Read an Excerpt
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Rebecca Lapp Fisher, widow of Paul Fisher; mother of Katie, 7, and Joshua, 5
Simon Lapp, Rebecca’s brother
Elizabeth Lapp,Rebecca’s grandmother
Barbara “Barbie” Lapp,Rebecca’s cousin
Judith Wagler,Rebecca’s cousin
Matthew Byler, a furniture maker
Silas Byler,Matthew’s uncle; husband of Lovina
Isaiah Byler,son of Silas and Lovina; Matthew’s cousin; Sadie’s brother
Sadie Byler,daughter of Silas and Lovina; Matthew’s cousin; Isaiah’s sister
Anna Esch, Lapp family ancestor; lived through World War II
Jacob Miller,Anna Esch’s beau
Seth Esch,Anna’s brother
GLOSSARY OF PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH WORDS AND PHRASES
ach. oh; used as an exclamation
agasinish. stubborn; self-willed
ain’t so. A phrase commonly used at the end of a sentence to invite agreement.
alter. old man
anymore. Used as a substitute for “nowadays.”
Ausbund. Amish hymnal. Used in the worship services, it contains traditional hymns, words only, to be sung without accompaniment. Many of the hymns date from the sixteenth century.
befuddled. mixed up
blabbermaul. talkative one
Da Herr sei mit du. The Lord be with you.
denke. thanks (or danki)
Englischer. one who is not Plain
ferhoodled. upset; distracted
grossdaadi haus. An addition to the farmhouse, built for the grandparents to live in once they’ve “retired” from actively running the farm.
hatt. hard; difficult
kapp. Prayer covering, worn in obedience to the Biblical injunction that women should pray with their heads covered. Kapps are made of Swiss organdy and are white. (In some Amish communities, unmarried girls thirteen and older wear black kapps during worship service.)
kinder. kids (or kinner)
komm schnell. come quick
Leit. the people; the Amish
maidal. old maid; spinster
Ordnung. The agreed-upon rules by which the Amish community lives. When new practices become an issue, they are discussed at length among the leadership. The decision for or against innovation is generally made on the basis of maintaining the home and family as separate from the world. For instance, a telephone might be necessary in a shop in order to conduct business but would be banned from the home because it would intrude on family time.
Pennsylvania Dutch. The language is actually German in origin and is primarily a spoken language. Most Amish write in English, which results in many variations in spelling when the dialect is put into writing! The language probably originated in the south of Germany but is common also among the Swiss Mennonite and French Huguenot immigrants to Pennsylvania. The language was brought to America prior to the Revolution and is still in use today. High German is used for Scripture and church documents, while English is the language of commerce.
rumspringa. Running-around time. The late teen years when Amish youth taste some aspects of the outside world before deciding to be baptized into the church.
schnickelfritz. mischievous child
ser gut. very good (or sehr gut)
tastes like more. delicious
Was ist letz? What’s the matter?
Wie bist du heit. How are you; said in greeting
Wo bist du? Where are you?
Elizabeth Lapp made her way slowly and carefully up the steep attic stairs. It was nonsense, this insistence on the part of her children and grandchildren that she change the habits of a lifetime. Seventy-six wasn’t old, even if that young doctor acted as if she were teetering on the brink of the grave.
Pausing, she gripped the railing, grateful for its support as she caught her breath. Ach, maybe she was getting on in years, but that didn’t mean she had nothing to contribute. There was an important legacy to be passed on, and she’d promised herself she wouldn’t delay any longer.
Her three granddaughters would be arriving at the old farmhouse soon. Before they appeared, she needed to take one more look at the treasures collected in the attic.
Cautiously, conserving her strength, she made her way to the top and paused again, feeling a flash of annoyance at how shallow her breathing was. The straight chair she’d used on her last trip to the attic stood where she’d left it. Using her cane as a hook, she drew it toward her and sat.
Sunlight streamed through the window and played across the dozens of objects jammed into the space. Amazing, how quickly the attic of the old farmhouse had filled up. Her quest had begun with one small dower chest belonging to a great-aunt. She’d rescued it from being sent to auction at the annual spring mud sale, and it had lit a spark in her heart.
She’d known then what had to be done. Family memories, the whole history of one Amish family in America, were bound up in the items she’d collected in her attic. That history couldn’t be allowed to die. Someone must see that it lived on.
Advancing years had caught up with her, and before the farmhouse was sold to a distant cousin, before she moved into her son’s house, the memories must be passed on. That was why her granddaughters were coming today.
Getting to her feet, she made her way across the rough-hewn floorboards, touching a spinning wheel here, a hand-carved rocking horse there. Each of these things must find a new home. It was too much to expect that any one person would take all of them.
She’d hammered out her plan during the long, sleepless nights after the loss of her beloved William. The gifts must be made to the right person. Each object had a story to tell, and each story could influence the person who received it. She breathed a silent prayer, knowing she must rely on God to show her the way.
It all began with the girls. She smiled. None of the three would appreciate being called a girl; each considered herself a woman grown. And so they were, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have something to learn from the past.
Rebecca. Judith. Barbara. She pictured each one in her mind’s eye. Rebecca, so lost since the death of her young husband more than a year ago. Judith. She frowned a little. Something was wrong there, but self-contained, quiet Judith would not talk about it, making it more difficult to know what to do. And Barbara. Barbie always brought a smile to her grossmammi’s lips, with her pert, lively manner and her almost automatic rebellion against the restrictions of Amish life. Those three were the only ones of the right age to take on the task.
Elizabeth stood, resting her hand on a dower chest, and faced the truth. This was, most likely, the final challenge of her life. To find the object that would speak to each one of her granddaughters and, through that, to entrust to their generation the promise of their family story.
Rebecca Fisher hadn’t summoned her family to meals with the bell on the back porch since Paul died. Today wasn’t the day to start, she decided. Instead she stood at the railing and called.
“Katie! Joshua! Come to supper.”
She stayed on the porch until she saw her two kinder running toward the farmhouse. Katie came from the big barn, where she’d been “helping” Rebecca’s father and brother with the evening chores. Katie adored her grossdaadi and Onkel Simon, and Rebecca was grateful every day that Katie had them to turn to now that her own daadi was gone.
Joshua had clearly been up in the old apple tree by the stream, which was his favorite perch. Paul had talked about building a tree house there for Joshua’s sixth birthday. That birthday would come soon, but Paul wasn’t here to see it. Rebecca’s throat tightened, and she forced the thought away.
“Mammi, Mammi.” Joshua flung himself at her, grabbing her apron with grubby hands. “Guess who I saw?”
“I don’t know, Josh. Who?” She hugged him with one arm and gathered Katie against her with the other. Katie let herself be embraced for a moment and then wiggled free.
“I helped put the horses in,” she reported. “Onkel Simon said I’m a gut helper.”
“Mammi, I’m talking.” Joshua glared at his sister. “Guess who I saw?”
“Hush, now.” Rebecca hated it when they quarreled, even though she remembered only too well how she and her brothers and sisters had plagued one another. She shooed them into the kitchen. “Katie, I’m wonderful glad you’re helping. Joshua, who did you see?”
It had probably been an owl or a chipmunk—at five, Joshua considered every creature he encountered to be as real as a person.
“Daadi!” Joshua grinned, unaware of the hole that had just opened up in his mother’s stomach.
“Joshua—” She struggled to find the words.
“That’s stupid,” Katie declared from the superiority of her seven years. Her heart-shaped face, usually so lively and happy, tightened with anger, and her blue eyes sparkled with what might have been the tears she wouldn’t shed. “Daadi’s in heaven. He can’t come back, so you can’t see him, so don’t be stupid.”
“Katie, don’t call your brother stupid.” Rebecca managed the easier part of the correction first. She knelt in front of her son, feeling the worn linoleum under her knees as she prayed for the right words. “Joshua, you must understand that Daadi loves you always, but he can’t come back.”
“But I saw him, Mammi. I saw him right there in the new stable and—”
“No, Josh.” She had to stop this notion now, no matter how it pained both of them. “I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t Daadi.”
His small face clouded, his mouth drooping. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” Her heart hurt as she spoke the words, but they had to be said. Paul was gone forever, and they must continue without him.
“Go and see, Mammi.” Josh pressed small hands on her cheeks, holding her face to ensure she paid attention. “Please go look in the stable.”
Obviously, it was the only thing that would satisfy him. “All right. I’ll go and look. While I do that, you two wash up for supper.”
Josh nodded solemnly. Rebecca rose, giving her daughter a warning look.
“No more talking about this until I come back. You understand?”
Katie looked as if she’d like to argue, but she nodded as well.
Pausing to see them headed for the sink without further squabbling, Rebecca slipped out the back door.
A quick glance told her there was no further activity at the main barn now. Probably her daad and brother had finished and headed home for their own supper.
It wasn’t far across the field to the farmhouse where she’d grown up. That field would be planted with corn before too long. Daad had mentioned it only yesterday, and she’d thought how strange it seemed that Paul wasn’t here to make the decision.
Turning in the opposite direction, Rebecca skirted the vegetable garden. Her early onions were already up. In a few weeks the danger of frost would be over, and she could finish the planting.
Beyond the garden stood the posts from which the farm-stay welcome sign should hang. If she was going to open to visitors this summer, she’d have to put it up soon. If. She had to fight back panic at the thought of dealing with guests without Paul’s support.
The farm-stay had been Paul’s dream. He’d enjoyed every minute of their first season—chatting with the guests, showing them how to milk the cows or enlisting their help in cutting hay. It had seemed strange to Rebecca that Englischers would actually pay for the privilege of working on the farm, but it had been so.
She’d been content to stay in the background, cooking big breakfasts, keeping the bedrooms clean, doing all the things she’d be doing anyway if the strangers hadn’t been staying with them.
Last summer she’d been too devastated by his death to think of opening, but now . . . Well, now what was she to do? Would Paul expect her to go on with having guests? She didn’t know, because she’d never imagined life without him.
The stable loomed ahead of her, still seeming raw and new even though it had been up for more than a year. They’d gone ahead with the building even after Paul’s diagnosis, as a sign that they had faith he would be well again.
But he hadn’t been. He’d grown weaker and weaker, and eventually she had learned to hate the sight of the stable that had been intended for the purebred draft horses Paul had wanted to breed. She never went near the structure if she could help it.
Now she had to steel herself to swing open one side of the extra-large double doors. She stepped inside, taking a cautious look around. Dust motes danced in a shaft of sunlight, but otherwise it was silent and empty. The interior seemed to echo of broken dreams.
Sucking in a breath, Rebecca forced herself to walk all the way to the back wall, her footsteps hollow on the solid wooden floorboards. No one was here. Joshua’s longing for his daadi had led him to imagine what he hoped for.
A board creaked behind her and Rebecca whirled, heart leaping into her throat.
A man stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the light so that she couldn’t make out his face. But Amish, judging by his clothes and straw hat, so not a stranger. The man took a step forward, and she could see him.
For a long moment they simply stared at each other. Her brain seemed to be moving sluggishly, taking note of him. Tall, broad-shouldered, with golden-brown hair and eyes. He didn’t have a beard, so she could see the cleft in his chin, and the sight stirred vague memories. She knew him, and yet she didn’t. It wasn’t—
“Matt? Matthew Byler?”
A flicker of a smile crossed his face. “Got it right. And you’re little Becky Lapp, ain’t so?”
“Rebecca Fisher,” she corrected quickly. So Matt Byler had returned home to Brook Hill at last. Nothing had been seen of him among the central Pennsylvania Amish since his family migrated out west when he was a teenager.
Matt came a step closer, making her aware of the height and breadth of him. He’d grown quite a lot from the gangling boy he’d been when he left. “You married Paul Fisher, then. You two were holding hands when you were eight or nine, the way I remember it.”
“And you were . . .” She let that trail off. Matt had been a couple of years older than they were, and he’d been the kind of boy Amish parents held up as a bad example—always in trouble, always pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be Amish.
Now Matt’s smile lit his eyes, and a vagrant shaft of sunlight made them look almost gold. “You remember me. The troublemaker.”
“I . . . I wasn’t thinking that,” she said. But of course she had been. It was the first thing anyone thought in connection with Matt Byler. “Are you here for a visit?”
Matt didn’t have a beard, so obviously he hadn’t married. That was more than unusual for an Amish male of thirty.
Surely his unmarried state wasn’t for lack of chances. A prudent set of parents might look warily at Matt as a prospective son-in-law, but the girls had always been charmed by his teasing smile.
“My uncle needs some help with the carpentry business, and he asked me to give him a hand.”
Everyone knew that Silas Byler had been struggling to keep his business going since his eldest son had so unexpectedly left the community. How strange life was that Isaiah, who’d never caused his parents a moment’s worry, should be the one to leave the Amish while bad boy Matthew returned to take his place.
“I’m sorry about Isaiah. It was a heavy blow to your aunt and uncle, ain’t so?”
Matt nodded with a wry twist to his mouth. “Funny, isn’t it? Everyone was so sure I was the one headed over the fence.”
It was an echo of what she’d been thinking. “You did a pretty good job of making folks think so, the way I remember it,” she said.
“Ouch.” Matt’s teasing grin appeared. “You’ve developed a sharp tongue, I see.”
“I’ve just grown up. I have two kinder of my own now.” Rebecca hesitated, but she couldn’t help but resent what he’d made Josh imagine, however inadvertently. “My little boy, Joshua, must have seen you here at the stable. He thought it was his daadi.”
Matt’s face sobered in an instant. “I’m sorry, Rebecca. Truly sorry. My uncle told me about Paul. You have my sympathy.”
“Denke.” Too abrupt, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “Was there something you wanted here, Matt?”
He looked a little taken aback by the blunt question, but answered readily enough. “I’m looking for a building I can use for my furniture business. Onkel Silas told me about the stable and how Paul was going to . . .” He let that trail off. “Anyway, he said you weren’t using the stable and might be willing to lease it to me.”
Everything in Rebecca recoiled at the thought of putting another person’s business in Paul’s stable. “No.” Her tone was sharper than she intended. “I’m sorry. It’s not available.”
Matt’s eyebrows lifted. “It’s standing empty. I can pay you five hundred a month for the space.”
“It’s not available,” she said again, annoyed at him for putting her in this position and unable to keep from thinking about what she could do with an extra five hundred dollars a month.
Matt studied her face, his eyes intent and questioning. “You don’t like the idea of turning Paul’s stable over to someone else. I can understand that. But you have two little ones to raise. Can you afford to have it sitting empty when it could be earning money for Paul’s kinder?”
The fact that Matt was probably right didn’t make Rebecca feel any more kindly toward him. “I don’t think that’s your concern.”
“Maybe not. But it is yours, Rebecca.” He held her gaze for a moment longer, and she felt as if he was looking right into all her grief and uncertainty. Then he took a step back. “I wouldn’t do any harm to the place, Rebecca. Think about it.”
Matt turned and walked away. He was silhouetted in the doorway for a moment, and then he was gone, leaving Rebecca unsettled and upset.
• • •
Matthew’s somber mood stayed with him as he headed back to his uncle’s place. The road was obviously familiar to the buggy horse, probably more so than to him. It had been thirteen years since he’d left Brook Hill.
Not all that much had changed, from what he could see—things didn’t, not in this quiet part of central Pennsylvania. The Amish of Lancaster County referred to this area as the valleys, and small groups had begun moving here as early as the sixties, propelled by the increasing cost of farmland back in the Lancaster community.
Matt hadn’t expected it to be easy, coming back to the place where he was born, but he hadn’t expected a challenge from so unlikely a source as little Becky Lapp. Rebecca Fisher, he corrected himself, clucking to the mare when her pace slowed.
It was hardly surprising that Becky had married Paul Fisher, was it? Matt found he was smiling to himself, remembering a small girl racing after a slightly taller boy, her apron fluttering.
Rebecca wasn’t a child any longer. Her hair, once the color of corn silk, had become a light brown, but her sea-green eyes still surveyed a person with quiet gravity. Her oval face contained more than a hint of the loss she’d experienced. Her eyes were shadowed with remembered grief, and she’d held her shoulders stiffly, as if reminding herself to face up to whatever might be coming next.
He frowned. Why hadn’t she accepted his offer? It would make things so simple, and Onkel Silas seemed convinced Rebecca needed the money.
Had she refused because she couldn’t bear to see another use made of the stable than had been intended for Paul’s dreams? Or was it because the offer had come from Matthew Byler, the troublemaker, the unreliable person who shouldn’t be trusted?
Self-pity wasn’t very admirable, he told himself with a flash of wry humor. No matter how enjoyable it might be.
The fact that Rebecca had turned him down might mean nothing more than that his timing was bad. He’d give her a day or two to think it over before he started scouting around for another place. Luckily he’d managed to squirrel away a nice little nest egg while he’d been living in the Englisch world, no matter how many other mistakes he’d made. His stomach tightened at the memory of the worst of them, and he forced himself to shake off the unpleasant thought.
The valley narrowed as he headed northeast, the parallel ridges rising more abruptly from the creek bed. Onkel Silas’s place backed up to the woods, with enough space for a bit of pasture for buggy horses and a couple of dairy cows, a large garden, and the carpentry shop that was his livelihood. The mare turned into the lane without prompting, her pace quickening as she sensed the barn ahead.
Matt pulled her up and slid down from the buggy seat. As he began to unhitch the mare, his cousin Sadie stepped from the shadow of the barn into the sunlight, blue eyes narrowing in her now-familiar expression of dislike.
“About time you were getting back here, Matthew. Where have you been?”
Matt continued to move steadily, sliding the harness from the horse’s back. It occurred to him, not for the first time, that maybe his cousin’s sharp tongue had something to do with the fact that at nineteen, she still didn’t have a come-calling friend.
“Well? I thought you were here to help Daad, not to give extra work to everyone.”
Matt forced himself to count to ten before answering. “Had to help with the milking, did you, Sadie?” He kept his voice light. Doing the milking was hardly a big deal—Onkel Silas kept only two milk cows, not having the land or time for more.
“That’s not what upsets me,” she snapped. “Daad is depending on you.”
His cousin couldn’t know how that stung. He looked at her evenly. “Onkel Silas suggested I run over to Rebecca Fisher’s place to see about renting her stable for my furniture workshop.”
He led the mare past Sadie into the barn, forcing her to take a step back. It was too much to hope his cousin would let go of her grievance, but he’d settle for ending this conversation.
“You shouldn’t be thinking about that furniture-making of yours. Since Isaiah left . . .” Her voice trembled suddenly, and she let the words trail off.
That betraying emotion wrenched Matt’s heart. “I’m sorry.” He took a breath, trying to come up with something that might make a difference to Sadie. “Onkel Silas asked me to fill in until Isaiah comes home. That’s all.”
A good thing. He didn’t want anyone asking for a commitment he might not keep. That kind of promise went too close to the bone for him.
“If he comes back.” She voiced what everyone feared. “And helping out is the least you can do after nearly killing Isaiah.”
For a moment all Matt could do was stare at his cousin. So. That was what she was thinking—maybe what they were all thinking. He would never be free of that old mistake.
“Sadie, you forget yourself.” Onkel Silas stood in the barn doorway. His face was shadowed by his straw hat, but no one could miss the disapproval in his voice. “You are unkind, and I am ashamed of you.”
“I’m sorry, Daadi.” Sadie’s lips trembled, and she looked younger than her years.
“It’s Matthew you must tell, not me. What happened to Isaiah all those years ago has been forgiven.”
“Isaiah?” The female voice startled Matt. His aunt Lovina seldom came to the barn, and she sounded . . .
He couldn’t finish the thought, because she was rushing toward him, her face alive with joy. “Isaiah. You’re home.”
He took her hands in his, holding them firmly when she tried to embrace him. “No, Aunt Lovina. It’s Matthew. You remember me, don’t you?”
The joy faded from her face, replaced by the lost look that seemed to be there too often these days.
His throat tightened. He hadn’t been prepared for the changes in his uncle’s wife when he’d returned, and it still had the capacity to pain him. He managed to find his voice. “Komm. I’ll walk to the house with you.”
“I’ll do it.” Sadie pushed past him to put her arm around her mother’s waist. “We’ll get supper on the table, ain’t so?” Her voice gentled when she spoke to her mother. “The pot roast is about done.”
Aunt Lovina nodded, moving obediently with Sadie, as if she were the child and Sadie the mother.
Matt watched them go, careful not to look at his uncle’s face. Poor Onkel Silas. Surely nobody who knew her had expected a woman like Lovina, still healthy and energetic, to have her memory slipping away day by day.
Isaiah should be here. Matt felt a moment’s intense irritation at his missing cousin, despite the fact that Isaiah was only repeating the pattern that he himself had started.
Matt didn’t suppose Onkel Silas blamed him for Isaiah’s defection, but judging by the look Sadie had given him as she walked away, she probably did.
And for all he knew, maybe that blame was justified.
• • •
“If you ask me, we should just get rid of everything.” Rebecca’s young cousin Barbie glanced around the crowded attic of Grossmammi Lapp’s old farmhouse.
“Barbie Lapp, don’t you say such a thing.”
Realizing how sharp her tone was, Rebecca took a deep breath and sought for calm. She’d been ridiculously tense since her encounter with Matt Byler the previous day, and she certainly shouldn’t take it out on other people. “We three promised Grossmammi we’d sort out the attic as she wants, and we will, ain’t so?”
She looked for confirmation at her other cousin, Judith Wagler. Judith was thirty now, married and responsible. Barbie, on the other hand, showed no signs of wanting to settle down, even though she was in her early twenties already.
Too busy having a good time? Or was she flirting with the idea of jumping the fence? Rebecca would hate to think so.
“I’m sure Barbie didn’t mean it,” Judith said, with the air of one used to being the peacemaker. “We all love Grossmammi. Of course we’ll do as she wishes.”
Barbie’s bright blue eyes flashed, and she planted her hands on her hips as if prepared to quarrel. Then, meeting Judith’s warning glance, she shrugged. “Ja, all right. But I still don’t understand why Grossmammi would think I’d be interested in our old family stories.”
Since Rebecca didn’t understand it, either, she decided not to comment. She couldn’t help nursing a small feeling of disappointment. She was the one who’d always been fascinated by Grossmammi’s stories of the generations of Amish women who’d gone before them. She was the one who’d cherished the family treasures stored in Grossmammi’s attic. She was surely the logical one to become the keeper of their family’s story, now that Grossmammi was selling the family homestead and moving in with Rebecca’s parents.
Judith, as if guessing her thoughts, clasped Rebecca’s hand briefly, brown eyes soft with sympathy. “Grossmammi knows how much you have to deal with now that your Paul is gone. Barbie and I are here to help. Just tell us what to do.”
Rebecca blinked back a quick surge of tears. It had been close to eighteen months since Paul’s death. She’d managed to reply calmly enough to Matt’s sympathy, so why did she now struggle with tears at the mention of Paul’s name? But even tears were easier than the panic she sometimes felt at the idea of going on without him.
Rebecca swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to concentrate. It was a good thing that she had this chore to occupy her today. If Matt returned to renew his offer, she wouldn’t be there to face him.
“I’ve been thinking about how to go about it. Maybe we should just sort things out first,” she said. “Papers in one area, furniture in another, quilts and such-like elsewhere.”
Barbie, apparently regaining her normal good humor, nodded. “Okay. I’ll move the furniture.”
Barbie headed for a rickety spinning wheel that leaned against the eight-paned window. The spring sunshine slanting through the glass glistened on a silvery cobweb on the wheel, as if in mute memory of the yarn that had once been spun on it. The cobweb itself was a testament to how much Grossmammi had been failing in recent months. She’d always kept the attic as spotless as if church were going to be held there.
Rebecca turned her attention to a row of chests and boxes. She and Judith knelt beside the largest one, lifting the heavy lid together. Under cover of its creak, Judith spoke.
“How are you really, Rebecca? And the kinder?”
“The little ones are fine.” It was easier to talk about her children than herself. “Katie understands better, I think. She still misses her daadi.”
No point in saying that seven-year-old Katie’s attempts to hide her longing left Rebecca feeling helpless.
“As for Joshua . . .” She hesitated. “He’s a dreamer, like Paul was. I’m never sure what he’s thinking.” Had he believed her yesterday, when she’d told him the man he’d seen was Matt? She still wasn’t sure.
Shaking her head, Rebecca lifted out a quilt, carefully wrapped in paper to preserve it, while Judith pulled out a bundle of letters tied with a length of yarn.
They worked in silence side by side for a few minutes. Rebecca knew she should ask about Judith’s family, but she was afraid her voice might betray her. Judith’s family was still complete—she had someone to support and comfort her, someone to share the burdens and the joys of raising the kinder, someone to love forever.
Not that Rebecca would ever stop loving Paul. But . . .
“I heard from your mamm that you’re trying to decide whether to open the farm to visitors for the summer.” Judith’s tone was neutral, but her expression was wary, leading Rebecca to suspect that her mother had aired all her worries about Rebecca to Judith.
“Thinking, that’s all.” She paused, smoothing her hand over a log cabin quilt. “I wish I knew what was best to do. The farm-stay was Paul’s dream, and he was so excited about it.”
Paul had had so many dreams—the farm-stay, filling their large farmhouse with kinder, expanding beyond the simple truck farming they did to a dairy operation, raising the purebred draft horses he loved. It was hard to make a living farming without some sideline, and Paul had had such enthusiasm.
Rebecca might not be able to raise the horses or give him more children, but she could honor Paul by opening the farm-stay for the summer, if she had the courage. It was too bad that the very thought of entertaining strangers left her feeling dizzy.
“Surely Paul would not have expected you to carry on without him.” Judith’s tone was gentle. “He was good at greeting Englischers and making them feel at home. It was his gift.”
“And it’s not mine. Is that what you mean?” The edge was back in Rebecca’s voice, and she was ashamed of it. She shook her head quickly, before Judith could respond. “Ach, you’re right. I would rather just cook the breakfasts and change the beds.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Judith pointed out. “It was important to the visitors, ain’t so?”
“Ja, but I have the kinder to support by myself, and I’m not sure about doing it.” Her unconscious echo of what Matt had said to her brought his face back to her thoughts, and she brushed him away like she would shoo a fly.
“Your mamm and daad would love to have you move back in with them,” Judith pointed out.
Pressing her lips together, Rebecca shook her head. Much as she loved her parents and appreciated their support, she would not move away from the home she and Paul had shared.
“I can handle things myself.” Rebecca suspected she sounded like little Katie in one of her stubborn moods. She drew a small dower chest toward her, trying to focus on it. It was time to change the subject.
A screech sounded as Barbie moved a chest of drawers, drawing their attention to her. “Do you know what these yellow stickers mean on some of the furniture?” she asked.
Judith smiled, probably at the streak of dust adorning their young cousin’s cheek. “Grossmammi mentioned that we might sell some pieces—the ones she has marked. We could . . .”
“Sell?” Rebecca’s stomach seemed to turn over. “Why would she want to sell anything?” She put her hand protectively on the trunk in front of her. “These are family pieces.”
Barbie made a face. “But who would want them? If I ever settle down in a home of my own, I’ll want all new things.”
“It’s only the items no one in the family has a use for,” Judith said, her voice soothing.
Rebecca’s heart rebelled. “How can Grossmammi think of selling pieces of our family history?” Grossmammi, who always talked to her of the value of learning from those who’d gone before the current generation?
“I’m sure she’d let you have anything you want . . .” Judith began, but she let the words die out when Rebecca shook her head.
Her world was changing, and she couldn’t stop it. Somehow she had to adjust, or—or what?
Rebecca closed the lid of the dower box. The attic seemed to lose its air. She couldn’t stay here and dismantle her family’s roots. Not when the ground was so shaky under her feet already.
Snatching up the box, Rebecca scrambled to her feet. “I . . . I’ll take this home to sort.”
She spun toward the attic stairs, aware of her cousins’ faces, eyes wide, staring at her. Grasping the railing, she stumbled down the steps, wishing she could run away from her fears as easily.
By the time Rebecca stopped at her parents’ house to pick up the kinder, she’d managed to collect her ragged emotions. These periods of feeling overwhelmed surely would end soon, wouldn’t they?
Or was this a lack of faith on her part? As always when she felt distressed, Rebecca let her gaze rest on the ridge above the farm. The pines and hemlocks formed dark green shadows, seeming even denser as the sun began to slip behind the ridge, painting the clouds in shades of blue and purple.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills; from whence cometh my help? The psalmist answers quickly. My help cometh from the Lord, who made Heaven and earth.
She had always found comfort in that knowledge. She had to believe that God had not forsaken her, even though sometimes she felt so desperately alone.
Rebecca drew the buggy horse up at the hitching rail by the back porch. Katie and Josh were playing ball in the backyard with two of her brothers, twenty-one-year-old Simon and her next brother, sixteen-year-old Johnny.
“Mammi, Mammi, I hit the ball!” Josh came running, forsaking the game in his eagerness to tell her.
Even as Rebecca was hugging him, she saw Katie smack the softball Simon had lobbed to her. It sailed over Johnny’s head.
“That’s great.” Rebecca suppressed a twinge of guilt that it hadn’t occurred to her to play ball with the kinder. “Your onkels must be gut teachers.”
Simon grinned. “You taught me, Beck. Don’t you remember?”
“A looong time ago,” she said, smiling back at him. Simon would always be her little brother, no matter how tall he got. She turned back to her son. “Where’s Grossmammi?”
“She didn’t want to play ball,” Josh announced, his tone suggesting surprise that anyone wouldn’t want to do so. “We made cookies together, and she’s cleaning up.”
Rebecca ruffled his silky hair. “You go back to your game then, and I’ll help her.”
Joshua ran to the others, and she stood smiling for a moment as Johnny grabbed him and tickled him. They were fortunate to live right next door to her family, so that her little ones didn’t suffer from a lack of male influence in their lives. And when her grossmammi moved in with Rebecca’s folks, there’d be yet another generation close at hand.
The scent of snickerdoodles reached Rebecca even before she stepped into the kitchen, and her mamm turned from the sink, wiping her hands on a tea towel.
“Back already? I was sure you’d get caught up in all the treasures in your grossmammi’s attic.”
“There’s plenty to be done, that’s certain-sure.” Rebecca felt obscurely guilty for having come away early. “Grossmammi was fretting over not being allowed to go up to the attic and supervise.”
The doctor had forbidden much stair climbing, saying once a day was plenty for the time being, but getting someone as strong-willed as Elizabeth Lapp to listen was another story.
“Ach, I wish she’d chust move in here and let the rest of us worry about clearing the house out.” Mamm’s round, cheerful face clouded. “The room is ready for her, and it would be no trouble at all.”
The welcome was genuine. So far as Rebecca knew, Mamm had always gotten along well with her mother-in-law. Still, though Mamm had a strong-willed streak of her own, it was nothing compared to Elizabeth’s. It would be interesting to see how the two of them fared, living in the same house.
“We may as well let her do it her way.” Rebecca tried to soothe her mother’s ruffled feelings. “She will anyway.”
“And what is to stop your grossmammi from going up those attic steps after you girls are gone?” Mamm demanded. “It would be just like her.”
“She won’t have a chance,” Rebecca said. “We took the only key, and Judith will make sure the attic door is locked when she and Barbie leave.” She followed the smell of cinnamon to the cooling racks and broke off a piece of cookie, aware of her mother’s questioning look.
“You came away early, did you?”
Rebecca tried not to meet her eyes. “Just a little before the other two. I brought a chest of letters and books home with me to sort out. I can work on it this evening after the little ones are in bed.”
“If you were worrying about getting home to the kinder, you know it’s a joy for us to have them here,” her mother said. “In fact, your daad and I would like nothing better than to have the three of you move in. You know that, don’t you?”
“I know.” Rebecca gave her mother a quick hug. “But we’re fine where we are. As close as we are, it’s almost like living together. Besides, once Grossmammi moves in, you’ll have a houseful.”
“There can’t be too many people in the house for me,” her mother declared. “I love having plenty of people to cook for and look after. Besides, as serious as Simon seems to be getting over Mary Ann King, it might not be too much longer before he’s wanting to set up on his own.”
“Really? Simon married?” Rebecca couldn’t help the note of surprise in her voice. Not that there was anything wrong with Mary Ann, she supposed, barring a little immaturity. Still, she probably wouldn’t think anyone was quite good enough for her little brother.
Mamm nodded, frowning slightly. “He seems taken with her, and she is a pretty girl. A bit silly, I’ve always thought, but if it doesn’t bother him I have nothing to say about it.”
Rebecca couldn’t help laughing at that comment. “Mamm, you know perfectly well you’ll tell him what you think. And her, too, most likely.”
Mamm’s cheeks, already rosy from the heat of the oven, got a bit redder. “Ach, I do try not to say everything that comes into my head.”
“I know, Mamm. I know.” Rebecca gave her another quick hug. “I’d better round up the young ones and get on home. Is tomorrow afternoon all right for you to watch them again?”
“For sure. The sooner you girls get that job done, the better. Josh and I will walk down and meet Katie after school.” Mamm scurried to the counter and grasped a basket, thrusting it at Rebecca. “Chicken potpie and the children’s cookies,” she said by way of explanation. “You can chust heat up the potpie for your supper. You’ll be tired after working in that crowded attic all afternoon.”
“Denke, Mamm.” She wouldn’t argue, late as it was getting. “I’ll see if I can’t get through that chest after I put Katie and Josh to bed. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to take the most time in sorting.”
“I suppose.” Her mother sounded doubtful, and Rebecca suspected that she, like Barbie, would have made a clean sweep if it were up to her.
Fortunately it wasn’t. Grossmammi had chosen Rebecca for this job, and she was determined to do it right. With a wave and smile for her mother, Rebecca headed out the back door. Katie and Joshua were reluctant to leave their game, but they must have been tired after all their activities at their grandparents’ house, because they scrambled into the buggy rather than racing across the field for home.
Once she’d unharnessed the buggy horse and stabled her, there was the usual flurry of evening chores to do and supper to get on the table. Rebecca was glad of the potpie to make that part of the day easier.
Sitting around the table, just the three of them, could seem a little lonely without Paul’s presence, and she made an effort to keep both the kinder talking. Supper had always been a time to catch up on what each one had done that day, and she couldn’t let that custom die out.
For once neither of the kinder made any of their usual spirited efforts to avoid bedtime. Once she’d read their stories and listened to their prayers, Rebecca slipped away, leaving their bedroom door ajar so she’d hear any cry in the night.
She paused for a moment on the top landing, taking a mental inventory of the other bedrooms. If she intended to open for the summer, she ought to be getting them ready. If . . .
Pushing the thought away to be dealt with later, she went downstairs.
She’d found this the hardest part of the day since Paul was gone, and it didn’t seem to be getting any easier. The house was too quiet with the children in bed and asleep. At moments like this her parents’ offer seemed very tempting. At least there she’d have company.
No. This was their home, and they would stay in it. It would feel like a betrayal of Paul to move. Her thoughts flitted to that surprising offer from Matt Byler. Accepting it would help matters financially for sure, but still, she doubted the wisdom of it. Doubted him, more likely.
Switching on the gaslight in the living room, Rebecca glanced at the small dower chest, still on the table where she’d put it earlier. She should get busy sorting the contents. That would fill the time until she was tired enough to sleep, wouldn’t it?
Once, this had been her favorite time of the day instead of the most difficult. She would sit in her chair with a basket of hand sewing next to her, while Paul occupied the corner of the sofa closest to the lamp, reading the newspaper. Sometimes he’d read out an interesting article to her.
There had been nothing exciting or special about those evenings. They hadn’t even needed to talk, and she’d been happy—the house quiet, the kinder asleep upstairs, and the man she loved close enough that she could put out her hand and touch him. That had been true happiness.
Shaking her head as if that would chase away the thoughts, Rebecca pulled the small chest toward her and lifted the lid. Work was the only cure for what ailed her.
The dower chest was packed to the brim with old letters, newspaper clippings, and several small books, their covers faded, which seemed to be diaries. Rebecca sorted through a few clippings, most of which were recipes. These could be safely thrown away, she thought.
She picked up the top diary, looking inside the front cover for a name. Anna Esch. Rebecca frowned. Esch. This didn’t belong to someone in the direct family line, it seemed. Possibly the diary wouldn’t be worth saving, but she’d have to read a bit of it before she’d feel all right disposing of it.
Flipping it open at random, she began to skim, half expecting a routine telling of the day’s activities or an account of the weather. But there was nothing routine about the words the unknown Anna had penned. They caught Rebecca’s imagination, pulling her in, and she turned to the beginning, settled back in the rocking chair, and began to read.
People say that we will soon be at war. . . .
Lancaster County, November 1941
Anna Esch put down her pencil and stared at the sentence she’d just written.
In all her eighteen years, she’d never seen words so frightening. War. The Amish, raised from birth on stories of their ancestors who’d been martyred for their adherence to Jesus’ teachings, clung ever more tightly to their belief in nonviolence. Surely a war in far-off Europe, terrible as it was, couldn’t touch them here in peaceful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Anna moved to the window, peering out. She couldn’t see anyone in the November dark, but she raised the window a couple of inches, letting in the chill air. Late as it was, Jacob must not be coming tonight.
Even as she thought it, the clear warble of a bobwhite floated through the night air. Anna’s heart leaped. She waved, sliding the window down, knowing that Jacob, her come-calling friend, could see her standing there in the light cast by the kerosene lamp.
Grabbing the heavy black sweater that lay over the back of her chair, Anna pulled it on, buttoning it over her gray dress. She eased the bedroom door open and peeked out to make sure no one was in the hall. Seth, her year-younger brother, wouldn’t give her away, but the younger ones might call out if they spotted her, making Mammi and Daadi aware she was moving around.
But all was quiet. She slipped down the back stairs to the kitchen, dark now. The only light on the first floor of the old farmhouse came from the living room. She could hear her daad’s deep voice reading an article from the Amish newspaper to Mammi, who was no doubt sitting in her rocking chair with the mending in her lap. Their big family meant plenty of rips and tears to fix.
Anna skirted the long wooden table, knowing its position even without seeing it. She opened the back door and crept out into the night.
This secrecy wasn’t really necessary, of course. Her parents liked Jacob, thoroughly approving of him for their eldest daughter. Some evenings Jacob came to the door and was welcomed in. The two of them would sit in the kitchen, always aware of Daadi in the next room, always ready for Mammi to bustle in at any moment with offers of cake, pie, or cookies, as if Jacob needed to be fattened up.