June 28, 2019

The Dust of Life…

Category: News — admin @ 5:46 pm

photo-2-small.JPG

“Come to us, Father, in the watches of the night. Come to us as you always came,
bringing to us the invincible sustenance of your strength, the limitless treasure
of your bounty, the tremendous structure of your life that will shape all lost and
broken things on earth again…”

—Thomas Wolfe
__________________

We had planned the day back in January. The family, the extended clan of David and Ida Mae Wagler. There were some conference calls soon after we buried Dad. The brothers and sisters all agreed. We’d get together in June sometime. In Kentucky, at my brother Joseph’s home. All the children would come, and all the grandchildren who wanted to. We would gather at the farm where my parents had lived before the Alzheimer’s slipped in and took Mom out. And we would have an auction, to dispose of all the earthly goods my parents had owned before their passing.

It was the best place, the most central location, Joseph’s farm in May’s Lick. That’s where most of Dad and Mom’s stuff actually was. They moved with Joseph and Iva Mae from Bloomfield to Kentucky, way back in 2008. And later, when my parents landed up in Aylmer to live out their remaining days after Mom got weak, most of their belongings stayed right there on the farm. It was all stored in a little mini barn, the type that you buy prefabbed and gets dropped off. I checked out the little barn a few times. Didn’t seem like all that much in there. Dad made noises in the last few years, to hold a public auction. He was convinced there were enough items in the little barn to keep a crowd entertained for a while. And he had some unrealistic visions as to how much it might all be worth, too.

It went pretty well after Dad died. I mean, there were eleven children. From Amish to English, and every shade between. And we all agreed. It would be share and share alike. Years ago, that was one of Dad’s favorite threats. You won’t get any inheritance. He told me that a dozen times, at least. I just shrugged. OK. If that’s the way it is, then so be it. I will walk free even if I never get a penny of inheritance. It seems so futile, looking back. Threats and force. To be fair to the man, that’s all he knew. His own father disinherited at least one son. Ezra. That did not go well. It created a curse that follows Ezra’s bloodline to this day. He cut off one of his own sons. And that son would not allow his one daughter who had left the Amish to attend her own mother’s funeral. They turned her, weeping, from the door. Brutal stuff, right there.

In the end, a similar curse was deflected from my family for a couple of reasons. Dad mellowed. His last Will wasn’t near as harsh as his first one was. Mom always hammered him hard for not including all the children. Eventually, he saw things her way a little more. Not that it would have mattered, anyway. Because after he died, the children decided on their own how things would be divided. Even, across the board. From Nathan, the youngest, to Rosemary, the oldest. If everyone agrees, you can divide any inheritance any way you want, regardless of what the Will says. That’s what we did. Not that Dad had a huge fortune or anything. Still. What he had was evenly divided. That’s how family should work.

We had a conference call one sunny day in January, soon after we buried Dad. And we hashed it all out. Different people had different opinions. Which was completely fine. We talked it through. And we decided to have the family dispersal auction in June. Joseph was particularly eager to plan the auction. We didn’t know how long he’d be around. At that moment, it seemed entirely reasonable to assume that he’s still be here in June. That assumption was wrong.

Joseph died in March. Never hung on long enough for the sale. When death comes calling, nothing else matters. We mourned our brother. He had so looked forward to the auction. Now, he’d never see it. The clans gathered and buried him. And then we all returned home. And soon enough, June came knocking.

It kind of snuck up on us, the noise of it. My sisters got all bossy a few months before the sale date. Everyone needed to get there a day early, to help get ready. That was the decree. I rebelled at the thought. I was already taking a vacation day off work on Friday. I didn’t want to burn two. Besides, I didn’t remember that the little barn with Dad’s things had seemed all that full. Those living a little closer could get there early, I said to myself. I ain’t gonna go a day early. If they need help on Friday afternoon when I get there, I’ll be happy to pitch in. Otherwise, not so much.

And I thought about it, soon after Dad passed. His stuff. I really had little use for much of it. I mean, I have no children. No sons or daughters to carry on my legacy or my name. I told the others. I’ll bid stuff up. I don’t really want much of anything. That was, until I got to thinking over things a little more. And it came to me. His typewriters. Dad’s typewriters. Someone needed to preserve those. And I wondered if the local Mennonite historian, Amos Hoover, would be interested in something like that. I nudged the word out there to my family. Any old typewriters Dad had, make sure those get to the auction. I sent word to Amos through a mutual friend. Do you want a typewriter that David Wagler actually used? The answer came back. Yes. Yes. Amos would like that very much. He would be delighted and grateful.

And the plan was, whoever had anything my parents had owned would bring it. Rhoda had an old mixing bowl that was gifted to Mom soon after she and Dad got married. From an aunt in Daviess, the bowl came. It was newfangled, a new kind of steel. Stainless steel. Up in Aylmer, they had the small items Dad had when he died. My sister Rosemary called me one day, after I had left a message about the typewriters. And she told me. They had at least one up there, maybe two. And no, nobody had any of Dad’s old style, heavy manual typewriters. From talking about it later, we figured out that Dad had switched to an electric model before they moved from Bloomfield to May’s Lick in 2008. They adapted the power to hook to a big 12-volt battery. That’s how Dad ran, in the last few decades. And way back then, when he made that switch, no one paid any attention. Someone should have saved those old typewriters. For history. It’s so, so typical of the Amish, to overlook the importance of such things until years later, when it’s way too late. Oh, well. At this sale, there would be at least two of Dad’s old typewriters, maybe three. I figured to latch onto all of them.

From Bloomfield, Titus would bring some items, as well. When Dad was in service as a conscientious objector during WWII, he worked on a farm in Boonsboro, MD. At some point, then, he went to visit Gettysburg. And there, he bought an old cannonball from a vendor for a little bit of next to nothing. A dollar, maybe. And from plowing the fields of that farm in Boonsboro, Dad found a couple of rifle bullets. They were huge, at least .50 caliber. One was flattened by impact, the other probably fell out of a soldier’s pouch, never fired. We grew up with these items in the kitchen “Shonk,” the hutch where Mom kept her fancy dishes. The old cannonball, the bullets, and a little old worn leather pouch with old coins, those things were all stuck up there on the top shelf of the Shonk. I handled them all as a child. From those days, these things were forever stamped into our memories, the smell and feel of them.

And June came at us. Time doesn’t stop, I like to say. It didn’t then. And soon enough, it was time to pack up for the trip. Nothing too elaborate this time. Just a duffle bag for a few days. I figured to take Amish Black. It’s kind of strange. I used to always, always rent a car for a trip like this. The Jeep doesn’t drive that comfortable, long distance. Still. I like to take it places. It’s part of the image. And also, deep down, I’m thinking. If I get some miles on my Jeep, I’ll be able to trade it off for a four-door. That’s the vision, in this moment. It’ll take another year or two, I figure. You just keep working toward the goal. And then Friday morning was here. I got up early, cleaned up, threw my bags into the back seat, and was off. After picking up my coffee at Sheetz, I glanced at the time. 5:30. Good. I’d be there nice and early that afternoon.

We bucketed along through the sparse early traffic. My GPS always takes me on the PA Turnpike, heading west. Which is fine, except for the cost. Every year, the price goes up. Right now, that road will cost you at least fifteen cents a mile, more for the shorter runs. It’s madness. The vile false idol that is the state can’t even run a toll road efficiently. So, anyway. On west, then south toward Cumberland. A hundred miles on the toll road cost me exactly fifteen bucks. Why am I paying taxes on every gallon of gas I buy, again? West, then south, then west again. I had driven this exact same route only months ago to my brother’s funeral. And I thought about him as Amish Black and I pushed west and south.

I remembered the last time I saw him there at The James at Ohio State. Hope lived in him then, it would live in him until it couldn’t, anymore. He told me, mentioned it a few times that weekend. The sale. The family sale, there at his home in May’s Lick. He sure was looking forward to that event. And there was reason enough to think that it might actually be. Until there wasn’t. Now he was gone. He would never attend his heart’s desire that weekend. He would only be present in our minds and memories.

After numerous detours, I finally pulled into the Maysville Hampton. Same place we all stayed before. A clean little three-story motel with nicely furnished rooms with a fridge. I always remembered that, from the first time I stayed there a decade ago. I had a reservation. The Wagler Family group. We had a special rate. Of course, we did. I unloaded my luggage and settled in my third-floor room with king bed, then headed on south to the farm. Joseph’s farm. A fifteen-minute drive or so. It’s beautiful country, out through there.

The place was packed out, I saw as I got close. Lots of vehicles parked about. A large tent had been erected in the yard. I parked under a shade tree and got out. People were walking around, milling about. I walked out to the large tent and peered in, gaping. Then I walked in. There were rows and rows of tables loaded with, well, some of it was junk, I guess. A lot of it would have been junk to anyone outside our family. And there was a lot of antique glassware, too, some of it passed down through generations. The typewriters. Where are the typewriters? I asked. Someone pointed me the right way, and I walked over. Looked like two old electric typewriters that Dad had actually used. I poked around some more. Wandered about, just absorbing and looking. There was a lot of stuff. Dad had been right. There was enough here for a real auction. Enough to last a good long morning, anyway. Maybe longer.

My sisters had arrived, already. Rosemary and Joe Gascho from Canada. Maggie and Ray Marner from South Carolina. Naomi and Alvin Yutzy from Arkansas. Rachel and Lester Yuty and Rhoda and Marvin Yutzy, all from Kansas. And my brothers, too, all except Nathan, who couldn’t make it at the last moment. Jesse and Lynda from South Carolina. Stephen and Wilma from Lancaster County. Titus and Ruth from Bloomfield. And me. Nine out of eleven wasn’t bad. I walked around, greeting everyone. Hugs all around. Iva Mae, Joseph’s widow, smiled and smiled in welcome. Almost all her children would be here for the auction. And a good many other grandchildren, too, from all around. Not everyone showed up. But a lot did. There had never been a day like this before, in all my family’s history. There would never be a day like this again.

And somewhere about right in here, the strange thing came at me. Right out of way out in left field somewhere. Rosemary handed me a bag filled with letters. A clear plastic bag. I’d say maybe two or three dozen. Some I had written and sent home. Most strangely, though, a number of them were letters both Dad and Mom had sent to me the first time I ran away. To Valentine, Nebraska, when I was seventeen. I opened a letter Dad had sent. I remembered how those were. Always a downer. Then I rummaged around and found a smaller envelope, hand addressed to me. Star Rt. 1, Valentine, Nebraska. Mom’s letter to me. I slipped it out of the envelope and glanced at the writing. The greeting. The first line. What a shock that you have left us! That was the first line. This was the first letter I ever got from her after I left home. The first one. Ever. I sat there, intrigued and horrified. The pain I put that woman through, it’s simply beyond comprehension, from where I am today. She had a rough life, my mother did. From pretty much all of the men in her life. Her husband and her sons. Well, most of her sons.

And I remembered how it was, holding that letter in my hand for the first time, back when I was a skinny kid. Standing there in the bleak and desolate landscape that is Valentine, Nebraska. I remembered how Dad’s letters always made me feel a little down and guilty. Mom’s letters just made me feel sad. And there weren’t that many, maybe half a dozen in all. This one was the first one. I marveled at how such a relic as that ever got preserved. I must have dragged all those letters home, and Mom must have faithfully saved them all after I left. And they lugged them around with them, too, when they moved. I am grateful to Mom for that simple act of kindness.

At some point before we ate, we all chose an item to keep as our own. From oldest to youngest. We had heard that’s how people do it. Let the children get in and pick one item as their own, before the auction. A few things were off limits. The cannonball, the bullets, any coins, and the large arrowhead collection Dad had purchased at another auction way back. I knew nothing of the arrowheads, as that all happened after I had fled Bloomfield. I guess it was kind of a big deal to many of the grandchildren, though. They all knew the tales of how Dad got all excited after he bought some fake arrowheads at a junk auction. When he got them home and realized they were fake, he got all stirred up. And he traveled out here to PA for an auction and bought a very respectable collection of artifacts. Some of the grandsons had traveled in from far away to get a whack at Dad’s arrowheads. I wasn’t interested in those at all, since I knew nothing of them. Anyway, they were off limits, when we made our choices.

Dad sake items
Siblings and treasures

Rosemary chose first. The old John Yoder clock. The wind-up wall clock that Mom grew up with. It hasn’t worked in years. But still. After Rosemary, it was Magdalena’s turn. And then Iva Mae took Joseph’s turn. And down the row we went, from oldest to youngest. Naomi. Jesse. Rachel. Stephen. I can’t remember what all everyone chose. Titus got the big old dinner bell, the one we heard as children on the farm. I kept an eye out for that stainless steel bowl Mom had gotten as a wedding gift. And when my turn came, I picked it. That was a big mistake, apparently. Rhoda had her name on that thing. The sisters scowled darkly. Oh, my, I said, when I realized what was going on. By all means, let Rhoda have it. I looked around and chose something else, instead.

From my earliest memories, Dad had an aluminum sign hanging out over our mailbox. Kind of a bar, with his name in raised, stamped letters. David L. Wagler, the sign proclaimed. Titus had preserved the sign, and now it was there for the taking. I hastily grabbed it. This is what I actually want, I said, after the sisters started apologizing for scolding me for choosing the bowl. In the end, it all worked out. We all got something that we wanted.

They had two tents set up. Might as well make it comfortable. The estate was paying all the expenses and the food. The big tent was where the sale would be. And another tent between the house and the shop, all set up with tables. This was the dining tent. A great meal had been prepared for Friday evening. I was getting hungry for my One Meal when five o’clock rolled around. We all gathered in the dining tent. Joseph’s son, Mervin, welcomed us and prayed the meal blessing. I didn’t mess around after that. Get through the line and get food. There was much conversation and laughter as we all settled in for the delicious feast. This was family. The David and Ida Mae Wagler family, such as we were. Tomorrow would be the big day.

But first, it was tonight. And there were things planned. After supper, we all headed over to visit Joseph’s grave. I boarded Amish Black with my brother-in-law, Marvin Yutzy. The ride over and back would be our time together. We chatted about many things as we rolled along in the convoy of mini vans and SUVs, over to the graveyard. There, we parked and got out. A crowd soon gathered. We waited until the van arrived with Titus and his family. They got out and joined us. The sun was sinking into the western skies as we all stood around my brother’s resting place in a large semicircle. It’s in a peaceful spot, the grave. Reuben Wagler, Joseph’s son, stood and spoke for a few minutes. He remembered and recognized the choices his father had made to love and accept all his children, wherever they were, however they lived. After Reuben wrapped up with a brief prayer, we sang Precious Memories. Some of the siblings shared their memories of Joseph’s last days. It was over, for him. He could never rejoin us here in this life. But we could go to where he was. We all headed back to the farm as darkness drifted in.

Dad sale Joepah grave
A gathering around Joseph’s grave. Reuben eulogizing his father.

We would gather around the fire ring in the yard, there by the tent. That was the plan. And we did, sitting in a large circle. Many conversations were going on at the same time. Off in the corner, some guitars were tuning up. I sat around and visited with Simon Gascho, Rosemary’s oldest son, and a few others. We feasted on Smores, melted to soft, moist deliciousness over the open fire. I’m not really fond of Smores, but that night I ate more than my share, I will say. Soon after ten, we meandered to town and our motel rooms, those who were staying there.

Saturday morning. The big day. Unlike any day before or since. It dawned clear and beautiful. I got to the farm in good time and parked my Jeep off to the side, under a tree. I strolled into the dining tent, where coffee and donuts were being served. Black coffee only, I said. And water, of course. Someone had been dispatched to Walmart for several hundred bottles of water. And ice. This was all poured into a vast cooler.

We wanted to get started by 8:30. People wanted to head out for home after the sale, so it was critical to get done on time. 8:30 came and went. We milled about. I’ve mentioned before. Titus Aden Yutzy, Rachel’s second son, is a talented auctioneer, in high demand in his local area in Kansas. He got his sound system all hooked up, then called us to order. Titus and Ruth’s oldest son, Robert, was the main ring man. He took bids and handed out the wares. We were starting at the back side, by the books. Tables and tables of books. I had little use for any of that, at least early on. We all stood, then, as my brother Jesse spoke a few words. Welcoming everyone to this historic event on this historic day. Titus Aden then explained how the system would work. We got numbers, all the bidders. I didn’t get number one, so I asked for number thirteen. I wanted something easy to remember, a number that stuck out. And just about then, Titus Aden called the auction to order. The first lot. A stack of books on the book table. And we walked into the morning, all of us as a family.

Titus Aden pounded out the first sale, and we settled down. Books and books and more books, seemed to be the agenda. And then on down the row on the far wall. At some point there early, I bought a bunch of Dad’s two most famous efforts. The Mighty Whirlwind was his first ever book. Through Deep Waters was perhaps his best known. Both of those titles have fetched high prices on Amazon and on eBay. I figured, what the heck? Might as well load up with a few copies for a few bucks apiece. Down the far side the crowd moved right along, Titus Aden egging us on. Up the first row in the middle, then. My two typewriters came up, and I bought them both. Well, that was easy enough. Then, minutes later, here was another typewriter, one I had not seen. By now, my nephew Andrew Yutzy decided he wanted this model. We whacked away, bidding against each other. It got knocked off to me for over a hundred dollars. Oh, well. Can’t wait around. Keep moving. And the sale rolled merrily along.

Dad Sale arrowheads
Titus Aden selling Indian artifacts.

Dad sale scene
From Left: Naomi, Ira, Roesmary, Lester and Tina Gascho, Titus, Wilma, Magdalena, Rhoda, half of Rachel

There were a lot of things I simply never knew existed. Old records. An old Yoder Family wall hanging. No one had ever seen it before. Jason Yutzy, Naomi’s oldest son, snatched it up. It was good to see people bid in even the tiniest little thing. Sentimental value is whatever you’re willing to spend. I picked up a few more things, mostly stuff Dad wore or used. A couple of old stem battery lamps. And I ended up with a dozen pairs of his old spectacles, too. His latest pair, all the way back to those round lens wire-rimmed glasses he wore when I was a child.

The high sale of the day? That would have been the kitchen table Mom had at home. It pulled out to some massive length, and all the leaves were there, neatly stored in the original wooden rack. A beautiful and functional memory of my parents, I guess that table would be. And two of my nephews got it in their heads that the table might be worth taking home to use. Andrew Yutzy and Stephen Gascho. Almost, the table got knocked off to Andrew for a measly $150.00. But then Stephen jumped in and the two were off to the races. Some breathless minutes later, the table went to Andrew for the princely sum of $1500.00. We all clapped when Titus said sold.

The cannonball sold, too. Kind of funny, how it all happened. My brother Titus had the high bid at $300.00. Titus Aden hollered around, looking for another bid. I figured I’d bid once. So I did. $325.00. And Titus wouldn’t bid again. The cannonball got knocked off to me. I was fine with that. I set the cannonball off to the side, by my other purchases. A few minutes later, Thomas approached me. Titus and Ruth’s youngest son. He told me. If I ever want to get rid of that cannonball, he wanted it. And then I realized. He had planned on buying it. Titus had quit bidding, just so I could have it. I felt bad.

So, I slipped over to where Titus sat. Thomas wanted that cannonball pretty bad, I told him. I don’t really need it. I’ll go and change the buyer on the chart. You can have it for what I bid. Titus was agreeable. So I went and told the clerk. Move the cannonball over to Titus’s number. I found Thomas, then, and told him. This is yours. Your Dad bought it from me. You’ll take better care of it than I ever will. I handed him the treasure. He smiled and smiled.

Things moved right along. Some old quilts came up. I had not known there was even such a thing. Two were owned by Mom when she was a girl. And there was one owned by Dad when he was a teenager, too. I never knew there was such a thing, either. Mom’s two sold first. The girls wanted those. I watched the one Dad owned, and jumped in at the start. I had the high bid at $50.00, which I thought was quite reasonable. I dropped it at the dry cleaners the other day. Some day it might be a gift. I don’t know. We’ll see.

I watched the glass ware sell with interest. I think I bought one bowl that had been owned by Aunt Martha, Bishop Pete Yoder’s wife, Dad’s older sister. I probably saw that very dish in her hutch when they had church back in Aylmer. I got it for a few dollars. Some of the sets of glass ware brought substantially more. It was interesting, to see what was important and what was less so. Titus Aden kept selling furiously, there toward the end. His father Lester spelled him for a bit somewhere in the middle. Titus Aden started things and finished things.

Around one o’clock, we sat under the food tent and ate the large meal that had been catered in, courtesy of Dad’s estate. Some of the Amish people there set up a chicken meal with all the fixings. I moved up my One Meal to this time, of course. You can only feast once at the estate auction of your father. And it’s not a big deal. When I feast sooner one day, I fast longer the next day, to make up for it. It works for me.

After the large meal, people made moves to load up and get out. I had made a pile of my purchases off to one end. I scavenged a bit, too, through the castoffs and left behind junk. I ended up with a suitcase full of Dad’s barn door pants and shirts. The everyday clothes, or some of them. I had bought one of Dad’s old felt hats at the auction. And Andrew gave me a pair of Dad’s shoes that he had purchased in a pile. So I had it all, I felt like. Dad’s clothes, his hat, his spectacles, and his typewriter. That’s about all I came for, I thought to myself. Right there, that’s what I came for. Pieces of my father.

People started loading up. My brother Jesse and his son Ronald had driven up in a rented SUV, a little thing. Jesse has an eye for good bargains at any sale, so he was a frequent bidder that morning. They got it all packed in there, somehow, he and Ronald. I ambled out and saw them off as they were leaving, Ronald at the wheel. I think they both drive fairly leisurely. Others loaded up, too. Rachel and Lester threw their items into the back of their pickup truck and headed out. They had a long old drive. Andrew had rushed out that morning and rented a real nice sized U Haul trailer, which he hooked up behind his van. He backed the whole contraption right up to the tent. He got some help, loading up his bigger items.

Later, after most people had left, I drove Amish Black over to the back side of the large tent. Close to my pile of stuff. I whipped around and parked and got out. And I slowly and methodically loaded my little Jeep to the gills, pretty much. Boxes of books. A small wooden trunk with Uncle Pete Yoder’s name scrawled on it. That little trunk was almost filled with some old toys I bought, toys I had played with as a child, toys I had not seen in decades and decades. These are the kinds of things I loaded in my Jeep. Things that evoke such memories as no other things can.

I got it all packed in and parked Amish Black out back under the shade tree once again. Most of the siblings had gone. I had stayed. And my sister Magdalena and her husband, Ray. They stayed, too. Most of Joseph’s children hung around that night. They ate again, of course. I drank black coffee only. I had a real good time catching up with everyone who was there. We chilled and chatted and just hung out. By eleven, I was back at my room.

The next morning I was on the road by eight. A hard rain storm had swept through minutes before, scattering small limbs and other debris loosely about the highway. And me and Amish Black headed east and north for home. I had one more thing to get done when I got there.

And last Saturday morning, that one more thing got done. I loaded up my Jeep with the best of the typewriters, the biggest battery lamp Dad used, and a pair of his old round spectacles. I drove the few miles to the home of my Amish friends, David and Esther Smucker. Esther was the one who had called the Mennonite historian, Amos Hoover. And after I got home, I called her. See if you can get us in to see Amos this Saturday. I’ll come around and pick you up. Esther called back a day or so later. She had contacted Amos. He was eager and excited to have us stop by.

We sat at their kitchen table and drank coffee, catching up on things. Soon it was time to leave. Esther fussed and scolded. She wanted to take a copy of my blog about Dad’s funeral along for Amos. That’s fine, I said. Take it. I’ll get you a new copy. We all got loaded into Amish Black. It’s moments like this when I think. I really need a four-door. It’s hard to pack my Amish friends in the back seat of my Jeep. We headed across the back roads, over to Fairmount Homes. We were meeting Amos at his home, a mile or so away from Fairmount.

After stumbling around some, looking for the place, we finally pulled in. I knocked. Amos answered the door. Smiling. Yes. He was home. He was looking for us. David and Esther then emerged from the Jeep. I reached into the back seat and extracted Dad’s old typewriter. I slipped the reading lamp out the back door, and grabbed the old round spectacles. We all walked into the cluttered kitchen. Amos had been working on some research. He moved his notepads over and made room on the end of the table for the typewriter. I set it down. We stood around, just visiting.

Dad sake typewriter Amos Hoover
Amos Hoover, Esther and David Smucker

Amos realized what it all was. A typewriter, a reading lamp, and an old pair of glasses, all the personal property of David Wagler. Stuff he had actually used, to write. That’s what struck Amos, I think. The beauty and the mystery of that. They’re so down to earth, though, the Amish and the Mennonites. These items had historical value to Amos. As well they should have. Still. He never wanted to praise Dad too much. You admire a man’s work without holding the man too high. That’s the humble Mennonite way.

I told Amos. I wrote up a little letter of authenticity, here. I have it with me. He handed me a pen, and I filled in the date and signed it. He’ll keep it with the typewriter, I’m sure. He’s old and a little frail. I mean, he could be around for years. But even years fly by fast. Sometime before long, my letter will be the only connection identifying the gifts I gave to Amos that day.

He took us on a tour, then, of the Muddy Creek Museum. Over in Fairmount Homes. They have several rooms with displays set up in the basement. Then a large side room with items that are not on display. They have a lot of old stuff there. Amos got a vast selection of tools, machines, coffins, furniture, and just about anything else you can imagine. He knows every piece, what it is and where it came from. Our time was limited that day. An hour or so, is what we had. It flew by fast.

And that was it, then. The end of an extraordinary week. An estate auction one Saturday, and going to see Amos Hoover, the Mennonite historian, the next. It was a good thing, I thought, that we got Dad’s typewriter over to a place where it will be preserved.

My father walked through life with long and mighty strides. He was a visionary, a giant among his people. Soon enough, the memory of him will fade into nothing. Some remnant of who he was will remain with a man like Amos, who will pass it on to others like him, on down through the mists of time. That will be a fitting legacy for Dad when all else has been stripped away and forgotten.
**********************************************************

Some housekeeping notes. First, I got my manuscript back this week. Virginia is optimistic that the book will turn out well. This weekend, I plunge into my edits. We’ll see, I reckon, how it all goes. And speaking of the book, that cover is still as cool as ever. I can’t share it until sometime later. Probably this fall.

I gave the typewriter and lamp and reading glasses to Amos to preserve. I have another set almost like it. I have two more of Dad’s typewriters. A bunch of his old reading glasses. And that second lamp is still here, too. I would give one of each to some group or institution that has an interest in preserving a bit of Amish history. Let me know if that’s you.

Share
May 31, 2019

Motorcycle Dreams; Rock Me Gentle…

Category: News — admin @ 5:36 pm

photo-2-small.JPG

The only thing worse than starting something and
failing … is not starting something.

— Seth Godin
______________________

It was a big dream and a bold one. I remember exactly when and where it came knocking. Back in early 2016, when I was working my way back from some serious heart issues. A-Fib. I slogged my way through that bleak wilderness, back to health. After I got home and got my head cleared, I thought about a few things. Well, two. I’d learn to ride a motorcycle. And I’d get me a tattoo. I’d be hard and mean and tough. Like you have to be, if you’re gonna preach the gospel to the pagans. That was the original plan, kind of tongue in cheek. But still. I figure you proclaim the gospel wherever you go, as you go. Even to the rough and rowdy biker crowd. Maybe especially to that crowd.

I remember how it felt, when the dream first came. Here. A new door beckoned. I told myself. You just walked through some hard places. You stared death in the face and survived. Now. Do something that you’ve never done before, something far out that you have never seriously considered. Like, oh, maybe learning to ride. Not a horse. I strongly dislike horses. So, no horse. A motorcycle. That’s it. Two wheels. Learn to ride. Live. Take some risks. Maybe you’ll die sooner than you would have, but you’ll die living. It’s freedom. It’s risk. It’s life. Maybe in the end, all that leads to death. If so, that’s fine.

I remember mentioning my little plan to Pastor Mark at church. He smiled and nodded. And he talked about it a few times in his sermons. Ira almost died. But he didn’t. Now, he’s looking at the things he’s never done. He’s going to ride a motorcycle. If I die, I die. “That,” said Pastor Mark, “is Christian freedom. Ira is free to dream wild dreams and go pursue them.” And, of course, that put the pressure on, too. I couldn’t back out now, not if I wanted to. Not after the pastor had proclaimed my plans to the whole church. I don’t know what the congregation thought. Probably that I had finally lost it. Most people smiled, though.

And then came a Saturday afternoon in early November of that year. I had signed up for one of the last sessions to get my motorcycle license. The state has a program where they train you. You had to sign up long before. I told the instructors, when I got there. I’ve never driven a bike before. They just smiled. It won’t be a problem, they said. I was dubious. And that first day, it was nippy and cold. I had signed up for the second course, after lunch. There were more than a dozen of us, all newbies. All completely untrained. Well, maybe a few of those people had been on bikes before. A handful of us hadn’t. Raw recruits is what we were.

It was tough. The head instructor bellowed and barked like some marine drill sergeant at boot camp. He seemed awful full of himself. I mean, come on. We didn’t enlist for service. Just teach us how to ride. We want training. Fortunately, the other three or four instructors were all quite calm and nice. They started us off basic. This is a bike. This is a helmet. Fit one of these on your head. Choose a bike. This is the brake, this is the clutch. Eventually we got to actually start the engines. Then we walked the bikes back and forth. Then we rode. Information overload, for all the novices. It was dark when we wrapped up the final exercise. The loud mean officer took our papers and disappeared into the little shack. He would either pass or fail us. He stomped out and handed us our verdicts. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, or maybe I just imagined that in the darkness. I glanced at my paper. It wasn’t stamped. I had failed.

Well, now. This was a fine kettle of soup. I was discouraged. I’m not used to failing something so blatantly. Just like that, boom. You don’t pass. Almost, I would have given up. Still. The dream beckoned. Dream and ride. A week later, on a Sunday morning, I joined a ragtag group who met with a kindly instructor who had volunteered to teach us again. We’d try one more time, one last gasp before winter set in. All of us had failed. And that day, we simply practiced the harder stuff that had tripped us up before. And the kindly instructor passed us, every single one. I walked back out to my truck, proudly clutching the piece of paper that made it official. Look out, world. The rumble of my ride was ramping up, out there in the distance. You could hear it if you listened close.

And the dream rolled on. I kept an eye out, and late that winter, I bought my very own bike for the first time, ever. A small 2010 Yamaha 650, white, with under 2000 miles. The little car dealer over in Gap, that’s where I saw it. A friend pointed it out to me. And I slipped in and bought the bike. The thing was loud, and totally chromed up with extras. I would definitely make a statement, coming at you on those wheels. I poked around at different places and finally found a nice helmet that fit. You could put the visor up or pull it down. And even in the hot summer, the mean marine instructor had hollered loud. Long pants, no shorts. Chaps would be good. I never got that far. Long sleeved shirt, and gloves. And the helmet, of course. I got everything together in my garage and waited for the summer sun to shine. Bike wheels, keep on rolling, was my song.

There was a song in my heart that summer for other reasons. I was stepping out, reaching out, and connecting a bit. Still drinking, though. The whiskey eventually destroyed that particular connection. I look back sometimes at a stark and brutal truth that has become very plain to me. The whiskey cost me a lot over the years, when it came to broken relationships. You don’t really think about it much, not until your head gets clear. And when that happens, it hits you. Wow. How could you have been so stupid and so blind? Anyway, late that summer, that song died. It was what it was, I guess. And life went on. My bike riding didn’t.

Somehow, I simply could not get motivated to go riding much. Oh, sure, I drove the backroads, over toward Farmersville and Ephrata. One fine Saturday afternoon, I rode over to my Amish friends, David and Esther Smucker. I roared in and parked, and rolled the throttle. The bike rumbled deep and loud. Inside the house, Esther scolded. “Is that Ira Wagler on his motorcycle?” It was. Oh, yes, it was. The problem with riding a bike over there was, there never was a lot of room to pack any of the extra food Esther generally had around that I could beg or steal. It’s a lot easier to haul a plate loaded with food in a Jeep than on a bike. This I can tell you without equivocation.

I never got real good at riding. Looking back from here, I can kind of see what faded and why. I never got off the ground, really. Never graduated from the back roads. It was fun, always. Just awfully hot in the summer sun, to put on all those heavy clothes, and then seal in all that heat with the helmet. It was always a production. That was the problem. You had to plan any little trip you took. I’m not used to planning. I’m used to jumping into my Jeep and going. And I wasn’t about to go riding without proper protection. The mean marine instructor had hammered the point home hard. I always rode dressed safe, because I didn’t feel confident enough not to.

I learned a little bit about motorcycle maintenance along the way. Well, I learned what the tenant taught me. The first winter, it got pretty cold. The bike was parked out in the garage and the battery exploded. I had no idea any such thing would or could happen. The tenant looked all wise and allowed that he should have thought of it. So the next spring, I handed him a hundred dollar bill and told him to get me a new battery and install it. And keep the change. He happily went his way and I went mine. He got the bike fired up and running, with fresh gas. This would have been last summer, 2018. He rode it some. I took it out a few times, never for long. And the bike just sat there in the garage, all silent and sedate, not getting many miles racked up at all. I tried to get excited about it. You can’t make yourself excited about something unless it comes natural on its own. So, it just didn’t happen.

I look back now, and it’s clear. My brain was preoccupied with a few other things last year. I had signed a contract for my second book. So that was always on my mind, somewhere. And I went up to Aylmer to see my father, too. Last June. A lot of life was jumbling around in my head. And I was writing dry for the first time since I started writing. Dry, as in not drinking whiskey. I wasn’t sure what would come or how it would get told. It was a bit of an adventure, there, getting that all figured out, I gotta say. I guess we’ll see what the market does with it.

And yes, that little bunny trail does have a connection to my main thread, here. The motorcycle, and why I didn’t bond with my mean machine. Last summer it sat almost entirely unused. And the tenant made noises, there at the end as the days got shorter. Maybe I was taking too much room out in the shop, there, where he keeps his car. He asked. Why didn’t I just sell it, if I wasn’t gonna ride it? You know what? I asked. That makes sense. Get that battery stored inside for the winter, and I’ll figure it out by next spring. The book will be done by then, at least the first draft. I’ll see if the pressure of the writing affected anything. Maybe it’ll come, I’ll want to ride, and I’ll like it. If not, if I don’t ride next spring, we’ll sell the bike. The tenant nodded. I think he knew full well what was coming.

A lot has happened since that day the tenant unhooked my bike’s battery and carried it upstairs to his apartment to keep it warm for the winter. Dad got real sick and real low, late last year. He died the day after Christmas. We all gathered and buried the man, the family did. I got back home from the funeral, and the writing gods smiled and the floodgates opened. I had been stuck with no closure. Since we went and buried my father, the words have flowed in torrents.

I got the rough manuscript sent off on the 8th of May, just like Virginia asked me to. And around that time, the tenant coughed politely one day. The motorcycle. Would I want him to place an ad on the Facebook marketplace? This time I never hesitated. Yes, I said. Yes. Get that bike out there. Let’s get it sold if we can. It was a casual comment. And it didn’t take long for me to face whether or not I really meant it. The next morning, already, here came a text from the tenant. A guy in York, the next county west, had made a lowball cash offer. He would come the day after tomorrow in the morning. The tenant wrote the figure. It was low, alright. Still. Might as well get what I can while the getting’s good. Tell him to be here Thursday morning, I texted back. Bring me Benjamins. I got the title ready to sign over. The tenant soon replied that it was all arranged.

Thursday morning. I slept in. Just before eight, I ran down to Sheetz for my coffee. The tenant was stirring out in the shop when I got back. He pushed the bike outside and fired it up. The engine rumbled and roared, same as always. And around 8:30, the guy showed up with his pickup and trailer. We got him backed in. An older guy. Turned out he and his son dabbled in motorcycles. He was going to resell the thing. Didn’t bother me at all. He checked out everything, revved the throttle, and then drove the bike around and onto his trailer. The tenant and I helped strap it down. Then the man handed me a fistful of Benjamins. I counted them out carefully, then peeled off two of them and handed them to the tenant. There you are, I said. For all the work you did to get this done. Then I followed the man into downtown New Holland, where we transferred the title at an insurance office. The Notary, and all. I signed where I needed to, then shook the man’s hand and walked out of there. I got to work a little late that day.

And that’s how the dream died, right there. It got led gently from the room. No fuss. No hassles. The preacher to the pagans never got far, at least not on his bike. Still, I guess you’re either reflecting the gospel, or you’re not. Motorcycle or not. It’s true. The rumble on the road never made it far. I guess I’m OK with that. Some dreams die. Some dreams don’t. This one did. The best I can say is that I leaned a skill I never had before. I can ride and shift a bike. That’s something, I guess.

And now, that leaves me with the second dream that never got anywhere. I never got a tattoo. And yeah, I know. That verse in Leviticus, where it talks about how the Lord don’t want you to make marks on your body for the dead. Been there. Heard that. It’s not for the dead. And besides, there’s another verse in Corinthians, written much later, about how all things are lawful. Maybe not edifying. But lawful. It’s a little like I wrote before about not wearing a tie to an Amish funeral. I can wear a tie, I got nothing against them. I just choose not to in that setting, to be respectful. In this setting, I am completely fine with getting some ink in me. And it’s looking more and more like I will.

And yeah, I know, too. Tattoos are foreign to the Amish culture. Somewhere, I’m sure, there is a bearded Amish man who always wears long sleeves because he got inked back in his wilder days. What would he tell his children? It’s a rare rash decision that is hard to erase, should regrets ever come calling. So, I know. Consider it all carefully before stepping through that door. It’s a lot more complicated than buying a motorcycle that you end up selling because your dream never got off the ground. I know that. Still, I’m tempted and leaning hard.

When the book comes out next year, maybe I’ll celebrate with a tattoo. That’s the road I’m looking at. It won’t be a cross, with any slogan. I’ve thought about it. Near as I can tell, there’s only one image that might make it worth the hassle of getting threaded with a needle gun for the first time in my life. And that would be the image of a breaking chain. A breaking chain around my upper arm. OK. Upper left arm, if you want to get all specific about the details.

And that breaking chain will speak a message more powerful than words ever could. There will be no freedom until the chains are broken, the chains of whatever is binding you. Those chains can only be torn asunder by a force stronger than any addiction known to any human. The gospel, proclaimed to all the pagans in the world.

Such will be the meaning of my tattoo.

Broken Chain

******************
The word just got here, but not in time for this blog. Next month on the next blog, I will unveil my book cover to my readers and to all the world. It’s wild, and I’m excited about it. I hope you will be, too.

Share