Huckleberry Hill, Wisconsin’s irrepressible eighty-something matchmakers Anna and Felty Helmuth are at it again. And this time they’re willing to rough it to get the job done . . .
Mary Anne Neuenschwander knows she should be content with what Gotte has given her. She has a comfortable house, a fruitful farm, and a good, steady husband. But after nearly six years of marriage, she still longs for a baby. Yet her husband, Jethro, seems to care more about fishing than about his wife. Unable to bear Jethro’s indifference, Mary Anne moves into a tent in the woods where he won’t have to be bothered. But when her mammi and dawdi find out what she’s done, they’ll stop at nothing—including a little camping trip of their own—to help save their granddaughter’s marriage . . .
Jethro’s greatest blessing is his beloved wife, Mary Anne. Nothing else in his life has turned out anywhere near the way he expected. Rather than burden Mary Anne with his disappointment, he shields her by spending less and less time at home and more time on the river. But when he finds that she’s moved out, he’s shocked. What will people think? What is Mary Anne thinking? And what clever plans are her grandparents hatching?. . .
“A heart-warming story of faith, hope, and second chances. The story will captivate readers who love the Amish culture and enjoy an endearing romance.”
—Amy Clipston, bestselling author of A Place at Our Table
About the Author
Jennifer Beckstrand is the RITA nominated and award-winning author of the Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill and The Honeybee Sisters series, as well as a number of novellas. Novels in her Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series have been RITA® Award and RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award finalists. Huckleberry Hill won the 2014 LIME Award for inspirational fiction and Huckleberry Hearts was named a Booklist Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Book of the Year. Jennifer has always been drawn to the strong faith and the enduring family ties of the Plain people. She and her husband have been married for thirty-four years, and she has four daughters, two sons, and seven adorable grandchildren, whom she spoils rotten. Please visit her online at www.JenniferBeckstrand.com
Read an Excerpt
Anna Helmuth picked up a tub of colorful mint drops from the shelf and shook the plastic container to see what they sounded like. You could always tell how fresh something was by the way it rattled around in its package. "Felty," she said, holding the tub of mints closer to her ear. She was only eighty-five, but she didn't hear as well as she used to. "I'm afraid there's trouble brewing at Mary Anne and Jethro's house. I can feel it in my bones."
Felty stood next to Anna in the candy aisle, listening to a tub of peanut clusters. "What kind of trouble, Annie-Banannie? Are you sure it's not your arthritis acting up?"
"Jah, I'm sure. My bones have never steered me wrong, except for that one time I thought there was a mountain man living in our attic."
Felty set the peanut clusters in the basket hung over his arm and picked up a tub of Jersey cherry candies. They were very loud. "Trouble is nothing new for Mary Anne and Jethro. It's been four years since they found out they can't have a buplie."
"I know, dear, but this is something different. Something worse."
Felty furrowed his brow, either because he was concentrating on the sound of a tub of candy corns or because he was concerned for his granddaughter, Mary Anne. "What's the matter?"
"They've been married for six years, but I don't think they like each other anymore."
Felty put the candy corns in his basket. No pantry should ever be without candy corns. "Well, Annie, all married couples go through that. There was a time when I didn't like you very much."
Anna grinned. "And I didn't like you. You always had to be right."
"And you were so stubborn."
The bishop's wife, Christina Yoder, shuffled down the aisle and leaned past Anna to grab a tub of gummy worms. "You two don't like each other?" she said, a look of deep concern traveling across her features.
"Only when she hogs the covers," Felty said, giving Anna a wink. Anna scrunched her lips to one side of her face. Felty was the one who stole the covers.
"We used to not like each other," Anna said, patting Christina on the shoulder and sort of nudging her in the other direction. Some people just didn't know how to stay out of a private conversation.
Christina strolled away but kept her ear turned toward them. For sure and certain she'd try to listen in while she did her shopping.
Anna smiled at Felty. "Remember when I made you sleep in the barn?"
"Remember when I used to slam the door as hard as I could?"
"There was a time when I wished the Amish believed in divorce," Anna said. "You were the last person in the world I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
Anna heard a sound behind her and turned to see Dorothy Raber staring at both of them. "Is everything okay?" Dorothy said, pasting a smile on her face as if determined not to act suspicious.
"Jah," Felty said, sliding a tub of lemon drops into his basket. "We're picking out candy for the great-grandchildren."
Dorothy pursed her lips. "Ach. Okay. I'm froh to hear it." She hesitated, then reached out and snatched a tub of candy from the shelf above Anna's head. She obviously wanted them to believe she'd come down this aisle to get a treat instead of to eavesdrop on their conversation, but she didn't fool Anna. Nobody bought licorice gumdrops on purpose.
Felty shook a tub of peach rings. They didn't make much noise. "I'm froh you didn't divorce me, Annie. I was wonderful hard to live with."
"And so was I. It's easy to see why so many Englischers split up."
David Eicher marched down the aisle, grimacing as if he'd eaten a pickle for breakfast. David had never forgiven Anna for matching her grandson, Aden, with David's daughter, Lily, even though Aden and Lily were very happily married with a lovely organic farm and three children.
"Hallo, David," Felty said, setting the stale peach rings back on the shelf.
David shook Felty's hand, though he acted as if he were petting a snake. "My wife is in the bread aisle, and she is wonderful concerned. She wanted me to remind you that you'll get excommunicated if you get a divorce."
Anna couldn't help but be impressed. Gossip traveled faster than a runaway horse in Amish country, but it seemingly traveled like lightning in an Amish grocery store. Unfortunately, Mary Anne and Jethro were in trouble, and Anna had no time for such nonsense. "Now, David," she said. "Nothing has been decided yet. We'll let you know the minute it is."
David narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth as if he wanted to give them a lecture.
Anna didn't have time for a lecture. "You'd better go find Martha. I hear they have a special on Friendship Bread."
He shook his head, turned around, and walked away. "It's against the Ordnung," he muttered.
She wanted to point out that gossip was against the Ordnung too, but she couldn't, because it wasn't.
When David disappeared from sight, Anna leaned closer to Felty so she could whisper, even though whispering was very inconvenient and Felty didn't hear well. Was it too much to expect of their neighbors to leave them alone for five minutes so they could have a private conversation? "There is going to be trouble at Mary Anne and Jethro's house. We've got to do something about it."
"What can we do, Annie? Jethro is already acting like an old man, and Mary Anne is unhappy in a way I can't begin to guess."
Anna studied the nutrition information on a tub of chocolate taffy. It was a short read. "Jethro and Mary Anne can't stand each other. I'll have to play matchmaker."
"For two people who are already married?"
Anna nodded. "We had to fall in love with each other again."
"I don't know how we did it, but I love you now more than ever, Annie-Banannie."
Anna furrowed her brow. There seemed to be some sort of silent gathering on the next aisle over. She put her finger to her lips, took Felty's hand, and tiptoed to the end of the aisle. She peeked into the next aisle over. No less than fifteen people stood in a little clump with their ears turned toward the aisle where Anna and Felty had just been standing. Anna covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. "Ach, Felty," she whispered. "We've given them all a little excitement to start their day. It does my heart good to see it." They shuffled quietly to the front counter, where young Tobias Raber waited to total their ten tubs of candy. "How long before they realize we're not there anymore?" she said.
Felty stroked his beard. "We should probably run to the buggy just to be safe."CHAPTER 2
Mary Anne lit the candles and stood back to admire her work. Two salmon filets rested on a bed of herbed-butter asparagus with grilled lemon slices for garnish. The vegetable tray was a work of art, with crinkle-cut carrots and radishes cut in the shape of rosebuds. A hollowed-out cabbage held ranch dip, and the cucumbers looked like little flowers because she'd scored them with her special tool. She'd put extra cheese in the funeral potatoes so they were swimming in a pool of cheese sauce.
She'd even made her special rainbow Jell-O parfaits, with six kinds of Jell-O, for dessert. Rainbow parfaits took an indecent amount of time to make, but they were so beautiful and just right for a once-a-year event. Mary Anne was convinced Jethro had fallen in love with her over a rainbow parfait seven years ago. Today she'd made four parfaits just to be sure she got at least two perfectly right.
The vanilla-scented candles had been a spark of inspiration. The Amish didn't use candles much anymore. It was too easy to start a fire. But according to the package, vanilla "filled the air with romance." The perfect thing for a sixth anniversary.
Mary Anne glanced at the clock. Without fail, Jethro walked through the front door every day at five. He worked at a carpentry shop in Shawano, and the van brought him home right on time. She was always sure to have dinner ready for him as he walked through the door. He worked so hard. It was the least she could do.
Jethro seemed to have a lot on his mind lately, as if he barely even noticed her because he had so many worries floating around in his head. Tonight was going to be different. Tonight, his eyes would light up at the sight of salmon and asparagus, and he'd remember he was happy he'd married her. Maybe he'd call her his "precious ruby" like he did when they were first married. Maybe he'd hold her hand and run his fingers across her knuckles and tell her that she was the only woman in the world for him. Maybe he still loved her. Maybe the funeral potatoes would help him remember.
She flinched when she heard the door open, and her heart did a little somersault. Jethro was going to be so happy.
"Mary Anne?" he called.
She was so excited, she ran into the living room and threw her arms around his neck. She loved how he always smelled of cedar and pine.
He raised both eyebrows and studied her face. "Hallo. Did you have a gute day?"
Mary Anne was practically bouncing. "The best day. Come and see what I made for dinner."
He hung his hat on the hook by the door and smoothed his fingers through his hair with a sheepish twist to his lips. "Ach, Mary Anne, I'm sorry. I already ate."
"You ... already ate?"
He grimaced. "I should have told you this morning. Marty and I grabbed McDonald's right after work. Randall is picking me up in five minutes. We're going fishing. They both want to try out my new fishing pole."
Mary Anne bit down on her tongue. Hard — which was a very bad idea because it was difficult to eat with a severed tongue. She'd heard nothing but "the new fishing pole" for a whole week. Jethro had spent four hundred dollars on that new fishing pole, and he was so proud of it, you would have thought he'd given birth to a baby. "I hoped we could have a nice dinner together tonight."
Jethro patted his stomach. "It smells wonderful gute, but I couldn't eat another bite. I had two Big Macs and a large fries." He headed down the hall, no doubt to retrieve his fishing pole, which he kept on the bed in the spare bedroom. Why not? There wasn't any need for a spare bedroom in the Neuenschwander house. "Eat without me, and don't bother waiting up. We'll be out late."
Standing as if her feet were glued to the floor, Mary Anne watched Jethro tromp down the hall. It felt as if two invisible weights were attached to her shoulders and she couldn't shrug them off. She wouldn't be surprised if they dragged her right through the floor. She'd felt so heavy for such a long time.
Jethro came back carrying his fishing pole and tackle box. She didn't know how she managed to move, but she took his jacket and fishing hat from the hook and handed them to him. He smiled as if she'd made him very happy. "Denki, Mary Anne. I will see you in the morning."
He opened the door and blew out of the house like a whirlwind — just the way he'd come in. And then he was gone, having spent less than two minutes with her on their sixth anniversary. It hadn't quite gone the way she'd planned it.
She stood as still as stone in the silence, listening to the kitchen clock beat out its predictable, dependable cadence. She'd given that clock to Jethro for his birthday last September. Instead of numbers, the hands pointed to a different kind of fish for each hour of the day. Even though it had cost more than a regular clock, Jethro had loved it. It was the last real enthusiasm he'd shown toward her about anything. The familiar ache of guilt and anger and helplessness squeezed at her heart. Why did she even try anymore?
Mary Anne gazed through the front window curtains and watched as Jethro carefully laid his brand-new fishing pole in the back of Randall's truck, then climbed in the cab. Randall was the best kind of friend, an Englischer who could drive Jethro to all his favorite fishing spots. Mary Anne, on the other hand, was completely useless to her own husband. She made dinners he didn't eat and she couldn't give him the son he'd always wanted.
She wandered into the kitchen, wishing she had a camera. She'd take a picture of the beautiful food sitting on the lace tablecloth lit by the light of three vanilla candles. Then she'd post it on her blog so other people could appreciate all the work she'd gone to.
Mary Anne slumped her shoulders. She didn't have a camera or a computer or a blog. Ach — it was the life of an Amish fraa, having to keep all this wonderfulness to herself. Her husband hadn't even seen it.
The candle flames fluttered as Mary Anne sat down at the table and picked up her spoon. She scooped a spoonful of potatoes from the casserole dish and took a bite. The potatoes had probably been her first mistake. Who served funeral potatoes for an anniversary dinner?
She took another bite. She'd gotten the salt just right this time, and the hint of onion and cream of mushroom soup was appeditlich. Jethro would have liked them, funeral or no funeral.
She squared her shoulders. Because she was the only one eating them, it didn't really matter what Jethro thought, did it? She had made them to please him, but was his opinion any more important than hers? She liked the potatoes. That was enough to call her dinner a success.
Jethro wasn't here to scold her, so she ate her helping of funeral potatoes right out of the pan. She pressed her lips together and glanced behind her as if she might catch someone spying on her. With her fork, she skimmed all that golden, crusty, melted cheese off the top, and ate every oily bite. She'd never felt so rebellious.
She had craved Jethro's approval for years, but all she'd gotten was criticism. She'd ached for his affection, only to be rewarded with indifference. He paid more attention to that new fishing pole than he did to her.
The candlelight seemed to grow brighter as she finished up the last of her cheese and glanced at the veggie tray. It didn't matter if her radishes were shaped like roses. Vegetables were for well-behaved people, and tonight she was feeling a little disorderly.
She went to the fridge, took out one of her rainbow parfaits, and held it up to the candlelight. The different layers of Jell-O in the small cup sparkled like sunshine on a lake. She really had outdone herself. It was the most beautiful dessert anyone could wish for.
It was almost too pretty to eat. Mary Anne took the parfait to the table and admired it for a few minutes before picking up her spoon and eating the whole thing in seven bites, telling herself one thing she disliked about Jethro with every bite. Another parfait came out of the fridge, and then the last two. She ate every one, not even feeling guilty that she hadn't saved one for Jethro.
As her Englisch friend Pammy said, you snooze, you lose.
Maybe she was completely useless to Jethro, but she made a wonderful gute rainbow parfait, all the same.
She frowned. Maybe she was completely useless to Jethro, but wasn't it also true that Jethro was completely useless to her? Of course, he went to work every day to earn money, but then he spent it on fishing poles and worms and went fishing when he could have been home eating rainbow parfaits with her.
The truth hit her like a tree branch to the head.
Oh, sis yuscht.
She couldn't stand to live this life anymore.
Sometimes during the day, she felt so trapped that she would ball her hands into fists and scream at the top of her lungs at an empty house. Some nights she was so lonely, she'd sneak out to the barn and sit with the cow just to have someone to talk to — someone who wouldn't chastise her or tell her she was being silly for feeling the way she did. She'd tried, she'd really tried to stick with Jethro, to be a gute Amish fraa, but her desperation was mounting. She just couldn't do it anymore.
Should she be concerned that such a thought didn't make her feel guilty?
Jethro was a nice person, seldom grumpy, but often quiet and — might as well face it — boring — especially in the last four years. But more than that, she was a huge disappointment to him. She cooked for him and cleaned his house, but otherwise he didn't especially care whether she was around or not. How had she not realized this about him when they were dating?
She didn't love him.
And she wasn't going to wait for him to notice her. As of right now, she didn't care if he noticed her or not. Of course, there was the tricky thing about being married to him and being Amish. They were stuck with each other. But that didn't mean they had to stick by each other.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Home on Huckleberry Hill"
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Beckstrand.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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