James Graber inhaled the crisp October air and grinned up at the rising sun: his wedding day! All his life he’d lived in anticipation of something grand, something beyond the immense satisfaction of his carriage making, and finally, in about an hour, Suzanna Lambright would become his wife. As he gazed across the road, where the carriages were entering in a steady stream, the clip-clop! clip-clop! of the horses’ hooves made his heart sing to their ageless rhythm.
ZAN-na! ZAN-na! he heard in that beat. Silly, the things he thought of when he envisioned her pretty face as she gazed at him in that playful way she had. Lord, please help me make her happy, every single day of our lives! he prayed as he continued watching their guests drive down the Lambrights’ lane. His mamm and sister and several other local women had been heading up the cooking and helping prepare for this event the past two weeks, for the nearly four hundred friends and family members who would gather with them for this occasion—some from as far away as Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He was glad to be marrying on a perfect autumn day, because it meant these folks from back East had a chance to celebrate with them: here in Missouri, Old Order Amish married any time during the year, not just in November. And what a backdrop for their day: all the sweet gum and maple trees blazed in their red and orange glory, with a hint of frost to make them sparkle in the sunrise!
“That’s a mighty fine smile you’re wearin’, brother. I hope to see it gracin’ your ugly face every day from here on out!”
James cocked an eyebrow. His younger sister Emma, one of the newehockers in their wedding, smoothed the front of her new blue dress as her snapping brown eyes challenged him to respond. “And what would ya have to make fun of if I were a handsome man, Emma?” he countered with a laugh. “Zanna thinks I’m downright perfect, ya know.”
“Gut thing, too. Old as you’re gettin’, none of the other girls’d have ya.”
“We’ll see what ya say about that when you’re within spittin’ distance of thirty!” James shot back. Then, with a welling-up of love for this sister who kept their household running—as well as anyone could—he slipped his arm around her. “Denki for keepin’ Mamm’s head from spinnin’ off these last couple weeks, gettin’ ready for this wedding,” he murmured. “A lot of the weight falls on your shoulders, takin’ care of her and Dat.”
“They’re our parents, James. They’ve been takin’ care of us all our lives.”
“Of course they have, Emmie, but—” James sighed, focusing on the window of Zanna’s upstairs room, in the tidy white farmhouse across the road. He couldn’t see inside, of course, but he liked to imagine her there . . . probably putting on her new dress and white apron about now, with Treva and Abby, her mother and sister, helping her get ready. “Not my place to ask Mamm and Dat to move into the dawdi haus but I can’t help wonderin’ . . . do ya think it’ll go all right, when Zanna moves in with us?” he asked quietly. “Mamm’s tongue cuts perty sharp, and we all know how Dat’s hearin’ gets worse when he doesn’t want to listen to all her carryin’ on.”
“Zanna’s known ‘em all her life, same as everybody hereabouts. Not like she’s walkin’ in blind.” Emma rested her head on his shoulder, a rare moment of affection from the girl who was usually busy at the stove or the sink or the washer, or looking after their parents while he built custom carriages. “Truth be told, brother, Zanna’s nothin’ but grins and giggles when she talks about ya. Her eyes light up and she’s been a different girl since ya asked for her hand. I’m real happy for the both of ya.”
James smiled. His sister hadn’t been as generous with her praise for other young women he’d courted over the years. Maybe he was making up things to worry about—which wasn’t normally his way—because all in all, his times with Zanna had been the happiest he’d known. He looked forward to a long life with many children to bless them.
Even Sam, Zanna’s older brother and the owner of the Cedar Creek Mercantile, had remarked about what a fine couple they made—and had thanked him for asking to court Zanna rather than keeping his intentions secret, as was the custom. The passing of Leroy Lambright, Sam’s and Zanna’s Dat, last spring seemed an important resason to get Sam’s blessing early on, out of respect for Leroy and the family’s feelings. Sam had said right out that he thought James would be the steadying influence his impetuous youngest sister needed.
Imagine that! Sam Lambright, a stickler for the proper order of things, thought he could fashion Suzanna into a fine wife and mother. James suspected that would take some doing: Zanna wasn’t one who took to being molded into anyone else’s ideal. But what a happy challenge this presented! And what a fine-looking woman she’d grown to be. Truth be told, he secretly admired her tendency to think and speak for herself rather than to say jah and automatically submit to the men in her life.
“I’m thinkin’ that with the next several weekends you’ll spend visitin’ the kin and collectin’ your presents,” his sister continued, “we’ll all have time to adjust to Zanna’s bein’ in the family. Same kind of change every family goes through after a wedding.”
“Jah, but change has never been Dat’s favorite thing. And ever since his stroke—”
“Mamm’s gotten crankier, keepin’ after him. Jah, there’s that,” Emma agreed with a sigh. “But Lord love ‘em, they’re gettin’ by as best they can. I’ll work on ‘em while you and Zanna’re out makin’ your family calls these comin’ weeks. They may as well get used to the fact that their last two kids have lives of their own.”
And what will we do when YOU marry, Emma? James breathed deeply and then exhaled the tightness this thought caused in his belly. The day would come when his sweet, capable sister would cleave to her own husband, just as their older sisters had done . . . which would leave him, as the only son, and Zanna to care for his parents. As well they should.
But this was no time for such concerns: his bride awaited him! Lightly kissing Emma’s temple, James released her. “I’m thinkin’ what with all the hens cacklin’ across the way, I’d best go over and help Sam with the last-minute details.”
“I’m sure they’re all missin’ Leroy about now,” Emma agreed wistfully. “Too bad he couldn’t have lived to see his little girl marryin’ the fella from across the road.”
“We’ll have to do the best we can with who we’ve got, ain’t so?” James smiled, determined that none of these fretting points would dampen his day. “Seeya in a few. Or would ya rather I took Dat over to—”
“Get outta here! Why do ya think I invited our big, burly carpenter cousins to stay with us last night?” Emma shook her white apron at him to send him on his way.
“Jah, you’re right about that. But don’t let it swell your head!”
“If ya dare to poke your face in that kitchen fulla women, ya might see how Mamm’s doin’. Tell her and Abby I’ll be there directly.”
James hurried down his family’s gravel lane, smiling at the pie pumpkins in the garden . . . waving at Zeke and Eva Detweiler and the two buggies of younger Detweilers following them—including the carriage he’d designed to accommodate young Joel’s wheelchair.
It struck him, how many of the parked, tipped-up buggies behind the Lambright barn had come from Graber Custom Carriages . . . how every family in Cedar Creek depended upon his vehicles and repair work. It was a gift, indeed, to live among the friends he served and to be entrusted with getting their families where they needed to go—and today, it seemed every man, woman, and child for miles around was showing up to wish him and Zanna well. Men in their black hats and suits chatted in clusters near the barn while their women entered the house to help with last-minute details of the wedding feast.
His gaze fluttered to that upstairs bedroom window again as he trotted across the county road. As he recalled tossing pebbles against it those first Saturday nights he’d courted her, James grinned like a kid. She’d looked so pretty, smiling down at him before she’d let him into the kitchen . . . had been so tickled that a successful, established fellow she knew so well wanted to win her heart.
Had Zanna come downstairs yet? Did she feel as frisky and excited as a new foal, the way he did? In his black vest, trousers, and high-topped shoes, with a radiant white shirt, James trotted past the Cedar Creek Mercantile building and down the long lane that led toward the Lambright house. In less than an hour, Zanna would be seated with him and their wedding party. She’d be trying not to wiggle during Bishop Gingerich’s long sermon before they got called to stand before this gathering of family and friends—
James paused when a familiar figure stepped out the front door. Ordinarily folks came and went through the kitchen entry, but something about Abby Lambright’s expression announced that she was on no ordinary mission. And she was headed straight for him.
“Gut mornin’ to ya!” he called out, hoping to dispel her gloomy frown as she pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Abby was a maidel, a few years older than he, and in his entire life he’d never known her to raise her voice or lose her temper—even when her willful little sister Zanna had gotten her in trouble while they were all growing up.
“James,” she replied with a stiff nod. Her eyes looked puffy yet her gaze didn’t waver as she stopped a few feet in front of him. “There’s something I’ve gotta tell ya, James, and—well, there’s no perty way to say it.”
Frowning, he stepped closer. “Somebody fall sick? Or get hurt carryin’ all those tables and pews and—”
“I wish it were as simple as that.” Abby nipped her lip, sighing. “Zanna’s nowhere to be found, James. Far as we can tell, she didn’t sleep in her bed last night . . . and we have no idea where she might’ve gone. Or why.”