I love your column and look forward to reading it every week. But I have a question. You are the only Amish person I’ve ever seen that actually has a column in a newspaper. Can you share with us how you came to be a writer?
Greenville, South Carolina
Thank you for your question. Yes it has been a long, strange, journey becoming an author. As you know, I have a book in circulation now which is a compilation of these articles and I am working on my third novel. I haven’t published the novels yet, but I have a friend in the publishing business who presses me every day to let him publish the first one It’s my mama and papa’s story and it’s very personal to me, so I am just waiting on the Lord to see what He has for it.
I first discovered an interest in writing when I was an intern at the Wooster Public Library in 1964 and 1965. I was doing historical research on the Amish in Wayne County and discovered that I really loved the work. So I tried my hand at a little fiction, but after I met and married my husband, Jonathan, I put writing aside for ten years.
Then in the spring of 1978, Jonathan disappeared at sea while he was visiting his parents. I was living in Paradise, Pennsylvania at the time and I was so desolated that I took my daughter, Rachel, and moved back to my mama and papa’s house in Apple Creek, Ohio. It was during this dark and terrible time that the Lord began to speak to me about pouring out my sorrow through writing. I have written about that season in my life and I’d like to share it with you.
Then came a morning when Jenny awoke to a soft dawn that came creeping into her room like a mischievous child, softly kissing her awake with the delicate touch of a rose colored morning. Jenny opened her eyes, and saw the pale colors blushing in the fresh sky. She rose, wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and slipped outside. The day was fresh and clean and warm, and the grass felt cool and damp against her bare feet. Above her head the plum trees were just sending forth the tiny pink buds that would soon burst into brilliant color and paint the world with God’s palette. A single wren twittered its call and stillness lay on the land. Jenny’s heart stirred within her at the unexpected beauty of the morning. An old barn cat came around the side of the house, meowed loudly and bunted her head against Jenny’s leg. Jenny smiled and reached down to scratch the cat behind the ears.
The old cat stayed for a moment, enjoying the attention, and then wandered off. Jenny took a deep breath and the fresh air tasted sweet. The sun began to peek up over the hills to the east and bright rays of sun shining through the trees cast easy shadows across the fields. A little breeze sprang up and the air stirred around her, gently lifting the golden red curls from her face. Above her a vee of Canadian geese flew north, honking as they went. Jenny was touched by the wonder of the day and a thought rose in her heart like a small trout rising for a fly in a still mountain lake.
I’m still alive. This didn’t kill me, and I can still find joy and wonder in a day.
The screen door creaked behind her and she looked around to see her papa coming out on the porch. He was dressed for work and his handsome face broke into a smile. Reuben stepped down from the porch and came over to Jenny.
“You have a glow about you this morning, dochter. It is good for my heart to see life creeping back into you.”
Jenny stepped into the circle of Reuben’s arms.
Yes, I do feel life coming back into me. It’s as though I have been raised from the dead!
“Papa, thank you!”
“For what, Jenny?”
“For not giving up on me, for walking beside me, and for being my rock when the storm raged most fiercely about me.”
Reuben’s arms tightened around her. Then he spoke and she could tell the words were difficult by the way they seemed to be pulled from him, syllable by syllable.
“When Jenna died, I wanted to die. I felt so helpless and I believed that but for my wrong-headedness, Jenna would have lived. If das Vollkennen des Gottes had not sent someone to help me, I would have died by my own hand. And then Gott, in His infinite mercy and grace, sent you to us. I cannot explain to you how it happened, but when I saw you for the first time, I knew that you belonged to me and to your mama forever. I knew that I had been given a second chance and I loved you with every bit of the love that I had for Jenna. And so when I see you suffer, I suffer too.”
Jenny looked into her papa’s eyes; the deep sea-blue eyes with the smile behind them and saw home and safety in them.
“And so I would do anything to see you happy again. You make sonnenschein in meinem Herzen and now you have given us Rachel and the joy she brings with her is beyond our understanding. I cannot give Jonathan back to you. If I could, I would give my own life to do so. But that is beyond me, so I give you my love and this place and whatever you need to be happy again. That is my prayer.”
And as the bright spring sun warmed the earth, the winter of Jenny’s great sorrow began to melt away, and the icy stronghold that held her dreams and hopes locked in its frozen fastness crumbled under the warmth of her father’s love, and the river of life began to flow once more in her heart.
So, Brenda, I remember after the morning I knew I was going to live, I realized I wanted to write about Jonathan – I wanted to capture every memory I had of him and put it down so I would never forget. This was my first attempt and It’s a little rugged, but this is where I started so here goes…
Jonathan. What words can I find that describe him or serve his memory as they should? Kindness? Compassion? Wisdom? Self-sacrifice? Joy, gift, safety… love? Somehow I cannot seem to capture the essence of Jonathan with mere words. He was my true love, my best friend, my companion, my co-worker, my true yoke-fellow…all of these things. And yet, I still have not arrived at the heart of the matter. Maybe I will never be able to describe him or what he meant to me until I, too, have crossed over and my Lord explains it to me…
I hope that answers your question.
*Jenny Hershberger is a fictional character from the Apple Creek Dream series by Patrick E. Craig. You can find out more about how she came to be a writer by reading her story in Jenny’s Choice, Patrick’s latest novel.