Amanda Lambright paused outside the Cedar Creek Mercantile, clutching her basket of pottery samples and prayed that Sam would carry her handmade items in his store. She had also come to share some exciting news: she stood on the threshold of a brand new life in a brand new family, and the prospect thrilled her. But it frightened her, too.
When Amanda stepped inside, the bell tinkled above the door. As her eyes adjusted to the soft dimness of the store, she saw her teenage daughter Lizzie and the four-year-old twins making a beeline to the craft department while her mother-in-law Jemima ambled behind her cart in the grocery aisle. Several shoppers, English and Amish alike, lingered over their choices of cheese, locally-grown apples, and other household and hardware necessities, but she was in luck: the bearded, bespectacled man at the check-out counter didn’t have any customers right now. She approached him with a smile.
“And how are you on this fine September day, Sam?”
When Sam Lambright looked up from the order form he was filling out, his face lit up. “Amanda! How gut to see you. Things are going well at your farm, I hope?”
Amanda gripped the handle of her basket. Should she break her big news first? Or make her request? “The work never ends, that’s for sure. The last hay’s ready to cut, the garden’s gone to weeds, and Jerome’s training several new mules.” Jerome was her nephew by marriage, the boy she and her late husband Atlee had raised after his parents died in a fire.
“Your girls are growing up, too. I had to look twice to realize it was Lizzie, Cora, and Dora waving at me.”
“They change by the day, it seems. And, well . . . I’m making a few changes myself.”
Sam gazed at her in that patient, expectant way he had. He was Atlee’s cousin, and his expression, his manner, reminded her so much of Atlee that at times she’d not shopped here because she couldn’t deal with the resemblance.But that sadness is behind me now . . . and nobody will be happier than Sam, she reminded herself. “Wyman Brubaker has asked me to marry him. And I said jah.”
Sam’s smile lit the whole store. “That’s wonderful! Abby—” He gazed up toward the upper level, hailing his sister as she sat at her sewing machine by the railing. “Abby, you’ll want to come down and get the latest from Amanda. She’s getting hitched!”
“That’s so exciting,” Abby called out. “Don’t say another word until I get down there.”
Amanda noticed several folks in the store glancing her way, enjoying this exchange. It made her upcoming marriage seem even more real now that it had been announced so publically. She and Wyman had kept their courtship quiet, because they wanted to be very sure that a marriage blending two households and eight children was a wise decision.
“Months ago I suggested to Wyman that it was time he found another gut woman,” Sam said, “and I’m so glad he’s chosen you, Amanda. I can’t think of two finer folks with so much in common.”
“Well, we hope so. It’ll be . . . different, raisin eight kids instead of just my three girls,” she replied quietly. “But Wyman’s a gut man.”
“And with his grain elevator doing so well, it means you won’t have to worry about money anymore,” Sam replied quietly. “You haven’t let on—haven’t let me help you much—but even with Jerome’s income, it couldn’t have been easy to keep that farm afloat after Atlee passed.”
As Abby Lambright rushed down the wooden stairway to hug her, Amanda forgot about her four long years of scraping by. She felt lifted up by the love and happiness this maidel radiated. Rain or shine, Abby gave her best and brought that out in everyone around her, too.
“What a wonderful-gut thing, to know you’ve found another love,” Abby gushed. “And who’s the lucky man?”
“You don’t say!” Abby replied. “I couldn’t have matched up a more perfect pair myself—and as I recall, his Vera and your Lizzie first met while both families were shopping here. And that started the ball rolling.”
“Jah, as matchmakers go they were pretty insistent,” Amanda replied with a chuckle.
“And when’s the big day?”
“We haven’t decided, but it’ll be sooner than I can possibly be ready,” Amanda admitted. “What with Lizzie still in school, I’ve hardly packed any boxes—not that I know where to stack them if the wedding’s at my house,” she added in a rush. “And with Jerome training a team of mules now, we can’t clear out the barn for the ceremony. And I can’t see me driving back and forth, cleaning Wyman’s house in Clearwater—”
“Or keeping it wedding-ready until the big day. His Vera’s a responsible girl, but looking after her three brothers and Alice Ann is all she can handle,” Abby remarked in a thoughtful tone. She looked at her older brother. “Sam, what would you say to having Amanda’s wedding at our house? What with preparing for Matt and Rosemary’s ceremony next week, and then for Phoebe and Owen’s that first Thursday of October—”
“Oh, no!” Amanda protested. “I didn’t mean to go on and on about—”
“That would be just fine.” Sam gazed steadily at Amanda. “We’re setting up the tables for the meals in mamm’s greenhouse—leaving them up between the two weddings, anyway. So if you pick a date in the first few weeks of October, it would be very easy to host your ceremony, Amanda. And I would feel like I’d finally given you some real help when you needed it.”
Amanda nearly dropped her basket of pottery. “My stars. That would solve a lot of my problems . . .”
“And with Wyman living in Clearwater and your house being on the far side of Bloomingdale, Cedar Creek would be a more central location for your guests,” Sam reasoned.
“And it’ll be gut practice for Sam, delivering another wedding sermon,” Abby added mischievously. “Right after he was ordained as our new preacher last spring, Rosemary asked him to preach and then Phoebe insisted on him, too. So he should be pretty gut at it by the time you and Wyman tie the knot!”
Sam flushed. “Jah, but if you want the preachers from your district to—”
“It would be an honor to have you and Vernon Gingerich officiate for us.” Amanda squeezed Sam’s arm, her excitement mounting. “Wyman will be so glad you’ve settled our dilemma, because if we choose one preacher and one bishop from our own districts, we’ll still be leaving out the other bishop and three preachers.”
“And you don’t want them all to speak! Six sermons would make for a very long day,” Abby added wryly.
As their laughter rose toward the high ceiling of the mercantile, Amanda relaxed. Wasn’t it just like these cousins to offer their home when she would never have asked another family to host her wedding? What a relief, to concentrate on moving her three daughters, Atlee’s mamm, and herself into Wyman’s home rather than also having to prepare for a couple hundred wedding guests.
Abby leaned closer to Amanda, watching Lizzie and the twins fingering bolts of fabric. “So how are your girls taking the news? And what of Jemima?” she asked quietly.
Amanda smiled. “Truth be told, it was Lizzie and Wyman’s Vera who got Wyman and me to the same places at the same time,” she confessed. “And bless him, Wyman said from the first that he had a room for Atlee’s mamm. It won’t be easy for her, living in a home other than her son’s. But we’ll all be together.”
“One big happy family!” Abby proclaimed as she hugged Amanda’s shoulders again.
“And what of Jerome?” Sam inquired. “He’s lived with you since he was a boy, but he’s what? Twenty-two now?”
“Twenty-four,” Amanda corrected. “And with him being so established with his mule breeding and training, I’ve asked him to stay there on the home place. It’s what Atlee would’ve wanted for his nephew.”
“A gut decision,” the storekeeper agreed. “One of these days he’ll be finding a wife, and a whole new generation of Lambrights can live there.”
Amanda nodded, feeling a flicker of sadness. Her Atlee had passed on before they knew she was carrying the twins . . . but cogitating over the other children they might have had together—or which ones might have taken over the Lambright farm—wasn’t a useful way to spend her time. A little gasp brought her out of her woolgathering.
“What’s this in your basket?” Abby asked as she reached for the handle. “My stars, these are such pretty colors for pie pans and cream pitchers and—” Her brown eyes widened. “Did you paint these, Amanda?”
Amanda’s cheeks prickled. “I make the pottery pieces on my wheel and then I glaze them, jah,” she said quietly. “I was hoping that—rather than packing away my finished pieces—you might want to sell them here.”
“These are pieces any woman could use,” Abby interrupted excitedly. She was carefully setting items from the basket on the counter so Sam could get a better look at them. “A pitcher . . . a deep-dish pie plate . . . oh, and look at this round piece painted like a sunflower!”
“That’s a disk you heat in the oven and then put in your basket to keep your bread warm,” Amanda said. “I sell a lot of those at the dry goods stores north of home. Seems English tourists like some little souvenir when they visit Plain communities.”
“I can see why,” Sam remarked. He was turning the pitcher this way and that in his large hands. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen kitchen pieces with such bold colors. And if you make them, Amanda, I’d be happy to take them on consignment. Folks hereabouts would snap these up.”
“You’ve got several pieces with you, I hope?” Abby asked.
“This is such a blessing,” Amanda replied quietly. “I’ve got three boxes of this stuff in my wagon, along with an inventory list. I figured that if you didn’t want it, I’d stash it all in Wyman’s basement until we get moved in.”
“Don’t go hiding these in the basement!” Abby insisted. “We’ll set up a big display down here, and I’ll arrange the rest of them up in the loft.”
Sam started for the door. “I’ll help you carry in your boxes, Amanda. You can decide which items might sell better over at the greenhouse and work that out with Mamm.”
“Jah, I will. Denki so much, you two. Let me show you what I’ve brought.” Amanda’s heart skipped happily as the bell above the door tinkled. This trip to Cedar Creek was going even better than she’d dreamed, and she was eager to set her wedding date with Wyman now that they had such a wonderful place to hold their ceremony.
As they stepped outside, however, an ominous crash rang out, followed by a yelp and another crash.
“Simon! Get your dog out of that wagon!”
Amanda’s face fell. Oh, but she recognized that authoritative voice. And there could be only one Simon with a pet who had stirred up such a ruckus . . . and only one wagon full of pottery with its end gate down.
As she rounded the corner of the store with Sam and Abby, the scene in the parking lot confirmed Amanda’s worst fears: the Brubaker family was gathered around her wagon, coaxing Simon’s German shepherd out of it while Wyman lifted his youngest son onto its bed. When the five-year-old boy grabbed his basketball from the only box of her pottery left standing, the picture became dismally clear.
“Oh, Amanda,” Abby murmured as the three of them hurried toward the Brubakers. “This doesn’t look so gut.”
Amanda’s stomach clenched. How many days’ worth of her work had been shattered after Wags had apparently followed Simon’s ball into her wagon?
“Gut afternoon to you, Wyman,” Sam said. “We just heard your exciting news, and we’re mighty happy you and Amanda are hitching up.”
Wyman set his youngest son on the ground and extended his hand to the storekeeper. “Jah, I finally found a gal who’ll put up with me and my raft of kids. But I can’t think she’s too happy with us right this minute.”
Amanda bit back her frustration as her future husband lowered one of her boxes to the ground so she could see inside it. The other boxes had been overturned, so some of her pie plates, vases, and other items lay in pieces on the wagon bed. She had considered padding her pottery more carefully, boxing the pieces better, but who could have guessed that Simon’s energetic, oversized puppy would follow a basketball into her wagon? A little sob escaped her.
“And now, Simon, do you see why you should always check the latch on the dog’s pen when we leave?” Wyman asked sternly. “Not only was it dangerous for Wags to come running up alongside our buggy, but now he’s broken Amanda’s pottery. What do you say to her, son?”
The little boy, clutching his basketball, became the picture of contrition. Simon’s brown eyes, usually filled with five-year-old mischief, were downcast as he stood beside his father. “I . . . didn’t mean to break your stuff,” he murmured. “I bounced my ball too high and Wags had to play, too. I’m real sorry.”
Chastising this winsome boy wouldn’t put her pottery together again, would it? “Things happen,” she replied with a sigh. “I was hoping to sell my ceramics here at the mercantile, but . . . well, maybe we can salvage some of it.”
“Tie Wags to the wagon, Simon, before he causes any more trouble,” Wyman murmured.
Abby had stepped up beside Amanda to carefully lift the contents of the box onto the tailgate while Wyman set the other two boxes upright. Amanda was vaguely aware that the rest of the Brubaker kids were nearby: his teenage sons, Pete and Eddie, went on inside the mercantile while seventeen-year-old Vera came up beside her, cradling little Alice Ann against her hip.
“See there, all is not lost,” Abby remarked as she set unbroken dishes to one side of the wagon bed. “Still enough for a display, Amanda—”
“And look at these colors!” Vera said as she fingered some of the broken pieces. “Dat told me you worked on pottery, Amanda, but I had no idea it was like this! So, do you paint ready-made pieces or do you make everything from scratch?”
Amanda smiled sadly as she held up two pitchers that no longer had their handles. “I form them on my pottery wheel, and when they’ve dried I glaze them and fire them in my kiln.”
“Would you mind if I take the broken stuff?”
Amanda considered this, surprised. Vera’s eyes were lit up with interest, as though she truly loved the pottery even though it was shattered. “I don’t know what you’d do with it,” she murmured, “but it’s not like I can sell repaired plates and pitchers, either.”
“I’m sorry this has happened, Amanda. I’ll pay you for what Simon broke,” Wyman offered as he squeezed her shoulder. “At least you won’t be needing the income after we marry, jah?”
Amanda sighed. “Denki, Wyman. That’s generous of you.”
As much as she had come to love Wyman Brubaker during these past months of their courtship, a red flag went up in Amanda’s mind. He—and most men—didn’t understand that her pottery was much more than a way to earn money. It had been her salvation after Atlee had lost a leg to gangrene and then lost his will to live. . . a way to focus her mind on cheerful designs and colors instead of becoming lost in the darkness of her grief after he died.
Wyman ran the only grain elevator in the area so he was able to provide quite well for a large family. Yet as she considered mixing her Lizzie and the twins—not to mention her opinionated mother-in-law—with the three rambunctious Brubaker boys, Vera, and toddler Alice Ann, Amanda wondered what she was getting herself into. Everyone seemed amiable enough now, but what if their good intentions went by the wayside once they were all together in one household?
Would they be one big happy family, as Abby had predicted? Or had she let herself in for more major changes than she could handle by agreeing to marry Wyman Brubaker?