by Patricia Davids
Taking a schoolteacher position in another district is just the change Amish spinster Eva Coblentz needs. And with her new neighbor, blacksmith Willis Gingrich, struggling to raise his three orphaned siblings, Eva is determined to help them heal. But when her relatives insist she come home, Eva must choose between the life she left…and the one she’s growing to love.
Willis thought he had enough time to fix the new teacher’s chair, put four shoes on Jesse Crump’s buggy horse and get supper on the table by six o’clock. It was seven-thirty by the time he came in to find his family gathered around the kitchen table with a scowl on every face. Thankfully, he couldn’t see Bubble but he was sure she was scowling, too.
“I know I’m late. One of Jesse’s horses had a problem hoof and I had to make special shoes for him. I’ll fix us something to eat right away.”
He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. There wasn’t much to see. “I meant to set some hamburger out of the freezer to thaw this morning but forgot to do it.”
“You should leave yourself a note,” Harley said. He was paging through a magazine about horses. He was always reading. Willis fought down the stab of envy.
If Willis could write a note, then he’d be able to read one. He couldn’t do either. The most he could manage was to write his name. No one in New Covenant knew his shameful secret. Children as young as Maddie learned to read every day but he couldn’t. No matter how hard he’d tried. There was something wrong with him.
He hid his deficiency from everyone although it wasn’t easy. He’d been made a laughingstock by the one person he’d confided in years ago. He’d never been able to trust another person with his secret. The bitter memory wormed its way to the front of his mind.
He’d been twenty at the time and hopelessly in love with a non-Amish girl. She was the only person he had told that he couldn’t read. He hadn’t wanted to keep secrets from her. She claimed to love him, too. He had trusted her.
Later, when they were out with a bunch of her friends, she told everyone. They all laughed. He laughed, too, and pretended it didn’t matter but the hurt and shame had gone bone deep. He didn’t think anything could hurt worse than Dalene’s betrayal, but he’d been wrong. She and her friends had much more humiliation in store for him.
He pushed those memories back into the dark corner of his mind where they belonged. He had to find something to feed the children gathered at his table. “I guess I can scramble us some eggs.”
“Again?” Otto wrinkled his nose.
“Bubble says to be thankful we have chickens.” Maddie beamed a bright smile at Otto.
“Bubble can’t say anything because she isn’t real, stupid.” Otto pushed his plate away.
Willis rounded on him. “Never call your sister or anyone else stupid, Otto. You know better than that. Apologize or go to bed without supper.”
“Sorry,” Otto murmured. He didn’t sound apologetic.
A knock at the door stopped Willis from continuing the conversation. Who needed a blacksmith at this hour? He pulled open the door and took a step back. Eva Coblentz stood on his porch with a large basket over her arm.
She flashed a nervous grin. “I’m used to cooking for more than just myself and I made too much tonight. I thought perhaps you could make use of it for lunch tomorrow. It’s only chicken and dumplings.”
Willis was speechless. Maddie came to stand beside him. “Teacher, how nice to see you.”
Eva smiled at Maddie. “It’s nice to see you again, too. How is Bubble?”
Maddie stuck her tongue out at Otto. “She’s fine but kinda hungry. We haven’t had our supper yet. Willis had to give Jesse Crump special shoes so he was going to make scrambled eggs again, but Otto isn’t thankful for our chickens.”
Eva blinked her lovely green eyes. “I see.”
“Do you?” Willis couldn’t help smiling at her perplexed expression. “Then you’re ahead of me most of the time.”
Harley came to the door. “Let me help you with that.” He took the basket from her and carried it to the table. He began setting out the contents.
Otto pulled his plate back in front of him. “That smells great.”
Eva folded her arms across her middle. “I will be going so you can enjoy your meal in peace. Have a wonderful night, everyone.”
He didn’t want her to go. He stepped out onto the porch and closed the door from the prying eyes of his family. “How’s your head?”
She touched it gingerly. “Better.”
“I fixed the chair. You won’t have to worry about tipping over again.”
“I appreciate that.” She turned to go.
“The school board hired me to supply and install the hardware in the new building. I’ll get the rest of the coat hooks, cabinets and drawer pulls installed tomorrow. Have you had your supper? You are welcome to join us.”
“I have eaten. Danki. Don’t forget to feed Bubble. She’s much too thin.”
Willis raked a hand through his hair. “I don’t know why Maddie makes things up.”
She gave him a soft, kind smile. “Don’t worry about it. A lot of children have imaginary friends.”
“Really?” He wanted to believe her. When she smiled he forgot his worries and his ignorance.
“Absolutely. She will outgrow her invisible friend someday soon. Until then, enjoy her imagination.”
“I reckon you have seen a lot of things like this in your teaching career.” It made him feel better to know Maddie wasn’t the only child who had a pretend companion.
“This will be my first year as a teacher. I was actually surprised that the position didn’t go to someone with more experience. Perhaps my enthusiasm won the school board over.”
“I think you were the only applicant.”
She laughed and clasped a hand over her heart. “You have returned my ego to its normal size. How can I ever thank you?”
He smiled along with her. “We are blessed to have you.”
She leaned toward him slightly. “We will have to wait until we have Bubble’s assessment of my teaching skills before jumping to any conclusions. Guten nacht, Willis Gingrich.”
“Good night, Teacher.”
She walked away into the darkness. He watched until he saw her enter her house across the way. There was something attractive about Eva Coblentz that had nothing to do with her face or her figure. She was the first woman in a long time who made him want to smile.
He went back inside the house. The children were still eating. He took his place at the head of the table, bowed his head for a silent prayer, then reached for a bread roll. It was still warm. He looked at Maddie. “What did you say to your teacher that made her bring food here tonight?”
Maddie shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“You must have said something.” He took a bite of his roll.
Maddie had a whispered conversation with the empty chair next to her. She looked up and grinned at him. “Bubble says that she told teacher you need a wife who is a good cook.”
He started coughing. Otto pounded on his back while Harley rushed to give him a glass of water. When he could catch his breath, Willis stared at Maddie in shock. “Eva thinks I’m looking for a wife?”
Willis hung his head. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no way he could keep his secret from a wife. Even if he found the courage to reveal his handicap to a woman again, there was still one pressing reason he had to remain single.
Amish ministers and bishops were chosen by lot from the married men of the congregation. At baptism every Amish fellow vowed to accept the responsibility of becoming a minister of the faith if he should be chosen. What kind of preacher would he make if he couldn’t read the Word of God? The humiliation didn’t bear thinking about. He would remain a single fellow his entire life. That was God’s plan for him.
He turned his attention back to Maddie. “You were wrong to tell your teacher that I’m looking for a wife. I’m not. Now what am I supposed to do?”
Maddie lifted both hands. “Just tell her you don’t want a wife. How hard can that be?”
I’ll be honest, I know very little about the real lives of today’s Amish people but I absolutely LOVE reading these romances. There’s something so sweet and true about them – the community unit they create, the way they support each other, and the honest way they face life. They have their troubles too and with The Amish Teacher’s Dilemma they can’t escape some very modern issues.
I really enjoyed Willis as a character – he’s strong (in mind and body), responsible, and truly loves his siblings. But he’s been hiding a secret and it’s definitely affected the way that he interacts with others. It’s not one that is easy to admit to and it has impacted how he sees himself & what future he can have. I admire that it doesn’t stop him from being a good man and stepping up to create a family for his orphaned brothers & sister.
Eva’s role in the community and her family is very different than one I can imagine. She’s only allowed certain responsibilities and they have been dictated for so long by her older brother. This is the first time she’s had a chance to do something that she wants and I admire her for it. Moving somewhere new, doing something new, isn’t easy but she takes it on with gusto … but for how long?
These two together are a great match and I enjoyed their banter as they get to know one another, learn how to support each other, and begin to have deepening feelings. Their lives may not be something that I’ve experienced but their troubles, and how they handle them, are all too real and understandable. Davids does an awesome job of bringing them to life on the page.
USA TODAY best-selling author Patricia Davids was born and raised in Kansas. After forty years as an NICU nurse, Pat switched careers to become an inspirational writer. She enjoys spending time with her daughter and grandchildren, traveling and playing with her dogs, who think fetch should be a twenty-four hour a day game. When not on the road or throwing a ball, Pat is happily dreaming up new stories.