Why can’t things remain the same?
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 Beachy shuffl ed her feet through 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. Th e fenced pastures and rolling croplands stretched as far as the eye could see. On her right was her employer’s business, Country Pleasures --- a charming bed-and-breakfast on the county road. Two diff erent 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 beds. Th ey ate hearty gourmet breakfasts in the luxurious dining room before setting out to visit Amish country. Th e 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 enjoyed the best of both worlds. The farm where she lived with her parents and two sisters was within walking distance of the inn where she prepared breakfast, washed linens, and tidied rooms in between guests six days a week. Englischers weren’t the only ones who were curious. Sarah loved hearing their strange accents, seeing their colorful combinations of clothes, and listening to breakfast chitchat about the bargains they had found at the flea market. And, because 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, she 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 unusual occurrence now that she had reached the dignified age of nineteen.
“You’re not strolling woodland paths hand in hand with Adam. I need you to start an omelet while I fix fruit and oatmeal for the vegetarians and country fried steak for the men. I think the youngsters would enjoy Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes.” Mrs. Pratt’s voice trailed off as she reentered the hallway, allowing the screen door to slam behind her.
Sarah smiled as she climbed the steps to the back door. Strolling with Adam…She thought 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. Besides filling every chair around the ten-foot table in the kitchen, they would need to set up additional tables in the living room and enclosed porch. But as 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 turned from the sink, Mrs. Pratt held an upraised wooden spoon. “Are you going to smack me with that?” Sarah asked, trying not to grin.
“What?” Mrs. Pratt looked confused. “No, no. I’m trying to get a saucepan 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 stood on tiptoes and easily caught the handle of the soughtafter 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 since there’s no time to squeeze, but I’ve already sliced fresh pears and a pineapple for fruit cups.”
Back and forth the women buzzed around the room, like hummingbirds 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 is in such a hurry today,” Mrs. Pratt 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 in the dining room. “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 tomatoes for the omelet.
“Everywhere. People will be in a big hurry until Christmas, trying to finish their shopping, baking, and 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 her bed-and-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 because the frenetic innkeeper treated her like a daughter. From early spring through late fall, when the B and B operated at full capacity, her younger sister Rebekah worked there too. But as the holidays drew near and throughout winter, just Sarah and Mrs. Pratt ran the place like a well-oiled clock.
I hope the Englischers won’t be rushing around so much that they miss the point of the season, Sarah thought. After putting bread in the eight-slice toaster, she added cheese to the omelet, turned the ham slices in the skillet, and stirred blueberries into the oatmeal.
“We need more coffee, dear,” called Mrs. Pratt from the passthrough window. “And check the pancakes. Please don’t let them burn.”
“No problem.” Sarah flipped the pancakes onto a platter and then peeked into the dining room before decorating the Mickey Mouse faces 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 high heels. Sarah loved being Amish, seldom coveting fancy clothes, but the odd combinations English women put together into outfits interested her.
How long does 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. Moments later 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 goodbye hugs, the guests departed to find their way down country roads, leaving Mrs. Pratt 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 their plates from the serving platters on the table and then 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.
“No, thank goodness. Because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, people will sleep in their own beds tonight or in the home of whoever is cooking the big bird.” Mrs. Pratt took a bite of eggs and smiled. “It’ll just be Roy and me for dinner. You’ll be able to sleep in since I won’t need you here, though I imagine your mother will have plenty for you to do.”
“Hmm, jah, she will.” Sarah sipped her 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 set down her fork. Two people alone on Thanksgiving didn’t seem right.
“No,” Mrs. Pratt 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 even a few days away 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. “Mmm, this does taste better with melted Swiss instead of cheddar. Good idea!”
Mrs. Pratt’s brave effort hadn’t fooled Sarah. Refilling both coffee cups, she said, “What about your son? Doesn’t he live in Virginia? That’s not as far away, is it?”
“He lives in northern Virginia, part of the suburban sprawl around Washington, DC. He has the opposite problem from my son-in-law. His company is so busy that people work seven days a week. Can you imagine going to the office even on the Sabbath? My son has so little time to himself that 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 have Thanksgiving off, but he has to be back in the office on Friday. So he can’t come home, either. I guess I should have had more than two kids. Maybe if I had four 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.”
Mrs. Pratt ignored her refusal and promptly scraped the rest of the 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 cheerfully, 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 tomorrow 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 she stood, took her own plate to the sink, and 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 before wiping 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 the steps and windowsills as 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. Then she said, “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 myself so I will be certain there will be enough.” She stepped around Sarah and began stacking cups and plates.
Sarah 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.
Later, while Sarah stripped beds and ran the vacuum sweeper, thoughts of Mrs. Pratt ran through her head. How can her childreneven 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 the way Englischers did, they enjoyed their own traditions. Since Sarah was 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.
Gratitude for God’s gift filled everyone’s hearts when they finally crept upstairs to bed. After she finished with her 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 that only three of the four Beachy kinner would be at her mother’s Thanksgiving table tomorrow. How quickly her brother had slipped from her mind, like a casual schoolmate who had 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 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 the prodigal son, would the absent child leave a void that those who had stayed behind could never fill?
Excerpted from SARAH'S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE © Copyright 2011 by Mary Ellis. Reprinted with permission by Harvest House Publishers. All rights reserved.