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By Vannetta Chapman
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Vannetta Chapman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLate September Thursday evening
Deborah unrolled the bolt of fabric: a fall calico print of small pumpkins intermingled with leaves and cornstalks. It wasn't something she would purchase. Amish only quilted with solid colors, but she could certainly see why it was a hot seller tonight.
"Four yards?" she asked.
The woman from Chicago tapped her manicured nail against her lips, both painted a dark rose. "I'm not sure. Nancy, what do you think? Three or four yards?"
Nancy Jarrell wound her way through the crowd gathered in Callie's shop. Though Nancy was also from Chicago and definitely clung to her big-city ways, Deborah felt closer to her since she and Callie had visited the museum last month. God indeed worked in surprising ways. She never would have imagined that quilts sewn by herself, Melinda, and Esther would be exhibited in the textile rooms of the Chicago Museum of Arts.
At first, the bishop had decided it would be prideful to do so. Upon hearing that, Callie had asked to meet with him personally and argued that considering the women's work too good for others to see was more akin to pride. The humble thing to do would be to allow Nancy Jarrell to show the quilts. It was a backwards sort of logic, but it worked. As a result, the quilts had sold at a high price—money that helped Deborah and her freinden. And Deborah had grown closer to the woman standing in front of her. She wouldn't call it friendship exactly—it wasn't that strong—but definitely closer than mere acquaintances.
Nancy smiled and nodded toward Deborah. "Tell her what you're making. She'll know how much you need. Deborah's the one who sewed the quilt you purchased. She and her friends."
The woman's eyes widened and her hand flew to her neck, fingers resting on the diamond necklace around her throat. "You're the one who stitched the diamond-patterned masterpiece that Nancy showcased a month ago? Oh my. I was hoping I would have the chance to meet you, but I had no idea you'd be working in a shop. Your quilt was exquisite. I had a special frame made and hung it on the wall in my family room."
Deborah smiled politely, though the thought of her quilt—their quilt—hanging on a wall made her a tad uncomfortable. Quilts were for warmth. They belonged on beds to give comfort, not on walls to be gawked at. She thanked the woman and turned the conversation back to her purchase, even as her eyes caught sight of Melinda and her oldest boy helping Lydia out at the register. Matt had turned eleven this year, the same age as Deborah's oldest child, Martha.
The Fall Crafters' Fair—or Fall Festival as old-timers called it—had begun a few hours earlier. It was Shipshewana's largest festival of the year. Tonight was a warm-up of sorts and the reason Callie had extended her hours. Normally stores in Shipshe closed their doors and tucked in the welcome mat at six p.m. sharp, but for festivals, hours were extended. If the number of people in the shop was any indication of the crowds they would encounter, they were in for a record-setting weekend.
Who would have thought quilting could be such a profitable business? Yet it had become one for her and her friends. God had answered their prayers and had provided for their needs. He'd brought Callie, with her energy and inventive methods for attracting customers, and he'd blessed Deborah, Melinda, and Esther with the gift of piecing quilts in unique ways.
It brought them money they all needed. Deborah's gaze fell on Aaron, Melinda's middle child, who was waiting near the door in his wheelchair, and she breathed a quick prayer of gratitude. The money earned from the quilts they'd sold in Chicago had helped pay for testing Doctor Bernie insisted Aaron needed.
Aaron had been diagnosed with chicken breast disease when he was very young. It was a muscular disorder among the Amish. Children with chicken breast disease lacked a structural protein, and most eventually became too weak to breathe. The great majority didn't live past the age of two. Doc Bernie called Aaron a miracle child.
The woman Deborah was helping thanked her for the fabric and murmured again about how much she loved the diamond-patterned quilt she'd purchased.
Who was Deborah to criticize how the quilts were used? So what if this woman enjoyed displaying them on a wall rather than huddling under them on a cold winter night? It wasn't for her to judge.
Martha rushed to her side, cheeks pink and slightly breathless. "Mamm? Aaron and Matthew are going to watch the chain-saw carvers who are giving an early demonstration in the central tent. May I go with them?"
Deborah placed the bolt of cloth on the pile of items waiting to be reshelved and turned to help the next customer. "Your dat doesn't need you?"
"No. He took the boys home."
"Why would he take them home before we were ready to leave?"
"They fell in the mud. All three of them. Mary's clean, but she wanted to go with them. She was tired."
Deborah closed her eyes. She tried not to picture what happened all too often, but in a flash an image of her seven-year-old twins and two-and-a-half-year-old son covered in mud came to mind.
"They were watching the musicians practice for tomorrow, and the boys—"
"Don't tell me anymore." Deborah held up a hand. "I'd rather not know the details. He took the large buggy?"
"Ya. I asked to stay and help with Max. Miss Callie said he needs a walk. We thought we'd take him along with us if you agreed we could go to where the booths are."
Deborah glanced toward Callie, who was winding her way through the crowd in the shop, weaving her way toward Deborah. She was wearing the new dress they'd sewn together. Made of harvest-green fabric, a very popular color this season, it accented her dark hair and light complexion. Callie looked beautiful and more than a little harried.
Had the shop ever been this full of people before?
Market days were always busy, and the Labor Day sale had been very successful, but this was over the top, as her friend liked to say.
Losing three children, a wheelchair, and one rather large dog would probably help.
"All right, but be back before dark."
"Yes!" Martha bounced away, but Deborah snagged her arm before she was out of reach. Leaning down, she whispered in her ear, "Take special care with Aaron."
"'Course we will." Martha's brown eyes turned solemn for a moment.
Deborah almost regretted robbing her daughter of that moment of sheer childhood delight. Then she glanced over at Aaron, realizing again how fragile the seven-year-old was. Nearly eight. He was nearly eight, and they would be celebrating that birthday with prayers of thanksgiving. She released Martha, knowing she'd done the right thing.
"Where are they headed?" Callie asked as she began sorting the bolts of fabric Deborah was finished with.
"Out to see the preparations for the festival. It'll be gut for them to play a while and give us more room."
"This crowd is amazing, isn't it?" Callie's eyes sparkled. "Wanna bet old lady Knepp doesn't have nearly this many customers?"
"I strolled by Quilts and Needles this morning. Her display wasn't as cute as the one Lydia fixed up for us."
"Mrs. Knepp sticks with the old ways."
"The old ways must include rudeness. She returned the fall flowers I sent over." Callie had gathered six bolts of fabric into her arms by now, and she seemed as if she were about to tumble backward.
"Is she still angry that Max tore up her flower bed?"
"It's my fault I suppose. I was talking to Trent and let the leash slip out of my hands. Even so, I don't understand why the woman hates me as much as she does. I thought the Amish were all about forgiveness."
"We each forgive in our own way."
"Humph. Admit it. She wishes I'd never moved here from Texas, never taken over my Aunt Daisy's shop." Callie did an about-face, nearly knocking over a display of magazines, then trotted down the aisle to return the cloth to its proper section.
Lydia would have done it, but Deborah knew Callie liked to be out working the floor. She enjoyed being out among the customers, which was why Lydia was on the register. It was one more way she was different from Mrs. Knepp and one more reason her shop did well.
Deborah began helping the next customer, who wanted three yards of a striped print. Sliding her scissors through the fabric, she glanced up and out the front plateglass window and saw the children were just then passing under the store's raspberry-colored canopy, which covered the front walk. Already a throng of people filled the sidewalk, though the fair had begun only a few hours before.
The weather was beautiful—cool but not cold. People were happy to congregate together in their little town of six hundred. This weekend, their population would swell to well over thirty thousand. The local police would have their hands full directing traffic.
Deborah watched the children thread their way through the crowd. Martha guided the wheelchair, leaning down to say something to Aaron, who laughed, then tugged on his jacket. Matthew walked close beside them, holding onto Max's leash. The yellow Labrador trotted beside them, his head held high, nose pushed into the air sniffing the festival smells.
A warning alarm sounded in Deborah's mind, but she pushed it away. In no time at all, the children would be back safe and sound.
* * *
Nearly an hour later, as Martha guided his chair, Aaron stared up at the twinkling lights in the trees that lined the sidewalks of Shipshewana's shopping district. The artificial lights reminded him of the stars, and he wondered why the Englischers had bothered to wrap them around the tree branches.
Perhaps because they lived in town, where Gotte's lights weren't as easy to see.
That's what his daadi would say anyway.
Today had been very nearly perfect.
He'd received an A on his spelling test in school and a B on his math quiz. Maybe he could have earned an A, but Jacob and Joseph had been popping peas at the girls in the next row, and Aaron had started laughing, which led to wheezing. By the time he got his breathing under control, time was up, and he hadn't been able to finish the last two questions.
It had been worth it to see Annie King squirm back and forth, trying to pull the peas out from between her dress and her apron. Aaron liked Annie all right, but she could be a little annoying at times. He'd told his mamm that once, and she'd explained he would like girls more when he was older.
That was hard to imagine.
Except for Martha. She was nice, but then again, she was different. More like his mamm.
"Drat." His bruder stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk, causing Martha to nearly trip and pull back on his wheelchair. It felt like the time he'd ridden his dat's horse, in the saddle, and the horse had suddenly reversed. Aaron had fallen, but his dat had caught him before he'd hit the ground—something they still hadn't told his mamm.
"Forget something?" Martha asked.
"Ya. I think I left my wallet at one of the last places we stopped."
"When we bought the candy apples?" Martha peered around at Aaron's half-eaten apple.
"Maybe. I took it out and set it on the counter of the booth."
"Wasn't your cousin Mary Ellen working there?"
"Ya. I'm sure she would have set it aside for me if I did leave it after I paid."
Martha pointed to the sack in his right hand. "After that we bought your new slingshot."
"True, but I think I paid for that with money out of my pocket, from the change Mary Ellen gave me. Now I can't remember." Matthew took off his wool cap and rubbed his hand over his head, front to back, then back to front—something Aaron knew he did when he was naerfich.
"Matt, you go and see Mary Ellen." Aaron pulled in a deep breath, then continued. "Martha, you go and check the slingshot booth. I'll wait here with Max."
"Are you sure?" Matthew glanced from Martha to Aaron and back again.
"I'm not ...," another deep breath, "going back to the quilting shop without you." He reached for Max and gave the dog a reassuring pat. "Mamm would have both our hides."
"All right. She told us to be back by dark, and there's still a little light left. If we hurry—"
"We can be there and back in ten minutes." Martha moved to the front of his chair, squatted down so she was eye to eye with him. "Sure you'll be fine?"
"Ya. Move me to the side." He glanced over to where a bench had been placed next to a large shrub. "There."
"Okay. We'll be back before you even know we're gone."
"Stop worrying." Aaron looped Max's leash around his wrist. "I'm not a ..."
Matt glanced back over his shoulder, then at Aaron, a smile trying to win over the worry.
"... little kid," Aaron finished.
"'Course you're not," Martha whispered.
He saw the look that passed between Martha and his bruder, but decided he'd rather ignore it than deal with their concern. Today had been very nearly perfect.
"He's gut," Matthew said. "Let's hurry."
They took off through the crowd, which was already beginning to thin. In fact, this end of the street was much less busy than the rest, probably because Daisy's Quilt Shop wasn't at the center of town.
Aaron was always calling it Callie's Quilt Shop in his head. He remembered Daisy, the lady who'd been Callie's aenti. She'd always kept little pieces of candy behind the counter for them. Callie didn't know about the candy, but it didn't matter. He liked her as much as Daisy. She had a funny accent, like something he'd heard in a Western movie he'd watched at his neighbor's house once.
Justin, the boy who lived at the farmhouse next door, was a year older than Aaron. He went to the Englisch school and loved old Westerns. Justin was from New Mexico, and he said John Wayne was the best cowboy who had ever ridden a horse. Sometimes Aaron's mamm paid Justin's mamm to drive Aaron to the hospital or Doc Bernie's office. Justin's mamm didn't want to take the money—he'd heard them discuss it time and again—so sometimes Aaron's mamm paid in fresh vegetables from their garden. Once she'd tried to give them a quilt, but Justin's mamm had insisted on paying for that.
Aaron didn't understand grown-up girls any more than he understood the ones in his classroom. He also didn't understand why sometimes Doc Bernie came to their house, but other times they had to go to the big city, to Doc's office in Fort Wayne. Actually he didn't mind the city. It was interesting.
So Aaron and Justin hung out together on doctor days, what with all that riding back and forth in the family van—which wasn't as cool as a buggy, but had its advantages on the large, crowded Englisch roads. The drives were long and when they returned back to Justin's house, his mamm and Justin's mamm would sit in the kitchen and drink tea and talk. Occasionally Aaron was allowed to go into Justin's room to play. Not always, but sometimes.
A few times they'd managed to sneak into the back bedroom and boot up Justin's laptop computer. Aaron's mamm didn't know he'd watched the old black-and-white movies, and he wasn't going to be the one to tell her. She tended to fuss about those sorts of things, like she fussed when he had trouble pulling in a deep breath.
Doc Bernie said that was normal behavior for mamms.
She definitely didn't know about the Western movies, but it wasn't like they played video games or watched television. Justin's mamm was pretty strict for an Englischer. Justin's Internet didn't work unless he plugged it into the wall in the living room, and he didn't have a television in his room like he said some kids did.
But the old Western movies were something his onkel had given him. They'd merely had to slip them into the computer to watch them when they were bored, when Aaron's mamm had left him there and Justin's mamm had gone off to run errands.
Excerpted from Material Witness by Vannetta Chapman Copyright © 2012 by Vannetta Chapman . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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