Simple Secrets

By: Nancy Mehl

DEDICATION




A parent always hopes that in some way, they will be their child’s hero. But I am blessed because I have a son who is my hero. I love you, Danny, and I will always be thankful to God that He has allowed me to be your mother.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




No writer writes alone. There are always others who help to make a story ring true. I want to thank the wonderful people who helped me to create Harmony, Kansas and its citizens—past and present.



First of all, my thanks to Judith Unruh, Alexanderwohl Church Historian in Goessel, Kansas. I don’t know what I would have done without you.



A big thank you to the woman I now call my “fruity friend,” Sarah Beck, owner of Beck’s Farm in Wichita. You are a joy to work with!



Thank you to Marjorie Shoemaker from the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Goessel who took the time to answer all my questions and give me a “guided tour.”



Thanks to Penny and Gus Dorado for helping me with my Mennonite research. You guys are real blessings in my life.



To my wonderful and unique friend Elly “Singer” Kraai: thanks for the Sunrise!



I also want to acknowledge my wonderful agent and friend, Janet Benrey and my first editor, Susan Downs, both of whom have opened doors of blessing for me.



My deep and abiding appreciation to Becky Germany and all the incredible folks at Barbour for giving me a chance.



To my wonderful husband, Norman: I love you so much. This “writing thing” would be impossible without you.



To my critique partners Faye Speiker, Kim Woodhouse and Alene Ward: thanks for your invaluable help.



To my readers who have been so encouraging and supportive: you’ll probably never know in this life how much you mean to me. YOU are the reason God gave me this opportunity. I will never take you for granted.



To the Mennonite people who have given our country such a rich heritage of faith and taught us to respect the things in life that are really important: I hope I’ve represented you well. I’ve certainly grown to love and admire the principles you stand for.



Lastly, and most importantly: to my Very Best Friend. You are the air I breathe...





Chapter One




“She wants a talking pizza on the cover.”



Grant slid my proposal across the desk until it rested in front of me. His dark eyes narrowed, warning me not to argue. We both knew it was useless, but I couldn’t stop myself. I’d worked hard on a menu cover for Pizzazz Pizza. The lines were clean and bold, the graphics eye-catching.



“You know pizzas don’t actually speak, right?” An attempt to keep a note of sarcasm out of my voice failed miserably.



He sighed and ran his hand through his short salt-and-pepper hair. Managing an advertising agency isn’t easy, and Grant works with more problem clients than most. Grantham Design is a mid-range firm. Not the worst but not the best. Grant’s dream is to make it to the top like Sawyer, Higgins, and Smith, the number one advertising firm in Wichita. I’m pretty sure I knew what those guys would tell Olivia Pennington to do with her chatty Italian pie if this was their account. But unfortunately for Grant and me, we couldn’t afford to lose her as a client.



I sighed and picked up my beautiful proposal. Maybe I could make it work for someone else—a client who was savvy enough to leave designing to the designers.



“A talking pizza,” he said once again. “And don’t get too creative, Gracie.”



“Exactly what every designer strives for, a complete lack of imagination.”



“Just make it work.” With that, he turned and strolled out of my office, leaving me with a rejected design and a verbal food product in my future. I stared out the window at the deli across the street. Feeling hunger pangs, I glanced at my watch. Maybe I could consider the new menu design over lunch. Uptown Bistro serves the best hummus in town. Just thinking about it made my mouth water. My jaw dropped when I saw the time. Nine thirty? How could it only be nine thirty?



I flashed back to the excitement I’d experienced two years earlier when I graduated from college with a degree in graphic design. I was determined to set the design world on fire. But since then I’d discovered that the real world is a lot different than what I’d imagined. Most clients aren’t interested in seeing my ideas. Instead, they boldly declare that they “know exactly what they want.” Unfortunately, their brilliant suggestions are simply remakes of overused, hackneyed concepts, completely inappropriate for their needs. Like a talking pizza. I rubbed my forehead, trying to rid myself of the beginnings of a tension headache. Sometimes I felt like a kid who’d been handed a box of crayons and admonished to “color in the lines” without any chance for creativity or fresh ideas.



I put the Pizzazz Pizza packet in my drawer and stared at my computer screen. Well, if she wanted chatty food, I’d give her chatty food. At that moment, several ideas popped into my head that would make for interesting dialogue. Of course, none of them were appropriate for a family night out at the local pizza parlor. Then I began to wonder just what a pepperoni-covered pastry would say if it could talk. I was pretty sure it would scream “Help!” as loudly as possible since it was about to be sliced into pieces and devoured. However, I doubted seriously that Olivia Pennington would appreciate the humor behind such an idea. A few other entertaining concepts were drifting through my mind when the phone rang.



“Hello, Snicklefritz!”



I sighed into the phone. “Dad, I thought you were going to stop calling me that.”



“Grace Marie, I’ve been calling you Snicklefritz ever since you were a little girl. You used to like it.”



I leaned back in my chair and stared at the framed photograph of my parents that sat on the edge of my desk. “But I’m not five anymore. What if you accidentally use it in public again—like you did at graduation?”



My dad laughed. “Your friend Stacy said I was ‘darling.’”



“Stacy was not and never will be my friend, Dad. She told everyone about that silly nickname. There are still people from school who call me Snicklefritz.”



My dad’s hearty laughter made me grab a strand of hair and twirl it around my finger—a nervous habit I couldn’t seem to shake.



“So what’s up?” My stomach tightened a notch. He usually never contacts me at work unless something’s wrong. Like two weeks ago when he told me he’d broken his leg and would be out of commission for a while. And the call last year after Mom was diagnosed with cancer. Thank God, she’s fine now.



“Honey, we got word today that your uncle Benjamin passed away.”



My stomach relaxed, and I let go of my hair. I’d never even met my father’s only brother. He lived in a little Mennonite town somewhere in northeast Kansas.



“What happened, Dad?”



There was a prolonged silence. When he spoke, my father’s voice trembled slightly. “It was his heart, Gracie.”



“Are you okay?”



“I’m fine, honey. I just wish...”



“You tried everything you could to mend your fences with him, Dad. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”



A shaky sigh came through the receiver. “I know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier right now.”



“Do you need me to come home? When’s the funeral?”



“The community has already held the service.”



“You mean no one told you about your own brother’s funeral?” I didn’t even try to keep the indignation out of my voice. “What kind of people are these? Is it because you’re banned or something?”



“Now don’t jump to conclusions. Turns out Benjamin left strict instructions that this was the way he wanted it. The pastor who called me felt badly but didn’t know what else to do except to honor my brother’s wishes. He—he also wanted me to know about Benjamin’s will.”



“So what did he leave you?” It couldn’t be much due to Benjamin’s lifestyle.



“He didn’t leave me anything, honey. My brother left his house in Harmony, along with all of his belongings to you, Gracie.”



Goofy talking pizzas had obviously warped my brain. My father’s words made no sense.



“What? He left what to who?”



“Left what to whom, Gracie.”



“Dad, this is not the time to correct my English. Why in the world would Uncle Benjamin leave me his estate? He didn’t even know me.”



“I don’t know, honey. The congregation we belonged to when I was young believed in The Ban. Benjamin embraced the practice the rest of his life, even though the church as a whole doesn’t do it anymore. You were born after your mom and I left Harmony. Since you were never part of the church, I guess in Benjamin’s mind you’re the only relative left who isn’t off-limits.” He sighed. “You know, my brother wasn’t always so judgmental. Originally, Benjamin fully supported my decision to leave Harmony. But after your mom and I settled in Fairbury, something happened. He changed—and not for the better.” My father paused. “I wish I’d taken him with me when I left. Maybe things would have turned out differently.”

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