Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps;
Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.
—Amos Bronson Alcott, “The Garden,” Tablets, 1868
April 16, 1970
In the early morning light, I looked out one of my third-floor dormer windows and treasured the springtime rebirth taking place as far as my eyes could see. The orchard was a sea of frilly pink peach blossoms, fifty rolling acres of fruit trees. I wondered how the garden of Eden could have been any more lovely, and I thanked God for the beauty below.
Eager to breathe in the familiar fragrance of the orchard, I raised the window as birdsong beckoned to me. But I also wanted to feel the cool morning dew on my bare feet before doing chores. So, already dressed, I gave my waist-length, light brown hair a good brushing, then twisted and pinned it into a thick bun—not bothering to put on a bandanna.
I slipped down the two flights of stairs in my family’s home, then walked out the side door and across the yard and beyond. Unhurried, I wandered past the blooming peach trees, along the grassy strips that separated their rows. Time seemed to slow to the easy ticking of a heavenly clock. Honestly, I was so thankful not to live like our few English neighbors scattered here and there amongst us. Such a racket came from their big tractors and other farming equipment! Ach, it was bad enough that planes streaked our skies, trucks and cars crowded the highways, and folk in the city of Lancaster rushed helter-skelter.
But here? My heart drank in the peace of this lovely place, the soft blossoms dusting the atmosphere with their sweet peachy scent—like honey. As a young girl, I’d declared that the Lord God himself must surely dwell in our orchard—the most splendid spot on earth.
“If I could, I’d stay here forever,” I whispered, ever so content.
From behind me, I heard swift footsteps and assumed it was my oldest brother coming to check on the swath of newly planted semi-dwarf apple trees down near Harvest Drive. But to my surprise it wasn’t Jonah but Evan, my twin.
“Whatcha doin’ up so early, Ellie?” he asked, stopping to roll up his black pant legs. “You nearly beat the dawn.” He straightened, a whole head taller than me, almost as tall as our older brothers, Jonah and Rudy—both married with growing families and places of their own.
“It’s so fresh and dewy this time of day,” I said. “Ain’t so?”
Evan nodded, a sparkle in his blue eyes the same shade as mine. “No wonder Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden in the cool of the day—and no better place for a Hostetler to be on such a fine Thursday morning.”
“I’m sad for everyone who doesn’t have an orchard to come home to!”
“You remind me of Dawdi Hezekiah, comin’ out here to ramble through the rows.”
“Jah.” I smiled, happy that Dat’s elderly father lived in the small Dawdi Haus addition to our home just as he had for nearly two decades—since well before Mammi passed away three years ago. “Well, he’s the one who planted most of these trees back when. They’re his children, in a way.”
Evan gave me a look that suggested I was ferhoodled. “Do ya realize how many of these trees’ll be gone and new ones planted by the time I’m as old as Dawdi is now? The smaller trees bear fruit only up to twenty-five years, ya know.”
“Well, since Dat’s handin’ these acres over to your care when he retires, it’ll be up to you to see to all that someday.” I didn’t need to remind Evan that being the youngest son was a truly special blessing when it came to taking over the land—and in our case, an orchard, too. A blessing for sure, I thought, envying my brother a little. If I’d been born the younger twin and a boy, I’d have been chosen to run the orchard in the future. But alas, women didn’t have much say in those matters. It had always been that way amongst the People.
We walked for a while, and Evan kept glancing at the sky, now brushed with golden streaks. Something had to be on his mind for him to come out here before breakfast.
At last he said, “I’m plannin’ to go to Jack Herr’s burial service tomorrow afternoon in Carlisle, at the Ashland Cemetery Soldier’s Lot.”
I had known who Jack was—our farm neighbor’s son—but hearing Evan talk like this confirmed what I’d long suspected. He and Jack had become friends. “I’m surprised, I guess . . . ya wanting to go . . . since that would be frowned on, jah?” We both knew that anything related to the military was forbidden.
Evan halted between the rows of new apple trees. “And for that reason, you must keep mum.”
“I won’t say anything, but are ya sure you oughta go?” I’d heard of Jack’s death from Mamm several days earlier, but I hadn’t read his obituary for myself. Too many young men were dying in Vietnam. It was heartbreaking.
Evan frowned and nodded. “Well, Jack was my best English friend, so I wanna be there.” He sighed loudly, walking a bit farther without saying more. Then when he spoke again, it was nearly in a whisper. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.” He glanced toward the road beyond the orchard. “Jack gave up his life for our country—for people like you and me—so I’m gonna pay my respects,” he said flatly.
So many families round Lancaster County had lost sons or brothers, even husbands, to this dreadful war. But none had been Amish. Our father, like all Old Order Amishmen here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, held a strong belief in non-resistance, which meant he didn’t approve of going to war under any circumstances. Dat said it went against the Lord’s ways for the People to choose violence, and this fight wasn’t ours anyway since America wasn’t our true home. We were only passing through. “We’re pilgrims and sojourners whose final destination is heaven,” he liked to say.
“Dat will be displeased if he finds out, though,” Evan added, his expression melted into misery, “so just remember to keep this to yourself.”
I bobbed my head in agreement, then impulsively asked, “But why must ya be friends with outsiders, anyway?”
“Aw, Ellie, just ’cause you don’t have any English friends doesn’t mean I can’t have a few.” He pushed his straw hat down on his corn-yellow hair.
“I don’t understand why ya need fancy friends, though. You used to be gut friends with Solomon Bontrager, remember?”
“I was curious, so I dipped my toe in the outside world even before I turned fifteen. Wanted to know what I was missin’.”
For quite a while now, I’d pondered Evan’s desire to spend time with a handful of English fellows—mostly Jack and his friends. At nineteen, and unlike me, my brother hadn’t started baptismal instruction, deciding instead to stay in Rumschpringe, the season prior to baptism when our youth began to socialize with their friends, sometimes outside the confines of the church. I had no idea why Evan wanted to continue with this stage of his life. Even so, he knew Dat had always advised us to choose our friends wisely, which naturally meant amongst the People. Some teens were known to push the boundaries, though, causing heartache for their parents.
“Take Jack’s younger sister, Cheryl, for instance,” Evan said now. “She’s real nice, and you’d know it, too, if ya ever wanted to give her half a chance. Neighbor that she is.” He paused. “I really like her.”
This surprised me. Evan had shown only a smidgin of interest in the Amish girls in our church community, but he’d never said much about Cheryl Herr either. And though I was sure she was fine for an Englischer, what did she and I have in common except for having older brothers?
“I have my own friends, Evan.”
“Only two that I know of—Leah Bontrager and Cousin Ruthann.”
“Well, I’m not as outgoin’ as you, so I don’t need a bunch of friends.”
Stealing a glance at my grieving brother, I wished I hadn’t pushed myself into the conversation. After all, we’d been talking about Jack’s burial service. “Killed in a hopeless war,” I’d heard some womenfolk murmur. It was such a tragedy. “I’m awful sorry, Evan. I should’ve kept my thoughts to myself.”
He leaned down and picked up a handful of freshly fallen pink blossoms. For a moment, he appeared to be pondering something.
“What’re ya doin’?” I asked him.
He looked at me without saying. Then at last, he smiled. “Hold out your hands.”
I stepped closer, opening my palms, and he placed the few blossoms there like he did when we were little, knowing how much I loved them and everything about the orchard.
“Remember when I’d put them in my hair?” I asked.
“Wasn’t that long ago, really,” he said, eyes soft and gentle.
For fun, I sprinkled a few on my head, glad I hadn’t worn my bandanna yet today.
“Now you’re the pertiest Amish girl in Bird-in-Hand,” Evan said. “I daresay you could have any fella your heart desires.”
I broke into a smile. “Ach, Evan, I only care ’bout one boy.”
“And who would that be?”
Evan chuckled, shaking his head.
“Anyway,” I said wistfully, “the day I marry is the day I leave the orchard behind.”
Evan nodded, a look of empathy on his face.
“Kinda strange that it’ll be the best day and the worst,” I added.
He looked at me. “For your sake, I wish it could be different, Ellie. Maybe we could manage the orchard together . . . if things work out that way.”
And miss out on love and having my own family? I thought, though I was moved by his caring. Truly, I couldn’t have asked for a better brother. If anyone else deserved to inherit the orchard, it was Evan.
“All of this’ll be in your capable hands,” I replied.
“Remember, you can always visit,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes.
He reached for the blossoms in my hair, but I ducked and scooted away. Laughing, he patted his straw hat. “I’ll be seein’ ya at breakfast.” He gestured toward the right, then went on ahead up the walkway of thick grass between the trees.
Already missing the banter, I watched him go as I imagined him running the orchard when Dat retired in a few years. No one loved the orchard and the work involved quite as much as Evan—except, of course, me. Through the years, we’d spent long hours together out here, especially during the springtime and the harvest, talking and laughing as we worked from sunrise to sundown.
I thought then of my best friend, Leah, who lived two farms up from us. I couldn’t imagine losing her like Evan had lost his friend Jack. Goodness, I’d known Leah was meant to be my friend clear back when we met as youngsters. At recess that first day of school, she’d whispered to me that her favorite thing to do was sit on her covered porch while it rained. It was as if lightning had struck, because there was no way she could’ve known one of my favorite things was exactly that, too.
Shaking the remaining blossoms from my hair, I walked back to the house and looked toward our newly painted white barn and the carriage shed nearby. A plump red robin flew across to its nest high in one of the two oak trees Dat planted the day Evan and I were born, and in that moment a frightening thought crossed my mind—something else Leah had told me in a whisper.
On July first there’d be a military draft lottery drawing for nineteen-year-old boys. Even for our Amish fellows, although I was sure most if not all of them had registered as conscientious objectors. I shuddered to think of it. How many more young men would have to die like Jack Herr?
I hurried past our family’s fruit store and up the walkway toward the house, my heart filled with dread.
Excerpt from THE ORCHARD used by permission from Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright © 2022 by Beverly Lewis
For generations, Ellie Hostetler's family has tended their Lancaster County orchard, a tradition her twin brother, Evan, will someday continue. Yet when Evan's draft number is called up in the lottery for the Vietnam War, the family is shocked to learn he has not sought conscientious objector status, despite their Old Order Amish belief in non-resistance. The faraway war that has caused so much turmoil and grief among their Englisher neighbors threatens too close to home.
As Evan departs for boot camp, Ellie confides her disappointment toSol Bontrager, the brother of her best friend and cousin to her new beau, Menno. In contrast to Evan, Sol is a conscientious objector. Despite Ellie's attraction to Menno, she finds herself drawn to Sol's steady presence as they work together in the orchard. Suddenly, it feels as if everything in Ellie's world is shifting, and the plans she held so dear seem increasingly uncertain. Can she and her family find the courage to face a future unlike any they could have imagined?
Amish | Romance [Bethany House Publishers, On Sale: September 6, 2022, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780764237539 / eISBN: 9781493439102]
Beverly Marie Jones (Lewis) was born in the heart of Amish country—Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Not until her own children were well into middle school did Bev seek to publish her work, first in magazines such as Highlights for Children, Dolphin Log, and Guideposts for Kids. Her first book followed in 1993—MOUNTAIN BIKES AND GARBANZO BEANS—presently retitled BIG BAD BEANS (book #22 in the popular Cul-de-Sac Kids series of chapter books—see list of Bev's children's books).
Beverly's first venture into adult fiction is the best-selling trilogy, The Heritage of Lancaster County, including The Shunning, a suspenseful saga of Katie Lapp, a young Amish woman drawn to the modern world by secrets from her past. The book is loosely based on the author's maternal grandmother, Ada Ranck Buchwalter, who left her Old Order Mennonite upbringing to marry a Bible College student. One Amish-country newspaper claimed Beverly's work to be "a primer on Lancaster County folklore" and offers "an insider's view of Amish life."
Asked if she is surprised by the popularity of her work, Lewis says, "The sales response for my work is astonishing, but even more heartwarming are thousands of letters a year pouring in from readers." Fans describe how her books have "touched a nerve, creating a curiosity about the Old Ways of the Amish... a yearning for a simpler life and return to traditional values in the mainstream society, where an impersonal, high-tech lifestyle reigns paramount," she explains. Bev still takes time out of her busy schedule to answer her readers' letters.
Booksellers across the country, and around the world, have spread the word of Bev's tender tales of Plain country life. A clerk in a Virginia bookstore wrote, "Beverly's books have a compelling freshness and spark. You just don't run across writing like that every day. I hope she'll keep writing stories about the Plain people for a long, long time."
A member of the National League of American Pen Women, as well as a Distinguished Alumnus of Evangel University, Lewis has written over 80 books for children, youth, and adults, many of them award-winning. She and her husband, David, make their home in Colorado, where they enjoy hiking, biking, and spending time with their family. They are also avid musicians and fiction "book worms."
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