March 1877 Amana Colonies, Iowa
Johanna Ilg Rigid as a barn pole, I stood planted in the parlor doorway with my gaze fixed upon the pink feather-and-plume bedecked hat. Sparkling pins held it atop wavy dark tresses that crimped and coiled. The girl’s hair reminded me of the curly leaf lettuce we forced to early growth in our hotbeds each spring. An artificial rose peeked from beneath the curvy brim like a vigilant watchman. Although the visitors to our villages sometimes adorned themselves in outlandish costumes, the hat perched upon this young lady’s head surpassed anything I’d ever seen. She appeared rather young to be wearing such an ornate headpiece. Not that I could imagine anyone attaining any age where they thought that hat becoming.
Touching her fingers to the garish chapeau, the girl’s lips curved in a patronizing smile. She’d obviously noted my attention. “The latest fashion from England. My parents purchased it for me on their last visit.
” My mother waved me forward. “Come in and meet our guests, Johanna.” I tried to force myself to look away from the hat, but my eyes betrayed me as I stepped into the room. I couldn’t stop staring at the unsightly mixture of fabric and fluff. My mother cleared her throat. “Come, Johanna. Meet Dr. and Mrs. Schumacher and their daughter, Berta. They arrived only a short time ago. You remember we’ve been expecting them.”
I turned toward the well-dressed couple who sat side by side on our horsehair-stuffed divan. Berta, who looked to be sixteen or seventeen years old, had obviously inherited her dark curls and fine features from her mother. As if prepared to take flight at the earliest possible moment, the girl sat balanced at the edge of her chair. And given the size of her hat, it would take only a slight wind to carry her aloft.
“I am very pleased to welcome you to Amana. I hope you will be happy living among us.”
Berta’s dark eyes widened to huge proportions. She shook her head with such fervor I expected the decorations to tumble from her hat. “Living?” She glanced around our parlor with a look of disdain. “We are merely vacationing for a short time. My father’s family is from Germany, and we have a distant relative living in Middle Amana. My father thought this would be a pleasant place for our family to visit. I think he wanted to provide us a glimpse of his homeland without the expense of a voyage to Europe. Isn’t that correct, Father?” When Dr. Schumacher didn’t immediately reply, Berta leaned forward in her chair, her eyes flashing with impatience. “Well, isn’t it, Father?” Her voice had raised several decibels and panic edged her words.
One look at my mother confirmed that I’d misspoken. I longed to stuff the welcome back into my mouth, but that wasn’t possible. The damage had been done. Yet no one had forewarned me. How was I to know Berta hadn’t been advised of her father’s plans to move his family to the Amana Colonies?
The multistriped woven carpet that covered the parlor floor muffled the stomp of Berta’s foot. I arched my brows and glanced toward my mother. The girl was behaving like an undisciplined two-year-old.
“Now, Berta, please. You must remain calm.” Mrs. Schumacher unclipped a hand-painted fan from her waist and handed it to her daughter. “Use this. I don’t want you fainting and embarrassing yourself.”
Berta grabbed the fan from her mother’s hand and slapped it atop her skirt. “I don’t need a fan. What I need is an answer to my question.” She waited only a moment. “Well, Father? How long will we be visiting in Amana?”
Dr. Schumacher shifted toward his daughter and inhaled a deep lungful of air. “We will be making our new home here in Iowa, Berta. I trust you will remain quiet until we can speak in private. I should have told you before we embarked on the journey, but I wanted to avoid a scene.”
“Did you?” Berta jumped to her feet, a horror-stricken look in her eyes. “You don’t really believe I’ll agree to live in this place, do you?”
Before either of her parents could respond, our parlor door opened and my father entered the room with his flat felt cap pressed between his callused fingers. A few pieces of straw clung to his dark work pants. He smiled, and crinkles formed along the outer edges of his sparkling eyes. Today his eyes appeared green.
When I was five or six years old, I’d asked him about the color of his eyes. He’d told me they were hazel, but my mother said they were brown. I argued they couldn’t be both.
“Hazel is light brown,” he’d explained before scooping me onto his lap. “But hazel eyes change and look different colors depending on what you wear. Sometimes they look green, and at other times you can see golden flecks.” He’d nuzzled my neck. “Some people call them cat eyes. Do you think I look like a cat?” he’d asked. Remembrance of that long-ago conversation warmed me. I was glad Father was home. Perhaps his easy manner would calm Berta.
He extended his hand and stepped toward the doctor. “Willkommen!” His deep voice filled the room. “We are pleased to have you join our community and to have another doctor in the villages.”
Berta glared at my father as though he’d committed a crime. “We won’t be staying in Amana, Mr. Ilg.”
My father’s brow creased. I was certain he was expecting Berta’s father to reprimand her for such rude behavior. Instead, Dr. Schumacher held a finger to his lips. “We will discuss this once we are settled in our rooms, Berta.”
“First, you must tell me we aren’t going to stay here more than one night,” Berta said before tightening her lips into a pout.
The doctor stood. “If you could show us to our rooms where we can have a private family discussion, I would be most grateful.”
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