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By Beverly Lewis
Baker Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 Beverly M. Lewis, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A heavy haze dipped onto the vast cornfield and meadowlands that Wednesday morning. It hung as thick as storm shutters and as far as the crease in the landscape where other houses and barns had been erected over the years for the expanding Joseph Riehl family. The May mist was visible through the beveled windows of the Riehls' three-story farmhouse, kept in the family for more than four generations.
At that early hour, there was no wind, a recipe for misery when mixed with the heat and high humidity of recent days.
As it had for some years now, the spacious farmhouse felt cramped to Sallie, especially her mother's kitchen, where Sallie stood over the gas range frying up her father's favorite breakfast while her sister Frannie made coffee. Sallie's day-in-day-out routine since the start of spring had already become sheer monotony, though she and Frannie were able to take turns making breakfast every other day. Sallie was persnickety about her food preparation in the light of the gas lamp as she fried up German sausage links and potatoes, both to her father's liking.
Mamm came downstairs wearing a dark green dress and matching apron, same color as Frannie's, which made all three of them smile. Mamm rushed about to ready the table for the family's ritual of breakfast and Bible reading afterward. While she finished setting the table, Frannie poured the coffee and Sallie carried the large yellow oval platter to the table, the sausage and potatoes steaming hot from the black griddle. Setting it down near her father's usual place, Sallie quickly returned for a large tureen of stewed crackers in warm milk.
Dat carried his old straw hat, the color of corn silk, across the room and hung it on one of the dark wooden pegs. Then, removing his black work boots, he lumbered to the head of the table and lowered himself into the chair with a gentle moan. "No sense takin' unnecessary items to the Dawdi Haus when July comes, Anna Mae," he said, pushing his black suspenders off his brawny shoulders.
Mamm gave him a smile. "Thought of that, too."
Sallie was surprised that such a change was coming so soon. She'd felt sure there would be no need to vacate this house for Allen and his family till after silo filling in the fall. But considering her father's remark just now, it seemed he wasn't letting any grass grow beneath his callused feet.
Nothing yet had been said to Sallie about staying with Cousin Essie instead of moving next door, however. In fact, nothing had been said to Sallie at all. What she knew had come solely from Frannie, and the bits and pieces Sallie had overheard the day before yesterday. There was a spare room on the second floor of the Dawdi Haus, but she wasn't so keen on doubling up with Frannie when they'd had separate bedrooms for a few years now. And she was certain Frannie would agree.
"What's the hurry?" Sallie asked as she took her place next to Mamm, who folded her hands for the table blessing.
Dat promptly bowed his head for the silent prayer, then reached for his coffee, adding more cream before responding. "Putting it bluntly, as hot as it's bound to get this summer, I doubt I'll make it through the dog days, workin' so many hours," he said, his bushy eyebrows knit together.
"Allen's young, Joseph," Mamm said, casting a tender look his way. "He'll be a big help round the farm. And with his and Kate's family expanding in September, they need more room."
Sallie appreciated Mamm's tact. No need to point out that Dat's arthritis was worsening.
Mamm looked across the table at Frannie and nudged Sallie gently. "By the way, your sister here has some news, too."
Delight swept through Sallie even before Frannie could open her mouth. "I hope it's what I'm thinkin'!" Sallie exclaimed.
Frannie's pretty face suddenly went all rosy. "Jesse Stoltzfus asked me to marry him." She bit her bottom lip. "We're planning to tie the knot come November."
"I'm so happy for ya!" Sallie wanted to give her a hug right then and there. "Such a nice fella, too," she added, though that went without saying because everyone who knew Jesse thought well of him. The fine young man was working his way up the ladder at the harness shop just down Peach Lane.
Dat bobbed his head, gray eyes brightening. He looked rather dotingly at small-boned Frannie, her hair the shade of newly harvested wheat.
Abe Stoltzfus, Jesse's father, and Dat had been mighty good friends since boyhood. When Frannie and Jesse began courting, Sallie had wondered if Dat and Abe hadn't put their heads together about the romantic match. But time had made it clear that Jesse and Frannie were truly smitten.
Sallie honestly couldn't say if she'd ever been smitten, but she figured if you had to wonder about it, you probably weren't. She had never had a beau, though she had gone on dates here and there, most recently with good-natured Perry Zook. Their two or three wintertime outings had always been as part of a group, however.
Still, Sallie didn't lament not having a beau. It had left her more time to work at the restaurant so that she wouldn't come up short for her Australia fund.
"You'll be one of my bridesmaids, won't ya, Sallie?" Frannie asked, eyes questioning, though she didn't have to plead.
"Well, I'd be downright befuddled if ya didn't ask."
Frannie nodded. "If Laura was still single, I'd ask her, too." Their older sister had married more than two years ago and was a busy mother to three-month-old twin boys.
"Don't forget Cousin Essie," Sallie suggested, laughing.
"Girls ... girls," Mamm said, waving her hand.
Frannie shrugged dramatically. Likely she didn't agree with Mamm's disapproval. Certainly Sallie didn't, knowing Essie was remarkably young at heart. Even so, it was true that single young people were the only ones expected to be chosen as Old Order Amish wedding attendants, or side-sitters.
"I daresay you'll be baptized by the time I marry." Frannie brightened all the more. "Surely this September."
Even Dat perked up and looked Sallie's way, hope on his countenance.
"Jah," Sallie said. "I'll be back home in plenty of time."
"Back from where?" Dat asked.
"Australia," Sallie reminded him softly. "If everything works out."
"So, it's Australia you've decided on?" he said.
Her face and neck grew warm. "It's been Australia awhile now."
"Not Ireland or the Bahamas or —"
"Ireland was years ago," Frannie piped up.
Sallie sighed. At least they were having fun with it. "It'll just be for two weeks," she added, "once I get word." Her travel agent had expected to hear of an opening anytime now. Hopefully I'll have my last few dollars by then.
"Gone two weeks?" Dat exhaled as hard as when he pitched hay in the barn. At that moment, his face had an unexpectedly vulnerable look to it.
He's afraid I won't return, Sallie thought, taking a drink.
"Such a distance away, too," Frannie said.
"Oodles of hours in the air ... ach!" Mamm shook her head.
Thirty hours with flight changes, Sallie thought, but not even that somewhat daunting prospect was enough to dampen her enthusiasm.
At such times, Sallie wished her parents were less given to fretting. Still, she knew their concern was evidence of their love.
"You like bein' Amish, don't ya, daughter?" Dat asked.
Sallie paused. There was no question in her mind about eventually settling down and following the Plain ways. What else was there?
But her fear of losing the opportunity to travel had an almost panicky effect on her. "I love being Amish." She glanced at Mamm, who was studying her. "This is just something I need to do."
Frannie smiled and affectionately tilted her head at her. "Goodness ... not sure I'd see it thataway, but I'll be glad to hear all about your time away."
Neither of her parents had anything to add to that. Dat took a final sip of his coffee. "We all have work to do, ain't so?"
"Well, Sallie's excused from redding up the kitchen this mornin'," Mamm announced, getting up and going to the sink, where she turned on the spigot, glancing back at Sallie. "She made a very tasty breakfast, after all."
Sallie's relief blended with her frustration, and she wished she could soothe her family's swirling worries. Joining church before she had a chance to see the moon rise over a white sandy beach or the sun set over a lagoon populated with lively dolphins would surely be a mistake.
Two weeks in Australia in return for a lifetime as an Amishwoman seems a fair trade, she thought. Why is it so difficult for them to understand?
Excerpted from Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis. Copyright © 2017 Beverly M. Lewis, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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