"This is the place."
Katie Mae Johnson felt her nervousness bloom into panic as the hired Mennonite driver pulled into the lane of the place where she had grown up. The whole 200+ community had shown up to welcome her back home.
For Katie Mae did count this as home, even if she had last been here five years ago, a rebellious sixteen year old, determined to elope with the handsome soldier she barely knew.
"Is this Grandpa and Grandma's house?" Katie Mae's four-year-old daughter, Leah, asked.
"Jah." Katie Mae replied, hoping her panic didn't come through her voice or forcedly happy expression.
"Can I take the hat off when we get inside?" Leah asked.
"Nee," Katie Mae answered, ignoring the questioning look the driver gave her, who was undoubtedly shocked that the question had been asked at all. "The kapp stays on all day."
Leah stuck her bottom lip out until she noted the warning look of her mother.
Katie Mae heaved a sigh. This promised to be interesting.
The driver parked in front of the house. Katie Mae paid him and helped Leah and her one year old son, Caleb, out of the car.
Katie Mae's parents and the bishop were in the forefront of the crowd who approached her and her children as the car sped away.
"Hullo, Katie Mae Johnson." Bishop Lapp said, as he looked directly into the contrite blue eyes of the wayward young woman. He saw a sincere repentance and yearning for forgiveness and acceptance. Satisfied, he smiled warmly and gave her a welcoming nod.
No more was said, but, for Katie Mae, the gesture was worth a thousand words. The others, she knew, would follow the bishop's lead, which was, in this case, a heartening thought.
Leah pulled on Katie Mae's dress, silently demanding attention.
"Where are Grossmammi and Grossdaddi and Cousin Sarah?"
"I'm Grossdaddi, Little One."
Katie Mae and Leah both looked up into the eyes of Abiram Yoder.
"Dat." Katie Mae whispered.
He hugged her, smiling a little. "It's gut to have you back."
Katie Mae's mother, Anna Mae, clung to her, as if afraid to let her go, that she might disappear. Katie Mae hugged back just as hard, if not with one arm, for holding Caleb in the other.
"I love you." Anna Mae said.
"And I love you, Mama."
"Can I hold my grandson?" Anna Mae asked.
"Sure." Katie Mae handed over the wide-eyed toddler to her mother.
Families came up to Katie Mae one by one. The men offered smiles, their wives, words of welcome, hugs, and welcoming kisses. The children who didn't remember Katie Mae stared up at her, their elder siblings and parents poking them in the ribs or whispering a rebuke for it.
The young adults, most newly married, others in their running around years, or rumschpringa, did all three, depending.
Katie Mae's cousin, Sarah Lapp, the wife of four years to one of the bishop's sons, and her husband, Joel, were last in the line. Sarah wrapped her in a long hug, and Katie Mae realized just how good it was to be home.