Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Cousin Escapades--The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 2

 Ellie’s 17-year-old brother Sam, crisp and handsome in his black slacks and white button-down shirt, appeared in the kitchen at 4:30. Ellie followed. Despite the garish white roses, she felt slim and elegant in the new dress, the fitted white sweater, and the messy bun, low on the back of her head, with two wisps of hair deliberately dangling around her face. She had decided not to wear a scarf—it might be too much for her minimalist look.

“You both look so nice!” Mom looked them up and down. “Ellie, that dress fits you perfectly. But are you sure your covering is going to be ok? It looks like it’s hanging on for dear life. I don’t know, with you walking around serving tonight. Can’t you put your bun up a little higher? Or add a pin on top?”

“I don’t have time. It’ll be fine, Mom. I’ve played volleyball like this.”

“Well, ok then. Here, don’t forget the pies.” Mom placed an apple pie in Sam’s hands and a berry pie in Ellie’s, their flavors designated by delicate fruit shapes cut out and artfully re-arranged on the perfectly browned top crusts. “Oh, wait!” She grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled her name on the bottoms of the pie tins as Sam and Ellie held them high in the air.

“Ok, have fun! See you tonight!”

Half an hour later, Sam pulled into the vast parking lot at Mayfield Mennonite. He got out, slammed his door, walked around the car, and opened the door behind Ellie while she patted her hair and repinned her covering. Sam picked up the berry pie out of the back seat. “See ya,” he said, and headed for the gym. Ellie hooked her purse over her shoulder, checked her teeth in the mirror on the visor, then eased out of the car. She reached into the back door that Sam had left open, picked up the apple pie, shut the door with her foot, and followed Sam, careful not to scuff her pumps on the gravel.

She didn’t see Bryant, but other young people were walking toward the doors. The laughing girls with flowing dresses and coverings tied under their chins—those had to be German Baptists. Imagine not only having strings but tying them tight! Ellie shuddered. The girls with tiny lace doilies for coverings who wore black skirts that barely reached their knees—they had to be Mayfield girls. One, Ellie recalled from attending previous Gospel Tidings banquets with her parents, was Sierra, daughter of Nancy who was always in charge of the kitchen. 

Sierra held the door open for her friends, then waited for Ellie as well. “Hi! You must be serving too! Oh what a cute pie!” She grinned, displaying a beautiful smile and dimpled cheeks.

“Yes. Apple. Thanks! Hi!” Ellie managed breathlessly. Oh what a stupid thing to say. “I mean, Hi. Yes I’m serving. And the pie is. . .” But Sierra was already running past her to catch up with her friends, the flounce on her knit skirt fluttering.

Holding the pie with two hands, Ellie walked along the wide hallway until she reached the huge gymnasium. Under a large banner that welcomed everyone to the annual Gospel Tidings Prison Ministry banquet, two women in crisp sage-green dresses set up a registration table. They smiled at Ellie as she walked by.  She smiled back. Are they Beachy Amish? Oh, maybe from the new church in Roseburg that Dad was talking about. So plain and proper. Aproned moms carrying boxes of greenery glided among the round tables that filled the room, the music team tuned guitars on the stage, and oniony smells drifted from the kitchen on the north end of the gym.

Where was Sam, where was Janet, and what was to be done with this pie? Ellie sidled to the kitchen door and was nearly knocked over by a large woman carrying a coffee percolator. “Sorry!” they both said, and the woman rushed on. 

Should she enter the kitchen? She peeked inside. It looked like every counter was covered with large bowls of salad and enamel roasters. She didn’t belong there.

“Um. Ellie?” She turned. The young man was tall and gangly, all elbows and acne, with spiky black hair and dark eyes. One of the Weiler boys, Ellie decided, who lived south of Halsey and always drove around in old Ford pickup trucks with dirt bikes or goats in the back. 

“Hi?” she managed.

The young man extended a large hand with grime in all the creases. “I’m Josiah Weiler. I was at Bible Memory Camp with you a couple times.” He grinned. “Remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Ellie maneuvered the pie to her left hand and cautiously shook his hand, recalling at least three Weiler boys at camp who all looked the same and thought it was funny to slap roasted marshmallows in each other’s hair. They had attended Mayfield Mennonite back then, but didn’t they start their own house church later? Something like that. She couldn’t recall.

Josiah cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I was wondering if you’d like to serve with me tonight. I don’t know too many of the girls and I thought it might be, you know, fun.”

Was he out of his mind? 

Ellie stared at the silver snap at her eye level on his white Western shirt and mumbled, “Actually, that’s not going to work. I have. . . I mean. . . yeah, thanks, but no.” She forced herself to look at him and smile.

“All right.” Josiah looked surprisingly cheerful as he walked away.

Wait till she told Janet about this. Eww! Creepy! The nerve of him!

“Hey! What’s up?”

Ellie nearly dropped the pie. Bryant! Handsome as a movie star in his white shirt and black jeans, hair a bit longer and curlier than last May at Conrad and Rhonda’s wedding, eyes as blue as ever.

Of all the moments for her to be standing there holding a pie like a complete idiot. Would he save the day and ask her to serve with him? Please please please?

“May I? I think the desserts go in the cooler.” Bryant whisked the pie out of her hands and strode into that noisy, steaming kitchen like he belonged there. Ellie followed. He walked up behind a woman chopping a head of lettuce with a huge knife and nudged her in the back with his elbow. “Mom? Pies go in the refrigerator, right?” 

The woman turned and smiled. “Yes. Right hand door of the first cooler, wherever you can find room.” She gestured with the knife and Bryant took a step back. 

“Watch it, Mom!”

They both laughed.

Ellie thought, Oh my word. Oh my worrrrrd. He is amazing. He has such a nice mom. Too too cool. I can’t stand it.

“Are you a Troyer?” Bryant’s mom asked.

Ellie nodded.

“You look so much like your mom. Will she be here tonight?”

“Yeah, she and Dad are coming.”

“Well, tell her I said to stop in the kitchen and say hi.” She turned back to chopping lettuce. “I love your dress, by the way. Such a pretty floral.”

Bryant’s mom liked her dress! Maybe everything was going to be ok.

Bryant rejoined her and led the way toward a group of about thirty young people, all dressed in black and white, clustered near the stage. Ellie desperately wanted to say something impressive, charming, and sweet. In the whirl of Josiah’s unwelcome invitation and Bryant showing up beside her, in the flesh, not a word came to mind.

Ellie caught a glimpse of Sam over by the wall and Janet in a group of girls, laughing. The Pine Grove and Mayfield girls all wore black skirts and white blouses, of course. Thank goodness there were also a few Beachy Amish in cape dresses. In fact, they had the look Ellie had hoped for—solid black dresses and white sweaters. Instead, here she was in this old-ladyish flower print. At least Bryant’s mom had liked it, plus she didn’t have to have strings on her covering. Ellie straightened her back, took a deep breath, and followed Bryant around the tables and across the gym to join the others.

Janet gave her a quick hug and whispered, “Ellie! What is going on?” She flicked her eyes toward Bryant and raised her eyebrows.

“I’ll tell you later,” Ellie whispered back. “And oh my word, did you see what Josiah Weiler did?”

“No. What happened?”

Ellie glanced around and saw a woman with her hair in a puffy gray bun on top of her head march out of the kitchen with a notebook in one hand. “I’ll tell you later.”

The woman stood beside Sam and Bryant and yanked a pencil out from under the black lace doily that covered her bun. “Hello everyone. I’m Nancy. How many of you have served here before?”

Three quarters of the group raised their hands.

“All right. I’ll explain for you first-timers. We team you up in twos, a guy and girl on each team. Each table has a number. I’ll tell you which tables are yours, and you’ll go around pouring ice water first while people are getting seated. Guys carry trays and girls pour. Then all the guests leave their tables and go through the food line, and after everyone gets their food, you’ll go around with refills of water.”

Ellie nodded. 

“When that’s all done, the first people will need dessert. You fill trays with pieces of pie from that table over there, where Anita is setting up”—she gestured her pencil toward the northwest—"and offer it to everyone. Once again, guys carry trays and girls talk to people and set the plates of pie on the table.”

So much to remember! Ellie glanced at Bryant to see if he was listening. He was, unlike Josiah who was elbowing his brother Haggai and laughing. What a jerk.

The singing group onstage burst out in the first verse of I’ll Fly Away. Nancy raised her voice. “After that, you go around with coffee. You fill the carafes at the table over there.” She gestured to a table with two huge black percolators against the west wall. “Guys carry; girls serve. You ask if they want regular or decaf and make sure there’s cream and sugar on the table. Got it?”

That didn’t sound so hard. She and Bryant would make an amazing team, smooth and efficient. People would murmur to each other how nice they looked together. It was going to be the most amazing evening of her life.

The noise in the gym had increased as Anabaptists from all over the Willamette Valley and beyond drifted in and found their seats. It was getting hard to hear what Nancy was saying.

Nancy raised the pencil high and pointed toward the stage. “This is how we pair up. Guys line up here; girls line up over here. Then the first guy is with the first girl, and so on down the line.”

The group shuffled and rearranged themselves like sheep, rounded up and about to be loaded on a truck, then formed two uncertain lines. Ellie shot a knowing look at Janet, who lifted her hand like she was saying hi and wiggled her fingers. Five. Ellie counted quickly and stepped between Sierra and Kaylene Mullet.

She was fifth in line! Her heart pounded as she sneaked a peek at the guys’ row. Was God smiling on her for real? Oh my goodness. Bryant was fifth as well.

She exhaled. Yessss! Janet winked at her from down the row of girls.

Nancy stood between the two rows, inserted the pencil back into her bun, and snapped her fingers. “I forgot! Before we pair off, I need to know: Did any of you arrange ahead of time to serve together?”

Tim and Robin, who were dating and practically engaged, raised their hands. So did Randy and Shelley, slowly, and everyone snickered. So the rumors were true.

Josiah Weiler raised his hand.

Nancy’s eyebrows went up.

Ellie thought, My goodness. Who did he pick on after he talked to me?

“Josiah! You have a partner already?” Nancy looked around. “Is she here?”

Josiah grinned. “It’s Ellie.” He pointed a bony finger right at her, and twenty-nine servers turned and stared in astonishment.


  1. Oh no! What happens next??

  2. I'm not sure I can wait a week for the next installment. You do know how to make us thirty-something's feel like wired teens again. Oh my: the memories, the drama.

  3. amanda horst10/13/2020 7:18 PM

    Next Tuesday is too far away!

  4. What a compelling story and stopping point!

  5. OH NO!!! The HORROR!! I can feel it! Why must you leave us hanging in suspense like this??!! :)

  6. Omw "Haggai"!! I'm cheering for Josiah to be a frog prince though. I'm confused about something: do 'Mayfield' girls not have a hierarchy too, or is the most uncool of them still cooler than anyone else? I guess thinking back to my teens the answer would be yes!

  7. Yes! Good stuff. I keep wondering if Ellie will get to be with Bryant. Had she been me, she wouldve probably got stuck with the guy she didnt like. But I think theres still hope for her. :)