John Lapp stepped out of the barn and observed the sky. The west was dark from the recent rain, but the sun beat down overhead now. He felt the sun's warmth on his face. It felt good. He closed his dark brown eyes and threw his arms above his head, stretching the kinks out of his joints. The hour before, a black rain cloud poured large, cold drops on him as he ran into the barn. He was thankful to see the sun back. Even more thankful for peaceful calm times like these when all was right in his family's world.
Laugher from the end of the driveway caused John to glance toward the gravel road. His two sons sauntered toward him. Daniel's growth spurt had shot him up almost as tall as his brother, Noah. John's youngest son must have found something Noah said funny. He elbowed the grinning Noah who usually was the serious natured one of the two.
The boys acted like they were up to something. John waited for them to get to him. "How was your visit with Jimmie Miller?"
"Gute," Noah said.
"Jah, we had fun," Daniel replied. The eleven years old boy had his jacket buttoned shut. The black material moved in and out over his chest.
John pointed at Daniel's jacket. "What do you have rutsching around in there?"
Daniel asked, "Remember we talked about some day getting another dog?"
"Jah," John answered.
"Did you see Jimmie's dog and her litter of pups when we had the Sunday meeting at their farm a month ago?" Noah inquired.
"Jah. If I remember right, she was a black and tan coon hound with a mess of pups. Ain't so?" John recalled.
"Jah, and Jimmie is ready to wean the pups and give them away. He gave us one to bring home on approval." Daniel added reluctantly, "If you and Mama Hal do not like him we can take the pup back."
"Bring him out of your jacket before he suffocates, and let me see him," John said.
Daniel unbuttoned his coat and handed the fat, cream colored puppy to his father. "He's cute, ain't so?"
The puppy's spiked tail quivered back and forth. He let out a series of yips at John like a wind up toy.
"Right now he is. Is he pure coon hound?" John asked.
"Jah. Bred to, Jimmie's cousin, Morgan Miller's black and tan coon hound," Noah said.
"I take it you two are planning to take this pup coon hunting when he's older?" John surmised.
"That is the plan," Noah agreed.
"It is all right with me to keep him, but this pup is not the breed your Mama Hal might have had in mind when we talked about getting another family dog like Patches. You show her the puppy. If you get her approval then it is all right with me to keep him," John said.
"How about we let Mama Hal name the pup? Think she would like that gute enough to let us keep him?" Daniel asked.
"Might work in your favor. Give it a try," John agreed. "I'm headed to the house. No time better to show the puppy to Hal and Emma."
John trod behind the house and into the mud room with the boys right behind him. When John entered the kitchen, Hal marched at him, wringing a corner of her white apron. "I don't 2
know how I could have done such a thing. This is awful. I don't know what to do about it."
John stopped short. Bewildered, he watched his wife pace around the kitchen. Daniel grabbed Noah's arm. He whispered, "We better stay out here until Dad gets Mama Hal settled down. This does not sound gute for our puppy."
"Jah," Noah hissed solemnly. "I have been pondering this. Maybe we should not bring up that our dog is a coon hound unless Mama Hal comes right out and asks its breed. She can not tell one breed from the other when they are puppies."
"Gute idea," Daniel whispered back. The puppy squirmed in his arms. He nearly dropped the pup before gathering him in a tighter grip.
Emma was mixing cake batter at the table. Her gray green eyes shifted nervously back and forth from the batter to her upset stepmother. Hal made a lap around the room and back to John. "This is just not fair. How could this happen? I don't know how I could have done such a dumb thing? Do you, John?"
"I can not answer that until you tell me what you did. What did you do?" John implored, wondering what could be so bad to cause Hal's face to flush as red as her hair.
"I got a letter from my parents today. They're coming to visit us, because I invited them," Hal groaned. She grabbed the letter off the table and waved the sheets of paper at him.
John looked confused. "What's wrong with that? I like your folks."
At that news, Noah and Daniel edged into the kitchen. Standing behind Noah to conceal the pup, Daniel said gleefully, "Dawdi Jim and Mammi Nora are coming. That is gute news."
"Nah, it's not gute news," Hal narrowed her eyes at the boys. They ducked their heads and studied their bare feet. Hal continued, "It's very bad news. Why did I do it, John?"
"The mystery of that will only be solved if you tell me the whole story. Come sit down." He grabbed Hal by the elbow and led her to the table. "You are all worked up, ain't so? Now 3
tell me why is it not gute news that your folks are coming if you invited them?" John asked patiently. What was I thankful for just a few minutes ago? So much for it being peaceful around here. He took Hal by her shoulders and pushed her down into a chair.
"Because my mother asked Aunt Tootie to come with them, and Aunt Tootie is coming. Isn't that awful?" Hal cried, dropping her hands in surrender onto her apron.
"Who is Aendi Tootie?" Daniel asked.
"My mother's sister," Hal answered.
"Does she have a husband?" Noah asked.
"Not anymore. She's been a widow for years," Hal told him.
"If your aendi is anything like your mother we will be looking forward to her visit," John said truthfully.
"You hit the nail on the head," Hal barked at him. "That's the problem. Aunt Tootie is nothing like my mother. She will say or do something to upset people in the Amish community and get our whole family shunned. That's the way she is. She doesn't think what she's going to say. Words just shoot out of her mouth. She doesn't think before she acts. She just does things. Weird things."
Emma took a stab at placating Hal. "Hallie, I do not see how she can be that bad. We will be all right."
"Nah, we won't. I'm sure of it," Hal declared, rubbing her forehead to ease the throb.
"Consider the family warned and calm down, Hal. Surely nothing can happen to get us in trouble in the short time your relatives will stay," John reasoned.
"Wrong! They're going to stay a month at least, and maybe more if they think they're having fun," Hal groaned.
"Maybe it would have helped if Mammi Nora had given you a whiff of a warning they were bringing your aendi with them," Emma groused as she poured the batter in the cake pan.
"Nah, any other relative maybe, but it wouldn't have helped this time. Not when it's Aunt Tootie they're bringing," groaned Hal with both hands to her face.
John said, "Now, Hal, hospitality is a virtue commanded in 4
"God never had my Aunt Tootie sit at his table! If he did just once, he'd have given asking her second thoughts when she showed up again," Hal fumed.
John spoke a cautionary slow, "Hal."
Noah interrupted. "When are they coming?"
"They will drive in sometime next Tuesday afternoon," Hal said quietly.
John rubbed the side of his face. "That is a week from today. That soon?"
"Jah, and there's so much to do. My parents can sleep in the spare room, but where are we going to put Aunt Tootie?" Hal worried.
"She can sleep with me," Emma offered.
"Oh, no! Trust me. You don't want Aunt Tootie to sleep with you," Hal declared.
"I do not understand why not. I am sure I will be able to endure her for the short time they are here," Emma said.
"Nah, you will not. Where do you think she got the name Tootie?" Hal exclaimed, slumping in the chair.
Emma looked puzzled then her eyes widen. "Oh."
Noah and Daniel put their hands to their mouths and giggled.
Hal leaned back against the chair. It appeared she had run out of steam.
This was as good a time as any to get Hal's mind on something else. John said, "The boys have something to show you."
Daniel stepped around Noah and stood in front of Hal, holding the wiggling puppy. "Jimmie Miller is weaning a litter of pups. He let us bring this one home on approval. If you like the puppy we can keep him. If you do not like him, we will take him back."
"I see. He sure is a cute little fellow," Hal said, holding her hands out.
Daniel gave her the puppy while Noah said, "If you like him, you can name him for us."
Hal studied the boys and then the puppy. "Let me get this 5
straight. If I name him, you get to keep the puppy?"
Noah wasn't sure what was the right thing to answer since Mama Hal hadn't been too happy. "I guess that is recht."
"What an honor to be able to name the puppy. Denki, boys. Emma, what do you think of him?" Hal asked. She twisted in the chair and held the puppy out where Emma could see him.
Emma put the cake pan in the oven, before she focused on the pup. "He is a sweet puppy right now while he is in your lap. It wonders me the bedevilment he will be full of when he is turned loose on us."
"Sister, that describes all puppies," Noah defended.
Daniel hissed at Emma. "It is either a puppy or another raccoon. Which would you rather we get for a pet?"
"No question. The puppy," Emma relented quickly.
Hal held the puppy up, inspecting his chubby body and long ears. The pup sniffed at her, gave her cheek a lick of approval with his pink tongue and yipped in her face. "He's such a pretty cream color. Reminds me of one of Emma's biscuits. I think I'll name him Biscuit."
Daniel's mouth fell open.
Noah looked helplessly at his father.
The corner of John's lips twitched in good humor at his sons' chagrin. Daniel opened his mouth to protest the puppy's new name, but John stopped him. "Boys, better find a place to settle the puppy so you can help me milk and get the calves bottle fed."
Daniel sounded dispirited. "Jah, Daed."
"Where are you going to put him?" Hal asked. "The nights are still chilly."
"In one of the pens in the barn with clean straw bedding to snuggle in," Noah said. "He slept in the barn at the Miller farm."
"By himself?" Hal asked.
"Nah, he was with the rest of the litter," Daniel told her.
"I thought as much. They kept each other warm at night," Hal said. "If you find a box big enough Biscuit couldn't crawl out of, he could stay in the mudroom for a couple of weeks. At 6
least until it warms up at night. Think that would be all right, John?"
"Jah, that would be fine," John agreed. "Now we have work to do. Noah, you help me. Daniel, you get the box, put the puppy in it then bottle feed the calves."
As they walked to the barn, Noah said, "Daed, we can not name the dog Biscuit. That is not a fit name for a dog."
"Help us talk Mama Hal into a different name. One that is for dogs," Daniel said, tagging along.
"It will not be wise for you to back out on letting Hal name the puppy right now. She is upset enough about her aunt coming. She might not take kindly to hearing you do not like her name for the dog. Best stick to your bargain, and be thankful she is letting you keep him. I am hoping the puppy will give her something to think about instead of the company coming."
"But, Daed, how is that going to sound when we take this dog coon hunting with the other boys, and we're calling in the dark timber come here Biscuit," Noah groaned.
"They are all going to have a good laugh at us. That is what will happen," Daniel complained.
"I expect they will," John said, chuckling.
That night during supper, Hal silently worried about all that needed done before next Tuesday. She pushed her food around on her plate, hardly eating anything.
Daniel rose in his chair enough that he could reach across the table and pick up the butter dish. Hal frowned. On top of everything else, both boys needed to remember to use manners around her parents and aunt. "Daniel, instead of reaching across the table for the butter, the polite thing to do is say please pass me the butter."
Daniel bowed his head. "Sorry, Mama Hal."
"It's all right this time. It's just that I want us to use our best manners while we have company," Hal explained.
The next few days passed by in a fast whirlwind of activity as Hal and Emma rushed to clean the house and air out the spare room for Hal's parents.
When the boys came in one afternoon, Emma sent them to the basement to sweep and take down the cobwebs.
"We are sure going to a lot of work for company," Noah complained.
Daniel grumped, "You would think Aendi Tootie and Mammi Nora do not ever see a speck of dust."
"They do not from the way Mama Hal is acting," Noah replied as he swiped the ceiling cobwebs with the broom's straws.
When the boys appeared back upstairs, Emma cornered them again. "Make up the fly bags and put them around the doors and windows. We do not want a lot of flies in here."
Noah asked, "Mama Hal, you have enough pennies to put in the water?"
Hal rifled in her purse and gave the boys what pennies she had. Emma laid a box of quart baggies on the kitchen table. The boys put six pennies in each bag and filled them half full of water. Once they had the amount of bags they needed, they tacked the fly bags on the outside of the house.
Finally one morning after much thought, Hal announced as she wiped dishes, "Aunt Tootie is going to sleep in the clinic bed."
"Are you sure?" Emma asked. "The clinic is so far away from the rest of the family at night."
"There's nothing wrong with that. For goodness sakes! It's not like I'm sending her out to the barn to sleep. The clinic is attached to the house after all," Hal declared out of sorts.
"I know, but what if you need that bed for a birthing?" Emma considered.
"We will deal with that when and if it happens. Maybe we'll be lucky and not have a birth while our company is here. I can't think of anyone that's due this soon."
"Just the same we should treat your aunt like company. Besides, she is a lot older than me. She can have my bed. I can sleep in the clinic. That way if we have a birthing I will be the one without a bed which I will not need if I am assisting you," Emma declared logically.
Hal gave in. "All right, if that's the way you want it."
Emma fixed the mop bucket and mopped the kitchen's black and white checkered linoleum. She tossed the dirty water out the back door. As she hung the mop pail on a nail and the rag mop beside it, Noah and Daniel charged into the mud room. Emma eyed the squirming puppy warily in Daniel's arms as she snapped, "Watch your step! I just mopped that kitchen floor. It is slick."
"We will," Daniel said.
The boys tiptoed into the kitchen. Hal smiled at them as she dried her hands on her apron. "How's the puppy doing?"
"He is growing fast, ain't so?" Noah said to Daniel.
"Jah," Daniel agreed. "Want to see him come to you, Mama Hal." He put the puppy on the floor. "Now call him."
Hal slapped the side of her leg. "Come to me, Biscuit. Come here." The puppy slipped and sprawled out several times on the damp floor before he finally slid to a stop in front of Hal. She leaned over and patted his head. "You're so cute."
The nervous puppy licked her hand repeatedly. Suddenly, he squatted and relieved himself. The amber puddle spread out around his hind paws, ran under his front paws and flowed toward Hal. She stepped back to keep the pool from running under her bare feet. The puppy yipped as he pattered around her, leaving his wet tracks on the clean squares.
With her hands on her hips, Emma's disgust couldn't be missed.
With eyes on his sister, Noah said quietly, "Grab Biscuit, Daniel."
At the sound of Emma's heavy footsteps behind them, Daniel told Hal, "We need to go now."
Instantly, Emma was beside them, pointing to the puddle. "That is not a gute thing. I just mopped the floor. I did not want to do it over, but I will have to, ain't so?" Her stiff finger wavered toward the pup as she snapped, "Get him out of this house. He does not belong in here."
Noah rushed at the puppy. Biscuit dodged under the table. The puppy crouched down, shivering as he tried to figure out 9
what went wrong.
Daniel told Noah, "I will crawl under the table on this side. You watch for him on the other side."
Daniel went at the pup on all fours. Biscuit scampered out of hiding and bumped into Emma's bare feet. She scooped squirming pup up and held him at arms' length. "I have him. Take him to the barn. He can not stay in the mud room anymore. Take the box away. It smells as bad as this dog does. They both need to be gone before company comes."