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More Than WordsDaughters of Amana #2
By Judith Miller
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2010 Judith Miller
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Chapter OneApril 1885 Homestead Village Amana Colonies, Iowa
"Come down from that tree, Oma!" I'd done my best to sound firm. Taking a sideways step, I shaded my eyes to gain a better view among the bloom-laden branches of the apple tree.
My grandmother peered down at me with a devilish grin, her leather-clad feet wedged into a crook of the tree. "Nein, Gretchen! I'm going to get an apple." She pointed a gnarled finger toward a spindly branch bearing a few spring blossoms.
"Don't go any further, Oma. There aren't any apples, and that branch won't hold you."
Ignoring me, she grabbed another limb and hiked her right leg toward a scrawny branch that would surely crack under her weight. The old woman's addled brain might be willing to make the climb, but her aged and fragile body was going to end up on the ground.
After steadying the ladder that Oma had placed against the tree trunk, I lifted my skirt and stepped onto the bottom rung. "Just wait until Stefan gets home!" I issued the muttered warning from between clenched teeth and cautiously began my climb. No matter how often I scolded my brother, Stefan never put anything away. He'd used the ladder to retrieve a ball from the roof yesterday afternoon, and instead of putting it back into the shed, he'd left it sitting outdoors. Out where it created an alluring diversion for Oma, who had somehow managed to drag it across the yard and balance it against the apple tree.
A low-hanging branch snagged my finely knit black cap, and Oma chuckled as she watched my attempts to disentangle the head covering. After finally grabbing the cap and giving it a one-handed shove onto my head, I glanced upward but quickly averted my eyes. "Oma! Put your leg down. I can see your undergarments."
She leaned forward and peeked down, as if she intended to check the truth of my statement. Her body listed sideways, and one foot slipped from the branch. A snowstorm of flowering blossoms showered down on me.
"Hold on, Oma! I'm coming up to help you."
"Don't bring the blackbird," she shrieked. "It will eat the apples."
My frustration mounted as Oma continued the childlike behavior. For all of my life, my mother's mother had lived with us, and we shared a special bond. But when these bouts of dementia took hold, there was no dealing with her. "There are no blackbirds and there are no apples, Oma." I took another step up the ladder and reached for a thick branch. The rough bark dug into my palm as I tightened my hold. If I inched a little closer, I could grab hold of her leg.
"Go away! You're bringing the blackbird with you."
She climbed higher into the tree, and I gasped in fear. Now I couldn't even reach her foot. "There are no birds in the tree, Oma. I've frightened them all away. Come back down to me."
She peered over her shoulder. A flash of terror shone in her dark eyes. Her once-gentle lips twisted in a menacing jagged line. The look would have held a stranger at bay, but I wasn't a stranger, and I wouldn't be deterred.
"There's a blackbird on your head," she cried. "Get it away! Shoo it off before it eats my apples."
Utter defeat shot through me. Would I ever learn to deal with Oma's episodes? If I didn't get her out of the tree within the next few minutes, my father might discover the dilemma. That thought alone propelled me back into action. I yanked the hat from my head. "The blackbird flew away. See, Oma? Look at me!"
Lips curved in a toothy grin, she leaned forward, peered around my shoulder, and cooed, "Pretty boy, come and get me."
"Oma! Please come ..." I lifted my foot to mount the next rung but was stopped short when two strong hands encircled my waist. I grabbed hold of the ladder and glanced over my shoulder. "Conrad." I exhaled my friend's name along with a silent hallelujah.
"Come down, Gretchen. I'll get her." His hands remained clasped around my waist while I descended to the ground. With one sympathetic gaze, I was enveloped in comfort. He touched a finger to my trembling lips, and warmth spiraled up my spine. "You should have come for me when you first discovered her."
"I know, but I thought she'd listen to me."
He tilted his head toward the ladder. "Did she drag this from the shed by herself?"
"Stefan," I said.
He nodded his understanding. "He's a boy. In a few years he will begin to remember what you tell him."
I thought it would take more than a few years before Stefan remembered anything other than how to have fun, but I didn't say so. "I don't know who creates more problems, Oma or Stefan. Neither one of them will listen to me."
With a chuckle he mounted the ladder and waved to my grandmother. "I've come to rescue you, Sister Helga. Let me help you out of the tree."
I stood below and prayed this wouldn't take long. For a brief moment Oma eyed Conrad with curious suspicion-a strange occurrence, for she usually fancied him her beau when in a delusional state of mind. I immediately feared the worst.
Finally she pointed to a far branch. "First an apple I must pick."
Conrad wagged his finger and shook his head. "Nein. It is too early in the year for apples, Sister Helga, but I promise I will pick you a large red apple come September."
"Ja?" She gave him a toothy grin that creased her aged skin into a thousand wrinkles. "Then I will come down to you, pretty boy."
With skirt and petticoat askew and slowed by an occasional snag to her black stockings, Oma shimmied and slid down the tree until Conrad held her in a firm grasp. He maintained his hold until the old woman's feet were firmly planted on the ground. She turned to face him and jabbed her finger in a tap-tap-tap rhythm on one of his shirt buttons. "Permission from the elders you must have before you marry me."
If Oma's outburst had caused Conrad any unease, his feelings remained well hidden. I couldn't say the same for myself. Heat climbed up my neck in a thousand fingers and splayed across my cheeks. How could Oma recall a marriage requirement of our faith, yet fail to remember that old women don't climb trees or that apples aren't ready for harvest until fall? Those thoughts, along with Oma's behavior, caused my head to ache.
"Thank you for your help, Conrad." I hoped he wouldn't notice my embarrassment. "I apologize for Oma's words."
With the tip of his fingers, he lifted my chin. "What is this with apologies? We have known each other for twenty-two years. We look after each other, ja?" He took a step closer and leaned forward. "I know this is hard for you, Gretchen." His eyebrows dipped low over cobalt blue eyes.
I bobbed my head. "I don't know what I'd do without you." I forced a grin. "But we haven't really known each other for twenty-two years. I think you can only count from the time we reached the age of four. Before that, I remember nothing."
He chuckled. "From now on I will just say I have known you all my life."
Conrad thought he understood my daily plight: the rigors of trying to keep my work completed at the store while attempting to hide Oma's behavior from my father, and striving to keep Stefan on the proper path to manhood. I didn't want to dash Conrad's belief, but he could only partly understand. He wasn't there day and night to see my struggles.
The right side of his mouth lifted in a half grin. "And you don't have to worry about what to do without me, because I will always be here to help. I'm not going anywhere."
Before I could respond, Oma clutched Conrad's arm in a viselike grip and tugged. "Come on, pretty boy. Come and sit with me."
He winked at me before returning his attention to my grandmother. "I have a better idea. Why don't you come and sit with me in the barbershop, Sister Helga?"
Shaking my head, I mouthed that he didn't need to take charge of Oma.
"It's the least I can do. You need some time alone to complete the ledgers at the store without worry." He shifted his weight and waved me toward the general store. "And if your work is all done, you can write in your journal. You're always taking care of others. Let me look after you some of the time."
Lifting a bony finger, Oma tucked a wisp of white hair behind one ear. Her black cap remained twisted in a loose knot at the back of her head, but I made no attempt to fix it. If she discovered any black fabric in her hair, she'd probably think the imaginary blackbird had built a nest atop her head. Conrad tucked Oma's hand into the crook of his arm, and she smiled up at him as they strolled toward the barbershop. Conrad glanced over his shoulder and waved. "I'll bring her back before time for the noonday meal."
I stared after the two of them for a moment. Oma continued to cling to Conrad's arm. She chattered to him as though she hadn't talked to him in years. And in her muddled thoughts, perhaps she hadn't. Nowadays, my grandmother often confused Conrad with her deceased husband. I found the idea quite odd, because the two men looked nothing alike. At least not according to my memories of Opa. My grandfather had died when I was only nine, but I remember him as short, stoop-shouldered, and bald. A stark contrast to Conrad's tall, broad-shouldered build and crop of thick blond hair. But who could know what went on in my grandmother's mind? Certainly not me, and I'd tired of any attempts to figure out when these strange episodes would occur.
The soles of my shoes clacked on the wooden sidewalk that bordered the storefronts of Homestead. A train whistled in the distance, and I instinctively turned toward the station and picked up my pace. If Father returned from the depot and discovered the store unattended, he'd be unhappy with me. Worse yet, I'd need to give a reason for my absence. I didn't want to lie, yet I didn't want to give him any additional reason to discuss the insane asylum in Mount Pleasant. I'd promised Mother on her deathbed that I wouldn't permit him to send Oma to that place, but with these incidents occurring more frequently, it was becoming difficult to defend my position.
I hurried through the front door, scanned the area, and exhaled a whoosh of relief.
"Ah, Gretchen, there you are."
I swiveled around. My shoulders relaxed when I caught sight of my good friend Sister Mina behind a counter stacked with folded ends of calicos and woolens. I lifted up on tiptoe and met her blue-eyed gaze. "I told Stefan not to stack those pieces so high, but does he listen?"
"Ach! He is a boy. I'm surprised he listens to you at all."
Mina circled around the display, and I stepped forward to encircle her shoulder. I gave her a quick squeeze and pecked her cheek with a fleeting kiss before releasing my hold. "It's always good to see you, Mina. We need to find time to visit more often. I miss our talks."
She patted my hand. "I miss you, as well, but it seems there is always something that keeps us busy. It's better in winter, when we can get together and quilt with the other women. In spring and summer, the hours are filled to the brim."
"True. And when Stefan doesn't do as he's told, it takes even more of my time."
Mina chuckled. "Boys don't listen to older sisters. I should know. I have four brothers, and not one would listen to me when they were Stefan's age." She wiggled loose several pieces of the dark calico and unfolded one of them. With a shake of her head, she refolded it. "Not enough for even an apron."
"There are some larger pieces over on the other side." I circled around and directed her to one of the far stacks. "I think you might find a piece or two large enough for an apron or even a waist among these." Always eager to keep the deductions from her account to a minimum, Mina would be happy if she could find a fabric remnant that would serve her purpose. "Do you want dark blue or black?" I yanked at a piece of cloth near the bottom of the pile. "Or maybe brown?" I held the piece aloft.
Mina hitched one shoulder. "I care little about the color so long as there is enough to make a new waist. All of mine are beginning to show wear. Never fails. They all wear out at the same time." She looked toward the door that led to our living quarters.
When my parents had first been assigned to operate the store, we'd lived in one of the houses down the street. But then my mother became ill, and my father asked to have a portion of the store converted into living quarters. The elders had first expressed concern over the idea but eventually agreed when Father assured them he would find a way to maintain the same amount of inventory. And he had. By adding some additional shelving, keeping only samples of some merchandise on the shelves and stocking the additional inventory in the large warehouse located behind the store, he'd been successful. The change meant he spent more time in the warehouse, and I was expected to take over more of the store duties. But having our living quarters within the store had proved more of a blessing than a hardship during my mother's illness. And now, with Oma experiencing bouts of dementia, I was even more thankful for the arrangement.
"Sister Helga is taking a nap?"
Mina's question pulled me back to the present. "Nein. Oma is over at the barbershop with Conrad."
Mina arched her brows. "Again? That Conrad is gut to help with her, ja? Not like your Vater, who has no patience."
"Vater helps when he can, but he has to be out in the warehouse most of the time." I pointed at the side window. "Oma climbed into the apple tree. Conrad helped me get her down."
"It's a wonder she didn't break a bone, but is gut your Vater wasn't here when it happened. For sure he would start talking about Mount Pleasant again. I am thankful your dear Mutter isn't here to see how he behaves." She snapped a piece of fabric in the air and placed it across the table. "This looks like it will do. These end pieces are still less costly than the ones on the bolt?" She glanced toward the myriad bolts of fabric that stood at attention on the nearby shelves.
"Ja, of course. Why would you think otherwise?"
Mina looked about the room. "The last time I was in here, your Vater said he was going to tell the elders it made no sense to sell the end pieces for less. I told him he should leave well enough alone, but who can say about your Vater? Ever since your Mutter died, he's been as changeable as the weather." She patted my shoulder. "You are a gut and patient daughter."
I couldn't disagree with Mina's assessment of my father, but I knew I wasn't as good or as patient as my friend thought. Father's moods had been unpredictable for more than two years, ever since Mother had taken ill. And I'd found it increasingly difficult to gauge his reactions and behavior. "He's said nothing to me about changing any prices. Until he does, we will both agree that the end pieces are less expensive."
"As they should be." Mina's curt tone didn't surprise me. It was simply her way. Few women in the Amana villages were as outspoken as Mina. Other women might murmur among themselves or privately state an opinion to their husbands, but Mina spoke her mind no matter who was present. Some of the men thought her a bit brash-my father among them. But whatever her tone of voice, I loved Mina. Even though she was twenty years older than I, she was my best friend. She was the one who had sat at my ailing mother's bedside during her final days on this earth. She was the one who had offered me solace, comfort, and a shoulder to cry on. And she was the one who had given me my very first journal.
There were so many times I longed to be like Mina-to say my feelings out loud. But I knew better. Instead, I wrote in my journal. Though I'd filled the pages of that very first journal long ago, it remained a secret between the two of us. Mina never told me how or where she purchased the journals, but each Christmas she gave me a new one. "I know there are those who think writing for pleasure is a waste of time, but you're a girl who needs to write your heart. I can see it in your eyes," she'd told me that very first Christmas. Ever since then I dreamed of writing beautiful poems or stories that would capture the hearts of readers. I had always loved reading the Psalms in the Bible. Not that I fancied my writing ability akin to David's, but I did find pleasure expressing my thoughts on paper and hoped that one day others might enjoy my writing. I wasn't sure how that could ever happen. Still, I continued to write.
"You going to list this on my ledger sheet, or are you expecting me to do it myself?"
Once again Mina's voice yanked me back to the present. "Just that one piece? You don't need anything else?"
"That's all." She trailed her fingers across the wide array of lace and trims that were displayed to advantage. "Sometimes I think your father keeps more goods on hand to sell to outsiders than he does for those of us who live here."
"Something you need that cannot be found on my shelves, Mina?" I heard the irritation in my father's voice before I saw him enter the store. He closed the distance in a long determined stride and came to a halt beside me.
Excerpted from More Than Words by Judith Miller Copyright © 2010 by Judith Miller . Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the second book in the series "Daughters of Amana" I have read the first one also, and these were the first time I had heard of the Amana Colonies, but they are really interesting. They thrive within their own circle, grown their own food and supply almost all they need within this little community. This story take up in Homestead Village, Amana Colonies, Iowa in the year of 1885. Gretchen is a young woman that takes care of her father, brother and her grandmother (Oma) and they run the general store within the colony. Gretchen finds herself trying to help with the store and looking after her grandmother who has dementia, she doesn't have much time for herself but when she had a minute she loves to write, which she is not supposed to do. She slips around and writes poems and sometime stories, then hide her journal where no one finds it, she thinks...but old those sneaky little brothers. Oma keep running off and finds herself in all types of places that she does not need to be as in the apple tree trying to get apples in the spring. Gretchen has a boyfriend that is the town barber by the name of Comrad. He helps her keep her father from knowing about Oma's mind as Gretchen thinks he will send her away if he finds. Then a Gypsy group sets up outside town and everyone is afraid of what they made do, but Oma slips off and makes friends with them, they really helped Gretchen and Oma instead of being mean to the town. The town has a lot of tourist that comes in with the train and buys from them, and looks............. One couple came to town and saw the Gypsies and fainted, it was learned then that a group of Gypsies had taken their little five year old girl the year before. How will things work out for Gretchen and Conrad? What will happen to Oma? The story is a great read and very interesting about this group of people, somewhat like the Amish but so different. This book was sent to me by Baker Publishing for my honest review.
Gretchen Kohler is discontent with aspects of her life in the Amana colony, which is all that she has ever known. But she hungers for more of a way to express herself than is allowed. So she writes her secret journals that she fills with her stories and poems. She only wants to know if her writing is worthy and when a traveling salesman offers to find out for her, she goes against the rules of the community. With the support of her childhood sweetheart, she must find the path of contentment within the confines of the world she lives in. Judith Miller has spun a story with action, suspense and emotion that is just right for a lazy evening of reading. It is also a great read-aloud book for mothers and daughters. I recommend this book for age 13 and up.
I was so entranced by Judith Miller's Daughter's of the Amana Colonies books. Living in Nebraska I am very aware that the Amana Colonies are in Iowa but I've never been there. Now that I have read the first two in this series I can not wait to make a trip there and see them in person! Judith absolutely brought the colonies to life for me and I learned so much about the colonies and how they work. I realized that while many people (like myself) tend to lump the Amish, Mennonites and people of the Amana Colonies all under the Amish label, there are really a lot of differences between them and Judith highlights a lot of the ways that the people living in the Amana Colonies are different. I found it fascinating. Then she creates this group of characters that are just wonderful and there is even some mystery woven into the story with the band of gypsies camped outside town and who started the fire and why things are disappearing. I don't think I could have been more pleased with this book.
Gretchen Kohler wouldn't think of living anywhere but in her beloved Amana colony, where she keeps the sules and works hard to fulfill her destiny. Her mother died, leaving her with a younger brother and a senile grandmother, along with her grieving father who depends upon her to run the dry goods store. Her childhood sweetheart is obviously thinking marriage, but there's that creative urge within that refuses to be stifled. Gretchen's only outlet is her secret journals where she writes her stories and poems. Along comes a young, attractive reporter with a kindred spirit--or so she thinks. Sharing her stories leads to his betrayal in the worst of ways. Will she lose her job, her reputation, and her beau because of one unfortunate decision? Once again Miller has spun a wonderful tale for family reading. Lots of action and suspense, but no unpleasant surprises. I highly recommend this book. Review by Audrey Hebbert, M.A., author of Green Light Red Light
Judith Miller was first introduced to me when I read her book, Somewhere to Belong, book 1 in this Daughters of Amana series. She instantly had a new fan after that! Her writing style is still the same and she was still just as seasoned as before! More than Words is written to capture the reader in a way that completely engulfs them with emotional senses of heartache and betrayal, love and forgiveness, mixed with faith and friendship. Amongst this is wonderfully researched and written history to take the reader back into a time that was simpler and peaceful. The characters are beautifully created with flaws and love. Gretchen, in particular , is an impressive heroine who's full of hopes and dreams, while trying to live her plain life. Allan, well, while I didn't particularly care for his betrayal of Gretchen, his flaws blended fabulously with the storyline and created that spark of suspense to the story. I most definitely recommend this faith-filled, Historical romance with a 5 star praise. Ms. Miller deserves two thumbs up for creating a series that seems to get better with each addition. I'm looking forward to the Spring 2011 release of book 3!
A Must read you love this book from the very first page
I loved reading this book! It was very captivating and addicting! I cannot wait to read the rest of the series!
More Than Words by Judith Miller is the second book in the Daughters of Amana series. Gretchen Kohler is mostly content working in the town store, although she misses her father's affection and attention that has waned since the death of her mother. He often leaves her in charge of the stores and of younger brother Stefan, which creates trouble when the Gypsies come to town and Stefan just can't seem to stay away. Gretchen loses herself writing in her journal. She composes poems and essays until Allan Finley arrives in the small community claiming a desire to joining them and shows an interest in Gretchen that no one but barber and childhood sweetheart Conrad has been giving her. Although Gretchen is often angry at Stefan for breaking the strict rules of their community, she's just as guilty, but it's easy for her to rationalize away her own actions until her pride causes damage to the entire community in a way she didn't see coming, and it just may cause her to lose her standing within the village and the love of Conrad. It's not necessary to have read the first book in the series because I didn't notice any reference to the characters from the first novel. I would have liked to see just a glimpse of them though. Gretchen is completely likable is impulsive young woman that readers will alternately want to hug and shake silly. I felt that Conrad was a bit too bland for Gretchen, although he did prove himself true, I understood her attraction for Allan. There's a strong message here about not judging a group by a single representative of it. I don't feel that this was as strong as the first book in the series, but it's still an enjoyable read.
Gretchen Kohler loves her family and her Amana Colony, but dreams of more than working in the general store with her father and keeping an eye on her younger brother and grandmother. Her grandmother suffers from dementia and is harder to watch after than her little brother. If that isn't enough to keep her busy, a traveling band of gypsies that camp outside of town bring more trouble than she imagines. With all the things pulling at her in her life, she doesn't have the time she'd like for writing. She knows that her Amana village would not approve of her creative pursuits and so she confines her poetry and stories to writing in her journals. Only a close friend or two has been given the privilege of reading them. When Allen Finley, a young man from Chicago, comes into the general store and visits with her, she is tempted by the world outside her colony. She desires to know if she has any writing talent at all and she trusts him and his promises. Despite the continued warnings from friends and her own grandmother, she chooses to believe the young man is earnest. Thinking he shares her passion for the written word and has her best interest at heart, she shares some of her poetry and stories with him, and hopes she hasn't misplaced her trust. Will her family forgive her? Will her beau understand and forgive her as well? What will the elders think of Mr. Finley's betrayal and her disobedience? What does her future in Homestead hold for her? Gretchen learns many lessons about people, including they are not always what they seem. But even in the most difficult of circumstances, she learns that God can work all things together for good. I invite you to travel back in time and be a part of the lives of the people of the Amana colonies. This is the second book in the Daughters of Amana series by Judith Miller. I love the way Judy brings to life the history in the stories she writes. Her research and accuracy is impeccable. Not only will you be privy to a wonderful story when reading her books, but a wonderful history lesson as well. She creates a fictional story with an historical backdrop woven in. You'll find yourself living in a time and place that comes alive in your mind, making you feel as if you're there. This book is written in first person and you will feel you "are" Gretchen Kohler. There are three books in this series, but can be read in any order as each is written as a stand-alone. My daughter and I can't wait for the third book to come out in February, 2011.