With only two weeks left until Lizzie releases, I wanted to share a sneak peek with my friends! Share with your friends from church or reading groups. The more pre-orders we get, I’ll release Chapter 2 for your reading enjoyment. 🙂
~~ PREORDER YOUR COPY HERE ~~
Lizzie hurried down the driveway, her bare feet kicking up dust as she waved the plain white envelope in the air. “Letter for you, Daed!” she called out as she approached the barn.
With the sun overhead, the faded siding on the two-story building appeared even more bleached than she remembered from previous days. It seemed that there was always something on the farm that was in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. Now that spring was only weeks away, Lizzie suspected that painting the barn would be one of the projects they’d tackle first, after the crops were planted, of course.
Then again, she knew that her father, Amos Bender, didn’t always put much stock in making the farm look well cared for. After all, he’d grown up in a family that hadn’t focused on the appearance of a property but, rather, on the functionality of the farm and its occupants. Lizzie suspected it had something to do with both of her father’s grandparents having been raised by Swartzentrubers, one of the most conservative groups within the Amish faith.
Thankfully, when Amos’s father reached the age to become a baptized member of the church, he’d left the strict church district run by the Swartzentrubers and moved to a nearby and less strict Amish community, bringing his future wife with him. Understandably, however, just because Amos’s parents were baptized in a less strict church district hadn’t meant that they gave up all the practices learned from their childhood. Those lessons were often the hardest to forget, it seemed, and had been passed along to Lizzie’s father.
Amos was one of the older Bender sons. When he married Lizzie’s mother, Susan, Amos had purchased his own farm, close enough to help his parents, if needed but still far enough away to gain some independence. The family always thought that Amos’s younger brother, Samuel, would inherit the family farm. But, to their surprise, Samuel had taken up carpentry instead and, a few years before his parents passed away, moved to a new Amish community in Westcliffe, Colorado, where he helped build houses and barns for other families who had relocated to that area.
And so, the family farm had somehow passed to Amos, instead.
Whenever Lizzie had visited with her grandparents, she’d wondered why they rarely cleaned their house and was always taken aback by the heaps of garbage that piled up behind the shed. They seemed to grow larger with each passing year.
“It’s the Swartzentruber way,” her father had explained to her during one of their visits. “To tend to the yard or remove the garbage or even to clean the house is thought to be prideful.”
Not only did Lizzie disagree, but she also couldn’t fathom living that way. She knew she would’ve disliked having been raised in such a strict manner. While her mother wasn’t from such a background, she also wasn’t one to fuss too much over the condition of the yard or cleanliness of the house, though she always kept a tidy kitchen. Fortunately, Jane and Lizzie felt otherwise and did what they could to stay on top of the household chores when their mother failed to do so.
“A letter?” a deep voice called out from the hayloft. “Bring it here, Dochder.”
As soon as she heard her father’s command, Lizzie made her way toward the handmade ladder against the side of the barn. It was nailed securely to the building and led upward to the double doors of the hayloft. Today, the doors were hanging wide open and two sparrows were perched on the edge. As she began climbing higher, the birds grew nervous and flew away once she reached the top rungs.
As she climbed, her view of the farm changed. Ever since she was old enough to climb the ladder alone, she would sneak off to the hayloft to lean against one of the windows and gaze out over the fields. She loved to watch the black Angus cows as they meandered up the hill and through the back pasture near her grandparents’ old farm. No one lived there now; its vacancy was a constant thorn in her father’s side.
Toward the rear of the property, there was a small spring-fed pond where the cows often paused for a long sip of fresh water. Even during the hottest days in August, the spring fed water was always cool. The pond was another of Lizzie’s favorite places, especially on hot summer nights when the air stilled, and no breeze could be found. Quite often, after her chores were finished, she’d escape to the pond with her older brother, Jacob. There was nothing she liked better than to sit beside him with their feet dangling in the water, surrounded by the silence of nature while they tossed fishing lines into the pond.
Today, however, was neither hot nor summer so she thought it odd that she was thinking about the pond and her brother Jacob. Besides, it had been a long time since they’d gone fishing together. That thought gave her a pang in her chest. Why hadn’t they gone fishing as of late? Perhaps it was because her brother was too busy with all the animals that needed tending and field work that needed to be completed. And, on those rare occasions when he had a free moment, it felt as if he preferred visiting friends in neighboring towns to hanging out with one of his younger sisters.
Of course, Lizzie didn’t always mind when he wasn’t working or hanging around the farm, because it meant that she had her father all to herself. And today, Lizzie was especially grateful that he had finished up early and gone to visit with friends.
It was no secret that Amos Bender favored his firstborn—and only—son. But, of the three daughters that followed Jacob’s birth, Lizzie knew she held a special place in her father’s heart.
When Lizzie reached the top, she climbed through the open doors and stood, pausing for a second to brush off her rich burgundy dress. She wore no shoes and the remnants of hay on the rough strewn floorboards tickled the bottoms of her feet.
“Where are you, Daed?” she called out.
She heard a shuffling sound coming from the far end of the loft. “Here, Lizzie.”
Quietly, she made her way toward the bales of hay that were stacked ten high at the back of the loft.
“Ah, sweet Lizzie,” her father said with a long sigh. He sat on a chair; his feet propped against the sill of the small open window. It was their secret, this hiding place of her father’s. Long ago, he had built a makeshift desk in the back of the hayloft. Shortly thereafter, Lizzie had helped him move an old chair up there, one that swiveled so he could look out the window and gaze upon his fields.
Lizzie had never asked why her father hid himself away from the rest of the family. She already knew the answer without having to ask the question. Like her, Amos Bender relished his time alone to reflect and ponder life without disruption. Up here, in the dusty hayloft with cobwebs filling the corners and exposed beams hanging low overhead, there was no fear of having his thoughts interrupted. Her younger sister, Katie, was terrified of heights—or, perhaps it was just her fear of hard work, Lizzie often wondered—so she rarely ventured into the barn. As for Lizzie’s older sister, Jane, she mostly stayed inside the house, helping their mother. Lizzie was sure that she knew nothing about the secret hiding spot. But, even if Jane had discovered her father’s favorite hiding place, she would never have told their mother about it. Even though Jane was not as close to their father as Lizzie, she wasn’t one to share secrets.
After all, anyone who knew their mother and her trying ways, would certainly understand the need for their father to steal a few minutes of peace from time to time.
As Lizzie approached him, he reached out his hand to take the envelope. “Is it from my cousin, then?”
Lizzie gave a little laugh. “Now Daed, you know I’d no sooner open your mail than Maem wouldn’t hesitate to do so!”
His eyes brightened and his weathered face lit up at Lizzie’s playful jest. “That’s quite true, my girl,” he laughed, the deep baritone of his voice resonating in the hayloft. “Quite true, indeed.” Taking the letter from her, he reached into his pocket for a pair of reading glasses. “Let’s see now,” he said with a soft sigh, sliding the glasses onto the bridge of his nose so that he could read the return address. “Why, indeed! This is the letter I’ve been waiting for!”
Plopping down on a nearby haybale, Lizzie leaned her back against the wall, swatting at a small spider that dangled from the low-hanging rafters, while watching her father open the letter.
She knew that he had been waiting for this letter for some time and she also knew that her mother had no idea it was due to arrive. If there was one thing the entire church district recognized about the Bender family, it was that the matriarch, Susan Bender, was the nosiest women in all Blue Mill. Perhaps in all Lower Austen County!
And Amos Bender did not want his wife to spread gossip if there was none to be shared. So, he hadn’t shared the fact that something was brewing with anyone except Lizzie, that is. She had long ago earned the role of confidant to her father. Of course, even if there was something to share with Susan and even if her father could trust his wife, Lizzie suspected that Amos enjoyed the thought that he alone could savor the knowledge of deliciously wonderful news before his wife caught wind of it.
“What’s it say, Daed?” Lizzie watched his face as he slid a finger along the back of the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of lined paper, both sides covered in neat handwriting.
Her father’s tired blue eyes peered over the rim of his glasses. “The Lord might know everything, Lizzie, but, my dear dochder, I can assure you I do not.”
She smiled at his teasing words.
“You’ll have to wait until I actually read it.” He winked at her. “Which, if you don’t mind, I’ll do right now. Your muder will certainly want to hear of the news the moment I tell her a letter has arrived.”
Lizzie settled onto the hay bale and watched her father as his eyes scanned the paper. “That’s quite true, I’m sure.”
It was also true that Amos Bender—and Lizzie, for that matter—were anxiously awaiting news regarding his parent’s old family farm, located less than a mile from the Bender’s property. Last autumn, their long-term tenants had suddenly moved. They’d decided to try their hand at farming in Westcliffe, Colorado where land was more readily available, and a farm was far cheaper to acquire. Westcliff had attracted a small Amish community and word was that they were flourishing as families relocated, now able to purchase their own land instead of farming someone else’s. Their tenants were not the only family to abandon Austen County where the land was scarce and very dear. When they left, Amos had written to his cousin, informing him about the sudden vacancy.
“Ach vell,” her father finally said, removing his reading glasses and setting them atop his head. “Seems he knows of another family that’s interested in renting the farm.” Amos smiled. “I knew that Thomas would come through.”
Lizzie had never met this cousin of her father’s. In fact, she hadn’t met much of her extended family. They were scattered about the United States, most of them in Austen and Holmes County, but many in Indiana and Pennsylvania, too. One branch of the family even lived as far south as Tennessee. But if there was one thing about the Benders, it was that no matter the distance, they always kept in touch with each other.
“Which family, Daed? Anyone you know?”
Amos shook his head, his eyes still scanning the letter. Suddenly, he smiled. “Ah, the nephew of his fraa. A man named Christopher Burkholder.”
Lizzie breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s gut news!” To keep the old farm rented meant that the income it generated would help ease some of the burden her father always felt around this time of the year. After winter, money seemed to dry up and, as every farmer knew, springtime meant a lot of bills in order to prep for new crops.
He glanced up, pausing for effect. “And there’s more.”
Lizzie leaned forward on the hay bale, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands as she peered at her father. “What’s that, Daed?” she asked, eager to hear. She loved the way he told stories, dragging out details and creating an air of suspense rather than just telling her everything all at once. Her mother was the complete opposite. She couldn’t stomach the strain of anticipation which, Lizzie suspected, was probably why her father had mastered the skill.
“Promise you won’t tell this little tidbit to your maem? It was shared in confidence.”
Lizzie laughed. As if her father needed to ask her that. “Not unless you want the entire g’may to learn the news before the roosters are up.” Her mother loved to share news with the church district, that was for sure and certain.
Lowering his voice, her father scanned the letter as if to confirm what he wanted to share with her one more time. “Well, it seems this Christopher Burkholder isn’t yet married.”
Immediately, Lizzie rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what that meant. “Oh help!”
Her father laughed. “If your maem finds out, we’re all in big trouble.”
That was an understatement. “Trust me, for Jane’s sake, I’d never tell.” The last thing Lizzie wanted was for her sister to be paraded around this Christopher fellow like a prize cow at auction. And, knowing her mother as well as any daughter could, Lizzie knew that would be exactly what she would do. With four unmarried children—and three of them daughters—Susan Bender was eager to marry off any and all of her children. Her greatest hope was that one or two future sons-in-law, would take over the bulk of the work on their farm so she and Amos could spend their winters in Pinecraft, Florida with the other Amish folks who were fortunate enough to do so.
But Amos Bender hated that idea, almost as much as Lizzie did.
Even though Lizzie suspected that her father was tired…tired of working so hard and not having very much help, he surely hated the idea of wintering in Pinecraft.
Unlike many of the other farmers in Blue Mill, Amos was blessed with only one son and, therefore, he was accustomed to working hard to make up for the lost manpower on the farm. Sometimes his daughters helped in the fields, but, as a rule, Katie was far too lazy and Jane far too ladylike to make a dent in the heavy field work. So, the task of helping with spring planting and fall harvesting often fell upon Lizzie’s shoulders, chores she didn’t particularly mind since it kept her out of the house and away from her mother. As of late, the topic of discussion almost always focused on Susan’s desperation to get her three daughters married, so Lizzie welcomed the farm chores even more than ever these days.
There were few prospects in Blue Mill for the Bender sisters. Or, at least, not prospects that suited the needs of the Bender family. After all, with land being so expensive and the Amish families so large, most of the young men who wouldn’t inherit their family’s farms, focused on developing other skills to earn a living. Skills such as carpentry, cabinet making, shed building, and even landscaping. Many moved far away, venturing to new Amish communities that were springing up in places like Colorado or Montana. A few even traveled across oceans, settling in in even more isolated communities in Belize and Costa Rica, a prospect that didn’t appeal to anyone in the Bender family.
Even more unfortunate, particularly in their small church district, most of the farmers were either already married or nearing retirement, preparing to pass their farms down to one or two of their sons. Their married sons, as Susan often lamented to anyone who would listen. With an older son and two of her daughters of marrying age—and so few potential suitors in the community!–the matriarch of the Bender family spent far too many sleepless nights worrying about the future prospects of her children. And, to make matters worse, it seemed that she was becoming more and more vocal about her concerns.
More than she cared to admit, Lizzie often overheard her mother as she sat with the other women after worship service, scheming about how to marry off her daughters before they became old spinsters. It was quite the joke among the other Amish women in the church district that Susan Bender would do just about anything to lure a young Amish man to her house for Sunday supper. And, because of that, most young men avoided the Bender girls all together.
Lizzie didn’t really care though. Usually her mother’s attention centered on Jane because she was not only the eldest but appeared to be the “perfect” Amish woman. Quiet and kind, Jane had large green eyes and shiny blond hair. She was also very pretty—although everyone knew that Amish people aren’t supposed to care about such prideful things like beauty.
Unfortunately, though, Lizzie knew that many Amish did. And she couldn’t compete with Jane’s beauty. After all, she had inherited her mother’s mousy brown hair and almond shaped chocolate eyes. Sometimes, late at night when she lay in bed trying to find sleep, she would wonder what it would feel like to have such a pretty face instead of such a plain one.
But it didn’t bother Lizzie one bit. In fact, she was grateful that her name wasn’t mentioned often in her mother’s matchmaking plans. Frankly, she was content to remain at home, working alongside her father even if it meant that she would never marry. As far as she was concerned, if that was part of God’s plan for her, then so be it. Besides, even though she had committed to the Amish way of life and worship when she was nineteen, Lizzie never favored a single one of the young men in her church district or any of the neighboring ones either, for that matter. She wasn’t about to marry a man simply for the sake of getting married—she’d leave that to her two sisters, Katie and Jane. While she didn’t approve of marrying unless it was a right match, Lizzie knew her sisters wouldn’t be the only ones that might make compromises. Many Amish couples did marry for the sake of being married. Undoubtedly, there were economical and financial advantages to being married. But, for Lizzie, she viewed marriage in a very different light all together.
To her, marriage was about love and respect. Perhaps it was all the romance books she devoured—usually in secret so that she wouldn’t have to listen to her mother reprimand her for reading romantic fiction instead of inspirational or devotional books. No one married for love, her mother always said, as if doing so was one of the most absurd thoughts she’d ever heard.
Still, Lizzie didn’t care. Conformity was one thing. Two years ago, she had made that choice, quite willingly, when she took her kneeling vow before the church congregation, officially being baptized into the Amish faith. She couldn’t imagine leaving the Amish community. However, as much as she didn’t mind committing to following a plain life, she drew the line at committing to a marriage that was void of love.
Sarah Price is the author of the Plain Fame series and the Amish of Ephrata series, among other books. She comes from a long line of devout Mennonites, and her writing reflects accurate and authentic stories based upon her own experiences with several Amish communities. Visit her at sarahpriceauthor.com and on Facebook.