the amish secret

the amish secret

Status: In Progress

Genre: Literary Fiction



Status: In Progress

Genre: Literary Fiction




after the death of a near-centenarian, her children find boxes of old papers, pictures and secrets as they gather to clean out her home and prepare for the funeral. hidden in a dusty box deep in an attic in chambersburg, pennsylvania, they find one object after another hinting at a life they never knew the deceased woman had.
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after the death of a near-centenarian, her children find boxes of old papers, pictures and secrets as they gather to clean out her home and prepare for the funeral. hidden in a dusty box deep in an attic in chambersburg, pennsylvania, they find one object after another hinting at a life they never knew the deceased woman had.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Chambersburg House

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 29, 2017

Reads: 27

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 29, 2017



Angelina Gertrude “Angie” Bell was dead at 98 years old- a loving mother of twelve, grandmother of thirty-eight, great-grandmother of seventeen, great-great-grandmother of eight and great-great-great-grandmother of one. Throughout her long, storied life, she had a hint of a German accent, but never spoke much about her childhood and her surname, Bell, did not sound German. She was married to George Hartnett for 73 years, from her wedding at 18 years old until his death at age 96 (when she was 91). Angie and George had thirteen children together. The first one was Mary Ellen Monroe née Hartnett of Pensacola, Fla. (1937-), followed by Nancy Elizabeth Mueller née Hartnett of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (1938-2009), Robert Hartnett of Macedonia, Ohio and then Sarasota, Florida (1940-), Franklin John Hartnett (March 28-May 14, 1941), Betty Lasinski née Hartnett of Maumee, Ohio (1943-2015), John Charles Hartnett of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (1945-), Carol Ball née Hartnett of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania (1946-), William Hartnett of Santa Cruz, California (1948-99), Sandra Stevens née Hartnett of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania (1949-), the twins in 1951- Linda Wilde née Hartnett of Sacramento, California (April 25, 1951-), and James Michael Hartnett (April 25, 1951-2001)of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Susan Deborah “Posey” Hartnett (1953-58, who died of leukemia at age four) and finally in 1955, Daniel Paul Hartnett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Angie Bell lived in the same house at 328 Birch Hill Road in Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, from 1949 until her March 18, 2016 death. George Hartnett died on October 8, 2009, and in 2011, her daughter Carol and her husband Morris Mueller moved into the house on Birch Hill to take care of her. In 2013, her son John Charles moved from Peoria, Illinois to Chambersburg, moving into 328 Birch Hill Road.  Morris and John Charles were away figuring out funeral arrangements in Florida, where Angie wanted her ashes to be scattered.

Angie died in her sleep at about 1:30 am on March 18, 2016. She had mild dementia, but other than that did remarkably well for someone her age.

The process of cleaning out the house began- cleaning and sorting through sixty-seven years of memories- ninety boxes of pictures, postcards, important documents, and knickknacks. All the children arrived on Monday, March 21, 2016 in Chambersburg- Mary Ellen, Robert, Sandra, Linda, Carol and Daniel. They began sorting through the attic, and in the first box was a mysterious picture. As Robert sorted through a small pile of pictures of the children when they were little more than naked new lives, Linda saw the picture- a faded portrait of a girl about eleven or twelve, wearing a white bonnet typical of the Amish who resided in the rural areas about an hour and a half east of Chambersburg.

No one was sure who the Amish girl was- Angie had grown up in Chambersburg, but the old portrait looked like Angie would have when she was that age.

Linda, still fighting back tears because of the death of her mother, said, “Let’s put it aside for now and go through this next box. I think Mom said the pictures of their honeymoon to New York City were in there.”

Robert replied, “There’s no one left to ask- no Mom, no Dad, just us kids.”

“It’s probably just an old friend or something she bought down at Goodwill” Linda responded, waving her right hand in front of her face to indicate “toss it aside.”

“Okay. I would love to have some pictures of them on their honeymoon.”

The mystery of the Amish girl was forgotten as they spent the rest of the day cleaning the house and sorting through thirty-eight boxes. For dinner, they piled into Linda’s old station wagon to get pizza, soda and rotisserie chicken at the Chambersburg Wal-Mart.

After a quick dinner, they decided to sort through the shelves of books in the house’s utility room. Carol, Morris and John Charles all liked to read, but mostly went to the local libraries to get books instead of buying them.

Nine shelves of dusty books, some nearly falling off the shelves or some already fallen, sat unread in the utility room. Most of them were “bodice ripper” romance novels featuring a pretty young woman falling for a man with his shirt ripped right open, chest muscles exposed.

Linda was the first to start sorting, declaring them “useless.”
“These aren’t my cup of tea at all- put them in this box, Robert. Sandra, do you read these?”

Sandra had recently divorced her third husband after an unhappy five-year marriage. Alan Stevens was his name, and as soon as the divorce was all settled, left $200 on Sandra’s kitchen counter and drove away, never to be seen again. She worked part time at a pet store, and the rest of the time, either read romance novels or played computer games.

Sandra smiled slightly- the first smile since her mother died- and said she loved romance novels. The novels were penned by different authors, but Linda, who liked crime books, said “they all have the same plots.” The authors included Kathleen Woodiwiss, Jude Deveraux, and two of the nine shelves dedicated to “old-school Regency romances” set in the British Regency era- Mary Balogh, Georgette Heyer, Mary Jo Putney, Clare Darcy and others. The novels were plunked off the shelves without a care. Sandra sorted them into “keep”, “donate” and “toss.” They started sorting at 6:45 pm Pennsylvania time, and were done at 8:30.

It was sure obvious that Angie loved her romances- the Regencies, Judith McNaught and Nora Roberts, as well as a few newer romances- Nicholas Sparks, Katie Fforde, and about thirty books by Danielle Steel. Mary Ellen loved math, and counted the romance novels as they were sorted- a total of nine hundred and fifty-eight romances. Sandra took three hundred and nineteen for herself, seventy-eight were in the “toss pile” and the rest would be taken the next day to the Goodwill on Wayne Avenue.

Everyone was asleep late that night but Sandra. She was tired of trying to sleep amid tears of loss, so she picked up one of the Regency romances and started reading it.

As she turned a page, a small handwritten note written on deeply yellowing paper flew out and landed next to her on the bed in the guest room she was staying at. Sandra picked up the note and found that it was written in a strange language and signed what appeared to be “Enna” or “Emma.” After reading about fifty pages of the Regency, Sandra soon fell asleep.

The next morning, they rose at dawn to continue sorting through the boxes, and at the bottom of the fifth box they found what appeared to be a small bonnet or cap of some sort- a baby bonnet?

Carol said, “I used to work as an editor for a lady writing Amish novels a few years ago, right after I moved back here. She told me what an Amish bonnet looks like- were there any Amish in this family? Robert, I know you did some genealogy.”

Robert, who was not one for mystery, tried to change the subject by saying, “No. What’s in the next box?”

“That, I’m not sure. I’ll open it up.”

The musty smell of old paper was overpowering. Inside it was a birth certificate for February 17, 1918- Angie’s birthday, but the name listed was “Emma K. Byler.”

Sandra gasped when she saw the birth certificate was from the state of Ohio, not Pennsylvania, for an Emma K. Byler born to a Hans Byler and a Norma Miller Byler in the county of Holmes. Sandra had gotten her RN from Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio in 1978 after divorcing her first husband- Theo Frantz, the father of her three children- Theo, Jr. (1970- ), Mallory (1973- ) and Nancy (1976- )

Who was Emma K. Byler? Carol came to a bizarre conclusion as they finished sorting that box.

Carol addressed her brothers and sisters that were there by saying, “I think Mom was raised Amish but somehow left the church- Sandra, you found that note signed by a lady named Emma. Then, there was the picture of the Amish girl yesterday, the bonnet in the box and now this birth certificate.”

Even Robert believed Carol’s theory, bringing up the fact that Angie spoke with a German accent all her life.

“And she was German but tried to hide it- she said her parents were Henry Bell and Norma Miller and she was born in Chambersburg, not in some small town in Ohio I have never heard of.”

They continued sorting until lunchtime. After going to Wendy’s and to drop off various donations at Goodwill, Mary Ellen, Robert, Sandra, Linda, Carol and Daniel went back into the attic to sort the thirty-eight boxes they had left, dividing what they wanted into boxes they marked with their names.

As they emptied a whole box of grocery store receipts into a garbage bag, Sandra put her hand in the air and Carol asked what she wanted.

“I’ll take those. My grandson is obsessed with old receipts. It’s Mallory’s son Andrew, who is twelve years old. Until they moved away from Chambersburg I gave him receipts every time I saw him.”

They were determined to get it done that day, with Mary Ellen sorting what everyone wanted, Robert manning the trash bags, Daniel (the quiet one of the bunch) dealing with donations, and Carol, Linda and Sandra looking for clues in the boxes to try to figure out the Amish mystery. With “dividing and conquering” the remaining boxes were done by 5:50 pm, all except for one heavy box.

With a sigh, Daniel remarked dryly, “I bet it’s more romance novels. Sandra, don’t you have enough of those to give to everyone in this county?”

Daniel was right- it was more romance novels. Sandra opened one faded paperback to find a note addressed to her.

“June 14, 1978-

Dear Sandra,

If you have to leave Dayton because of the divorce, go to Millersburg, Ohio. Take route 62 to Schwann Road, take a right at the end and another left. My childhood friend Minnie just passed and she left her house and everything in it to me… you all are welcome to live there- 1579 Township Road 420B. Love, Mom.”

Carol was the first to wonder if “Minnie” had been Amish, too. She knew Millersburg had a lot of Amish, and that Angie had likely been born there, but she and everyone else said she had been born in Chambersburg.

They went to Pizza Hut to get pizza for dinner and then from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., they cleaned up the basement, which was where Carol, Morris and John Charles stored their belongings. Angie had a couple more boxes in the basement- mostly old dishes, silverware and cookware that Linda, who enjoyed to cook, said she wanted.

Behind a long, low “bar” at one end of the basement was one last box marked “MOM” on it. Inside was four hideously dark green, dusty vases. Three were empty but one was full of old pennies and other coins!

Carol said in a sad, but slightly joyful tone, “Mom left us a fortune!”

Daniel was more serious and quiet, saying “it’s not a fortune if Coinstar won’t take these.”

Mary Ellen took an old pie pan from the kitchen to count the money. Most of the pennies were from the 1970s and 1980s, but several were older. When they were done, they had $198.89. Linda went into her purse to find $1.11 in change to make it $200. She promised to roll it and take it to the bank, dividing it equally between herself, Sandra, Mary Ellen, Carol, Daniel, Robert, Morris and John Charles ($25 apiece). They rose at 6:30 am again on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, and as they were eating a breakfast of eggs and oatmeal, Morris and John Charles arrived home from Florida.

In a somber, final tone, John Charles announced, “The memorial is tomorrow, and we are all leaving on Saturday for Florida and returning on Tuesday.”

Linda exclaimed, “Tomorrow?

John Charles responded back, “Yes, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and at 2:15 p.m., Pastor Slake is coming from the Honest Cross church for a short service. Several of her old friends and their children got a taxi from Ohio to come to the funeral.”

“Where is it?”
“Off Route 11, at Sellers-Myer Funeral Home on Falling Spring Road.”
Carol had always been interested in the Amish, and knew that they did not drive cars but rode in them. Could the friends “taking the taxi” to the funeral be Amish friends from Ohio? Everyone was saddened already, and the funeral would be a final closure.

Millersburg, Ohio- 2016-

Meanwhile, ten white-bonneted women, ranging in age from fifty-eight to ninety-five, rode in silence as Raymond Falucci, the driver of a long white van, steered his vehicle away from the center of Millersburg and turned his GPS on. The map indicated the drive to Chambersburg was five hours away. The oldest woman, Rebecca Yoder Miller, was a childhood friend of Emma, or Angie, as she was known after leaving the Amish so many years ago. Rebecca’s daughter was sixty-six-year-old Katerina Troyer, living in Allen County, Indiana. It was Katerina’s idea to hire her regular “Amish hauler”, Raymond Falucci, to take them to a funeral- an Englisch funeral no less- in a strange town five hours away. The church Angie belonged to in her later years was the Franklin County Church of the Honest Cross, a nondenominational church. Raymond concentrated on the map, with the blue lines showing he would take U.S. Route 62 to Berlin, Ohio and continue on State Route 39 East through Amish country to I-77 South in Dover, and getting of it at New Philadelphia. The route would then continue through rural eastern Ohio on U.S. Route 250 East, switching to U.S. Route 22 in Cadiz. From Cadiz they would continue east to Steubenville, Ohio, across the Ohio River through northern West Virginia’s Panhandle and Weirton, and into southwestern Pennsylvania. From Imperial, Pennsylvania, they would continue on U.S. Route 30 East to I-376 East, skirting the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh to I-76 East (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) at Monroeville. It would be a drive across western and into south-central Pennsylvania to the heart of the mountains at Valley-Hi, a tiny settlement of only a handful of people. U.S. Route 30 East curved through a few small towns- with the largest being Mcconnellsburg. Finally, they would reach U.S. Route 11 at Chambersburg.

Raymond Falucci, age 67, was a semi-retired carpenter supplementing his income by being a “Yoder Toter” for short distances and long distances- driving groups of local Amish to both close places and farther places, such as Chambersburg. He picked the route by using Google Maps. There were two other routes that ended up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but they were longer. One of them ran north of Millersburg and ended up at Monroeville, while the other ran to the south of Millersburg, ending up at New Stanton. 

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