All alone on the Kansas prairie, Summer Steadman has few options. With her husband and children lost to illness, she has no desire to continue on farther west to where she and her husband planned to build their future. Instead, she seeks employment in a small Mennonite community in order to be near the graves of her family.
Widower Peter Ollenburger, the local gristmill owner, needs someone to teach his young son. When he hears of a “learned woman” in town, he believes she is the answer to his prayers. He soon discovers, however, that helping this outsider may have troublesome consequences.
There is little this father will not do for his son, but as the boy begins to look at Summer as more than a teacher, Peter must make a choice. Does he marry this woman to give his son a new mother, or does he marry only for love?
Will Summer’s broken heart ever be able to love again?
After browsing my online library for something to read, I came across this beautiful book. Aside from its lovely cover artwork (which I will admit was the first thing that lured me in), this story was just plain sweet an it drew me in within the first two chapters. Peter was a giant of a man but boy did he have a huge gentle heart. I loved him from the start. What also made him more real and appealing is how Kim wrote his (and the other Mennonites) dialog in broken English because it isn’t his first language – German is. Thomas whom is Peter’s son was also very sweet. He quickly grew attached to Summer while she tutored him – so much so that he wanted her to be his ma. Grossmutter (Lena ; Thomas’s great grandmother) was likeable too even though she wasn’t very verbal. Summer whom is the lead female character is great too. She is down on her luck after she losing her four children and husband to typhoid while traveling west to Oklahoma when Peter asks her to help his son with school lessons due to him injuring his ribs from a fall from a tree. Summer struggles with her grief but learns to cope with it with the help of Peter and his love for God. I have never read a book penned by Kim and lets just say this one captured my heart – so much so that I had to buy me my own copy so I could re-read it again. Another bonus with this book is, it taught me a few words in German. This one will without a doubt go on my favorite Christian reads list.
“What for are you crying?” His gaze raised to meet Summer’s, the furrow between his eyes deepening. “What has happened?” He looked to the chair, where the grandmother held up her gnarled hands and shook her head, apparently attempting to offer assurance. “Nothing’s wrong, Pa. It’s onions.” Mr. Ollenburger seemed to wilt with relief. Summer felt a wave of sympathy for the real fear he had experienced. She swept away the tears with the backs of her wrists and held up a thick slice of onion. “Yes … see? You grow powerful onions in your garden, Mr. Ollenburger.”
“I think this will please you.” The smile in his eyes made Summer’s heart lurch. “What is it?” “Open and see.” She peeled back the layers of rag. “My teacup!” He touched the delicate rim of the cup with one rough finger. “Surprised I was to find it all in one piece. The saucer was broken in two, but not even a chip does the cup have.” He pushed his hands into his pockets. “I save the pieces from the plate, and I will glue them for you.” Tears filled her eyes. There were so many things this man had put back together for her. She looked up at him and found him watching her with a secretive smile on his lips, visible behind the bushiness of his beard.
“But, Summer,” Thomas interrupted, “if you have your own house, you won’t be living here anymore.” Summer pulled her attention away from Peter. “No, but I was only staying until you were caught up on your studies and could return to school. You’re all caught up and even ahead, I would wager. Your ribs have healed enough for you to ride Daisy to school when the winter break is over. So my time here is nearly done.” “But-but …” the boy sputtered. “What is troubling you, boy?” Peter asked. Thomas looked at the floor. “I wanted Summer to … always stay here. I wanted her to … be … my ma.” His words ended on a hoarse whisper. Summer felt as though her heart turned over in her chest. She looked at Peter, uncertain how to answer the boy. By Peter’s expression, he was lost, too. Maternal instinct took over, and she pulled Thomas into her embrace. As he had the night Peter didn’t return, the boy clung, burying his face against her shoulder.
“She has lost much, son. We must be patient while we wait for her to smile, ja?”
“That man out there loves you, and you’re playing cat and mouse. I don’t understand the reason.” Heat flooded Summer’s cheeks. She flapped her jaw, but no words came out. “For months I’ve watched you finger the letters from the little boy, and each time you mentioned the father’s name, your expression changed.” Summer was amazed by Nadine’s observations. Had she really been so transparent? “Do you love him?” Nadine demanded. Summer dropped her chin, and Nadine gave her a little shake. “I said, do you love him?” Summer gave her a brief, painful nod. “Then why are you holding yourself aloof?” “I … I …” “Well? What!” “I’m afraid.” Nadine pulled back and lowered her brows. “Afraid? Of what?” Tears filled Summer’s eyes. “Oh, Nadine, he’s hardly spoken two words to me. We used to talk so easily, Peter and I. But now … He’s different. And I don’t know why.” She swallowed, and one tear spilled down her cheek. “I’m afraid his heart has changed.” “Nonsense.” Though the word was curt, Nadine’s tone was gentle. “He loves you—I could see it on his face at the train depot, and I saw it on his face at his house. His heart hasn’t changed—not one bit. Something is making him keep his distance, and you must find out what it is. I’ll take the boy away for a while. You talk. You work things out.”
He touched her arm. “Frau Steadman, how old are you?” “I am twenty-nine.” She looked up at him, puzzled by the question. “Why?” He removed his hand and slid it into his trouser pocket. “You were a young bride, then.” She tipped her head. “Yes, I suppose I was. No one seemed to think I was too young, however. My sister-in-law was very eager to see me wed. She could be rid of me then, you see.” She offered a weak smile. “You are still a young woman. Do you—” his ears turned bright red—“do you ever wish to have another family?” Immediately she turned her attention to the pot of bubbling cornmeal mush. “I don’t know.”
“Only thing better than fresh onion is fresh onion in vinegar.” She held up the vinegar jar. “I have it here, ready to go.” At his look of surprise, she added, “Thomas said you especially enjoy eating onions and vinegar.” “Ja, I do.” He laced his fingers and pressed them to his stomach. “But I warn you, it will smell like a whole roomful of stout Germans when I am through.”
“You laugh at me, Frau Steadman?” Mr. Ollenburger touched his chest, his face twisting into an offended pout, yet his eyes sparkled merrily.
“Summer?” She jumped, splattering the front of her dress and apron with suds. Turning, she spotted Peter standing just behind her left shoulder. “You did it again. One would think feet as large as yours incapable of moving soundlessly.” He gave the expected chuckle. Then, without warning, he took the corner of the apron and brushed it across her chin. She felt her face go hot at the butterfly touch. “Mark of your surprise was sitting on your chin,” he said as he dropped the apron. “W-what?” “Soap sud.” He chuckled again. “The dishwater must be too hot. Red your face is.” She spun back to face the dishpan. “Would you like help?” She glanced at him. The eagerness in his eyes reminded her of his son. Without speaking, she nodded.
He did not wish to be formal. He wished to sweep her into his arms and welcome her with a kiss that would speak all the things his heart felt.
Suddenly he scowled. “How long were you out in the cold?” She shrugged. “I’m really not sure.” “How long, boy?” Peter glared down at Thomas. The boy shrugged, too, his eyes wide. “I don’t know, Pa. She went out after we cleaned up from lunch, and the sun was setting when she came back in.” Peter stomped across the floor. “Let me see your hands.” She held up her hands, too surprised to do otherwise. “Do you feel pain in them?” She cringed. His large fingers pressing her flesh created a new rush of discomfort. “Oh, yes. In my feet and ears, too.” He cupped her cheeks and tipped her head, looking at her ears, then guided her to the table. He placed her in a chair and lifted her feet in turn. Finally he sat back on his haunches and grinned at her. “You will be in world of hurt, but that is good thing. The pain tells you nothing will be lost.” He shook his head. “You are amazing woman, Summer Steadman.” Despite her discomfort, Summer couldn’t stop smiling as she looked at the gentle bear of a man.
“You will never forget them. They will live on in your heart forever. Forever young, forever yours. No matter how far in the past they become, a love for them will live on inside of you each day.”
The arm at her waist tightened. “You are happy, my Summer?” She smiled into Peter’s dear face and reached up to stroke his beard once. “I am more than happy. My joy overflows.” Peter leaned down until his face was mere inches from hers. “Ich liebe dich, Summer Steadman.” She needed no translation. “And I love you.” She raised onto tiptoes, closing the distance needed for their lips to meet in a kiss moist with happy tears.