A Cousin's Challenge
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Quiet darkness met Jolene Yoder as she stepped into Aunt Dorcas’s kitchen. After losing her hearing two years ago in a van accident, she’d become used to the quiet. There were even times when she saw it as a blessing rather than a hindrance. Oh, she missed some things--twittering birds, rain splattering on the roof, the soft mew of a kitten, and her mother’s gentle voice. What she didn’t miss were blaring car horns, squeaking doors, roaring thunder, and the shrill voices of people shouting.
She flipped on the light switch and glanced around. Aunt Dorcas was obviously not at home. If she were, she’d be in the kitchen, starting supper. Maybe she was still at the sewing circle, where she and several women from her Mennonite church were making quilts and other items for the Mennonite Relief Sale that would take place later this fall.
Someone touched Jolene’s shoulder, and she whirled around.
“Sorry if I startled you,” Uncle Charlie signed.
“It’s okay,” Jolene spoke as she signed. She understood that tapping her shoulder was sometimes the best way to get her attention. “I thought Aunt Dorcas would be home by now. Do you know why she’s so late?”
“When she left this morning, she said she planned to make a few stops on her way home from church this afternoon.” Uncle Charlie spoke rather than signed, and Jolene interpreted by reading his lips.
“Guess I’d better start supper so we can eat as soon as she gets home.”
“Would you consider making chicken potpie?”
She nodded and grinned. Uncle Charlie might not have a Pennsylvania Dutch background, but he sure liked Pennsylvania Dutch food.
“If you don’t need me for anything, I think I’ll go back to the living room and finish reading the newspaper,” Uncle Charlie said.
“I can manage, so go right ahead.”
“We’ve sure enjoyed having you here.” He patted her arm and ambled from the room.
She quirked an eyebrow. What had Uncle Charlie meant when he’d said “enjoyed”? It sounded as if he thought she had plans to leave.
Jolene shrugged and turned toward the stove. He probably hadn’t meant anything.
She had just started the broth for the potpie when Aunt Dorcas got home. “Sorry I’m late,” she both said and signed. “It took me much longer to do my errands than I expected, and traffic was terrible between here and Lancaster.”
“No problem. I’ve already started supper.” Jolene motioned to the bubbling broth on the stove, filling the room with a savory fragrance. “It shouldn’t take too long.”
Aunt Dorcas pulled out two chairs at the table. “Would you sit a minute? I’d like to talk to you about something.” Her expression was solemn.
“Is something wrong?”
“While you were at the dentist’s this morning, I talked to your mother on the phone.”
“How is she? Are things going well at home?”
Aunt Dorcas nodded. “She had a message for you.”
“What was it?”
“The school board met yesterday, and they asked if you’d come home.”
Jolene’s eyebrows rose. “How come? They know I can’t teach anymore.”
“Two deaf children have moved with their family from Millersburg, Ohio, to your hometown of Topeka, Indiana. Their parents have the Rh factor, and the children haven’t been able to hear since they were born. They’ve each had a year of schooling, but they need someone who can sign and read lips to continue their education.”
Jolene shook her head. “Huh-uh; I’m not ready for that.”
“You’ve been with us two years now and have become proficient at signing and reading lips,” Aunt Dorcas said. “I think you’re more than ready to go home and teach those special children.”
“Why don’t their parents send them somewhere else to learn? There are lots of good schools for the deaf, like the one here in Pennsylvania where you’ve taught.”
“They did take the children somewhere to learn how to sign, but they want the family to be together at home now.” Aunt Dorcas placed her hand gently on Jolene’s arm. “They want you to provide their basic schooling and teach them how to read lips.”
A gentle breeze floated through the open window and fluttered the curtains. Jolene shivered. She felt comfortable and confident here in Pennsylvania. She’d made friends with some of the deaf students Aunt Dorcas taught. The thought of going home sent a ripple of apprehension up her spine.
“You’ve missed teaching school; you’ve mentioned it so many times,” Aunt Dorcas said.
“I know, but this would be different. I’d be teaching children who can’t hear.”
“That’s right. And since you can’t hear, who better to teach them?”
Aunt Dorcas’s innocent question pried through Jolene’s numbness, and she turned to stare out the window. She tried to envision what each person in her family was doing right now, for she truly did miss them. She tried to picture herself back home again, teaching two deaf children how to read and write. She thought about her cousins and how nice it would be to spend time with them again. She even thought about her buggy horse, Belle, and wondered if the easygoing mare missed her.
After several minutes of contemplation, Jolene turned to Aunt Dorcas and said, “Call Mom, and tell her to let the school board know that I’ll be home by the end of the week.”