THE HEIRLOOM by Beverly Lewis
SERIES: The Heritage of Lancaster County #0.5 (prequel)
GENRE: Contemporary Amish Fiction (Christian)
PUBLISHER: Bethany House
RELEASE DATE: September 12, 2023
This heartwarming prequel to The Shunning is a tender story of love, belonging, and the courage to move forward.
After her widowed father remarries, nineteen-year-old Clara Bender is no longer needed to help run his household. Marriage seems like her best hope of moving out, but there are few young men in her tiny Indiana Amish community. When she comes across letters from her mother’s aunt Ella Mae Zook, she sets off to visit Lancaster County’s Hickory Hollow to decide where her future lies.
Ella Mae is not quite ready to move from the farmhouse where she and her recently deceased husband spent over fifty happy years, but her children are eager to resettle her, making Clara’s visit seem like an answer to prayer. The two women form a warm bond while restoring an heirloom wedding quilt and sharing their lives, with Ella Mae confiding about a tragedy from her courting years. Eventually, Ella Mae suggests Clara stay for the summer, allowing Ella Mae more time with her and giving Clara an opportunity to meet the area’s eligible young men. But when the unexpected happens, will Clara find where her heart truly belongs?
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Mamma always said we should never waste a speck of time, “since that’s what life’s made up of.” So with that in mind, I finally sat down at her oak desk. Dat had made it back when they were first married, and after Mamma’s passing a year ago, he gave it to me. He’d also asked me to discard its contents for him as I saw fit, urging me not to spend too much time on the task.
Now there in my sunny upstairs bedroom, I ran my hand across the desk’s smooth surface. I’d purposely delayed this effort, thinking reading Mamma’s personal mail and all would only make me sadder. Yet I cherished having anything of hers, dear as she’d been to me.
Jah, life’s made up of segments of time, but no matter how long or short our lifespan, wasn’t it what we did with our years that counted? Surely Dat must have felt the same way. After all, he’d gotten himself married to the widow Eva Graber two months earlier . . . a mere ten months after Mamma went to Glory.
I’d grown closer to my father after Mamma’s passing, but when Eva entered his life, everything changed. Nee, I didn’t deny that my step-Mamm should hold a special place in Dat’s heart, but while continuing to grieve the loss of precious Mamma, I was still getting used to Eva’s presence. And although I understood the necessity of such change in my father’s life, I recognized I’d have to leave home at some point to have a fulfilling life of my own.
I just didn’t know when . . . or how.
Opening the top left drawer of the desk, I stared at the cards, notes, and letters neatly stacked all the way to the back.
“If I could just have one more day with Mamma,” I whispered, recalling how I’d tried to be strong right up till the end. But after my mother drew her last breath, the realization that she was gone had felt ever so weighty.
Turning my attention back to the correspondence bundled in every drawer, I refused to get bogged down with memories. I quickly scanned the missives from friends and family and then dropped most of them in my wastepaper basket.
But I couldn’t help noticing one person’s name and address turned up more frequently than all the others—Ella Mae Zook from Hickory Hollow, Pennsylvania. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. Mamma had often talked about her aunt by marriage—nearly like a big sister to her. Ella Mae was her uncle Joseph’s wife. He’d died a few months after Mamma.
Out of curiosity, I set aside all the letters from Ella Mae. Then, nearly finished with my task, I started reading the one she’d written six weeks before Mamma died.
My dear Lillian,
I’m thinking of you as I sit here with your recent letter in my lap. How I wish we could speak face-to-face.
My heart is so heavy. Your suffering is mine to bear, too, because in our hearts we carry closest those we love most dearly. I pray each and every day that the Lord himself will minister His healing and comfort as you try to rest.
And, my oh my, your youngest daughter, Clara, must surely be the hands and feet of Jesus to you. What a compassionate young woman she sounds like, and I thank God for her every time I think of you. She is in my near-constant prayers, as well.
I had to stop reading for a moment, the words stirring up a longing for Mamma inside me. And gratitude, too, for this most wonderful relationship she’d enjoyed with her aunt.
Through the window, I could see Dat outside hitching up Mack, one of our two road horses, the slump in my father’s posture gone since marrying Eva. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d known how close Mamma and Ella Mae had been—a godsend for my dear mother not just while she suffered with her illness but through all the years she’d lived here in Indiana.
As it turned out, I ended up reading all of Ella Mae’s letters, riveted by her thoughtful words of friendship and caring. By the time I’d finished, I simply could not throw away this collection of treasures connecting two hearts across the miles. Just by reading them, I, too, was deeply touched and felt uplifted in spirit.
I bundled up the dozens of letters, placed them on my dresser at the other end of the room, and then returned to wipe out each of the drawers with the cloth I’d brought up from the kitchen. Glad I’d completed this task for Dat, I was also thankful I’d stumbled upon Great-Aendi Ella Mae’s letters of tenderest care.
I must meet this woman someday!
The following day, after I’d gathered the quilted oven mitts and pot holders I’d made for Saturday market, I invited my Schtiefmammi to go along, just as I had each week since Dat married her and moved her into the house.
Eva shook her head. “Need to bake a batch of pies,” she replied.
There was always an excuse not to go.
“All right,” I said, not pressing her. Still, I wondered if my father had any idea how hard I’d tried to make even the smallest connection with Eva. And she takes no interest in quilting, I mused, missing the close bond I’d had with Mamma and our shared love of quilt-making. What do Eva and I have in common besides Dat?
“I’ll be gone most of the day,” I told her. Not that Eva needed to know, but I wanted to be considerate.
“Have yourself a nice time.” She turned from the gas range, looking rather bright in her turquoise dress, cape, and matching apron. For a woman in her fifties, Eva seemed drawn to wearing loud colors. “Supper’ll be ready at five-thirty,” she said in a reminding tone. “You’ll be hungry by then.”
“Jah, I’m always hungrier on market day. Must be all the goodies there,” I said, smoothing the gray dress and black apron I still wore in mourning. With that, I picked up my purse and headed out to the horse and carriage, where Dat had already placed my box of wares to sell this beautiful day.
After my father and Eva retired that evening, I sat out on the back porch, newly painted white with a dark gray ceiling. Mamma’s two wind chimes still hung in the far corner.
Feeling underfoot in my father’s house, I stared at the deepening sky, knowing I wasn’t really needed there. Eva was the one cooking and keeping house for Dat now, like I’d done after Mamma passed. I had to get on with my own life somehow, so I considered what opportunities a young, single, baptized woman had here in First Light, Indiana.
All my friends were seriously courting or engaged, but unfortunately, finding a new beau for myself wouldn’t be easy. Not in this small community with no suitable fellows my age available. And the recent calamity with Wollie Lehman, my first-ever serious beau, had set me back. Sure, I’d enjoyed the time we spent together, but our friendship and eventual courting had only led to a sudden tearing apart I never saw coming. One day we were planning our future and sharing our dreams, and the next day, those dreams lay shattered around us.
Had she been alive, Mamma would have comforted me, helped see me through the pain and disappointment somehow.
I thought again of the letters from her aunt Ella Mae and all the appealing descriptions of Hickory Hollow in Lancaster County. Mamma had lived there till age thirteen, when her parents and most of their siblings and families moved out here. At that moment, an idea began to flit around in my head. What if I could visit there, see where Mamma grew up—and get to know Ella Mae?
I fairly leaped out of my wicker chair, then quietly hurried into the house and up the stairs to my room at the far end of the hall. I lit the gas lamp and sat down at Mamma’s gleaming desk to compose a letter, the small circle of light my companion as I wrote to the woman who’d devotedly carried my dying mother in her heart.
And who’d cared enough to pray for me.
Beverly Lewis, The Heirloom
Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2023. Used by permission.
Beverly Lewis (beverlylewis.com), born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, has more than 19 million books in print. Her stories have been published in 12 languages and have regularly appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including the New York Times and USA Today. Beverly and her husband, David, live in Colorado, where they enjoy hiking, biking, making music, and spending time with their family.
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