Joseph marched with his graduating class. Anyone seeing him in the line of black-robed seniors would have thought he was just one of the guys. Anyone who didn’t know he could no longer go home to see his parents and siblings. He’d defied his father to complete his high school education and now there was a rift he didn’t know how to heal. No Amish people, including his own family, would speak to him or receive him in their homes. Joseph was shunned.
During the day he was busy with his school studies and working with the local general practitioner, Dr. Lanahan, and he could keep the fear and loneliness at bay. At night when it was quiet, the reality of his situation couldn’t be ignored.
He’d had to find shelter after Pop told him he could no longer live at home, and Dr. Lanahan offered the room above his garage. It was unheated, but since it was already April Joseph could get by without heat. Doc made it clear that Joseph was not part of the family – yet – although he knew Joseph and his daughter, Patty, intended to marry some day.
“I won’t have Patty be the subject of gossip,” Doc told Joseph. “So if you stay in my garage, you’ll have to live independently.”
Living independently meant a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches consumed over an open textbook. It meant schlepping to the coin laundry instead of finding freshly washed clothes in his bureau. It meant seeing Patty mostly at school instead of hanging out next door
One day he saw the long wagons containing the church benches rolling toward Pop’s farm, and he knew it was his family’s turn to host the congregation. His throat ached because he wouldn’t be helping arrange those benches row by row, wouldn’t hear the plain chant that began each service, wouldn’t see Mom and his sisters setting out church food on oil-cloth covered tables: coffee, homemade bread, peanut butter spread, jams, ham, cheese, pickles, red beets and pie. He wouldn’t be welcome.
Joseph was grateful for the room and the small stipend Doc paid him for working in the clinic after school and on Saturdays, but he was used to being part of a family. To fight his feeling of isolation, he harnessed the work ethic he’d been taught all his life. Joseph put his head down and studied.
Of course, the Amish community was abuzz with the scandalous news about the Hostetler boy. He’d gotten an English haircut, they said, and wore jeans and tee-shirts instead of Amish clothing. He thought he was going to be a doctor! There was general sympathy for his parents and solidarity in shunning Joseph until he got back in line. If it hadn’t been for Patty, he felt he couldn’t have endured it.
“It will pass, Joe,” she’d say every day. “When they see you’re serious, they’ll come around.”
With high school behind him, he had to figure out what to do next. He couldn’t go on shadowing the doctor for the rest of his life, but there was no money to do anything else. Maybe he should just go home, hitch up those horses and forget about being a doctor. It was a crazy dream, anyway.
Doc asked him to stick around after office hours one day. He poured them both a cup of coffee and settled with a long sigh in his desk chair. Never a man to mince words, he dived right in.
“Joe, you want to go to medical school, right?”
“Yes, sir, but I don’t see how I can.”
“I’ve got it all mapped out. It’ll save money to spend the first two years at the local college and get through basic curriculum. Then you’ll transfer to a good university pre-med program. If you continue to work as hard as I’ve seen you work here, you’ll get into medical school.”
“But Doc, I can’t afford…”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“I look at it as an investment in my retirement. I’m educating the doctor I hope will be my future partner and son-in-law. My repayment will come when I can retire and hand over my practice without worry. Can you make that commitment to me?”
To be continued. Final chapter next week.
If you missed the first installments of Joseph’s story, you can catch up: Feb. 11, The Sojourner; Aug. 26, No Time for Sergeants; Oct. 7, Rumspringa; Dec.16, Anatomy Lessons; Dec. 23, Hard Choices.