August 30, 2013

Light in August…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:37 pm


To lose the earth you know for greater knowing;
to lose the life you have for greater life; to
leave the friends you loved for greater loving;
to find a land more kind than home, more large
than earth—

—Thomas Wolfe

Well, it’s been an odd summer, in a lot of ways. And it sure has moved right along. Seems like just the other day that I was all hyped up about heading out to Germany, actually going to Europe for the first time ever. And all that came and went. Whoosh, just like that. And, of course, it took a few months just to write that tale, tell of those adventures. And now, it all snuck right up on me. August. Summer’s end. Or at least seriously winding down. But still, August is a month that has always been special to me.

I don’t consider myself antisocial. It’s just that I don’t mind being alone when I’m not at work. Mostly, anyway. Just fewer hassles to deal with, that way. And sure, I probably could be a little more hospitable, have people over and such, now and then. But I rarely do that, well, because I don’t allow just anyone into my house. So when I do entertain, it has to be outside, in summer. And every summer, sometime in August, I put out the welcome mat for one grand event. The Great Annual Garage Party.

Way back in April, it was, I chatted with a few friends about it after church. These guys have been faithful guests, ever since I reinstated the Garage Party a few years ago. Last year, one of them couldn’t make it, because the family had other plans. That wouldn’t happen again if I could help it. And so I asked them as we stood around, talking. I’m having the Garage Party sometime in August. Last year, I just picked a random date, and it didn’t suit everyone. This year, I want to make sure you all at least get to come. And we all pulled out our phones, checked our calendars. You tell me, I told them. I can make any Saturday work. And we had a little conference, right there. One was out of town here, another there. And we finally settled on about the only Saturday when nobody seemed to have anything going on. August 24th. Which also happens to be my birthday. But that wasn’t the reason the party was scheduled for that date. It was because that’s the day it suited my friends.

And I put the thing from my mind, as you do when something is a long way off. Don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t anticipate too much. It’ll all unwind in its own time. May came, and I took off on my trip. Returned, to a new house, almost. A newly re-pointed house. And the tenant took it upon himself to clean up the place. It was all looking good, I thought. This was the nicest this place has ever looked for the Great Annual Garage Party. I would stand proud this year.

And I messaged out the invitations, to the usual crowd. Almost all of them responded that it would suit. And this year, I thought, I have room for a few new guests, including the tenant. I had told him, when he got here. Nothing much ever goes on around here, but in August, I have one whacking big party. Once a year. I’ll expect you to be there. And he smiled and allowed he would stop by. The other “new” guest was an old friend, from way back. We’ve been estranged for a number of years. He’s never been to any of my garage parties, not since I’ve lived here alone. But lately, we’ve been working on rebuilding something, working our way back. And this year, it was time, I figured. He seemed pleased, but he asked me. “Are you sure? What will people say? Aren’t you worried about that?” No, I’m not worried, I said. And yes, I am sure. I am free. Free to live and free to invite anyone I want to my party. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Be there. And he told me he would come.

And so the guests were all invited. Around thirty people. Only a few couldn’t make it at the last moment. And last week, I walked out to check out my garage. Usually, the place is a mess, with lots of trash from last year’s party strewn about. That’s how much I did not use my garage over the years. But not so, this time. This time, the place was spotless, cleaned up. The floor swept so you could eat off it, I think. The tenant. He kept the place clean. He likes to putter around out there with his little projects. And he parks his car in there, too, now and then. And I just got about to getting things ready. I shifted stuff around, pulled out the big old rough table I built years ago from cutoff 2x12s. And I pulled the little portable bar out from the wall where it’s stored. Checked out the old radio and sound system. It still worked fine. Wood chips on the floor, that’s all it needed now, I thought. I’ll wait until Saturday to do that. I had told the tenant about those wood chips, how I spread them around, to make the place more authentically redneck. Hope he didn’t forget I told him that, I thought.

And the week moved right along. On Friday evening, on the way home from work, I stopped by Stoltzfus Meats in Intercourse. Bought about three dozen sausages. I usually buy more, but this year my friend Steve Beiler messaged me. They would bring about a dozen of his natural, home-raised pork sausages. With those, I’d have close to fifty. That should be enough to feed the crowd, I figured. And maybe leave a few for me the next week, to heat up and eat for my suppers. And that evening, on the way home from the gym, I stopped at Yoder’s in New Holland. A real grocery store. I do almost all my shopping at Amelia’s Discount Groceries. That stuff wouldn’t do, I thought, not for my party. I needed rolls, condiments, real paper plates. Amelia’s is spotty, with all that stuff. I’d go to a real grocery store for those things.

And I walked through Yoder’s, pushing my little cart. I gaped, just appalled by the prices. Inflation has hit this country hard, there’s no two ways about it. No matter what Obama and his detestable lapdog media sycophants claim. The guy lies when his lips are moving. Always has. Anyone who trusts a word the state says is living in la-la land. Inflation is here. Things are not getting better in this country. And the economy is not improving. I shudder to think what it’s like, to feed a family from regular grocery stores. I spend so little of my real income on food, and I was still horrified at the prices. After picking through and getting the things I needed, I swiped my Discover Card for about sixty bucks worth of stuff. And I still wasn’t done.

Saturday arrived, beautiful and cloudless. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. And it’s always a little tense for me as the hours wind down. What if some of the people forgot? What if only half show up? What would I do with all those sausages? I have one little rule that I always tell anyone who’s coming. Bring a salad or dessert. And it usually works out pretty well. Randomly even. The tenant had another event to attend that afternoon, so he disappeared. And it was time to spread the wood chips. Just like always. And a few hours before go time, it all was ready. Table set up. Chairs lined up all around outside. The grill stacked with charcoal. All I needed now was people.

My garage parties have always been based on a single, simple rule. If you’re invited, that means you are welcome. And if you are welcome, you are safe. It doesn’t matter who you are. This is a safe place for you, for as long as you are on my property. A safe place to be who you are, and to accept others as they are. So far, no one has ever had any problems with that rule. I don’t expect anyone to have a problem with it. And anyone who violates the rule of accepting others will be told to leave, and will not be invited back.

Around 4:30, the first car rolled in. One of my bachelor friends had texted the night before. What could he bring? Well, I said. I don’t have any beer, I’m not much of a beer guy. Could you bring a 12 pack or so? And bring it a little early, so it’s here, and cold. We wrestled out a massive, heavy cooler from his car. The thing had a pullout handle and wheels, it was that big. And it was filled with ice and a case of all kinds of micro brews. Good stuff, I said. Thanks for taking care of that for me. We dragged the cooler into the garage and set it up behind the bar. All the stuff for mixed drinks I had taken care of, set up on the back bench by the wall. Another guest trickled in, and then another.

Paul Zook and his new bride drove in and parked on the grass beside the house. Paul and Rhoda. They walked up, smiling, and I thought back briefly to the party two years ago. Anne Marie was fading fast, didn’t have long anymore. And Paul came by himself that night for a few hours, just to get away. And he had a good time, he told me later. He was grateful for a little break. Then my friends Dave and Anne arrived. Last year was the first time they made it, and Dave walked in and took over the grill for me, so I could look after other things. Right there, that little act got them a lifetime invitation to all my garage parties. I greeted them, and I showed him the charcoal I had fired up earlier, all nice and glowing now. It’s your baby, I told him. Let me know when you’re ready for the sausages. I got them in my fridge in the house. And more and more vehicles pulled up. My place was looking like a parking lot, trucks and cars parked about, everywhere on the drive and in the yard. Big pickups, little pickups, SUVs and cars of every type. I kept glancing out to the road. My friends Dominic and Jamie were riding up from West Virginia on their bike. I hope they’re OK, I fretted. Dominic told me they’d be here early. And right at six, his big old Harley rumbled in. I walked out and greeted them. Welcomed them and walked them in. Most of the people remembered them from other years. The crowd milled about inside and outside the garage. Cars pulled up now and then, and I ran out to direct the parking.

It’s always such a diverse group. And that’s the beauty of it. Here we all get together, for one evening. Just to hang out and hang loose. One night a year. Construction workers. A company executive or two. Business people. Entrepreneurs of all kinds. Builders. A professor. An accomplished artist. And a couple of writers, too. All hanging out, in one merry little group in my old garage. And it just works, the mix of all of us. Somehow, it does.

By 6:30, the sausages were grilled just perfect, and the food laid out. I hollered for everyone’s attention. Thanks for coming, I told them. The food’s here and ready to eat. Drinks behind the bar. Help yourself to all the bounty. We paused, then, and I prayed the blessing. Lord, we are grateful for this evening. For each other. For this food. Thank you for all the gifts of life. And then we ate. The tenant had wandered out, and mingled a bit and ate, too. He had another place to go to, he said. So he left soon after the meal. And after eating, we just lounged around. My brother Steve had brought a corn hole game. We set that up on the north side of the garage, in the grass. Two teams were soon going at it, fussing loudly about the rules.

And I hollered again. Anyone who wants to take a quick tour around the house, we’re doing that now. A little group came, and I proudly pointed out all the improvements on my place. A new-looking house. Replacement windows. Freshly painted porch. Flower beds cleaned up and mulched. A few tiny strings of real flowers planted. This is the best this place has ever looked, I told them proudly. Ever, in all the time I’ve lived here. We walked through the porch, and I pointed out my sky blue ceiling. And how white the pillars were. We walked around the back of the house then, and back to the garage, and I told them of the angel, standing under the shrub tree. Some of them had read my blog; others had not. I told them the story. And darkness closed in as the evening settled in. I wandered about, making sure everyone was comfortable. Mixing drinks, here and there. I plugged in the ancient radio and the speakers blared contemporary country music. Which I don’t even care for at all, and never listen to. But it’s the station the old radio was tuned to when I got here, so that’s what I’ve always played at my garage parties.

The place hummed with the crowd and the music. And soon enough, the Hi-Lo group gathered around the bar. It’s a basic, simple game, Hi-Lo. A game of cards and quarters that occasionally reaches a few dollars. The pot always gets swiped before the stakes get too high. And for the next few hours, the players drifted in and out, joining and leaving the game. All the other guests stood around or strung themselves outside on lawn chairs, talking in little groups. And around ten, some people began drifting away. “Thanks for another great year, great party,” they told me as they left. Soon a small die-hard crowd remained, just talking outside, and playing Hi-Lo at the bar. Loud shouts erupted from the bar now and then. I wandered over after a bit, and just stood there, watching.

And there, right there, in the next fifteen minutes, I saw a Hi-Lo pot reach dimensions I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Not in all my years of wandering and playing, all the way back to my Drifter truck days in Florida. It was a remarkable thing. And it’s probably why some people get addicted to gambling. The money just expanded as people bet the pot and lost. I’m not mentioning any amounts, because I don’t want the thug Feds to send in a SWAT team to raid my party next year. Let’s just say that things got a little intense and quiet, real quick. The players knew they probably would not see such a thing again. There was hollering going on, sure, but it was subdued and tense. And slowly, bit by bit, the money was snaked back out. Back down to where someone could actually take the whole amount, and did. Whew. That was wild, we all told each other. And we sat around and talked as people just drifted away. Around midnight, the last people left. I cleaned up a bit, carried stuff into the house. About ten sausages left, a nice haul for next week’s evening meals. I felt good. It had been another good year, another fantastic party, I thought.

I woke up the next morning with a bit of a headache, I must say. And I slept in. It was the first morning in recent memory that I didn’t even bother to run down to Sheetz for my cup of coffee. I don’t think I’ve done that since last year’s Garage Party.

My birthday was a subdued thing. I didn’t even think about it much that day, except when my siblings called from all over to wish me a happy day. Most people at the party never mentioned it, because they didn’t know about it. But the years aren’t the only thing making me feel a little older, lately. Earlier this month, Big Blue, my truck, crossed the 100,000 mile threshold. You see it coming, and it’s like another birthday approaching. There’s nothing you can do. It seems so recent, and yet so long ago, that I traded in my old Chevy for the first and only brand new pickup I’ve ever bought in my life. When I got it, I told a friend. Oh, I’ll probably keep it five years, for a hundred thousand miles or so. Then I’ll trade it in. Such a time seemed far away, back when I said that. And it was so easy to say what I said. The truck would be old, in five years, was how I saw things back then.

But it doesn’t seem old now. Or maybe we’re just growing old together. It doesn’t seem that far from new. Big Blue was so much of who I was throughout most of my writings on this blog. I have loved that truck. And sure, I knew it was aging a bit. Changed the light bulbs in the headlights. And the tires a time or two. The muffler’s picked up a little hole from somewhere, which makes the truck grumble and growl menacingly. Sounds real cool. The cloth seat on my side wore through, somewhere in the early 90,000s. And I had both front seats fitted with a high quality camo cover, custom fitted to my make and model. I love my truck. I love those seats. It’s who I am. And even though it jolted me to see those many miles of life it represents, I think I’m good with Big Blue for another four or five years or so, and, say, oh, another sixty or seventy thousand miles. I think we’ll make it, if we both hang in there.

And a little note on the bulletin board, here. Beach Week is coming right up. A little early, this year. Sept. 8th through the 15th. We’re heading down to the same house we rented last year on the Outer Banks, right on the beach. I’m looking forward to it a lot. This year, I’m going fishing on the beach. Just like I saw it done all those years, but never got done myself. We talked about it last year as we were leaving, and we all agreed we’d do something about it this year. Even if we have to buy the tackle. Everything is half price after Labor Day, and I can pick up a saltwater rod and reel for around forty bucks. A license, some line, hooks, and bait, and you might get close to a hundred bucks. Well worth it, I think. Just to sit out there in the sun, pole stuck in the sand, sipping a cold beer. And maybe catching a fish to feast on back at the house. How can you even put a price on such a thing?

And I told Janice, last year. I had to write a blog, down here on the beach. That won’t happen again. Next year, if the blog date falls on the Friday I’m down here, I ain’t gonna worry none about getting it written. And this year, the date does indeed fall on that Friday. I’m not planning on spending a lot of time, writing down there. Life comes first. Then the writing of it. If something comes, I’ll write it. If a blog comes, I’ll post it. If it doesn’t, I won’t. And I’ll see you on another Friday down the road somewhere.

A few random thoughts to close. The writing’s been a little intense lately. At least it seemed that way. Maybe the beach is coming at the right time. The last few blogs have been pretty draining, to get told right. It felt good to just lay back a bit with this one, to chat about the lighter things in life. But still, I wanted to tell what happened as the angel was emerging in my last post. It hit me as the words were coming out, how it is now. And I marveled and thought about it, mulled it over a lot since. It snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking. And I can speak it right out, because it’s true.

I harbor no rage, no resentment or bitterness in my heart toward anyone involved in all that messy stuff, back when and where our marriage blew up all those years ago. And it seems strange, how free I feel. It’s so much easier to let all those hurts go, instead of dragging them around like a ton of baggage on your back. And a ton of dark tension in your heart. It’s a choice, really, to let it all go. And it’s the time it takes to get to the place where you can make that choice. Choice and time.

That doesn’t mean the things that happened didn’t happen, or that the broken pieces can ever be restored to what they once were. They happened, and they can’t. And there are memories still, sure, and flashbacks, too, sometimes. And you gotta deal with that stuff, face it when it comes. And work through it, work your way back. But at this moment, there’s no bitterness inside me. It just ain’t there. No rage, either. And no resentment. Not at anyone. And not a lot of regrets aimed at myself. Because none of it would do a thing but hold me back from where I want to go.

I want my heart to be free. And I want to walk with such a heart, unencumbered by the hard things of the past that cannot be changed. Just free to live all of life, and to speak it as I see it. Which doesn’t mean there won’t be more crap to face and slog through down the road. There will be. That’s how life is, now and then, and there’s no sense in pretending it’s not. But when the hard stuff comes from wherever it may, I can look at it and say, I’ve seen you before. I’ve dealt with you before. I can do it again.

And it’s not because I’m a mighty prayer warrior, or anything like that. And I’m definitely not a man of great faith. It’s more like a mustard seed, my faith, and I have to reach down inside sometimes and search for it. I always find that tiny speck, what little there is, because it’s there and it’s real. I believe. You can walk through the destruction of your world, all the way to a place where you can drink from the healing streams and cleanse your heart from all the trauma. I won’t say you can get through anything, because there are many people suffering out there from wounds far deeper than any I have ever seen or known. But I will say this. You can get through a lot of bad stuff if you just keep walking with the tiniest mustard seed of faith in your heart.

When you’ve seen it, when it’s happened to you, you can look back and actually grasp that God was there to mend the broken pieces and open a path to places you could not have imagined before. He always was there. He always will be, through all of life. And all of His children are free to walk, to live.

It’s a beautiful thing, to walk free like that.



  1. Heh, my truck, that was my deceased father’s before me, is a 1995 we were the original owners on. It just hit 150k a while back and this past Wednesday or Thursday a part of the driver’s side seat finally wore through and was repaired with a nice piece of duct tape.

    Comment by Ryan Mercer — August 30, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

  2. Thankyou for making me feel like I was attending your party again this year with your written words. I had a great time, and thank you for not including me in the virtual cleaning up. I think you will love beach fishing. It is one of my favorite things to do. When the clouds bend down to meet the water and I’m standing out there with noting in front of me but the vast water and the sky, it’s like it all becomes one, and one with God. I can feel His presence and I become part of that earth.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — August 30, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

  3. Another great post. I know that place of freedom you are speaking of, and it is truly beautiful.

    Comment by Jenifer W. — August 30, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

  4. Well Mr. Ira, You did it again. Your blog hit me in an area that I have struggled with a long time. I think that I have put this baggage behind me and then it will rear its ugly head, so I work through it again.

    Thanks so much for the light of your writings. I enjoy them so much. God Bless you.


    Comment by Linda Morris — August 30, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

  5. The description of your party made me think of the annual get-togethers my company has. Each year about 30-40 of us from around the country meet for a few days and it’s about as diverse a group as you mentioned. And just as accepting. Each year I’m amazed anew looking around at the widely different backgrounds, temperments, income levels, and personalities freely enjoying each other’s company with no pressure or expectation for anyone to be other than what they are. It’s a unique culture and one which I appreciate tremendously.

    My thoughts resonated with your statement, “It hit me as the words were coming out.” I’ve experienced something similar quite a few times in my personal writing this year. When I’m thinking about what to write I often find very little. But when the pen touches the paper, the words flow onto it and it isn’t until the words are being written or read that the significance of what I’ve put down bubbles up and makes me pause.

    “Choice and time” I wish they always coincided. But my choices toward freedom (I love the opening quote) are always followed by an indeterminate amount of time spent walking or crawling in its direction and even though I’m reaching out for it, the unpredectability and wonder of its realization always catches me off guard.

    Thanks for another good’un. I’ll look forward to the next whenever it may come.

    Comment by Eric — August 30, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

  6. Ira, You are a party animal. Slow down.

    Comment by John Schmid — August 31, 2013 @ 4:06 am

  7. I’m so sad I missed your garage party. Again. It’s always been a really fun evening. In 8 days at this time we’ll be driving south! I can’t wait!

    Comment by Wilma — August 31, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  8. Fun blog entry. I don’t wish I was at your garage party, (except I wish for one of those sausages), but I do envy beach week.

    Fortunately, we can experience it all vicariously from our computer chairs! Yay!

    Comment by Rhonda — August 31, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

  9. Reading your words it seems like you are almost talking. I am surprised that the words don’t just flow without effort but I truly anticipate each one. Have a great vacation.

    Comment by Linda Ault — August 31, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

  10. Ira just want to share two quotes, “The past is good for nothing but pain”, but “Forget the past and you’re doomed to repeat it”. Have FUN at beach week, relax and unwind. Take Care. Warren

    Comment by Warren — August 31, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and reading about your August Once A Year Party. I felt like I was a part of your fun party! Happy Belated Birthday.
    Letting Go is very freeing.

    Comment by Martha Staton — September 1, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  12. “And not a lot of regrets aimed at myself. Because none of it would do a thing but hold me back from where I want to go.” I really like that line.

    Comment by LeRoy — September 1, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  13. I really loved this blog espialy the the last part after party thing where you waxed about life, it really grabt me, love ya man.

    Comment by Johnny Wood — September 1, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

  14. Happy belated birthday, Ira. From the comments, you can see that you had a lot of “virtual” guests at your Garage Party. Now where are our virtual sausages? One thing great about getting older: you know, you really know, that life is all too short. As a minister once said to the flock, “For the sake of the Resurrection, let us forgive each other everything.”

    Comment by cynthia r chase — September 4, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  15. It requires courage to write from the deeper places. Even though we have different ways of getting to the same places, it’s comforting to know that we’re not having such a unique human experience. Thank you. Happy birthday.

    Comment by Margaret — September 4, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  16. So, how old are you now? Crazy as it sounds, I don’t believe I’ve ever known anyone with an August birthday. Do now. I’m so glad you were able to share it with others. Celebrating people is so important, even if it wasn’t your intention. People matter so very much and they need to be told and shown that they do.

    We make a big deal of birthdays around here. Right now I’m planning my big boy’s special day and he’s informed me that a cake sporting Legos would be a dream come true. He’s also inquired about streamers and balloons. “Yes, love. We’re doing it up big.” Well, not that big. I’ll cook, probably Mexican, and have our dear friends over. Probably take the kids to the park. Hubby hooks up with the other hubby and I with the mom and we talk, watch the kids from a wooden bench, poke fun of our husbands. We’ll laugh and share the joke with them. It’ll be a good day. Like yours was.

    You mentioned the high cost of groceries. I have really noticed the rising prices this year. It’s baffling and I wonder if it’s necessary or if “the trying times” is but an excuse to make a select few richer. It’s hard for families these days. I shop at about three different stores to get the best deals. I have yet to find one store that is fair all around. When I lived in Jersey there was a store, Shop Rite, that was a one stop shop for me. Those days are over. TN is even worse. Their sales tax on food is like 10%.

    What you wrote about being free is a wonderful thing. I agree with you that it is a choice, but I think that’s just the beginning. We choose to be free by getting counseling, praying for it, cleaning house, etc. We put ourselves in a position to receive freedom. Like a football player would in order to make a touch-down. He gets out on the field. But freedom itself, I see it as a gift. A gift from God. Kind of like salvation. A gift from God. Because He loves us. Same thing with forgiveness. How I wish I could will myself into forgiving others and really meaning it in the depths of my heart. How easy my life would be. But God seems to use my unforgiveness, my rage, my resentments to refine and mold me. And show me that I can’t do diddly squat without Him. Sometimes I really hate that. I want so badly to give God something that’s just from me. I want to love Him deeply, trust Him completely, show Him how good I am. But I can do nor be any of these things. No condemnation here. Just saying it like it is. I even have to ask Him to help me love Him. How lame is that? But there it is. And I don’t see God having a problem with it.

    Ira, how glorious to have the freedom you are experiencing. It’s like looking into the face of a miracle. It feels so good, doesn’t it? May you continue to be blessed and blessed some more.

    Comment by Francine — September 5, 2013 @ 2:20 am

  17. As usual, a beautiful post. Happy Belated Birthday and hope you are having a great beach vacation. Love that you are feeling the freedom of forgiveness and letting go. Reminds me of the saying — vinegar does more damage to the container that holds it than to that upon which it is poured. Be at peace, you have chosen the right path.

    Comment by Rosanna — September 14, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

  18. “It’s a beautiful thing, to walk free like that” –I think that is what we all want – the beauty of walking free. This spoke to me in a place where I needed to hear these words. Thank you.

    Comment by Teresa — September 21, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

  19. I still cry a little whenever you write anything about my sister. The fact that she is gone is still a little surreal. I enjoy how you write, Ira, and I know she was loved right til the end. Thank-you.

    Comment by Ray Vandervalk — November 2, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

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