Cindy Woodsmall's The Scent of Cherry Blossoms is a sweet romance built around an unusual conflict that I would never have considered. Annie Martin and her family, including her beloved grandfather, Moses, are Old Order Mennonites. Aden Zook and his family are Old Order Amish, part of a church district that does not allow the use of electricity, even for business purposes. Years ago, Annie's grandfather partnered with Aden's family in a diner business. Moses' involvement allows the diner to have the electricity required by governmental codes.
Through the years, Annie has often visited her grandfather in Apple Ridge and at times has worked alongside Aden at Zook's Diner. Their friendship has been a special one, but when both Annie and Aden admit that they have feelings for each other beyond friendship, their lives become complicated. Since both have been baptized and joined their respective churches, there are definite lines drawn between them that can't be crossed without risk of being cut off from their communities. Is it possible for Annie and Aden to find a way to follow their hearts and act on the feelings they share in the orchard amidst the cherry blossoms?
This story points out a situation that is interesting to me as an outsider. It is easy for those of use who are "Englisch" to look at "Plain" people and lump them all into one category. I have understood for a long time how difficult it could be for an Amish and an "Englisch" person to have a relationship, but I would not have thought about the same challenges between Amish and Mennonite people.
Recently, Cindy Woodsmall shared in a newsletter the experience that provided inspiration for this story. With her permission, I'm sharing that portion of her newsletter. Understanding this backstory made The Scent of Cherry Blossoms more meaningful to me. I hope you enjoy the connection as well.
My husband and I had driven seven hundred miles and were traveling through a very rural area of Pennsylvania on our way to visit with some Amish friends. It was lunchtime, and we were hungry, but we didn’t want to arrive at our friends’ doorstep feeling that way.
As we traveled down a narrow, two-lane road, we saw a rather dilapidated marquee sign indicating that the small, older brick building was a restaurant. We decided we had no choice but to give it a try. While pulling into the parking lot, we noticed a horse and buggy at a hitching post.
We walked into the diner, grateful to have found a place to eat. A cowbell dangled from the handle of the glass door and it clanged loudly as we went inside. It was lunchtime, but the place didn’t have any customers.
A young Amish woman stood inside the kitchen, looking out the pass-through. A young Amish man stood behind the grill, flipping burgers. He didn’t have a beard, so I knew he was single. But it’s harder to tell if an Amish woman is married.
As I took in the sights and delicious aromas, I realized we’d entered an Amish diner. Suddenly I was even hungrier. Amish diners typically serve a variety of hearty, homemade meals. You’ll often find an assortment of German dishes, such as sausage, schnitzel, or sauerbraten, in addition to English meals, such as meatloaf, pot roast, or turkey. You can also expect a large assortment of sides--corn pudding, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden. But one of the best parts of eating at an Amish diner is the homemade pies. My taste buds were screaming with excitement!
The young woman came out of the kitchen, welcomed us, and guided us to our table.
We took seats at a booth. We’d eaten at numerous Amish restaurants in our travels, but never in one like this. It looked old, reminding me of a fifties diner, and it looked as if it’d been passed down from one generation to the next. I fell in love with its unusual charm.
Another Plain woman came into the restaurant. After years of research and staying among the Plain folk, I can recognize enough of the subtleties in their clothing to know that the young man and woman who’d been in the kitchen when we arrived were Old Order Amish, and the young woman who’d entered behind us was Old Order Mennonite. The man peered through the opening, greeted the young Mennonite woman with a shy but welcoming smile, and called her by name.
The moment I saw the spark between the Amish man and the Mennonite woman, I wasn’t nearly as hungry as I was interested in watching the interaction between two people who should not, by the standards of their societies, have feelings for each other.
While my husband looked over the menu, I watched the young man and woman talk between the pass-through.
Because of the complicated nature of merging Amish beliefs with the needs of a business, it’s rare to find a restaurant solely owned by someone in the Old Order Amish sect. The Ordnung, which is the German word for order, doesn’t allow Old Order Amish persons to have electricity in their homes or businesses. So I knew that although an Old Order Amish man and woman seemed to be running the restaurant, someone else was owner or co-owner, perhaps someone from a Plain sect that does allow the use of electricity.
The Ordnung contains the guidelines for living separate from the world. An Old Order Amish person who is in good standing with his or her church and community follows the Ordnung.
It’s common to find many Old Order Amish working at restaurants. In fact, at the best Amish diners, you’ll find them not only serving customers, but cooking and baking. I knew that the owner or co-owner of the restaurant must be a non-Amish, a new order of Amish, or a Mennonite person.
As I sat there, all this information churned inside my head. And I wondered what would happen if a single man from one sect fell in love with a single woman from the other sect? What would it do to their families? What would it do to the business?
Inside that Amish diner I was served much more than a delicious meal. My curiosity over the couple was piqued, and I took my questions to an Old Order Amish friend who lived nearby and an Old Order Mennonite woman who lived farther away. Their answers, which told me a bit about the couple I’d seen as well as a story of love one had witnessed between an Old Order Amish man and an Old Order Mennonite woman, soon developed into The Scent of Cherry Blossoms.