An Amish Love Story
By Jon Frank
He watches as his breath melts the snow on the log. Drip, drip, drip, then liquid sliding along a sharp sliver of bark to drop off unseen but icy under his collar. The wrenching pains in his leg and arm have mostly subsided now, probably from both cold and shock. He attempts once again to shift himself, but meets resistance from renewed pain and the weight of the timber. The massive pile groans softly, and he glances at the butt end of a log clinging tenuously to a position six inches above his face. He guesses one small shift will equal immediate and gruesome death.
Jacob ponders this fact. He weighs the possibility against his other choice, slow sleep into hypothermia and death, and finds the prospect of a quick end alluring. No, he says to himself. It would be suicide. While whoever finds him will not know, God will – and the thought of eternity without his beloved Miriam is more painful than his current situation.
He remembers he first noticed Miriam when he was just fifteen, on a trip to the community sawmill with his father. Miriam’s father Reuben owned and operated the mill alongside her two brothers, and she had brought lunch for the men. Her green eyes were brilliant above the dull gray homespun of her dress, and despite its modestly-loose folds, he could tell she had a slender waist and round hips. He was smitten at once.
That same week was his family’s turn to host church. Miriam had, of course, sat in the adjoining room with the womenfolk. She was just through the open doorway, and he leaned forward on the edge of the bench to keep her in view. His father caught him looking and jerked his arm firmly.
The same arm, in fact, now pinned between several hundred pounds of timber.
Drip, drip, sliiide.
The snow drifts down through cracks in the log canopy above him. It collects on his coat in a ragged square, reminding him of the piece of creamy white cloth he found that same long-ago Sunday while stacking chairs and benches after the service.
The cloth had been torn, possibly from an apron, and appeared to be intentionally placed where Miriam had been sitting. He picked it up and stuffed it into his waistband for safekeeping. That evening, he examined its wispy threads for a long while in the fading window light. He tucked it under his pillow and dreamed stirring dreams of deep green eyes. In the morning he hid the cloth in his waistband again, a habit he would keep for a handful of weeks until the cloth fell out somewhere in the course of daily chores. Several times his mother questioned him about his faraway countenance, but he dismissed her by saying he was merely tired. He felt guilty for lying, but was afraid his mother wouldn’t understand.
Pain rockets through his leg now and he needs no medical training to know the break is probably severe. His left arm is likely broken as well, but it mercifully went numb awhile ago. His uninjured right arm is pinned against his torso, with only his hand able to move. He pats his coat and finds he can just reach the wooden toggles on the lapel, but his fumbling attempts to release them are unsuccessful. He can, however, slip his fingers under the hem to tug a corner of the cloth-covered package tucked inside, releasing a deep rich aroma that entices his nostrils. Double Dutch Chocolate Brownies. Miriam’s best.
The smell takes him back three Christmases ago when he was eighteen. While the community recognized and encouraged rumspringa, he found little need for the typical wildness of other boys, instead spending most of his time at Miriam’s family sawmill learning the trade. Reuben came to trust Jacob, granting the young man unusual leeway with his only daughter. The Sunday before Christmas Jacob asked and received permission to take Miriam for a ride after church. They crossed the river and sat under a bare oak tree on a wool blanket, huddling close together in a heavy handmade quilt and laughing at the absurd fun of a picnic in wintertime. Miriam’s packed lunch included double dutch chocolate brownies for dessert. If she had needed a way to cement her hold on Jacob, beyond her sweet smile and unexpected humor, it would have been accomplished with those brownies alone.
Drip, drip, sliiiiide.
Jacob wonders where Klubert is now. He has always been a steady and sure beast, not prone to spooking. The massive Belgian stands eighteen-and-a-half hands and can pull more weight than any two-horse team Jacob has seen. Yet he is an exceptionally gentle boy who loves Miram’s brownies nearly as much as Jacob.
Once while in the field, Klubert suddenly stopped and refused to pull the plow. Jacob looked over his crops and spied his beloved Miriam setting the table outside for lunch. Jacob commanded the horse to finish the job, but Klubert instead turned the plow and headed like an arrow to the tin of brownies on the table. Thankfully, Miriam was able to appease him with a couple of brownie squares from her own hand. Jacob felt a tinge of jealousy, pouting pitifully until Miriam fed him a brownie too. “Careful boy,” he said, “that’s how she got me too.”
Jacob winces again, partially in pain, and partially from knowing the treat is wasted inches from his chapped mouth.
Drip, drip, sliiiide.
The water runs slower now, signaling a drop in temperature. He listens now as the snow turns to ice. It pelts the logs and icy fall begins to block out what little light has been able to reach through the cracks. Night is coming and soon Jacob will be alone in smothering blackness. He has a sparker, but it’s in his unreachable coat pocket. Ah well, there is nothing to light anyway. Well, besides twenty-four massive pine logs piled on top of him, he notes wryly. The thought of fire, however, warms him somewhat.
Funny, he recalls a summer wildfire was the reason he asked Miriam to marry him. A blaze started at the sawmill and Jacob, along with everyone for miles, turned out for the bucket brigade. The determination of Amish men and women availeth much, and the flames were extinguished long before the local fire department arrived. Miriam did more than her share, spending the better part of two hours filling pails and passing them on without reprieve. Her hands were puckered with blisters and Jacob found her running them under the pump to soothe her wounds. He offered to pump the water and she thanked him. There in the waning summer light were those same vivid green eyes and captivating smile, albeit smudged with grime and sweat.
“Marry me,” he blurted.
“What? Jacob…wha…You can’t just ask. What about my father?”
Her statement wasn’t so much resistance as it was a plea for him to do things rightly. He released the pump handle, looked about, set eyes on his objective, and strode across the yard.
“Jacob, what are you..?” Miriam cried. He noted her pleas, but kept walking.
“Reuben Miller, I would like to formally ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. I am a good worker, as you have surely seen. I own no property, but I am my father’s only son and stand to inherit the family land when he dies. I will take your daughter to live there until then. She and I will obey the Ordnung and the family traditions, and I’m sure she will bear you many grandchildren. Sir, what say you?”
Reuben stood up straight. He stroked his soot-grimed beard and walked around the pile of lumber he had been leaning against. The other men watched silently with stern, blackened faces. Reuben returned to look Jacob in the eye. He squinted a bit and Jacob noted a slight quiver along Reuben’s jowls.
Suddenly, Reuben’s mouth curled in a grin and his head tossed back in laughter. He gestured to the scorched mill with outspread hands.
“Boy, did you really need a fire lit under you to ask me that?” Reuben continued his hearty laugh while slapping Jacob’s back. “Of course, son, of course.”
Jacob felt relief and allowed himself to smile.
The wind picks up and Jacob hears the ice cracking around him as the log pile shifts above him. It is late now; the other men have already eaten supper and begun nightly prayers with their families. Miriam is worried by now, he is sure. But he knows even if a rescue effort is mounted, the chances of anyone getting to him in time are slim because no one knows he is here. Jacob ponders the events that led to this predicament. He had come to the cut in the late-afternoon snow after the other men had already decided to leave. He can’t call them faulenzen for leaving early, for now it is clear he too should’ve taken heed of the weather and gone on home.
But he had wanted to retrieve one last load in fresh snow that would make Klubert’s pull easier and faster. He had dropped off the empty sled and quickly harnessed the horse to the loaded one. Twenty-four logs is not a large load, and he knew Klubert would make quick work of the journey. Jacob had climbed the fifteen feet, settled on the pile’s pinnacle, clucked to Klubert, and set off.
Fifteen minutes into the hour-long ride, something had snapped sharply and he violently tumbled down with the load. He remembers crumpling hard on the ground and the massive logs bouncing around him. When he awoke he was in his present position and Klubert was gone, broken loose from the tack. He does not know how long he laid unconscious but he guesses only a few moments.
Math has never been Jacob’s strong suit, but to hold back panic in the gaining dark, he attempts to estimate a rescue time. Less than an hour for Klubert, unburdened, to reach the sawmill. An hour or longer for someone to return, depending on the weather.
But Jacob knows the mill is empty. Old Christmas is tomorrow and the twenty-sixth the following day. Everyone is preparing for the holiday. Of course, Miriam will eventually realize he is missing if he does not come home, but Jacob is prone to hang at the mill sometimes to discuss things with her father – so it is not uncommon for him to be a bit late for supper.
No, he should probably prepare himself for the inevitable. Jacob begins praying, scanning his memory for any verses that might be appropriate. Yet his prayers are interrupted with thoughts of his wife and who will take care of her, of children they will never have, of her sitting widowed. He feels tears grow and freeze on his cheeks.
He drifts off, how long he doesn’t know, and awakes later to pale snowy darkness and sounds of movement outside his log prison.
“Hello?” he croaks. “Is anyone there?”
The shuffling stops. In a moment he hears movement again. Is it a bear or some other wild animal? Both seem likely. In a moment his heart sinks, for the jangling harness reveals it is Klubert. Maybe he has returned out of some kind of loyalty, or he just doesn’t know where else to go. Jacob hears his hooves stamping and his breath blowing, and despair approaches. No one is coming for a while now. He is alone. He begins to weep again, instinctively raising his hand to brush cold tears away. His uninjured hand doesn’t reach, of course, but he feels the reflexive jerk of his wrist knock the package of brownies loose from his coat. He manages, even with shaking fingertips, to pinch the corner of the covering cloth and slide it up to his mouth. He eagerly works his teeth to the brownie and is soon enraptured by that deep chocolate taste.
Thanking God for the blessing of a final taste of this world, Jacob almost doesn’t notice the steady, warm gust of air coming in on him. It is Klubert’s muzzle in the crack just above his wedged face. Hot snot and spittle begins dripping down on Jacob’s face and then works its way along until it hovers above the package of brownies. He can just make out a long flicking tongue making its way down between the logs to barely touch the top of the cloth.
“I’m afraid that’s a bit of a stretch for you, boy.”
The horse increases his efforts to reach the tasty treat. Not content to use his tongue anymore, Klubert begins to paw at the logs with his hooves. Blowing in frustration, he nickers loudly. He pulls at a log with his leg, which shifts the pile dangerously. The precarious log above Jacob’s head suddenly slides down to within an inch of his right eye.
“Whoa, boy! Stop! You’re going to kill me. Whoa!”
The horse seems unconcerned and begins another relentless attempt to obtain his prize. The logs roll slightly and grind against each other in the cold, but this time the slight shift allows Jacob to free his uninjured arm enough to move it about. Klubert pauses at the shift, surveying his options for obtaining the dark chocolate treat. He brings his muzzle once more to the now larger crevice. Jacob can almost see Klubert’s broad head through the crack.
“Hey, boy, come down here. Yes, I’m not mad. Come here.”
The chattering of his master calms the giant horse. The muzzle leans in close and Jacob is just able to grab a loose rein and secure it. The horse balks a bit but realizes Jacob is back in charge.
Jacob pulls the leather rein into the tiny space with him, and in a moment he has gathered its full length. He begins wrapping it around one of the logs above him, a difficult task in the near-dark with one numb hand and one eye’s view blocked by a massive log. It is also a gamble because Jacob has no idea in what condition the log pile is above him. For all he can tell, he is preparing his own death. Still, he continues to tie the leather strap securely, then slips a piece of the brownie up through the crevasse to his mighty horse. He inhales, prays, and exhales.
Closing his eyes and turning his face away from the log suspended above, Jacob clucks to the horse, “Pull, boy. Ha! Pull!”
The horse straightens his neck. Klubert is mighty when pulling normally, from the stout shoulders, but his neck is not designed to pull. Despite this fact, he knows there are more treats inside with his master. He begins to back up, stops, backs up again, and heaves. Jacob hears shuffling and the beast’s massive weight shifting, jingling metal, and splintering of frozen sled planks. He imagines Klubert stumbling on the broken shaft dangling from the dee and tug stops twisted under his feet by the harness in a manner that forces him to step on them. No common horse could even attempt this effort. Even most draft horses would balk at such a task. But this is the mighty Klubert. He will have his treat!
The timber moves and Jacob cringes as he expects the killing log to smash in his head. Instead, the log attached to Klubert’s rein pivots, and the danger swings out and down. The log pinning Jacob’s broken arm slides away as well.
“Whoa, boy. Come back here,” Jacob summons.
The horse is all too eager to comply. Jacob rewards him with a tiny piece of brownie and reaches up to secure more straps from the harness. In a bit, he turns the horse and secures any strappings he can reach around the log on his leg. Again he commands Klubert, and with a scraping boom that surely would’ve been excruciating had the leg not been numb, the massive log tumbles free of Jacob’s leg. Jacob commands the horse to stop and slides along the ground until he can free the horse from the log.
Jacob sees what he suspected, that the sled is in splinters with pieces scattered about. He crawls to the largest flat piece he can find, attaches the trailing leads to Klubert as best he can, and rolls himself aboard, shouting with bright pain mixed with joy.
He calls to the horse, “Home, Klubert, Home!”
The big brute takes off at a trot, flinging clods of snow back in Jacob’s face. He pulls the coat tight around his face, braces himself for the pain, and settles in for the long ride.
He inhales and smells the wonderful aromas arising from the kitchen below. He feels content and soon drifts back to sleep. When he wakes again, he is greeted by the green eyes of home.
Click HERE to subscribe to our newsletter!