As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
The back screen door banged behind Jim Lindstrom. He stopped on the top step and greeted with gusto, “Good morning, world.”
The crisp March wind compelled him to tighten his straw hat on his thatch of gray hair and tug the corduroy collar on his denim jacket tight to his neck
As if in competition with the wind, the blue sky held up the brilliant sun while it sent glowing rays to warm him and his surroundings. With pleasure, Jim surveyed the landscape. The red, driving horse, Daisy, grazed in the dew-sparkled pasture. In the pig pen, grunts came from the two pigs fattening for slaughter. In the hen house, the rooster heard Jim's shout. He crowed robustly, begging to be turned loose with his cawing hens.
The milk cow, Gloria, nosed her calf through the space in the boards on the barn's corral. At the sound of Jim's voice, she raised her head and bellowed, eager to be milked and eager for her calf to nurse. That bellow jolted Jim into action. He had work to do. Chores he enjoyed. He swung the aluminum milk pail beside him as he hurried to the barn.
In the meantime, Nora, his wife, smiled from ear to ear as she pumped water into the steaming aluminum dish pan. She didn't believe she could ever be happier. She finally felt confident they made the right decision when they moved from Titonka to Wickenburg, Iowa. Listening to her husband greet the morning told Nora that Jim was happy with the move. That meant a great deal to Nora. If asked what she enjoyed, she'd say it was time spent with their only daughter Hallie and her Amish family.
She recalled some years back. Jim and she faced the bitter pill of retirement. They sold the dairy cattle and the hogs when the animals were ready for market. Jim rented out his farmland to a young man down the road. That left her husband with nothing to do. That's when she noticed Jim lost his energetic drive. Nora worried about him until she saw him come to life each time they visited their daughter's farm.
Now they lived practically next door to Hallie and John Lapp on the Fisher place. Jim not only had animals and chickens to care for, also had time to enjoy his grandchildren. When John needed extra help on his farm, Jim was quick to volunteer. What made Jim content made Nora happy.
As quickly as the smile crossed her face, it faded. Trepidation took its place. As she looked out the window, she swiped the last of the silverware and put the handful in the rinse pan. Oh, oh! Her sister, Tootie, tromped across the yard from the grandfather house she lived in. Usually Tootie didn't move fast enough to make her silver curls bounce unless she had something ruffling her feathers. But what else was new! Seemed like Tootie was unhappy about things as often as she was content. Then again how bad could her problem be this early in the morning.
Nora watched Tootie's curls spring out in the breeze like she'd had a finger in an electric socket. Feeling the length of hair on the back of her neck, Nora knew her once bobbed do was no longer short. Tootie and she needed to find a beauty shop in Wickenburg soon. Nora grinned as she thought the other alternative was to ask her daughter, Hallie, if they could borrow prayer caps to hide their hair.
Tootie had a fine house in Titonka. Her women's groups and church work kept her busy. That's the only activities she had. She'd never had children, but that didn't seem to bother her. Still she wasn't very agreeable about anything since her husband, Art Klinefeld, died seven years ago.
On the Lindstroms first visit to the Lapp farm for Hallie's wedding to John Lapp, Nora offered to take Tootie with them. Tootie accepted, because she was very fond of her niece, Hallie. She wasn't keen on farm life, but she was very curious about Hallie's Amish family and also a little nervous. That's why she bought a book to learn about Amish customs.
Nora flinched when the front door slammed shut. She dropped her dish cloth in the pan of sudsy water and dried her hands on her apron. Footsteps treaded heavily across the living room's hardwood floor, Nora headed to the kitchen door to find out what Tootie's dire problem was this time.
At the doorway, Nora came face-to-face with her sister. The short, chunky woman stopped short and leaned against the door facing, puffing to get her breath.
A look at Tootie's flushed face warned Nora that something might be physically wrong with her. “Are you all right? You're not ill are you? Is it your heart?”
“No, I'm fine.” Tootie brushed past Nora. She headed to the dish cupboard to get a coffee cup.
Since they lived in the same yard now, Nora was used to Tootie coming over for a cup of coffee early each morning. She suspected Tootie didn't want to dirty up her coffee pot and be bothered to wash it and a cup just for herself. So why not drink her coffee at her sister's house. Knowing her sister as well as Nora did, Tootie might reason Nora's pot was already dirty. Instead of second guessing Tootie, Nora decided she should give her sister the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was lonely living in the grandfather house and just wanted Nora's company.
One thing was sure. Nora didn't think she'd ever seen Tootie in such a dither. “You don't look fine, but I'll take your word for it. If you aren't sick, it must be you're just in a real hurry to get at my coffee.”
Tootie walked slowly and steadily over to the table to keep from spilling her coffee. She set the full cup down and plopped into a chair. “You aren't funny. Never mind my drinking this coffee which I do every morning while we visit. That's nothing new. You ought to be used to it by now. What is new is I'm not going to take that child in no matter what that social worker says.”
Now Nora was confused. Tootie really was upset about something new. “Excuse me. I must have missed the explanation part of this conversation. Want to repeat it for me?”
Tootie rubbed her forehead like she'd worked herself into a headache. “Sorry. You didn't miss anything. Hang on. I'm just about to fill you in. Can you at least sit with me like you usually do and have a cup of coffee? I'm too worked up to watch you flit around this kitchen while I talk.”
“I can see that.” Nora helped herself to the coffee and came to the table.
Tootie looked around her. “Jim already doing chores?”
“That man is one happy camper since we moved here. He can hardly wait for breakfast to be done so he can get outside.” Nora sat down across from Tootie and let out a long sigh. She might as well bite the bullet and get Tootie back on track. “Now tell me what this is all about. What social worker are you talking about? What child?”
“I'm going to get to that. The nerve of some people to think they can just impose on my life,” Tootie fumed and sipped her coffee.
Nora narrowed her eyes at her sister. “For goodness sakes, Tootie. Quit worrying me to death and tell me what has you so stirred up.”
“All right, but I tell you right off I am not taking in a kid.” Tootie thumped the table with her finger on every word for emphasis. “I don't have room for her in my small house. I'm too old to be a mother. Are those enough reasons for you?” Tootie listed with an edge in her voice.
Nora's brow furrowed. She'd seen her sister get nerved up many times. She was good at dramatics, but at least, most of those time she made sense.
Speaking slowly and calmly, Nora said, “Those reasons might be all right if I knew what on earth you were talking about?”
“I just had a call from Bernice Wittstone in Algona. You remember her,” Tootie said.
“Yes, very well. She headed every church committee and bossed the other women into doing the work. For which she took the credit, I might add,” Nora drew out every word like she had a bad taste in her mouth.
“That's her. She woke me up early this morning. How rude of people to call so early. Now that I use a cell phone I keep it on my bedside table so it's handy if I need it in the night. Guess that is a blessing. If I'd still been living in Titonka, I'd have ran to the wall phone in my house. I might have broken my neck getting there.” Tootie waved her hand over the steaming cup and took a sip of coffee.
“Try turning the cell phone off when you go to bed. Solves that problem,” Nora said dryly. “Now will you please get on with this story? You've got me worried. I have a feeling something awful has happened. Just skip to the important part and tell me quickly.”
“Something tragic happened. Peter's son, Jeff, and his wife, Megan, have been in a car accident,” Tootie said bluntly.
“That is awful,” Nora gasped, patting her chest.
“You know how our brother used to complain that his son should never have married that gypsy woman,” Tootie declared.
“Tootie, for Heaven sakes, Megan isn't a gypsy. Peter called her that because Jeff and Megan liked to travel. He preferred to blame it on his daughter-in-law. Our brother was like us and never went far from home so he couldn't understand why Jeff and his wife didn't stay home like the rest of us.” Nora paused to think about their own recent move and finished, “Like us anyway until now. Are we gypsies, Tootie, because we moved to the opposite end of Iowa to live?”
“Peter would have thought so,” Tootie retorted.
Nora pursed her lips and nodded. “Perhaps, but that was his problem not ours. How do you manage to get us off track? Please tell me what Bernice told you. Are Jeff and Megan all right?”
“No, they died,” Tootie said flatly.
Nora's head whirled with plans that needed to be made quickly. “Oh, dear! It's a four hour drive to Algona. We have to leave right away to travel back for their funeral. They don't have anyone except us and their little girl as family.”
“No need,” Tootie said remotely.
“No need,” Nora repeated. “Why on earth not?”
“The funeral took place a month ago. It took Bernice all this time to find me. She finally thought to call the minister. I left my phone number with him,” Tootie explained.
“I see.” Nora's face saddened then she remembered her nephew had a child. “Jeff's daughter! Was she in the car?”
“Well, she is the problem,” Tootie drew out.
Nora's empty cup collided with the table. “Oh, for Pete's sake, Tootie. Will you stop torturing me? Did she die or not?”
“No, because she stayed with a friend while her parents went on vacation,” Tootie explained, heading for the coffee pot again.
Nora rolled her eyes at the ceiling. This was going to be a two cup morning for Tootie. She'd wind up having a nervous breakdown, trying to drag out of Tootie what happened to their great-niece. She twisted around in her chair. “Praise the Lord for the fact the girl wasn't with her parents. Wait a minute. That's a very good thing not a problem.” She glanced at Tootie now back at the table, pouting over her coffee cup. “Hurry and tell me the rest.”
“The woman the girl is living with happens to be a daughter of Bernice's. The child is friends with Bernice's granddaughter. Bernice told me social services says the girl needs to be with relatives if they can find any. Bernice was only too willing to help out by hunting my telephone number for social services. Probably trying to get shut of the girl for her daughter. Coming from parents like she had, I can imagine the child is a handful.”
“Oh, Tootie! How can you say that about a child sight unseen. She just lost both parents. That's so unkind of you,” Nora scolded. “What will happen to the poor child now?”
“I'm trying to tell you if you give me a chance. That is the problem. Bernice says I'm the only living relative. She tried to make me feel guilty by telling me the girl will wind up in a foster home if I didn't take her in. She completely forgot I have a sister. Not that it matters. We're both too old to put up with a child.
Bernice no sooner hung up and the social worker called. I told her she couldn't send that child here to me. I don't have any place to keep her.” She sipped her coffee as she eyed Nora over the cup. “Foster homes can't be as bad as I've heard.” Tootie looked guiltily into her cup when she saw Nora's narrowed eyes. “Can they?”
Nora was fuming as she tried to keep her voice steady. “Tootie, did the social worker leave a phone number?”
“Yes, she said she wanted me to take her number down in case I changed my mind which isn't going to happen,” Tootie said obstinately.
Nora shook her head. “Tootie, you call the social worker back and tell her Jim and I will take that child. She's our kin, and we're all she has. She deserves to be with us. Make arrangements and call Bernice. Have her tell her daughter we'll pay her back for expenses of the bus trip. Do you hear me?”
“I can do that only if she will be staying with you. I don't want her under foot at my house,” Tootie said as if this was a negotiation.
“Of course, she can stay with Jim and me. We have plenty of room. It will be fun to have a child in the house to liven things up again, and the poor dear needs a home and family,” Nora declared.
“Give this some thought. You best discuss it with Jim before you leap into a responsibility like this. He might think different. Besides, the child won't be a thing like you remember Hallie was when she was young. This is a modern day city raised girl with all those doodads like laptops and earphones plugged in her ears. They like to play music loud enough on their boomboxes to rattle the windows,” Tootie warned.
“Listen to you. For someone who claims she doesn't have any experience with children, you certainly know a lot about them. In case you've forgotten, we don't have electricity. It will be hard for the child to use boomboxes or computers here,” Nora said in exasperation.
“Most of that equipment comes with battery backup,” Tootie informed her.
“Is that so? How old do you suppose the girl is?”
“Bernice said she's about to turn fifteen, which is a difficult age, I think,” declared Tootie. “I know, why don't you asked Hallie if she will take in this girl. After all, Hallie is a relative, too.”
“I will not do that and neither will you. Hallie has a large enough family and a baby to care for. She doesn't need one more mouth to feed,” huffed Nora.
“All right, I agree. It was just a thought.” Tootie paused. “I know. What about Emma and Adam? The girl might be able to help her with the babies.”
“No, no, no! Emma has her hands full with twin babies, and one of them so very ill. You're just trying to get out of the responsibility of taking care of Peter's granddaughter by palming her off on someone else.”
Tootie puffed up. “Fine, Miss Know It All. What do you suggest?”
“We have no choice. We're sending for her.” Nora amended, “if Jim doesn't object. So, Sister, get used to the idea.” Nora dropped her cup into the dishpan. It was better to keep busy and not look at Tootie's stubbornly-flushed face.
Tootie looked out the window and perked up at a cloud of dust on the road. “Oh, no! Something must be wrong.”
“What is it now?” Nora asked, drying her hands on her apron as she walked to the window.
“Noah coming in at a gallop,” Tootie said.
By the time Nora got to the window, Noah raced past the house to the barn. The women headed for the back door and watched. Noah dismounted and talked to Jim. In a few minutes, the two of them headed for the house.
Nora and Tootie went to meet them. “What's happened?” Nora saw sadness on her grandson's face.
“Baby Joesph died in the night. Mama Hal sent me to tell you.”
Tootie groaned. “When it rains it pours. Poor Emma and Adam. So sad for them.”
“Do we need to go to Emma's right away to help her with anything?” Nora asked.
“Nah, nothing to do right now. Mama Hal was going to make Emma go to bed for a rest. We have been up all night. Adam is already building the coffin. Mama Hal just wanted you to know tomorrow afternoon and evening is the visitation. You can come early if you want and help.”
“Of course, we will,” Nora declared.
“The funeral will be the next day, so be there early for that and bring food for the fellowship luncheon after the funeral.” Noah shrugged. “That's it. I need to get back to help Daniel and Daed with the milking.”
Jim patted Noah's back. “Thanks aplenty for coming to let us know.”
“Yes, and tell Emma and Adam our prayers and thoughts are with them,” Nora said.
Tootie nodded she agreed with Jim and Nora as she wiped her eyes.