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When Strawberries Bloom
Lizzie Searches for Love Book Two
By Linda Byler
Good BooksCopyright © 2010 Good Books
All rights reserved.
"And so ..." Lizzie finished her story, "that's how it was!"
"Oh, I wonder how this will all turn out?" Mandy sighed.
Lizzie loved Monday evenings when she could tell stories about her weekend, interesting bit by interesting bit, to her younger sister Mandy who always listened with wide-eyed admiration. With dinner over and the dishes done, the sisters worked outside with Mam, planting flowers in the new rock garden that Dat had built beside the house. Lizzie mixed peat moss into the topsoil while Mandy set up the rubber garden hose from the water hydrant by the barn.
Spring had arrived, filling the days with warm, mellow sunshine. Buds burst forth from the maple tree in the front yard, and even the old walnut tree beside the sidewalk shone with a light green mist which, if Lizzie looked closely, was actually thousands of tiny green buds erupting from the dark branches. The swollen creek churned on its relentless way to the river, already muddy brown from all of the April showers. Little green shoots emerged from moist brown earth, stretching through the blanket of wet, decaying leaves.
During the warm days, Dat worked the horse hard, preparing the soil for another crop. Clyde, the big workhorse, was back in the harness, still bouncing around as if he had springs in his legs, but now he was settled down enough to pull his share of the plow.
In the evenings, barn swallows dipped and whirled through the air like little acrobats, chirping their evening song as they caught mosquitoes for their baby birds in the mud nests inside the horse barn.
"Ach, Lizzie, you're still so young. I wouldn't get too serious about either Amos or Stephen or too worried about Ruthie. You have plenty of time to run around yet. Besides, more importantly, you need to pray about this," her older sister Emma said, as she gently pushed the porch swing back and forth with her foot.
Lizzie flicked some dust off her black bib apron, adjusted the navy blue sleeve of her dress, and shivered. The cool evening breeze reminded her of the evening before when she had paddled across the pond with Amos, handsome Amos, who had always paid more attention to her friend Ruthie than to her until last night. Everything had been perfect until Stephen appeared as they were pulling the boat to shore.
One moment she had felt warm and a little confused as she watched Amos tie up the canoe. The next moment, Stephen had stepped beside her and told her she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen.
Lizzie shook her head and snorted impatiently. Something about Stephen bothered her. They had become friends, real friends, in the year since his family moved to Lamont County. But even though Lizzie saw him every weekend, she never quite felt like she knew what he thought about her. He was too quiet, not as outgoing and funny as Amos or her Uncle Marvin, and sometimes she caught him watching her as if he knew something more than even she knew about herself. He bugged her!
Besides, how could she know that Stephen liked her in that way? Maybe he didn't really. He was just teasing her, or he thought she was pretty but nothing more. Or what if he wished he hadn't said anything to her now? She certainly wished he hadn't because she felt all mixed up inside.
"Emma, I do pray. You know I'm not as scared of God as I used to be. And you have nothing to say. How old were you when you started dating Joshua? Huh? How old?" Lizzie turned her head and squinted teasingly at Emma.
Emma reached down and playfully pulled at Lizzie's dichly, the little kerchief on her head. Lizzie grabbed the top of her head to stop her, but Emma was too fast, and she snatched it and flung it over the porch railing.
"You should have a real worthwhile project in your life like drawing, crocheting, embroidering ..."
Lizzie pretended to gag, and Mandy threw her head back, whooping and laughing. Emma may enjoy crocheting and embroidering, Lizzie knew, but not she or Mandy.
"I know what I would like to do more than anything in the whole world!" Lizzie said.
Mandy and Emma looked at each other, rolled their eyes, and said simultaneously, "Teach school!"
"Yup. That's right. Teach school," Lizzie said.
They had often listened to Lizzie's vivid accounts of what her classroom would look like, her methods of discipline, her way of teaching, the songs the children would sing, and on and on until both of her sisters became quite weary of listening and started to tease her. It wasn't that they scoffed at the idea of Lizzie teaching. It just seemed a bit improbable to them that the very proper school board would even think of asking 17-year-old Lizzie to teach school.
"But Lizzie," Mandy protested, "you're too young."
"And too fancy," Emma finished soberly.
"What do you mean?" Lizzie wailed. "I'm not fancy!"
"You're way too fancy with your hair, your clothes, your covering. The school board will not ask a girl like you to teach," Emma said quite matter-of-factly.
"I'm not fancier than any other girl in our entire church," Lizzie argued.
"Well, you could wet your hair down and roll the sides more sleekly. You often look so ... well, I hate to say 'sloppy,' Lizzie. Maybe you'd like it better if I used the word 'fancy,'" Emma said.
"The school board shouldn't judge me by my hair," Lizzie said, her hands on her hips.
"They don't really, Lizzie. But ... well, I don't know quite how to describe it."
Lizzie plopped down beside Emma on the swing. The chain of the porch swing creaked against the hooks in the ceiling as they swung silently together. Across the lawn, the girls' twin sisters, KatieAnn and Susan, were playing in the freshly mowed grass by the clothesline, while Dat whistled as he swept the horse barn floor with his wide broom. The sun was sinking behind the hills in a grand show of yellow, orange, and red. Streaks of dark blue and lavender made the colors seem almost like heaven, Lizzie thought.
Mam clapped her hands, brushing off the dirt as she straightened her back. Lizzie eyed her newly planted petunias. The old farm had been vastly improved in many different ways since they had moved in. It was their home now, and a cozy, homey one which Lizzie had learned to love with all her heart. Her heart always sang when she returned home to Mam's comfy kitchen, whether she had been at work or coming home from running around during a weekend in neighboring Allen County.
Lizzie truly yearned for only one thing now, and that was to become a real teacher. So if the school board thought she needed to change some things about her dress, she would. She knew there was nothing else in all the world she wanted to do more than be a teacher, so she would show them she could be a plain, old-maidy kind of person, quiet, sober, and very, very mature for a 17-year-old. She made a mental note of who was on the school board, wondering how she could persuade them that she was capable of doing the job.
Lizzie could still remember her first day of school. Emma was six years old then, and Lizzie was only five. Actually, Lizzie was almost too young to go to school, but Mam wanted the two girls to start together. They were only a little over a year apart in age, so she thought it was good for them to start first grade the same year.
On that first day, when the little white one-room schoolhouse came into view, Lizzie's heart had done a complete flip-flop. There was a porch and a fence with a gate that was pulled open. A horse shed and two outdoor bathrooms stood in a corner of the schoolyard. There were already lots of children at school, and Lizzie felt very afraid.
Emma said, "Good morning," to the teacher, but not very loud. Lizzie didn't say anything. She had just stared at the teacher. She was very thin with a long black dress. Her forehead was wide, and she wore glasses, and her white covering was bigger than Mam's. She looked friendly enough, but she also looked scary. Lizzie wondered if she spanked little first-graders. She looked like she could really spank.
"Come, girls, we'll find your seats," the teacher said. "You'll find your name written on a piece of tape. Let's see if you can find your seats. Can you write your own name?"
Emma nodded her head. Lizzie was too shy to do anything except walk along under that hand on her shoulder. It had seemed so far across the classroom, and she felt like many pairs of eyes were staring at her. She hoped her dress was buttoned properly and that her bob was not falling down.
Lizzie squirmed a little to make herself more comfortable on the slippery varnished seat. She tucked her legs underneath, and her new shoes crinkled at the toes. Teacher Sylvia handed out blue songbooks to some of the children.
"Now we're going to take turns picking songs," she said. The singing started and welled in the room, growing louder and louder. Lizzie bit her lip, trying hard not to feel lonely.
"My Lord, what a morning, My Lord, what a morning, My Lord, what a morning, When the stars begin to fall."
On and on the children sang, and lonelier and lonelier Lizzie became. She tried to think of happy things, of good things to eat, and of silly things, but the huge lump in her throat only grew bigger. She looked down and bit her lip, shuffling her feet, but the lump in her throat would not go away. She glanced at Emma, and Emma smiled a weak smile, trying to cheer her up.
In that moment, huge, wet tears coursed down Lizzie's cheeks, and a harsh sob escaped her bitten lips. She was soon crying uncontrollably, wishing she could go home to Mam before the stars fell and the end of the world came. Wouldn't it be awful if the stars fell from the sky and she was in school and Dat and Mam were at home?
Emma took Lizzie's hand and tugged gently. Lizzie followed Emma across that big expanse of schoolroom to the door while the singing went on. Emma led her across the porch and down to the little outdoor bathroom. They huddled together while Emma tried to console Lizzie in earnest tones.
"Lizzie, it's okay. What's wrong?"
Lizzie cried horribly. She couldn't tell Emma about the deep black loneliness she felt when they sang that song. So she just shrugged her shoulders, and Emma wiped her eyes and told her to be quiet. She said Lizzie would have to be a good girl and grow up now and not cry in school. Lizzie gulped and choked and nodded her head. She would be all right, she assured Emma. And much to Lizzie's surprise, she really was.
And soon she learned to love school, in spite of sad songs.
The next morning when Lizzie combed her hair, she made sure it was all put up neatly in an orderly fashion. Dat looked at Lizzie once, then followed up with closer scrutiny before he gave Mam a bewildered look.
Mam checked Lizzie's neat attire, her covering pulled forward to cover her carefully combed hair. Lizzie's eyebrows were raised in a quite pious expression, her eyes downcast in her Herculean effort at humility.
Mam's eyes met Dat's and she shrugged her shoulders. Dat cleared his throat.
"Well, Lizzie, to what do we owe this change of heart you're displaying?"
Lizzie looked up at Dat, her eyes as meek and docile as a sheep's.
"Oh, the girls told me if I want to be a schoolteacher, I need to mend my ways. I mean, comb my hair more severely and act more responsible. How do I look?" she asked, batting her eyelashes demurely.
Mam sputtered. She made a brave attempt to keep from laughing, but in the end her shoulders shook until she gave up helplessly. Dat looked a bit stern, then seeing Mam wiping her eyes, he laughed with her.
When Emma came down the stairs, she was startled to hear everyone laughing so early in the morning until she saw Lizzie's hair and covering.
"Oh, my goodness!" she gasped.
Lizzie was a bit insulted to see everyone laughing at her real effort to appear grown up and responsible.
"Well, go ahead and laugh then," she said.
"We weren't laughing at you, Lizzie. But you are laying it on a bit thick," Dat said. "After all, Lizzie, you have to be yourself. You can't purposefully turn yourself into a whole other sort of person. I do admire you for dressing more respectfully, but I have a good feeling about the school board. If they know you truly want to teach school, they'll be kind enough to give you a try. I'm pretty sure they will."
"Of course, they will," Mam agreed.
Lizzie sighed. It was almost unbelievable that Dat actually thought the school board would ask her to teach! In this community there was only one school for Amish and Mennonite students, and as far as Lizzie knew, its teacher was getting married in the fall. That meant they would need a new teacher, and she knew of no one else who wanted the job. So maybe ... just maybe ...CHAPTER 2
The next Sunday, Lizzie dressed quite soberly. During church, she sang along with the congregation, singing quite purposefully, listening to the preacher with no fidgeting or whispering. She wanted the men on the school board to think she was a mature young woman, capable of teaching in the fall. She knew that the responsibility and seriousness of teaching could be completely overwhelming, which, really, sometimes if she thought about it, was about as frightening as ... well, as lots of things about the unknown.
Emma was very supportive, always being positive when they talked about it. She even told Lizzie that she thought she would be a teacher herself someday, but the way things were turning out, she just didn't know if that would happen. Lizzie knew exactly why Emma didn't seriously pursue teaching. It was because she still held the dream of being married soon. She probably thought that if she didn't commit herself to teaching, Joshua would ask her to marry him.
After services were over, Lizzie helped the other single girls carry trays of bread and pies, ham, soft cheese spread, pickles, and red beets to the long tables where the traditional Sunday dinner was served. She caught sight of Stephen standing on the other side of the room, laughing at something Uncle Marvin had said. Stephen smiled at her and Lizzie's heart sped up. But when Uncle Marvin turned to see who had caught Stephen's attention, Lizzie ducked her head and walked away.
Dat was talking with an unfamiliar man who looked to be about his age. Lizzie wondered if he was part of the Beiler family who had recently moved to the area. She remembered that Dat mentioned one evening at the supper table that this Jonas Beiler was pushing for the development of an Amish school board to help the Mennonites run the local school.
"Who's that?" she asked Emma.
Emma smiled and shrugged.
"I don't know," she said.
Lizzie sighed and went on with her duties, hoping with all her heart that she was making a good impression.
By the next week, Lizzie had almost forgotten about impressing the school board with her good behavior. She was so busy working as a maud for a local family, and her days and evenings were full of spring cleaning and planting. She didn't have time to worry about teaching school. Mandy said they probably wouldn't ask her anyway, because she was only 17 years old. Lizzie quickly reminded her that she would be almost 18 in the fall, and that was plenty old enough to teach school.
She was upstairs cleaning her closet one warm evening, just as the birds were twittering their good-night songs, when the door of her room burst open.
"Lizzie, get down to the kitchen! The school board is here!" Mandy hissed.
Lizzie dropped the dress she was holding, her mouth open in disbelief. "The real school board?"
Lizzie felt her heartbeat accelerate, and the color drained from her face. Quickly she dashed to the mirror, checking her hair and covering before she nervously wiped a few fuzzies from her apron. She could think of nothing, absolutely nothing to say. For some reason it felt as if they were there to spank her, like she was still a little girl who had done something mischievous in school, and the stern-faced school board had come to tell her what her punishment was going to be.
Her knees hardly supported her as she went slowly down the stairs, clutching the sides of her covering, checking that it covered part of her ears. Who knew? They might change their minds if she didn't look too fancy.
In the kitchen, Dat and Mam sat at the kitchen table with three men. Lizzie recognized Jonas Beiler from his conversation with Dat at church. The other two men, Elam Glick and Elmer Esh, had lived in the community much longer, and Lizzie knew them well. In one glance, Lizzie could see that Mam was nervous because her hands were closed with her thumbs tucked under her fingers. That's what Mam always did when she was worried about something.
Excerpted from When Strawberries Bloom by Linda Byler. Copyright © 2010 Good Books. Excerpted by permission of Good Books.
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