“But some prayers are hard to pray.
Well, some things, it’s hard to say.”
—Country music band Sawyer Brown, “Hard to Say”
Since this site was launched in April, there has been no shortage of advice, both solicited and unsolicited, mostly the latter. I appreciate all who take time from their busy daily schedules to spend a few minutes reading what I write. I respect those who comment publicly on the Comment section, even when they are critical or, as happens occasionally, overly belligerant or just flat out wacky. However, as the result of some recent emails sent to me privately (which is also OK), I think it’s time to do a bit of housekeeping.
One such email suggested (among other points, some of which were postive and very complimentary) that I cease wailing so much about the wasteland and try to be a bit more upbeat. “……Most people don’t usually want to hear how bad things are……Any Amish kid can get up in the morning and be depressed……It takes much more to be upbeat in the face of a desolate landscape,” said the writer. Well, maybe. And any Amish kid can whistle past the graveyard with all the syrupy, upbeat Sunday School mush and goo in the world and fool no one, too. (Now let’s all turn to page 112 in our text, where we notice that we should all be thankful for our blessings every day and smile even when we don’t feel like it. And tell everyone you meet today to have a nice day.) Spare me.
A basic reminder is in order. This site is a place for me to write. About who I am, where I am, what I think, and the world around me. And what I am experiencing. Whether it’s slogging through the wasteland. Or sailing under clear blue skies. Or anywhere in between. I never know what the subject matter will be from one week to the next. In retrospect, some of the content in my earlier blogs now seems rather naive and silly. But I wrote it. The blogs will remain archived. They are what they are. And I will continue to write. I probably take it a little too seriously sometimes. Occasionally, some of you do too.
The “Wasteland” essay was different, out there, with several dimensions of meaning. It was what I felt. Some may have concluded that I’d lost it. Maybe I had, there for a moment. But it reflected where I was (and still am, mostly), and I couldn’t have written anything else. An upbeat essay that week would have been as fraudulent and disingenuous as a Democrat politician claiming he likes tax cuts.
As I’ve said many times, I appreciate every hit on this site. Everyone is welcome. Well, almost everyone. But if you don’t like what I write, or my style of writing, there are 50 million other sites. Use your mouse. Go check them out. Meanwhile, I’ll keep plugging along here. I hope you will too.
“Oppose not rage while rage is in its force, but give it way a while and let it waste.”
It was simmering the weekend my parents were here. It had nothing to do with them, so I held it in. Last week’s blog was all about them and Dad’s return to Sidling Hill, and I tried hard not to let the narrative get corrupted by my other emotions. It erupted after they left. Rage. Full blown, black, brutal, cursing rage. Rage so deep it shocked me. It coursed through my veins, flowed through my system like a choking poisonous bile, it clouded my mind, upset my balance, it made me question the very foundation of my philosophy of life, it ripped to shreds the fabric of my existence (what little remained), it left me weakened and sputtering, sleepless and haggard. I had an almost overwhelming urge to smash and destroy, consequences be da***d.
I fumed and cursed to Patrick, my new boss (and now finally, thankfully, new owner at Graber Supply). I called a close friend or two. I had lunch with a pastor friend.
“Where do I go with it?” I asked the pastor after my five-minute opening tirade.
“You have to give it to God,” he said. I rolled my eyes. Spare me again. He hastily continued. “That sounds trite and simplistic, I know, but it’s the only way. You’ve got to. Verbally. Force yourself, even if you think it won’t do a bit of good. Verbalize it. And keep on doing it until He takes it from you.”
He paid for the lunch. So I figured the least I could do was follow his advice.
So I have. I’m still at it. The rage is still rolling and bubbling and pitching around down deep inside. But without hate. The Lord will take it. Over time. I hope.
I have a new favorite Bible verse: “…… avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Rom. 12:19. There’s a whole lotta prayin’ going on reminding God of the promise in this verse. And will be for a long, long time.
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
On Saturday afternoon (6/23), Patrick and I headed down to the Christiana Mall in Wilmington and I purchased something I’ve long coveted, a laptop computer. Not just any laptop, but an Apple MacBook. Patrick, a confirmed Apple aficionado, bought one a few months ago and kept amazing me at the office with the little computer’s capabilities. Now I have my own. I’m very excited about it. It even has a little camera mounted on the front when opened. The picture of me at the beginning of this blog was one of the first I took with it. The picture was taken in the “drawing” (it looks like it’s drawn) mode, and the camera has many more such options. Now I can blog from anywhere, anytime, when traveling. And work on that elusive novel.
Me and my new MacBook
I am becoming moderately concerned about my Braves. They seem to be puttering around with little clear direction or focus. And the lowly Phillies have now crept up and passed them. Or, more accurately, they are seesawing back and forth in the standings. Shocking, embarrassing and completely unacceptable. One small solace I have is that the Yankees (yes, I must say this.) are slobbering around aimlessly as well. I saw recently that pitcher Roger Clemens’ record was 1-3. That means the Yankees paid about $4 million (his pay is just under $1 million PER GAME) to one man for one win. It can’t get much more satisfying than that.
At peace on the Tucquan Trail
Last Sunday I attended “church” on the hiking trail again. It’s been more than a month, and I needed to clear my head and think through some things. The Tucquan Trail always has an amazingly calming effect on me, and I ambled along, taking my time and a few pictures. As usual, by the time I circled around and approached the starting point, the Trail was being overrun by couples, children and dogs.
On the Trail
Old Stone Chimney along the Trail
After the hike, I stopped by at Steves for lunch. My nephew Gideon Yutzy (son of Alvin and Naomi) from MO was there as well. He was in the area a few days before heading to Granada for five weeks on a group mission trip. His brother Jason Yutzy and wife from MN were planning to be around too, but I guess someone’s good ol’ VW quit chuggin’ away at 30+ mpg and they could not make it. So we can all notice from this lesson on page 3 of our text that owning a car with the highest mpg in the world won’t do a bit of good if the vehicle won’t run.
WE WELCOME NEW LIFE……..
Hunter Eugene Miller, son of Lowell and Dorothy (my niece) Miller, Kalona, IA.
Born June 9, 2007. Ray and Maggie Marner are the proud grandparents.
AND SAY GOOD-BYE……
Bishop Henry J. Hochstetler of Bloomfield, Iowa, passed away early in the morning of June 28, 2007. He was 67 years old. Henry had been afflicted with incurable bone cancer for about a year. He refused treatment and prepared to die. I visited him briefly in January when we were in the area to see my parents. At that time, he was a shell of his former self, but still recognizable. He was glad to see me and said the Waglers from all over the country have been well represented in visiting him.
Henry baptized me in the fall of 1982 or 1983; I can’t quite remember the exact year. He was widely known throughout the region for the rhythmic, almost rollicking, flow of his sermons and formal church prayers. I can close my eyes and still hear him quoting one of his favorite Scripture verses in German, his calm rhythmic voice rippling over the congregation like a gentle wave:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
—Micah: Chapter 6, verse 8
To me, that verse defines his legacy. He was a kindly man with common human flaws. May he rest in peace.
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“…… we never shall come back again, we never shall come back along this road again as we did once at morning……let us look again before we go…..there the shallows of the rock-bright waters of the creek, and there the sweet and most familiar coolness of the trees — and surely we have been this way before……”
“We are the sons of our father, and we shall follow the print of his foot forever.”
Sixty-five years ago, in 1942, as the global conflagration that was WWII approached its climax, my father, David L. Wagler, was a Conscientious Objector. The federal government at that time had devised a policy where young COs could serve time laboring on projects not associated with the War. Dad’s main stint of service was at Boonsboro, MD, where he spent 2-1/2 years on a fencing crew and later at a desk job. Before that, he spent nine months at a CO camp in Sidling Hill, PA. With a group of about 150 other young COs, he worked on the PA Turnpike. They were housed in barracks at a former CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp.
Sidling Hill as my father knew it
Camp life at Sidling Hill. The young man outside the mess hall is not my father.
My father was young, 21 years old, in the prime and passion of his youth, when he arrived at Sidling Hill on Nov. 6, 1942. He had married my mother, Ida Mae Yoder, on Feb. 3rd of that year. She visited him once at the camp, during Christmas, 1942. What he experienced, felt and saw as a CO has never been accurately recorded. Growing up, we always knew that he had worked at a camp during the War, but it meant little to me until recent years. On Monday, June 18, 2007, he finally returned to the site of the camp for an extensive tour for the first time since he left it in 1943.
My father is 85 and my mother is 83. Despite their age and limitations, they both very much enjoy getting out and about. They traveled to Aylmer, Ontario, Canada for my nephew Lester Gascho’s wedding on June 14. On Saturday, June 16, there was a “Botschaft” (a weekly Amish newsletter) scribe conference in Millersburg, PA. Dad, who has written for the “Botschaft” since its inception in the 1970s, wanted to attend. But they needed someone to travel with them from Canada to Millersburg. So Dad’s niece (and my first cousin), Fannie Mae Wagler, agreed to accompany them.
Dad had long planned to visit Sidling Hill when the opportunity arose. The stars seemed to align for Monday, June 18. So, a month or two ago, he contacted Carl DeFebo, Manager of Media and Public Relations for the Turnpike and arranged to meet him Monday morning for a tour of the camp and the section of the Turnpike he had worked on so many years ago. The camp is accessible by public road, but a 12-mile abandoned stretch of the Turnpike is now closed to the public.
Several weeks before they came, Dad called my brother Steve to discuss his plans and see if anyone here wanted to accompany them to Sidling Hill. Steve and I both decided to go. Because of Dad’s complicated shunning policies (both Steve and I left the Amish church), he would not stay at either of our homes or eat our food. But he would stay with (and eat food prepared by) Steve’s son-in-law and daughter, Curtis and Ella Mae Lapp.
AT CURTIS AND ELLA MAE LAPPS, SATURDAY EVENING, JUNE 16, 2007
(TO MY KNOWLEDGE, THESE PHOTOS ARE THE FIRST EVER TAKEN OF MY PARENTS TOGETHER AS A COUPLE. MOST OF THE CLOSEUPS WERE TAKEN WITH A CELL PHONE CAMERA.)
Dad is still wearing his name tag from the Botschaft conference that day.
Mom and her great-grandson, Johann Lapp
Ella Mae, Mom and Dad. The women were shelling peas.
Mom, Dad and Steve
On Saturday evening at 7 o’clock, they arrived at Curtis and Ella Mae’s home. Steve and Wilma went over to visit. I stopped by as well. Dad knows about my marriage situation, but it has been kept from my Mom. She couldn’t grasp it anyway, we figured. I was a little nervous she would ask where Ellen was. Sure enough, sometime during the evening, she claimed she had recently gotten a nice letter from Ira and Ellen (she had not) and suddenly asked, “Where is Ellen, anyway?”
“She’s working,” I said.
“Oh,” Mom replied, unperturbed, “she must work a lot.”
“Yes,” I said, “she does.” Someone, I think it was Wilma, asked her a question about something else and the conversation shifted to other things.
AT STEVE AND WILMA’S HOUSE SUNDAY NOON
Steve, Mom and Dad at the picnic table
Steve assisting Mom at the table
Carrie and her Grandpa at the table. Note the shots taken from behind a tree.
Dad and Mom relaxing after a sumptuous Sunday meal
Dad enjoying the last remnants of fresh (and delicious) pie
On Sunday, we all had lunch at Steve’s house. The food was prepared by Ella Mae. She trucked everything over in boxes and baskets. We ate ouside under the shade trees on the stone foyer. The food was served on a picnic table, cafeteria style. After lunch and coffee, Dad and I sat outside by ourselves and visited about various things, including my marriage. He was calm and surprisingly nonjudgmental. He asked about my web site and how it works. I even offered to show the site to him on Steve’s computer. He chuckled and politely declined.
I told him I would love to have a picture of him as a young man. I asked if there were any, and he replied that there may be, but he had never knowingly posed for a photo. He said he used to have a picture of Mom as a young lady when they were dating.
“She was beautiful, and what do you call it, photogenic. She was photogenic.” he said.
I asked if he had destroyed it, and he claimed he had not. But he said he doesn’t know where the picture is now; somehow it got misplaced over the years. Maybe someday we’ll find it. I then told him I would be taking pictures with a digital camera the next day at Sidling Hill.
“To record it for history. Not for pride.” I explained.
“Just don’t expect me to pose for any,” he said. I said I wouldn’t.
Mom sat inside the house with Steve and Wilma. Seeing us sitting outside, she asked a perceptive question. She knew more than we thought she did.
“Does he live alone?” she asked, pointing at me.
“Right now he does,” Wilma answered. And Mom left it at that.
I stayed until after 3 o’clock, then went home. Around 4:30, my parents left for Franklin County (west of here and not far from Sidling Hill) to stay with some Amish friends for the night. We agreed to meet at the Sidling Hill Plaza along the Turnpike at 8 AM Monday morning.
On Monday morning at 5:30, Steve and I set off for the Sidling Hill Plaza. We arrived early and went inside for coffee. Steve ate some high-carb breakfast rolls that looked like lumps of dough (to state it politely) drowning in white frosting. He admitted they were tasteless. I told him if he would only take Superfood, he wouldn’t need to eat such junk.
At 7:45, my parents arrived. Promptly at 8:00, Carl DeFebo showed up. He was a pleasant young man (about my age) and an amateur historian, which explained why he was so willing and even anxious to meet and accompany Dad to the camp. We met at a small pavilion beside the parking lot. Carl unrolled several large maps and he and Steve and Dad plotted our route to the camp.
THE SIDLING HILL ADVENTURE BEGINS.
Dad, Steve and Carl poring over maps and plotting our route
Mom waits patiently for the excursion to begin.
Carl led our three-vehicle convoy out a back entrance from the Plaza. He importantly placed his orange “State Official” light on top of his van so no one would bother us. We bumped out the back onto a long winding highway. After a few miles, we turned off onto a gravel road. Dust billowed behind us. On and on for miles into the hinterland. Carl had never been to the camp, so Steve, who had, took the lead. Finally he announced, “there it is,” and there stood an old log cabin. The Director’s cabin, it was the only building that has been preserved. Across the road from the cabin, a gravel lane led to the camp. There was nothing but trees of all sizes and thick brush. Dad, who was riding with Carl so they could visit, got out of the van, and promptly announced that he didn’t recognize the place at all.
The Director’s cabin, well preserved since 1942
Entering the camp
Dad examining evidence
An old concrete footer.
Dad and Steve discussing the old stone chimney in the background
Dad, Mom and Steve examining the old root/storm cellar
Checking out the old stone walkway, hidden in the leaves
The best closeup of Dad (and my most daring shot with the digital camera)
We walked into the camp on the crunching gravel, Dad limping along slowly. His bearings gradually returned to him, and he pointed out where certain buildings had stood, as he remembered it. I discovered a long concrete foundation hidden in the bushes down toward the creek, and he said it was the fifth in the row of bunkhouses. He had slept in the second one. We walked around. Steve and I asked questions. We found a few more concrete foundations and pillars. We found an old stone chimney. Carl located an old stone walkway. Dad wanted a stone from the walkway, so when Carl wasn’t looking, Steve uprooted a foot-long rock and placed it in the trunk of the car for Dad. Buried in the brush to one side of the Director’s cabin was an old root/storm cellar. It was very well preserved except for the roof, which was completely gone. Dad was delighted to discover several straight rows of large pine trees. He calculated that the trees were 65 years old and he had perhaps helped plant them.
“It was so long ago,” he said.
Exploring further, Dad pointed out the spot where they had played ball. Once the other young men had begged him to come play ball with them. He wasn’t much of an athlete, but he decided to play. In a collision during the game, he sprained his ankle and was laid up for days. He was assigned to desk work during that time.
As we explored, Mom was content to sit on a nearby bench with Fannie Mae. I had brought along a few bottles of water and gave her one. Dad tramped about a lot, and with his gimpy knee, Steve and I were mildly concerned he would overdo himself. But he didn’t. He was excited and eager the whole time. About an hour after arriving at the camp, we were done. We loaded up and headed out.
The abandoned stretch of the Turnpike is not accessible by vehicle, but the gravel road passed within 50 feet of it in places. So on the way out, Carl stopped the convoy and we all got out and walked on the abandoned highway. It was half-spooky; a four-lane highway completely unused, empty and deserted, sloping and rolling into distant mountains. Dad very much wanted to see the old abandoned tunnel that was several miles down from where we were on the Turnpike, but since we could not get access with our vehicles, we had to give that up. Dad didn’t let on, but we felt he was disappointed.
Dad and Carl
Looking down on the abandoned Turnpike
Ira, Mom, and Dad walking onto the Turnpike
Dad leaving the Turnpike for the last time
Dad told us how the work crews from the camp would go out each day along this very road and plant grass and trees beside the Turnpike. One particular bank was quite long and steep, and the crews worked hard for three weeks preparing, seeding and landscaping the bank. The very night after they finished, a great thunderstorm crashed through the area, dumping inches of rain in a short time. The resulting washoff created massive gullies, instantly ruining three weeks of sweat and labor. The next day and for days thereafter, their Director sent them off to work in the opposite direction so they wouldn’t see the futility of their toil at that spot.
Fannie Mae took good care of Mom at all times.
Mom in the van waiting to leave. “I think I’ll just take your picture,” I said, and did.
At the outlook point; the last stop
Our final stop was at an outlook point about four miles west of Raystown along Rt. 30. We parked and viewed a stretch of the old Turnpike winding past a lake and through the mountains in the distance. Soon Dad made moves to leave, as he still wanted to travel to Boonsboro, MD that day and visit the old farm on which he had served as a CO from 1943-45. As a family, we thanked Carl for his time and hospitality. Dad thanked Steve and me for coming. We said good-bye to Mom and Fannie Mae. And then they were gone.
We watched them leave. It was over. Despite the ravages of age and time, and the barriers of distance, he had returned. It is unlikely that he ever will again.
Appendix: Communication with Carl DeFebo
From: Ira Wagler
Sent: Wednesday, June 20, 2007
To: Defebo, Carl
Subject: Thanks from Ira
Thanks so much for taking the time Monday to show us around the Sidling Hill Camp. It means a lot to us that you took the time because it was important to an old man you had never met before. We will always treasure that day with our Dad and Mom.
I have attached a few pictures I took that day. Thanks again.
I was happy to do it, and I had a wonderful time meeting your family. Your dad is a treasure, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about working on the turnpike. When I write about those days, it’s nice to have a real person, someone I know personally, who had some role in bringing this historic highway to fruition.
Thanks for the photos, I’m glad you sent them along.
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