July 10, 2020

Love and Loss in Lancaster County…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


The family is a haven in a heartless world.

—Christopher Lasch

I speak now of many things, of fear and sorrow and loss. And joy, too, mingled in, if you strain hard enough to hear it. A tale of how to walk free, near as I can tell it. The heart can never be chained, nor can the mind. Not if we don’t let it. Life is mostly about choices and their aftereffects, right or wrong. However innocent those choices, sometimes the road is stained with blood and fire. Such is the reality of our world.

The weekend came up, a few weeks back, and I remember how it felt. There was some excitement in the air because the big wedding was coming right up. My nephew, Clifford Wagler, was getting married to his lovely fiancé, Esther King. I was wishing them well, of course, and ready to celebrate. It’s a beautiful thing to see a young couple starting off in life together, all eager and excited. But I was also anticipating a meeting of two distinct and forceful clans. Proud, too, both of them. The Waglers and the Yutzys. Five of my siblings are married to five from that blood. I used to be married to that blood. And a bunch of them were coming in to attend the wedding service and then celebrate with a great feast. That’s what I was really looking forward to, to mingle and mix with family and friends like that. To reconnect and catch up. To speak of events that happened long ago, and of new things, too. Even as we walk through troubled times, we assemble, we gather as family. Because that’s what families do where I come from.

After months and months of insane and arbitrary and deliberately destructive lockdowns, we were ready. We were ready to assemble, we were ready to worship and sing, we were ready to make much noise and celebration at a great wedding feast. Let the bells ring, let the bells ring, as Thomas Wolfe wrote. Let there be exuberance and songs and shouts of great joy. Let the bells ring, let there be life.

And the feeling just shivered through me that Sunday morning. It was a privilege to be alive. I felt grateful. And I felt great. The sun shone bright. At midday, no one imagined that an odd and tragic thing was unfolding right in our community, close to our back yards. Just a few miles from my home. A young Amish girl, Linda Stoltzfoos, vanished as she was walking home from church alone. She disappeared into the daylight. Eighteen years old. The horror of it, the worst nightmare of any parent. It happened to Linda’s parents. They wait for news of their daughter. There has been no news. They are surrounded by their people. Neighbors. Extended family. Friends. From my own sources, I hear that someone is always waiting by the phone shack at Linda’s home, just in case she calls. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, someone sits there at that phone. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for Linda to call home if she can.

Within days, the story of her disappearance exploded into the national consciousness. Headline news, not that I watch any news. The FBI got involved. So far, nothing. From what we’re told, Linda has simply vanished. They’re hoping the publicity might make her recognizable, somewhere, to someone. So far, no. And now the world waits, too, right along with Linda’s parents and her people.

The reverberations of this tragic incident have deeply shaken the Amish world. There will be new procedures, new protocols. There is talk of holding instructional meetings, to train their people, especially the youth, and especially the young women. Don’t walk alone. If something doesn’t seem right, run to the nearest house. In general, for everyone, always keep a close eye on the children around you. Teach the children to shout and scream and run if someone tries to grab them. Stuff like that is being talked about a lot right now among the Amish at every level all across the spectrum.

The week drifted on, and the first of my family arrived on Thursday morning. I remember seeing schedules, who was coming when and such. I just couldn’t keep it all straight. I figured to take it as it comes. Walk. Enjoy the moment. Live it. Laugh. Love. Anyway, that morning they came walking in at my work office, my sister Naomi and her husband, Alvin Yutzy. They were the first Wagler/Yutzy connection, Alvin and Naomi. They got married a long time ago when Bloomfield was still struggling for identity, and maybe survival. Their wedding wasn’t the first one in the young, upstart settlement. But it wasn’t too far from it.

I looked up and saw them coming through the door and got up to greet them. We shook hands and hugged. The normal small talk. How was the trip? They had flown into Harrisburg from their home in Arkansas. I heard of more people coming into Harrisburg. It’s a nice little airport, you can get in and out a lot faster than you can ever fight your way through a massive behemoth like, say, Baltimore. I took them out into the warehouse for a little tour of the place. Alvin worked construction for many years before retiring, so he knows the field. I showed them the yard, and the scales. We are proud to have our own scales at Graber. Our drivers are never overweight on loads. The local cops know that, and they leave our trucks alone, pretty much.

We chatted and I caught up with family news with Naomi. She recently had a birthday. She turned 70. Seems unreal, that my siblings are crossing such a threshold, but I’m right there, not far behind. Alvin wanted to run down to Delaware that day, to look around. I guess he had never been in that state before. I told them. Let’s meet for supper tonight. Let me know when you get back around. And off they went.

I can’t remember when I last invited people to my house. It just does not happen. And no, it’s not because everything’s a mess. I got a cleaning lady who comes once a month and shines things up. The place is at least respectable, just a bit cluttered, maybe. I don’t invite people much because I don’t feel a need to. No reason, particularly, except I just don’t want to. I figure that’s plenty reason enough.

That evening, that Thursday evening, I got to thinking. The restaurants are still closed around here, or were still closed that night. Our pipsqueak tyrant governor kept inflicting all the damage he could, to crash his state’s economy. A vile, evil little man, Wolf is. Marvin and Rhoda were arriving in the area around six, I think it was. And I thought to myself. Invite them all over to your house, the ones who were around. Alvin and Naomi, and Marvin and Rhoda. I texted Alvin to come over when they could and to give me some warning so I could get some pizza ordered. Well, they arrived then, a little bit later. The warning I had requested never did. I walked outside to greet my guests. Hugs and handshakes all around. Marvin and Rhoda were accompanied by Michael, one of their sturdy sons. We stood around in the yard, and I proudly pointed out my new shiny black metal house roof, recently installed by my Amish contractor friend, Levi, and his crew.

I didn’t get the pizza ordered, I grumbled at Alvin. You never let me know when you’re coming. And right there, I called my friends at Sal’s Pizza, just down the road on the edge of New Holland. I’ve been a regular at Sal’s for a few years, since I went to one meal a day. We’ve formed a relationship over the years, me and the two Italian owners. At some point a few years back, I gave them a copy of Growing Up Amish. Then a while back I snuck in a copy of Broken Roads when no other customers were around. I signed both books, of course, to my friends at Sal’s. I buy from them regularly, and I always call in my order, usually a cheesesteak sub, or some such thing, on the way home from work. Then I drive right over and pick it up. It’s always top notch, the food from Sal’s. So now I called. Two pizzas, Mexican and meat lover’s. And I told the man. I have family here tonight. Do you have some sort of dessert I can feed my guests? Oh, yes, they had cannolis. He’d wrap some up for me.

After some time, Marvin and I headed over to Sal’s in Amish Black II. Just chatting along. It was good to catch up with my old friend. I parked outside and we walked in. The place was busy, mostly with drive-up takeout. We sat on a bench there in the waiting area. One of the owners rang me up. It didn’t sound like he charged me for more than the pizza. The cannolis, I said. I want to pay for those. He grinned at me. The owners at Sal’s speak in accented English. It’s not their native tongue. He pushed the two large pizzas at me over the counter, then handed me a large paper bag that had the end stapled shut. The cannolis. They were on the house. I was startled. He told me. “You take care of us, we take care of you.” I smiled and thanked him. And we walked out of there, Marvin and me, with two large pizzas and a dozen cannolis.

When we got back, everyone was sitting out on my front porch. I don’t get my porch used near enough. That evening, it got used. We gathered in the kitchen, and Alvin blessed the food. You don’t really think about such a thing in the moment, but this was the first time since my last garage party, back in 2017, that anyone prayed any kind of blessing over food for any number of assembled guests. After the prayer, I shepherded everyone through. Paper plates and cups. Real utensils. Eat outside on my old-time porch. We sat and we feasted. The cannolis were a spectacular hit. Homemade, chilled, rich, and delicious, right down to the last scrap. Around 9:00 or so, my guests headed over to Stephen’s house to hang out for a while. I stayed home and went to bed. First day down.

Friday. Moving right along. A regular work day for me. I was leaving early to go pick up BBQ’d pork for the evening meal. I left around 2:30. Hess’s Barbeque over in Willow Street. I pulled in with my Jeep and walked in. The nice ladies at the restaurant pointed me to a building in the back. There, a man met me. I spoke my name, or my brother’s name, and he lugged out two huge bowls. One with potato salad and one with coleslaw. Real Lancaster County concoctions, right there. And then I pulled over to another spot and we loaded a good-sized cooler loaded with hot pulled pork. There were trays and trays of it. I thanked the nice man and headed back north to Leola and my brother’s place. A large crowd would be gathering by now.

And the evening just came at us. Family. From far around. Connected by blood, connected by a common thread to the past, connected by shared journeys. It’s strange sometimes, to think about. A lot of people in the past, you walked with only a few years, then one of you moved on. The flood and flow of life shifts and shakes and moves around a lot. And your paths don’t cross again for many years, sometimes never. When they do, though, you just pick up where you left off. To me, this time, I was eager to see a lot of people, but especially two old friends from long ago. Marvin Yutzy, my brother-in-law, married to my sister Rhoda. And Rudy Yutzy, an uncle to the groom. We’re blood brothers, the three of us, and we were all seasoned members of the original gang of six. We always automatically reconnect when we meet, me and my blood brothers. There’s just a special bond there. The three of us, me and Marvin and Rudy had not hung out together in a while. So that was a big deal to me.

We all gathered over at Stephen’s place, the whole crowd. That first night, people kept trickling in, getting there when they got there. It was totally fine. A very relaxing night. The great feast was set up outside, and we all sat around long tables with our food. It was a beautiful evening, spectacular and clear. There was much visiting going on all night, all around. I meandered back to my house and my bed around eleven, I think it was. Next day would be the big day. The wedding.

The wedding would be in a little church on the edge of Ephrata. The reception would be at JM Lapp, the old silk mill in New Holland. I had never been to either place. I don’t get out much, I guess. I never even knew there was an old silk mill in New Holland. Let alone one that was all set up for fancy wedding receptions. It was a good thing. I just didn’t know about it.

And another detail I hadn’t mentioned. Soon after announcing their engagement, Clifford and Esther asked me a favor. They asked me to MC their wedding. I have to say, I was a little floored. I had done that kind of thing before, but it had been a lot of years. A lot of years. Still. I said yes. I’d be honored to serve as requested. I am delighted, of course. And I didn’t fret about it much, inside. Stayed pretty calm, actually. Since my first book came out, I have spoken in front of many groups, large and small. I don’t get scared, anymore. Sure, you always stay a bit tense when you’re speaking. It keeps you alert. But not scared. Not afraid. It’s just not worth wasting a lot of energy on, such a thing.

Saturday morning. The big day. The wedding was at 2:00. Early afternoon, which I thought was fine. I did my normal Saturday errands. Drank coffee with friends, picked up dry cleaning, shopped for groceries. By noon, I was sitting at my computer, writing. It was time, then, to get ready. I lathered up a good rich wet shave. I had gotten my hair trimmed a few days before on the black market. Only the second haircut in all the months of shutdown. I have concluded. I don’t look half bad, all shaggy. It doesn’t feel half bad, either. Ah, well. We’ll see, I reckon.

After schmutzing my hair with pomade and spraying it down with olive oil, I felt groomed up about right. I got dressed for the wedding and my forthcoming duties as MC. A long-sleeved white shirt, crisply dry cleaned. Black dress pants, a nice black belt. A new black vest, old west style, with a silver watch chain draping from the front pockets. I like to wear a vest. Topped with a burgundy tie. Black shoes. It wore well, my outfit, and I soaked in the full measure of the moment. All spiffy, I set out in my Jeep for the church. I was ushered up to a bench close to the front, where whispered instructions came at me. Right after the service got dismissed, I would make my first few announcements. I stayed relaxed. It was a glorious day, a beautiful day.

The wedding began. It was a good-sized crowd that assembled. Not massive. But good-sized. Clifford and his attendants walked in and stood in line, then the ladies slowly swept down the aisle. This happened right after two cute little girls walked to the front, spreading flower petals. After everyone stood waiting expectantly, the bride walking down the aisle, accompanied by her father. Esther was lovely, a vision in white.

The service wasn’t long. Not three hours, like the Amish weddings go. I always think, at weddings. We don’t need a 7-point lesson on what a good marriage is. Just get the couple hitched. That’s what we’re all here for. We got started right at 2:00, by 3:00, the guests were filing out. I made a short announcement. Wait to be dismissed. The reception is at JM Lapp in New Holland. We want to start promptly at 4:00. Clifford and Esther and both sets of parents stood in line and greeted everyone on the way out. I got into my Jeep and headed for New Holland. The old silk mill was coming right up.

I pulled in and parked and walked in. Never knew this place was here. Open the door, and right there is a real wide and real high stairs. It just goes up and up. You get there to the top, and it’s real nice. A very classy place. Dozens of tables were all set up in the long and rather narrow room. I found my assigned seat, right beside Alvin and Naomi. I paced around as the room filled up, kind of slowly, as such things go. Then the coordinator gave me the go-ahead. OK, time to get the room’s attention. How in the world do you go about doing such a thing? I wasn’t sure. So I shouted into my wireless mic. Called the room to order. It got quiet. I welcomed everyone and thanked them for sharing such an important day with the bride and groom. Everyone had found their assigned seats. And now, it was time to introduce the wedding party.

Esther had emailed me a very specific list of instructions. What happens, when. It didn’t seem all that daunting. She had clearly spelled out each couple’s name, and the order they were to be called. I had practiced aloud a little bit, at home. The tenant probably thinks I’m talking to myself when that happens. I spoke each line and each name, out loud. Just so it would be familiar when I was speaking to the crowd. Practice a little, so you don’t needlessly stumble. You’ll always stammer and stutter a little bit, but you can at least try to make that part as smooth as possible.

And now I stood, and announced each couple as they stepped into the room. I had plenty of time to focus on the next couple as the crowd cheered each time. And down the line they came. Maid of honor. Best man. And then it was time for the bride and groom to be announced. And now, it is my great privilege and high honor to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Wagler. They walked in, just beaming, as the whole place erupted. This, this was a celebration of our future. Long went the clapping and loud were the cheers. And then everyone was seated.

And then. Well. I had been asked to pray the blessing on the food. The meal. The feast. I was a little startled, because I just figured someone would be chosen to pray. Then I thought. Well. Duh. Someone has been chosen. You have. My prayers are always simple, as mine was that day. And not long. You can touch a good many points in a prayer, you just shouldn’t touch on them for long. I kept it brief but long enough, I think. And after I closed, the people were invited to come and partake of the food. And a great feast followed. A feast not only of food, but also of joy and celebration. Let the bells ring, let the bells ring.

Cliddord Esther
Reception (Click to enlarge)

It was close to seven when I got home. I was tired, but a good tired. I got out of my fancy clothes and dressed in shorts and T-shirt. I took a shirt-jac, too, it felt like it might chill down a bit. And I headed over to Stephen’s place. My Jeep was among the first vehicles to park at his shop across the road. The lot filled up quick. I found a good seat on the back patio of the house. A lot of people gathered in a short time. And you could soon tell. When it came to family and old friends, tonight would be a special night.

I connected with a few nephews I don’t get to see a lot, and nieces, too. Not all the family made it. But a good many did. (It’s hard, outside a funeral, to get everyone to assemble.) And little groups huddled about. Young people, mingling right in with us older folk. That’s pretty rare, in any setting. You could hear the quiet echoes of many conversations, all blending together in a steady hum of voices. You could hear laughter, oh, you could hear laughter. There were times in the past few months when I wondered if I would ever hear the free flow of human voices like that again. Especially the voices of family. Voices free of fear, voices of celebration. It washed over me, the magnitude of such a moment, and what a rare and precious treasure such a moment is.

The next morning, we gathered at Stephen and Wilma’s place again. Well, those who were still around did. A few had trickled out. A lot more would leave that day. But first, we had a little homespun church service, sitting in a large circle under the shade on the paved drive at Stephen’s house. I got there early and sat around and drank black coffee and talked to whoever was around. Around ten, we sang a few songs. Then a short sermon by Gideon Yutzy, Wilma’s youngest brother. He and his wife had flown all the way from Montana. Almost from one end of the country to the other. After Gideon closed down, there was another song. Then Wilma and her daughters served up lunch on a table there in the shade. Cold cuts and cheese and veggies. I don’t know what all else they had, because I didn’t eat any of it. It was outside my window.

I left after lunch, then. A lot of people were leaving, heading out for their homes. And thus ended a weekend such as I had not seen in a long, long time.

Life is a beautiful thing.
About mid week after the wedding, we got a call at work from a local Amish man. He wanted to let us know that there will be people on our property sometime in the following days. They would be searching for Linda Stolzfoos, the missing 18-year-old Amish woman who disappeared walking home from church.

Ever practical, the Amish came up with a simple plan. The people in each church district would search the woods and fields in that district. They would organize and walk through. No one knew what they would find or if they would find anything. But they would go out and do what they could by searching the areas they live in. My respect for my people increases when I see how they deal with such an unspeakable tragedy. They’ll hang tough and they’ll figure it out. It’s time to find Linda and bring her home.

My road trip is coming up. These days, you don’t know if you’ll get there when you start such a journey. Lots of danger lurking out there. There is violence and strife in the cities. You just keep going, I guess, as best you can. This coming week, I’ll be driving Amish Black II all the way out to Iowa. The book signing is still scheduled for Friday, July 17, from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM at the Get-Togather Room on the north side of the square. You can buy either of my books there or bring the copy you have for me to sign.

Come if you can. This is the first event for Broken Roads. I’m excited.

Author poster

June 19, 2020

Tales From the Trenches…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


…All things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth-
these things will always be the same, for they come up from the
earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts
forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.

—Thomas Wolfe

I don’t quite remember what all went down the first time I met the Amish guy. It was a lot of years ago. He ran a small building crew. He was plain, older, hard core. A South-ender. It was long ago, and I don’t remember exactly what happened or how, the first time he walked in for some pricing there at work. I just remember it left a bad taste in my mouth.

He was small and wiry and grimy. I greeted him with little judgment. You can walk in dressed in rags, or in sackcloth and ashes, and I’ll barely blink. These days, it’s a mask that marks one as a slave to the system. You can walk in wearing one. You’ll notice that I don’t. And if you’re like most people, you’ll peel that silly piece of cloth from your face and be relieved. But if you don’t, I respect that. Do what works best for you. I’ll do the same.

I’ll call the guy Jonas. That’s a good, solid Amish name, but it’s not his real one. Jonas and I didn’t get started on the best of terms, I guess is a polite way to say it. He always looked like he’d just crawled through a nest of cobwebs, and he was always, always in a rush. Yesterday wasn’t soon enough for him. His voice was scratchy and irritating. I’m digging down deep, here, and there just wasn’t a whole lot about Jonas that I was impressed with, early on. I took care of him the best I could, but I never went out of my way, much, to accommodate him. When he called, I was polite but curt. Yes, we had the item he was looking for. This was the price. No, I would not adjust the price down, it was already at builder’s rates. If you want it, I have it. If you don’t, well, I’m not burning much energy to convince you otherwise. That’s how it went, with Jonas and me in the early years.

And it went that way for a long time, between Jonas and me. It’s not like we had all that much contact. He did lots of construction work of all kinds. Residential stuff, where I didn’t stock what he needed. I often didn’t hear from him for months and months. Forgot about him. But not for long, usually. Always, the day came that Rosita would tell me brightly as she got ready to transfer a call. “It’s Jonas.” And I would groan loudly. Then talk politely to the man on the phone. It was more than half draining, getting yanked around like that.

He was deliberately irritating. Or it sure seemed that way. He would call a few minutes before five and demand that a box of trim nails be set outside for him. I finally told him. Look, Jonas. If you want me to set anything outside, you have to call before 4:30. I mean, I can’t just snap my fingers and whoosh, what you want is outside the gate. These are the guidelines. See if you can follow them. And in time, I got him about half trained. Grudgingly, he gimped along. And he still always wanted everything yesterday.

And I had to wonder, now and then, usually right after we had battled to a draw in another contentious exchange. What drives the man? Why is he so abrupt and demanding? So deliberately unlikeable? And I thought about it. Was Jonas bullied as a child? The Amish culture can be brutal if you’re not just like everyone else. And Jonas was small, very slight in stature. Along the way, I got the sense that something is bugging, something is burning in that man. He’s still trying to prove himself to someone. Maybe his father. I don’t know. I wondered about it. If you come from a hard place, it’s next to impossible to shake off the wounds that sliced deep. And I admit, I had no idea, and still don’t, if my musings about Jonas were anywhere close to realistic. I just thought about it, that’s all. Tried to figure it out, what he saw from where he came from.

And then one day, a really strange thing happened. It was a few years ago. Late afternoon, about the time Jonas liked to call. Right when I was wrapping things up for the day. The phone rang. Rosita answered, and then my phone beeped. It was Jonas. I don’t know if my heart was in a better place that day, or what. I greeted Jonas pleasantly. Not just politely. Pleasantly. There’s a difference, and you can usually tell if you think about it when you’re talking to someone on the phone.

And amazingly, Jonas was pleasant, too. Well, for him. We chatted a bit about what he needed and then one of us said something funny. I don’t remember who said it or what it was. But we both laughed. Actually laughed. And I tell you what. You laugh with someone, naturally, in the flow of things, in the moment, you do that because you are enjoying the moment. Jonas and I laughed about something together. And then we hung up. And from that day, things were different between me and that man.

Maybe I was imagining, but it seemed like he got noticeably less demanding. We actually chatted a bit about regular things when we talked on the phone or when he stopped around. He was still a walking dust cloud. But I didn’t judge him so harshly. And it seemed like we both made an effort to get along. He still grumped, now and then, and I still talked back short to him. Neither of us took it personal. And it was great, how peaceably me and Jonas got along. By just about any standard, it was.

And things went a lot better for me and Jonas. Then, a little over a year ago, he stopped in one day to pick up some materials. I forget what. Little bitty stuff, odds and ends, mostly, is what he gets from me. We stood there at the counter and chatted as I wrote up his invoice. And all of a sudden, I thought of something I had never considered before.

My book. The first book, I mean. Growing Up Amish. I had never, ever mentioned to Jonas that I wrote a book. He never seemed to notice the little poster I got taped at the counter on the back of my computer screen. I just never figured he’d be interested. That day, as the idea came to me, I thought, why not? Get your sales pitch going. Sell. Sell. Sell him the book.

So, I stepped back to the box beside my desk and pulled out a copy. Look here, Jonas. Look what I got. I wrote a book, a few years back. I think you’d enjoy reading it. He looked dubious. I forged on. Money talks to these old Amish guys. So I came through that door. And just for today, just for you, I have a real special price. Ten bucks. That barely covers my costs. But for you, today, I’ll make a deal, because I want you to read it. You’ll never get a better price. You really want this book.

Jonas looked at me across the counter, strangely, like I was telling him a tall tale. He hedged. Didn’t seem all that willing. Squeaked around. He didn’t know if he wanted to spend ten whole dollars on a book. But that day, I was determined. I could be stubborn, too. I kept putting on the pressure. Come on. Take a chance. It’s cheap. You’ll never get this book for a better price. It’s a real story. You’ll like it. I know you will.

Jonas muttered to himself. He certainly was less than enthused about this fantastic deal I was offering. I kept plugging away. We had reached a new level of understanding, me and Jonas, and I wasn’t going to let him off the hook unless he just flat out rejected the offer and turned away. He came in from another direction, then. “I don’t have any cash on me today,” he said, half triumphantly. That’s fine, I said, unfazed. You can bring me the cash later. I’ll sell on credit. He grumbled and hedged some more. I kept insisting. I wanted him to read the book. I wanted to see what he thought of it. I mean, the man is a South-ender. His perspective would be unique.

He finally gave in. Grudgingly. “OK,” he said. “I’ll take it. I’ll pay you another time, when I have the money on me.” I’m not worried, I told him. I signed the book with a flourish. To him and his wife. Then I handed it to him. Let me know what you think of it, I told him. He agreed that he would. Then he turned and walked out the door.

And so help me, I did not see that man again, or hear a peep from him, for over a year. I mean, he never even called for pricing of any kind. Well, he never talked to me, if he did. It sure was strange, I thought. Push a book on a guy, on credit, and he just up and disappears on you. And still I heard nothing, saw nothing of the man. It got to where I barely thought about it anymore, that Jonas owed me for a book. Oh, it crossed my mind fleetingly, now and again. What little I thought about it, I did hope that Jonas had read the book. I didn’t know. It just never seemed to me that he had much of an appreciation for book learning.

And then one afternoon, just the other day, he strolled into the office there at work. We were shorthanded, the phones were clattering nonstop, and a steady stream of people traffic flowed through. I had just finished up with a customer when Jonas walked in. And I kind of half hollered across the room. Jonas. My man. Did you bring me money for my book? He walked up to the counter, grinning half sheepishly, extracting his wallet from his barn door pants pocket. He pulled out a handful of small bills. I counted. A dollar short. I snapped it up. Bring me the dollar next time.

We chatted as I wrote up his small order. I figured I might as well plunge right in. So I asked. Did you read the book? He nodded. “Twice,” he said. Twice, what? I asked. You read the book twice? My, my. Do I dare ask what you think?

“I liked you best when you were home,” he said. He wasn’t scolding. Just telling me. He wasn’t quite done. “I think you should go back and marry that girl you left,” he said. I laughed. That’s nice, I said. Problem is, that all happened a lot of years ago. She’s a grandma now. From that, you can conclude that she is already married. He laughed, too.

As he was turning to leave, I quickly showed him a copy of Broken Roads from my stash. He was interested, you could tell. I’m just showing you what else I wrote, I told him. I won’t make a sales pitch until you got some cash on you. He nodded, then turned and walked out.

One of these days, I figure Jonas will be back. And he’ll have some cash on him.

OK. A few words about the book, and life in general. Broken Roads came out of the gate decently strong in a world gone mad. It was available online only for the first few critically important weeks. My agent told me that nonfiction releases in that time period were off by a third. Which seems about right. A friend told me she picked up the book at Walmart. So there’s that. Reviews on Amazon have been decent, although I sure could use some more. I don’t like to beg on social media. The book is what it is, and the market does what it does, all on its own. But I could still use some reviews.

Hachette has lined up a number of decent interviews, online and on air. Most have been prerecorded, so far. Which is fine. This week, I had a real good Zoom interview with Randy Robison of Life Today, an online broadcasting group. Other than the fact that I’m not looking at the camera angle right, it was one of the better interviews I’ve ever done, I think. Mostly because I stayed relaxed. I thank Hachette and I thank Randy. I am grateful for the opportunity and the exposure.

My first book signing is still on. At the Get-Togather Room on the north side of the square in Bloomfield, Iowa. On Friday, July 17th from around 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Bring your book or buy one there. I’ll have copies of Growing Up Amish, as well as Broken Roads. So. I’m looking forward to hitting the road and getting some traveling done. We’ll see how it goes. I’d love to see some of the Amish of Old Bloomfield show up.

Another milestone got here a few days ago. My official one millionth hit on this blog. Not bad for a site that posts every three to four weeks. I saw the other morning on the little counter there at the bottom, one million was coming right up. So I kept a close eye on it and witnessed the milestone when it came. The actual number came a little earlier. Years ago, there was a stretch of time when the counting mechanism quit working. So I figure that elusive hit came a month ago or more without me knowing, or much fanfare. Now it’s official. It’s a big deal to me. I’ve been traveling this blogging road for thirteen years. I’ve said it before. This blog is where it all started, my writing journey, and this blog is where I will always return to. It’s a safe place. It keeps me honest. Thank you for traveling with me, however sporadically.

A few words about the violent societal upheaval going on. We live in a turbulent and dangerous time. It is wise to prepare as best one can. Be a “gray” person. Resist quietly. Don’t make waves, don’t poke the beast. Lay low. Store some water, store some food. A core group of friends is critical. People who got your back, whatever happens, people you can trust if you are ever forced to go underground for any reason. People who will help you and protect you.

I have been very disappointed in a number of figures I had grown to admire and trust, who have seemed clueless and devoid of discernment. No credibility, is what those people now have. I was especially struck at how national Reformed leaders and preachers never stepped up, never made a peep. How they urged the people to bow to the vile false god that is the state. Obey, obey, obey. I won’t ever forget how easily the masses were manipulated and how stridently the frenzied crowds demanded strict obedience to the state’s arbitrary and destructive decrees. And I saw another brutal truth, too, very quickly. Many, if not most of your “friends” will casually betray you. Cut off the ones you can’t trust from any important details of your life.

In the past, I have developed a basic and very simple philosophy of living. A saying with three pillars. Trust God. Walk free. Don’t be afraid. Those are good guidelines to live by.

And now it’s time to refocus and hone those words a bit. Trust God. That stays the same, always and in all circumstances. The next two are the ones I added to. Walk free, but walk wisely. Don’t be afraid, but don’t be stupid.

Safe travels on the journey.