Sometimes the mere hint of a secret can spark an entire series of books—which happened for me when I began my Simple Gifts series! My editor and I knew we wanted to return to Willow Ridge, and we knew we wanted Nora Hooley and her Simple Gifts shop to be the focus of these stories, but it’s the undercurrent of “something fishy” that sets the stage for a major revelation—a major meltdown—that will change Willow Ridge forever. And it begins in A SIMPLE VOW.
This idea came to me when I was talking with my former assistant, Jim, who lived in Jamesport, MO where I do my research. Jim (who died of cancer last year) was English but he grew up with the Amish in Jamesport and they trusted him with information most of us can’t access. He told me about a “secret bank” Amish communities have—which is no secret to the Amish, of course, but only a few know where the money is kept. He didn’t give me a figure, but Jim said that since the Jamesport community began in 1952, a HUGE amount of money has accumulated. This is money that’s collected in church twice yearly as offering, along with large donations from members who prefer to keep their money in this fund rather than in a regular bank. This money is also the basis for the Amish Aid fund shared with folks who have major medical bills, burned-down houses, and other emergencies to pay for. The Amish don’t believe in insurance, so this is the fund they fall back on in tough times, taking care of their own.
“Does anybody ever dip into that fund without telling the bishop?” I asked Jim. “What would happen if a large portion of that money disappeared and nobody found out—until it was too late—that most of it was gone?”
Jim smiled at the way my mind worked. He told me that if that kind of thievery occurred, no one outside the colony would ever know—it would never make the papers, and the police or other investigators would never be called in, because the Amish don’t allow English outsiders to meddle in their church or financial matters.
My devious mind went into high gear. I’m not saying that such a deception has ever occurred in an Amish community . . . but it could, because human nature kicks in for even the most honorable, faithful members of any church. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, even the best of us fall prey to temptation.
So when the Riehl family moves to Willow Ridge, we are immediately caught up in the drama when Edith agrees to care for the adorable six-month-old twins a grief-stricken Will Gingerich begs her to take. We meet her sisters, Loretta and Rosalyn, and we wonder if we can trust handsome Asa Detweiler, who has been accused of fathering those twins under dubious circumstances. The story starts at a wedding, where Ira Hooley is marrying Nora’s daughter, Millie, and it quickly spirals into a quest for the real father of those six-month-old twins—
But you’d better keep an eye on the girls’ father, Cornelius.