Mary Ellis is my Writer of the Day. She’s a fellow Ohio writer and is best known for her Amish fiction, but I know she loves historical fiction as well. Her latest book is A Plain Man.
Mary Ellis has written twelve bestselling novels set in the Amish community, along with two romantic suspense set in Louisiana. She is currently working on several romances set during the Civil War. The Quaker and the Rebel is book one of the series. Mary has a free short story available on Amazon-Romance On The River. The link for that is: http://buff.ly/1k10nUH Her latest book is A Plain Man set in Wayne County–that’s where I’m from!
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter one of THE PLAIN MAN.
A PLAIN MAN–CHAPTER ONE
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
March, Fredericksburg, Ohio
Caleb Beachy pulled the wagon up to the door; then carried two buckets brimming with sap into the barn. Careful not to spill the sticky liquid, he struggled up the stepladder and dumped one and then the other into the sap evaporator.
“How many does that make, Cal?” Pushing up the brim of his hat, James Weaver peered up from his crouched position in front of the woodburner.
“These are seventy-seven and seventy-eight for today, one-forty-two including yesterday’s for the weekend. But who’s counting?” Caleb winked to let his friend know he was teasing. Then he returned to the wagon for the rest of the sap—his eighth load of the day and by no means his last. Other friends and neighbors were collecting buckets from Weaver maple trees spread over two hundred acres of wooded hills. The trees had been planted by James’ grossdawdi many years ago. The other workers would combine half-buckets together and set them in rows at the collection point on the trail. Caleb and his daed each drove a team of Belgian draft horses to the Weaver sugarhouse, a veritable beehive of activity every January, February and March.
Maple syrup, along with sugar candy in a variety of shapes, was the cash crop for the Weaver family. Plenty of people preferred real maple syrup on their pancakes and waffles instead of the less expensive cane syrup. And judging by the joyous expression on his face, James would still be producing syrup when he was a grossdawdi.
As for Caleb, he couldn’t wait to take a hot shower and wash away any remaining amber goop. “How many trees did you tap this year?” he asked good-naturedly. As much as he disliked the work, he liked James. And friends within the district were few in number since he moved back from Cleveland.
“Over two-thousand.” James straightened to his full height of barely five and a half feet. “That’s a record for us.” Tugging off his gloves, he drained his water bottle in a few swallows. “If prices stay as high as last year’s, we should have plenty to pay taxes and fatten the medical expense fund.” His bright pink cheeks and curly red hair gave him a boyish appearance. James couldn’t wait to find a wife so he could grow a beard, insisting he would then look his age of twenty-five.
“Well, I plan to stay until your last tree runs dry.” Cal offered his most authentic smile. “Without a job, working here for free was the best offer I got.” They both chuckled.
“Don’t forget we give you lunch. Plus you’ll take home a year supply of syrup.” James followed Caleb out to the wagon instead of feeding more wood into the evaporator. “Say, are you going to the big pancake breakfast in Shreve in two weeks? They hold it on both Saturday and Sunday, so it won’t interfere with preaching services.”
Caleb fastened the top button on his coat before the wind cut him in half. “I hadn’t planned on it. My mamm fixes pancakes all the time. Why would I pay money for them? Besides, it’ll be nothing but a bunch of English tourists there.” He lifted two buckets from the wagon, spilling some on his leather boots.
“Nope, lots of Amish folk attend the annual event, especially if it’s a nice day.” James stepped closer to whisper conspiratorially. “Plenty of Plain women will be there too.”
Caleb almost swallowed his tongue trying not to laugh. From his inflection, it sounded like James considered females as rare as gold or silver. “Gosh, I’m not sure I’ve seen one of them before.” He strode toward the barn, trying to keep his buckets evenly weighted.
James followed at his heels and took no offense from Caleb’s teasing. “Will you get serious? Here we are—almost a quarter of a century old and still no wives. If we don’t get moving all the young, pretty ones will be snatched up.”
Caleb climbed the stepladder, thinking his friend might climb up behind him. “What will that leave us—bald-headed grannies in their seventies? At least they should be great cooks by that age.” He leaned back from the heat while emptying his sap into the evaporator.
James peered up from ground level. “Maybe Emma Wengard will come or Dot Raber. Then we could—”
“Are you allowing this fire to go out?” Ben Weaver appeared in the doorway of the sugarhouse, abruptly curtailing his son’s romantic plans. Although his father sounded stern, his blue eyes twinkled with amusement.
“Nein, I’m just discussing something with our best employee.” James sprinted to the wagon for an armload of split firewood.
“Employee implies a person gets a paycheck. I’ve only got ham sandwiches with hot coffee for you boys.” Ben set down a cloth-covered basket and thermos; then returned to his own tasks. No idle hands during sugar season.
James washed his hands in a bucket of soapy water. “At least think about going to the breakfast. You need to get off the farm more. Aren’t you bored since coming back from the city?”
Caleb rolled up his sleeves, picked up the bar of soap, and scrubbed off the dried-on sap. Seldom did anyone bring up his five-year venture into the English world. Most Amish people preferred to forget the life he led since leaving home in a fit of rage. “Bored? Nah, I’m not bored. I have a roof over my head without a rent payment to worry about. I eat three square meals a day from the second best cook in Wayne County. I have clothes on my back and not one, but two hats to my name.” Caleb pulled on his suspenders. “And I get to barrel down the road at eight miles an hour as long as it’s not snowing or raining too hard.”
James wasn’t sure how to take the sarcasm. “Are you thinking about moving back to the city?”
Cal met James’ eye. “Absolutely not. The English world isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. When my car broke down, I couldn’t afford to repair the junk-heap. After I could finally afford to buy a truck, it got towed because I parked in the wrong spot. By the time I figured out where they towed it, the impound fees and fines were more than the truck was worth. Without a vehicle I couldn’t get to work on time, so I got fired.”
James seemed to sort the details in his mind. “Wasn’t there public transportation or a coworker to give you a lift?”
“Even if I caught a ride to the union hall, I usually sat around twiddling my thumbs. Construction was slow, and I’m not just talking about winter. Without a paycheck a man doesn’t eat. I don’t know if you ever tried it, but going hungry is no fun.”
James dried his hands and dug their lunch from the basket. “There must have been something you liked up north. You stayed away for five years.” He handed Caleb two sandwiches.
Caleb slouched down against a post. “Plenty at first when I had wheels and a good job. But money management didn’t turn out to be my strong suit.”
His friend’s confusion only seemed to deepen.
Caleb didn’t know how much to reveal about his past. Could he admit he hung out in bars until closing time and bought people drinks he’d never seen before? Should he talk about sleeping with women who were little more than acquaintances? How about the fact he attended church only once during his entire time in Cleveland. Unless he counted church basements that operated as free soup kitchens. No, none of that would help him reconnect with his few friends in the district.
“Let’s just say it’s harder to be successful in the English world. And if a man’s not successful, he’s not going to be happy.” Cal lifted the top slice of homemade bread to inspect the sandwich. It was almost an inch of honey-smoked ham and Swiss cheese with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, purple onions and bread-and-butter pickles. “Do you know how much a sandwich like this would cost in the city?”
Shaking his head, James took another bite of lunch.
“Eight or nine dollars. All I have to do here is put in ten hours of hard labor.”
The two laughed in camaraderie before returning to their assigned tasks—James tending the evaporator and stoking the fire; Caleb ferrying endless buckets of sap to the sugarhouse. But when Caleb climbed into his buggy to head home that night, he felt tired but content. He had helped a neighbor and filled his hours with muscle-building work, instead of spirit-draining mental activity. Each day the sun grew warmer and the hours of daylight longer. Cal had even spotted a robin that morning—a sure sign that spring was around the corner.
Spring would definitely help his disposition. He needed to get out of the house. A man could only sweep the barn or restack hay bales so many times. Once the land dried out, they could start plowing and planting. Outdoors with the sun on his face and the wind in his hair, he felt free.
And less like a prisoner.
His homecoming on Christmas Eve had been sweeter than he imagined it would be, surely better than any prodigal son deserved. His mother had fawned over him for days—cooking his favorite foods and baking extra sweets. His three sisters welcomed him with unabashed affection. Sarah made no mention of his empty refrigerator in a deplorable apartment. She greeted him with a smile each morning, always ready to smooth his transition from English back to Plain.
Caleb didn’t mind owning few clothes. Or the fact his mamm cut his hair to look like every other Amish man in town. He didn’t even mind his slow mode of transportation. But must his father watch his every move like a prowling dog near the henhouse? Couldn’t he give him the benefit of the doubt? Why did Eli Beachy treat him like a shirttail relative dropping by on his way to a family reunion?
He had come home, but his father refused to believe it.
The book sounds terrific. Thanks, Mary, for being my writer of the day.