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Excerpt of An Amish Family Reunion by Mary Ellis


Harvest House Publishers
February 2012
On Sale: February 1, 2012
Featuring: Phoebe Miller; Eli Riehl
320 pages
ISBN: 0736944877
EAN: 9780736944878
Kindle: B006LOMUB6
Paperback / e-Book
Add to Wish List

Inspirational Amish

Also by Mary Ellis:

100 Proof Murder, August 2021
Hardcover / e-Book
One For the Road, January 2021
Hardcover / e-Book
Island of Last Resorts, November 2019
Hardcover / e-Book
Sweet Taste of Revenge, February 2019
Hardcover / e-Book
The Amish Sweet Shop, December 2018
Trade Size / e-Book
Hiding in Plain Sight, August 2018
Hardcover / e-Book
Sunset in Old Savannah, April 2017
Trade Size / e-Book
Magnolia Moonlight, August 2016
Paperback / e-Book
What Happened on Beale Street, April 2016
Paperback / e-Book
Amish Christmas Memories, September 2015
Midnight on the Mississippi, August 2015
Paperback / e-Book
The Last Heiress, February 2015
Paperback / e-Book
The Lady and the Officer, August 2014
Paperback / e-Book
A Plain Man, April 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Romance on the River, April 2014
Always in My Heart, February 2014
The Quaker and the Rebel, January 2014
Paperback / e-Book
An Amish Miracle, December 2013
Paperback / e-Book
A Little Bit of Charm, September 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Love Comes To Paradise, February 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Living In Harmony, August 2012
Paperback / e-Book
An Amish Family Reunion, February 2012
Paperback / e-Book
A Marriage For Meghan, October 2011
Paperback / e-Book
Abigail's New Hope, April 2011
Sarah's Christmas Miracle, August 2010
The Way To A Man's Heart, July 2010
Never Far From Home, January 2010
A Widow's Hope, March 2009

Excerpt of An Amish Family Reunion by Mary Ellis


Winesburg, Ohio

You would think that a person might be able to enjoy some peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon. After all, it was the Sabbath—a day of rest. Yet Phoebe Miller found herself hiding behind a tree to escape from her family. There were just so many of them. Living next door to Aunt Julia and Uncle Simon guaranteed plenty of drop-in visits, impromptu potluck suppers, and more unsolicited advice than any red-blooded, seventeen-year-old girl needed. It's not that she didn't love her family—because she certainly did—she simply needed more time alone time than others.

Holding her breath, Phoebe stood stock-still until Uncle Simon headed into the barn in search of her father and Aunt Julia entered the house looking for Hannah. Her mamm. Hannah wasn't her mother by blood, but had earned the title during the past twelve years of bandaging scrapes, helping with math homework, and remaining beside while Phoebe suffered the flu on long winger nights. She couldn't remember her birth mother anymore. She was only five when an impatient driver in a fast-moving truck decided to pass on a blind curve. It didn't hurt much anymore. She had Hannah, and her daed, and her little brother to love. They were all she needed…except for a little personal solitude.

Phoebe sucked in her gut as ten-year-old Ben ran across the yard, chasing his dog that was chasing a rubber ball. When the two ducked under a fence into the cornfield, she ran pell-mell in the opposite direction through the sheep pasture, clutching her box of pencils and sketchpad tightly. She dared not look back for fear some cousin would be waving frantically from the porch. This time, she didn't stop to watch baby lambs nursing from the ewes or to pick a fistful of wild trilliums for her windowsill. On she ran until she reached her favorite spot for drawing—an ancient stonewall constructed by long-gone pioneers in Holmes County. Phoebe doubted these early settlers had been Amish. Not too many Amish men would take the time to painstakingly stack flat rocks just so to form a long fence line. Not when dozens of tall trees fell over in the woods each winter that could easily be split into fence rails. And not when stampeding cows spooked by thunder, or marauding sheep needing no reason whatsoever to bolt, could knock the entire wall down within minutes. That was probably why this twenty-yard section was all that remained. But it was all Phoebe needed.

Settling comfortably on a smooth flat stone, she gazed over acres of rolling pasture, lush with thick clover, alive with honeybees and hummingbirds attracted by the wild Morning Glories. Those climbing vines would entwine her if she sat too long. Hannah's beloved sheep frolicked and capered like small children. Beyond this pasture lay corn and alfalfa fields, the peach and apple orchards, and the stately pines in the distance. Like sentinels, they guarded the property line between their farm and the westerly neighbor, while a pond and lowland bog separated them from Uncle Simon and Aunt Julia.

Phoebe turned to a fresh page in her oversized tablet and selected a charcoal pencil from the box. What would she draw today—horses nibbling on the proverbial green grass? Sunlight glinting off dewy treetops at dawn, while the rest of the land remained cloaked in darkness? It was well past midday, but Phoebe had witnessed dawn enough times to remember. Maybe their three-story bank barn with open hayloft doors, against a stark backdrop of pristine, unbroken snow? Everyone loved the serenity that could be found within a winter landscape. It didn't matter that it was May—and an exceptionally warm day at that. A good artist, worth her salt, possessed a photographic memory capable of retaining visual imagery until the moment she recreated those images on canvass…or in her case, on a sheet of white paper.

"I thought I would find you up here."

Phoebe jumped out of her skin, dropping her sketchpad and spilling her box of colored pencils, charcoals, pastel chalk and various erasers and sharpeners. "Daed! You nearly gave me a heart attack." She dropped to her knees to retrieve her supplies.

Seth Miller brushed off a spot on the wall and sat down. "You're too young for a heart attack. And I wasn't sneaking up on you—I came up the same path along the fence that you took. You were too absorbed in your masterpiece to see me."

With her supplies safely returned to the box, she plunked down next to him, clutching the tablet like a shield.

"Nothing even started yet. I was waiting for the perfect inspiration." She giggled, knowing how full-blown that sounded.

"Plenty of pretty scenery up here to pick from. It would be hard to narrow it down to just one." Seth bumped his shoulder into hers.

Phoebe sighed. "Jah, but none I haven't sketched a hundred times before."

Seth shifted his position on the wall to offer his profile. "How about me? Or am I too old and wrinkled?'

She shook her head. "You're not old, daed, even if you do have some serious crow's feet." She bumped his shoulder in return. "But once Uncle Simon caught me doing a portrait of cousin Emma, and he scolded me. He said drawing a picture of an Amish person was no different than capturing their likeness with a camera." Phoebe then lapsed into mimicking Uncle Simon's stern voice, forgetting the person she was talking to for the moment. As bishop of this district, I won't have my niece and my daughter committing such a sin.

Her father merely shrugged. "In that case, you could draw our old buggy horse, Sam. Now that he's been turned out to pasture, we no longer have to worry about capturing his image."

"I think I'll stick to wildflowers today." With her piece of charcoal, she pointed at clumps of purple violets, green Mayapples and the elusive Jack-in-the-Pulpits. "Sam usually has too many flies buzzing around his head to contend with."

Seth stretched out his long legs. "I saw you hiding from your bruder behind that tree. Has he been pestering you? Is that why you didn't want him to follow you?" He shielded his face from the sun, deepening the wrinkles webbing his eyes.

"Oh, no. Ben's been all right. But he's ten years old. He doesn't understand the concept of sitting still or remaining quiet. If I let him come with me down to the river or to the duck pond, he expects me to catch tadpoles or butterflies with him. Once he dropped a two-foot black snake at my feet and told me to draw him." Phoebe met her father's gaze. "I let him come along as seldom as possible without hurting his feelings."

"Mind if I have a look-see?" Without waiting for her answer, Seth pulled the giant pad from her grasp.

For a moment, Phoebe felt a familiar wave of panic. Her art was a private collection, showcasing her limited abilities. But the moment soon passed. She was Phoebe Miller of Winesburg, Ohio, not Michelangelo of Italy. "Sure, why not?" She exhaled, willing herself to relax.

Seth paged through her assortment of sketches, some bare bones, others filled with vibrant color and intricate shading. "These are quite good, daughter." He paused to study one picture of a small child kneeling in prayer beside a trundle bed. With white walls and dark pine floorboards, the girl's black prayer kapp but white pinafore—the drawing was a contrast of light and shadows. One could feel the presence of God in the rays of moonlight streaming through the open window.

She smiled with pleasure, leaning over his arm. "That's one of my favorites. Not bad for someone with no talent and no training, huh?"

He shook his head. "You have talent, make no mistake about that. And what kind of training does an artist need? Either a person has the gift or they don't."

"A few classes would have been nice in school. My teacher's idea of art was coloring a seasonal mimeographed page—all trees were green, every autumn leaf either red or gold. Everyone's picture looked exactly the same."

Seth dispensed his usual daed-look. "Plain folk have no need for individuality as long as you're known personally to God." He shut the sketchpad and then handed it back to her. "But providing you get your chores done, I see no harm in capturing the beauty of nature in your pictures." Seth rose to his feet. "Which of the lilies of the field will my artist choose to draw today?" He waved his hand toward a multitude of flowers and weeds growing along the vine-shrouded wall. "I'd say you have less than an hour before it's time to eat. Don't be late, Phoebe. You know how your Uncle Simon hates not eating at the appointed hour." Seth started down the path and did not glance back. He didn't have to. He knew she wouldn't be late for supper, or neglect her chores, or forget to say her nightly prayers…because she never did.

Phoebe was a good girl. She had never painted her face with makeup as Emma had during her rumschpringe, nor taken up with an English boy with a fast green truck. Everything was well and good now that Emma and Jamie were married, raising two little boys, and sheep farming in Charm. But when they first converted to New Order, both sets of parents lost more than one good night's sleep.

And Phoebe had no desire to go into business like her cousin, Leah. Running a diner with a business partner as naïve as she almost landed Leah in the county jail. Who knew that not collecting sales tax to send to the State of Ohio was a crime? She shuddered remembering how long it had taken Leah to pay her share of debt incurred by the diner. Meeting Johan Byler had been the only good thing to come out of that diner fiasco. Apparently, he hadn't been looking for a wife with any business savvy.

Nope, Phoebe was a good girl—helping with cooking, cleaning and laundry; doing a fair share of gardening, canning and berry picking, despite having no particular fondness for domestic duties. Her mamm, Hannah, along with Emma had their beloved sheep, along with the spinning, dyeing, carding and weaving that came with those wooly creatures. Both women knitted such exquisite sweaters and sofa throws tourists would pay more than a hundred dollars for one of their creations. Leah had her pie-making cottage industry. Bakeries throughout the county clamored for more Leah Byler pies. Her recipe for Peach Parfait Supreme once had been a finalist in a national bake-off. Until Aunt Julia pointed out the error in that line of thinking: Plain folk weren't to set themselves above anyone through competition. But Phoebe never experienced a thrill over a particularly flaky piecrust or just the perfect sweet-tart balance of her fruit filling. Only her art held any joy. Painting with acrylics from the Bargain Outlet or sketching people while they were unaware lifted Phoebe's spirits like nothing else. Not exactly a practical pastime for someone Plain, but what could she do?

With a sigh, she selected a moss-covered, termite-riddled log for today's subject. The dark moist wood where decay added a blackish-green hue, along with the sun-baked topside, striated and gnarly from wind and weather, would provide a stark background to the delicate, wispy yellow buttercups.

For sixty minute, feeling the warm sun on her face, a cool breeze on her neck, Phoebe surrender to her creation. Adding a bold slash here or light shading there, the flower on paper became as real as those growing near her feet and almost smelled as sweet. She lost herself in her work, unaware of hunger or thirst or the pesky hornet circling her head. Funny how mopping the floor, hanging laundry on the line or slicing peaches for cobbler couldn't hold held her interest. All she about was snitching another cookie or refilling her glass of lemonade.

Finally, when the drawing neared completion, she leaned back against the wall with a satisfied sigh. There had to be something she could do with her so-called gift, as her parents called it. She'd been out of school for three years, yet seldom brought to the household more than a few dollars from selling eggs. She once hung an index card up at the grocery store, announcing "Artist for Hire," with her name and address at the bottom in block letters. She landed two commissions from the advertisement. One, a local farmer needed an autumn replacement for his produce market sign, since peaches, organic lettuce and berries were long gone. Phoebe created a four-foot by six-foot masterpiece, showcasing colorful apples, pumpkins, butternut squash, eggplant and Indian corn. She'd tried to turn down the second project: An elderly widow needed someone to paint the white picket fence around her vegetable patch. And of course, daed had made her accept the job. Painting was painting, he declared.

Packing up her supplies, she started down the well-worn path to the rambling farmhouse filled with her parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins. Lately, it seemed like she'd wandered into the wrong house, but folks were too polite to tell her. How could she live surrounded by affectionate and endearing people, yet still feel utterly, completely alone?

* * * * *

Julia stepped down from the buggy gingerly, always a little nervous to see if her legs would hold her. It had been years since her double knee replacement surgery, yet she remained skeptical about the stainless steel substitute parts.

Simon took her arm to steady her. "Easy does it, fraa. Did you take your pills today?"

"Jah, of course, like I do every day. I'm just stiff from sitting. Run off now and find your brother," she said. "With these perfectly fine store-bought knees, we should have walked here. What's the advantage of living next door to your brother and my sister if we must drag out the horse and buggy even in perfect weather?" Julia leaned heavily on his arm despite her assertion she could have walked half a mile through scrub forest and bog.

"I'm not running anywhere until you're planted in one of Hannah's kitchen chairs," Simon insisted. "And our old gelding needs the exercise more than we do." He supported her elbow up the walkway.

"If Hannah sees you practically carrying me inside, she'll start feeding me more of her herbal cures." They paused midway to the house. "Boswellia, bromelain, yucca, tumeric, sea cucumber—do you know what those things taste like?" Julie wrinkled her nose. "I burped the other day and it tasted like stagnant pond water."

"Why it is you know how stagnant pond water tastes?" Simon clutched her tightly around the waist as they reached the porch.

"I'd rather not say what my sister was like as a teenager."

"Whatever she gives you to eat or drink, you'll take without complaint. One of these days, Hannah will land on a miracle cure that'll have you skipping like a schoolgirl again."

Julie gulped a deep breath and climbed the steps, clucking her tongue in disapproval. "Miracles from teas and tonics? And you—the district deacon. What's gotten into you?" She reached for the doorframe to steady herself.

"All miracles come from the Lord, but He used a wide variety of delivery methods." Simon kissed her cheek. "I'll see you at supper."

Julia waited until she stopped panting like a dog before entering her sister's large, airy kitchen. "Hannah," she called, finding the room empty.

Hannah Miller bustled into the room looking as fresh and cheery as she had ten years ago. Amazing what the lack of chronic pain did for a person's appearance and attitude. "You're alone?" she said, pulling aside the curtain. "Where are your daughters?" Without needing to ask, she filled two tall glasses with iced tea. "I baked way too much glazed ham and potato salad if the rest of your family isn't coming to eat." She carried their glasses to the table.

Julia smiled, lowering herself into a chair. "Just Simon and myself, but I promise to eat ravenously. Henry will stop over later. He took the open buggy for a ride, after he spent hours yesterday polishing every inch with leather oil. I think he's courting some gal, but when I drop subtle hints, he turns beet red and clams up."

Hannah sat on the opposite side of the long table—a table large enough to seat the entire Miller clan. "You, subtle?" She winked one luminous green eye. "You're as subtle as a blind bull in a spring pasture. Poor Henry—being the only one left at home. What about Leah? She's not coming either?" Hannah laced her fingers over her still flat belly. "I was itching for one of her peach pies."

"No fresh peaches yet. You would know that if you left your loom and spinning wheel once in a while. And all her canned peaches are gone. Anyway, she and Jonah are staying home today, as is Emma, Jamie and their two boys." Julia leaned back in the chair. "I saw Ben chasing that dog of his, but where's Phoebe?" She craned her neck to scan the living room. "Let me guess—upstairs, immortalizing the intricacies of a spider in her web, instead of whacking it down with a broom."

Hannah took a long swallow of tea. "Too warm upstairs in her room. She headed to the high pasture with her tablet. Seth walked up to check on her, although she can't get lost or into any trouble up there. He would prefer she stay within eyeshot of the house at all times."

"I remember when you used to hide from people—sometimes in the woods, sometimes down by the river—when you first moved here from Lancaster. Whenever my Simon crawled up you neck."

Hannah snorted dismissively. "I wasn't hiding from your Simon, I was plotting how to snare Seth into my web, just like Phoebe's pet spider. It wasn't easy, but I ran away from him so often he finally caught me."

The two sisters enjoyed a chuckle. "The two Kline sisters marrying the two Miller brothers. It sure made things handy, no? Maybe that's what your Phoebe does when she wanders off by herself—plotting how to capture the eye of some hapless young man at the next social event. Isn't she seventeen?"

"Almost eighteen. But no, she won't go to singings. She says they make her nervous. She'll only attend work frolics and quilting parties. Not too many eligible young men at sewing bees." Hannah finished her tea with a slurp; then rose to refill both glasses. "She says she has nothing in common with boys her age."

"How would she know if she never steps out from behind your skirt? Has she ever talked to boys other than to say ‘pass me the catsup?'" Julia clamped her jaw shut, remembering her bad habit of overstepping the role of big sister. Running roughshod over folks—that's how Simon referred to it.

"Phoebe is still young. She has plenty of time. People aren't marrying so early anymore, not like when we were at that age." Hannah tucked a stray lock of flaxen hair under her prayer kapp.

Julia rubbed her fingers one at a time. "She shouldn't spend so much time alone. It's not healthy."

Hannah shot Julia the look that meant you're treading dangerously close to thin ice. "I realize with both of your daughters married, you have no one to needle and advise. You can always go back to me to keep your talons razor sharp."

"Ach, I would, but I threw my hands up years ago and declared you a hopeless case. You listen to advice as well as your sheep." Julia stared out the window where the lilac bush was in full bloom without seeing the profusion of flowers. "At least your daughter has come a long way since you started courting Seth. How long did Phoebe go without speaking a single word—eight months, a year?"

Hannah paused to consider. "Almost a year and a half. Constance's death pulled the rug out from under her feet. Seth was trying to cope with a household without his wife, along with his own grief. He was too busy and too distracted to notice a little girl in serious pain." She furrowed her forehead as memories of some very difficult months returned. "Seth wasn't spending enough time with her, because he had suddenly twice as much on his plate. But how can you explain that to a five year old?"

"Phoebe watched all her daed's attention being lavished on you." Julia chanced a look at her sister.

Hannah scoffed. "Lavish would hardly describe Seth's interest to me."

"True enough. He erected quite a wall around himself, while you patiently worked with Phoebe. Eventually, she came around and started talking again, but she's still a very quiet child. No one would believe she was a Miller if she wasn't the spitting image of Seth. They would have figured Constance discovered a foundling in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and brought her home."

Hannah's smile looked bittersweet. "Seth didn't like me telling him how raise his daughter, eventually ran out of choices and took my suggestions." She shook off the reminiscence like a dog in the rain. "Now, he dotes on the girl, as much as she allows him, to the point of wrapping her in a cocoon. Pity the poor boys that come around when Phoebe starts courting. Seth will probably stand guard in the front room with his squirrel rifle across his chest."

"I didn't know Seth ever went hunting." Julia lifted one eyebrow.

"He doesn't. He inherited that relic of a firearm from his daed. Just don't tell the young men that gun hasn't been fired in twenty years." They enjoyed a good belly laugh while Hannah started pulling side dishes from the refrigerator.

To feel useful, Julia pushed herself up from the table to get plates, glasses and silverware. Sitting around too long stiffened arthritic joints, hastening the day she would need more replacement parts. By the time Hannah carried the platter of sliced ham to the table, in trailed Seth, Simon and Henry. Julia blinked with her son's early appearance. "You're back from your ride already son?" she asked.

Henry's ears reddened while he washed his hands at the sink. "I saw what I set out to see." He slinked to a kitchen chair like a stray barn cat.

Phoebe slipped into the house unseen, joining them just in time for silent prayer. The moment the Millers lifted their bowed heads and began passing bowls of food Henry turned to his cousin. "After we eat, Phoebe, do you want to see my new filly?" Despite the fact he was a grown man at twenty-one, he blushed whenever he addressed females, even family members.

"Sure," she agreed, popping a gherkin into her mouth. "What's wrong with this one?"

"Hardly anything. I picked her up at the Sugarcreek auction for a song. She had a mild limp so other buyers passed her over." He drained half a glass of milk.

Simon set down his fork, dabbing his beard. "You bought a lame horse, son? What are we going to do with her if she's not fit for the buggy or pulling a plow?"

Julia and Hannah exchanged a glance. Father and son had been down this country road enough times to wear grooves in the pavement.

"She's not lame, Dad. A slight limp, that's all. And she's much improved since I started applying liniment and wrapping the leg." Henry built a sandwich with home-baked rye bread and several slices of ham; then lathered on the hot pepper relish.

Simon grunted, picking up his coffee cup. "Could she at least pull a pony cart to earn her keep?"

"Eventually. Maybe." Henry bit into the stack, rendering further speech impossible.

"Look at it this way—she is a filly and could turn into a fine brood mare some day." Seth interjected his two cents worth into the conversation.

Simon's brows beetled above the bridge of his nose, focusing on his brother. "We don't have room for the horses we own now. They're already two to a stall and my horse pasture gets grazed down to nubs by July. I'll have to start feeding oats and Timothy year round."

"Maybe I'll lease you some of our pastureland. Hannah's flock is down this year. If you're willing to pay me a fair price, that is." Seth bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

"I think it's a fine thing you're doing, nephew," said Hannah, slicing pies at the counter. "Rescuing balky horses from the auction kill-pen and then retraining them for useful lives is a noble calling."

Julia watched Hannah aim her dazzling smile at Simon. After all these years, she still knew how to get her brother-in-law's goat.

"Jah, Hannah," said Simon. "But the idea was to resell the horses at a profit—make a little income while he's doing his good deed."

"I have sold some," interjected Henry, after swallowing another mouthful of sandwich. "Just last month I sold that three-year-old Morgan to the bishop's son. He couldn't believe the change that had come over that horse with two years of training."

Simon rolled his eyes, pushing away his plate. "Two years for a Morgan to let someone put a saddle on his back?" His muttering was barely audible, knowing he was out-numbered by animal-lovers in his brother's home. "Fine, nursemaid your new filly. Just don't turn my barn into the Miller Horse Sanctuary."

Phoebe straightened up in her chair. Small and shy, it was easy to forget she was in the room. "That has a nice ring to it." Phoebe flashed Henry a grin. "Would you like me to make you a sign to put down by the road? I could paint a stallion and mare, with a young filly in the foreground. I'm pretty good drawing horses." She winked one warm cocoa-brown eye at him.

Some of Julia's tea slipped down her windpipe; then flew right out her nose as she gagged and coughed. The rest of the family laughed more moderately, except for her beloved husband, Simon. He simply stared at his favorite niece like she'd grown a tail.

"Danki for your generous offer, "he said in his most patient voice. "But that won't be necessary. Everyone in the county already knows the location of Henry's save-a-horse society." Simon reached for the largest slice of pie among the dessert plates.

Julia wiped her face and then blew her nose, trying to compose herself. She needed to better control her drinking habits because she had a feeling it would be one long, hot summer.

Excerpt from An Amish Family Reunion by Mary Ellis
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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