An Amish Kitchen
By Kelly Long Amy Clipston Beth Wiseman
Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Wiseman Mackey, Kelly Long, and Amy Clipston
All right reserved.
July 3 Paradise, Pennsylvania
The light of the waning summer day filtered through the unadorned glass and played amid the profusion of plants in coffee cans that lined the windowsills. Twenty-year-old Fern Zook liked the way her silhouette blended and appeared to lengthen with the multitude of shadowy leaves and stems as she stretched to make sure each container took a few drops from the watering pot.
She reached a tender fingertip to the face of a pansy and murmured to the plants, as was her custom. "If only a man could be grown among you all. It would be much easier than trying to find one in Paradise. But then, God made man in a garden, so maybe ..." She closed her eyes and indulged in her favorite fantasy ... that of a tall, dark, handsome man, someone with a frame large enough to find her generous curves ... interesting, instead of unappealing. Someone who—
"Hiya! Anyone in there?"
Fern spun from the plants to see the materialization of her reverie standing outside the kitchen screen door. She blinked when he hollered again.
"Can't you hear? I've got a sick little girl here!"
Fern sighed. It was Abram Fisher, the twenty-three-year-old eldest son of her grandmother's next-door neighbors. Tall and handsome, ya. He was broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, and his tousled chestnut-brown hair brushed overly long at the collar of his dark-blue shirt, which matched the color of his eyes. Darkly brooding and big, for certain. She'd passed Abram solemn and sure at church and seen him working in the fields, his strong forearms straining at some task or another, his large hands easily managing a team of four horses behind the plow. And apparently those same hands could cradle a little girl with abject tenderness as he was doing now with his sister, Mary. But Fern doubted he even knew she was alive; he certainly had never paid attention to her growing up. And now he was a dyed-in-the-wool bachelor, married to the land, who'd never given her a passing word until this moment.
"I'm coming," she said in a calm voice and went to open the door. As he brushed past her, carrying Mary, his elbow grazed her dress, setting her heart to miss a curious beat.
Forcing her mind to the matter at hand, Fern assessed the red face of the fretful child. Sunburn ... but not sunstroke, not by the way the child was moving about and fussing. Fern breathed a sound of relief when she laid her hand against the little red forehead and felt for a moment, sliding her hand gently to the sides and back of the child's neck. She could tell there was no fever, just the external heat from the sun exposure.
"Let's take off her kapp. A lot of heat escapes through the head, and she needs to cool down." And so do you, Abram Fisher ...
The man was positively radiating tension from his big body. She was used to dealing with anxious parents, but not upset older brothers who looked like they could be models in an Englisch magazine.
She searched out the pins holding the prayer kapp on the tightly braided mass of brown hair and then threaded her fingers through the braids.
"That feels gut." Mary half-smiled.
"I'm glad." Fern peered down into the child's face, then looked back up to catch Abram's eyes. "Didn't she have her sunbonnet on?"
His blue eyes, which she fancied could make a girl forget herself if she wasn't careful, were as cold as the sea and met hers with a suppressed fury. "Nee," he snapped. "I thought that it wouldn't hurt to let her play in the creek with the boys a bit. She had her dress off and just her underclothes on. I was wrong, all right?"
"Ya, you were," Fern murmured. The man certainly had an easily aroused temper. She turned from the table. "Well, it's not sunstroke. She's moving around fine, and I can feel no fever. I'll brew some tea."
He blew out a breath of what could only be disgust. "Nee, thanks. I have no time for tea."
Fern flushed. "Not to drink," she said patiently. "The tannin is a soother to the skin; it will help the burn cool and heal it faster."
"Ach," he grunted. "All right then."
She turned away and went to gather tea leaves to brew; it would take a few minutes and then have to cool. She had no idea what they'd talk about while they waited. She fussed at the stove awhile, then went back to lean over Mary, deciding that ignoring Abram might be the best course of action. She wasn't adept at talking to men unless it concerned her work and their immediate ailments.
"Would you like a peppermint stick?" she asked the little girl.
Mary's smile brightened her red face. "Ya."
"Me too!" An excited boy's face appeared at the screen door, and Fern had to laugh.
"I think you have company," she remarked, going to open the door. A mass of boys tumbled in, and she didn't miss Abram's faint groan.
"Matthew, I told you to keep the kinner at the house."
Fern waved an airy hand in Abram's direction. "Ach, it's fine. They were probably interested in their baby sister, right?" Her grin took in the group with ease. Children, she could deal with.
"We was worried about Mary," the smallest boy announced.
"Of course you were," she said, handing candy from a glass jar to eager hands. "Let's see, we've got John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew, right?"
The boys nodded tousled and damp heads, and Fern turned with a diffident stance to Abram. "Would you like a sweet?" She held the jar out to him and was surprised when he accepted with a brief nod, reaching long, tanned fingers into the glass to take out the candy. She couldn't help but notice when his white teeth took a decisive snap of the stick, and the sugar that was meant to be leisurely enjoyed was gone in two bites.
"Some things are better when they're savored," she said, watching him.
He grinned at her in what she considered to be a sarcastic fashion. "So they are—but not candy ... or anything else that flits across a woman's mind."
Fern frowned. She didn't like his dismissive attitude about a woman's thoughts. Her lips framed a retort when Matthew spoke up, a solemn expression in the brown eyes behind his glasses.
"A woman's mind is just as gut as a man's, Abram. I believe that Fern wanted to tell you to slow down and taste things in life, right?"
* * *
Abram wanted to roll his eyes at Matthew, but the boy was thirteen, sensitive, and overly gut at studying; he needed a gentle hand. And, of course, he was absolutely right about what Fern had wanted. Fern ... what a ridiculous nickname ...
He recalled that her true name was Deborah, not that he'd ever thought about it, though they'd grown up beside each other.
He eyed her covertly now as she put a gentle hand on Matthew's shoulder and bent to praise him for his insight. The gentle curves of her body were appealing to the eye, he decided, but she was probably as pushy as a mule about what she wanted and when she wanted it. He felt a simmer of emotions cross his mind and had to haul himself back to attention.
"Abram!" Mark shrilled his name.
"What?" he snapped, looking everywhere but at Fern Zook.
"We're going out on the porch like Fern said ... three times now!" His younger brother poked him in the bauch to emphasize his words, and Abram slid his hands to his hips.
"Well, go on with the lot of you, then. I'm coming."
"Neeeee ... you are staying here to help put the tea towels on Mary." Mark got one last poke in, then scurried behind Luke and hit the door. The boys piled out, and Abram had to look at Fern then.
She was laughing, a bright smile on her rosy lips. "You must have your hands full with your parents gone for the month."
He frowned. "Ya, they're a bunch." He found himself wondering if the soft curves of her shoulders would fill the palms of his hands. What was wrong with him? He must be addled in the head from the heat himself. He kept his voice level, then turned to the couch to bend over Mary, who held up her arms for him. He buried his face in the baby-soft curve of her neck, then kissed her hot cheek.
He straightened and avoided Fern's observant green eyes. "All right, what do we do?"
Mary spoke up. "Why do they call you Fern?"
Fern smiled. "It was what my mother called me, because as a baby I loved the outdoors so much. I guess I tried to chew on a fern one day, and somehow it became my name."
Mary giggled, and Abram had to admit that Fern was a good healer, capable as she was of distracting a patient in pain ... in spite of her silly name.
"Who was here?"
Fern looked up from gathering damp tea towels when her aged mammi came into the room, leaning heavily on her cane.
"Ach, the Fisher kinner. Little Mary has a sunburn."
"Did Abram bring her?"
Fern suppressed a sigh. If there was one thing her grandmother wanted more than to see her trained in the arts of herbal healing, it was to get her married. She'd remarked on Abram Fisher as a possible candidate on more than one occasion.
"Ya, he was here."
"Fine figure of a man."
Fern didn't reply; she did not want to contradict, nor could she in truth. She loved her grandmother. Esther Zook had taken her and raised her when both her parents had died from influenza when Fern was five. The old woman had been a balm to Fern's heart and flagging spirits when she longed for the gentle laughter and love she remembered from her mamm and daed. And through the years, as her mammi's arthritis had worsened, Fern had learned the ways of plants and general first aid, following in her grandmother's footsteps as a healer to her people. Of course the more serious cases always were sent to Dr. Knepp, an Englisch physician who was widely embraced by the community, but the Zook women were kept quite busy nonetheless.
Fern put the jar of peppermint sticks back on the counter, a flash of Abram Fisher's handsome grin coming to her mind. She turned determinedly to her grandmother.
"What would you like for supper?"
"Ach, anything you want that's cool from the garden. I'm not a bit hungry, to tell the truth."
Fern moved to cover the soft-veined hand of the older woman and frowned in concern. "Are you all right? Is there anything I can do?"
Her grandmother sank into a rocker. "To cure old age? Nee. Derr Herr has His own cure for that. But to aid my heart, you might take a basket of those cherry tomatoes from the kitchen garden over to the Fisher kinner. Boys always love them, and we've been blessed with more than a few this year."
Fern bit back her frustration. "I'm sure the Fishers have plenty of tomatoes."
Her grandmother held up a wrinkled hand. "I spoke with Martha before she left for Ohio; she said her cherry tomatoes had caught the blight."
Fern closed her eyes against the image of knocking on Abram Fisher's door. She had no problem running something next door if she knew he was in the fields, but to go now, right after he'd been here, would look like she was chasing him. Still, she could say she also wanted to double-check on Mary ...
"Ach, all right. I'll take the tomatoes over."
Her grandmother smiled, all gentle wrinkles and kind blue eyes. She reached out to pat Fern's hand. "Gut girl."
* * *
Abram watched Mary dash across the family's kitchen, a fistful of blueberries in hand and a smile on her rosy cheeks. He leaned back in a chair and felt like he'd suddenly aged in one afternoon; his baby sister had scared him half to death. And then it had not been the old woman who had answered his call for help, but the quick-mouthed Deborah, nee, Fern. He decided his momentary musings on the girl were because she was helping Mary. Besides, he didn't like her way of fixing things—she was too practical and straightforward for a woman. Not that he'd really been noticing in that much detail. He said a brief silent prayer of thanks for Mary's health and added the hope that he'd not have to be seeing Fern Zook again anytime soon for her services.
"She's nice ... and has a quick mind," Matthew said, lifting his head from his book where he sat at the kitchen table.
"Hmm? Who?" Abram asked.
"Ya," Mark chimed in, his pug nose in Abram's face for a second. "Mebbe you should maaarry her."
Abram made a feint swat at him, and the boy laughed.
Mary stopped running about for a moment. "What's maaarry mean?" she asked.
"Death," Mark quipped.
Mary's lip began to quiver. "Like my puppy died?"
"Close your mouth," Abram said to his younger bruder and held out his arms to Mary. "Kumme here, sweetheart."
She came readily and nestled herself on his lap. "What is it really, Abram? I don't want my kitty to die."
"Nee ... of course not. Married is—like Mamm and Daed. Two people love each other, and then there's a wedding and they start a life together. That's all."
"That's a lot," Matthew said.
"Ya, well ..." Abram brushed a strand of hair from his sister's forehead.
"Are you gonna do that with Fern Zook, Abram?" Mary asked, peering intently into his eyes.
He laughed. "Nee ... married is not for your old bruder. I'll wait around someday till you marry, okay? But not until you're at least thirty-five."
"Thirty-five?" Luke laughed from where he sat eating the last of Mamm's molasses cookies. "That's too old. You gotta marry after rumschpringe, ya?"
"I don't want no rumschpringe. Girls are yucky—'cept Mamm and Mary," John muttered, then he looked anxiously to his big brother. "Is that okay, Abram?"
Abram nodded at the eight-year-old boy. John was nervous at times, unsure of himself, but anxious to please. "You can have it or not ... any way you want," Abram assured him, setting Mary back down to run around.
But his brother's question got Abram thinking back to his own rumschpringe. Women had been for then—when he was seventeen, eighteen ... playing at kissing and never meaning any of it beyond the passing pleasure of the moment. Nee ... he'd seen the difficulties that friends had faced upon marrying, the tight-lipped responses to his teasing comments about married life, and he wanted none of it. His best friend, Joe, had married right out of the chute and now looked about twice his age, with two kinner born and another on the way ... It was enough responsibility to break a man. Nee. The land was Abram's wife, his soul. He understood the soil and the seasons each in turn; there was struggle but never strife, and adding a woman to his life would without a doubt bring more than trouble.
He blinked, then jumped from his chair as Mary tripped over her own feet and fell across the floor, slamming her head against the stove in her descent. Just then someone knocked on the door.
* * *
"Rest and ice ... and a visit to Dr. Knepp if she should start to throw up or lose consciousness in the next few hours or even days."
Fern watched Abram nod as he pressed the ice wrapped in a towel on Mary's forehead while the little girl squirmed in his lap. Fern glanced around the messy kitchen and then at the boys devouring the cherry tomatoes and wondered if Abram Fisher was actually capable of caring for five children for a month's time. She knew probably a dozen women in the community who'd give their right eye for the privilege of helping him, but she sensed that asking for help was not one of his normal activities.
She said a silent prayer that he might receive her words well, then cleared her throat. "Uh ... Abram, it seems like you might benefit from a bit of help here and there. I would be glad to—"
"We're fine," he interrupted.
"I want Mamm," Mary wailed.
"Shhh," he soothed in his deep voice, bouncing Mary on his knee. He turned to Fern. "What can I do for you to pay for this?"
Fern had to stop and think. Although he'd pressed a few dollars in her hand for the sunburn treatment, the community at large knew that the Zooks, being women alone, preferred work in exchange for their services. She glanced into his blue eyes and wondered what he'd do if she asked for a kiss in return payment. She smiled at the absurd thought and caught his quick frown.
"What are you thinking?"
What was wrong with her? It was probably being so close to him that set her pulse racing. Later, when she was back home, she'd feel more like herself. Fern shook her head and grasped at the first thought that came to mind. "A ladder."
"We need a new ladder. So I can clean the upper windows outside that I didn't get to this spring."
"I'll do the windows," Abram said with a look of surprise on his handsome face.
"Why?" Fern asked, then flushed. Perhaps he thought that she was too big and clumsy to accomplish such a task.
"I don't want you—I—it's dangerous, that's all."
* * *
Abram couldn't help but notice how green her eyes were as they widened at his words or the way her pretty mouth formed a soft expression of surprise. She probably thought he was narrisch about the ladder. He was confused himself at his concern. She'd probably done the windows a dozen times over and then some.
"Abram, can me and Luke go outside and play?" Mark hollered above his sister's cries, an innocent expression on his face.
Abram kept jogging Mary on his knee and eyed his brother dispassionately. "Ya, but no creek, no bees, snakes, or spiders—no trouble, all right?"
Excerpted from An Amish Kitchen by Kelly Long Amy Clipston Beth Wiseman Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Wiseman Mackey, Kelly Long, and Amy Clipston. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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