the way home, my brand new nephew paid a visit to his great grandmother. She held him, loved on him, blessed him and prayed over him. Then, my sister brought him home. And he was beautiful.