November 13, 2015

A Time To Live…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm


We shall not come back again, we never shall
come back again. It was October, but we never
shall come back again…

—Thomas Wolfe

It gets a little wearying, to tell the hard things, sometimes. And there’s been some hard stuff going on, lately, in certain branches of my family. I can only look on in shock and disbelief, seems like. And I guess there’s really nothing left to do, except just tell the story as I saw it happen.

It was a joyful day, that Friday a few weeks back. October 30th. A day long looked forward to, by my sister Rhoda and her family, out in Kansas. It was a special time, because Marvin and Rhoda’s oldest daughter, Sara, was getting married that afternoon. A wedding. With all the fixings and fuss and finery a wedding has. It’s a Beachy Amish church that Marvin and Rhoda attend, out there in Hutchinson. A car church. The service was scheduled for early afternoon, at 1:00 o’clock.

And of course, all the extended family was invited. I told Rhoda, though, a few months back. You can’t make it to every wedding. So I probably won’t be there. I have fifty-nine nieces and nephews. A lot of them are married, and a lot of them still aren’t. So it’s all a bit random for me. I make it when I can. And I don’t, when I can’t. And it’s never anything personal at anyone. I just can’t get to every wedding.

The extended family sure showed up, though. I chatted with my brother Steve a few days before. “Oh, yes,” he said, when I asked. “Wilma and I are flying out on Thursday. And we’re leaving for home on Saturday, the day after the wedding. We won’t be hanging around too long after it’s over. But we’re going. Don’t you think you should come, too?” And I told him what I keep saying to anyone who will listen. You can’t make it to every wedding. Or every funeral, either, when you think about it.

And they traveled from all over, and converged on Marvin and Rhoda’s home. The Waglers and the Yutzys, the brothers and sisters, the uncles and aunts. And a whole horde of cousins, too. This was a big deal. Sara, Marvin’s oldest daughter, was getting married. As had been the case with her mother years before, the hounds have bayed in hot pursuit of my niece for years and years. Undeterred, she fended them all off and traveled on her merry way. And I don’t know, it was around a year ago, I think, when she and Reuben Miller started dating. You could see it was different, this time, for Sara, when you saw the pictures on Facebook. You could tell by the excitement shining from her eyes and by the huge smile on her face. This time, it was going all the way. And so it was, that Friday, as family and friends gathered around from all over.

There’s usually some kind of gathering the night before the wedding, that’s how it’s been from the ones I’ve attended. Everyone just kind of gathers around and sits and visits. And vast tables of delicious food are laid out. It’s time to feast, it’s time to celebrate, it’s time to walk around and meet all kinds of people, and talk. It’s always a good time, a fulfilling time. And after a long evening, everyone kind of ambles off, real late, to their lodging places. Tomorrow would be the big day. The Freundschaft had gathered from many different places, to honor the happy couple. It’s a big thing, all of it is. It’s a wedding, and it’s a party.

There’s one place where the family didn’t come from, though, to help celebrate. And that place is Bloomfield, Iowa. My old home stomping grounds, from years ago. Bloomfield is a little different from a lot of Amish settlements. It’s a very progressive place, in some ways. If you leave the Amish and move away, and make no trouble for anyone, the Bloomfielders will not excommunicate you. They’ll leave you alone, to go your own way. There are a whole lot of people here in Lancaster County who could only dream of leaving from an enlightened place like that.

But Bloomfield is extremely regressive in some ways, too. Extremely hard-core. I’ve grumbled about this particular thing before. And here’s why.

If you leave the Bloomfield Amish, like Marvin and Rhoda did fourteen years ago, if you leave and join a car church, well, there are repercussions. And one of the cruelest is this. The people from Bloomfield are forbidden to attend any weddings of the children of the people who left. Or even visit much. It just is what it is. And it all seems so senseless. I mean, it’s a joyful day for someone in the family, and you are not allowed to go and participate. You’re not allowed to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. I’m not saying a lot of Bloomfielders wouldn’t go, if they could. They would, heaven knows. They’re simply not allowed to.

And, oh, yeah, they may attend all the funerals. Any person dies, anywhere, they may go. They’d be allowed to attend my funeral, even. But I’ve always said. What good does that do for anyone whose life has fled? What good does it do, to pay your last respects, when you didn’t respect that person enough while he was alive to visit him? None of any of that policy makes a whole lot of sense to me. But it doesn’t have to, I guess. Any church is free to make its own rules, and stick by them. And I am free, too, to criticize those rules. OK. I’ll bite my tongue, now.

And so it was that Friday morning, as the sun rose, and the wedding guests stirred to meet the day. No Amish from Bloomfield would be there. That included Titus and Ruth, and their boys. And Norman and Ida, Marvin’s parents. And a couple of other sisters and their families. But there were plenty of other people there, at the wedding, to make up for those who should have been there, but weren’t. And that morning, I felt a little tinge of guilt. Maybe I should have gone. Ah, well, too late now. I texted Rhoda. Blessings to all today. Sorry I couldn’t make it. And as busy as she had to be that morning, looking after everything, she texted back, right soon. “Thank you for your prayers….we will miss you.”

And here is where the telling of it all gets a little tricky. And I go back and relive that morning, from the sidelines where I stood and watched in horror as events unfolded around the wedding people and their guests, and around the Bloomfield people, too. Events that will be seared forever in their minds.

Midmorning. Around 10:00 AM. A few hundred miles to the north and east of where the wedding guests had gathered, a few hundred mile away, in Bloomfield, Iowa, the sun was shining, too. A beautiful day. And a busy Friday for everyone. And Norman Yutzy, Marvin’s father, hitched his faithful horse to a two-wheeled cart. He was heading over to help out at the Produce Auction, about a mile north on Drakesville Road. He stopped in to chat a few minutes with Titus, at his truss shop across the road. And then he slapped the reins. The horse and cart lurched off. Down the gravel road, then left onto the pavement. A familiar road, a road that Norman Yutzy had traveled thousands and thousands of times before.

Back in Kansas, things were all astir. There was much bustling about. There was so much to get ready for. The service would be at 1:00 PM. And Rhoda and my other sisters and sisters-in-law were all busy with last minute preparations. Sara beamed and beamed, and disappeared with her bridesmaids to get ready. This was her day, her time. The day she and Reuben had looked forward to for so long. Now it was here, and now it was unfolding. Her wedding day.

Back in Bloomfield, Norman Yutzy may have been humming to himself on that beautiful, cloudless morning, as his horse and cart rolled along right merrily. And as he approached the left turn into the Produce Auction, a large tractor trailer approached from the south, from behind Norman. When the rig’s driver saw the cart in front of him, he slowed way down, below the speed limit. The cart was off to the right shoulder, so the driver began slowly edging his way around, to pass. And that’s when it happened.

No one knows why. No one knows if Norman never saw the approaching tractor trailer, and just turned his horse left, across the road, and onto the drive to the Auction place. All that anyone knows is that the horse did turn left, abruptly, and pulled the cart smack dab in front of the tractor trailer. As slow as the driver was going, there was nothing he could do. Nothing at all. There was a crash. And Norman Yutzy was killed instantly, at that spot, on that road, in that moment.

I heard the news around noon. And you think about that, you think about the tragedy of it all, and it just takes your breath away. Over on this side, you have the wedding, and all the expectant and excited guests. The deliriously happy bride and groom. And all of it laid out, and waiting to happen, in just a few hours. The wedding. The reception. The feasting and rejoicing. The blessing of a new family. The honeymoon.

And over on the other side, cold hard unfathomable death. The grandfather of the bride, the father of my best friend Marvin, instantly and violently killed. All on the same day, within a few hours of each other.

And I thought to myself. Sometimes life throws a curve at you that is almost impossible to take, almost impossible to absorb. This is such a thing, and this is such a day.

But then I thought. Yes. This is such a day and this is such a thing. But you walk forward through it, because there is no other choice. You can and you will and you do.

And what to do? What to do? That’s what the Bloomfield people asked themselves. Titus and the other children. They knew Sara’s wedding was scheduled to happen in a mere few hours. Should they try to keep the news from Marvins, at least until the wedding was over? And I can’t blame them for considering that option. They were all in shock, and it’s hard to keep a clear head sometimes. And I’m not sure quite how it all came down, but somehow they called my sister, Rachel, and told her. Her instant reaction. “We have to tell Marvin and Rhoda. They must know.”

And somehow, Rachel found the strength inside to go and tell my sister and her husband that Norman was gone. And after the initial shock, the thought came to all of them. Would it be possible to keep the news from Sara, at least until after the wedding was over? But they caught themselves. These were extraordinary circumstances. Sara had the right to know. And Marvin and Rhoda called all their children, all their family, off to a private room on the side. And there they spoke the news. Their grandfather, Marvin’s Dad, had been killed a few hours before. Everyone recoiled in shock. And so much of it was swept away like dust, the joy and eager anticipation of that day.

There is some strong, strong blood, buried back there somewhere in the lineage of both the Waglers and the Yutzys. And that blood flows strong today. It showed that day, from the way Marvin and Rhoda and all their family reacted. Marvin spoke gently to his daughter, there in that room. “Let’s focus on the wedding. You don’t have to decide now, about what you want to do later. If you want to go on your honeymoon, that’s completely alright. You don’t have to decide that now. Let’s be joyful, here on your wedding day.”

And Sara did not flinch, and she did not hesitate. She looked right at her father. And she told him. “We will be attending the funeral. The honeymoon can wait. We will be with our family.” And he nodded, relieved. At least the pressure of all that was gone, now. They walked out, then, to join all the guests, as a family. And right on time, the wedding service proceeded.

Sara and Reuben

And I texted Steve, that afternoon. Call me when you can. He called later that evening, and I asked how everything had gone. “It went real well,” he said. “The preacher made a short announcement, right at the beginning, about what had happened. And then they went right on and had the wedding, just like normal.” I’m happy to hear that, I said. “Well, Marvin was going to have a part, a reading of some kind,” Steve told me. “He just got someone else to do it for him. And otherwise, you wouldn’t really have noticed that much was out of the ordinary. It was a wedding. And it was very nice.”

We chatted, then, about Norman. The funeral would be on Monday morning, Steve told me. And most of the Wagler and Yutzy guests changed their traveling plans to include the funeral. They were all heading on up to Bloomfield tomorrow, Steve said. Well, I want to hear all about it, when you get back, I told him. And we hung up.

And I thought a lot about a lot of things, just as I had since I had heard of Norman’s death earlier that day. Of who he was, and of how well I knew the man, years ago. That afternoon, I had quietly decided not to attend the funeral. There are reasons for that, reasons I won’t hash out here. But I did call Marvin on his cell, on the off chance that he might answer. He didn’t, so I left a short and heartfelt message of love and condolences.

My heart was heavy over the next few days, with my sister and her family. And Sara and Reuben. And Titus and Ruth, too. It all hung heavy on my mind, as I combed back through the decades, and sifted through my memories of who Norman Yutzy was.

I remember the first time I saw him. Back in 1976, when a bunch of us came to Bloomfield to build the dairy barn on the farm Dad had bought out north of West Grove. The Yutzy brothers and their sons had already laid the concrete blocks for the barn’s foundation, when we arrived. And they rattled over every day, in their buggies, to keep the building moving along. Those were the ten days or two weeks where I first got to know my future blood brothers, Marvin and Rudy. Right there, that summer, that August, is when and where we first connected.

The Yutzy men liked to holler and carry on a lot, as they were working. Might as well have a little fun while you’re at it, is how they saw it, I think. And of all his brothers, I remember Norman as the quietest. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make noise. He did. He just wasn’t as loud as his brothers. He had a handsome face, and that large Yutzy/Roman nose. And a straight-wired beard. I can’t remember that I ever was intimidated by the man.

Fast forward, then, a few years. To the time that Marvin and I took to running around together, and leaving home and all that. There were a few years, there, that Norman had plenty of reasons to tell me off, to not be kind to me. I mean, it’s always a classic thing, when parents blame someone else’s son for influencing their own son in a bad way. But in all the years that Marvin and I ran around together, in all the years that we got in trouble together, in all the years that we left home and traveled to distant lands, in all those years, I gotta say one thing.

Norman Yutzy never, never took it out on me. And he never blamed me publicly, for influencing his son. He never tried to straighten me out. I have always deeply respected him for that. When I came around, he was always, always kind. Sure, he may have had some personal thoughts about different matters, but he never let on. And right up to real recent times, when I met him at Titus’s truss shop, where he used to work part time, I can say the same thing. He would come up, shake my hand, and just visit a bit. There was no hint of any kind of resentment in his demeanor. None at all. Ever.

The funeral home people weren’t sure that the body could be viewed. But the family insisted. It’s pretty important, to the Amish, that there is a viewing. So they arranged the viewing, and by all accounts, he was recognizable, there in the coffin. It was all set up in my brother Titus’s big new truss plant. Plenty of room there, for the viewing and for the funeral.

And Bloomfield came together, like only an Amish community can. Everything gets taken care of. The bereaved family has no worries about anything. The grave is dug by hand, by others. Vast amounts of food are prepared and served by others. And that Sunday afternoon and evening, hundreds and hundreds of people, both Amish and English, came to pay their respects to Norman Yutzy. He was seventy-seven years old.

And the next morning, on Monday, more than eleven hundred people showed up for the funeral. The big new truss plant was filled to overflowing, and a second service was set up in Titus’s little shop up by the house. The Yutzys came from all over. Every single one of Norman’s deceased brother David Yutzy’s children attended. And most of Ellen’s family attended, too. Norman was her father Adin’s younger brother. We communicated some. I sent her my sympathies. She was going, she texted back. And she knew I would be welcome, too. I thanked her and declined.

After the traditional Amish funeral preaching, the family gathered, one family at a time, around the coffin. And they wept bitter tears of grief and loss for their father, their grandfather, the patriarch of their clan. Then all eleven hundred people walked slowly past, single file. And then the lid was closed, and Norman’s coffin was trundled a few hundred yards down the road to the east, to the little graveyard just east of the schoolhouse that all sits on land that was once part of his farm. The grave had been dug, and the coffin was lowered respectfully. The pallbearers took up their shovels, and soon the earth was piled high on Norman’s new house.

And then it was back to the truss plant, where the Bloomfield Amish fed more than a thousand people. And almost immediately after that, the Freundschaft started drifting away, to distant airports for the long flights home. The clans had gathered one more time to lay one of their own to rest. None of it was planned. It all just happened as it happened.

And I think, too, of what the aftermath will be for Norman’s family. For Marvin and Rhoda, and for all Norman’s children and grandchildren. After the shock, then the rush and fuss of the funeral, after meeting and greeting kin from all over, after that, one must go home. To where everything is eerily quiet, all of a sudden. And that right there is when and where it will all close in.

The aftermath, the grappling with the horror of it, the cold sweats, the nights when sleep will not come. The questions, as to why, and all the if-only’s. And the rage at God, that He could ever allow such a tragic thing, especially on the wedding day of a beautiful bride and her groom. None of any of it makes any sense, and it never will.

The thing is, it’s all OK, the grappling, the horror, the questions. And yes, the rage. The Lord is the Lord. And He can take all that we speak from an honest and hurting heart. He can and He will. Not only that, He can heal all the hurts and all the wounds, in time, of course. He can and He will.

This moment is all there is, here on this earth. It’s all anyone has, or ever had. And now is the time to live.

Before heading back to his home in Kansas, Marvin had one more thing he wanted to do. A couple of Amish men, neighbors, had been the first to arrive on the accident scene where Norman was killed. Marvin wanted to meet those men there, right on the spot. And he wanted them to tell him what they saw, he wanted to hear their stories first-hand.

And they met, the day after the funeral, in late afternoon, I think it was. Most of Norman’s children, and the two or three men who were the first on the scene. And the men shared what they had seen with the family. And as they stood there and spoke their stories, they all suddenly looked up into the sky to the north. And saw a strange and wonderful thing.

A giant bird, flying low, really low, just gliding along at about a hundred feet. An eagle, in all its majestic glory. And everyone looked in awe. A rare sight in these parts, indeed. The eagle swept right along the road until it reached the little group of people below. Then it turned abruptly to the right, to the west, and flew off with short thrusts of its powerful wings.

And all eyes below watched as the great bird gradually receded in the distance, then disappeared into the western skies.

October 30, 2015

Tales From Old October…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm


October is the richest of the seasons: the fields are cut, the granaries are full,
the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness…the sun goes down in blood and
pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of old October.

—Thomas Wolfe

It always slides right in, that feeling in the fall. I’ve never written all that much about it. But when October comes, I always feel the shiver and chill of those frosty mornings again, back in my childhood. It was a time of harvest, then the plow. The shorn fields empty now, of their crops. And the darkness creeping in, earlier and earlier each night, as the sun sank low in the west. It was when we first did the evening chores by lantern light, in the comfortable odorous warmth of the barn. It always stirs the memories in me, old October does.

Here in Lancaster County, I am far from the fields of my childhood. Here, I watch the teams plugging along in the fields, from a distance. And the great old barns sag with the fruits of the harvest. Hay bales in the loft, the silo filled to the top. And in the outbuildings, great sheaves of tobacco hanging from the rafters. I was always taught that raising tobacco was evil. But I have grown to deeply respect what that crop means in the annals and traditions of Lancaster County.

And this October, I figured to write a blog about October. But when crunch time came last week, I sat and fidgeted. How do you write about a specific month, without getting all hifalutin’ and deliberately “literary?” Friday came, and I passed. No blog this week. And I sat down the other night, to try again. And I thought. Just tell the stories you remember, the stories that came down in October. So I wrote out the first thing that came, the thing closest to my mind, because it happened just a few days ago.

I saw the number on my cell phone when it rang, last Wednesday. I was busy at work, but I answered. It was Esther, the Amish lady I take a gallon of raw fresh Jersey milk to every two weeks. And she makes four quarts of pure natural unsweetened yogurt from that milk. She keeps two, and I take two. Somehow, the Saturday before, things got clogged up a bit. And now it was mid-week, and I still didn’t have my yogurt. Yes, Esther? I said. And she spoke, and I could hear something different in her voice. Something flat and serious and far and full of wonder and very calm.

“Well, your yogurt is ready,” she said. “I’m sorry it took so long, this week. You can stop by tonight and pick it up. I won’t be home, but you know where it is in the fridge.” There was a little pause, then. And she spoke again, about what she really wanted to tell me. I had no idea what that might be. “Yesterday, they had Big Church, over in our son Samuel’s district,” she said. Yeah, I said. I know it’s Big Church season, here in October. You gotta get that out of the way, before the weddings can start. “Yes,” she said. “And yesterday, over in Samuel’s district, they ordained a preacher.” And I knew instantly and instinctively what she was going to say next. And lo, she spoke the words.

“The lot hit Samuel,” she said.

And then I couldn’t help but groan, soft and long. Oh, my, I said. Oh, my. Oh, no. Oh, my. I know Esther and I know all her family. Her husband, David. I always stop by, every couple of weeks or so, just to catch up with whatever it is we have to talk about. And to pick up my yogurt, of course. I know their sons, too, and their daughter. I know them all. Samuel is the middle son. Around thirty years old, I’d guess. Quiet, lean of stature. Intense, intelligent. Well-read. When I see him, we always chat a bit about world affairs. And football. He knows I love football, so he always asks about how my Jets are doing.

And Esther told me a little bit about how it all came down, that Tuesday. If they need to ordain a preacher around here, they try to have the church service on a Monday or a Tuesday, or sometimes a Saturday. That’s so the other preachers from surrounding districts can come and witness and offer support. And that Tuesday morning, Esther told me, she went over to Samuel and Naomi’s house, to take care of the children, while they went off to Big Church. Nothing much was said about the upcoming ordination, I don’t think. You don’t talk much about such a thing beforehand. It’s just not done in the Amish world, any musings about maybe becoming a preacher. If the lot hits your son, there will be plenty of time to talk about it all later. And if it doesn’t, well, then there wasn’t much to talk about, anyway, one way or the other.

She stayed there with the children all day, Esther told me. And before Samuel and his wife came home, someone had stopped in to tell her. The lot had hit her son. And when they came home, Samuel and Naomi, she just broke down and wept. “He hugged me. Comforted me. I mean, he’s the one who was just ordained, and now he’s comforting his Mom,” she said. That’s exactly how it should be, I said. It’s a heavy thing, for any parent to absorb, that the lot for preacher hit their son.

And I realized I was hearing something rare and fine, right there in that moment. I was hearing the story of an Amish ordination from a mother’s perspective, something I had never really considered before. And Esther spoke bravely about her son. “He has a gentle spirit,” she told me. “And he wants to see the gospel preached. I think he will be alright.” And I encouraged her, as I could. Of course he will be alright.

But I couldn’t help but groan aloud again. Oh, my. Oh, my. This is such a life-changing thing. But I caught myself after a few groans. Samuel will rise up, and he will be fine, I told her. I know that. From her response, I knew she knew that, too. It’s a fine thing, and it’s a gentle thing, but it’s there, the heaviness and the subdued pride of it. I remember the feeling when my brother Joseph got ordained, back in 1978. We had a preacher in our family, now. And nothing could ever take that fact away. You have a preacher in the family now, I told Esther. That’s an honorable thing, and a somber thing. I had to get back to work, then. We said so long and hung up. But I held these things in my heart, and pondered them.

I’ve written about it a few times before, way back, in this blog. And it’s mentioned, too, in the book. It’s one of the most intense and draining things any Amish man will ever face, or ever endure. Or any Amish couple, or extended family. The making of a preacher. The selecting of God’s chosen one by lot. It strikes randomly, seems like, and it strikes like lightning. And it’s all so brutal and so intense.

There may be other groups out there that ordain a preacher just like the Amish do. Other plain groups, like the Beachys, ordain by lot. But it’s different. Those groups usually vote for who will be in the lot, say, at a Friday night church service. The names are called, of the chosen ones. But the actual ordination isn’t held until a few nights later, usually a Sunday night. And in the interim, the preachers talk in depth to all the men in the lot. One by one, personally. Does the brother feel he has a calling to preach? Will he accept the calling and the responsibility, if the lot hits him? And I’ve always thought. The Beachy guys have an out. All they have to do is say, no. There is no calling, inside, to preach. And just like that, they are excused from the lot. Home free. No book to pull. No terrifying little slip of paper to jump out at you.

Not so, the Amish. In an Amish ordination, it’s wham, bam. Your name gets called, and you struggle to your feet and slowly approach the table where the books are. You and four or five other intensely burdened men. Everyone looks on, all quiet, you can feel the oppressive pressure. And then you pull a book. Any book, it doesn’t have to be in any particular order. You sit there, frozen. And then the bishop comes along and takes your book. Unties the string. Opens it.

And if that little slip of paper is there, on page 770, you ain’t got no choice. You will be ordained. Right there, on the spot. It’s one of the most brutally intense experiences any Amish man (and his wife) will ever endure, to be in the lot. Whether or not the lot actually hits him.

And there have been tales and legends passed down, over the years. I remember a story from my childhood. There was an ordination, and the lot fell on a young man. He wasn’t all that bright, and he most certainly had no intention of allowing any bishop to ordain him. Before anyone could stop him, he bolted. Out the door, some say he jumped out a window. However he got out, he disappeared into the deepening shadows of late afternoon. “We will let him go,” the bishop intoned calmly. “He will come back.”

The young man hid out at home for a few weeks, if I remember right. And then, one Sunday, he showed up at church, a little sheepishly. All right, I’m here. Ordain me. The bishop did just that, and nothing more was ever told or heard, that the young man did not honorably fulfill his duties as a preacher.

And then I remember hearing this story preached, in Bloomfield. I even think it might have been told by my brother Joseph, in a sermon. Somewhere, a long time ago, there was an ordination in an Amish community far away. And the lot hit a young man. Maybe he was more like middle aged. I think he was ordained, there on the spot. But the man refused to preach. “I cannot preach,” he said. And over and over again. “I cannot preach.”

He remained obstinate, insisting he cannot preach. So the Lord took him at his word. And the time came that the man was struck dumb. He became mute. And he never could speak another word, and never did, all his life. That’s the story I heard told. And it all happened because he kept proclaiming he cannot preach.

And what if there is only one person in the lot? I had never heard of such a thing, but I guess it’s happened. Here in Lancaster County, back in the mid 1800s, there was an ordination where only one man got the allotted three votes needed to get stuck in the lot. The preachers and bishops conferred, and decided to go ahead and just ordain him. So they did that, and no ill ever came from any of it, that I heard told. And I don’t know if they just ordained him, or if they made him pull one book, so they could open it and find the little slip of paper on page 770. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if it happened that way, with the book.

But my friend, Amos, the horse dentist, tells me of another time when there was only one man in the lot. He’d heard the story told, or maybe he’d read it in a book somewhere. It happened in the Honey Brook area, in the mid 1800s. It must have been a pretty small group, there in the district, to be ordaining a preacher. Because only one man got the three votes needed to get in. The preachers and bishops conferred, and this time, they decided to step off the reservation a bit, all on their own. They decided to include another man, a man who had garnered only two votes. You needed three to get in. And that day, the Amish bishop went against all that was ever taught or respected in the annals of that culture. He inserted himself over God. The two men were named, called up. The legitimate candidate, and the one who had only two votes.

And, of course, we all know what happened next. The lot hit the guy with only two votes. And all would have been fine, except somehow, one of the preachers talked, down the road. The preacher told of what had happened that day, and how the lot had hit a man who shouldn’t even have been in it. And of course, too. The poor guy who had been ordained heard the story. He did not take it well. He refused the calling of being a preacher, since he had been ordained illegitimately. Just flat out refused to preach, or walk with that preachers upstairs to the Obrote. He insisted on sitting with the regular folks, not up front with the preachers.

And in time, the pain festered so deep inside his tortured soul that it actually affected his health. He became quite bitter. Not that I blame him. Who wouldn’t? He certainly never was an effective preacher. Who could be, in a system such as that, when he knew his ordination was a fraud?

And it all got pretty contentious and heated, I guess, at least according to what Amos the horse dentist told me. The man was shunned for not being willing to “obey the will of the Lord.” What will? He asked. You stuck me in that lot when you had no business to. I’m not a preacher, and never was. And in time, he left the Amish. He never returned, either to preach or anything else.

And here, the telling of the story gets very strange. The stores the Amish tell, after a death. I’ve heard the whispers of such things, all my life, from stories of people who left the Amish and went off and lived a sinful and worldly life.

Here’s where it gets all Amish, the telling of it. When the man died, years later, they placed him in a coffin in his home. And the people came to see him, to pay their last respects, such as they were. And then darkness fell. And still people came to see the body. And strangely, throughout that evening and all through that night, the lights would not stay lit, anywhere in the house. No matter how many times they were re-lighted.

After ordinations, a much more joyful season comes rolling into Lancaster County. Weddings. They start right after Big Church, in mid October. Every Tuesday and Thursday, all through November and the first half of December. The buggies clog the early morning roads. A whole lot of people gathering at a whole lot of places for a whole lot of celebrations. And thus the next generation of Lancaster County Amish is assured.

And every fall, I kind of keep an eye out, for my builders at work. I ask them. How many weddings are you going to, this year? And yeah, it’s because I want to know, and I want to make conversation. But mostly, it’s because I’m hoping that somewhere, somehow, I can snag me some Roasht. I usually manage to beg some from someone, somewhere. This year, in mid November, the daughter of one of my best friends is getting married. I figure to attend the evening services. And I figure to raid the large tub of Roasht in the cooler. We’ll see how it goes.

A small bunny trail, right here at the end. Thomas Wolfe’s “October passage” is among the most famous of all seasonal descriptions in all of American literature. And it’s what triggered this blog. I make no secret of it. The man is my hero, when it comes to what real writing is. Just recently, though, I read a short, vitriolic screed where a real obscure critic just went off on a tirade. I mean, the man went ballistic. And he savagely excoriated Wolfe for even daring to have written one sentence. Wolfe was a drunk, and he couldn’t go home again, and he wrote the worst prose ever published, according to his primary biographer, a shiftless shyster who apparently won a Pulitzer Prize somewhere along the way for something he wrote.

That’s what the obscure critic huffed and raged. Well, now. I’ve never heard of the shyster biographer before. Never heard his name, and I’m sure not telling it here. I’ve sure heard Thomas Wolfe’s name, though. Bottom line is this. The books of the shiftless shyster never sold. Wolfe’s books did, and still do.

Show me any writer of Wolfe’s generation who didn’t drink, and I’ll show you a boatload of forgotten prose that no one buys or reads. Back to the obscure critic. His problem is, he has labored tirelessly for decades under the odd delusion that somehow his writings will be indispensable to all the world a hundred years down the road. Thing is, his books don’t sell now. They never have sold, other than a few hundred copies he managed to shake off on his “Remnant.” I don’t know why he would imagine that anyone will remember his name a hundred years from now, or why that seems so important to him. Because that’s a long time, for history to remember anyone’s name.

Wolfe is gonna make that cut, though. He died in 1938, at the painfully tragic young age of thirty-seven, eighteen days before his thirty-eighth birthday (who knows, what all the man could have produced, had he been given even ten more years?). People will still be reading his stuff in 2038. And beyond. It doesn’t matter how many small, savage critics go after him, when they’re really going after someone else.

Thomas Wolfe didn’t consider himself to be indispensable to any single thing. Or any cause. No real writer does, because you can’t speak to a reader’s heart from a heart filled with such hubris. His Magnum Opus was published posthumously, from his notes. You Can’t Go Home Again. I don’t think he cared that much whether or not he ever got published again. He just lived and wrote. And, yeah, he drank, I’m sure. I mean. Duh. How prissy are we going to get, here?

And if people read my book or any of my other stuff after I’m gone, well, I’d sure like that. I’d like that a lot. It won’t make much difference, though, in the end. Eventually, pretty much every word anyone writes will turn to dust and ashes. And it doesn’t matter how desperately we want to be remembered, for all that wisdom we spouted. The bottom line is this. All we ever were or ever wrote will be as forgotten as if we had never passed through this broken world. There will be no memory of who we were, or what we said.

All else is vanity, and idol worship.