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Eight years later
Is Adeline dying?" Mary Hershberger recalled her trip to the Englisch funeral when she was ten. She 'd been to plenty of funerals since then — Amish and Englisch — but she dreaded every single one she attended. The Englisch focused more on the life the person led while on earth. Mary 's people praised Gott 's goodness more than they reflected on the person who had passed. Both ceremonies always left her with a deep sense of sadness that she would hold on to for weeks. She 'd been taught to accept all things as Gott 's will, even death, but she struggled with that part of her faith.
"I don 't know." Daed flicked the reins a couple times, picking up speed in the buggy. "The fellow at the hardware store told me Adeline is having an estate sale. From the conversation, I sensed maybe she is in a bad way financially. So, I will try to find things we can use." He shrugged. "But I will buy things whether or not we need them. We can give to those less fortunate if need be."
Mary hadn 't heard her father speak of Adeline or her deceased husband — Percy — in years. But Percy must have been a very gut man if her father was willing to go twenty miles to purchase things they might not even need just to help Adeline. Thankfully it was May, and the heat of the summer wasn 't upon them yet. During the middle of the summer, they had to stop at least twice for such a long trip. Mary couldn 't recall a trip to Shoals since Percy Collins 's funeral eight years ago.
"Remember to call the woman Ms. Collins. The Englisch find it improper to call an adult by their first name, especially an elderly person."
Mary fought the urge to roll her eyes, a gesture that would surely irritate her father. "I know, Daed."
His eyes wrinkled in the corners as he grinned. "Just a reminder."
Mary smiled. She was eighteen, old enough to get married, but her father still saw her as a little girl.
They passed a sign that said Welcome to Shoals. Not much looked familiar as they drove down Main Street, then wound through a neighborhood, before turning down a dirt lane. Rows of freshly tilled crops lined both sides of the road, corn seedlings sprouting from the dark soil. In the distance, Mary saw Adeline 's house. Ms. Collins, she reminded herself. As they neared the white farmhouse, memories filled the forefront of Mary 's mind. She recalled the brightness of the house, the pristine yard filled with flowers, and an old blue car in the driveway.
She glanced at her father 's expression, the lines deepening on his forehead as he frowned. From the sight of things now, Adeline must have fallen upon hard times like her father mentioned. The formerly white house was grayer now, badly in need of fresh paint. The green grass needed mowing, and there wasn 't a car in the driveway. Mary wondered if the inside of the house was the same.
"I should have checked on Adeline over the years." Her father winced as they neared the house.
Mary remembered the fancy furniture inside, and she wondered if Adeline would be selling all of her things or maybe just some furnishings. What Mary most remembered about that trip was the boy playing the piano. The cute Amish boy who never wrote to her like he said he would. But they were just children. She couldn 't even remember his name, which seemed odd since she could recall so many other details from that day, along with the sadness that lingered in her heart for weeks after the funeral. She hadn 't even known Percy Collins.
* * *
Levi Shetler had six brothers and three sisters, but he was always the one nominated to take his mother on errands. Today he was carting her twenty miles to an estate sale. They 'd spent most of the journey from Orleans to Shoals in silence, his mother occasionally commenting about the weather and what a lovely day it was. Levi had nodded and continued on the trek, but he regretted that he 'd had to change his plans for today. "Why are we going all this way to an estate sale?"
"Because Adeline is a fine woman. Until about a year ago I would see her at the Rural King in Bedford every week. She liked the store because of its hodgepodge of farm supplies, tools, clothes, and housewares. But mostly she liked the free popcorn." His mother chuckled. "She enjoyed eating it while she looked around."
His mother turned to him and sighed. "I can tell you aren 't happy about taking me to this estate sale, but that woman never left the store without buying something from me. And on really cold days when I was set up in the parking lot, she 'd bring me a thermos of coffee, and I 'd sit in her car to warm up for a while. I always enjoyed our chats."
Levi kept the horse 's pace slow and steady to limit the bounce in the buggy. His mother had arthritis that gave her fits, and he knew this was a hard trip for her to make, even as a passenger. He drew in a long breath and reminded himself to be respectful, despite his disappointment.
"I just had other plans for today." Levi swallowed hard. His plans had included a trip to the river for some alone time, a hard thing to get with a family of twelve.
His mother cut her eyes his direction. "You never tell anyone what these plans are. Is it a girl?"
I wish. Levi barely had time to keep up with his chores. "Nee, it 's not a girl." He cleared his throat, hoping to change the subject. "Why are we going to this furniture sale anyway? I remember that house was real fancy. Everything looked expensive." What he remembered most was the piano, the way the keys felt beneath his fingers, the music. The forbidden music. He shrugged. "Can we even afford to buy anything?"
His mother raised her chin, and Levi wished he hadn 't mentioned money, or the lack thereof. The Shetler family was one of the few left in Orleans who relied mostly on income from the farm. His father had forbidden Levi and his siblings to work outside of their small community. If Levi was honest with himself, he knew why his mother chose him to make this trip with her. Out of all his brothers and sisters, Levi contributed the least at home, even if it was unintentional. Each of his siblings excelled at something, but Levi didn 't have any special skills and often found himself with extra time on his hands.
Three of his brothers were craftsman and made furniture, which was only for sale to the local Amish families. The oldest boys — Lloyd and Ben — shoed horses when time permitted, and Eli could do just about anything and helped out where needed. But the same rules applied: keep it local among their people. If ever a family practiced what they preached about being unequally yoked, it was Levi 's. Left up to their father, none of them would spend any time at all around the Englisch. As it was, Levi rarely saw anyone outside of their small community.
He could still remember Mamm begging Daed to let her and the girls set up outside the Rural King one or two times a week to sell produce, jams, jellies, and cookbooks. Daed finally gave in after months of mamm 's persistence. If the weather was nice, sometimes they 'd add a third day of selling, but things at the house started falling apart if all the girls were gone too long, especially when it came to meals. Daed had balked about today 's trip to Shoals, but mamm pushed the issue and said the Lord would want her to help Adeline in some small way.
"I brought a lot of produce and handmade items for Adeline." She paused, glancing at Levi. "She is a kind soul. I am blessed to have found out about this sale, but I worry if maybe she is struggling financially."
Like us. Levi squinted against the sun 's glare at the home up ahead. "Ya, it looks like maybe she has."
His mother shook her head. "Ach, look at the state of things." She turned to Levi. "I 've never been able to return Adeline 's kindnesses over the years. Not only did she buy from me every week, but she drove me to many doctor appointments. I want you to pretty up her haus and yard, Levi. It could be done over a few weeks, if you come once a week. That 's all we could spare you. It will be okay with your daed once I remind him about all Adeline did for me over the years."
Levi opened his mouth to argue, but then thought about the twenty-mile trek to Shoals and back. Alone. Quiet time all to himself. And hard work had never bothered him. It was the perfect time of year for painting and working outdoors. "Ya, okay," he said.
Mamm patted his knee. "That 's my gut boy."
Levi smiled as he wondered if the piano was still there. Would he be able to play it during his breaks? Or would Adeline sell it along with her other fancy things?
He turned into the driveway and parked next to a buggy from Montgomery. He remembered coming here when he was younger, and he 'd noticed then that buggies in Montgomery were a little different from theirs in Orleans. They were still black, but the wheels were a little smaller. It wasn 't something the Englisch would notice, but since everything in a community was uniform, it was easy to spot someone from another district.
There were only five or six buggies besides theirs. Mostly it was cars parked in the drive and on the grass. Levi doubted he would get a chance to play the piano. Too many people today. He 'd gotten lucky the last time he was here. Even one song would fill his soul in a way he knew was sinful, but the instrument had called to him since the first time he saw a piano when he was six.
During a rare trip to an Englisch home with his mother, he 'd seen the family 's piano. He 'd never seen such an instrument, but he instinctively sat on the bench when his mother and the Englisch lady went into the kitchen. He placed his fingers on the keys and made beautiful music. He didn 't know how he was able to play, but he just could. Levi could still recall his mother 's red face and the way she 'd pinched her lips together as she yanked him off the bench and away from the piano. He also remembered how cold it was when she sent him to pick a switch when they got home, then whipped him behind the woodshed until his behind almost bled.
Levi hadn 't touched a piano again until the funeral here when he was ten. He had found himself alone in the house after going to the bathroom, and on the way down the hall, he saw the huge black piano and felt it calling to him. He 'd slipped into the room and gotten away with playing it for a few moments without getting caught. Except by some girl who walked in, but she promised not to tell on him. Just the thought of playing the instrument again sent his heart racing.
* * *
Adeline watched as strangers picked over the pieces of her life: furniture, jewelry, paintings. The antiques were selling quickly. She reminded herself they were just things, material possessions she no longer needed, and the money would help sustain her for a while.
Percy had provided a nice nest egg for them both, but her husband of fifty-two years couldn 't have predicted the changes in the economy. Or that Adeline would outlive him by eight years, especially considering she was five years older than her husband. At twenty-three, she 'd practically snatched his eighteen-year-old self from the crib. At least that 's what her sister told her back then. The memory still brought forth a quiet giggle, which felt good in light of her current situation.
But with no family left alive and no children of her own, Adeline was going to run out of money if she didn 't let go of some things. Medicare had recently stopped covering two of her medications, pills that now cost her almost $400 each month. She was in the appeals process, but she had no idea if she would win. A large chunk of her savings had gone toward replacing her roof last year after a large branch fell on the house and caused several leaks. Adeline still thought that fellow overcharged her.
She no longer needed her pretty furniture and fancy trinkets, yet she cringed when a young woman ran her hand across the hutch by the front door, a gift from Percy when they 'd first married. Part of her wanted to scream, to throw everyone out, and reclaim her property. She bit her bottom lip to keep from doing so. Maybe she was more attached to her belongings than she 'd thought. Was this really a solution? Had she thought this through?
Her spirits brightened when she saw Helen Shetler come into the living room with a handsome young man by her side. The Plain folks weren 't fond of public affection, but Adeline couldn 't help but wrap her arms around the woman 's neck. Adeline suspected Helen 's family couldn 't afford anything she had for sale, but she would find something to give them. Then she saw the bags Helen and the boy were toting, and Adeline wanted to cry. She couldn 't remember the last time she had freshly grown produce, and she hoped tomatoes would be in the offering.
"Who is this strapping young lad?" Adeline eased out of the hug. Helen looked ten years older than the last time Adeline had seen her, even though it had only been a year. The lines feathering from her friend 's eyes had deepened, along with those running across her forehead. Her skin was weathered from all the outdoor work the Amish were known for. Helen probably thought Adeline looked older than eighty-three, her own face a roadmap of lines, not to mention all the weight she 'd lost.
"This is my sohn, Levi." Helen glowed as she said the boy 's name. The Amish steered away from being prideful, but this was a cute kid any mother would be proud of. "And these are for you." Her friend held up the three bags, then nodded to three more her son was carrying.
Adeline winked. "I wonder if there is a tomato in there."
"Ya, lots. Levi can put all of this in the kitchen if you 'll point him in the right direction."
Adeline did just that, and after he was gone, Helen touched her arm. "Mei freind, are you well?"
It was a question Adeline had expected. She 'd aged a lot since she 'd seen most of these people. It was only normal for folks to think she was sick as well as broke.
"Yes, dear. I 'm okay. It 's just time to downsize." Although selling almost everything is a bit more than downsizing. "And I want you to choose something for yourself, a gift from me."
Helen brought a hand to her chest. "Nee, I couldn 't possibly."
"Of course you can." Adeline winked at her, then waved her hand around the room. "I know you don 't like fancy things, but I bet there is something here you can find useful. Maybe even a kitchen gadget." She pointed toward the kitchen again. "I 've laid out some things on the counters that I no longer have use for."
Helen glanced around, then turned back to Adeline, chewing on her bottom lip.
"Honey, you don 't have to take a thing if you don 't want to. But if there is something you would like to have, you take it." She shrugged. "Maybe even just something to remember me by someday."
"You said you aren 't sick." Helen pressed her lips together, frowning.
Adeline chuckled. "I 'm not. But I 'm eighty-three."
Helen nodded. "Danki, Adeline. I mean thank you. And there is something I would like to give you as well."
Adeline lifted an eyebrow she 'd carefully sculpted with a pencil for the occasion. Most days she didn 't tend to her appearance much, but this might be the last time some of these folks saw her. It seemed fitting to look her best, even though her best wasn 't all that good these days. "You did give me something. Bags of goodies. I 'll be happy for days, maybe weeks."
Helen shook her head. "Nee, something else. I would like for you to let Levi come here every Saturday to paint your house and tend to your yard. You have shown me many kindnesses over the years, and Levi would enjoy the work."
Adeline hung her head as an unwelcome blush crept into her cheeks. "Everything really does look a mess doesn 't it?" She lifted her eyes to Helen 's. "I just haven 't —"
"We all need a little help from time to time, so please accept our offer."
Adeline thought about how nice it would be to have company every Saturday. Her house was miles from anyone, and while well-intentioned friends stopped by occasionally, her life had become a lonely existence. Loneliness would kill a person quick as anything. Maybe she and Levi would have lunch together.
"I am going to accept the offer, but only if you let me pay the boy." Then she remembered that her house and yard were in this state because she had no money, but she wasn 't sure how to take back the offer.
Helen shook her head. "Nee, you will not pay him, mei freind."
Adeline remembered to breathe. "You are good people."
Her friend smiled. "Now, I am going to go look around for a small something."
Adeline stood there for a while, watching. Her bottom lip trembled as she watched two men carry her armoire from one of the spare bedrooms out the door. Also leaving today was a chunk of Adeline 's heart, but she forced a smile.
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