This is what a Monday morning should look like, Amanda mused. Her kitchen was thrumming with activity as her family finished breakfast—and everyone appeared happily intent on getting where they needed to go next. In the six weeks since she’d married Wyman Brubaker they’d known some rough moments, yet it seemed their eight kids and the four adults had finally figured out a morning routine that worked. Today they’d all been dressed and ready to eat on time, without any squabbling or drama. It was a minor miracle.
“What a wonderful-gut meal,” Wyman said as he rose from his place at the head of the table. “The haystack casserole had all my favorite things in it. Lots of sausage and onions and green peppers.”
“And cheese!” five-year-old Simon piped up. “So much cheese the hash browns were really gooey and really, really gut.”
“What are you three fellows doing this morning?” Wyman asked. He rumpled Simon’s dark hair, looking from Eddie to Jerome. “Did I hear you say we might have baby mules by the end of the day?”
“That’s my best guess,” Jerome replied as he, too, stood up. “Eddie and Simon are going with me to get some feed supplement. Let’s hit the road, boys, so we’ll be back in time. We want to help the mares, if they need us, and I want to start our imprint training so those foals will know us and trust us from the moment they’re born.”
“I’m outta here!” Simon sprang from his chair and shot through the kitchen door, letting it slam behind him.
Eddie, his fifteen-year-old brother, headed toward the jackets and hats that hung on wall pegs. “Well, there’s the speed of light and the speed of sound—and the speed of Simon,” he remarked as he grabbed his youngest brother’s coat along with his own. “At this rate, we’ll be to Cedar Creek and back before those mares can turn twice in their stalls.”
“Enthusiasm is a gut thing,” Jerome replied as he came over to hug Amanda. “Anything you need from the mercantile, Aunt? Maybe a big bag of raisins, for my favorite kind of pie?”
Amanda laughed as her nephew wagged his eyebrows at her. The money from Jerome’s mule business had seen her through some tight times after her first husband had died, leaving her to raise three young daughters. Now that she’d remarried, Jerome was taking to Wyman’s boys with a sense of fun and responsibility that was once again a big help to her. “Bring whatever you think will taste gut,” she replied.
“Raisin-filled cookies,” Wyman hinted wistfully. “And with that luscious thought, I’ll head to the barn. Reece Weaver’s supposed to call me with a progress report on my new grain elevator.”
Amanda felt a rush of goose bumps when Wyman smiled at her. With his dark hair and a thick, silky beard framing his face, he was such a handsome man—and a wonderful provider for her and their children, as well. “Jemima and I plan to get some baking done today, to stay ahead of you fellows with your bottomless stomachs,” she said. “So it can’t hurt to sweet-talk the cooks.”
“I’m going to kiss this cook instead,” Wyman murmured. He quickly brushed her lips with his, and then waved Eddie and Jerome out the door ahead of him. “You ladies have a gut rest of your morning. Oh—and you, too, Pete!” he teased as he playfully clapped his middle son on the back. “See you and Lizzie after school.”
As the three fellows left the kitchen, Amanda joined Pete and Lizzie at the counter, where they were closing the lids of their coolers. “Denki to you both for packing your lunches,” she said as she slung an arm around each of them. “You’ve really smoothed out my morning, doing that.”
“It’s the easiest way to get exactly what we want to eat,” Lizzie pointed out. She elbowed her new brother. “Pete made three ham sandwiches.”
“I sure didn’t want any of your stinky tuna salad,” Pete insisted. “The barn cats will probably follow us to school, yowling for your lunch.” Then he sighed. “Another week. Another five days of Teacher Dorcas.”
Amanda frowned. “You don’t like the teacher here at your new school?”
Pete shrugged. “I don’t think she likes me much. She finds ways to point out that I’m not as far along in math and spelling as the rest of the eighth graders.”
“She’s not really picking on you, Pete,” Lizzie remarked. “She thinks that the boys, in general, are lagging behind the girls.”
“Give Teacher Dorcas a little more time,” Amanda suggested, squeezing his shoulder. “It’s always an adjustment, getting used to a new teacher after you’ve been in a different school for so long.”
As the two thirteen-year-olds donned their winter coats and hats, Amanda noted that they resembled each other enough to be twins, even though Pete was a Brubaker and her Lizzie was a Lambright. “Make it a gut day,” she said as they started out the door, “and we’ll see you this afternoon.”
“Bye, Mamma,” Lizzie replied, while Pete gave her a wave.
As Amanda turned back toward the long kitchen table, she was pleased to see that Vera, Wyman’s eldest, had been putting away the breakfast leftovers while the four-year-old twins, Cora and Dora, had scraped and stacked everyone’s plates. “Well, now that it’s just us girls, the real work can get done!” Amanda teased as she lifted Alice Ann from the wooden high chair.
“I a helper!” the toddler crowed. “Me—Alice Ann!”
Amanda felt a surge of love as the little blonde hugged her. “Jah, and it’s gut to hear you talking, too, punkin,” she murmured. Wyman’s Alice Ann, three years old, had been traumatized when her mother was killed in a hay baling accident, and because she’d only recently begun to speak, every word sounded especially sweet.
“We’re going to work on the laundry,” Vera joined in. At seventeen, she was tall and slender—and she’d become well-versed on running a household after her mother had died. “Alice Ann’s going to help me sort the clothes by colors, and then hand me the clothes pins when we hang everything out to dry.”
“A never-ending job, the laundry,” Amanda remarked as she lowered the toddler to the floor. “And while you start the dough for the bread and pie crusts, Jemima, the twins and I will fetch the morning’s eggs.”
Her mother-in-law from her first marriage nodded as she ran hot dishwater into the sink. “Better you than me. These cold November mornings make my legs ache, so I’m happy to stay inside.”
“Then can we bake cookies, Mamma?” Dora asked eagerly. “Chocolate chip ones?”
“And butterscotch brownies? Please?” Cora chimed in. “We don’t like—”
“Dat’s raisin cookies,” her twin finished the sentence with a grimace.
Amanda laughed, hugging her look-alike daughters. How could she refuse them when they brightened her days—and had already started calling Wyman their dat? They were just at the age to wear their hair twisted into rolls and tucked into a bun . . . growing up so fast. “If you think you can do all the measuring—”
“Jah, we can!” they said together.
“—we’ll make your goodies after we redd up your room and Simon’s,” Amanda replied. “So let’s get out to the hen house. The sooner we finish our work, the sooner we can play.”
As her girls scurried ahead of her to the low-slung building that adjoined the barn, Amanda felt a deep sense of satisfaction. A few weeks ago, her mornings at the Brubaker place had been chaotic and stressful, but when Wyman had decided they would move to her farm in Bloomingdale, everything had fallen into place as though God had intended for them to be here all along. She marveled at how the first light of this fine autumn morning made everything sparkle. Out in the garden, the last of the pumpkins awaited picking, to become the filling for holiday pies. The maple and sweet gum trees glistened with bursts of red, orange, and gold to form a glorious backdrop behind the white gambrel-roofed barn. As the horses and mules in the corral whickered at the twins, Amanda couldn’t help but smile. Her life was so good now . . .
Wyman paused in the unlit barn, watching the wall phone’s red message light blink. Had Reece called while he’d been outside seeing Jerome and the boys off? Or had someone else left a message? What with Jerome running his mule breeding business here, it might be a good idea to get a new message machine that allowed callers to leave their voice mails for specific businesses and family members.
But then, some districts’ bishops spoke out against such an updated message system, saying it allowed for keeping secrets. In a lot of Amish towns, two or three families had shared a phone shanty alongside the road for generations. You’ve gotten used to the phone being in your elevator office, rather than in another fellow’s barn, Wyman realized. This is just one more minor adjustment—like learning a new phone number after having the same one all your life.
Wyman pushed the PLAY button. If the message was for Jerome, he would jot the phone number or the caller’s name on the pad of paper Amanda kept on the wooden bench beneath the phone. “You have one new message,” the voice on the recorder announced.
“Jah, Wyman, this is Reece Weaver and we’ve gotta talk about some more up-front money,” the contractor said in a voice that rang around the barn’s rafters. “Started digging your foundation and we’re gonna have to blast through solid bedrock, which jacks the price waaay up from what I quoted you last week. Got some issues with EPA and OSHA regulations that’ll cost a lot more, too, so that seven hundred thousand we figured on won’t nearly cover building your elevator now. Better gimme a call real quick-like.” Click.
Wyman’s heart thudded. He’d left Reece’s written estimate in the house—not that it would answer any of the questions spinning in his mind. Wouldn’t a commercial contractor know about environmental and safety regulations—and the possibility of hitting bedrock—before he’d written up his estimate? And why on earth had Reece gone into detail about money when anyone in the family might have been listening, instead of waiting for him to call back? As Wyman glanced around the shadowy barn, he was relieved that only the horses and mules had heard the contractor’s message. The seven hundred thousand dollars he’d spoken of—money from the sale of the Brubaker family farm as well as from the Clearwater elevator’s bank account—was all he could spend on a new facility. He’d kept money back to see his family of twelve through the coming year until his Bloomingdale elevator was bringing in some money . . . but Reece’s strident words made it clear that he intended to demand a significant price increase.
Wyman pressed the number pads on the phone, hoping he and Reece could settle this matter immediately rather than playing telephone tag, leaving each other messages. After assuring Amanda that he could support her, her mother-in-law Jemima, and their blended family of eight kids, he did not want any more details about money left on the phone where she might hear them and start to worry. Finally, on the fourth ring, someone picked up.
“Jah, Weaver Construction Company,” a woman answered.
“Wyman Brubaker here, and I need to speak with Reece about—”
“He’s out on a job. I’ll take your message.”
Wyman frowned. More than likely this was Reece’s wife, because the company had been a small, family-owned business since Reece’s dat had started it more than thirty years ago. “He just called me not five minutes ago, asking me to call right back,” Wyman replied. “I’d rather not discuss the details of my elevator with—”
“Oh. You’re that Wyman Brubaker,” the woman interrupted. “I’ll page him and he’ll call you back as soon as he can.” Click.
And what did she mean by snipping and snapping at him that way, as though he were an inconvenience rather than a customer? Wyman’s stomach tightened around his breakfast as he hung up. There was nothing to do but wait for Reece to call back, even as every passing moment allowed him to think of things that didn’t set right about this situation—
The phone rang and he grabbed it. “Jah? This is Wyman.”
“Reece Weaver. So you see where I’m coming from, far as your job costing more?” he demanded. “How about if I stop by, say, around noon? Another hundred thousand should cover the blasting and the—”
“A hundred thousand dollars?” Wyman closed his eyes and curled in around the phone, hoping his voice hadn’t carried outside the barn. It took him a moment to corral his stampeding thoughts. “I don’t understand why you didn’t know—before you started digging—about that bedrock, and why you didn’t call me—before you started digging—about maybe changing the location of the elevator,” he said in a low voice. “That’s a huge difference from the price you quoted in your estimate.”
“Jah, well, the excavation crew I use is only available this week, before they’ve got jobs with other contractors,” Reece replied hastily. “Can’t get them again until the middle of January, see, so I didn’t think you’d want to wait that long.”
The middle of January? Nobody poured concrete then, so his facility would be delayed by months if he waited that long. Wyman drew in a deep breath, trying to compose himself. “It seems to me that bedrock would be the ideal foundation for an elevator anyway,” he said. “It’s not like I need a basement—or even a crawl space—under the silos or the office building.”
“Yeah, but see, the new EPA regulations are making us do a lotta things different these days,” the contractor replied. “Nothing’s as easy as it was when Pop put up your elevator in Clearwater. That was about twenty years ago, after all.”
Wyman blinked. Norbert Weaver’s friendly, reliable service had been the main reason he and his partner, Ray Fisher, had wanted Weaver Construction to build their new facility, but it seemed that some of the family’s values had died with the company’s founder. Wyman heard the hum of equipment in the background. Could it be that Reece was pushing for more money because he had several big projects going on at once? The founder’s son had acted quite accommodating and professional last week when they’d discussed the plans for this new elevator . . . and Wyman realized that because he, too, was feeling pressured he wasn’t handling these details well over the phone.
“Tell you what, Reece,” he said, trying to sound reasonable and relaxed. “I need to discuss this situation with my partner before we proceed. How about if I meet you at the elevator site tomorrow morning—”
“I’ll be outta state on another big job. Won’t be back around Bloomingdale until Friday.”
Wyman caught himself scowling yet again. But he would not be pushed into paying out more money until he’d talked with Ray about this new development. “What time on Friday, then?”
“You really want to wait? My excavation crew’ll most likely be gone by then, or they’ll charge me double time for squeezing your job in over the weekend,” the contractor replied. “You know what they say. Time is money.”
No, time is TIME, and this is MY money we’re talking about. Wyman let out the breath he’d been holding. “Three o’clock this afternoon, then. But don’t come to the house,” he insisted. “Meet me at the elevator site so we can talk about our options.”
“See you then. With at least half of that hundred thousand bucks.” Click.
Wyman sank onto the wooden bench near the phone. How had this opportunity for his future changed so radically? Just a few weeks ago the details of his move to Bloomingdale had effortlessly come together because, he believed, God was directing him to start a new life with his new blended family on Amanda’s farm. He’d sold the Brubaker home place to the Fisher family for less than market value because he and Ray had been best friends since childhood, and so that Ray’s son could move there to expand his dairy operation when he got married.
The transaction with the Fisher family had been seamless, on a handshake. Wyman had felt confident that he could afford a new facility—in addition to the elevator he and Ray had run since they’d been young and single—or he wouldn’t have dreamed of stretching his family’s finances so thin. They had agreed that Weaver Construction would do the work because they wanted to support other Plain businesses in the area.
Had they made a mistake? Maybe they should’ve gotten a bid from another construction company . . . but it was too late for that now. They had already put down more than half the money up front.
Wyman punched in Ray’s phone number, hoping his level-headed Mennonite partner would offer him some advice. Because Ray had already borrowed a large amount to buy the Brubaker place, Wyman had insisted on financing the new elevator with the money from that sale and the Clearwater business account, without expecting Ray to kick in any more. Out of sheer Amish tradition and principle, Wyman refused to get a loan from an English bank to make this deal work—or to feed his family. Generations of Brubaker men had remained staunchly self-sufficient, supporting each other rather than going to outside sources for funding.
The phone clicked in his ear. “Hullo?”
“Jah, Ray. How was your weekend?” Wyman relaxed, knowing he could trust his partner’s feedback, his sense of perspective. “I suppose you and Sally and the boys are gearing up for Trevor’s wedding . . .”
On the other side of the barn wall, Amanda listened as her husband chatted with his partner. She and the twins had been gathering eggs in the adjoining henhouse, and when she’d heard Wyman holler “A hundred thousand dollars?” she’d sent the girls outside to scatter feed. It wasn’t Wyman’s way to raise his voice. His calm demeanor and sensible approach to problems were two of the traits that had attracted her when they’d courted.
“Got a call from Reece Weaver this morning and I don’t know what to make of it,” Wyman was saying into the phone. “He’s telling me he needs another hundred thousand dollars—half of it today—because he ran into bedrock and some other unexpected issues . . . jah, this is on top of the seven hundred thousand on his bid.”
Amanda sucked in her breath at such a large amount of money. Wyman was a careful planner, a solid businessman, and his rising voice said it all: he was upset about this new development. And very concerned about where so much additional money would come from.
“When we were going over the items on his bid, didn’t you think Reece had covered all the angles?” Wyman asked. “I can’t have him coming by the house or leaving any more phone messages about needing money, so I’m meeting him at the elevator site this afternoon . . .”
Ah. So Wyman was protecting her from this situation, was he? Amanda understood that because, like any Amish husband, he believed it was his responsibility to support their family. But she knew firsthand about making their pennies stretch far enough . . . about the fear that she might not be able to pay the propane bill or buy shoes for her three young daughters. She’d been their sole support for four years after her first husband had died, making pottery to sell in area gift shops.
Wyman sold his home place, left everything he’d loved all his life, so you could be happy here in Bloomingdale, Amanda reminded herself. You can’t let him face this crisis alone . . . even if he won’t tell you about it. He may be the head of this family, but you are in charge of keeping everyone fed and together, body and soul. Better get back to work at your wheel!
Amanda stepped away from the wall as the twins bustled into the henhouse with the empty feed bucket. In the cold air, the wisps of their breath framed their precious faces. “Let’s take the eggs to the house, girls. Maybe Vera or Mammi will help you bake your cookies,” she said gently as she stroked their pink cheeks. “Your mamma’s going to start making her dishes again.”