Once Upon a Buggy

Image of Once Upon a Buggy (The Amish of Apple Creek)
Release Date: 
March 28, 2023
Reviewed by: 

Twenty-two-year-old May Schott wonders what life has in store for her. Six years ago, her best friend, Carl Hilty—the man she hoped would one day be her husband—was in a tragic accident. May had asked him to meet her in her family’s barn when a storm ensued, and lightning hit the structure, causing a fire. May panicked as Carl tried to get her to flee, but instead, she froze, unable to move. Carl managed to pull her out before the barn collapsed, but through his heroism, he suffered fatal burns and needed extensive medical treatment. 

Away from their hometown of Apple Creek, Ohio, Carl healed, albeit left with scars all over his body. As he recovered, he was able to get training and found lucrative employment, forgoing his Amish upbringing by becoming “Englisch.” 

Things haven’t been the same for the Schott and Hilty families because of this tragedy. Carl’s parents blame May and the Shotts for what happened to their son, and they have shown hostility toward the Schotts ever since. May blames herself for Carl’s disfigurement and pain, and her only wish is to apologize to him. 

Now, after all this time, Carl is coming home for a visit:

“After years of wishing and hoping and praying, Carl Hilty had come back home. Her next-door neighbor, childhood best friend—the boy who’d saved her life—had finally returned. She was going to be able to see him in person.

“Adrenaline, fueled by a surge of nervousness and excitement, shot through her as she craned her neck. She was anxious to catch even a glimpse of Carl, but it was next to impossible. It looked as if the entire Amish population of Apple Creek was currently trying to do the same thing.

“May supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised. Carl was a hero, and he’d been gone for such a very long time. Six years was practically an eternity.”

May desperately needs to let him know she's sorry she's the reason for what he has suffered. She wishes they can pick up their relationship where they left off. Though they were only teens, there was love between them.

When she encounters him, she can only stare at him, not knowing what to say. What is worse is his chilly demeanor toward her. She wonders, Does he really hate me? How can she mend fences and get her best friend back, be in his good graces? She believes he wants no part of her, yet he thinks she is appalled by his appearance and will reject him, even though he still has feelings for her.

After being away from his faith and community, Carl still is the same man he always was, even though he drives a truck, works with a computer, and uses a cell phone. May sees him as the caring, generous, and kind person he was as a kid, and she would do anything to show him she still loves him. The Hiltys’ contempt toward her has her fearing she will never be accepted. 

Even with tension between the two families, May’s brother, Walker, is in love with Carl’s sister, Ally. However, the only way they can see each other is on the sly—until Carl unearths their secret and announces it to his family. His parents are appalled, and they insist Ally break ties with Walker—either that or she is to leave their home. Ally loves Walker, so chooses to leave her home rather than lose him. Carl comes up with the plan for them to marry quickly, though this is not the usual way the Amish plan their nuptials. 

Carl and May start to repair their relationship, and their main goal is to get their parents on friendly terms. The Amish are recognized as being peace-loving and forgiving, so why can’t the Hiltys understand this? 

As time passes, May and Carl become closer, and everyone notices it. May’s father talks with her about her love for Carl, though she believes there’s no chance for a relationship due to him no longer being Amish. Her dad states:

“‘May, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Robin and Able [Carl’s parents]. I’ve always figured life is made up of a lot of events, some big and some small.’ . . . 

. . . “‘Do you also agree that some of those events—like weddings and funerals and births—well, they’re going to be memorable because they are huge, life-changing events?’


“‘Then I want you to think about how the Lord gives us all myriad other less-significant moments in our lives. Some of them create lasting memories, too, for one reason or another. But I’ve always felt that there are other events that mark a person in unique ways. Whether it’s a fire or a job loss or even an injury, things don’t affect all of us the same way.’

“He exhaled. ‘What I’m trying to tell ya is that every person on this earth has their own ‘fire’ story. Maybe it doesn’t involve getting burned or separated from someone they care for, but it’s a trauma. I think it’s wrong to put so much emphasis on just one event—and selfish to think everyone else hasn’t through something just as difficult for them.’

“‘Dad, I don’t disagree with you. But I don’t understand how that affects my future with Carl.’

“‘What I’m trying to say, daughter, is that you can either look at the fire and its aftermath as the biggest event in your life . . . or you can decide it’s just one of many big events you hope to experience. Respect that it happened and come to terms with the reality that it changed you and Carl—and everyone else in the family, too.’ He lowered his voice. ‘But then move on.’” 

For their relationship to work, May and Carl must deal with Carl’s parents’ indifference, and they also have to face the reality of the accident. Will the Hiltys be willing to lose a daughter and a son due to their opinions and stubbornness? Can May’s loving father’s wise advice bring closure? Is deep and abiding affection for each other enough to demonstration they belong together? 

Tragedy can happen to anyone at any time, and it takes the wisdom of May’s father to prove good can come from bad. A tale filled with pain as well as wisdom, Once Upon a Buggy is an insightful read into human nature—not just of those of the Amish sect—and how to deal with dire circumstances with love and determination.