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.

May 29, 2020

Tuesday Morning…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:33 pm


You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back
home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of
fame, back home to exile,…away from all the strife and conflict of the
world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for…

—Thomas Wolfe

The day came, it trickled in like most days do. The breaking silent dawn, the rising sun. On this day, there were blue skies with rafts of drifting clouds. It was a rare moment. I had seen only one such time before, that came anywhere close to this. It was Tuesday. May 12th, the day Broken Roads got released.

It had been a long time coming. I don’t know what the average time is between first and second books. A year or two, probably, unless the second one gets forced out before. It took me nine years. A good long wait, that is, for a new dawn to come. It didn’t really bother me much, that it took so long. I told myself. If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come. I figured it would. Eventually. And eventually, it did. The days plodded along, the weeks crawled by. And the release date crept up, closer and closer. Until the big day came. There had been only one day approaching anything like this, ever before, in all my life. That was when Growing Up Amish got released on June 28, 2011. A Tuesday, nine years ago. I don’t know. Maybe Tuesday is a special day to release a book. Seems like it was for me.

I looked back and thought about things a good bit. How it all happened last time. How things went, as the day approached. The second journey would be different than the first. But still. You do what has worked in the past when you can. I thought back to nine years ago and how it was. How I went to see my friend, Sam the Counselor. Just to talk through things, just to keep my head straight. This time, I wasn’t sure any of that was necessary. Until the last full week was winding down, then it came to me. Go see Sam. You can’t go wrong. So I called to see if an appointment might be available. I was not all that sure a slot could open on such short notice, but they made one for me. Monday morning. I could see Sam then. I’ll be there, I promised.

Monday morning. I slept in a bit, then got up. Nice day, a little cloudy. I stuffed a couple of copies of Broken Roads into my messenger bag, and we were off. Amish Black II bucketed along over the backroads. Through Bridgeport, and on south. Down, down, through Willow Street, then on over to Conestoga. My appointment was at 9:30. I usually grab the opening slot at 8;00 or so, but beggars can’t be choosers, not when they call in as late as I had. Norma smiled and welcomed me. I sat in one of the spindled chairs in the waiting area. A few minutes after 9:30, Sam came thumping down the stairs. He smiled and greeted me. We didn’t shake hands, as we usually do. Covid. View every person with suspicion. I swear, that virus is going to make us all insane.

Sam and I settled in, our chairs naturally spaced more than six feet apart. I came, I told him, because you are safe. You always were. I’m here because my book is happening tomorrow. I held out a copy of Broken Roads. This book is releasing tomorrow. I’m ready, I think. Still, it goes better when I run things past you. I signed the book to him and Cathie, his wife. Here, I said. A gift. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me.

And we sat there and chatted, me and Sam. I told him. I remember years back, right when my marriage blew up, a year or so in. I was coming to see you regularly, every couple of weeks or so. You told me that maybe someday I’ll write about what was going on right then. You said it would be quite a story. I scoffed at the idea. Nah. I’ll never get to a place like that. And then I told Sam. I need to tell you, I did get to that place. You were right. I wrote the things you told me I might write one day. That stuff is all in this book. I remember how I scoffed at you. You were right. And we talked a bit about life in general in these strange “pandemic” times. Life has changed, and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. It’s a crazy world out there.

But you don’t have to be afraid, I said to Sam. You can choose not to walk in fear. And we talked about what that might look like. I’m sure it’s different for different people. We wandered far out into other fields as well, as we always do. And soon we had talked well past an hour. I stood, then, and took my leave. Sam thanked me again for the book. He’d let me know what he thought, he promised.

That day passed uneventfully, and night came. And it was heavy on my mind as I grappled for sleep that night. The book. Tomorrow the book would be released to the world. I couldn’t stop it now if I wanted to. It felt more like, what is done is done. Let the heralds proclaim with trumpet fanfare from the rooftops. Here is Ira’s new book. Broken Roads. Stop and check it out. I tossed and turned and pitched about. Then drifted off to sleep. And the dreams came sliding in, then. Broken dreams about a broken past.

I woke up early. Tossed about a bit, then got up. This was the day. It would have been so different in a sane and normal world. There would have been a book signing that evening, over at Plain and Fancy. And probably a little writeup in the paper. Maybe. The paper isn’t what it was last time, back in 2011. Still. It would have been good, to have some notice locally. I’m not sure if that’s going to get done.

I posted early on social media that morning. Today is the day I’ve been waiting for. My book. I posted a link to Amazon and asked my friends to repost. All through that day, I saw posts of my book. And then the messages started coming. Hey. My book got here. Shipped from Amazon.

I was really impressed with how precisely that had to be timed. Somewhere down the chain of responsibility, it was someone’s job to make sure my book got shipped so it would be delivered on the date of actual release. That didn’t happen across the board, I know. But it happened a good bit. I was impressed. And people started posting after they had read it. The feedback was mostly positive. Some of the early reviews on Amazon have been brutal. I glanced at them and didn’t think of them much. And I’ll mention it right here. I could sure use some reviews on Amazon. If you haven’t done it, I’d appreciate if you would. No obligation, of course.

I got a few messages that day from the publishing team. The people I worked with. They congratulated me. It’s a big deal, to get a book published. And it felt good that these people recognized that. And I’ve thought about it a good bit. Of all the “art” you can create, writing is the easiest medium in which to get known. I think it is. It’s almost impossible in music. And painting, well, wait until after you’re dead, then maybe your art’s worth real money. Only a writer can hole up in a “flat,” as the British would call it, and write in the evenings while working full time. A writer has a better shot at actually getting published and heard. Well. Mostly, it’s that way. There’s always exceptions, of course.

It’s been about two weeks, now. A few days more than that. I wasn’t sure how involved the Hachette people would get with the marketing. So far, so good. They got some little outside PR firm lining up some good interviews. I’ve done half a dozen or so. They’ve been fun. Took me back to the old Growing Up Amish days, it did. Take a break at work. Half an hour here, fifteen minutes there. I enjoy the talking, mostly. You let the host lead, go where he or she nudges you.

It looks like one lonely book signing event might still be held. Well, there may be others. But just one for now. This summer, in mid-July, there will be an ex-Amish reunion in Old Bloomfield. Saturday and Sunday, the 18th and 19th. Anyone who was ever Amish in Bloomfield is invited. That was the week of the Davis County Fair. I had planned to rent a booth at the Fair on Friday, July 17th. And then Covid interrupted, of course. The Fair got canceled. It is what it is. Right now, I’m looking at renting the Get-ToGather Room on the north side of the square on Friday, July 17th, from maybe 12:30 to 4:00. Or something like that. Bring your book, or buy one there. I’m planning on it. If anything changes, I’ll note that in my next blog.

A few words about the virus. Not much. It does little good to rant. There will be plenty of time later to dissect what really happened. I am currently most disappointed at pastors who obstinately refuse to reopen their churches. They stand with outstretched arms, not to shepherd their flocks, and not to lead. But to deny entry to the church. Can’t let the church gather without the pastor. That would be disaster. It’s mind-boggling. I never dreamed I’d see the day. Those pastors should start their own little support group. Pastors on a Power Trip. Open your freakin’ churches. Your people are ready to explode from the tension.

Back to a more pleasant present. My book got officially released on Tuesday, May 12th. That’s a big deal for me. I did a few interviews and got a few more coming up. And just this week, I got a real good write-up in two online publications. Both were written interviews. The first was in The Christian Post. The second was my good friend Erik Wesner’s blog, Amish America.

And through it all, the struggle continues for some semblance of the old traditions. There is Covid, there’s my book release, there are riots in the streets, and there is the terrifying noise you hear when the world is crumpling to ashes on every side. Through the darkness comes a bright little sliver of light. My nephew, Clifford Wagler, is getting married. He’s the youngest son of my brother and his wife, Stephen and Wilma Wagler. Clifford was always a bit shy until he met this one particular, lovely girl. Esther King, that’s her name. The two of them have been inseparable for over a year, now. Their wedding is planned for late June. Less than a month.

Clifford and Esther

A few weeks ago, Clifford and Esther brought me supper one Sunday night. It was nice, that they paid a bit of attention to the crotchety old uncle. Esther had cooked up a delicious meal, and afterward, we went for a ride in Amish Black II. Life rolls on through everything. I mean, so far, it has. It is beautiful to see a young couple walking forward with all the hope and faith and optimism that young couples have. Congratulations from the extended family, Clifford and Esther. We wish you every blessing.