The Secret Voice

by Bob Nailor


Prologue

 

Wednesday, July 26, 1961

 

“I ain’t having a nigger teaching my kid.” Tom Hollis wiped the sweat off his brow and glared at the woman sitting across from him.

“You keep a civil tongue in your mouth. She may be black, but there is no need to be crude.” Elizabeth Tremussen stabbed the air with her index finger in his direction. “There are those in this community who have no problem with her color.”

Bam! Bam! Bam! John Teegarden, Benjamin Hartford School Board President, hammered the gavel on the table. “Please. Everyone settle down.”

“Who? If you mean the Amish.” Tom’s unbridled sarcasm filled the room, ignoring John’s request. “They don’t attend high school, so they don’t count. Besides, this is an all-white school and community.” He glared at Elizabeth. “I prefer to keep it that way!”

Elizabeth sighed, her whole body heaving in the action. She gave Tom a dour look.

“We don’t need a nig…” Peter Udall glanced at his sister. “We don’t need her kind living in our small community. She can live in Toledo or Fort Wayne—you know, with the rest of them.”

“I don’t see it that way.” Elizabeth eased back into her chair and folded her arms over her plump belly. “The rest of them, as I see it, live an hour away. There is no reason she can’t live in daddy’s old trailer. As I have said before, the board has offered her a position. She has accepted. John, you sign your Hancock and finalize the contract. I’ll write her a letter with instructions on how to get to the trailer I’m offering to rent.”

Peter opened his mouth to object, his finger raised in the air.

“Don’t even bother, Peter,” Elizabeth quipped, cocking an eye in his direction. “Daddy left the trailer to me. Miss Bronson will live there.” She reached over and tugged Julie Bronson’s letter from stack under John’s hand. She stood. “Jim will make the next meeting for sure.”

Elizabeth smiled as she toddled her way home from the school. Those fools would have dawdled another two months or longer on this issue.

She gazed at the old trailer across the street from her house. Elizabeth inhaled slowly and deeply, savoring the mid-summer air. We have stepped upon a new road— Imagine! The first black person to live in the school district will be staying right there.” She paused and surveyed the collection of homes. I do hope I’m doing the right thing. Whatever will the neighbors think?


 

Chapter One ~ Dreams Can Come True

 

Sunday, August 27, 1961

 

I am fourteen. I am not going to cry.” Daniel sat on the edge of the hard, oaken chair and tried to control his emotions. He stared at the sunset’s glow relected on the wooden floor as it shone through the window. He looked at his father. The man sat in a nearby rocker, holding The Budget newspaper high, hiding his face.

“I want to learn, Papa,” Daniel said firmly. “I am not testing Rumschpringe.

“I said no!” The paper crumbled into Noah Yoder’s lap revealing his stern appearance. He slammed his left hand down on the rocker’s arm. “Do you not listen?”

Daniel tensed. His father’s foul moods had increased since Grandpa Benjamin’s death in the spring. He watched his father stand, The Budget newspaper falling to the floor. He paced. Daniel slowly stood, his head bowed.

“We are Amish,” Noah continued. “You have finished eighth grade, Daniel, and have no need of further education. You have learned how to read, write and talk to deal with the Englische world. You know how to add and subtract.” Daniel heard his father walking behind him. He felt his father’s strong hand press on his shoulder. “You must now learn a trade. I saw Mr. Sullivan in town the other day, he spoke with me. He would like to consider hiring you as a full-time employee at the wood mill. It is worthy employment.” He paused. “Unless you want to help work the farm.”

Daniel turned away, clenched his teeth in determination before turning back and looking into his father’s stoic face. “I want to learn, Papa. With more education, I could be a better employee for Mr. Sullivan.”

Noah reared back. “Do you wish to standout, Daniel? We are a simple people. Why are you so insistent of this need? Why do you continue to test me?”

Daniel gazed at the floor, watching the sunlight dance on the polished floor. He was ashamed at his outburst. “I have a desire to learn, Papa.” He took a deep breath. “I have no use for Rumschpringe. I want to be Amish. I am happy to be Amish.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I just want to learn more. Is that so terrible?”

“I have told you ‘no,’ Daniel. How many times must I say it?”  His father sat in the rocker, leaned over and picked up the paper.

“But, Papa…”

Daniel listened to his father inhale slowly through the nose. He knew there was more to come. He waited.

Noah sighed. “Sit. I heard about you wanting to go to high school. The Bishop and I have discussed it.”

“The Bishop?” Daniel whispered. He straightened in the chair to look his father in the eye. “Must I visit him to discuss my desires?”

The lone kerosene lamp glowed in the corner. The sound of his mother and two sisters cleaning the supper dishes in the kitchen caught his attention. The babble of a rousing game of ball being played by his other siblings drifted through the open windows. In the living room where he sat with his father, there was only silence broken by the sound of the lamp’s hissing.

“Bishop Schmucker has his concerns.”

Daniel watched his father fold the crumbled newspaper before standing once more. He immediately stood to join his father, but kept his head bowed.

“We are Amish, Daniel. As Amish, we have modest needs and lead a simple, plain life.” His father strolled to a table where the family Bible rested. He picked up the book. “This! This is our life. We are Christians following the humble life as Jesus directed. We do not attempt to complicate ourselves with modern things. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Daniel nodded. “Yes, Papa.” His father was not about to relent.

“I told the Bishop I would speak to you and get this silliness out of your head.” Noah placed an arm over Daniel’s shoulders and steered him back to the chairs. “He had concerns, but also an understanding of your needs.”

Daniel frowned. Understanding?

His father sat and Daniel waited a few seconds before joining him. He watched as the older man grabbed the newspaper once more to snap it open. Daniel waited. He hadn’t been dismissed, but it seemed evident the conversation was finished.

“What would you study?” Noah mumbled, his face hidden inside the pages of the paper. “That is, if you were allowed to attend school?”

The words startled Daniel and he paused to remember the schedule.

“It would be English, General Science, Vo-Ag, General Math—”

Noah let go of one side of the paper and held up his hand. “This science class, I will not allow it. I feel it will confound you and cause you to question your faith and our lifestyle.”

“I need to take…” Daniel saw his father’s eye glance up and realized this was not something to argue. This could be the deal breaker. Daniel relented. “I will have them remove the class from my schedule.”

“The Bishop has concerns, but he also told me if you fought to continue this schooling then he would bless the notion.” Noah continued to look at the open pages of The Budget. “With the Bishop’s blessing, you will be allowed to attend high school.” Noah lowered the paper. “You are only fourteen. You have not reached the age of sixteen, so he has given his approval.” He paused. “Since you are willing to fight me regarding this, I will bow to the Bishop’s wishes—even though I feel you are testing Rumschpringe.”  Noah shook his head. “I fear you will bolt for the door like a wild stallion when given the chance, never to be seen again.”

Daniel wanted to leap into the air, but remained seated. “I am sorry, Papa. I do not wish to argue with you. I will not bolt. I do not want to test Rumschpringe.” He hesitated. “I will inform Mr. Sullivan of this decision.” He took a deep breath. “Thank you, Papa.”

“I expect you to maintain your chores around here.” He nodded toward the kitchen. “Right now your mama needs more wood for the stove. Get it before you go play ball.”

Daniel slowly walked across the large living room with its austere furnishings. He wanted to run, but controlled himself.  I get to go to school.

 

# # #

 

This can’t be it! Julie Bronson stared at the small, junky trailer. They’ve got to be kidding! Who’d live in that?  She shook her head and once more glanced at the letter to confirm the address. It matched. Talk about trailer trash. She cautiously pulled her blue and white Chevy onto the scratch of dried-grass and gravel which attempted to construe a driveway.

That was Please, Mister Postman by the Marvelettes on CKLW, your station with—

Julie turned the radio off and glanced at the small trailer, wrinkling her nose in antipathy. From the highway it appeared narrow. Now, parked beside the short, hand-painted, silver mobile home, there was no doubt. The trailer was small and dingy.

Remember, Julie, you wanted this job. If this is the worst they can throw at you, you'll make it. She sighed. Her day’s journey started with a Godspeed at Willoughby Baptist Church and a tearful family farewell, followed by the lonely five-hour drive through the state to this small community. She’d arrived. Centertown was a crossroads with a dozen businesses and perhaps a hundred plus homes.

A rap on the back window startled her.

“Miss Julie Bronson?”

“Yes.” Julie looked at the hesitant expression of the older woman who stood there dressed in a dark-blue, calico housedress. Yes, my skin color is black. The woman smiled.

“My name is Elizabeth Tremussen.” She stuck out her hand. “Can I help you move anything in?” She dangled a shiny item in the air from her other hand. “I've got your new key right here.”

Julie opened the car door and stepped out—all six-foot-two-inches of her. She towered above Elizabeth who might have been five and a half feet tall in heels. Julie took the older woman's hand and shook it. “It is so nice to finally meet you.”

“I figured you'd come today and from the direction where you lived, I'm guessing you drove right by the school. Is that correct?”

Julie glanced back at the intersection and the large brick school building a little further beyond. She nodded absently. “I only have two suitcases, Mrs. Tremussen. I can take them in.” She glanced at the trailer. “You said it was furnished, is that correct?”

“Oh, please, call me Elizabeth. We're going to be neighbors, no reason to be so formal. And, yes, the place is furnished.” She stared at the tall Amazon woman before her. It’s not the best furniture but should be adequate.

“Call me Julie.” The black woman surveyed the surrounding homes. She didn't see anyone out and about for such a beautiful, late Sunday afternoon, but she knew she was being watched. That’s right! Watch the black woman. A curtain moved.

“Well, at least allow me to open the trailer for you.” Elizabeth headed for the small, rickety porch. “This was my daddy's place and I've been here almost every day letting it air out.”  She glanced at Julie retrieving two suitcases from the trunk of the car, and then appraised the short doorway. “I do hope there is enough head room in here. By the way, my daddy smoked cigars and I'm afraid that smell will never leave.”

“That's fine, Elizabeth.” Julie marched up the steps. “My father smoked pipes. I’m pretty sure the smell won't kill me.”

“I tried an air freshener. Rose Garden was the name, I think.”

Julie stepped into the trailer and the scent of ten thousand rose petals stuffed into a cigar smudged ashtray assaulted her. The windows will be open every day until Jack Frost visits. I do hope I can get this stench out of here. She tried not to show a reaction, instead glancing politely about the trailer as she put the suitcases down near the door.

Elizabeth pointed to the small kitchenette and dining area. “It's a small kitchen, but quite adequate.”

Julie eyed the diminutive space. “Everything is right within reach. How convenient.” I can stand in the kitchen and reach almost every corner of the trailer. She played her fingers across the table's top. “This will be perfect to sit at for eating and doing school assignments.” She bent down and glanced out the triple-paned louvered window. “A marvelous view, too.”

Elizabeth pointed to the back of the trailer. “Now, beyond there is the bathroom and bedroom. Plus, there is plenty of storage in the small hallway closet.”

“This is perfect.” Julie flashed a smile at Elizabeth. “Just perfect.” Turned, inhaled deeply and rolled her eyes. A fancy prison cell.

“Any questions?”

Julie stroked the wood of the paneled walls. “Would you mind if I painted these?” She pulled back her hand and rubbed her fingertips together.

Elizabeth gave a quick frown, stepped closer to inspect and rubbed the walls.  She certainly has her nerve! “I've cleaned these walls. They’re spotless.”

“I'm sorry. I wasn't insinuating anything like that. I prefer light walls to dark wood paneling.” Julie shook her head and gave a small shrug. “I can live with it.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips and looked about the trailer. “Who am I kidding? This was my daddy's and it has all the charm of an Army barracks. It needs a woman's touch. I’ll get a gallon of paint. I think I still have sandlewood-colored paint left over.” She grabbed the heavy, drab-olive curtains. “I even have some ruffled yellow gingham curtains I’ll donate.”

Let over paint? Donate? How generous. Julie imagined the sunlight streaming into the trailer.

“If you need anything, I live right there.” Elizabeth pointed to a white house with green shutters across the road. “If there is a problem, come over anytime. Oh, and don't let Jinks scare you. He's a big dog, a St. Bernard, but old and real loveable. He’ll bark but has no idea what to do after that, other than wag his tail and get you to scratch him behind the ear.” The older woman stepped out the door of the trailer and lumbered down the porch steps. “Pop over tomorrow morning for a cup of coffee and we'll talk some more. Jim usually heads out about eight-thirty to meet up with his cronies. Let me get him out of the way then join me and we can gab.”

Julie smiled and waved at Elizabeth as the older woman padded back across the road to her house. All the while Julie guardedly surveyed the neighborhood. Nobody was outside. Welcome to the neighborhood, Miss Julie Bronson. Now, GET YOUR BLACK ASS OUT! She stepped back inside, slumped onto the big dark green couch and let the tears flow.

Lord, like Moses and Joshua, you've led me to a new land. Give me the strength to handle the burden before me. Like the walls of Jericho, let these walls of bigotry crumble and this new place become a home. There is a purpose for my being here. Give me the mind to see Your way and wishes.

She wiped the tears away.

Julie Bronson! You can sit here and feel sorry for yourself or get up and begin your new life.

With a deep sigh she stood, grabbed the two suitcases and marched to the bedroom to unpack. Maybe they don’t want me, but I’m here and they will take notice!


Chapter Two ~ Julie's Monday

Monday, August 28, 1961

Julie awoke early. Startled at first by her strange surroundings, she breathed easier when she realized where she was. She stared at the trio of pictures: her parents, her boyfriend and a group photo of her siblings. She lay on the bed, bringing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. A job. A real job! “Thank you, Lord, for another day of opportunities. Amen.”

After carefully applying the lipstick, she took one last look at herself in the mirror, adjusted a curl of hair, and then stepped into the hallway. She realized she had nothing to fix for breakfast, not even a dry bowl of cereal. The small grocery store she'd noticed yesterday had been closed. She had expected that, being it was Sunday. She'd have to consider getting something to stock the shelves of her new home. Julie glanced out the front window. Across the street, she watched a shiny, black, 1960 Ford station wagon back out of the driveway of Elizabeth's house. Julie was sure the older man driving the car was Jim. She waited for what she felt was an appropriate amount of time before stepping out into the fresh morning air. The sun was warm and she noticed the neighbor lady to the west working in her garden. Julie waved. The woman turned and walked back into her house. Julie frowned. She recognized the “white reaction” when she saw it. Like it or lump it, lady, but I’m going to be living here, so get used to me waving. Julie shrugged and headed across the street to Elizabeth's place.

The large St. Bernard dog Elizabeth had mentioned now barked at her while it bounded and pranced about at Julie’s approach. The tail swung furiously from side to side.

“Now, Jinks, you behave.” Elizabeth scolded the old, fat dog. “This here is Julie Bronson and she'll be visiting a lot.” She glanced at Julie then scanned the neighborhood. “Come on in. The coffee is hot and I made some cinnamon rolls.”

Julie entered and pulled the door closed behind her. Everyone saw me enter the front door, not scurrying around to a servant’s entrance. She followed Elizabeth down a hallway to the kitchen at the back of the two-story house. An archway opened to the living room on her right. Julie could see the Early Americana decor. “You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you. Now, have a seat.” Elizabeth plunked a rose patterned saucer and coffee cup in front her.

Julie took a seat, a little concerned at Elizabeth’s sudden demanding rudeness.

“Forgive me but I'm going to be blunt.” Elizabeth grabbed the electric percolator. “We need to discuss the facts.”

Julie gazed at her landlord and tried not to reveal any worry. “Facts?” You mean the fact I’m black and you’re not? Or the fact that nobody wants me here?

Elizabeth poured the coffee into the cups and put the coffee pot down. She sat and shoved a plate of sweet rolls at Julie. “They’re still warm. Do you need cream or sugar?” The older woman pushed the rose-patterned creamer closer. “And yes, facts. You do realize you're the only Negro… Is Negro the right word? Anyway, you’re the only Negro person in the area for close to forty or fifty miles.”

Julie shook her head, declining the sugar and cream. She remained silent. Negro is a much better term than the other word most white people used.

“Trust me, Julie.” She reached and patted Julie's hand. “I'm a straight-shooter and I'm going to tell you this won't be an easy job.” Elizabeth pursed her lips, stared out the window for a few seconds, took a deep breath then continued. “I’m sure you realize there are those who don't want you here.” She paused. “It isn’t you. They don’t want any black person anywhere near them. And they have no problem using words and actions to let you know.” The older woman inhaled, sucking the air through her lips. “You have no idea how many times I had to correct a couple of the school board members last month.” She shook her head. “Such vulgar name calling.”

“I got that feeling from the letters when offered me the position.” Julie smiled. “The fact they don't want me getting married, did, at first, have me hesitate on accepting the position. Gary—” Julie blushed. “He’s my boyfriend. Anyway, we discussed our plans and well, he still has a lot of military time to serve.” Julie shifted the coffee cup around on the saucer. “With the situation escalating as it is in Vietnam and Cuba, we just didn't feel marriage was in our immediate future.”

“Well, it’s more than just the school.” Elizabeth paused. “I'll be honest, even I had my reservations.  The neighbors have been restless since they learned I offered you the trailer to live in. Have you noticed the one house up for sale? That sign appeared just last week after… well, after they had assured themselves I was renting the trailer to you. I’m telling you right now, it will be a struggle.” Elizabeth looked into Julie's eyes, reached out to cover her hand before taking a deep breath. “I see a wonderful person. Are you up to the battle?” At least I hope you’re a wonderful person and I haven’t made a big mistake.

“I've asked the Lord to give me strength and guidance.”

“Thank the Lord, a Christian woman.” Elizabeth leaned back, slapped the table and nodded in agreement. “What church do you attend?”

Julie felt her eyebrows touch in the frown. Did she think I’m a heathen or into voodoo just because I’m black? “I attended the Willoughby Baptist Church.”

“Hmm? We don't have a Baptist church in town. I attend the Lutheran church about three blocks from here.” Elizabeth continued to study her. “You're welcome to join us.” She waited as Julie nodded. “Besides, it would be good to have somebody in the church who finally knows how to sing.” She paused and gave Julie an odd look. “Since you’re a chorus teacher, I’m guessing you know how to sing.” Elizabeth giggled.

Julie burst out laughing. “I’ve been told I can belt out a tune, sometimes, even in key.”

“You have a great sense of humor, Julie. I told Jim I wanted to have a little party to welcome you. Are you available for supper tonight and we’ll make plans for this coming weekend?”

Julie gazed out the window at Elizabeth's backyard. “I don't have any plans right now.”

“Good.” Elizabeth stood. “I'll call the neighbors and let them know.” She smiled at Julie. “We might as well face Satan, and his ugly, demon sidekick, Hate, head on and get that out of the way.” I know there will a lot of them who won’t come. Elizabeth pushed the plate of sweets closer to Julie. “Enjoy these while I make a couple of quick calls. You have to be hungry. I didn't see you carry in any food yesterday.”

Julie grabbed a cinnamon roll and pulled the soft dough apart. Finally, something to eat. Elizabeth is right. They are still warm. She watched the older woman walk to the black telephone on the wall, lift the receiver and listen.

“Mary? Janet? I was hoping you two would be talking. Can you help me out?” Elizabeth continued to discuss items with the ladies on the telephone’s party line.

The roll was scrumptious. Julie gazed out the window at the backyard. The view of blooming gladiolas, giant dahlias, gently bending snapdragons, vining morning glories and bright petunias and geraniums was beautiful. Julie noticed the garden with its tomatoes, rows of corn, huge heads of cabbage and wandering squash plants. She finished her coffee and poured another from the electric percolator. Maybe next year I'll have a garden. She sighed. If I make the year and get to stay longer.

“There!” Elizabeth waddled back to the table. “We're having a small party. At least the awkward introductions with the neighbors will be out of the way. You'll soon know who will, and who won't, talk to you.”

Julie tried not to frown at the thought. “Sounds pleasant.”  She hesitated. “Besides, over the years, I’ve discovered I’ll talk to whoever I wish. It is their choice if they decide to listen or not.”

“Well said. Now we’ll get down to brass tacks and wander to the school so you know what you're doing there.” Elizabeth slurped some coffee. “You might as well meet the rest of the enemy on their turf. I'm sure there are some teachers who are going to be snits.

 

# # #

 

The distance to the school was an easy stroll of a few blocks. Elizabeth explained who lived where and which stores had the best merchandise. Julie felt the stares.

“It will get easier.” Elizabeth’s voice was casual.

“Yes.” Julie took a deep breath. It never gets easier. Maybe for you, but not for me. “I’ve found people will stare at whatever they don’t understand. Right now, that’s me.”

Elizabeth grabbed Julie's arm and entwined their arms. She has a strong will. “That’s the attitude. So, this is it.” She laughed and let Julie gaze at the front of the large brick structure. “This is the school.”

Julie sighed. “Will you be coming in?” Please say yes.

“How about I take you to the superintendent's office?” Elizabeth smiled. “Then I'll toddle on home and start fixing things for tonight's dinner?”

Julie patted Elizabeth's arm. “That would be fine.”

Elizabeth glanced up at the sky as a cool breeze curled around them. “Weatherman said there was a chance of a rain shower.”  She gazed back to the west and the dark, brooding clouds. “I certainly hope he is wrong.”

Elizabeth held the door open and Julie entered. The silence of the hallway echoed the loud clunk of the door closing. Suddenly, Julie heard a distant whistle echoing.

“That's Leroy. I recognize that whistle,” Elizabeth quipped. “He's the school janitor. Follow me to the office.”

Elizabeth led the way. At the top of the first flight of stairs, Julie noticed Elizabeth’s labored breathing. She slowed her steps to allow Elizabeth to catch her breath.

“Just another flight up,” Elizabeth said between deep breaths.

Julie slowed her steps even more and took advantage of the time to examine her surroundings: polished granite stairs, heavily painted plaster walls, and tall windows. She could see the school office at the top of the stairs.

Elizabeth entered the office. “Good morning, Anna.” A woman with frosted, dark-brown hair banged the typewriter keys.

Anna Miller glanced up from her work, the nicely coiffed hair framing her round face which was accented by rhinestone encrusted glasses. She offered a friendly smile at Elizabeth then noticed Julie.

 “May I help you?” Anna leaned to the left to catch Julie's attention.

“Oh!” Elizabeth said while waving a hand in Anna's direction. “This is Julie Bronson, the new chorus director.” She turned to Julie. “This is Anna Miller, the school secretary.”

Julie was sure Anna was less than ecstatic at the employment of a Negro at Benjamin Hartford School.

“I thought I heard voices out here.” A tall, thin gentleman wearing a red and white plaid, short-sleeved shirt and black slacks sauntered out of the back office. “Good morning, Elizabeth.” He nodded to Elizabeth and then smiled at Julie. My God! She’s tall. “And you must be our new chorus director, Miss Julie Bronson. My name is James Franz; I'm the principal here.” He held out a hand.

“I’m so glad to meet you.” Julie smiled with a quick handshake. “Mrs. Tremussen brought me here so I could get a feel for the school. I'd hoped to be able to come in before the first day of school. I wanted to have some idea of where things were and what was happening.”

James Franz turned to his secretary. “Anna, could you show Ms. Bronson to the music room?” He flashed a smile at Julie. “Anna knows this school inside and out. If you need anything, she's the one to ask.” That gets me off the hook. He turned back to Anna. “I need to go find Leroy and make sure he’s fixed a couple of things.” And out of the office to avoid questions. He stepped out from behind the counter.

“Tell you what, James,” Elizabeth said. “Escort me out and I'll point you in his direction.  I think he was working on the main floor when we came in.” She grabbed his arm and sashayed him to the door leaving Anna and Julie to fend for themselves. “See you tonight, Julie.” Elizabeth waved at her and then ushered James out the door.

Anna pursed her lips and then sighed. She leaned over the typewriter. “I don’t mean to be snippy, but I’ve got a lot to do right now. The music room is just outside that door, to the left.” She pointed. “Make yourself at home.” She glanced at Julie, her glasses now having slipped partially down her nose. Anna pushed them back. “Do you have any questions, Miss Bronson?” Just say no and leave.

“Do they lock the music room?”

“Hmm? I haven't seen Mrs. Dotson come in.” Anna frowned. “More than likely it is still locked for the summer.”

A drip of aggravation leaked into Julie’s words. “Will I be issued a key or will I be required to wait for Mrs. Dotson to open the room each time?” Julie stretched to her full height.

She watched as the edges of Anna's lips curled into a grin before the woman giggled. “I guess I don’t have to be a complete petootie.” Make the best of it and be nice. Anna stood, straightened her skirt and gazed at the typewriter. “You’re new and need assistance.” Anna shrugged her shoulders. Tom wanted this for his first day of chemistry, but… “If that doesn’t get done, well, that’s just too bad.” She headed to the opposite side of the room. “I just remembered your welcome kit was never mailed to you, so let me get it.  I saw it in your mailbox.” She stopped. “Oh, come on back here, Miss Bronson. You might as well learn where your mailbox is.” Anna held the wooden panel door open for Julie to walk behind the counter. “After all, you are a teacher and allowed back here.”

“Please, call me Julie.” At least she is warming up and starting to be helpful.

“I just know you're going to enjoy your time here.” Anna handed Julie a large, sealed yellow envelope. “When you open your packet, there are some papers which you will need to sign.” She guided Julie toward the opposite wall where she pointed at an open slot. “That is your mail box. When you return the papers, you can place them in this slot.” Anna pointed at a large slot in the lower left. Of course, your key is in the envelope and opens all the classrooms and this office. Now, I'll show you to the music room and give you a quick course in the music files.” She paused. Oh my God, the files. “Mr. Hostler was a persnickety old fart…” She glanced at Julie and covered her lips with the tips of her fingers. “I mean, he was an excellent teacher. He just had some eccentric methods and filing music was one of them.” Anna rolled her eyes. Let me show you to your classroom and then I'll also show you where the Tell is located.” Anna hesitated, took a quick glance around the office, held up a key she grabbed from below the counter and led Julie to the music room. “Do you smoke? You're only allowed to smoke in the Tell.” She giggled. “And the rear loading dock as long as Mr. Franz doesn’t catch you.”

“Tell?” Julie asked.

“T. L.” She paused. “An abbreviation of Teacher's Lounge. We just say Tell.” Anna shoved the key into the lock and opened the frosted glass and wood door.

“This is your world, Julie.” Anna held the door open.

Julie stood inside the door and viewed the large room with its band instruments, chairs, riser and file cabinets. She noted the five-drawer cabinets: one with “Girls,” one with “Boys,” and three with “Mixed” marked on the front of them. She also noticed the musty, dusty scent in the air.

“Are you ready to attack the filing system?” Anna asked.

“You said you’d give me a tour? Please, show me around the school, especially the Tell. Then I’ll come back here and attempt to address Mr. Hostler's filing system.”

 

# # #

 

A double bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. Julie hastened toward the grocery store, all the while glancing up at the gathering clouds and graying sky.

As she crossed the street the rain started. Julie dashed for the cover of A & J Market's awning. Lightning bolted across the sky, thunder immediately followed. She could feel the vibrations rumbling the sidewalk. The rain poured. Julie entered the store, escaping the whipping winds and found herself gazing into wide, blue eyes. He stood there, short, dark blond, crew-cut hair, apron stained with questionable substances and—she recognized the startled look.

I can’t be the first black person you’ve ever met. “Terrible storm out there,” Julie said to break the awkward silence. She surveyed the store’s décor of high ceilings, long, cold fluorescent fixtures and cramped aisles of shelves. The wooden floor was clean.

“May I help you?” he asked in a tight voice. “Are you Miss Bronson?”

Julie straightened, stretching her frame to its full height. She recognized that voice and knew there might be a problem. She was black. She didn’t belong here.

“Hello. Yes, I’m Julie Bronson, the new chorus teacher at Benjamin Hartford School.” She pointed toward the general direction of the school. “I'm living in the trailer around the corner—Mrs. Tremussen's place?”

“I’m Aaron Shaw.” He exhaled the breath he’d been holding and leaned forward to yell down the aisle toward the back. “Hey, Jessie! Come meet the new school teacher and neighbor.” He glanced back at Julie with a beaming smile. “Elizabeth stopped in and told us you might be coming. I’m the proprietor of this little grocery store. If you don't see something you need, ask and I'll either find it or get it.” I’m six-foot tall and she appears to be taller than me!

Another round of thunder rattled the framework of the building. Only muted daylight filtered through the front windows. The room was dark. Jessie appeared out of the shadows of an aisle.

“Lights went out, Aaron.”

He glanced at his wife then back to Julie. “Julie Bronson, meet my wife, Jessica Shaw.” He turned. “I'll go check the fuses.” He passed his wife and ticked her button nose. “No reason to state the obvious, dear.”

The lights flickered then radiated on.

“So much for the fuse, Aaron,” Jessie said. “Now what can we get for you,            Miss Bronson?”

“Mrs. Tremussen is having a party later in the week…” Julie eyed the window. “I'd like to take something. I'll need sour cream, mayonnaise and a few spices.” She gazed hopefully at Jessica.

“Spices are here.” Jessie led Julie past two aisles and halfway down another. “Now I'll go get you the two other items.”

“I also would like a bag of potato chips.”

“Got them right here,” Aaron piped up from the front of the store. He reached to grab a bag of chips from an end aisle. Thunder rattled the windows again. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain this weekend, but the weatherman said it might.”

The phone rang and Aaron snapped it up. “A J Market. How may I help you?” A pause. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Tremussen. What can I get you?” A longer pause.

Julie placed the bottles of spice she wanted on the checkout counter.

“Why Miss Bronson is right here. Would you like to talk to her?” He handed Julie the phone. “It's Elizabeth Tremussen,” he whispered.

Julie pulled the clip earring from her earlobe and placed the phone near. “This is Julie Bronson.”

She stood there watching the forceful rain sheet across the street while listening. “I understand completely. Another day will be fine. Thank you.” Julie handed the phone back to Aaron and then motioned to the storm swirling outside. “My plans have changed for the night.” She patted the items on the counter. “Seems I will also need to pick up a few other items to make it through the week.”

“When you get ready to leave, see me. I'll let you sneak out the back door.” Jessica winked. “It's a lot closer than going out the front.” She giggled and nodded at the window with the storm beyond. “Besides, you'll only get wet taking the shortcut across the grass, not drenched if you walked the sidewalk route. Plus, I can have Aaron deliver your items when the rain stops.” I’m not sending him out in this weather for you. She paused for a few seconds before pointing toward a table with a couple of chairs nearby. Might as well be nice. “Of course, you’re welcome to sit with us and we can talk until the storm is over.”

“Either way, I’ll carry the groceries,” Aaron said with a beaming smile. “So have a seat and let’s talk. Coffee is hot…” He reached up and grabbed a package of sugar wafers from the shelf. “Look! We have cookies to eat.” He smiled. “What could possibly go wrong now?”

 


Chapter Three ~ Daniel's Monday

 

Monday, August 28, 1961

 

Daniel trudged across the open area to the barn. It was almost five-thirty in the morning and the light of a not-yet sunrise was enough to see by.

“Feed them well, Jacob,” Daniel yelled as his younger brother passed him in a trot, headed for the barn and its loft. Ahead, he could hear the cattle calling for their morning feeding and milking. He watched his older brother and father disappear into the barn ahead of him.  He yawned.

Luke handed Daniel a bucket and stool as he entered the barn. Daniel could see his father already at the far end of the herd. “You can start at the left.” His older brother headed away to start milking the cows.

Above them, in the loft, Jacob tossed down hay to feed the herd. Finishing the task, he raced down to help his older brothers and father with the milking.

“Bring me another bucket,” Daniel called to Jacob. “This one is almost full.”

Jacob handed his older brother an empty bucket. Daniel moved to a fresh cow while the younger boy poured the creamy liquid into the tall, metal milk can.

An hour later, the herd milked, the four ambled back to the house. Daniel noticed the blues, pinks and golds of the rising sun as he hustled up the steps of the porch. Inside, the scent of fried eggs, ham, bread, fried cornmeal mush, and fresh strawberry jam greeted them. It would be a good day for his brothers and father to farm. The family sat together at the table and after a silent blessing of thanksgiving, Noah spoke the words “Reach and help yourselves.” They ate their morning meal in silence.

Daniel prepared to go to work at Sullivan's. He watched his father and two brothers leave the house to begin the farm work as he sat on the stoop and whitled. He heard Ben Hopkin's white station wagon pull into the drive and the frightful blare of the horn. He put away the small horse he’d been whittling and grabbed his lunch. He almost wanted to skip to the car but didn’t. No reason to let them know my secret too early. His two cousins, Matthew Yoder and James Troyer waved from the backseat.

“Take your time, Daniel,” James yelled through the open window. “If we are late it will be your fault.” James opened the back door and then scooted to the center of the bench seat.

“Good morning, Mr. Hopkins.” Daniel tipped his hat at the Englische man behind the steering wheel of the automobile.

“You boys ready?” Ben Hopkins gave a glance to the backseat. “Here we go.” He put the car in gear and followed the semicircle between the house and the main barn to head back out to the road.

“Good morning, Mrs. Yoder.” Ben politely nodded as he coaxed the throttle of the car so as not to raise any dust by the laundry line where Daniel's mother hung her morning wash.

She waved farewell from between two blue shirts.

“What did your father say?” Matthew asked. “You did ask him, yet?”

Daniel nodded and tried not to show his excitement. “I asked and he said I could go.”

James Troyer lowered his head and shook it, a pained expression on his face. “Why do you want to go to school?”

“I want to learn.” Daniel held his head up. “Yes, I want to learn.”

“So you are going to quit Sullivans?” Matthew asked. “You know you have a good job.”

Daniel nodded. “I know,” he whispered. Yes, a very good job but I want to learn. Daniel stared out the window at familiar landmarks as the station wagon bounced down the dirt, rut-filled road.

Ben drove, trying to keep the dust at a minimum behind the car. Still, clouds of brown billowed and drifted into the yards and homes they passed. Ben nodded. “There's Jack.”

Jack Hall smoked his pipe and waited patiently in the shade, leaning against the maple tree. Ben slowed the vehicle to a stop. Daniel watched the routine as Jack tapped his pipe in his palm, dumping the ashes before stuffing the pipe into his plaid shirt pocket while heading to car.

“Good morning, all,” he said and slipped into the front seat.

Ben put the car into gear and turned onto the blacktop road. Finally, a smooth road without all the blasted ruts, Ben thought. The woodmill factory was only few more miles away. He pulled into the parking lot following an older Amish man, Minister Paul Mueller, who pedaled his bicycle. Daniel smiled knowing Ben knew better than attempt to pass Paul, especially now since they were all inside the huge, graveled parking area.

“You might as well go tell Mr. Sullivan before you start work,” James said.

Daniel avoided Ben’s gaze as the older man held the back door of the car open. Jack was already out and had his arms stretched out over the top of the car, waiting for the group to head to the timeclock.

 “You might be able to talk to Mr. Sullivan and keep your position as a summer job,” Ben whispered. “I didn't mean to listen in on you boys earlier.” The older man shrugged his shoulders. “At least try to come back next year. Keep your options open, Daniel. You're a good worker.” Ben stood momentarily silent then addressed the group. “I guess now is a good time to tell all of you my secret. I won't be working here starting next week.” He smiled. “I got a job with the school.” Ben looked directly at Daniel. “Mr. Sullivan said I was welcome to work here next summer. That's what I mean by keeping your options open, Daniel.”

Jack looked at the door where the time clock was just inside. He grimaced. “Well, I guess my wife will have to give up the luxury of having the car and driving for a while. It appears I will need a car to get to work.” He shrugged his shoulders and then reached out to shake Ben's hand. A one week notice is better than none. “Congratulations.” Jack turned and headed into the factory. “That timeclock is not waiting for us.”

Matthew glanced at his cousin, James. “Guess we will be riding bicycles starting next week.” He started to laugh. “We could try to race with Minister Mueller.”

The group laughed. Daniel waved and headed toward the main office.

 

# # #

 

Daniel sat in the high-back, wooden chair, his feet firmly placed on the floor and his straw hat in his lap. He dropped his one arm down and back on the side of the chair. He fingered and felt around the joint where the seat and back came together. On a whim, he had whittled his initials into a wooden chair then shoved it into the finished inventory. His fingers played on the wood but he didn't feel anything. He took in a deep breath and sighed. Not the one. In the enclosed area just beyond the woman at the typewriter, Daniel could see Mr. Sullivan. The man paced the office with the telephone to his ear. He didn't appear very happy.

The intercom buzzed. “Send Mr. Yoder in, Cynthia.” The voice was cold.

“Mr. Sullivan will see you now.” She pointed at the hallway to the left. “He is the first door to the right.”

Daniel was nervous; in fact, more nervous than the day he was hired. Bob Sullivan had been very nice, but hesitant, to hire him. Now he was about to quit.

“Have a seat, Daniel.” Bob pointed to a very nice plush chair.

“I can stand.” Daniel eyed the expensive chair. “No reason to dirty a nice piece of furniture.”

“Go ahead,” Bob said. “It ain't a new chair and it’s got that new-fangled guard stuff on it to protect the fabric.” He again pointed to the chair.

Daniel sat as Mr. Sullivan lowered himself into his own chair behind the desk. “What can I do for you today?” He grinned and then leaned over his desk, his voice deepened conspiratorially. “Did Bishop Schmucker approve your request? Am I about to lose one of my most valuable employees?” He winked at Daniel. “You father mentioned it to me when I saw him the other day. I discussed putting you on full time.” Bob smiled and sat back in his chair.

Trying not to show surprise, Daniel still stiffened at Mr. Sullivan's words. Not sure what to do, he hung his head and held onto his hat. Daniel stared at the floor and then glanced back up at his boss. “Because of my age, my papa approved me continuing school this year.” He knew that fact was not a lie; he wasn't too sure the bishop had agreed, but he thought he had.  “I will start next week.” Daniel swallowed.

Bob Sullivan slapped the top of his desk with his large hand then leaned back in his chair and chuckled in a deep voice. “It seems I'm losing two people this year to the school.” He winked again and the left side of his mouth curled with a grin. “Since you come in with Ben each morning, you probably already know he's leaving me.” Bob kicked up his feet onto a side stand and folded his hands over his firm stomach. “Tell me, Daniel. Do you like working here?”

“Yes, sir,” Daniel responded without any hesitation. “Very much.”

“Tell you what, young man. I'll strike a deal with you. I hate losing good workers. How about next year, say a week or two before you finish school, you come see me and we'll set up a plan to get you back in here? I'm sure I can find something for you to do.”

“I like that option, Mr. Sullivan.” Daniel squared his shoulders back, happy at how this dreaded moment had turned better. Papa will be happy I can still work here next year.

Bob dropped his feet back to the floor and again leaned over his desk. “Tell me, lad. How old are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?”

“I am fourteen, sir, soon to be fifteen.”

The older gentleman snickered. “I figured as much. It seems Ben's already primed you on what to do in this meeting. Both of you had me horn-swoggled before I even knew it.” He stood. “You'll finish the week?”

Daniel nodded.

Bob offered his hand to shake.  “Well, then, Daniel Yoder, it has been an honor to have you work for me. I look forward to your coming back next year. Study hard and learn.”

Daniel shook his large hand and smiled at his boss. “Thank you, Mr. Sullivan.”

He turned and left the office, hearing Mr. Sullivan mumble “Option, indeed.” Daniel headed for his place in the factory where he would work another five days. Another very long five days.

Matthew and James jumped him the minute he walked onto the factory floor.

“What did he say?” Matthew slapped an arm over Daniel’s shoulders.

“Did he fire you?” James walked backwards, watching Daniel’s face.

Daniel pushed the two older boys away. “I will finish my week here and go to school. Next year, before school gets out, I will come back and talk to him.”

“Really? You get your job back?” Matthew stopped and pulled Daniel around by both shoulders to face him.

“I guess.” Daniel grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. “He will see where he can use me.  I kept my options open.”

“You boys better get to your jobs.” Ben stood near them with his hands on his hips. “Or none of you will have to worry about getting up tomorrow morning.” He smiled. “No options available.”

Daniel headed to his work station. Have I made the right choice? I think Papa will be pleased.

 

End of tease read. Continued in novel.

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