As Emma stepped into the spacious sewing room her late husband had added onto their house, a sense of nostalgia settled over her. Ivan had passed away thirteen months ago after a massive heart attack. Emma still missed his cheerful smile and easygoing ways, but she was getting on with her life—keeping busy in her garden and flower beds, working on various quilting projects, and of course, spending time with her beloved family. One thing that bothered her, though, was feeling forced to rely on her grown children so much. Mary and her family lived on the property next door, and ever since Ivan's death, they'd been helping Emma with numerous chores, not to mention contributing money toward her financial obligations. But Mary and her husband, Brian, had five children to support, and Emma's oldest daughter, Sarah, who lived in LaGrange, Indiana, had eight children. Emma's sons, Richard and Ethan, had moved their families to Oklahoma two years ago, and they each had two boys and four girls. All of Emma's children had been giving her money, even though none of them could really afford it. Emma had sold only a few quilts lately, so with the hope of earning enough money to be self-sufficient, two weeks ago she'd placed an ad in a couple of local newspapers and put some notices on several bulletin boards in the area, offering to give quilting lessons in her home. So far, she'd only had one response, and that was from a woman who wanted to reserve a spot for her granddaughter. But Emma was hopeful that more reservations would come in.
Pulling her thoughts aside, Emma took a seat at her sewing machine to begin piecing a quilted table runner. Sewing gave her a sense of peace and satisfaction, and as her foot pumped the treadle in a rhythmic motion, she began to hum. While many of the Amish women in the area had begun using battery-operated sewing machines, Emma preferred to sew the old-fashioned way, as her mother and grandmother had done. However, she did have a battery-operated machine as well, which she would let her quilting students use when she was teaching them. She also planned to borrow one of Mary's sewing machines.
Emma had only been sewing a short time when she heard the back door open. "I'm in here!" she called, knowing it was probably Mary.
Sure enough, Mary entered the room. "Brian's off to work at the trailer factory, and the kinner just left for school, so I'm free to help you pull weeds in your garden or flower beds today."
"I appreciate the offer," Emma said, "but I'd planned to get some sewing done today. I also want to line out everything I'll need when my quilt classes begin."
Tiny wrinkles creased Mary's forehead as she took a seat in one of the folding chairs near the table Emma used to cut out material. "Are you sure you want to do this, Mom? What if no one else responds?"
Emma shrugged. "I'm not worried. If the good Lord wants me to supplement my income by giving quilting lessons, then He will send students. I'm trusting, waiting, and hoping, which to me are all connected like strands of thread that form strong stitches."
Mary's lips compressed as she twirled around her finger the ribbon strings attached to her stiff white head covering. "I wish I had your unwavering faith, Mom. You're always so sure about things."
"I just try to put my confidence in the Lord. Remember, Hebrews 11:1 says, `Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."' Emma smiled, feeling more confident as she spoke. "I believe God gave me the idea to teach quilting, and if my choices and desires are in His will, then everything will work out as it should. And if for some reason no one else signs up for this class, then I'll put another ad in the paper."
Mary leaned over, and her fingers traced the edge of the beautiful Double Wedding Ring quilt draped over one of Emmas wooden quilting racks. Emma planned to give it to a friend's daughter who'd be getting married this fall, and it was nearly finished. "You do such fine work, Mom. Thanks to your patient teaching, all the women in our family have learned to quilt, and I'm sure the younger girls will learn from you as well."
Emma started the treadle moving again as she pieced another strip of material to the runner that was nicely taking shape. "It gives me pleasure to teach others, and if teaching quilting classes will add to my income so I won't have to rely on my family for everything, then so much the better."
"Families are supposed to help each other," Mary reminded. "And we don't mind at all, because we love you."
"I love you, too, and I appreciate all the help you've given me since your daed died, but I feel guilty taking money from all of you when you have growing families to raise. I really want to make it on my own if possible."
"If you're determined not to let us help you financially, then I suppose you could consider getting married again. I think Lamar Miller might be attracted to you, and from what I've seen, I believe he'd make a good—"
Emma held up her hand. "Please, dorit even go there. I loved your daed very much, and I'm not the least bit interested in getting married again.
"You may feel that way now, but someday you might feel differently. Lamar's a lonely widower, and I don't think he'll wait forever to find another fraa."
"I'm not asking him to wait. Maybe he'll take an interest in Clara Bontrager or Amanda Herschberger. I think either of them would make Lamar a good wife."
"Aren't you interested in him at all?"
Emma shook her head.
"Well, I'm sure he's attracted to you. Why, it wasn't more than a few weeks after he moved here from Wisconsin to be close to his daughter that he started coming around to see you."
"I know, and I wish he would quit." Emma peered at Mary over the top of her metal-framed glasses, which she wore for reading and close-up work. "It's time for me to make a new start, and I'm excited about teaching the quilting classes. Fact is I can hardly wait to see who God sends my way."
The mournful howl of the neighbor's dog caused Ruby Lee Williams to cringe. The infuriating beagle had been carrying on all morning, and it was grating on her nerves. Of course, everything seemed to irritate her these days: the phone ringing, a knock at the door, long lines at the grocery store, the TV turned up a notch too loud. Even a simple thing like the steady hum of the refrigerator could set her teeth on edge.
Ruby Lee poured herself a cup of coffee, picked up the morning's newspaper, and took a seat at the kitchen table, determined to focus on something other than the dog next door, now alternating its piercing howls with boisterous barks. It was either that or march on over to the neighbors' and demand that they do something with their mutt.
"But that wouldn't be the neighborly thing to do," she murmured. For the past two weeks, the Abbots had attended the church Ruby Lee's husband, Gene, pastored, and she didn't want to say or do anything that might drive them away. It was bad enough that Ruby Lee felt like running away.
Inside their newly purchased home, everything was finally in its place after moving a month ago from the parsonage, which was owned by the church. Both Ruby Lee and Gene were in their late forties, and thinking a new house would be where they would retire, they'd decided that a one-story home would be the most practical. But they'd instantly fallen in love with this older brick house, even though it was a two-story and would mean climbing stairs to their bedroom. Compared to all the homes they'd looked at over the winter months, it was hard to pass up a place that was in such good condition and so reasonably priced. The house was solid, and the freshly painted rooms cheerful—not to mention the hardwood floors that shined like a basketball court. Ruby Lee was thrilled with the large windows throughout the house and the charming window seats that had been built into most of the rooms. With the exception of the kitchen and two bathrooms, she could sit on the seats in any of the rooms and enjoy looking out at different parts of their yard. The front and back yards were neatly manicured, and the lovely flower beds were weed free—at least for the moment. With the exception of the sometimes-noisy neighbors' dog, this house was perfect for her and Gene's needs. Now if everything else in their life would just fall into place as nicely as the moving and unpacking had done, Ruby Lee could finally relax.
This morning Ruby Lee had e-mailed her friend Annette Rogers, who lived in Nashville. She'd intended to unburden her soul but had ended up sending a casual message, asking how Annette and her family were and mentioning the beautiful spring weather they'd been having in northeastern Indiana. Ruby Lee had been there for Annette when she'd gone through breast cancer surgery five years ago, but things were now going well in her friend's life, and Ruby Lee didn't want to burden Annette with her own problems. Besides, she hoped the issues they were facing at church might soon work themselves out.
Maybe I just need a diversion, she thought. Something other than directing the cboir, playing the hymns and choruses every Sunday, and beading up the women's ministries. What I need is something fun to do that's outside of the church.
Ruby Lee turned to the ad section of the newspaper and scanned a few columns, stopping when she came to a small ad offering quilting lessons. Hmm ... I wonder if this might be something I should do. I could make a quilt for one of our elderly shut-ins or maybe a quilted wall hanging for our home. Now that all the boxes are unpacked and I've arranged the rooms, I need something—anything—to take my mind off of the church troubles.
* * *
"Hey, sweet girl," Paul Ramirez said to his nine-month-old daughter, Sophia, as he carried her from the Loving Hands Daycare Center out to his van. "Were you a good little girl today?"
Sophia looked up at him with her big brown eyes and grinned. "Pa-pa-pa."
"That's right, I'm your papa, and I love you very much." Paul smiled. He knew Sophia was pretty young to be talking yet and figured she was probablyjust imitating him because he said Papa to her so often. Then, too, from what he'd read in her baby book, some children started saying a few words at an early age.
Paul opened the back door of the van and secured Sophia in her car seat. Then, handing the little girl her favorite stuffed kitten, he went around to the driver's side. With just a few weeks left until school was out for the summer, Paul was looking forward to the time he'd have off from teaching his second-grade class. He could spend more time with Sophia and more time with his cameras, as well. Perhaps he could combine the two. Maybe when he took Sophia to the park or out for a walk in her stroller, he'd see all kinds of photo opportunities. It would be good not to have to worry about who was watching Sophia during the day when he was teaching, too. It'd be just the two of them spending quality time together.
Paul swallowed around the lump in his throat. If Sopbia's mother were still alive, it would be the three of us enjoying the summer together. Lorinda had been gone six months already. Every day he missed seeing her pretty face and listening to her sweet voice. Yet for Sophias sake, he'd made up his mind to make the best of the situation. Thanks to his faith in God and the support of his family and friends, he'd managed to cope fairly well so far, despite his grief over losing his precious wife. The hardest part was leaving Sophia at the day care center every day. This morning when he'd dropped her off, the minute he'd started walking across the parking lot, she'd begun to cry. By the time they'd reached the building, Sophia was crying so hard, the front of Paul's shirt was wet with her tears, and it was all Paul could do to keep from shedding a few tears of his own. It nearly broke his heart to leave her like that. He wished he could be with her all the time, but that simply wasn't possible.
Paul looked forward to spending this evening with his sister, Maria, and her family. Maria had invited Paul and Sophia to join them for supper, and he was sure that whatever she fixed would be a lot better than anything he could throw together.
By the time Paul pulled into Marias driveway, his stomach had begun to growl. He hadn't eaten much for lunch today and was more than ready for a substantial meal. If not for Marias frequent supper invitations, he would have almost forgotten what a home-cooked meal tasted like.
When he stepped into his sister's cozy home a few minutes later, he was greeted with a tantalizing aroma coming from the kitchen.
"Umm ... Something smells awfully good in here," he said, placing Sophia in the high chair Maria had bought just for the baby to use whenever they came for a meal.
Maria turned from the stove and smiled, her dark eyes revealing the depth of her love. "We're having enchiladas tonight. I made them just for you."
Paul gave her a hug. "I know I've said this before, but you're sure a good cook, Maria. Your enchiladas are the best. All I can say is gracias for inviting Sophia and me here for supper this evening."
"You're more than welcome." Maria patted Sophias curly, darkhead. "It won't be long and she'll be off baby food and enjoying enchiladas, tamales, and some of our other favorite dishes."
Paul gave a nod. "How well I know that. She's growing much too fast."
"That's what kids do,"Maria s husband, Hosea, said, as he strode into the kitchen, followed by three young girls. "Just look at our muchachas." He motioned to Natalie, Rosa, and Lila, ages four, six, and eight. "Seems like just yesterday and we were changin' their pañal."
Lila's face reddened as she dipped her head. "Oh Papa, you shouldn't be talkin' about us wearin' diapers like that, 'cause we don't wear'em no more.
"That's right," Maria agreed. "And can't you see you're embarrassing our girls?"
"Aw, they shouldn't be embarrassed in front of their uncle Paul," Hosea said with a chuckle.
Maria handed him a platter full of enchiladas, and he placed it on the table.
"You know, Paul, you're absolutely right about Maria beiri a good cook. She's always liked spendiri time in the kitchen, so I knew soon after I met her that she'd make a good wife." Hosea winked at Maria, and she playfully swatted his arm.
"Lorinda enjoyed cooking, too." Paul's throat tightened. Watching Hosea and Maria together and thinking how much he missed his wife made him almost break down in tears. Even during a pleasant evening such as this, it was hard not to think about how Lorinda had died after a truck slammed into their car. Paul had only received minor bumps and bruises as a result of the accident, but the passenger's side of the car had taken the full impact, leaving Lorinda with serious internal injuries. She'd died at the hospital a few hours later, leaving Paul to raise their daughter on his own. Fortunately, the baby hadn't been with them that night. Maria had been caring for Sophia so Paul and Lorinda could have an evening out by themselves. They'd eaten a wonderful meal at Das Dutchman in Middlebury and had been planning to do a little shopping on their way home to Elkhart. That never happened.
"Paul, did you hear what I said?" Maria gave his arm a gentle tap.
"Huh? What was that?"
"I asked if you've talked to any of Lorindas family lately."
"Her mama called the other day to see how I'm doing, and said she'd be sending a package for Sophia soon," Paul replied. "Ramona sends a toy or some article of clothing to Sophia on a regular basis. I know it's hard for her and Jacob to be living in California, with us so far away, but they're good about keeping in touch, same as our folks do."
"Yes, but Mom and Dad only live in South Bend, so you get to see them more often," Maria said.
"Are Lorinda's folks still planning a trip here sometime this summer?" Maria asked.
Paul nodded. "As far as I know."
"That'll be nice." Maria smiled. "It's good for Sophia to know both sets of her grandparents."
"What about Lorindas sister? Have you heard anything from her since the funeral?" Hosea asked.
Paul shookhis head. He wished Carmen's name hadn't been brought up. "I doubt that I'll ever hear from her again," he murmured.
"Well, that's just ridiculous! That young woman's confused, and she's carryin' a grudge against you for no reason." Hosea shook his head. "Some people don't know up from down."
Excerpted from The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda E. Brunstetter Copyright © 2012 by Wanda E. Brunstetter . Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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