The Sweetest Song: Excerpt
Willow Creek, Whinburg Township, Pennsylvania
A wedding was a lot like Christmas, Cora Swarey had always thought. Both involved giving, and family, and a lot of good food. But while the focus of Christmas was on the little baby who would change the world, the focus of a wedding was on the couple who had accepted that little baby into their hearts, and whose vows would change their lives.
She sat at the back of the women’s side in the big white tent the Isaac Yoders had rented for the occasion, watching Amanda Yoder and Joshua King say the words that would make them husband and wife. Amanda wore the blue dress and crisp white organdy cape and apron that she’d begun making practically the moment she’d stepped off the train in Lancaster in October. Joshua’s white shirt, black pants, and vest and coat had been made by his mother Savilla’s loving hands.
“Amanda came home from her summer in Colorado a changed woman,” the bride’s sister-in-law Sarah Byler, the Dokterfraa, had told Cora as they were helping Carrie Miller decorate the wedding cake yesterday. “I don’t think it was all Joshua, either. It’s as though she became the woman God meant her to be.”
“They say that love transforms us,” Cora offered, half wondering if she believed it. For her, love had been a consuming fire, leaving her a heap of ashes that she somehow had to turn into a young woman again.
“It does,” Sarah allowed, her face glowing as she caught sight of Englisch Henry Byler, her husband, as he set out the twelve coffee mugs he had made as a wedding gift. The handle of each mug formed a different flower, one for each month of the year.
Cora would have given a lot to have even one of those mugs. Their beauty gave her a pain in her heart—a good pain, the kind that came when she heard a red-winged blackbird sing or saw the sun set in glory over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range back home in Colorado. The kind that came when she sang.
But that thought caused pain of an entirely different kind, because she didn’t sing anymore. Not her own songs. Her music had gone silent, and she despaired of ever hearing it again.
When her gaze slid toward the men’s side where Simon Yoder sat with his young Aendi’s male relatives, she controlled the impulse and fixed her attention once more on Amanda and Joshua facing each other at the front of the tent.
“Do you solemnly promise with one another,” the bishop said, looking between them, “that you will love and bear and be patient with each other and shall not separate from each other until dear God shall part you from each other through death?”
“Ja, I promise,” Amanda said softly, echoing the same vow Joshua had made to her.
Cora’s throat ached at the sweet emotion in her friend’s face. It was hard to believe they’d only met for the first time in June—a mere six months ago. Joshua’s family had moved to the Wet Mountain Valley from Kansas when Cora was a teenager. Some had thought he might choose her, but Cora had known from the beginning that she would always be his sister in Christ, and no more. Besides, back then he had carried a torch for some girl who didn’t deserve him in Kansas. Only when Amanda had started work at the Lost Creek Ranch had he realized the torch had burned out and it was time to toss it away. They’d become engaged in October, and then Amanda had come home to Whinburg Township to prepare for their wedding.
Joshua had made a special trip out to the Swarey place just to deliver Amanda’s pretty handmade wedding invitation to Cora and her sisters.
“She wants the friends we’ll spend our married life with to be there when it begins,” Joshua had explained.
So here they were, among the three hundred or so people in the “wedding haus,” getting down on their knees for the final prayer, and then rising to sing the last hymn.
Cora had known since she was a small child that the purpose of raising one’s voice in song was to praise der Herr who gave it. Not to draw attention to oneself, and certainly not to stand out in any way, but to blend in with the Gmee so that all could praise Him with one voice.
By the time Cora was twelve, she had developed two voices. One for church, which for the most part blended in with others, except for those moments when she forgot herself and it soared out above even that of the Vorsinger. When that happened, she would damp it down and duck her head so that her red face was hidden behind the girls in front of and beside her. The second voice was for home—in the kitchen, in the barn, out in the vegetable garden, in the Hinkelhaus with the chickens.
Many parents, she supposed, would have disciplined her and told her to hold her peace. But Mamm and Dat had never done that, instead enjoying her made-up songs and tunes and sometimes even joining in with the ones that had become familiar to them. Grossmammi on Dat’s side had been a singer, too, so it was possible that Cora’s caroling around the ranch reminded him of her now that she was gone. Or maybe it was just that for Dat, a woman’s voice raised in song was normal.
“It takes the effort of every blade of grass to keep the meadow green,” he would say on the way home from church in the buggy, those rare days when she’d embarrassed herself. “But meadows grow the occasional daisy or wild rose. I may not carry fertilizer and a bucket of water out there to make them bigger than they are, but God made them, so why not enjoy them?”
“No fertilizer for me, denki,” she would reply with a laugh, and feel better, and sing as she helped her younger sisters and Mamm make supper.
Oh yes, she would sing. And then Simon Yoder had come to the ranch this past summer with his friend Joe Byler, and her world had turned inside out.