December 14, 2007

The Last Journey Home

Category: News — Ira @ 6:56 pm


“Old age: the crown of life, our play’s last act.”
—Marcus Tullius Cicero

They were born in Daviess County, Indiana, in the 1920s. They grew up there. It was a different place then, and a different time. They married there and had the first of their eleven children there. As a young couple, after he returned from his WWII C.O. service, they moved with friends and a few other relatives to a new little settlement in Pike County, Ohio. There, several more children arrived.

In 1953, they moved again, along with most of the Pike County families, this time to Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, where their remaining children were born. Twenty-three years later, in 1976, they moved again, for the final time, they thought, to Bloomfield, Iowa. In Bloomfield, their younger children grew into adulthood. Most of them married and eventually, whether single or with their own families, scattered to the winds.


With the passage of years and advancing age, they moved into a little “Dawdy” house on the farm of their oldest son Joseph, where they have lived now for almost two decades. But soon my parents will move once again. This time with Josephs to the little Amish community in May’s Lick, Kentucky.

Josephs will hold an auction this Saturday, Dec. 15th at their home place in Bloomfield. To dispose of excess items they will not need, or don’t have room to transport. Many of my siblings plan to attend. I won’t be able to make it.

I do not question or criticize the decision to move. I wasn’t there. And haven’t been. Those who are do the best they know. The decision was not made overnight. It was not lightly undertaken. Much was considered, over time. Many factors weighed, over time. And so it will be. I accept that.

And yet, and yet…when it boils right down to it, I can’t help feeling a little bit sad. Dad is 86 years old. Mom is 84. They are both tough, of pioneer stock, and have done what needed to be done all their lives. But still, something tugs at the heart when one considers the implications of such an aged couple packing up their meager possessions and moving to an entirely new place. Away from the familiar, from their home of rest, from all they’ve known for so long. To a new uncharted land, foreign to them both, populated by strangers who, although helpful and kind, are strangers still and to some extent will always be.

Although those of us children scattered afar in distant places will support them the best we can, only one real anchor remains, one constant presence during the transition. Their oldest son, and his family.

And so they will go. To one more place they will call home. This is, I think, the beginning of the final chapter. The last such journey. They have lived a long time, a full allotment of rich, textured, turbulent years. Resided in many places, witnessed an astonishing array of colossal events. Their legacy endures, written on the trail of their past, in the lives and talents of their children, reflected on each wrinkle of their worn tired faces.

They have seen so much, and much of that so long ago. Who can know what secrets remain in their hearts, what they really felt and thought, and who they really were? They have spoken, yet left so much unsaid. Few of their stories have ever been honestly told in terms of the full human drama in which they occurred. Stories of the life they lived, the family they raised, the people they encountered, the paths they forged. Of all they were and were not, and of all they might have been. So much, so many stories left untold.

One day I will write them.

Update on Paul and Anne Marie Zook. Anne Marie was diagnosed with a heart murmur during pre-op tests. As it stands today, her brain tumor operation is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 19. She will be admitted to the hospital on Monday, Dec. 17. Her parents, who live in Canada, have arrived and are staying with them in their home.

Paul and Anne Marie received many cards and a few gifts (money and gift cards) from my readers this past week. They express their heartfelt thanks to each one who responded. I add my thanks as well. Those who still wish to send encouragement can get their address from last week’s blog.

Last Friday evening I stopped by to see them. They had just learned of the heart murmur, so everyone was pretty much in a tizzy. I offered to take Paul out for a bite to eat. We drove to New Holland on the icy back roads. At the New Holland Pub, he ate a cheeseburger and fries and talked. I just sat and listened. After about an hour, we started back to his place.

It was a foggy, misty night. Snow covered the ground and ice covered pretty much everything else. As we passed a house in the country, Big Blue suddenly was rocked by a large snow ball. I first thought we had driven through a snow patch and the snow had bounced up into the truck side. But Paul hollered that there were some kids out in the yard, and they had thrown snow balls. At the next drive, just around a curve, I slowed up and stopped. Paul claimed the kids were running out behind the barn. I backed Big Blue into the neighbor’s drive and turned around. We roared up and pulled into the drive of the house where the snow balls had been launched. The kids had vanished into the night.

I parked the truck. While Paul remained in the truck and observed with keen interest, I walked up to the house and pounded on the door. A little girl opened it and peered out. Her parents and another couple were seated at the table, playing cards. The man of the house greeted me quizzically.

“I was driving by and some kids just hit my truck with a snow ball. Just wanted to let someone know,” I said in a stern loud voice. The mother looked startled and a bit defensive.

“I told them,” the man intoned, “I told them they can throw snowballs, but not at any vehicles.”

“It’s my son’s birthday party,” he explained. “He’s got three friends over, and they are out playing. I told them not to throw snowballs at vehicles.” He put on his boots and walked out with me. We inspected the truck for damage. It was fine. You never know, they might have packed a rock into the snowball. I got in and we backed out and drove away. Last we saw him, he was striding sternly out to the barn. I hope some-one’s birthday party was ruined. But I doubt it. The little savages.

The bleak rainy weather this week has been incessant. Rain falls, spirits droop. Snow, rain, more snow, more rain. No sun. It’s enough to drive one batty. Perfect fireplace weather, provided one has a fireplace. I do not, alas. I guess it could be worse; we could have the ice storms that battered the Midwest just this week. We’ll probably get them this weekend. The weather here reminds me of the classic painting. The lone figure, scrunched up against the elements, dressed in a long coat and perhaps clutching an umbrella, walking down a dreary empty windy street. Alone, at night.

Glenn Beck, my second favorite talk show host (after Rush), recently published his latest book, titled “An Inconvenient Book.” He wrote it in response to AlGore’s idiotic, apocalyptic global warming movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” The book immediately shot up to #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list, much to the chagrin of liberals and other AlGore types. Someone gave me a copy for Christmas. It’s an easy read and a very sensible book. I recommend it.

The baseball steroid scandal erupted this week with the release of the Mitchell Report, which names eighty-five players who supposedly partook. The report was compiled by George Mitchell the ex-senator, a vile, viscous partisan man in his time. For decades, he was the implacable foe of Presidents Reagan and Bush 1. I guess old senators never really retire, they just putz around on committees and and get paid exorbitant fees to do useless work. I could care less about who did or did not use performance-enhancing drugs. Including Barry Bonds. I am hugely irritated that the Senate will hold hearings on the matter, beginning next Tuesday. We’ll be subjected to an endless stream of showboating blather from fat blowhards. Don’t they have better things to do? On the other hand, while they are engaged in such hearings, at least they won’t be raising my taxes or handing down more insane environmental regulations, etc.

Kevin Costner strolled into our office last week. Well, it wasn’t really him, but it could have been. Or his twin. Sure looked like him. Talked like him too. Enough so that I gaped and did a double take. The guy was from Jersey, on his way up for a holiday with his family. He stopped by to see about building a shop for his home business.

His name was Andre, and he hand-forges suits of armor for full-contact sword fights. He needs a shop in which to manufacture the armor. I was intrigued. I didn’t know such a thing existed. Full-contact sword fighting, I mean. I asked if they can hit each other on the head. Anywhere, he said. Anywhere on the whole body. He showed me his permanently swollen, flattened fingertips. Hit so many times in the fighting, he said. I was impressed. And a little awed.


He makes entire suits of armor (but not swords), cold hammered from 18-gauge steel, for about $8000.00 per suit. I asked about his liability. What if a helmet he made splits and someone’s head gets gashed open or cut off? The helmets, of course, are padded inside. And everyone signs a waiver, he assured me. Sure. That’ll do it. Waivers are worth about the paper they’re printed on, once some Philly attorney gets hold of it.

It takes all kinds, I guess. Modern day knights-errant in armor running around slashing and hitting each other with swords. Full strength hits. On the head or anywhere else. A full-time Armorer. Who’da thunk it? And maybe I’ll get to build his shop.


December 7, 2007

Of Adversity and the Mundane

Category: News — Ira @ 6:11 pm


You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.
Nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that
destroys at midday.
—Psalm 91:5-6

It came smashing down like a bolt from the blue, like such news always does. From my good friends, Paul and Anne Marie Zook. Now, just before Christmas.

They are the typical American family, with two children. Cody, in second grade. And Adrianna, who will start first grade next year. Bright, beautiful children. I have known Anne Marie through Paul, and was present at their wedding in 1997. Paul and I have known each other since the early 1990s. I consider him among my closest friends, a very small group. During my own troubles this past year, he has been a constant presence, loyal, faithful and supportive. Always of good cheer, eager to help in any way he can. I was always welcome to drop in at their home unannounced. Since March, Anne Marie has quietly placed many a plate of food into my blue cooler.

Cody, Paul, Adrianna, Anne Marie

Last Sunday, after an MRI scan, Anne Marie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On the right front of her brain, above the right ear. The operation is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 10 at 1 PM at Lancaster General Hospital. (Update 12/7 at 8:45 PM. Because of a heart condition discovered in pre-operation tests, the Dec. 10th date has been post-poned. As of now, no date has been set. Hopefully it will happen within the next week or two. Editor) The doctors are cautiously optimistic that they will be able to remove the tumor completely. Only post-operative tests will determine whether or not it is malignant. Anne Marie remains at home with her family until that day. She is on anti-seizure medication.

And so they wait. As do all of us who are their friends.

Such abrupt, devastating news shocks the senses and strains one’s faith. I can’t imagine what Paul and Anne Marie are experiencing. They must feel stunned, attacked by the creeping tentacles of fear, despair and dread. And somewhere, deep down, lives hope. That it will all work out and be alright.

One wonders, as one always does, why such tragedy invariably seems to zone in and strike those who have so much life to live, so much love to give. And always, almost without exception, somewhere in the mix, it involves young innocent children who look on with startled and frightened eyes and know no answer as encroaching clouds of apprehension and foreboding invade the sanctity of their home and the security of their world.

I saw and spoke with both Paul and Anne Marie this week. Anne Marie, a powerful prayer warrior, remains steadfastly resolute. She considers this a major skirmish in the spiritual battles she wages every day. And it may well be.

They both request your prayers and your thoughts, your humble approach to the throne of Grace on their behalf. That the doctors will be focused, their hands steady, the operation successful, the tumor benign. Above all, that they and their extended families might face and endure this bitter cup with grace and confidence and strength, that they will not falter, whatever the future holds. Or doesn’t.

Those who wish to do so may send letters and cards to the address below. Although they did not mention it, I know financial support would be deeply appreciated. And I’m sure Cody and Adrianna would be delighted for bit of Christmas cheer in the form of a small gift.


Paul and Anne Marie Zook
588 Meetinghouse Road
Gap, PA 17527

“A bore is a man who, when you ask him how he is, tells you.”
—Bert Leston Taylor

We’ve now had our first little snow storm. Two inches or so. Maniac drivers caused a lot of accidents on the roads. But it’s still fall, and a strange one, weather wise. Late frosts, lots of nice sunny days and weeks. Only a few rain spells. But the leaves on the trees exhibited the oddest behavior. On the big oak in my front yard, the leaves all turned color, but refused to fall to the ground. For weeks. It got to the point where I was entertaining vague hopeful notions that perhaps they would not fall down at all, but just stay on the tree all winter. Who knows, what with global warming and all. Trees could change their habits. But then one day, and it wasn’t even particularly windy, whoosh, the leaves all came down at once. That morning when I left for work, the yard was clear. That night, the tree was bare, the yard coated with six inches of leaves. No lie. I was dismayed, particularly that my global warming theory was shot.

For a week or two thereafter, I clung to the feeble hope that the wind would take them. To someone else’s yard or field, to become someone else’s problem. But no such luck. They remained firmly anchored to the yard. So last Saturday, I attacked them with a rake and a large tarp. I dragged them to the small spot where Ellen usually planted her garden and deposited them there. A large pile. It can turn into mulch and sink into the ground, as I do not plan any garden in the future.

I was motivated to rake the leaves last Saturday because the weatherpersons were gleefully forecasting dread and disaster for the whole weekend. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, then just rain. On Saturday evening, after returning from a night out with friends, I cleaned out a portion of the garage and parked Big Blue, as I’ve named my truck, inside, sheltered from all the crap that was supposed to fall. Of course, next morning, the roads and sidewalks were completely dry. Not a drop or flake of anything had fallen. To be fair, it did rain some later, and it is nice to have garage space in which to park Big Blue during future snow storms.

Then, on Monday, a great wind, the one I’d hoped for BEFORE all the raking, swept through the area. Had I not raked, it would have taken all the leaves. It took about half the leaf pile anyway. The neighbors now cast grim dark looks. I avoid their glares.

Last Sunday evening as I entered the bathroom at home, I caught a glimpse of a fleeting, instantly vanishing shadow. A mouse? I couldn’t decide if that’s what it was or just my imagination. Nonetheless, I immediately got into Big Blue, drove to Giant and bought little packets of poison to distribute about the house. This time of year, the mice come in. Nasty little things. Dirty too. I’ve had my experiences with them.

In 1989, while attending Vincennes University in Indiana, I shared a trailer with two other guys. I was there only on weekends, when back from college. Around Thanks-giving, all of us left the state to be with family. I was the first to return, on a Saturday. No one had been in the trailer for about a week. Almost immediately after I entered the trailer, a fat mouse ambled across the living room floor, not even alarmed at my presence. That mouse did not live long. I sensed there were more in the trailer.

Later, I went to bed with some trepidation. In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up. Something was scrambling around on top of me, between the covers and my body. I instantly snapped wide awake. Once my brain communicated that a mouse was in bed with me, I instantly shot straight up into the air off the mattress, yanking the covers off on the way up. A small dot flew through the air, regrouped and shot across the floor into the closet. I was shaking with horror and revulsion.

I decided to check out my still absent roommate’s bedroom and maybe sleep on his bed. I opened the door and snapped on the light. Not knowing that before he left, he had set out poison in his room. Several dead mice lay strewn about. In the very center of room, almost dead, blinking groggily, sat a large rat. I shut the door and jumped halfway back down the hall in one motion. My heart palpitated with horror and stress.

After calming down somewhat, I spent the rest of the night half sitting on the couch, dozing off occasionally. I was late for church at Mt. Olive the next morning. For those who inquired, and they did inquire (to make sure I wasn’t slipping spiritually), I had a valid excuse.

Mice are bad, but as rodents go, rats are the absolute worst. The epitome of pure evil, a rat. Many years ago, in Aylmer, my cousin, Edwin Wagler, walked into his chicken coop to feed his chickens one day. A rat was sitting at the feeder, eating. Edwin walked right up to it. The rat did not see him coming until he was right on top of it. Startled, the rodent dashed up the first hole it could see, which happened to be Edwin’s pant leg (the Amish in Aylmer wear large, floppy pants). The rat crawled up his leg and clawed up his stomach under his shirt. With far more presence of mind than I could ever muster in a similar situation, Edwin rolled up his shirt sleeve. The rat crawled out, scrambled down his arm, jumped off and ran away. Edwin let it go. (About then, I would have been lying on the ground with a heart attack.) Every word of this story is true, so help me.

On Friday evening, Nov. 30, Graber held its annual Christmas banquet at Doneckers of Ephrata, an upscale restaurant. We had our own decorated banquet room, in which we partook of ample and delicious food. Although a bit early in the season, it was the date that best suited everyone. Our total group was a bit smaller than last year this time, but we all had a jolly good evening. Rodney and Lillian Smoker, the musical newly-weds, provided the evening’s entertainment.


Christmas banquet

Lillian and Rodney singing

Mary June and Patrick with gift from employees

If you are reading this blog on hard copies, printed out, you may have wondered why some words are hyphenated seemingly at random. One of my Amish readers mentioned/complained about it to me last week. It happens because my blog format is a different width than a printed paper. So when I hyphenate words to make them fit on the blog, they are hyphenated sometimes in the middle of the sentence on your paper. I’m not doing it to give you fits. It just happens as it does.

Finally, how did everyone like the way the refs handed the Patriots the win against the Ravens last Monday night? Flag after biased flag on the last drive, until the Patriots just reached out and received the gift handed to them. The fix is in. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.