October 27, 2017

Vagabond Traveler: The Second Gate…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. Let nothing you dismay.
You are not utterly forsaken. I, too, am here–here in the darkness
waiting, here attentive, here approving of your labor and your dream.

—Thomas Wolfe

Well. I guess I can finally tell it. It’s been a long, long time coming. More than a year ago, I wrote, right here on the blog. It’s time to go shop my second book. I think I’m ready, now. It’s time, to set off on that journey. It’s time to set out for one more city. And since I wrote those words, there has not been a whole lot more to say about it all. Not until now. And here’s the story of the journey, from that day to this one.

The publishing world is a brutal, brutal place. It just is. I’ve always known that. But I kind of skirted around the reality of it all, with my first book. The writing of it came. And then the editing. And then the book was launched into the world. Amazingly, or maybe not, it took off, right from the start. I hunkered down for the ride. And a wild ride it has been.

And since then, life has just been what it was. Up and down and sideways and forward and back. That’s how I walked. That’s how the journey went. And one thing never happened, there early on. There never was a second book that came.

It was about time, I felt, back there a year ago. About time for the second effort. Not that it was burning a hole inside me, or anything. In publishing, if your first book does any good, they tell you. It’s time for the next one. They nudge around, kind of hem and haw. And then they ask. That’s just how it goes. That’s the formula. And way too many writers crank out a second book, when it’s not really in them. They think they have to. And that’s why so many sequels fall flat. It’s because they never came from where the first book came from. From what I’ve seen and felt, this is what I can tell you.

Anyway, back to the market. The publishing world is a brutal brutal place. You step out, you speak, and by some miracle, it works. Your voice gets heard. Your book sells. And that’s all fine. But the people in that world are focused on one thing. Can you write a second book that will sell? Not that I’m grumbling at the publishing world, for being what it is. I’m not. It’s the market. It is what it is, and it will not change.

I remember emailing my agent, back last year. Chip MacGregor. It’s kind of funny, I always thought. I have never bothered Chip, much. Just never felt any need to. I consider myself a very low-maintenance client. I never make much fuss or hassle. Heck, until just lately, I barely ever talked to the man. Well, way back, when he took me as a client, we talked a time or two. We never got very conversational. Which was fine. Then, when the book was coming together, we chatted a few more times. Other than that, we never did. There was no need to. He did his job, getting me through the door at Tyndale. And after he made that connection, he simply got out of the way and let things happen. I’ve always appreciated that about the man. He doesn’t bug you, if you want to be left alone. And he never bugged me, either, in the years since. Oh, sure. Once in a while, here came a short email. He was just checking. How am I doing? I’m fine, I always said. And that was that, until six months later, when he checked in again. Such is the relationship I had with my agent, all these years. It’s a wonder he didn’t cross me from his list. But he never did.

Anyway, I emailed him, out of the blue, last year. I think I’m ready to shop my second book. Is that something you want to do for me? “Of course,” he emailed back. And I asked. Do you think there’s a market for my stuff? It’s been a few years, since Growing Up Amish got published. Will people remember who I am? The publishers, I mean. And I gotta respect the man’s response. He never made any guarantees. You can’t, in publishing. But he told me. “There are plenty of big publishers out there who will be very interested in seeing what you have to offer.” OK, then, I told him. I’ll send you some stuff early next year. This was last year. And by February or so, I sent him a batch of my writings. Fifty pages.

I don’t know how other authors do it, to submit their stuff. From what I’ve seen in the guidelines of most agents, the process is pretty rigorous. Kind of like walking a tightrope. You gotta submit a real manuscript, or at least a good start to one. And you gotta follow all the rules. Double spaced pages. Chapter breaks. Potential titles. Blah, blah, blah, and then, blah and blah. It’s endless, the list. It’s always been wearying to me, to think of all that attention to detail.

But those first fifty pages were pretty organized. I worked hard at what I figured was a real opening chapter to a real book. I even had it professionally edited by my old friend, Susan Taylor. She edited my first book. She retired a couple of years ago. I hunted her down. Will you edit some of this stuff for me? I asked her. I’ll pay you. She could and did. It felt like old times, going back and forth with her. And it all looked pretty good, I thought, when I sent it off to Chip. I’ll see what he thinks, I thought to myself.

He got back to me a few weeks later. Lots of suggested corrections, he had. Do this. Clean up that. Edit this. Ah, come on, Chip, I grumbled to myself. Who knows, what a publisher wants? And I told him. Why don’t you let me clean up some of my writings, that I got on file and on my blog? I’ll get you a hundred pages or so. It’ll be disjointed, but it’ll be good stuff. Any potential publisher can look at it and see I’ll need some editing help. I mean, that’s how it worked last time. Why can’t we try that again? Chip allowed that he could see my point. Send the writing, he told me. So I went back to my computer. Over the next few weeks, I edited and prepared over a hundred pages of older stuff I had already written. Individual stories. Some old blogs. I cleaned it all up. Double-spaced it, even. And off it went.

Chip took a few weeks, to look it over. And really read through it. He liked it, he claimed. I don’t think we talked, then. Just emailed. I asked him. Do you think Tyndale might be interested in publishing my second effort? Chip was pretty confident. “Of course they will be interested,” he wrote. “Your first book sold a lot of copies. Tyndale should jump on this.” OK, I said. Let me know. And I went back to doing what I do, which is mostly plugging along through life, and writing an occasional blog. I never mentioned much on my blogs, that I was shopping another book around. No sense getting your readers all riled up, before anything develops. That’s what I figured.

And all was quiet, for weeks and weeks. Never a peep from Chip. Not unusual at all. Last time, he disappeared for six months, if I remember right. So I didn’t sweat it. Not much, anyway. Sure, I thought about it. What’s going on? But I also knew that the publishing world moves at a glacial pace, like an old man, hobbling along with a cane. Nothing is ever sure, not before an agreement is made. The weeks passed, then the months. I got restless. What’s going on? Why isn’t Chip getting back to me?

I didn’t take notes at the time, so my sequence of events might be off a bit. But eventually, I nudged Chip. What’s going on? Any word from Tyndale? There was no word. And then Chip forwarded a message from a small publishing company. That editor claimed to have cried all the way through my stories. Unfortunately, that publisher was too small to marshal the resources needed to edit my work. Would Ira consider taking on the editing role himself? The editor asked.

So Chip asked me. Would I? I will, when I have to, I said. Not before. Did all the big publishers reject it, yet? No, they had not. He was still waiting to hear back from a few. Well, let’s wait, then, I wrote. And I asked, too. What’s happening with Tyndale? Chip seemed mildly vague, with his answer. Tyndale wasn’t saying yay or nay. They were just pretty much ignoring my stuff.

Well. You gotta wonder why a publisher wouldn’t jump on the second offering from an author who brought in a million bucks (or at least hundreds of thousands of dollars) with his first book. And, yeah, I knew. Many of the people I worked with at Tyndale had moved on. Or retired, like Susan had. But not all. And there had been a departmental shakeup, too, that I knew of. The place wasn’t the same as it had been, back in 2010-11. But still. I was disappointed in Tyndale. The publishing world is a brutal place. That’s a given. But they could have relaunched my first book along with the release of the second. Anyone with half an eye could see that. It just doesn’t make much sense to ignore potential profits that are as good as guaranteed. Not to my way of thinking, it doesn’t.

Chip was astounded, that Tyndale didn’t bite. I wasn’t all that astounded, but I sure felt deflated. It just seemed like something that was destined to happen. A road block, thrown right up in front of me. Good grief. If something can go wrong, it will. But we talked, then, Chip and me. And he spoke calmly and wisely. “If the book is not wanted at one place, we will take it to a place that does want it,” he said. “Let me keep shopping around.” I felt better, at his words.

But deep down, I felt ripples of uneasiness. The market sure wasn’t falling over itself, to take my stuff. What if no one wanted what I wrote? What if there were no takers? What then? In the publishing world, as in life, I guess, no one cares much what you did six years ago. What have you done lately? Publishers focus on one particular thing. Can I make them money? And I got no problem with any of that. No one publishes a book just for fun. And no one should. If you don’t figure to make money, there’s no sense even bothering with it.

See what you can do, I said to Chip. Keep me updated. I’ll wait to hear from you. He said he would. And it wasn’t long after that, that I got a happy message. An editor from Harper Collins was very interested. A guy editor. Most editors are women, these days. Like someone told me, once. “Publishing is basically ten thousand women, and a couple hundred men, mainly in production and sales.” That’s true, I think.

And Chip told me. The man from Harper really loved my work. It might be just exactly what he’s looking for. I was a little astounded. Harper Collins. One of the Big Five publishers in New York City. That was Big Time, like Peter Gabriel sings. Bigger than Tyndale, for sure. I agreed, of course, when Chip wanted to set up a time for us to chat with the editor man from Harper.

It happened a week or so later. At the last moment, Chip took ill. So he couldn’t join us. I called the number right at 5:30. And the editor was there. We spoke our names. Introduced ourselves. And we talked. It’s a big deal, when an editor from Harper Collins takes the time to talk to you. A big deal. We got along great. I felt calm. He had a lot of questions about how the first book happened. And what I figured would have to happen for the second one to become real. I was totally honest. I write raw stuff. I can tear your heart out. Make you laugh. Make you weep bitter tears. I just have a hard time connecting it all into a book. That’s what the Tyndale people did last time. Connected everything. That’s what I’m looking for now. Editing and connecting.

The man seemed impressed, I gotta say. He dug a little deeper into my “philosophy of writing.” I told him. I don’t believe in writing courses in college. I’ve never been to a writer’s seminar in my life. You either got it inside you, or you don’t. That’s the way I see it. He seemed to hear my words. And he told me. “A guy like you should be talking at these seminars. There’s a lot of people out there who need to hear what you’re saying.” And we chatted, too, about what my story line might be, for the book. It’s a lot of father/son stuff, I said. I’m open to suggestions. I’m totally open to a publisher’s guidance. That’s why I need a publisher with some resources. I need some time and I need some help, to get it all together.

An hour whooshed by. Then another ten minutes. He needed to go. So we wrapped it up. He was definitely very interested. But. But. He had to get the concept through the Publishing Board, there at Harper. Yeah, I said. I know all about Publishing Boards. They’re like the Wall of China. You can’t get around, and you can’t get through. I know it’s a real job. He said he’d be in touch with Chip, soon. And I thanked him for the time. We hung up. I didn’t feel exhausted or anything. But it was a big deal, to chat with an editor at that level. I knew that, right as it was happening.

Chip and I chatted via email, then, the next few days. And I went back to my daily routine. Go to work. Work on my blog now and then. And wait. I should hear something from the editor man soon, I figured. Surely within a month.

And the weeks swept right on by. I heard nary a peep from anyone. Oh, well. No use fretting. I’m sure the man is fighting his Publishing Board, to get his idea through. And then, out of nowhere, another message from Chip. He had another editor who wanted to talk to me. A lady, this time. From another big publisher. Hachette.

Hachette? I thought to myself. I wonder what company that is. Sounds French. I googled the name. And learned soon enough. Hachette is one of the Big Five in New York City, just like Harper Collins is. The company was French, actually. And it had bought out the publisher Time-Warner. That name I knew. Wow, I thought to myself. That’s wild. First an editor from Harper Collins, now from Time-Warner. This is big time. There must be something they like about my stuff. Either that, or Chip just has good connections. Maybe both. And Chip scheduled a conference call with the Hachette lady, for one evening after work. This time, he wasn’t sick. So the three of us connected.

It went well. At least I thought so. The woman lives down south, in Nashville. She sure had a strong southern accent. We talked, and I told her pretty much what I had told the guy from Harper. I can send you all kinds of good stuff. Stories that will tear at your heart. But someone needs to fuse it all into a book. That’s what happened with the first book, back in 2011. And, I know. That’s a lot of years that have passed. I know, an author is supposed to crank out his second book way before I did. It doesn’t matter to me, I said. It didn’t come, so I didn’t write it. I think I’m ready, now. I’m ready to try, anyway.

And the nice lady seemed impressed. She loved my style of writing, she told me. That’s why she reached out to Chip. And we talked. Of course, she would have to go back and present the whole idea to her Publishing Board, too. Of course, I said. I don’t claim to know a lot about publishing, but I do know that much, now. From all I’ve seen in the past. I think we talked for almost an hour. And then we wound things down. And I thought to myself. I hope there’s a bidding war between this woman and the Harper guy. That would be nice. I’ve been wanting that black Jeep ever since I drove one down to Florida to see Dad last April. A nice down payment on a book might get me a nice down payment on that black Jeep. Who knows? That was my random thinking after I chatted with the lady from Hachette.

And I thought about it a lot, back then. The Harper guy called in May, the Hachette lady in June. And I mulled it over, in my head. It’s kind of wild, that people from that level of the publishing world reached out to me. It’s a big deal. And I knew, too. Before another book will ever come, the right door has to open. The second gate to the golden city. That gate has to open, or there will never be another book from me. Not that such a thing would be the end of the world for me. I’ve always claimed that. And I meant it, too. I’ll write another book when and if it gets here. If it never does get here, well, at least no one can ever take away my first book. That’s what I always told myself, anyway. Maybe I was whistling past the graveyard. Maybe I was just trying to calm my mind.

I knew what part of the problem was, if no offer came. Chip had hedged at it, delicately, a few times. My “platform.” It’s nowhere close to what it needs to be. Mostly because I don’t pay any attention to it. I’m supposed to be connecting to 50,000 people every month, which just boggles my mind. How in the world does one do that, and remain real? How do you do that without pestering people to read your stuff? I have never done that. I have never paid any attention to increasing my platform. I blog when I feel like it. I post on Facebook as life unfolds around me. I mean, I live. Or try to. That’s one side of the equation, when a publisher looks at me. My platform is sadly lacking. The other side? I’ve written a NY Times Bestseller that’s approaching 200,000 copies sold. It doesn’t compute, any of it. And it almost makes their heads explode, the bean counters in the publishing world.

And June soon passed into July. I never told many people about the two Big Five publishers who had reached out. Well, I told my family. I figure family has the right to know about most things as they happen. And I told my coworkers at the office. Some of those people, I’ve been working with for years and years. There’s not too much I hold back. So I told them. And I said to everyone I told. At this stage, there is nothing sure. Nothing concrete. But this has to happen before anything else can happen. The door has to open, one crack at a time. The gate to my second book has to open, however slowly. This stage has to happen, or there will be no others. And I drank scotch on the rocks quietly and intensely as the month of July rolled by.

August came. That’s my birthday month. Another year, coming at me. Fifty-six. One of these days, I’ll be hobbling along with a cane. And, of course, August is the month of the Great Annual Ira Wagler Garage Party. This year, I scheduled it for the 19th. And this year, I invited people from just about all over. From the Midwest and from the South. Family. Friends. Relatives. Neighbors. Come one. Come all, I told them. This year will be a special year. And I thought to myself, too. It sure would be nice if I could announce it at my Garage Party. My offer for the second book.

As August rumbled by, the Garage Party came and went. And this year, my nephew John Wagler and his wife Dorothy flew in from all the way out in Iowa. And my niece Janice came, too, from Florida. And her brother, Steven, drove up from his home in South Carolina. It was a big old gathering for a big old party at Ira’s Garage. It was a great, grand affair. But I never breathed a word in public about a book deal, because I never heard an offer from anyone about a book deal. After the party, I got to thinking. I’ve heard nothing. Nothing. Maybe it’s time to start getting a little nervous.

And somewhere in about here, it just hit me one day. I’ve been drinking way too hard, all summer. Way too hard. Sure, I could blame the pressures of not knowing about the book. I could blame all that. Those two Big Five publishers who nibbled, yet kept shrinking back. And one day, soon after my Garage Party, one day I just said to myself. I’m tired of waking up, all exhausted from the whiskey. I’m intensely ashamed of being a big, fat slob. I’m tired of feeling so bloated and heavy, tired of bulging out of my biggest clothes. I’m tired of being tired all the time. And I made a snap decision. I’m quitting. I won’t say forever, because that’s too long. I’ll just say, for now. At least until I lose a bunch of pounds, and get to feeling a little better. So that’s what I did. Just quit drinking, stone cold. One day, I’ll write a blog about alcohol and me. That’ll be the title. Alcohol and Me. That, or Running with the Devil. Either one would work, I think.

I nudged Chip now and then. Bothered him more than I ever had before. It’s just how it went. September came. And Beach Week approached. This year, I was alcohol-free, going in. A few weeks before we left, I got a merry little note from Chip. Virginia is taking your book to the Board this next week. Virginia. That’s her name, the lady from Hachette. Wow, I thought. She’s taking it to the Board. Publishing Boards have traditionally not been very kind to me. My stuff squeaked by the Tyndale Board, somehow. But before that, the Harvest House Board deemed my writing “not sweet enough.” I never forgot that. How obtuse those people were, on that Board. I have been very leery of all Publishing Boards since then. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of them, near as I can tell. And now the concept of my second book was being presented to another Board by a brave warrior editor who was willing to go to battle for me.

I felt very tense about it. But still. This had to happen, before anything real could happen. Before any offer could be made. The Wall had to be crossed. Passed through. Whatever. Oh, well, I thought. Beach Week is coming right up. At least I’ll know, one way or the other, by the time we head down there. And the week came, that the Board would hear about my book. I tried not to think about it, much. I just hoped the writing would be good enough to persuade. It was too late to change anything, if it wasn’t. Oh, well. Just keep walking. That’s what I told myself.

And the week passed. No word came. Nothing. No yay. No nay. Saturday approached. I packed for the beach. And we headed out, Wilm and me. Just like we do every year. It was my turn to take my truck. We arrived. Everyone else did, too. And Beach Week came at us. It was a little different for me, being alcohol free and all. I had lost a solid dozen pounds or more. And that week, I gained a few of those pounds back. Not from drink. From all the good food. We feasted like kings, as we always do. The difference this year was, I was in bed by eleven or before. Every night. And every morning, I was the first one up. A halo hovered over my head, I felt like. By the time the others stumbled into the kitchen, I had dined magnificently on eggs and buttered toast and bacon, and was drinking coffee and orange juice. I read. I wrote a bit. And I never heard a word from Chip, about the Publishing Board at Hachette. Not a word. Nothing was going on, apparently.

And soon the week had swooshed right by. We all headed for home. The tension inside had lurked, latent, all week. And after I got home and Monday morning rolled around, I still had heard nothing. So I sat down and wrote an email to Chip. What is going on? Come on. This is crazy, that I’ve heard nothing. And Chip wrote back, very calmly. He wasn’t sure what was going on. He had emailed Virginia. He was expecting to hear from her any time. Sure, I thought. I mean, why would anyone be contacting us now, when there had been only silence for weeks? I was stressed, I will say. All my eggs had been shopped out, in one basket. If there were no takers, I would have to find another road. Another door. And I’d have to start all over, in the journey. I did not want to do that. I really did not want to.

And it was all a little surreal, in that time. How I felt, and how I looked at life. I had quit drinking, stone cold, a mere few weeks before. And I wanted a drink real bad, as the tension levels escalated inside me. I really did. A good stiff scotch would have tasted so, so delicious. But I never went there. Not other than in my head. All of life is a choice, at least those parts of life in your control. Yeah, you can be addicted to this or that. Still. What you choose to do, how you choose to handle that addiction, that is a choice. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it was a choice for me in those tense and murky days, not to drink. I’m not saying I never will again. Drink, I mean. I rarely say never. But I chose not to at that time. I’ve still chosen not to. And I’m down twenty-six pounds.

I waited then, to hear from Chip. Something had to give, one way or the other. Something had to break. I plugged off to work, every day, that week. No news. No word. Tuesday came. Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, I got home from work. Checked my emails. And there was something from Chip. The subject line was two words. Good News! I fumbled with my mouse. The computer half locked up. Come on. Open. And then the message opened. A single line. “Look what came in last night, Ira… a real offer! Have a look, then let’s talk…” Below the line, he had forwarded the message he had received. From Virginia, at Hachette. She was making a formal offer for Ira Wagler’s book.

And she wrote what she was offering. A contract. She was looking forward to helping me craft a follow-up to my first work. And she wrote the standard contractual terms. The upfront offer. The percentages that would follow. The black Jeep might be a real possibility, down the road, I’m thinking. But at that moment, I just sat and absorbed. And Virginia wrote, toward the end. Speaking of Ira Wagler, she said. “His writing is well-loved by the folks here.” And I just sat and looked at the message. Here it was. The thing I had been stressing about for months and months. The offer had come. From FaithWords, a division of Hachette, the publisher formerly known as Time-Warner.

And I thought to myself. I sure could use a good strong scotch about right now. But even as the urge flashed through me, I knew I would not choose to do that. The celebratory drink would have to wait. Right now, I just needed to sit and let it all sink in. And, oh, yeah. I needed to tell someone. I looked at my phone. And then I called Janice. The book deal came through, I told her, my voice sagging with relief. Janice knew all about the stress I was in. We had spoken about it, down at the beach. And she listened to me telling her how the offer had finally come. And she told me she had known it would, and then she told me she loved me. In a moment like that, that’s just about all you need to hear. That someone loves you.

In my heart that night, I danced in silence with myself. And over the next few days, I murmured the news to a few close friends. My family. The people at work. And one or two others. But I could not tell the world, not just yet. Chip told me. From the New York publishers, the formal contract will take some time. Months. But there will come a pre-contractual memo, with all the details. When that memo gets here, the offer is set. No backing out, from anyone. And even that memo took some time. Well, he had the final negotiations to work through. And then, one day last week, after work, here it came. The memo. It came through. And now I can tell the world. I have an offer for my second book. A real offer, from a real publisher.

Virginia wants the manuscript by sometime next summer, maybe June or so. And then, they want to release the actual book in the summer of 2019. A year later. It takes time, as I remember, for a book to work its way from writing to publishing. So right now, well, right now I’m back to earth and looking at the road ahead of me. The next eight months are going to be intense. That’s all there is to it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s a big, big deal. It really is. And I feel a lot of emotions. A lot of relief, too. The market actually took what I had to offer. There’s nothing like that feeling. And I know, as I approach the second gate leading to the road to the second city. The city of my second book. This journey will be a lot different than the journey of the first book was. The thing is, I know a little bit about what the jungle is like, ahead of me. I’ve been there before. The first book was a long time, coming. So was the second book. And one thing I have learned, when it comes to a new journey like the one I’m fixing to travel.

I will walk forward. Whatever comes, I will face the future. I am not afraid. The Lord has blessed me once again by granting me one of the deepest desires of my heart. That’s a beautiful thing. I am grateful. To Him, and to all of you, my readers. Thank you for always being there.

And now, I stand and lift my face to the heavens in gratitude and praise. Walk with me on this new road, through this second gate to a new and glorious dawn in a new and shining city. It is ours to grasp and hold, the joy and celebration of it all.

October 6, 2017

Rachel’s Tears…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


…Her face was suddenly contorted by that grotesque and pitiable grimace of
sorrow that women have had in moments of grief since the beginning of time,
and digging her fist into her closed eye quickly with the pathetic gesture of a
child, she lowered her head and wept bitterly.

—Thomas Wolfe

We knew her passing was imminent, and that morning the text was on my phone when I got up. Miriam went to be with Jesus early this morning. And there it was. The final word we knew would come. Miriam Graber, my first cousin. A person I had known all my life. And now she was gone. And I thought to myself. There’s one more senseless blow for the Homer Graber family.

Homer and Rachel Graber were connected to my family in a special way, since way back. Rachel is my father’s younger sister. She and Dad are the two youngest in their family. And back when Dad was dating Mom, Homer Graber came calling at the farm of Joseph K. Wagler. He was attracted to the youngest daughter, there. And Rachel smiled and smiled, and welcomed him. I don’t know what Joseph K. did. He might have looked a little grim when Homer first came around, what with Rachel being so young and all.

They got married in a double wedding ceremony on February 3, 1942. Dad and Mom. And Homer and Rachel. They were young, all of them. But especially the brides. Mom was just shy of nineteen. Rachel was seventeen, almost eighteen. I’ve always heard they pushed up the wedding date, so the men might not have to go to service in camps for WWII. They were needed at home to take care of their wives, and to farm. That was the plan. It halfway worked. Homer was never called up. Dad was. He served as a conscientious objector in camps in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

They settled there in Daviess. Both couples. After his conscientious objector service, Dad bought a small farm just north of town on Montgomery Road. I’m not sure where Homer and Rachel lived. On his home farm, maybe. And life came at them all. Of the two couples, one would soon taste the bitter cup of sorrow and loss.

They had children, Homer and Rachel. A daughter, Leona. Then a son, LeRoy. When the boy was small, maybe two years old, he got sick with diarrhea. They got him to the doctor, then the hospital. But back in those days, the care just wasn’t what it would be now. Weakened by dehydration, LeRoy sank lower and lower. Rachel still talks about it today, how he settled in to sleep. “Good-bye,” he said to his Mom. She was not sure how to take that. He insisted. “Good-bye.” And then he went to sleep. He never woke up. The Grabers buried their firstborn son, there in Daviess. Rachel wept quiet, bitter tears, and grieved. She wasn’t bitter, not in her heart, I mean. She totally accepted the loss. But her tears had to be bitter-tasting. There is no other way they could have been.

A few years after he got back from his service, Dad moved his little family to Piketon, Ohio. A new Amish community had started there. A small group of radicals, the kind of people Dad naturally gravitated to. Piketon never made it big. It didn’t last that long, either. Less than a decade. And soon Dad was moving again. The western Amish are way more footloose than the Blueblood Amish of Lancaster County. Especially today. But even back then, they were. And this time Dad joined a group settling in Canada. Aylmer. And this time, a few families from Daviess joined the Aylmer settlers. Bishop Peter Yoder, and his wife, Martha. Dad’s brother, Abner Wagler, and his wife, Katie. And Homer and Rachel Graber.

I’m not sure of all the dynamics involved, as to who actually wanted to pick up and leave Daviess, and who didn’t. I always figured Homer would have been content there. It was the strong Wagler blood in Rachel that drove them to move. For the sake of peace, and because he loved his wife, Homer went along with it. I don’t know that. I just think it. And I’ve always heard it told. Homer smoked, when he lived in Daviess. In Aylmer, that would not fly. Tobacco use was strictly forbidden. So Homer enjoyed his last cigarette on the truck hauling his family’s belongings from Daviess to Aylmer. He drew that last delicious drag in deep, then threw the butt out the window. And that was it, for Homer and his tobacco. He never touched it again. As one who knows what it is to be addicted to both cigarettes and whiskey, I’ve always found this little tale fascinating. And I’ve always respected Homer for making a hard choice and sticking with it.

In Aylmer, life moved on for Homer and Rachel, and for my parents. More sons and daughters were born to them. My sister Rachel was the first baby born in the Aylmer Amish community. She was named after her aunt. Well, Mom had an older sister, too, named Rachel. So I guess my sister was named after two aunts. A baby girl arrived at the Graber home a year or so after my sister was born. They named her Miriam. And, of course, my older brothers, Stephen and Titus came along, as did Miriam’s younger siblings, too. We grew up together, the Homer Graber children and the David Wagler children. Hung out. Laughed and played and fought and got into all kinds of mischief.

Homer was a hard-working, simple man, not given to viewing much of life in any shade of gray. It was black and white. I think he viewed my father’s writing with some suspicion. How could any man sit in an office and type, right in the middle of the day, when there was work to be done in the fields? Homer muttered to his boys and shook his head. The man was always busy farming, and selling feed and seed from his farm store. Homer had a real drive for business, there was never any question about that.

In the early 1970s, Aylmer was in a bit of a flux. I’m not sure what forces were surging below the surface of things. But people were moving out. Peter Stoll and much of his clan left for Honduras, where Peter had idealistic visions of proselytizing the natives. Bishop Peter Yoder moved to the new fledgling settlement sprouting to life in Marshfield, Missouri. And Homer and Rachel Graber moved to Marshfield, too. My Mom always said, back then. “We’ll go where Pete Yoders go.” But when the good bishop left, Dad stayed put, right there in Aylmer. He would not move, not before he had to. And he never would move to Marshfield.

I have vivid memories of that time. I felt sad that Homer’s sons and my good friends, Reuben and Philip, were leaving the community where we had lived all our lives. The Homer Graber family left for Marshfield in January, right in the middle of a brutal snowstorm. That’s what I remember, anyway. And we soon got used to not having them around. We went to Marshfield now and then, to visit, too. And Philip and I wrote each other sporadically. And life moved on, as life always does.

Somewhere in the early 1980s, the Amish settlement in Marshfield kind of went kaput. It had never grown to more than a single district. I don’t know what the issues were, why it didn’t grow more. Some say this, and some say that. It was church problems, most likely. When a settlement stays dormant, or shrinks, that’s usually the number one reason. Not always, and maybe not there. Still, I recall that Marshfield had plenty of internal turmoil. Much of that turmoil has traditionally been blamed on Sam Beachy, an unorthodox Amish preacher who had settled there.

And at some point, Homer Grabers left, too. I’m sure that was a tough decision, to just uproot and move away like that. After investing all those years in one place. Still. You do what you figure is best. In 1981, they packed up and moved to Rexford, Montana, for a year or two. That was always meant to be temporary, until they could find another suitable settlement. And then, in 1983, Homer and Rachel moved to one of the most unique Amish communities in the country. Kalona, Iowa.

Kalona is, well, it’s just different. It always has been. I’m not sure it’s that way anymore, but when I was young, you could always tell when a married Amish man was from Kalona. He would have his hair parted in the middle, combed out and back from his forehead. And they wore tiny, pointed hats, too, the Kalona men. And the people could farm with tractors, too, I do remember that. Steel-wheeled tractors, but tractors nonetheless. I always was a bit envious of that single fact alone, about Kalona.

Kalona has one of the strangest top buggies ever designed in the Amish world. Absolutely unique. Small, with a boxed tail. And doors that slide up into the roof. I had never seen such a thing, and I gaped when I saw my first Kalona buggy. The Kalona people, too, are quite unique. You can tell where they are from by the bone structure of their faces. And by the way the men comb their hair, of course. They are hard-working people. Set in their ways, but hard working. And one more thing. I don’t know how to say it nice, so I’ll just say it. Kalona has the dubious reputation of being one of the most gossip-infested Amish and Mennonite settlements in the world. Maybe that reputation is earned, and maybe it isn’t. It just is what it is. And I’ll leave it at that.

Into this world, then, Homer and Rachel moved with their remaining single children. The sequence of events gets ever more murky with the passing of the years. I don’t figure it’s that important, anyway. I just know that Homers settled there, close to the west edge of the settlement. Miriam would have been in her upper twenties then. She moved with her parents and family to this new place. I still marvel today that Homer and Rachel moved right into this strange new land and made it work. That took some nerve. There is no other way to look at it.

The next two decades, I suppose, were about as peaceful a time as there ever was in the lives of Homer and Rachel Graber. They settled there, in Kalona. Their children soon paired off, and most of them got married. All except Miriam. She was a beautiful girl. Always smiling. But near as I can remember, she never so much as had a date. She was content at home. And at home she stayed.

And then, in 2001, Homer took sick. And before anyone knew what was going on, he sank and died. Right there, at home. He was 79 years old. Which isn’t that old, when you see how Rachel survived him until today. Still, his time on earth was over, just like that. I remember how the clans gathered for the funeral. Ellen and I were young-married, back then. I can’t remember if she accompanied me or not. I know a bunch of us got motel rooms in nearby Iowa City. And we attended the ceremony as Uncle Homer was laid to rest, there in Kalona. It still seemed like a foreign place to me. But I guess it wasn’t to Homer and his family, and that’s all that matters.

Rachel soldiered on alone, then. Who knows, what she thought? She bore her sorrow in stoic silence. Maybe she pined to leave this earth, this vale of tears, and go and join her beloved Homer. I don’t know that. It would not be, in any case. She would remain, there in her home, for many more years than anyone could have imagined.

Rachel settled in her role as a widow, with gravitas and dignity. All the children were married, soon, with children of their own. All except Miriam. She remained at home, with her mother. Content to live at home. She worked part time, cleaning houses. And the two of them seemed inseparable, Miriam and her Mom, it seemed like. Where you saw one, you saw the other. Miriam was always smiling, always good-natured.

Rachel faced a few more sorrows, along the road. At some point, back in the early 2000s, she came down with cancer of some kind. I’m not sure, it might have been in her stomach. She rejected any kind of chemo treatment. And she went natural. Drank carrot juice and ate only raw vegetables and fruits. And she exercised. Went walking a lot. She strode down the road, determined and vigorous. And she beat the cancer. I don’t know if it was the vegetable diet and exercise, or if her body was simply too old for the cancer to grow in. Whatever the case, she was pronounced cancer free after a few years.

And another sorrow came, a few years ago. Her daughter, Esther, had married Alvin Yoder way back in Marshfield. They had sons and daughters, a large family. And after Marshfield collapsed, Alvin and Esther had moved to Windsor. Missouri. There they lived for many years. But Esther was not well. She had serious heart issues. And she gradually sank lower and lower. A few years ago, she passed away, there in Windsor, and was buried there. The Graber family gathered around their mother to lay one of their own to rest. And before Esther was buried in the ground, a niece, one of Rachel’s granddaughters, got tragically killed in a four-wheeler accident. The family staggered from the continuous blows. And Rachel wept again. First, it was a son. Then her husband. And now, a daughter and a granddaughter, right after each other. It was all a bit much to absorb.

The years slid on by. And one more large sorrow loomed. No one could have known, and no one could have seen it coming. Which is just as well. If we knew what all the future was bringing at us, half the time we would be too paralyzed to move.

Life moved on for the Graber family in Kalona. And then, earlier this year, the shocking news came throbbing out. Miriam was the fourth daughter in the family. Right close to the middle, in the lineup. She was always smiling, always pleasant, and she always saw the glass of life as half full and filling up. Never as half empty and draining down. And now, Miriam had stage four cancer. And again, the Graber family staggered with the blow. The rest of us, the cousins, we simply absorbed the news in silence and disbelief. I mean, you don’t look too closely at such news when it comes. You hear, but you kind of balk at it. And that’s the way it was with us. We heard. Tried to absorb. And we half tried to ignore it, too. Maybe it would all go away.

They took her to a clinic in Chicago, somewhere, for treatment. I don’t know if the clinic people made any kind of promises. Probably not. Maybe they insinuated they could help. One thing I learned long ago. I don’t question anyone’s decision on where they go for cancer treatment. Go to Mexico. Go natural. Go with the latest chemo. It’s your life, it’s your fight, and it’s your choice. I remember years ago, when Ellen worked at Hershey Medical, on the cancer floor. She saw all the latest approved treatments. She administered those treatments. She got attached to her patients, before they all passed on, one after another. And she told me more than once. If she ever gets cancer, she’s going to Mexico for treatment. Or she’ll go natural. She would never, never take chemo. That’s what she told me. I never forgot.

I was kind of out there on the edge of things, this time around. I never went to visit Miriam. I mean, I had known her all my life. There never was a time in my memory that she was not a character in my world. Still. She was older than me. Same age as my older siblings. I don’t know if anyone in my family made it to see her. I know my niece Dorothy stopped by a few times. Dorothy lives there, in the Kalona area, with her husband Lowell and their children. Each time she stopped to see Miriam, she duly reported it on the family site on Facebook. Rachel was taking it pretty hard, Dorothy told us. She walks around and cries and keeps asking why she can’t be the one to go, instead of Miriam.

Miriam had worked hard all her life. She was looking forward to relaxing and getting some traveling done in her later years. It was simply not to be, as the cancer aggressively closed in. She grappled, fought for life. But the vile disease just kept encroaching, encroaching. And early last week, we heard the end was near. She was suffering dreadfully. As she grew weaker and weaker, her family traveled in to say good-bye.

And Miriam Graber passed from this earth on Wednesday morning, September 27th, in the predawn hours. Her suffering was over. So were all the earthly joys and hopes and dreams she had ever harbored in her heart. I heard that day from her brother, Reuben, my boss. The funeral would be on Sunday morning. I chatted with Reuben. He was flying out on his plane. Did he have room for me? He wasn’t sure. He was picking up a couple of his sons in western PA. He’d let me know.

On Thursday morning, he called me. He didn’t really have room for me on his plane. But he had plenty of airline miles saved up. He would get me a ticket. Whatever works, I told him. You certainly don’t have to feel obligated, but I do really appreciate that. And thus it was that early on Friday morning, I was driving Big Blue through the predawn darkness, over the toll road to the Philadelphia Airport.

It’s no secret that I detest airports. I don’t mind flying, necessarily, but I absolutely despise the way they treat you before they let you in. I parked in the long-term lot and boarded the bus take me over to the United Airlines area. I had packed light. A shoulder bag, and a small suitcase on wheels, small enough that I wouldn’t have to check it in. I’d keep everything with me all the time. And I joined the line, there in Philly. That early, it wasn’t bad. And half an hour later, I had been herded through, prodded and patted down with all the rest of the cattle. I seethed as I took my stuff from the conveyer and headed to a nearby bench to put on my shoes. Good Lord. The security apparatus at any airport is the most colossal waste of resources you could imagine. It simply is.

My ticket took me from Philly to O’Hare in Chicago, then a change of planes over to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Just a bit north and west of Kalona. I’ve always been leery of O’Hare, because it’s just such a vast place. Any kind of blip, and your flight gets delayed in and out. Still, my trip from Philly to Chicago went about as smoothly as it could have. And the next leg was smooth, too. Shortly after 3 PM, I walked off the plane in Cedar Rapids.

I’ve taken to wearing a hat, lately, especially when traveling. And for this trip, I unlimbered a nice little fedora I had picked up over a year ago, on sale, of course. A Stetson fedora, made of the softest supple leather. I had never worn it. That day, I did. Back brim up, front brim down. And it looked pretty snazzy, I gotta say. Kind of gangsterish. In Cedar Rapids, I walked out to where I had reserved a car at the Alamo counter. Nope, the Enterprise people didn’t get me, this time. Maybe I was still a little bitter at them for sticking me with that red jelly bean, back in July. So when I booked online, I picked Alamo.

ira fedora

The nice lady smiled at me when I told her my name and reservation number. She seemed taken with my hat. Not that she mentioned it, but something about me impressed her. And I don’t figure it was my face. She punched around on her computer. Treat me right, now, I told her. Oh, yes, she would. And for no particular reason that I could tell, she upgraded me to a brand new Hyundai Santa Fe SUV, with 2000 miles on it. She told me, and smiled brightly. I fell over myself, thanking her. It had to be the hat, I figured. And I took the paperwork and the keys and trundled my bag out the door to the brand new, dark blue vehicle that would be mine for the next two days.

My niece, Dorothy, had told me before I left. She had a bed for me. They had a nice motor home, parked out by the shed. She would get everything ready, and I could sleep in that. Seemed like a real cool plan to me. I got a plane ticket from Reuben’s points, and now a bed to sleep on from Dorothy. This would be one inexpensive trip. And then I got the SUV upgrade. Seemed like the Lord was looking out for me, right along on this trip. That’s what I thought to myself.

Dorothy was gone when I pulled into her place, so I parked over by the motor home and dragged my stuff in. Hung out the shirts I would wear over the next few days, so they wouldn’t be so wrinkled. I had been up since 4 AM, so I was tired. After unpacking, I stretched out on the nice firm bed for a short nap. Around 6:00, I got up and dressed, and headed over to the Graber place. It looked like they had just finished serving supper in the large shop where all the events would come down. I slipped in to the side room, where the coffin was set up.

Miriam lay there, as if asleep. She looked natural and relaxed. All that pain, all that suffering she had endured was wiped clean from her face. She looked calm and at peace. I stood there alone beside her for a few minutes and just absorbed my memories of who she was, and what she had been. And then I turned and walked out to the main room, where the family sat, all lined up. Tonight was Friday night. Mostly the older people would come through. Tomorrow night, the young people would come and most of the relatives from out of state. And the youth would sing, I was told later. I got in line to greet the family.

The line moved slowly, as people took their time, talking to the Graber family. And then I approached. Aunt Rachel was the first in the line. She huddled in her chair, bent and old. I stooped and took her hand and spoke her name. She lifted her face and smiled. I’m not sure she recognized me, with my beard and all. I had at least dropped the gangster hat outside, on the table with all the other Amish hats. Rachel smiled into my face. I am Ira, I said. And she smiled again as she recognized the name. We spoke briefly, and she thanked me for making the effort to come. And on down the line I went.

I took a seat in the back with extended family. It was a somber group of older people who filed through that evening. They came, they lined up and shook hands with Rachel and her family. And then they sat back, on row after row of backless benches. There were no smiles, there was no chatter, there was no visiting. Just somber faces, sitting in stony silence. Shortly before nine, a young preacher stood and spoke a short devotional, then a prayer. And we were all dismissed. I headed on over to Dorothy’s house.

She had just arrived home from working at a fund raiser all day. We sat at her kitchen table and talked. My mind flashed back to the last time I had sat in that room. After little Abby died, back in 2014. Dorothy and Lowell have traveled far on this journey, but the pain still lingers. You can tell. We talked and snacked on fresh pecan pie. And there went my diet, boom, blown right out of the water. Soon after 10:00, I headed out to the motor home to sleep.

Saturday morning. Moving along, here. I had planned to run over to Bloomfield to visit my brother Titus over lunch. They would attend the funeral on Sunday. But it had been a few years since I had been to Bloomfield. The Reunion in July, 2014. That’s been a while. So I wanted to run over and see some friends, do lunch with my brother, then head back to Kalona in time for supper at the viewing. After chowing on the breakfast of waffles Dorothy insisted on fixing for me, my diet sank out of sight, down, down, I loaded up and headed south and west. Bloomfield is right at ninety miles away. Shortly after eleven, I pulled into the L&M Cafe in West Grove. Chuck and Margaret’s daughter, Linda Clark, runs the little place now. It’s just down the road from where the old cafe was, years ago. Linda greeted me with a big hug. Mrs. C was at the Pancake Festival in Centerville, so I wouldn’t get to see her. Chucky, Jr. and his wife were visiting from their home in Arkansas, so that was a bonus I had not expected. After sipping coffee with my old friends, I headed over to the home of Titus and Ruth.

Titus greeted me at the door. Ruth was at the neighbors, and their son Thomas was helping with work on a nearby farm. That’s fine, I said. I don’t need much for lunch. We sat and talked and caught up. Titus had just received a copy of Dad’s new book, the fourth in the lineup. Fresh off the press. Stories Worth Remembering. A quaint little title. And after a while, Ruth wandered in. She fixed a quick lunch, and we all sat there at the table and ate together. Bloomfield sure is a different place than it was way back when I lived there. Every time I come around, this little fact becomes more evident to me. Titus and I sat and visited after lunch for an hour or so. It was nap time for him, so I took my leave. I drove through the community and then through the town of Bloomfield. The old square is almost dead now. Certainly a lot more quiet and run down than it was decades ago.

And a strange little incident came at me on the way out. I stopped at a gas station, for some coffee to fortify me on my drive back north. I was getting sleepy. I walked in, all spiffy in my gangster fedora. I recoiled from the coffee, though. In the pot it looked black and thick, like oil. How fresh is this stuff? I asked the attendant, who was working nearby. She was pretty, and looked to be around 18.

She smiled, all brightly. “It’s three hours old,” she said. “But I’ll make you a fresh pot. Today’s my last day here, so I can get away with brewing fresh coffee for as long as I want.” She got busy brewing. I thanked her. We chatted.

Her new job was better paying, she told me when I asked. And she was hoping to maybe get to college, too, in a couple of years. I asked questions and she talked. And she told me. She likes to write on the side. She was working on a short story she’s getting ready to submit for publication.

Well. What was I gonna do with that? We talked about writing. I told her. It’s more important to get people to feel what you’re feeling than it is to pay attention to grammar rules. She looked thoughtful and nodded. “That makes sense,” she said. And I told her, too. Don’t take writing classes in college. That’s all formulaic, and it will ruin your voice. Just write. That’s the only real way to develop your voice. Write. I had no idea what she thought, about me giving her all that advice. Still. We just chatted right along. She told me the title of her short story, and the name of the magazine she was submitting it to. I nodded and spoke encouragement.

The coffee was done, then, and I poured me a cup. Thanked her. And I asked her. Did you ever hear about the book, Growing Up Amish? She smiled. Yes, she had. Someone was just talking to her about it the other day. And I told her who I was. The book is about this area. It’s a NYT Bestseller, in its seventh printing. Sold almost 200,000 copies. I was just here, visiting family. She smiled and gaped at me a little wide-eyed.

It was time to go, to head on north. I wished her well, in her new job and in her writing. We shook hands. I thanked her for the fresh coffee. And then I left.

I pulled into the Graber homestead right at 5:30. Crowds milled about. Supper was being served. I ducked in to where the food was, and filled me a plate. Good, simple stuff. Noodles, potato salad, buttered bread. I walked into the next room where people were eating. And there I saw many of my siblings. My sister Rosemary, from Aylmer. Rachel and Lester. Naomi, without her husband. Stephen and Wilma. And Rhoda and Marvin. It felt almost like a family reunion. I guess that’s what funerals are, a lot of times. Family reunions, just a little more serious ones.

I sat beside Rosemary, and we ate and talked. They had brought Dad to the funeral. He wanted to come. So they brought him. They had left way early that morning. My cousin, Lydia and her husband, Clayton Zehr, had come along to take care of Dad. After eating, I walked into the front room and over to the table where Dad was. He had just finished eating. He sat there, on his wheelchair. He didn’t look much different than he had when I saw him in Florida last April. He was talking to someone, so I stood aside until he was free. He turned to me then, and we shook hands. He smiled and spoke my name. “Ira.” Hi, Dad, I said. And we chatted a bit, just catching up. Did you have a good trip? Yes. Did you? Yes.

I strolled around for the next hour or so and visited with different people. As darkness settled in, the family sat in a receiving line. Rachel sat in stately chair in the middle, her children on both sides of her on benches. And Dad was given a seat of honor beside his sister. I backed his wheelchair into the spot. The two of them sat there, somber and dressed in black. And the people filed in through the side room where Miriam lay. And then they walked up past the front line and shook hands with everyone there. Dad and Rachel got special attention. I sat in the next row behind Dad, beside Marvin and the others in my family.

Rachel 2

Rachel and Dad

And soon after eight, they filed in. The Kalona youth. There were around 300 or so, I was told. From both the Old Order and New Order Amish churches in the area. They would sing. They filed in and sat like we used to sit, back in Bloomfield. A bench of girls, a bench of boys, all across the room. It took a while, for 300 young people to walk in and get settled on the benches. Eventually the room was filled. And then they began to sing.

Their voices echoed in harmony through the vast open shop area. It was beautiful and haunting, and it took me back to many years ago. Here, in this room, all these young people were singing. And it struck me again, for the first time in a long time. How it felt, way back, to be part of a group like that. I whispered to Marvin, beside me. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt what I’m feeling now. We whispered back and forth, my old friend and me, just like we did at the singings in Bloomfield a generation ago. The songs rose and swept and swelled around us. I sat there, almost frozen in rapt attention. The thing is, I whispered to Marvin. The thing is, these young people don’t really grasp, they can’t really grasp, what they are a part of and what they are singing. They’re just doing what they have always done, which is fine. It’s just beautiful. It brings back so much in my head.

After an hour or so, the youth closed it out. Sang the last song. My cousin Philip Wagler stood then, and delivered a short exhortation, then read a poem. Philip and Fannie had come from their home in Michigan, where Philip was ordained some years ago. And more recently, he was ordained a bishop. He spoke loudly and clearly. Some memories of Miriam, growing up. And then we stood, while he read a prayer. Then we were dismissed.

And then the youth filed out, past the coffin, which had been set up at the far wall, just before the exit. They all paid their respects to Miriam. Lord knows Miriam had been a part of that youth group for many decades, in the past. Only when she had grown older had she stopped going to the singings. And it was all good. She just did what was comfortable to her. And now the youth filed past in silent respect. I mingled a bit, chatting with people. Then I headed on over to Dorothy’s place and my bed in the motor home. Traveling gets tiring. I fell into bed and slumbered hard that night.

The next morning, early, I was up and dressed. Dorothy had breakfast ready at seven, for me and all my siblings. We sat around her kitchen table and ate and drank coffee and talked. It was quite a clamorous time, as is usually the case when a bunch of Waglers get together. And I headed out, soon, then. I needed to get some gas into my SUV. I would head out from the funeral, to catch my flight back that afternoon. And shortly before nine, I pulled in to where the funeral would be. I met my siblings outside, and we all walked in together. To the section where close relatives were seated. Close to the front, off to the side a bit. The family sat up in the front section. Again, Dad was given a seat of honor with his sister on the front row. The two of them sat, heads bowed, huddled and old and tired. Again, for one more funeral of one more person so much younger than they are.

And shortly after 9:30, the first preacher stood. David Raber, from Hicksville, Ohio, via Daviess. He spoke in a strong Daviess accent. A fairly brief sermon. Then the second preacher stood. Henry Yoder, a local from the area. Before 11:00, he sat down, too. In Kalona, they do something I can’t remember seeing before at an Amish funeral. After the sermons, the home bishop gives his testimony, then asks the remaining seated preachers for their testimony, too. By the time all five or six preachers stood and added their very important but totally redundant and droning observations, another half hour had passed. I kept glancing at my watch in frustration. My flight out was scheduled for that afternoon. I would not have time to go to the graveyard for the burial.

After the last preacher had finally wound down with his testimony, the people started filing through, for one last look at Miriam. And soon enough, it was our time to file past. The line was directed outside. I stood about for a while, then walked back in and sat beside my brother, Titus. We watched as the Grabers said their last good-byes. Family by family, they went up and surrounded the coffin and grieved. From oldest to youngest, each family went.

Somewhere in the middle, Rachel stood and walked up to the coffin. Her son, Joseph, stood and pushed Dad up in his wheelchair. And the two of them stood and sat there, together, alone. Rachel was grieving the hardest, of course. This was her daughter. But Dad sat there solidly with her. I don’t know if he reached out and took her hand, but he might have. After a few moments, Joseph pushed Dad back to his space. Rachel remained standing beside the coffin as the last of her children came. They stood, they stroked Miriam’s face, and they wept. And then the service was over.

I walked out and mingled briefly with my siblings. Here and there, some total stranger came up and asked if I was Ira. Yep, I said. I am. And they spoke to me, of how they had read my book or liked to read my blog. I looked around for those in my family. I could see only a few. I told them. I’m leaving. I have to go catch my plane. I set my gangster fedora firmly on my head, and walked to my car and headed north and west.

Behind me, the buggy hearse had pulled up to the large shop. The pallbearers carried the coffin out and loaded it. And Miriam Graber was taken on her last ride. Later it was told how a group of young people had stood behind the knoll, there at the graveyard. And they sang. Their echoing voices sounded like angels singing, it was claimed, as the coffin was lowered into the earth. And the angels sang, too, in another realm as Miriam Graber was welcomed to her eternal home.

And Rachel stood and wept as men with shovels covered her daughter’s final resting place on this earth.