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Amish country, p.1
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       Amish Country, p.1

           Bernard Fancher
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Amish Country

  Amish Country


  Bernard Fancher

  Copyright 2011 Bernard Fancher

  All Rights Reserved


  The story that follows is fiction. Except where clearly historical, the people, places, and events portrayed are works of the imagination.


  Amish Country

  They came for the land, a land of rundown farms and abandoned homesteads, on which old houses and barns and unpainted outbuildings stood sagging and bleached and withered on back roads, land left largely mute and devoid of human care and nurturing contact, but which still spoke softly, perceptibly, to what once had been—and so promised, with ample attention and work, to be again.

  “Let the earth cause grass to shoot forth,” Jacob recited quietly to himself, “and vegetation to bear seed, and fruit trees to yield fruit according to kind…” He paused, considering the implications of the words to follow, before continuing, “…the seed of which is contained within, and upon the earth.”

  Reflecting further upon the Biblical message, Jacob Mast leaned back and felt the sharp table edge press ever more insistently against his spine as he sat with his eyes closed and considered the years, as well the fruits of his labor. He remembered the first time he’d come to explore this place, and how the first time he heard them the words “Genesee Valley” spoke to his mind of Genesis—and so seemed, given his quest and disposition, to suggest the possibility of finding and restoring a lost Eden.

  Yet it struck him as prideful to think so now, even though the Deacon thought it no great sin in retrospect, but somehow permissible, as the product of a divinely-inspired, if slightly iconoclastic, nature.

  In truth, neither man would have spoken, or welcomed, words chosen from such a lexicon. But still wishing to convey something of that meaning, the Deacon had thrust one hand towards Heaven and said very simply, “It’s not ideas that are wrong, Jacob, but sometimes man’s use.”

  Just so, Jacob thought, as he entertained another, not entirely Biblical, inspiration: We come from the land as the fruit of the land, to be either plucked or let fall. In like vein he continued thinking: And so, the land is put to use, for good or for bad.

  The thought carried him back again to the beginning and he indulged the self-pleasing tendency towards reminiscence, recalling the first time he stopped at this place. His mind swelled once more with the considerations of that day, of buying old farms to make new, and all the work that would inevitably follow. Back then, welcoming the challenge, he’d looked from this very spot favorably upon the faded yellow façade of the South Main Lumber Yard and Building Supply situated catty-corner beyond the graveled center of Veteran’s Park, instinctively anticipating and cataloguing in his head all the necessaries for repair and construction such as cinderblock, ply-wood, nails and the like to be found in that one location even as his gaze shifted a hundred yards nearer to note the Agway situated directly opposite the four-lane highway abutting the park’s entrance, at which point his mind began another list of essentials to be found there for farming, including feed, lime, seed, and suchlike. His tongue ticked off the inventory once again, adding after each item a nearly silent and habitual, “Ja”—just as he had a quarter century before.

  That was how his mind worked. Moving from the general to the particular, it sought to determine what could be from what was. But now the manner of its working imparted a strangely retrospective effect. So, for a moment, it seemed he had never left the moment of this particular memory; or rather it seemed he had only aged to find nothing changed in the interim. All that he had wanted to do that hour still lay undone in the future. But that assessment failed to convey the entire experience. The time of day as well the time of year being nearly the same—his experience of the present emerging unbroken from the past—imparted a sense of immutable connection and continuation, of life enduring despite all attempts to thwart and subvert it.

  “Shame on you, Jacob,” he could hear his wife say, for surely she would have scolded him, not so much for the tenor of his thoughts as for the languid idleness he’d indulged to procure them. “Well, now,” she would certainly add, “are we eating or not?”

  And with that he smiled, leaning forward as he pushed with both palms off his knees and stood, feeling an incipient arthritis in his bones and softly groaning. He cast a longing glance down the embankment of newly green grass sloping gradually, falling suddenly towards the burgeoning river—the same river he’d first laid eyes on and followed north all those many years earlier. He wished to go stand on the rounding edge of the riverbank and look across the wavering glass surface reflecting in transmuting silvery scallops the late day golden sun. But there was no time for that now and so instead he walked to the spigot attached to the pipe sticking out of the ground next to the drinking fountain where, pulling up his sleeves, he subjected his wrists to the cold where the flow first hit and spread, thinning, as he rinsed his hands, front and back, before withdrawing and flicking them once abruptly downward, wiping them nearly dry on the thighs of his sturdy black cotton pants.

  He pushed down on the lever atop the pipe, shutting the flow of water, remembering with a smile the first time he’d encountered such a contraption; as an unknowing boy he’d tried to work the handle up and down like a hand pump, until his father had stopped him. In truth it was neither spigot nor pump, but what it was exactly he couldn’t recall until he gave up trying to think of the words and turned away, and then he remembered all at once: yard hydrant. Yes, and he remembered encountering such a device again outside the Worth W. Smith store where he and his driver had stopped just a mile south of town, not more than two from where he stood now, in the course of his first northward excursion. He was so taken that day with the idea of somehow implementing the marvelous contraption—the marvel being one need merely to lift up the handle to summon forth from the earth clean gushing water—that he wished to buy one right then and there, and proceeded to go inside to discuss the purchase; finding and reaching for a canteen amid a bin full of fittings he desired also to fill it, before noting and backing away, his hand reflexively recoiling, from the stiff green canvas cover on which nearly too late he read the bold black print of block letters: U.S. ARMY

  Watching his reaction, Mr. Joules, the man driving him that day, lightly patted his back near the shoulder. “What’s the matter, Jacob,” he’d laughed, “afraid it’ll bite you?” And Jacob had laughed too, chagrined to hear next he’d be jumping back in the presence of earthworms and garden snakes. Yes, that was the man’s name, Joules. He was sure of it now, and well pleased to recall it, though he steered from the realm of self-satisfaction by choosing to make of the recollection an act of somber reflection and remembrance of a good man long dead.

  Jacob made no such effort to transmute the pride he felt for his wife, Sarah, who had first broached the idea of moving and suggested Joules drive them, first nearly due West to visit her sister and then on into upper west Pennsylvania and lower New York to search out the land, houses, and even entire abandoned farmsteads they would find, suitable for establishing a new community of Amish willing to resettle; so it came to be Jacob approached the Order’s elders, and with their consent and support sought out and purchased a first few parcels from agents representing owners vanquished by factors beyond their ability to control, except by leaving.

  Jacob returned to the table where he’d left the woven wood picnic basket. Lifting the lid, he extracted the linen cloth that lay curled across the other items nestled below. He thought nothing of the suggestive re-enacting of that search on that long-ago day until, unfolded and spread like a road map, the tablecloth invited Jacob to lock his arms and look down in contemplation, just as he had a quarter cent
ury before. A sequence of names linked as much by fortune as by geographical proximity slid silently from his mouth as he recalled them in his mind’s eye: Oil City, Derrick City, Petrolia, Burning Wells, Wellsboro… names that belied sometimes nearly untouched surroundings filled with hills and valleys of vast unspoiled beauty. And finally, nestled amid a long caldera of hills intimating perhaps the most beautiful country of all, there was Wellsville, the very place he found himself now passing through, as back then.

  Next in the basket he found three wax-coated paper plates upon each one of which he set, in order of extraction: a beef sandwich neatly wrapped with newspaper, a longitudinally-striped red and green apple, a container of red raspberry yogurt (fruit on the bottom) as well as, lastly, a corresponding spoon for each yogurt, tightly wrapped in a paper napkin. Having thus set out the meal, Jacob sat and leaned back once more against the
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