Time for another Holiday Reads promo with award-winning author Mary Ellis, whose 2015 Christmas release, Sarah’s Christmas Miracle, from the anthology Amish Christmas Memories, written with Jerry Eicher and Murray Pura, is now available at Amazon. Three delightful Christmas Amish novellas combined into one ebook.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Amish country in Holmes county (Ohio)and Shipshewana (Indiana) several times. The simplicity and charm of the countryside dotted with Amish farms has a certain appeal. The excerpt provided below is a bit longer than I’d usually post, but the flavor of the story is so compelling, I thought I’d let it stand in its entirety. Enjoy!
Sarah’s Christmas Miracle
by Mary Ellis
As Christmas approaches, Sarah Beachy searches for her brother who left the Order years ago. Sarah’s mother has been missing her son for so long…will she also lose her daughter to the English? Or will this family receive an unexpected miracle?
Excerpt of Sarah’s Christmas Miracle
by Mary Ellis
One Day before Thanksgiving
Why couldn’t things remain the same forever?
As the sun rose over the eastern hills, the rolling, deep purple meadows glistened from a thousand sparkling prisms as sunlight refracted in the morning dew. Dawn was a magical time of day. Sarah shuffled her feet through the shredded cornstalks as though she had all the time in the world. Fiery red and gold leaves swirled along the lane that separated their land from the neighbor’s property. On her left stood the tidy, white house and outbuildings of home—farmland that had been in her family for seven generations. The fenced pastures and rolling croplands stretched for as far as the eye could see. On her right, white pickets enclosed the landscaped four acres of her employer, Country Pleasures—a charming bed-and-breakfast on the county road. Two different worlds, but both dear to her heart.
Englischers came from all over Ohio to sleep on goose down pillows, under handmade Amish quilts, in antique four- poster walnut beds. They ate hearty gourmet breakfasts in the luxurious dining room before setting out to visit Amish country. The community of Plain folk had drawn tourists for decades to the quilt shops, farmers’ markets and furniture galleries of Holmes, Wayne and Tuscarawas counties. Except for the danger from increased traffic, the Amish had adjusted to their newfound popularity while holding steadfast to their Christian faith and simple lifestyle.
Sarah Beachy enjoyed the best of both worlds. The farm where she lived with her parents and five siblings stood within walking distance of the inn where she prepared breakfast six days a week, washed linens, and tidied rooms in between guests. Englischers weren’t the only ones curious. Sarah loved hearing their strange accents, seeing their colorful combinations of clothes, and listening to breakfast chitchat about the “bargains” they’d found at the flea market. And since she usually finished work by eleven, the rest of her day stretched before her like a box of wrapped chocolate—each hour to be opened and savored at leisure.
“Sarah Beachy!” A voice broke through her trance. “Stop dawdling! I need you today!” Mrs. Pratt stood with both hands planted on her hips, yelling from the upstairs porch.
Although still too far away to judge facial expressions, Sarah knew the innkeeper wasn’t really angry. A kinder, gentler soul would be impossible to find. But she picked up her skirt regardless and ran the rest of the way—an occurrence since she’d reached the dignified age of nineteen.
“You’re not strolling woodland paths hand-in-hand with Adam. I need you to start the omelet while I fix fruit and oatmeal for my vegetarians and country fried steak for the men. I think the youngsters would enjoy Mickey Mouse cut- out pancakes.” Mrs. Pratt’s voice trailed off as she reentered the hallway, allowing the screen door to slam behind her.
Sarah smirked as she climbed the steps to the back door. Strolling with Adam…she might do a little of that tomorrow after the big turkey dinner. The entire Troyer family had been invited to share the meal with the Beachys. There were so many Troyers, they would need tables set up in the living room and enclosed porch, besides the ten-footer in the kitchen. But since her mamm planned to roast one turkey today and another tomorrow, there would be no shortage of food. Sarah hurried to wash up and put on her apron. When she entered the high-ceilinged kitchen, Mrs. Pratt held an upraised wooden spoon. “Are you going to smack me with that?” Sarah asked, trying not to grin.
Mrs. Pratt looked confused. “No, no. I’m trying to get down another saucepot from the hook. Why Roy thought I needed this silly ceiling rack for pots and pans is a mystery to me. And I have no idea where my step stool is.” At five-foot-nothing, Lee Ann Pratt needed her stool on a regular basis.
At five-foot-ten, Sarah almost never did. “Let me help.” She arched up on tiptoes and easily caught the handle of the sought-after pot.
“Thank you, dear girl. I’m so glad I hired someone tall.” Mrs. Pratt bustled to the counter where cinnamon rolls were cooling on a wire rack. “Ready for the glaze,” she announced, poking at one roll. “Please start an omelet for eight and get out some orange juice. We’ll have to make do with frozen, no time to squeeze. But I’ve already sliced fresh pears and a pineapple and for fruit cups.” Back and forth the woman buzzed around the room, like a hummingbird under the influence of fermented nectar. Sarah performed her duties with far less stress but no less efficiency. After all, keeping the inn filled to capacity with paying guests wasn’t her personal worry.
“Everybody’s in an all-fired-up hurry today,” Lee Ann said, dropping her voice to a whisper. The first of the overnight guests had appeared and were headed toward the coffee service on the credenza. “Folks want to pick up pumpkin pies and specialty gifts in town, or view the last of the autumn leaves before the holiday rush starts.”
“Rush to where?” Sarah asked, dicing peppers and tomato for the omelet.
Lee Ann looked at her strangely. “Everywhere…people are in a big hurry until Christmas, trying to finish their shopping, baking and house decorating. It never seems like there’ll be enough time, but somehow there always is.” Like a dervish, Mrs. Pratt grabbed her tray of fruit cups and marched into the dining room, as though the bed-n-breakfast guests teetered on the edge of collapse from hunger.
Sarah smiled as the door swung shut. She loved working in the warm comfortable inn especially since the frenetic innkeeper treated her like a daughter. From early spring through late fall when the B&B operated at full capacity, her younger sister worked here too. But as the holidays drew near and throughout winter, the two of them ran the place like a well-oiled clock.
Hopefully, the Englischers won’t be rushing around so much they miss the point of the season, she thought. After pushing bread down in the eight-slice toaster, Sarah added cheese to the omelet, turned the ham slices in the skillet, and stirred blueberries into the oatmeal.
“We need more coffee, dear,” called Lee Ann from the pass-through window. “And check the Mickey Mouse pancakes. Please don’t let them burn.” Deep furrows creased her forehead, while her complexion turned bright pink from exertion.
“No problem.” Sarah flipped the pancakes onto a platter and then peeked into the dining room while decorating the mice with licorice whips and pink frosting. Ten Englischers— ranging in age from six to seventy—milled around the table, talking, laughing, and sipping coffee from tiny china cups. Their clothes varied from blue jeans with missing knees to long print skirts, silky blouses, and thigh-high leather boots. Sarah loved being Amish, seldom coveting fancy clothes, but the odd combinations women put together into outfits interested her. How long did it take them to make up their minds each morning?
“They’re ready for us to serve.” The innkeeper breezed into the kitchen with an empty carafe in hand, looking frazzled. Yet the two women handled the culinary chaos of food allergies, restrictive diets, and peculiar taste buds with their usual precision. Soon, amid lavish praise and good-bye hugs, the guests departed to find their way down backcountry roads, leaving Lee Ann and Sarah with five rooms in disarray, a table full of dirty dishes, and a kitchen turned upside down.
But first, they sat down to their own breakfast— something the proprietress had insisted upon since the day Sarah had been hired. They filled plates from whatever had been leftover and carried them to the nook overlooking the front garden. While they listened to birds bickering at the feeder or the clop-clop-clopping of horses and buggies on the road below, they shared a meal before readying the inn for the next onslaught of guests.
“Any reservations today?” Sarah asked, biting into a warm cinnamon bun.
“Oh, no, thank goodness. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, people will sleep in their own beds tonight, or in the home of whomever is cooking the big bird.” She sampled Sarah’s eggs and smiled. “It’ll just be Roy and myself for dinner. You’ll be able to sleep in since I won’t need you here. But I imagine your mother will have plenty for you to do.”
“Hmmm, jah, she will.” Sarah sipped coffee and watched two Cardinals squabbling at the suet feeder. “Why will it just be you and your husband? What about your children— aren’t they coming to celebrate the holiday?” She sat down her fork. Two people alone on Thanksgiving didn’t seem right.
“No,” Lee Ann said, dragging out the short word. “My daughter lives in Baton Rouge with her three kids—too far to drive and too expensive to fly home. I’m hoping to see them at Christmas, but even that’s doubtful. Her husband’s afraid to take a few days off with so many coworkers getting laid off at his plant. He plans to wait and see how things look the week before.” She quickly ate another forkful of omelet. “Umm, this does taste better with melted Swiss instead of mild cheddar. Good idea!”
Lee Ann’s brave effort hadn’t fooled Sarah as she refilled both coffee cups. “What about your son? Doesn’t he live in Virginia? That’s not as far away, is it?” She couldn’t remember exactly where Louisiana was. Her teacher had once shown the class a map of the United States, but it’d been long ago.
“Yes, he lives in northern Virginia, part of the suburban sprawl around Washington, D.C. He has the opposite problem from my son-in-law. His company is so busy people must come to work seven days a week. Can you imagine, even going to the office on the Sabbath? My son has so little time, he’ll never find the right person to marry unless some gal stalks him to and from Starbucks.”
Both women shook their heads.
“He’ll get Thanksgiving off but must be back in the office on Friday. So he can’t come home either. I guess I should’ve had more kids than two. Maybe if I had six like your mom I’d have a better chance for company during the holidays.” She rose to her feet. “Eat more eggs,” she ordered. “That’s not enough to save, and Roy already ate cereal.”
“No more for me, danki,” said Sarah.
Lee Ann ignored her refusal and promptly scraped the remaining omelet onto Sarah’s plate. “Nonsense, you’re too thin. If we don’t add some meat to your bones, you’ll blow away when the wind howls across the fields this winter.”
Sarah pushed the food around her plate with a troubled heart. Mrs. Pratt was acting bravely, but Sarah knew loneliness had arrived a day early. Without guests tonight, she and Mr. Pratt would have too much time on their hands. “Will you cook a whole turkey for just two people?” she asked.
“A turkey? No, child, I bought the biggest chicken in the grocery store. I’ll stuff her with sage dressing and roast her in the oven. Then we’ll pretend she gobbled while walking the earth, instead of clucking.” She laughed while carrying her dishes to the sink.
Sarah ate another bite; then scraped the rest into the disposal. “Isn’t there an English law that you must eat turkey tomorrow? Even if there isn’t, I want you to join us for dinner. Believe me, we’ll have more food than we’ll know what to do with.”
Her boss patted her arm and then wiped down the stove and countertops. “That’s very nice of you, but your mother doesn’t need any more people in her house. If Adam brings the entire Troyer clan, you’ll end up sitting on steps and windowsills the way it is.” She reached for a large serving tray.
Sarah blocked Mrs. Pratt’s path to the dining room. “Please, I want you to join us. It would mean a lot to me if you came.”
For a moment, the sweet-faced woman stared at her. “All right, Sarah, thank you. But make sure you warn your family— my husband always makes a pig of himself with the candied yams. Better yet, I’ll bring the yams so I’m certain they’ll be enough.” She stepped around Sarah and began stacking the dirty cups and plates.
Sarah looked through the pass-window and noticed two things different about Mrs. Pratt: Her left dimple had deepened, and she was singing along to the radio. Other than Sunday mornings in the church choir, the innkeeper hadn’t sung since the Cleveland basketball team had made the play-offs.
While Sarah stripped beds and ran the vacuum sweeper, thoughts of Mrs. Pratt ran through her head. How could her children even consider not coming home for Christmas? Other than attending church, how else would people celebrate the Lord’s birth if not by spending time with family? Some folks’ loved ones might have already passed on, or maybe they were never blessed with siblings or children, but how could a woman not see her grandchildren on Christmas morning?
Christmas Eve was the holiest time of the year. Everything seemed to look prettier, smell sweeter, and taste more delicious on that special night. Even the stars shone brighter in the night sky. Although Plain folk didn’t decorate trees or their homes like Englischers, they enjoyed their own traditions. Since she’d been a little girl, her daed would build up the fire in the woodstove after supper and they would gather around to sing carols and eat Christmas cookies with tall glasses of milk. Later, he would read the story of Jesus’ birth from his well-worn Bible. Excitement filled everyone’s hearts when they finally crept upstairs to bed.
That afternoon when she finished work, Sarah hugged Mrs. Pratt tightly, exacting a promise to come for dinner the next day. Joy from doing a good deed buoyed her spirits as she walked the back lane home. However, her pleasure lasted less than halfway. She remembered only five of the six Beachy kinner would be at her mother’s Thanksgiving table tomorrow. How quickly her eldest brother had slipped from her mind, like a casual schoolmate who’d moved to another county after graduation.
Caleb, quiet and sometimes sullen, spirited and temperamental, had left home five years ago and hadn’t been back since. He’d been nineteen, Sarah’s present age, when he’d joined a construction crew headed for Cleveland. Caleb had grown rebellious during his Rumschpringe—arguing with daed, neglecting chores, and forgetting his Amish friends in favor of Englischers he’d met at work. Her father had assumed he would return when his work on the housing renewal project was finished. Mamm had assumed he’d come back once big city excitement lost its appeal and he grew lonesome for his family.
Both had been wrong.
With tomorrow’s big dinner and Christmas fast approaching, would Caleb’s absence even be noticed in a house bulging with people? Or like Isaac’s prodigal son, will the absent child leave a void that those who had stayed behind could never fill?
Want to read more of this story? The book is available on Amazon
About the Author
Mary Ellis has written twelve award-winning novels set in the Amish community and several historical romances. Her latest, Midnight on the Mississippi, first of a new mystery series, Secrets of the South, is set in New Orleans. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate, a job with amazingly sweet fringe benefits. Mary enjoys traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming, and lives in Ohio with her husband, dog and cat. She can be found on the web at: www.maryellis.net or