Jan Surasky

Back To Jerusalem


“Pa took it hard when I told him, barely speaking to me for over a week. But, when he recovered, he made me a deal. I could go, as long as I was there to help him with the crops. I think that hearing that I don’t want to be a farmer like he is hit him the worst. Amos Pearson and Ethan Eldridge both went into the farms with their fathers this year. I think he’s hoping that the fast pace of the school and its students will send me back to the fields.

“And you, Jenny? Have you thought about art school?”

“Mrs. Ames talked to me today. She found a scholarship if I study art. But, first I have to convince Mother. She thinks artists sit around studios growing their hair long, never earning a living. She would like me to take business so I can work a few years, marry a business executive and have an easier life than she’s had.”

“Well, it looks like she’s got your whole life planned out. What do you think about it?”

“I think I’d like to study art. If I promise to take business along with it, I think she’ll come around. Aunt Gert can get me into Keuka where I can take both. And, I’ll still be close enough to help her with the greenhouse.”

“I hope it works. You’re great at art.”

“Thanks, Jake.” Jenny paused. “I hear you had a church social over the weekend. Did you meet any girls?” “I’m not interested in girls right now. All my cousins got married when they were eighteen, farming and making furniture and raising five kids by the time they were twenty-five. I don’t want that kind of life.”

“I bet there are a lot of girls after you already.”

“I would take you out if I could. But, I know what a fuss it would cause with your folks. And, mine too, I guess. I never wanted to cause any trouble for you, Jenny.”

Jenny looked at Jake. She had never considered him as a date. His background so different than hers, his beliefs a century away. But, she had always hoped that she’d find someone like Jake, with his kindness, his playfulness, and the special way he got serious when he voiced his convictions. But, whoever it was, he would have to fit the social mold set out for her from the beginning. Jenny was no rebel. She had always gotten her pleasures without making waves.

“I’d better go. I left the fields early to get here. Anne and Sarah took over my chores, but only if I promised to help them with their math and push Pa to let them go with us to the market on Saturday.”

“I suppose I’d better go, too. I better butter Mother up so I can talk to her about art school.” As Jenny picked up her books, Jake glanced at her. He wondered why every boy in the school didn’t date her, not just Bud Anderson. She had so much more spirit than the girls he knew, all of them stuck in the beliefs of a religion that relied on the passivity of women, breeding large families, working long hours to care for and support them, and submitting to the uncontestable decisions of their husbands.

As he stood, he pulled Jenny up. Her hands were so soft, her hair the fresh scent of lavender. He carried her books down the ladder, handing them to her as they parted, each going off in opposite directions, heading toward home in time for an early supper, as they had done for years. But, this time they parted in silence.

•  •  •

As they trudged to the dining hall, Jenny wondered if she could make it through four years. A world without families, groceries, or shops. Without fields of corn and hay. Without dogs or barn cats.

Sparky had their food into her backpack before Jenny could reach for a thing. They walked to the beach in silence.

As Jenny lay their blanket upon the sand, they threw their books on top of it and removed their sneakers. The sand felt good between their toes.

“I’ll race you into the water.” Sparky rolled up her jeans, splashing before Jenny had hers up to her knees.

“Do you realize, Sparks, this lake watered the Indians and their horses before us.”

“It’s Native Americans, and I can’t relate because I come from a place where they sold the land for $24 in wampum that became home to eight million people with skyscrapers you wouldn’t believe.”

“Still, Sparks, we have a history here.”

“Okay, quit mooning and let’s get to work.

“Are you looking forward to the next Bud weekend and the exciting SU campus?”

“We’re going to see a Broadway show at the Elgin theater in Syracuse. I’ll be staying with Katt Johnson and she and her date will be going as well. Jason and his date, a Syracuse woman he just met, will be going along with us. Jason and Dotty broke up last week. Jason got Bud into Psi U.”

“Well, you’ve got it made, Jenny. I have a hard time finding a date. And, there’s not much to do if you find one.”

“There’s always Cornell and Syracuse. You know those boys are always looking for dates here. Maybe Bud could find you a nice Syracuse guy.”

“Too fast for me. I’m not even sure what boys are doing in my classes. I spent too long at girls’ schools.”

“As soon as the guys around here figure out what a great woman you are, you’ll be dating up a storm.”

“I think I’m meant to be an old maid aunt.”

“Oh, hush, Sparky. We’d better settle in before the sun goes down.”

As the daylight faded, Sparky picked up the mechanical engineering books she loved. Jenny looked at her shorthand, but her mind was on Bud and the next Syracuse weekend.

As the sun began to set, Jenny looked up at the reds, the oranges, the mauves. She suddenly thought of Jake. It must have been hundreds of sunsets they watched together, his arm around her to shelter her from the cool evening breezes, their talk silly stuff, Jake’s brothers and sisters, Jenny’s job, school, the crickets they heard by day, the owls by night. She must write Jake a letter. She would find out how he was getting on.

As she watched the sun quickly sink into the haze of the cloudless gray sky, she was certain the sun set only over Jerusalem and the shores of the beautiful, blue lake it sat on.