If you’ve ever lived in an older farm house like I have most of my life you can recall the invasion of mice when fall is in the air. Nurse Hal can’t stand the thought of a mouse loose in the house with her. When that happens, she will go to any extreme to get rid of the creature.
Hal Lapp took a deep breath and blurted out to her step daughter, "So, Emma, are you going to assist me with delivery when I go into labor?"
The iron skillet the sixteen year old girl had dried slid out of her hand and banged down on top the wood cookstove.
Hal flinched. "Mercy!"
Afraid to look over her shoulder at Emma, she turned the kettle she was washing toward the window for more light to see in it. She concentrated on the inside to see if she'd gotten it clean and continued causally, "It's just that I've been thinking. Right after our medical clinic was built, Jane Bontrager brought up the idea of using it for a birthing clinic. Since I haven't had one single Plain woman want to deliver here yet, it looks like I'm going to be the first. I need to plan for the big day. After all, I may only have two weeks left." Hal hesitated, thinking about what to say next. She had hinted at needing the girl's help before, but Emma always changed the subject. What would convince Emma to help her?
She looked out the window and saw evidence that her due date was getting closer. Mid March was showing hopeful signs of a much awaited early spring in Iowa. The sun basked the greening yard in a warm glow. Busy chickens scattered, scratching for an early nightcrawler or trying to uncover a nest of hiding lady bugs. One of Emma's roosters extended his neck and crowed several times. The other rooster answered from the barn yard.
Utter silence from Emma. Finally Hal twisted to look at her. The panic plastered on Emma's pale face highlighted her freckles. She was staring at Hal while she unconsciously wadded and unwadded the dish towel in her hands.
Hal insisted, "Well?"
Emma opened her mouth and closed it, struggling to find her voice. She took a deep breath and exclaimed adamantly, "Ach, nah. You can not be serious, asking me a question like that."
"Very serious. I don't have much time to waste. I have to have a plan in place. I'll need help." Hal pressed, "I want you to be my help."
Emma swallowed hard and stuttered, "I – I think we should pick a gute midwife to help this first time. We could both use some teaching about childbirth from someone with experience. I have never done such as this. You are a nurse and have taken classes, but you are the first to admit you have not the experience when it comes to delivering babies. For sure, you will not be a help to anyone assisting you once you are in labor. Another thing ----."
Hal interjected, "Why would you say something like I won't be a help?"
A blush flushed Emma's face as she pictured Hal in labor. She averted her eyes and busied herself scooting the skillet on the stove to a warmer place to finish drying it. "Believe me, it will all be very different from your view of things at the head of the bed. What if something went wrong? I would not know what to do. Another thing, I do not know how calm I can be when it is you I am helping give birth. We need someone else not related to you with experience enough to have a level head," Emma reasoned frankly.
Hal laughed. "You know what? I think you're right. We better come up with plan B before the end of March."
"Jah! And a whole team already in place very soon, just encase, to take care of the surprises," Emma predicted, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. "As well as I know you, Hallie Lapp, I know we need to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter what the situation, always when you are around we have surprises."
Hal giggled as she finished washing the last pan and placed it in the rinse water. She wrung out the dish cloth and proceeded to wash off the table. Emma dried the stainless steel pot and headed for the lower cupboard on the end of the counter. The pot hit the floor with a loud clatter. A gush of air expelled from the girl as she propelled back and braced herself against the counter.
Hal had been feeling edgy lately. It didn't take much to put her over the edge. She glanced from the pot on the floor to Emma and admonished, "Fudge! I didn't mean to upset you this much. I said I'd come up with a plan B. Why are you still upset?"
Emma shook her head. "That is not it. A mouse just came out of the cupboard and scared me."
Hal wrinkled her nose and searched the floor. "That's awful."
"Jah. Now we have to wash all the pots and pans it walked in," Emma said resignedly.
"That won't do a bit of good if we don't catch the mouse. He will be back in the cupboard in the night. Where did he go?"
Emma pointed behind the cookstove. "Under the corner of the wood box."
Hal studied the wood box with disgust. "We have to run that awful creature out from under there and get it out of the house."
"I can have the boys bring in Buttercat," Hal suggested.
"You know Daed does not like a cat in the house," warned Emma, keeping her eye on the wood box for any quick movement of the mouse. "Is your memory so short you do not remember how Daed acted last time you brought Buttercat inside?"
Hal countered, "I remember all right that Buttercat is good at his job. Is your memory so short you don't remember Buttercat caught that mouse."
Emma gave her a grumpy look.
"All right. We'll do this ourselves. We need to pull the wood box back, and the nasty animal will run out." Hal started for the opposite side of the cookstove.
"Stop!" Emma snapped. "You are not going to pull on that heavy wood box in your condition. I will do it, but what do we do to catch the mouse when he runs out?"
"Oh yeah." Hal thought for a second. "Give me a minute." She waddled out to the mud room and came back, holding the broom, handle first in front of her. "Now when I'm ready you move the wood box."
"You can not possibly think you are going to be fast enough to poke the mouse toward the mud room door and let him outside," Emma said dryly.
"That isn't what I had in mind," Hal huffed. She turned the broom around and stuck the broom's straw head over her shoulder. "Now I'm ready."
Emma took up position at the opposite end of the wood box. She waited while Hal sidled in the small space between the box and the cookstove.
"Now, Emma, tug."
Emma jerked. The box inched back. The mouse eased out and flattened to the floor, indecisive about what to do next. Hal lifted the broom and felt resistance as she swiftly brought the broom down. Even when she heard the grating crunch behind her, she kept the broom coming hard and fast toward the mouse. Not even the yelp from Emma kept her from her mission. That nasty creature wasn't going back in the pan cupboard ever again. Once the broom straws hit the floor over the mouse, Hal glanced over her shoulder. A dangling stove pipe, hooked to the wall pipe, quivered, spilling soot on top of Emma.
That dismal sight caused Hal to shift the broom slightly on the floor. She looked down as the mouse hunkered just beyond the broom then sprinted fast toward the cupboard. "Oh nah, the mouse is headed for the pots and pans again," Hal said in a panic.
She raised the broom over her shoulder, tangled with the pipe again. The blow put the pipe into a swinging motion. Soot sifted over Hal this time. Oblivious about the calamity behind her, she concentrated on her aim and clobbered the mouse. Once the broom was on top of the gross little creature, Hal quickly stepped on the straws. She watched the floor around her feet to make sure she had succeeded. A feeling of victory surged through her when she heard loud squeaks emitted from under the broom. Hal proudly announced, "I got him."
"You got me too," coughed Emma, batting at smoke billowing from the stove pipe attached to the cookstove.
Dumbfounded, Hal couldn't believe her eyes. Emma's face was streaked with soot and black specks continued on down her dress. Her white prayer cap was now mostly black and sifting soot into Emma's light brown hair. No way was that cap ever going to come clean. Maybe not even the dress. "Fudge! The pipe's broke. You're a mess," Hal stated.
Emma swiped with her dress sleeve at the black ring that circled her mouth to keep the soot from going into her mouth when she spoke. "You should not be one to cast stones. You are a mess, too," she wheezed disgustedly.
"Did I do all this?" Hal inquired disbelievingly, taking inventory of Emma, the mess behind the stove and the smoky room. Her throat began to tickle. She tried to wave the smoke away from her face with her hand but the effort was useless.
Emma retorted, "You certainly did. We better fix the pipe fast before Daed comes back. I am having trouble breathing with the way the kitchen is filling up with smoke," She reached for the dangling pipe and withdrew her hand quickly. "Ouch!" She snapped and put a finger in her mouth.
"The stove pipe is too hot to hold, and it is bent. It will not fit back on the other piece without straightening the opening," said Emma, perplexed.
As if things weren't bad enough the living room banged. John called, "Hal, Emma, we have company." A pause then he said, "Hurry, Elton. The kitchen is full of smoke."
Bishop Elton Bontrager's voice filled with good humor as he replied, "Is Hal baking bread again?"
Hal rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. Why did John always tell Elton about her goofs so they could have a good laugh at her expense? Well, this was one time her husband wouldn't have to bother share with the bishop. Elton would get to see first hand, and she feared John wasn't going to find this dilemma one bit funny.
John, Elton and his wife, Jane, burst into the kitchen. Jane stared at Hal a second with her hand clamped over her mouth as she choked. The way her warm brown eyes sparkled, Hal figured the older woman was more choked from surpressing humor than on the smoke.
As John Lapp rushed across the kitchen, his dark brown eyes narrowed at Hal with annoyance. "Get the windows open." As he rushed behind the stove, he scolded, "Hal you should not try cleaning the flue out with a fire in the cookstove. This could have waited until spring."
Jane and Emma raised the windows. The breeze fluttered the white half curtains and thinned down the smoke in the room. Emma handed Jane a dish towel, and they moved about the room, waving their towels.
John took his chore gloves out of a hind pant pocket, put them on and grabbed the pipe hooked to the cookstove. He tried to fit it in the pipe sticking out of the flue.
Elton stood behind John, watching. His face changed from rosy red to beet red as he tried to breathe. "Can I help, John?"
Concentrating on his task, John said, "Somehow the stove pipe has gotten really bent. It will not slide together. Elton, get me a pair of pliers from the tool bucket in the mud room."
As the short, heavy set man rushed into the mud room, the back door slammed. Noah and Daniel past Elton and came into the kitchen. They stopped short and waved the smoke away from their faces.
Daniel's doe like dark eyes widened as he whispered, "What is going on?"
"I do not think we better ask. Look how dirty Mama Hal and Emma are. From the way Daed looks, I think they are probably in trouble with him," Noah replied gravely.
"Why is it we always miss out when something gute happens?" Daniel groaned softly.
Hal held her breath as long as she could, breathed in and sucked smoke into her already burning lungs. She wrapped her arms around her expanding waist and coughed hard. Jane bolted around the table to help her and stubbed her toe on the broom handle. Hal caught the older woman as she stumbled. Jane uprighted herself, looked down to see what she tripped on and back at Hal. Her voice was a flat statement. "You are standing on your broom."
"I know," Hal said hoarsely.
Jane tugged on Hal's arm. "You must get out of here into fresh air. This smoke is not good for you to breathe."
"I can't leave yet. I'm standing on a mouse under the broom, and it may not be dead," Hal said stubbornly. "I don't want him to get away after we went to all this trouble to catch him."
From behind the stove, Elton said incredulously to John, "Did all this happen because of a mouse?"
"Sounds like it probably did," said John matter a factly.
"It would have been a lot simpler to bring a cat in to catch the mouse," Elton surmised.
"Here take the pliers," John said, ending the conversation.
Hal and Emma fanned their faces as they coughed. Jane held a hanky over her nose. "You both need out of here, mouse or no mouse."
"Wait!" Hal saw the boys, standing in the corner. She motioned to Noah and Daniel. "Come here." She said, "Daniel, place one of your feet between my feet." He did. "Now when I move my other foot you step onto the broom." Daniel gave Hal a thoroughly bewildered gaze as she stepped off. "You're standing on a mouse under the broom. I'll let you boys figure out how to get him from under your feet and out of the house. Please, after all this don't let him get away," Hal pleaded, patting her chest.
Once they got out on the front porch, the women inhaled deep breaths of fresh air between coughing spells.
When they quieted down, Jane exclaimed, "I can breathe so much better now."
"I agree," Hal said huskily, clearing her throat. The chilly east breeze picked up, causing her to shiver.
"You should have your coat on. This no time to catch a cold," Jane scolded.
"Nah, I don't want to have to wash the soot off my gute coat." Hal studied Emma a minute. "You look awful covered with black soot."
"You should see yourself. You look just as awful," Emma said and giggled.
Jane surveyed both of them and chuckled. Suddenly all three women were laughing until tears smudged the soot on Hal and Emma's faces.
Emma said, "I am going to get you a chair so you can sit down, Hallie. You have been on your feet long enough." She brought back two chairs, and a blanket for Hal. Jane opened the screen door to let her out. "Jane, you sit too and talk to Hallie. I'm going to get washed up and change clothes before it is time to fix dinner."
"Put on plenty of water and let me know when you're done with the tub," Hal told her.
After Emma left, Jane said, "Seems as though we picked a bad morning to come visit."
"I can't imagine what you think of me. I'm sorry you got in this mess," Hal declared.
"I am not one bit sorry. I can always count on you to perk up my day, Hallie Lapp," said Jane, giggling.
Hal looked over her shoulder and uttered ruefully, "Denki, but I hope John sees this morning that way. He's not so calm about accidents sometimes."
Jane chuckled. "In that case, we will leave as soon as Elton gets done helping John. We are on our way to Wickenburg. We stopped so I could find out if you have a plan in place for the big day. Are you going to the hospital?"
Hal's attention was on Noah and Daniel as they came from behind the house, headed to the barn. Daniel carried the mouse by its tail. The body looked limber. She didn't have to worry about Buttercat letting that one get away so it could find its way back to the house.
"Hal, did you hear me?"
Jane's voice brought Hal back to her company. "Sorry, I was watching the boys take the mouse to the barn and thinking good riddance. What did you say?"
"I asked if you had a plan for help when the baby arrives?"
"Oh, jah. It wouldn't be a very good recommendation if I went to the hospital and then expected Plain women to come to my birthing clinic when it's their turn. Emma didn't want me to be her first assist at helping a birthing patient so I'll ask Rachel Kitzmiller at church on Sunday to help me. Emma can watch and help her to get the experience."
"Des gute idea. I think you and Emma have made a wise decision. Rachel has brought many babies into the world safely. She is a gute choice," Jane said approvingly.
About a half hour later, John and Elton came out the screen door. Emma, scrubbed clean, was right behind them.
"We should leave," Elton told Jane.
"Denki for your help, Elton," John said.
"Hallie, I have your bath water ready," Emma told her.
"I'm glad. Come back soon you two." Hal waved good bye as the Bontragers walked toward their buggy.
John leaned against the porch post and folded his arms over his chest. "While you get cleaned up, Hal, maybe Emma could tell me what happened to turn the kitchen and the both of you into such a mess."
"Jah, Emma can tell you," Hal said quickly. She got a stern look from Emma for leaving her to face John. As she let the screen door bang behind her, she said, "Be back when I'm clean."
In her bedroom, Hal pulled a purple dress from a peg on the wall. She opened a dresser drawer for underwear. Her hand hit a bottle that rolled out from under the stack of panties. Rose bath oil. She'd forgotten she smuggled that bottle in when she moved. Since Amish women didn't wear perfume, Hal was afraid that bath oil would be prohibited. With the mess she was in, this seemed like as good a time as any to transgress. She needed all the help she could get to smell human again. Besides, who would know besides her. She rolled her dress around the bottle and headed for the tub.
By the time Hal bathed and washed her curly copper red hair several times to get all the soot out, Emma had dinner ready. Hal made it to the table just in time. As soon as the family finished the silent prayer, Daniel wiggled his nose like a rabbit as he sniffed the air. "I smell something sweet, but it is not Emma's food." He sniffed again. "More like flowers."
Noah took in a deep breath. "Jah, I smell it, too. It is a pleasant smell all right. What can it be?"
Hal looked from one to the other boy, amazed that bath oil as old as hers was still so potent. She was already in more than enough trouble with John. She was dumb to add one more thing to her Make John Unhappy list. Why didn't she ever think of the consequences before she acted? Generations of dead Lapps were probably screaming protests from their graves about her offending transgression, smelling up their house with her Englischer bath oil.
Curious now, Emma sniffed and surmised, "It is the smell of roses. We do not have roses in bloom this time of year. Where can it be coming from?"
Hal ducked her head and picked at her food.
John leaned closer to Hal and sniffed. His lips twitched as he put her on the spot, "Hal, you are awful quiet, ain't? Have you noticed the sweet smell in the air?"
Hal gave John a painful I've been busted look. "I've noticed, hopefully, the smell will go away soon."
-200For the first time since John found the kitchen a mess, he smiled. He must have figured Hal had been through enough for one day. He winked at her as he said, "I think the boys will agree the smell of roses is much more pleasant than the smell of a kitchen full of smoke."
"Oh, jah," Noah agreed. "The smell is much better than smoke."
Hal relaxed and ate her lunch. Looked as though there was one advantage to being pregnant. Her family took sympathy on her for her mistakes.