Susanna Miller pulled back on the buggy reins, and her horse Charlie came to a halt as the traffic light turned red. Susanna casually looked to her left and suddenly let out a gasp, not believing her eyes. When the light changed to green moments later, Susanna’s gaze was still on the illuminated sign in the parking lot of DeKalb Seed and Feed. It took the honking of the car horn behind her to break Susanna’s trance. She let the reins fly as Charlie lunged forward.
As she drove by, she glanced over her shoulder at the sign one final time. Yah, it said what she thought it said: Happy Birthday, Susanna Miller. Susanna groaned. If Daett or anyone else from the community saw this, there would be questions she didn’t want to answer.
Susanna hung on to Charlie’s reins as he trotted out of town and made the sharp turn off of Highway 17 onto Maple Ridge Road. Perhaps the fact that she was on the final days of her rumspringa would make any explanation more acceptable. She had been given free rein by Daett, but that was about over now. And this sign might be the straw that would break the proverbial camel’s back. Daett had allowed her freedom in the hope that her rumspringa time would accomplish its intended purpose. Yah, she was supposed to taste what lay out there in the Englisha world, and in so doing, come to realize why those things were not allowed among her people.
But Daett hadn’t intended things to go as they had. Things like her friendship with JoeyMacalister. She had kept that hidden from everyone, because, really, Joey was only a friend—nothing more. She need not alarm her family. Her rumspringa was almost over and she was ready to settle down—or was she? That was the question. She had told herself she was done with the Englisha world…but when she was with Joey, she wasn’t so sure. When she was out with him, the world outside the Amish fence beckoned, tossing her emotions back and forth each weekend.
The birthday sign she had passed—if she was honest—warmed her heart as much as it alarmed her. Joey had placed the words there himself, or more likely, he had asked his cousin Marisa, who worked at the seed and feed, to set up the birthday greeting. Joey meant no harm, but an Amish girl’s name should never be seen on an Englisha sign whether she was on her rumspringa or not. Such a thing would obviously mean she was a close friend and perhaps more than a friend with some Englisha person. Daett would wish to know who that was, and all the details.
Her friend, Emma Troyer, claimed that one’s rumspringa in her aunt’s community in Ohio allowed for friendships with Englisha people, but Susanna couldn’t imagine that here. Amish life in New York’s North Country was a controlled affair. Daett had already given her more freedom than anyone in the community thought was appropriate.
Susanna sighed and pulled back on the reins as Charlie approached the Millers’ driveway. She turned in with a quick look around the barnyard. Daett’s buggy wasn’t there.
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Jerry Eicher taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. He writes of his experience growing up Amish in his memoir My Amish Childhood. Jerry has been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. He lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.