May 16, 2008

Home Again…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm


“Home is where you can say anything you please,
because nobody pays any attention to you anyway.”

—Joe Moore

Well, I’m back home after my eventful, memorable trip. And back in the old routine. Things at home were as I left them. An overflowing desk at work. Building schedules completely messed up by the rain. My yard needed mowing. And the intransigent tenant remains ensconced upstairs, obstinately refusing to move until the last possible day. Which should be late this month sometime. About which I’ll have plenty to say, all in due time.

The wet, cold rainy spring continues. It’s awful cold for late May. During my trip through the Midwest a few weeks ago, I drove past thousands upon thousands of acres of soggy, unplanted farmland. I heard murmurings of how the farmers are worried they may not get to plant at all. Corn prices will skyrocket. Especially if we keep burning it for fuel.

I left Cabool, MO early on Saturday morning, May 3, and started the long trek back to good old PA. Out of the five day trip, I spent a good part of four days on the road, driving hard. It was OK. But I was glad to be home.

A brief correction from last week’s post. I am very embarrassed. My rental car was not a Ford Focus, but a Ford Fusion. The next step up from the Focus. This fact was pointed out to me by alert reader Rosa Miller, my nephew Ira Lee’s girlfriend. She was also at the wedding. And happens to own a Fusion.

I guess the Fusion is a lot more sporty and substantially more powerful than the Focus, which is essentially just a little tin can on wheels. I probably wouldn’t even have fit in a Focus.

The Kentucky Derby was run the Saturday I left MO. I had been afraid that I’d miss it, what with traveling and all, but around 5:30 I stopped at a Holiday Inn an hour west of Columbus, OH. I checked in and found the Derby channel. Then I went to the lounge to eat some dinner and watch the race.

I watch three horse races each year. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. The Big Three. Other than that, I pretty much wouldn’t care if horses didn’t exist. Or horse races.

The big screen TV on the lounge wall clamored with all the talking heads extolling Big Brown to win. I knew little about this year’s crop of horses, but felt that Big Brown was as good a pick as any. I liked his name. Kind of like Big Blue, my truck. I noticed that Hillary Clinton had picked the only filly in the lineup to win.

At about 6:20 the gate was loaded. And they were off. Big Brown lurked on the far outside for about three quarters of the distance. Then he turned it on and passed everything in front of him. Won easily.

The poor filly, a beautiful horse, ran her heart out and came in second. At the very end, she stumbled. I saw a flash on the screen as she lay flat on the ground. She’d broken both front ankles. She was dispatched on the spot, a huge loss for her owner. And just a tragedy overall.

I thought to myself that her unfortunate end did not bode well for Hillary, the politician.

The Preakness, the second of the Big Three races, is scheduled for this Saturday after-noon. I’ll be watching keenly to see if Big Blue, oops, I mean Big Brown, can take the second leg on his way to the Triple Crown. I’m betting he will.

There must have been a virulent cold bug floating around at the wedding, because after arriving home I came down with a savage head cold. I rarely catch a cold at all, what with taking Superfood every day, but this one really got to me. In the head. Clogged sinuses. I could hardly breathe.

Around the second day, still stuffed up, I remembered that Dr. Schultze, the inventor of Superfood, has always claimed his Echinacea drops kill a cold. I happened to have a bottle in my desk at work and began taking it that morning, mixed with water. So help me, by that evening, my cold was all but gone. I could feel it burning away inside me. Unbelievable. I still had a few sniffles, but kept taking the Echinacea for a few days until the cold was completely knocked out. The stuff works. (See link to site on my Links page.)

The local newspapers have been atwitter lately with the story of a local ex-Amishman, Levi Stoltzfoos, who was charged and put on trial for money laundering. Seems like he deposited over half a million dollars in ten banks. All in amounts under $10,000, and all in cash. The government claimed he was laundering drug money and that he accumu-lated the cash through other illicit means.

The prosecution publicized all kinds of accusations to turn public opinion against Levi. He was a sordid sneaky man of low repute.

But strangely, at the trial, all charges were dropped except the ones associated only with the cash deposits. Strictly on those alone, he was convicted by a jury and will serve jail time. For fifty-eight felonies.

Turns out he got the cash from selling a house. Legitimately. Slightly paranoid by nature, he didn’t want anyone to know he had it. Because he was afraid it would be taken from him. That’s why he deposited it in small amounts in various banks.

Now he doesn’t have any of it. The government confiscated every penny. And brought charges. An idiotic jury convicted him. For the crime of depositing his own money in cash in various banks. Deprived of his money and now destitute, he faces up to one thousand years in prison.

Now that, folks, is tyranny.

Pure, simple, raw and savage. And staggeringly, breathtakingly unjust. It happened in this “free” country. It happened in this “conservative” county. The case should never have been pursued, but it was. The stain of shame for this cruel injustice will never be wiped away.

The law is necessary for a just and peaceable society. When enforced by a just gov-ernment. But when wielded as a club by unscrupulous prosecuting hooligans, the law works exactly the opposite. It destroys lives and innocent people. Indiscriminately. As Levi Stoltzfoos is learning. As the rest of us watch in disbelief and fear and horror.

I don’t know Levi Stoltzfoos. He may not be the brightest bulb in the house. He is unquestionably paranoid. For good reason, it seems. But that is neither here nor there. And should have no bearing on the matter. He has a right to privacy, to conduct his affairs as he sees fit. The right to be left alone.

He is now representing himself, suing the state of PA for $10 billion dollars. I hope he gets a few millions, at least. But his chances for that are exactly zero.

A recent “New York Review of Books” had an interesting article about the history of plague and its role in human affairs in the distant past. A pandemic swept through the Roman empire, beginning around 541 AD, decimating the West for two centuries. Beginning in the 1400s, bubonic plague wiped out great swathes of the population in Europe. Again, over several centuries.

Modern historians encounter great difficulty interpreting what actually happened during those pandemics, even to the point of being unable to identify the specific type of plague. So little evidence remains. Even bones interred in the earth from those times provide few hard clues. The passing of years and decades and centuries simply wipes away the details of what occurred so long ago.

As I reflected on the article, I thought, how true. We know little or nothing of our own ancestors even two generations ago. No one remembers, few details are passed on. The living are busy living, going about their daily lives, and seeing to their own affairs. And rightly so. The sands of time will cover them too, in due time.

And yet, modern scientists confidently proclaim that the earth is billions of years old. They firmly date dinosaur bones right down to the nearest millennium. And speak authoritatively of this age and that age, when these dinosaurs phased in and those phased out. Seems a bit strange that they can pinpoint so precisely what happened millions of years ago, but know so little about the plagues that decimated human populations in relatively recent recorded history.

But that’s just me. What do I know? The two issues are likely not even related or com-parable. I’m only a layman, and not trained in these things. I’m just saying, is all.

May 9, 2008

The Wedding

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm


“You can’t go home again.”

—Thomas Wolfe

I decided to go. After hunkering down and laying low for over a year, it was time to show my face again. See my family. Mingle. Besides, this wedding was unique.

Luann Yutzy and Larry Yoder would be married in the remote little community of Mountain Grove, MO on Friday, May 2, 2008. Unlike many of the more conservative communities (like Aylmer and Bloomfield), Mountain Grove allows the invitation and presence of non-Amish relatives (although possibly not for long, after our invasion). So all my non-Amish siblings were invited, as were all my Amish siblings and parents. Most planned to attend.

At first I wasn’t sure about making the trip, but my sister Rachel (Luann’s mom) worked the phones tirelessly. So I finally agreed to give it some serious thought. I wanted to go. It was just so far out there. A thousand miles. Closest airport was Springfield. Flights in were few and expensive. Besides, I absolutely hate airports, where people are treated worse than cattle.

So I decided to drive out. Not with Big Blue. Didn’t want all those miles on my truck. Or to deal with its rather horrendous gas mileage. So I called my friends at Enterprise. Sure, they had a car. Mid-sized, with cruise control. I scheduled them to bring the car to me at work Tuesday afternoon.

It was a little red Ford Focus. Mid-sized. I examined it suspiciously. Looked like a nifty little vehicle. I parked Big Blue in the back of the lumber yard and left that evening with the little Ford Focus.

I fit in the driver’s seat OK. Surprisingly. And the little car had zip.

I spent Tuesday evening packing, as is my wont. Pack the night before. Don’t get too tore up about the small details. Throw in extras of everything.

After a fitful night, I set out early Wednesday morning, around 7. It’s been a long, long time since I have hit the road and just drove and drove all day. That’s what I did that day. Just zoned out and moved. Stopping only for gas, restroom breaks and combo pretzels for snacking. I listened to talk radio, communed with myself and reflected on the sad state of modern country music. It’s pretty abysmal. Lots of high whining and moaning, very little actual singing. We badly need a new crop of young Waylons and Haggards and Jones and Cashes.

The little Focus zipped seamlessly through traffic. I was very impressed. Excellent gas mileage too, around 30 mpg. I made it to the eastern outskirts of St. Louis by late the first day. Got a room at a slightly smelly Super 8 motel. I usually like to stay at Holiday Inns, but the local one was fully booked. So that was out.

The next morning by 9 AM I was on the Interstate heading west. I-44 to Rt. 63 South at Rolla. The two lane highway meandered through the rolling countryside. Lined with trashy little gas stations and quaint little restaurants. I felt like I had returned home.

I arrived at the Super 8 in Cabool, MO around noon. The nice desk lady was doubtful that my room was ready, but agreed to check. Thankfully, it was. I unloaded and unpacked my things for the next two days. This Super 8 was clean as a whistle. I was the first of the wedding guests to check in.

After checking in, I headed out to Mountain Grove, ten miles west, to find my sister Rachel. I located the place and pulled up, the first out-of-state guest to arrive. Rachel was glad to see me. She looked tired from the tons and tons of work she had done to get ready. She proudly showed me the vast containers of food, stacks of fresh pecan pies, and all the fixings. Ready for the noon meal after the wedding.

I got her to sit and rest awhile with me and we just talked and drank coffee, catching up on the latest. I knew it would be my only chance to visit with her alone. After a bit, her son Andrew showed up and we were soon sent to Mountain Grove on some errand, getting the cheese sliced, or some such thing. Andrew had snuck out to hunt turkeys that morning under the theory that obtaining forgiveness was easier than getting permission to go. He’d called in two gobblers, but his friends had missed. Too windy, they claimed.

Later that afternoon, Andrew and I, along with his uncles David and Gideon Yutzy, were dispatched to the local Amish schoolhouse, where the wedding service would be held, to make sure a clock was mounted on the wall where the preachers the next day could easily see it. So as not to preach overlong.

It was the biggest one-room Amish schoolhouse I’d ever seen. Benches were already set up, row after row, the song books spread on top. As I paged absently through an Ausbund, Andrew suddenly remembered a question he was supposed to ask me.

“Would you lead a verse of the Lob Song tomorrow?” he asked. “Luann would like you to lead.”

I picked my jaw up off the floor. Lead the Lob Song? What ever gave them such an idea?

“We read your blog,” Andrew explained, “and thought you might want to.”

Ah, yes, my blog, where I’d bragged in great detail about how I’d led the Lob Song. But that was so long ago. A lifetime ago.

I could have nipped the idea in the bud then and there. But I didn’t. It was a huge honor to be considered, even.

“If you, or she, really want me to, I will if asked.” I said. “But believe me, I won’t be offended if someone else does it. There’s plenty of others that could do it better.”

Andrew allowed that he’d find out for sure and let me know the next morning.

That evening, everyone was invited to Jonas Yutzys for supper. A large group gathered a little after six. Waglers, Yutzys, and assorted in-laws. We all had a loud, large time.

Early Friday morning, a savage storm raged through the area. Mountain Grove got hit pretty hard, some small tornados and such. By the time the storm reached Cabool, where I was staying, it had diminished. Some strong winds and rain but little damage.

I left the motel around 7:30, dressed in a new suit and white shirt. And a little black hat, a fedora, I’d bought just for this occasion. The western skies looked like they might clear up. I pulled up to the large school house. Vans and cars and buggies were flowing in from all directions. I helped unload my brother Titus from his van and accompanied him into the basement, where all the men were standing around in a circle, visiting. We shook hands with everyone and took our place in the circle.

Soon it was time to head upstairs. The preachers went first, followed by the married men. Marvin Yutzy and my brother Steve helped me lift Titus on his wheelchair up the long flight of stairs. The women were seated on the left, the men on the right. My Mother sat on a chair on the center front, a place of honor, surrounded by all her daughters. On the other side of the aisle, up front, my Dad sat on a chair by the older men. Titus wheeled to an open spot directly behind Dad, and I sat on the bench beside him.

After we were seated, but before the service actually opened, the song leader treaded lightly over to my father and whispered in his ear. Dad would lead a song. Then the leader stepped over to my brother Titus, seated beside me. He asked Titus to lead the “wedding hymn,” a special song that is sung after the couple returns from the short session with the preachers. He then looked right at me.

“Are you Ira?” he asked, glancing curiously at my “English” suit. I’m sure he was wondering why he had been instructed to ask such an obviously non-Amish man to lead a song.

“I am,” I admitted evasively.

“You are to lead the last two verses of the Lob Song,” he informed me. “Will you do it?”

I gulped. I was actually being asked to lead. Andrew had not been kidding. I took the plunge.

“I will,” I answered bravely. “As long as it’s not started too high. If you start it too high, you’ll have to lead it yourself.”

He chuckled as he returned to his seat. Unconcerned, and perhaps mildly offended that I would even suggest he’d start it too high.

At last everyone was seated. The presiding bishop, Enos Yoder of Chateau, OK, formally announced the opening of the service. Then the song leader promptly announced the first hymn, an old wedding tune. Pages rustled as everyone located the proper number. All was deathly silent.

A pause. Then my father’s full-throated voice launched into the lead. Perfect pitch. The same rich tone I’d always remembered. The old lion still had it. Mostly. The tone rang true. But his voice cracked and broke and trembled just a bit. The ravages of age. I drank in the moment, figuring it was the last time I would ever hear him lead.

As the first line was sung, the preachers got up and slowly filed out, followed by the bridal couple. They would receive some last minute admonitions and formally reiterate their desire to be married.

Dad got through three verses with minimal trouble and the first song was over. All was quiet again. The Lob Song would be next.

“Page 770,” said the song leader solemnly. A pause, as everyone paged to it. Then he started the song.

He got it right. Perfect pitch. Another young man, seated behind me and to the left, took the lead for the first two verses. He had a beautiful soaring voice, and threw in all the extra ornamentation. Chills rippled up and down my spine. I wouldn’t be able to lead nearly as perfectly. Oh, well.

On we roared, through the first verse. Five minutes. One verse down.

At about the start of the second verse, I pretty much freaked. What did I think I was doing, agreeing to lead the Lob Song? Sure I had done it before, but not for twenty-two years. What if I got stuck? I hadn’t led any song of any kind in any church for at least fifteen years. Way out of practice.

I sang along in the second verse to get the rhythm. Let’s see, I thought, here I go up, here I go down. The young man sang on, leading in beautiful, perfect melody. The second verse was half over.

I analyzed the situation. I am proud now that I was not sweating. I simply calculated, in cold logic, what must be done. I decided to shut down my brain and run on pure reflex. Like riding a bike. It’ll come back to me.

Much easier said than done. I battled the waves of panic in my stomach.

The second verse was fast coming to a close. I took a deep breath. A minute before, my brother Titus had slyly slipped me a bottle of Buckley’s Cough Syrup. Take a sip, he mouthed. I did. It did wonders to clear my tight, dry throat. Almost like whiskey. I could have used a good stiff shot. Or better yet, a double.

The last line of the second verse ended. A split second of silence. Time for the new song leader. I forced myself into autopilot. Now. And for the first time in twenty-two plus years, I sang the Lob Song lead. My voice was clear, but not overwhelming or overloud.

“Gib unsern Herzen auch Verstand.”

Slightly shaky. But I still had it. My confidence rose exponentially. I could do it. The second line.

“Erleuchtung hier auch Erden..”

Stretched just right. Less shaky. I was in the groove.

My father, seated just in front and to the right of me, soon realized someone directly behind him was leading. Each time I led, he half-turned, trying to figure out who it was. He told me later he knew it was either me or LeRoy Herschberger, who was seated beside me. Dad seemed impressed that I had led.

I stayed in the groove. For the next ten minutes, through two verses. I remained on autopilot. I even added some slight soaring ornamentation, vocal twists up and down. It felt great.

And then, just like that, it was over. I sagged with relief. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Such a thing had never happened before. Not when you consider who I am, where I’ve been and where I now am. Such a thing will likely never happen again.

There are rare moments, as an event unfolds around you, when time creeps forward in slow motion, yet simultaneously accelerates to lightning speed, when you are aware of the minutest details around you all about. And you grasp the significance of it all and know with utter certainty that there will be few if any such similar moments in your life.

Leading the Lob Song was such a moment.

Luann and Larry had deeply honored me by requesting that I lead. And I had honored them by doing it.

After another song was sung, the bridal couple returned. Time for Titus to lead the wedding hymn. After some shifting in his chair, he belted out the first note. Started it himself, something I have never done. With each lead, his voice rose and fell in powerful controlled waves. The way it’s really done. He sang like my father used to sing in his heyday. A chip off the old block.

After two verses, the preachers returned from the “Obrote” and the song ceased. We all settled in for the preaching.

The first preacher, the groom’s father, stood and preached for forty-five minutes.

After that, another preacher stood and read a chapter of Scripture aloud. He sat down.

And then my brother Joseph rose slowly to take the floor. Graying now, a preacher for almost exactly thirty years, he somberly surveyed the congregation and began to speak with practiced ease. His gaze focused on the far distant wall, he warmed up and soon his powerful voice rolled through every crevice of the vast room. Good old Amish preaching at its finest. The people sat quietly and listened.

I enjoyed his sermon. I had not heard him preach for probably two decades.

After a short fifteen minutes, he took his seat and Bishop Enos Yoder stood to finish the service. After reading a few passages of Scripture and preaching a bit more, he asked the couple to rise and stand before him. A short prayer. Then he took the couple’s hands and joined them. Pronounced them husband and wife. And that was it. Another song, and the service was over.

We stepped outside to a clear beautiful day. The sun shone, the wind was busily drying the muddy yard. It remained beautiful for the rest of the day.

Everyone soon headed the four miles or so to the place where the meal was being served. In a pole shed. Rows of tables were already set up. The wedding couple sat in the “eck” surrounded by their attendants. Family members lined the remainder of their table, including Titus and Ruth and me. My oldest sister Rosemary sat beside me. Mom and Dad sat beside her.

The noon meal was fantastic. All the traditional dishes with brisket as the main dish. Too much, too fattening. But I ate it all. It was a day to throw dieting to the winds.

After the meal, many of the married men sat at a table and sang old church songs, which is traditional at Amish weddings. I did not join them but mingled with others, many of whom I had not seen in some time. I also spent time visiting with my sisters, some of whom I had not seen in years. All were genuinely concerned about how I was doing. Several expressed hesitation in even talking to me for fear the conversation would show up on my blog. I chuckled and promised anonymity.

Around four, I returned to my motel for a short nap. I later returned to the evening service, where another meal was served. We all hung out and sang and visited until after ten o’clock. I headed back to my motel, exhausted.

It was a perfect day.

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again. And that statement is almost always universally true. But on May 2, 2008, the sons and daughters of David and Ida Mae Wagler returned home. Not geographically, but culturally, in observance of ancient Amish customs. For some of us, it was a long journey back, even for a day.

We assembled from distant and far-flung places. We laid aside our differences. We greeted each other warmly and openly, without rancor. We sang the old songs. We heard the old sermons. We witnessed the traditional marriage ceremony. We ate the traditional meals. We were together as we had not been for more than thirty years.

It was a day like no other.

One day, before long, that inevitable hour will come when the family will gather to lay one of our own to rest. It could be any of us, as tomorrow is promised to no one. But the natural course of things, combined with the incessant passing of weeks and months and years, dictates that my parents’ days are numbered and rapidly diminishing. Either could go at any moment, with little warning.

On that day, we will pause in our busy lives. We will gather once more, all of us. Not in celebration, but in solemn observance. We will go home again to say good-bye to the one who has crossed the bar to the final home.

But now, before that day comes, we’ve had this one. A day with memories we can take and turn in our hands and examine, and reminisce as it enters the hallowed annals of our family history. A day that will live on in our hearts.

The perfect day. For one day.


The happy couple: Luann and Larry




My oldest sister Rosemary and oldest brother Joseph
Rosemary brought a quart of Canadian maple syrup for each of her siblings.

Titus and Rosemary

Andrew, Rhoda, Mom

Afternoon singing: Rhoda, Mom, Naomi

Mother and daughters
Rhoda, Mom, Naomi, Maggie (standing)

Ruth, unknown person, Titus, Steve in the afternoon

Men singing in the afternoon

Mr. Cool at the reception. Ira and his bodyguards.
Reuben, Glenn, the Don, Clifford, Ira Lee

Marvin and Ira

Rudy and Ira

Ira and Marcus Marner.
Marcus used to bus tables at the Gasthof where I worked as a waiter in 1989-90.
I had not seen him since.

Jesse, Ira, Steve, Marvin after supper