A sob rose in Lydia King’s throat as she stared at the calendar on her kitchen wall. A year ago today, she’d buried her husband after having been married only five short years. Oh, how she wished she could bring Jeremiah back.
She glanced at her four-year-old son, Josh, who sat at the table, coloring a picture of a yellow cat. The sweet-tempered boy had Lydia’s tawny blond hair and his daddy’s big brown eyes. He was endlessly curious and enjoyed all kinds of animals—two more of his father’s traits.
Lydia blinked to keep her tears from spilling over. Josh needed his father as much as she needed her husband. It wasn’t fair that Jeremiah had been killed in a logging accident, leaving her alone to earn a living and raise their son.
The muscles in the back of her neck tightened. It wasn’t fair that two weeks ago she’d lost her job at the restaurant in Arthur, Illinois, because business was so slow that the restaurant may have to close. She’d looked everywhere for another job, but there were none to be had.
The rent on their small home was coming due in a few days, and with her funds running low, Lydia didn’t know what she should do. She needed to provide for Josh, and without a job, she’d soon be out of money and unable to pay any of her bills. Unlike her English friends who’d also been laid off, Lydia would not rely on unemployment checks because her Amish community believed they should rely on each other and God rather than on insurance.
Lydia had no family living nearby to offer her support. When she and Jeremiah had first moved to Illinois from their home in Wisconsin, they’d made quite a few friends in the local Amish community. Those friends had been quick to help Lydia financially after Jeremiah’s death, but she couldn’t expect them to provide for her and Josh forever. They had families of their own to support, and Lydia wanted to make it on her own.
Oh Lord, please tell me what to do, she prayed. I need some direction.
Her gaze came to rest on the stack of mail lying on the table, unopened. She thumbed through the envelopes, noting several bills that only fueled her frustration.
When she spotted an envelope from her mother, who’d moved to Charm, Ohio, a year ago, she quickly tore it open.
I received your letter the other day and was sorry to hear that you’d lost your job. It’s not good for you to be there with no family, and I think you and Josh should come here to live with your grandfather and me. Since Holmes County has the largest population of Amish in America, a lot of tourists visit here every year. I’m sure it would be easy for you to find a job in the area. I could watch Josh while you’re working, and you’d have a place to stay where you wouldn’t have to worry about paying rent. Please think about this and let me know your decision.
Tears welled in Lydia’s eyes. Things had been strained between her and Mom for a long time. It touched Lydia that Mom cared enough to suggest that she and Josh move to Charm.
Mom had found it hard to leave her home in Wisconsin to take care of Grandpa, who’d suffered a stroke a year after Lydia’s father died. Since Mom was Grandpa’s only daughter, and her two older brothers lived in Missouri, she’d felt obligated to care for him. Lydia had figured her mom would be happy living in Ohio, where she’d been born and raised, but after reading several of her letters, she’d realized that Mom was miserable. Maybe taking care of Grandpa was too much for her. She probably needed some help.
“I’m hungerich. What’s for mattsait, Mama?” Josh asked, breaking into Lydia’s thoughts.
Lydia had no appetite for food, but she couldn’t let her boy go without his supper. She forced a smile and gave his shoulder a gentle pat. “We have some leftover chicken noodle soup in the refrigerator. Does that sound good to you?”
He nodded enthusiastically and grinned.
Lydia glanced at Mom’s letter one more time. Lifting her shoulders and letting them droop with a sigh, she made a decision. She didn’t want to leave their home in Arthur, but she had no other choice. It would be a new beginning for Josh and her, and she was sure that Mom would appreciate some help with Grandpa. Maybe her loss of a job was God’s way of letting her know that it was time for a change.
The teakettle whistled. Lydia started to rise from her chair, but Mom beat her to it.
“I’m glad you decided to move here,” Mom said, removing the teakettle from the stove. “Your grossdaadi doesn’t talk much these days, and I get terribly lonely sometimes.” Lydia noticed the dark circles under Mom’s pale blue eyes as she poured hot water into their cups. Mom’s flaxen hair was streaked with gray, and the wrinkles in her forehead were more defined. She was only fifty, but she’d aged quite a bit since the last time Lydia had seen her.
“Unless someone comes to stay with Dad, I don’t get out much these days,” Mom explained as she dropped a tea bag into her cup. “Even then, I worry about how he’s doing, so I don’t stay away any longer than necessary.”
Lydia plopped a tea bag into her cup, bounced it up and down a few times, and placed it on her saucer. “Maybe now that I’m here, you can get out a little more.”
“Don’t you want your tea to steep awhile longer? It looks awfully pale in your cup,” Mom said.
“My tea’s fine. I like it weak.” Lydia held her voice in check, determined not to give in to her frustrations. Some things never changed. Mom telling her what to do was one of them.
Maybe I’m being oversensitive, Lydia told herself. I’ve been used to being on my own for the past year and doing things pretty much the way I choose. Hopefully, things will get better after Josh and I have been here awhile. I just need to keep a positive attitude and ignore the things I find irritating.
She glanced around the small kitchen and noticed a pot of primroses sitting on the windowsill. That was something positive—a sign of spring.
Mom reached for the jar of honey sitting on the table and put a spoonful in her cup of tea. She pushed the jar toward Lydia, but Lydia shook her head. She’d always preferred her tea unsweetened and figured Mom should know that. But then, Mom had more important things on her mind these days, so maybe it had slipped her mind.
“If you don’t need me for anything this afternoon, I’d like to take Josh into town to look for a new pair of boots,” Lydia said. “His feet have grown, and his old boots are pinching his toes.”
“Do you have enough money?”
Lydia nodded. Truth was she barely had enough, and she hoped she could find something within her price range.
“That’s fine. I’ll hitch my horse to the buggy for you whenever you’re ready to go.”
Lydia frowned. “I know how to hitch a horse, Mom.” “Yes, but Buttercup’s kind of temperamental. She might not cooperate with you the way she does for me.”
Lydia couldn’t imagine any horse with a name like Buttercup being temperamental. “I’m sure I can manage, but if I have any trouble, I’ll come in and get you.”
The awkward angle of the gas lamp hanging overhead etched Mom’s face in sharp shadows as she pursed her lips and nodded slowly. “You might try Charm Harness and Boot for Josh. If you can’t find the right boots there, you should go to the Wal-Mart in Millersburg.”
“It’ll take too long to go to Millersburg,” Lydia said. “Hopefully we’ll find what we need at the local store. I might stop by Miller’s Dry Goods, too. If there’s anything you need, I’d be happy to pick it up.”
“I can’t think of anything right now,” Mom said. “Since I spend most of my days taking care of your grossdaadi, I’m too busy to do any quilting, so I don’t buy much from the dry goods store these days.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I know how much you like to quilt.” Lydia took a sip of tea and let it roll around on her tongue. She loved the zesty taste of peppermint.
“With the exception of the new store Kiem Lumber built a few years ago, I think you’ll find that things haven’t changed much in Charm,” Mom added.
“It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed. So many things in our world have.”
Mom nodded. “We do have a couple of new store owners in town.”
“The woodshop on the outskirts of town is now owned by a man named Menno Troyer. He and his wife, Sadie, moved here from Pennsylvania about a year ago, but she died six months ago from cancer. That left Menno with four boys to raise on his own.”
“That’s too bad.” As a widow, it was hard enough for Lydia to raise one child on her own; she couldn’t imagine trying to bring up four boys without the help of her husband.
“Oh, and then there’s the general store,” Mom continued. “It’s run by a family of—”
The back door slammed shut, and Mom jumped, nearly spilling her cup of tea.
“Ich hab ken halt draa grict!” Josh hollered as he raced into the kitchen.
“What couldn’t you catch hold of?” Lydia asked.
“Derr katz!” Josh jumped up and down, his dark eyes big as saucers.
Mom put her finger to her lips and frowned. “Be quiet, Josh. You might wake your urgrossvadder.”
A gray cat with four white paws zipped into the kitchen and hid under the table, curling its bushy tail around its fluffy body.
Josh dove under the table and grabbed the end of its tail. Meow! The cat let out a screech and raced across the room. Josh tore after it, but his feet tangled in the throw rug in front of the sink, and he dropped to the floor with a grunt. He sat a few seconds, then scrambled to his feet. Dashing across the room, he grabbed for the cat, but it sought refuge under the table again.
“Ich hab ken halt draa grict!” Josh hollered.
“I told you to be quiet!” Mom raised her voice as she pointed to the cat and then to the back door. “Duh die katz naus!”
Josh’s lower lip trembled, and his eyes filled with tears as he gathered up the cat and took it outside, as Mom had asked.
Irritation welled in Lydia’s soul. Josh wasn’t used to his new home or having to be quiet when his great-grandfather was sleeping. What harm could there be in letting him play with the cat in the house? Mom was being too harsh and critical of his behavior. Didn’t she realize the boy was only four years old? Besides, if Josh was supposed to be quiet, then why was it all right for Mom to raise her voice?
Lydia grimaced as she thought about how many times Mom had been critical of her when she was a child. She had never been able to do anything right, and whatever she’d done, Mom had usually ended up redoing.
I need to remember that this isn’t my house and that Mom and Grandpa are doing us a favor by letting us live here, Lydia reminded herself. As long as we’re staying in this house, we’ll need to do things Mom’s way, or there won’t be any peace.
When Josh returned to the kitchen with his head down and shoulders slumped, Lydia gave him a hug and quietly said, “Why don’t you go back outside and play with the katz?”
Josh nodded and scurried out the door.
Mom took a sip of tea and released a lingering sigh. “Der grossdaadi hot net genunk scholof grickt lescht nacht.”
“I’m sorry Grandpa didn’t get enough sleep last night. I’ll make sure that Josh doesn’t disturb him when we get home from shopping this afternoon.”
“I appreciate that. Dad ’s not doing well, and he isn’t used to having little ones in the house running around, making noise.”
Lydia stared into her half-empty cup and blinked back tears. So much for her resolve to remain positive and ignore the things she found irritating. If Josh had to keep quiet all the time, she wasn’t sure how long they could stay here. What Lydia needed most was to find a job so that she and Josh could eventually have a place of their own.
Menno Troyer stepped into the kitchen and groaned. Not only were the cabinets old and in need of repair, but the rest of the kitchen looked messy, as well. A stack of dirty pots and pans from last night’s supper had been piled up in the sink, and the dishes they’d used for breakfast this morning still sat on the table.
He flung open the cupboard door under the sink and grimaced. The garbage can was heaped with even more trash than it had held last night. Since it was late spring and there’d be no school for the next few months, his boys would be home by themselves most of the time while he was at work in his woodshop behind their house.
This morning before Menno had headed to the shop, he’d given the boys a list of chores to do. Here it was almost noon, and they hadn’t completed anything.
Menno moved into the living room. It needed a fresh coat of paint, and the cracked windows had yet to be replaced. He frowned when he saw his two dark-haired boys, five-year-old Kevin and seven-year-old Carl, sleeping on the floor. Nine-year-old Dennis, who had reddish-blond hair like his mother’s, sat in Menno’s recliner with his scruffy-looking mutt, Goldie, draped across his lap. Ike, who’d turned twelve a few weeks ago, was sprawled on the sofa, reading a book. This was ridiculous!
Menno clapped his hands, causing Dennis and Ike to jump, but the two younger boys slept on. “Get yourselves up and be quick about it! I’ll be heading to Kiem Lumber soon, and if you want to go along, then you’d better get with it.”
“You don’t hafta shout, Papa.” Ike sat up and yawned. “We ain’t daab, ya know.”
“I know you’re not deaf, but you sure do act like it sometimes.” Menno pointed to the kitchen door. “Doesn’t look as if you heard a word I said this morning about doing your chores.”
“I fed and watered the horses,” Ike said.
“And I fed Goldie.” Dennis stroked the golden retriever’s ears and offered Menno a freckle-faced grin.
“That’s fine, well, and good, but no one cleared the breakfast table or did last night’s dishes.”
Ike motioned to his sleeping brothers. “That was their job.”
Menno’s patience was beginning to wane. “Who said?”
“Ike said so,” Dennis spoke up before his older brother had a chance to reply. “He thinks he’s the boss when you ain’t home.”
“Ike’s supposed to be in charge when I’m working in the shop.” Menno turned to Ike and snapped his fingers. “Being in charge means you need to see that everyone gets his chores done before I come home from work every day. It doesn’t mean that you get to lie around while your brothers do all the work.”
“But you’re home early today,” Ike said. “So you didn’t give us a chance to get everything done.”
“I’m home early because I’m goin’ to Kiem’s. I told you this morning that if you wanted to go along, you’d need to have your chores done by noon.”
Ike frowned. “Sorry, Papa, but my lazy brothers won’t listen to anything I say.”
Menno felt overcome by a sense of guilt. Ever since Sadie had died, he’d put a lot of responsibility on the boys—especially Ike. It was either that, or he’d have to hire someone to come in and do the household chores, and he really couldn’t afford that right now. He’d just gotten Sadie’s hospital bills paid off and had been trying to put some money away for future needs they might have. With the tourist season starting up again, Menno figured he might sell more furniture and that would help their finances. But he had two employees he needed to pay, not to mention four growing boys who had to be fed and clothed. At the rate things were going, he’d never get this old house fixed up like he’d promised Sadie when they’d first moved to Charm.
Menno glanced at the rocking chair he’d made for Sadie soon after they were married. A wave of sadness washed over him. She’d used that chair to rock each of their sons.
As much as Menno hated to think about it, he really needed a wife—a mother for his boys. But the only widowed women in the area were much older than him. A few younger women weren’t yet married, but they seemed so immature. What Menno needed was someone who’d had experience raising children. The question was, who?