July 22, 2011

The First Taste…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:06 pm


“And for me, it was like a new day had dawned. For the
first time as an adult, I faced the future without fear.”

—Ira Wagler: Growing Up Amish

It’s been a bit surreal, these last few weeks. Well, a lot surreal. Quite wild, actually. You look forward to something for so long, the day arrives, the door opens, and you walk through. And gape in wonder at all that’s on the other side.

I’ve walked through. I’m still gaping in wonder.

On the great day of release, July 1st, I decided to forego the gym and head to Lancaster to find my book. In a real bookstore, on a real bookshelf. Dodging through the weekend traffic, I fought my way to Berean Christian Books, across from the Park City Mall. Figured I’d give Berean first chance, since a week later they would host my first book signing. I parked and walked in to the foyer. I might have crossed myself, even. Don’t remember.

A few signs were plastered on the front door, with my picture, announcing the upcoming book signing. Pretty wild. But not as wild as actually seeing my book in public. Then on into the store. And over to the New Releases. Scanned the shelves for that familiar green cover.

Nothing. I mean, there were plenty of new releases, lots of bright covers and flashy titles. But not my book. Drat. I approached the clerk and asked if they had it in stock. He punched some keys on his computer. Yep. But the books wouldn’t be placed on the floor until the following Tuesday. Deflated, I walked out, drove next door to Border’s. Walked in, expecting nothing. I found what I expected. My book wasn’t there either. The Borders people pretty much looked at me as if I were an alien, when I asked about it. Nope. No new arrivals that day. I walked out.

Great. The big day had arrived and was upon me. And now I couldn’t even find my own book. An author has no honor in his home town, I figured. Like a prophet doesn’t. Not that I’m a prophet, but there’s a parallel there.

I had one more shot. BJ’s Wholesale Warehouse, a few exits west on Rt. 30. They might have it. So I shifted Big Blue onto the street and fought the traffic back out. Lights. Left turns. Yuk. And then I was on Rt. 30, heading for Centerville Road. I cruised into the BJ’s parking lot. A huge place. I’m not a member, so I couldn’t buy anything. But I didn’t want to buy anything. I wanted to see my book.

I walked through the front door, and they let me in. Now where were the books? Halfway through, a vast flat table, seemingly half as big as a football field. Covered with stack after stack of books. Laid flat, piled high. Up one side I walked, scanning the titles. No book. And down the other. Halfway. Then three quarters. I scanned the countless titles. A shiver of desperation rippled through me. It had to be here. If it wasn’t, I was out of options.

And then, there it was. Stacked, kind of wedged between a bunch of others. A little pile about ten books high. Growing up Amish. By Ira Wagler.

Even in the vast flat concrete jungle of that warehouse, it was a fine thrilling moment. My first taste of my book. For sale. Right there, in public. I picked up a copy. Held it.

I hailed a skinny kid with tattooed arms, strolling by with his girlfriend. Could he take a picture with my iPhone? He agreed readily enough. And did.

The next big first taste: The book signing at Berean on July 9th. The Lancaster Sunday News published a very nice review, and during the week leading up to the date, Tyndale ran two quarter-page ads announcing the upcoming book signings. First Berean at 11. Then Costco at 2.

The morning arrived. I had asked my brother Steve to attend too, to take some pictures. Especially of the first book being signed. Yes, yes, he said. He’d be there, about a half hour early. I puttered about the house, nervous. Then, shortly after ten, I headed out. Here I come. I may have crossed myself. I don’t remember. That’s how surreal the whole thing was.

I arrived a good deal early. Sat in my truck for a few minutes. Called Steve. He was on his way, running a bit late. Ah, well. I decided to head on in. Set up awhile, and wait for people to come.

I walked through the doors into the foyer. The nice signs still hung there, signs with my picture, announcing the date and time of the book signing. And inside the store there was a nice little table. Loaded with my books. In front of the table milled a group of about ten people. All women. Some clutched my book. They were waiting.

Waiting for someone. Waiting for me.

I strolled up to them and smiled. A few knew me. And so I stood there, chatting with people who had come to buy my book and get it signed. It wasn’t 11:00 yet. But where was Steve? Come on.

“I’m not signing any books until my brother gets here,” I said firmly. “He’s taking pictures, and especially a picture of the first book being signed.” Everyone nodded and smiled. But still, there we stood.

And then, after ten minutes or so had passed, Steve arrived with his camera. The nice Berean people even set up a chair for him, right beside mine. And then I reached for the book from the first lady in line. And signed and dated it.

The first book signed at my first book signing.

It was all a flurry of activity for awhile. And then, I sat there, with no one around. The lonely, forlorn author. Waiting. But not for long. The tide of people ebbed and flowed. I chatted briefly with many of them. Some were good friends, who took time from their busy day to honor my achievement. I smiled and talked. Posed for pictures. Steve was a busy man, both with his camera and with the customers’ cameras.

It was hilarious, really, to see the Berean people scurry about ever more frantically as book after book disappeared. They had ordered 75 copies. It was soon apparent that it would be a close thing. Some people grabbed more than one book, and I signed the extra copies to their friends. One fine young man took five copies. The most any one person bought that day.

Finally, one lone copy remained. It was already after 12 noon. We hopefully scrutinized every person who walked in. But by that time, new customers were unaware of my book and of the signing. Finally, sadly, I signed the last, lone obstinate copy and dated it, and it was returned to the shelf. More would be ordered ASAP, I was assured.

That afternoon, at two, I was sitting at a table in Costco. Three large posters, enlarged pictures of the book cover, announced my presence to the Costco world. And crowds ebbed and flowed again. Many were passing shoppers, some were my friends, again stopping by to buy a book and honor this moment. I left at 3:15. Clutching in my hands the three large posters. At least one of them will be framed.

And then, last weekend, I traveled to the blue-blood Amish community of Holmes County, Ohio. For a book signing at the Gospel Book Store in Berlin. It was all quite wild as well. I stayed with my good friend John Schmid and his wife Lydia, at their home. My home away from home, in Holmes.

Again, many of my blog readers and fans came out to see me and buy the book. I chatted with many people, posed for pictures, and signed books. Many older people spoke to me of how they had met my parents years ago. Some had stayed with us at our home in Aylmer. Everyone was most cheerful and agreeable.

It was all too good, too sweet to last, probably. And so it didn’t.

She was quite friendly as she approached. A nice Beachy Amish lady, probably sixty years old or so. Oh, she said. I met your parents many years ago. They stopped by my house, and I made a meal for them.

I smiled back. And chatted. A nice lady, indeed. And a good prospect, to buy my book. And as our conversation lulled, I asked her.

“So are you picking up a copy of my book? I’ll gladly sign it for you.”

Her face hardened into a stern mask. She had come to the signing to meet me. On a mission. But not to buy my book.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I read several sections from a copy one of my friends bought.” A pause. “Can I ask you a question?”

We were tumbling headlong into disastrous territory. Nothing good could possibly come from it. But I smiled.

“Of course,” I said.

She leaned in, her face still hard, like granite.

“Do you really believe you are honoring the Lord with your book?” She asked the question dramatically. Like she had me. There could be only one possible response. I would be forced to look away. Maybe even hang my head in shame.

I was startled. But not that startled. I never flinched from her steady accusing gaze. Never looked away.

“Of course I believe that,” I answered. “Yes, I believe the Lord is honored with my book.”

And her stony face fell. She gaped at me in disbelief. She had played her trump card. The one she knew would win. But it hadn’t. She had lost. I’ll give her credit, though. She recovered quickly. But she was shaken.

“Well,” she muttered. “I think there are some things better left unwritten.”

“And that’s your right,” I said. She turned from me and walked away.

I didn’t think about it until later, but her muttered comment was right on. Just not the way she meant it. There are some things better left unwritten. And I left them unwritten.

She was the first line of defense from a hard-core sector of the plain groups. Those who refuse to be honest about themselves or their culture. She instigated the first skirmish. She came, she confronted, she lost, and she left.

But she was only the first. She certainly won’t be the last. There will be many more like her, down the road. And some won’t give up that easily.

I don’t relish such skirmishes, such battles. And I don’t seek them. But if they are brought to me, I will not back down. I will confront them. Head on. And then I’ll write about them right here on my blog. In the future, I’m thinking, I might even name names.

I’m very excited about my next book signing. It will be held on August 5th and 6th in my ancestral home of Daviess County, IN. My good friend Glen Graber, founder of Graber Post Buildings, is taking care of all the logistics. Rather rashly, perhaps, he ordered and has already received a lot of copies of my book. It is whispered that there may be as many as several hundred. If so, we’ll need a LOT of people showing up, to make even a dent in that number. So if you are within reasonable driving distance, come on over. This is currently my only scheduled signing in the Midwest. Although there likely will be others, sometime down the road.

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Friday, August 5
Graber Post Buildings
7716 N 900 E
Montgomery, IN 47558
(812) 636-7355

12:00 Noon – 3:00 PM
Saturday, August 6
Gasthof Amish Village
6659 E Gasthof Village Rd.
Montgomery, IN 47558
(812) 486-4900

Since the book was released, this blog has seen an explosion of hits. Hundreds and hundreds of hits a day. Because Tyndale most graciously published the website address on the back cover of the book, along with the author info.

So a good many of you are getting your “first taste” of this blog. Welcome. To all of you. This site has been a good part of my world, and my connection to the world, since it was launched back in 2007. On this site, I have raged and writhed in pain. Cried out in anguish. Exulted in exuberant wonder. And healed, in time. At least partially.

On this site, my writing voice developed, the voice you read in the book. You can go back to my earliest posts, and read forward. And witness the voice as it was born. And as it firmed up and matured. All the way to the present day.

A few words of caution are in order, I think. Especially to those who may be the tormented, sensitive type, the type who walks around greatly burdened with all the tortured guilt of others’ perceived offenses. There are a few things such readers, and all new readers, should know.

Politically, I’m a libertarian. I respect no politician, except Ron Paul and his ilk. And of course, being human, he has his flaws as well. I don’t write about politics much. But I have, now and then, here and there. I whack both sides pretty much equally. Maybe the left a bit more. I don’t watch any mainstream news. None at all. I believe the current debt-crisis antics in Washington, DC are a dog and pony show. I pay almost no attention to it.

I love football, baseball and Nascar, in that order. I don’t like horses, and I think pets should mostly be kept outside the house. I don’t like cities and think they are evil pits of crime and wickedness. I won’t fly unless absolutely necessary, to avoid the TSA gropers. I’m comfortable in pretty much any setting, from a black tie event to a blue collar dive. I’m more comfortable around Joe Sixpack than I am hobnobbing with the intellectual elite. Don’t know why, really. Probably because I feel closer to my roots.

During the past four years, I have posted hundreds and hundreds of pages of words on this site. Words describing in detail who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’ve come from. And what I think, about a whole lot of things.

Somewhere on this site, there is something, some opinion, some post, some story with which you will vehemently disagree. Maybe even be offended. Count on it. I’m pretty much an equal opportunity guy that way.

Read. Recoil. Gasp in horror. Whatever. But don’t take it personally. And don’t send me scolding, accusing emails. Just don’t. And don’t be condescending. If you want to admonish, or even berate me, that’s OK. Just be honest and polite. You are free to be who you are. Respect my right to be who I am.

I’m just a redneck who can write. Keep that in mind as you peruse my blog-world.