Lydia Beachy continued to tuck the log cabin quilt over her great-aunt, hands moving gently but automatically as she struggled to make sense of what the elderly woman had just said. Great-Aunt Sara’s mind must be wandering, for sure.
I still remember your mammi playing with you and your two little sisters in the apple orchard.
The apple orchard part made sense. The orchard was still there, still producing apples for Lydia and her husband and little boys. But she didn’t have any sisters.
“You must be thinking of someone else, Aunt Sara.” She patted her shoulder, just as she’d have patted Daniel or David when they lay down for a nap. “Rest now. A nap every afternoon, that’s what the doctor said, ain’t so?”
Aunt Sara flapped her hand as if to chase away the doctor’s words. “I’ll just close my eyes for a minute or two. You and your sisters, ja, and the apple trees with blossoms like clouds. Three sweet girls Diane had, that’s certain sure.” She smiled, veined lids drooping over her china blue eyes, and in an instant her even breathing told Lydia that she was asleep.
Sharp as a tack, she is. Mamm’s voice seemed to echo in Lydia’s ears. She and Daad had brought Great-Aunt Sara to stay with them after she’d been hospitalized with pneumonia, even though she continued to insist that she’d be fine in her own little place.
Stubborn, that was the word for her great-aunt. She was always wanting to be the one who helped out, not the one who received help.
Great-aunt Sara had another role as well…that of family historian. She was the one who could tell the children family stories going back many generations and never miss a name or a date. But why would she say something so obviously wrong about Lydia’s own family?
Lydia’s forehead furrowed as she slipped quietly across the wide wooden floorboards of the house where she had grown up. Her great-aunt was confused, surely. Illness and age could do that to the sharpest mind.
But she’d said Diane. Lydia’s birth mother was Diane, and she’d always known the name even though she didn’t remember her. Diane had been married to Daad’s brother, and Daad and Mamm had adopted Lydia when they’d both died in an accident.
Those birth parents had always been misty figures in her mind, like a pair of Amish dolls with features she couldn’t see. She saw them as young and happy one minute and gone the next in the accident Lydia didn’t remember, even though she’d been involved as well and five at the time.
When she’d fretted at not remembering, Mamm had always soothed the worry away. It is God’s way of making it easier for you, Mamm would say. The accident was a terrible thing, and it’s better for you not to remember.
The memories kept Lydia company down the bare, narrow stairs of the old farmhouse where she’d grown up. Coming back here was like returning to her childhood, but home was where her husband and children were now. She turned left at the bottom as she always did, her steps taking her into the kitchen, the heart of any Amish home.
The square farmhouse kitchen was as spotless as it always was, the long wooden table maybe a bit empty-looking now that all of them were grown and mostly out of the house. April sunshine streamed through the window, laying a path across linoleum faded from so many scrubbings.
Mamm always had a calendar of the wall over the table for decoration as well as use, and this year’s had pictures of frolicking kittens. A few violets had been tucked into a water glass on the window sill, a reminder that spring had come to Pleasant Valley at last.
Mamm was bending over the oven door of the gas range, pulling out a cookie sheet. The aroma of snickerdoodles mixed with that of the beef pot roast that was stewing in the Dutch oven on top of the stove. Mamm looked up, her cheeks red from the warmth of the oven, and slid the tray onto a waiting cooling rack.
“Cookies for you to take Daniel and David,” she said, probably needlessly. Daniel and David would be dumbfounded if Lydia came home from Grossmammi’s house without some treat she’d made for them. It was a thing that never happened.
“Denke, Mamm. That will be their snack after they get home from school.”
Lydia hesitated, wondering if she should speak. Her great-aunt’s words kept going round and round in her mind. They made no sense. And yet, Aunt Sara had sounded perfectly rational.
Mamm glanced at her, face questioning, and closed the oven door. She dropped a crocheted potholder on the counter.
“Was ist letz? Is something wrong with Aunt Sara?” She took a step toward the stairs, as if ready to fly up and deal with any emergency in her usual capable manner.
“No, no, she’s fine,” Lydia said quickly. “She’s sleeping already.”
“Ach, that’s gut. Rest is what she needs most now, even though she doesn’t want to admit it.” Mamm reached for the coffeepot. “Do you have time for a cup before the boys get home from school?
Lydia shook her head. The words seemed to press against her lips, demanding to be let out, even though she felt a reluctance that was surely odd. She could talk to her mamm about anything.
“Aunt Sara said something I didn’t understand.”
“Ja? Was she fretting about the hospital bill again?”
Mamm’s brown eyes, magnified by her glasses, showed concern. Hospital bills were nothing to take lightly when, like the Amish, a person didn’t have insurance. Still, the church would provide what was needed when the family couldn’t manage. That was the Amish way.
“It wasn’t that.” Lydia’s throat was suddenly tight with apprehension, as if some unknown fear clutched her. Just say it, she scolded herself. She’d always been able to take any problem to Mamm, and Mamm always had an answer.
“Aunt Sara was talking about my mother. My birth mother, I mean. Diane.”
“Ja?” The word sounded casual, but the lines around her mother’s eyes seemed to deepen, and she set the coffeepot down with a clatter, not even noticing it was on the countertop and not the stove.
“She was…she must have been confused.” The kitchen was quiet, so quiet it seemed to be waiting for something. “She said that Diane had three kinder. Three little girls. I thought certain sure she…”
The words trickled off to silence. She couldn’t say again that Aunt Sara was confused. Not when she could read the truth in Mamm’s face.
“It’s true?” The question came out in a whisper, because something that might have been grief or panic had a hard grip on her throat. “It is true.”
Mamm’s face seemed to crumple like a blossom torn from a branch. “Lydia, I’m sorry.”
“But…” The familiar kitchen was suddenly as strange as if she’d never seen it before. She grasped the top of the closest ladder-back chair. “I had sisters? Two little sisters?”
Mamm nodded, her eyes shining with tears. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “You didn’t remember, and so we thought it best not to say anything. We didn’t want you to be hurt any more than you already were.”
Hurt. Lydia grasped the word. She’d been hurt in the accident that killed her parents. She knew that. She’d always known it. Her earliest memories were of the hospital…blurry images of Mamm and Daad always there, one on either side of the bed each time she woke up.
“Sisters.” With three younger brothers, she’d always wished she had a sister. “What were their names?”
Mamm moved around the table toward her, as cautious as if she approached a spooked buggy horse. “Susanna. She was not quite three at the time of the accident. And Chloe, the baby, just a year old.”
Lydia pressed her palm against her chest. Her heart seemed to be beating very normally, in spite of the pummeling it had taken in the past few minutes. She had to hear the rest of it. “They died in the accident, too?”
Silence. She saw in her mother’s face the longing to agree. Then Mamm shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said again, as if she couldn’t find any other words. “They were injured, but they healed. Like you.”
“But…” Lydia’s mind kept tumbling, her thoughts rearranging themselves and breaking apart again. “I don’t understand. What happened to them?”
Mamm pressed her fingers to her lips for a moment, as if to hold back the words. “They went with different families. I’m sorry. We didn’t want to split you up, but…” Her voice broke, and it was a moment before she went on. “Since you didn’t remember, it seemed best not to tell you.”
“Best not to tell me?” Lydia’s voice rose as she echoed the words. A wave of anger swept away the pain for a brief moment. “How could it be best for me not to know that I had two little sisters? Why were we split up? Why didn’t you take all of us? Why?”
“Lydia, hush.” Mamm tried to take her arm. “It’s going to be all right.”
Lydia pulled away. This was not something Mamm could make better with hugs and soft words.
“You have to understand how difficult it was.” Mamm’s voice was pleading. “There were your parents dying out there in Ohio, and the three of you kinder in different hospitals, and the rest of the family frantic to get there—“ Tears spilled over onto her cheeks, choking off her words.
Ohio, yes. That rang a bell in Lydia’s mind. The accident had taken place when her family was in a van on the way to a wedding in Ohio. Mamm had told her that once, when Lydia was of an age to ask questions and wanted to know more about the accident.
“I don’t understand. You should have told me.”
“Just sit down and calm yourself. Your daad will be home soon. He can explain.” Mamm reached for her, her face and voice pleading.
Lydia wanted to step into her mamm’s loving arms. She wanted to feel the comfort that had always been there. She wanted to hear Daad’s deep, soothing voice chasing her fears away, as he’d done when she was a child having nightmares.
Her breath seemed to catch in her throat. She had relied on them always, just as Daniel and David relied on her and Adam. Now it seemed she couldn’t trust them at all.
The urge to flee nearly overwhelmed her. She had to get out of this house that had always been her sanctuary.
“I can’t.” Tears threatened to clog her voice, but she wouldn’t let them flow, not yet. “The boys will be home from school soon. I must be there for them. We’ll have to talk later.”
Tears nearly blinded her, but her feet knew the way to the back door without the need to look. She was vaguely aware of Mamm’s voice, protesting, urging her to stay, but she couldn’t. She had to think this through. She had to talk to someone she knew she could trust.
She had to go home to Adam. Adam was her rock. He would know what to do.