SARAH ANNE MILLER’S BEST BOOKMOBILING RULES
(I’ve started this log in order to allow myself to see my professional growth and learn from my mistakes.)
• RULE #1 •
Make sure there’s enough gas in your bookmobile’s gas tank.
ONE YEAR LATER
It was the second Friday of the month, Aaron Coblentz’s favorite day. On this day, the bookmobile would park down in the empty lot near Zeiset’s Furniture Store for three hours. The librarian, a very friendly Englischer named Sarah Anne Miller, would greet everyone with a bright smile. Then, she’d lean up against her small circulation desk and trade gossip from around the county and ask everyone how their families and pets were. She was, more or less, their link to the outside world.
Most importantly, though, she’d check out the books everyone discovered and deliver any books that had been previously ordered. And she did it all in the most pleasing way.
Aaron was slightly amazed that Sarah Anne had such a knack for understanding what everyone needed from her. With some folks, she hardly talked at all. With others, she was a regular chatterbox. And with old Mr. Sol? Well, she practically yelled, since he was nearly deaf but vain about not wanting to wear a hearing aid.
Aaron figured all of those things were good qualities to have as a librarian. However, what he cared most about was that she never, ever commented on what people chose to read. He liked that Sarah Anne Miller could keep a secret.
In the year since she’d started coming around to his part of Holmes County, Aaron had never once heard Sarah Anne judge anyone for what they asked her to bring them—not even the English lady who always requested a stack of romances, each with a half-naked man on the cover.
Aaron didn’t care about any of that, though. As far as he was concerned, sixty-something-year-old Sarah Anne was an answer to his prayers. If she hadn’t brought the bookmobile out to his neck of the woods, he might never have the chance to do what he wanted.
And he wanted his GED.
It was taking some time, but if all went well, he would finish his coursework by June, right around his twenty-second birthday. All he had to do was keep his secret a little longer. Then he could put this quest behind him and finally get up the nerve to ask Mr. Dwight Zeiset, his boss at the furniture store, to give him a promotion.
Zeiset’s was the largest furniture store in town. Aaron delivered furniture and moved it all around in the warehouse, helped customers, entered information in Mr. Zeiset’s ledgers, and arranged stock a pleasing way. Mr. Zeiset said he was indispensable, and Aaron intended to stay that way.
Mr. Zeiset really valued education, and Aaron feared that if he didn’t have a GED, he was going to be overlooked. And he didn’t want that. After all, he had big goals. He hoped that one day, if he did a real good job, Mr. Zeiset, who was getting on in years, would ask him to be the manager of the whole store. That was a possibility, Aaron was sure of it.
Feeling pleased with himself, and almost optimistic about his future, Aaron gathered his notes, pencils, and the library books that were scattered all over his room and stuffed them into his army-green backpack.
“Aaron, how soon are you going?” his younger brother, Jack, called out from down the hall. As usual, he was in a dither.
Aaron looked at his pocket watch. “I don’t know. Ten minutes?”
“Can you make it fifteen? I can’t find one of my books.”
“Jah, sure. Fifteen minutes is fine.” Though, it would be a true miracle if Jack found what he was looking for by then.
Aaron peeked into Jack’s room, only to see his brother’s backside sticking out from under the bed. “Where’s Tiny?”
“Not here, though I’m starting to think she’s the only thing that’s not lurking under this bed.”
Aaron felt like cringing. Ever since their mother had stopped cleaning under Jack’s bed, the mess had gotten much, much worse. Now, Aaron reckoned, there were any number of crawling creatures living down there. “Any idea where she might be?”
“Jah, helping Mamm in the kitchen with Rebecca.”
“Okay, I’ll go see if she’s ready.” After throwing his backpack over his shoulders, Aaron headed down the old wooden stairs of their farmhouse, taking special care to avoid steps number three and six. Neither was in good shape. Their father always said he was going to fix them, but so far—like many things in the house—the repair had never happened. Aaron had an idea that his dawdi had often told his grandmother the same thing a time or two.
The noise coming from the kitchen grew louder with each step. Not only was the singing a surprise, but the voices were rather difficult on his eardrums, too. His mother couldn’t carry a tune if it was stuffed in her purse.
All three quieted when he entered.
“Hiya. Uh, what were you singing?”
“Mamm and me are teaching Rebecca her ABCs,” Tiny said.
So far, he hadn’t heard a recognizable letter spout out of his baby sister’s mouth. “Sorry, but I don’t reckon it’s going too well.”
“It ain’t. But it could be going worse,” Tiny murmured. “I could be trying to get Mamm to sing in tune.”
“I heard that,” Mamm said from her perch in front of Rebecca’s booster chair. Glancing at Aaron, she straightened. “Well, my stars! You already have on your backpack.” She glanced at the beautiful cuckoo clock that her parents had given her and Daed on their wedding day. “Are you heading to the bookmobile already?”
“Jah. Hopefully, I’ll be on my way in fifteen minutes or so. Jack is searching for one of his books.”
Tiny smirked. “You might as well sit down and have a cup of kaffi. That could take all day.”
“It better not.” He only had ninety more minutes until Sarah Anne left the parking lot.
“Tiny isn’t wrong,” Mamm said. “Jack couldn’t find his head if it wasn’t attached so good. He’s going to be a while.”
“I don’t have time for that. Miss Miller is only going to be there for three hours today and she’s already been there half the time.”
“You need to calm down, bruder.” Tiny pointed to her neat stack of books. “I have Becca’s books in my tote bag. We’ll wait a bit, and if Jack doesn’t come down soon, we’ll go without him. And jah, before you ask. I’m ready. I’ve been ready.”
“That makes two of us, then.” After tossing his backpack on the floor, he flopped into the chair next to Rebecca. When the three-year-old grinned at him, he smiled back. “You’re getting smart today, Becca.”
“Jah!” She smiled.
Their mother wiped her hands on the apron she’d tied around the front of her dress. “She’s getting smarter, but she’s also making a real mess of me. I don’t know how this little thing always manages to get so much peanut butter off her graham crackers and onto her clothes. I don’t recall any of you being such messy eaters.”
“I’m sure we were. Anyway, she’s only three, aren’t you, Becca?” Tiny cooed.
Becca smiled and held up three fingers.
“Perhaps, though I don’t recall.” Their mamm picked up a dishrag. “Are you going to be checking out another one of your history books, Aaron?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“I’ve never known a boy so interested in history and geography. I’m proud of you.”
“Danke, Mamm.” He felt vaguely guilty, since his parents had no idea he was studying for the high school equivalency test, but not guilty enough to spill his secret. There was no way they could find out, either. They were too afraid about anything that might pull him away from them, too afraid of anything that would take him down Timothy’s path of being permanently shunned from both their community and their conversation.
Just as he looked at the kitchen clock yet again, Jack came running down the stairs.
“Aaron, I found it!”
“Don’t yell, Jack!” Mamm called out.
“Sorry.” He held up his stack. “See?”
“I see.” Aaron opened up his backpack and stuffed them inside. “Am I supposed to pick any up?”
“Yep. Sarah Anne has two mysteries for me. Can’t recall the titles offhand, but they’re filled with murder and mayhem.” He grinned. “I’m sure of it.”
“I’ll get them for you. Bye now.”
“Hold on, Aaron. Are you working today?” Mamm called out.
“Jah. I’ll be at Zeiset’s until dark.”
She frowned. “He runs you ragged, he does. Remind him that you are needed here at home, too. With your family.”
That’s what she always said. It was another veiled reference to Tim, and how he’d gone out into the Englisch world in spite of their parents’ best efforts. “I’m fine, Mudder.”
“See you later,” Jack called out as he poured a large mug of hot coffee. “I’d best get back out to the barn.”
Aaron knew that Jack had already been in the barn since five that morning. For all his disorganized mess, Jack was a hard worker. He helped their father farm their land in the spring, summer, and fall, and did woodworking in the barn in the winter.
“Ready, Aaron?” Tiny asked. “As you can see, I have on my boots and cloak.”
He stuffed his feet into his heavy winter boots. “I am. Bye, everyone.”
Five minutes later, he and Tiny were on their way to the bookmobile. Tiny’s real name was Elizabeth, but Aaron couldn’t recall anyone ever calling her that. Their father started calling her “Tiny” soon after she was born, since she’d been born early and was so much smaller than he, Tim, and Jack had been. Though she was normal size, now, the name had stuck.
She was seventeen to Jack’s eighteen and his twenty-one. At one time, they’d all walked to school together, but now that they were older, their days were as different as the three of them were.
Tiny was the most dependable. She flitted around, helping them all with one thing or another. Lately, she spent much of her time helping their mother can and sell their jams and jellies.
Tim had been handsome and loud. He’d also always questioned everything: their parents’ rules, their church district’s customs, the adherence to tradition. For a time it had seemed that he’d settled down. He’d gotten baptized and was even courting Suzanne down the street. But then they’d broken up, and he’d declared he wanted to leave everything they were behind. Their parents had threated to shun him. It had all happened so quickly, and he was lost to them forever.
Jack was the most easygoing and helped their father around the farm. He’d also been the best student, much to Aaron’s dismay when they were younger. Jack had taken his good grades for granted, never thinking too much about school; he’d always preferred to be outside by their father’s side.
Aaron, though he was now the oldest, was in many ways the odd duck. He’d been a dreamer, always thinking about his studies late into the night. He’d been the one making up stories he would have loved to one day publish and the one with all the questions about history. He hadn’t just wanted to know about Lewis and Clark and their journey out west; he had wanted to know what everyone was wearing, what they ate, how they prepared for such an adventure, and even how they made their maps. Now, though? Well, now his dreams were of the more concrete nature. He wanted to be smart enough to manage Zeiset’s.
Rounding out their family was little Rebecca, his parents’ surprise babe. It had taken them all off guard when their parents had announced that their mother was with child. But little Rebecca had been a blessing. He had no idea what her gifts were going to be, though perhaps it was her sunny disposition. Becca had brought all of them so much joy.
Tiny was perhaps the closest to Aaron. In a lot of ways, they were like two peas in a pod. Well, that’s what their mother always said.
“Do you ever wonder how the five of us ever got into this family?” he mused, voicing his thoughts out loud. “We’re quite the varied lot.”
Tiny nodded. “It has crossed my mind a time or two. But I’m glad we’re different. I like our differences. I kind of like that our haus isn’t like everyone else’s.”
Aaron knew what she meant. Their family was anything but a stereotypical Amish household. They were loud, disorganized, and rather messy. Their mother took the mess in stride and never thought to complain about her inability to keep a clean house, often thanking the Lord instead for giving her a pair of good eyes and a love of reading, cooking, and sewing.
A few minutes later, they reached the crest of the hill, and Aaron could see the bookmobile parked in the empty lot, just like always. He breathed a sigh of relief. They were going to make it there on time after all.
“Are you ever going to tell me what is really going on with you?” Tiny blurted.
He was not, but he played dumb. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do. Sarah Anne practically sneaks the books you order to you under a shelf. It’s obvious you’re studying something you don’t want the rest of us to know about.”
“It is private, but it’s nothing bad.”
“I didn’t think it would be.” She gave him a curious look. “Aaron, if you ever want to talk about it, I can keep a secret, you know.”
He smiled. “But I’m afraid I don’t want to share right now.”
She groaned. “Fine. But you’re going to have to tell us all what you’re really up to sooner or later.”
“I understand.” He just hoped it would be far later than sooner. “Just give me time, okay?”
“Jah. Sure.” She smiled at him before waving to her friend Virginia.
Aaron breathed a sigh of relief. Virginia would distract Tiny from thinking about him for a while. Which was perfect because Sarah Anne said she was going to have some news for him today.
He just hoped it was the news he’d been praying for.