February 7, 2014

Seventy-Two Years…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:46 pm


“….I have lived so long. I have seen so much. I could tell
you so many things”… His eyes were lusterless and dead,
he looked for a moment tired and old.

And all at once, a strange and perplexing vision,
which would return many times in the years that
followed, came to the boy…

—Thomas Wolfe

I thought about it a few times, as January slipped on by and the day approached. A day we had prayed would never come. But it came, and there was nothing to do, really, but to celebrate it as the wonderful thing it was, even though it meant that Mom was still with us. Last Monday, Feb. 3rd, was my parent’s seventy-second wedding anniversary. Any way you look at it, and whatever the journey was, that’s a long time for two people to hang together in a marriage.

Seventy-two years. Threescore years and ten, plus two. A lot of people never even get that old, let alone stay married to the same person for that long. It’s a lifetime, all in and of itself. And I think back, to the stories I’ve heard told about how it all began. It was different, I think, even in that community at that time. Because there was a double wedding going on that day, on February 3rd, 1942. A double wedding. I’ve never seen one. Never even heard of such a thing happening as I was growing up. Or if I did, I forgot it. It’s rare, any way you look at it. A double wedding. Such an aberration could only come from Daviess.

They were very young, the two couples getting married that day. Dad would turn twenty-one and Mom would turn nineteen later that year. And Dad’s youngest sister, Rachel, was real young, too. She married Homer Graber. She was seventeen, if I remember right. I’ve wondered where the wedding service was held. It’s always at the bride’s home. But Mom and Rachel came from two different homes. So there was at least one bride who didn’t get to do things the way they’ve always been done.

And they had their reasons to get married that young, at least from what I remember being told. Because of what was going on right then in the world. The “Good War,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. As if any war could ever be good. But the historians have slapped that label on the destructive monstrosity that was World War II. The Amish, of course, never wanted any part of it. They want no part in any war, not even as noncombatants. Not in any supportive role at all. And at that time, the government had set up work camps here, in this country, for people like that. Conscientious Objectors, they were derisively called. You had to go serve there at those camps, if your name got called.

The thing was, once you were married, you were less likely to get drafted, or however you got called up back then. So that was the strategy, that the two couples got married so young, in a double wedding on the same day, seventy-two years ago. And they were all desperately hoping that they would be left alone in peace, to live their lives in the world they had always known, right there in the Amish community in Daivess County.

And I’m ashamed to say this, but it just was what it was. But I was ashamed of my legacy, way back when I broke free of the Amish. Ashamed of their absolutely immovable anti-war stand. I made excuses for my Dad, when the subject came up. Well, no, he didn’t serve in the war. He was a Conscientious Objector. Many would call him a coward. But he didn’t know any better, and it’s all so quaint, what he believes. I look back now, to what I said back then. And I’m ashamed all over again.

Because he was right, when it comes to war, when it comes to going off and fighting in other countries. He was absolutely right. There is no honorable way to take any part in it. There is no honorable way to kill for the state, no matter how much justification they throw at you, no matter how many Bible verses get thundered over the pulpit by weak and spineless preachers. I’m not judging anyone, here, who was brought up different. And I’m not denigrating anyone who served in that war. I’m just saying. That’s what I heard my father speak, how wrong it always is. There’s a whole lot of things he said that I never heard, never really absorbed. But now, from way out here, I hear him on this. I am pretty much right where he was, except I believe in defensive force. I’ll leave you alone, but if you come at me to hurt me, I’ll do whatever it takes to protect myself. But when it comes to what war is, I’m right there with him. It’s always a racket. I just came through a different door, to see it. And I would do what he did, to avoid shedding a drop of another’s blood just because the state told me to.

And their little plans half worked, getting married that young. Homer never got called to serve in any camp. He got to stay at home with his young bride. Dad didn’t. I’m not sure how that all shook out, but he got summoned to go and sign up. I don’t know that many details of how it happened. Or how hard he tried to fight it. There wasn’t much you could do, I figure. And I’m not sure exactly when it happened, probably within a year of their wedding. And he dutifully did what he was told to do by the state. Packed up and moved out here to Pennsylvania, to the work camp at Sidling Hill. From there, he and a large group of fellow Conscientious Objectors labored to landscape the roadsides of what is now the PA Turnpike. I’ve heard him tell his stories. The thing I’ve never quite grasped, as to how it was, because I’ve never been there, was that he had a young wife back home in Daviess. I’m not sure where Mom stayed during those years. I could ask Dad, I guess. He would remember all that stuff. And yeah, I know. Compared to what his English peers were going through, being shipped off to fight in bloody battles, murdering and maiming and getting murdered and maimed, his burden wasn’t all that hard. But still, it’s a thing I could never have imagined for myself.

My parents were young, seventy-two years ago, and I’m sure they had their hopes and dreams for the future. All based there in Davies, I’m sure, too. That’s where they were born and raised. That’s where they would live and raise their family. I think of Mom, especially, during that time. She was astonishingly beautiful, Dad always claimed. Photogenic. I don’t doubt that claim for a second. And there she was, living alone without her husband. And there she was, when their first child, my oldest sister, Rosemary, was born. While Dad was at Camp. They always told me. He was a stranger to his daughter when he came home on rare visits. She was terrified of this man who showed up out of nowhere, and stayed there in the home for a few days. It’s hard, to imagine such a thing. And I’m sure it was hard for them. They walked forward into life, though, because that was the only thing to do. They did what needed to be done.

I’ve wondered, now and then, over the years. Wondered if that’s where it happened, there at those work camps. If that’s where the seeds were planted for what would come down later when my father returned home. At those camps, he got to meet all kinds of other young men from all over the Amish and Mennonite world. I’m sure they talked a lot about where they came from and what they believed. Maybe that’s where Dad got the idea that he might leave Daviess someday. He certainly had some progressive beliefs for his time. I wonder if he would have ever left Daviess, had he not been called to work in those camps. Probably he would have, sooner or later. Still, who knows? Maybe he wouldn’t have, either.

And he served out his time, there in the work camps until his term was over, or the war was over. I’m not sure which came first. He was at Sidling Hill for the first year or two. Then he got moved down to Boonesboro, MD, to work on a farm. And after his release, he returned to his wife and children. Back to Daviess. Back to where home was. But he had seen things now, talked to people, and the ideas were sprouting in his head. He had issues with what Daviess was at that time. I can’t imagine it could have been all that bad, compared to some of the things I saw there decades later. But he had issues with where he came from. And his home, the place where he was born and raised, the place where he married and settled in to start his own family, that place had little chance of holding him for very long.

I’ve written it before, so there’s no sense in repeating all the details here. Before many years after Dad returned, he decided to leave Daviess. And off they went, to Piketon, Ohio, to check out a new little community that was struggling to life. Other like-minded men, radicals in the Amish world, were settling there. And Dad bought a farm. I’ve never been to Piketon, to check out what it looks like. They always said it was pretty remote and hilly. My older siblings returned with Dad a few years ago, and they found the old farm. And the old general store, too, although that had been boarded up long ago. They had memories of the place, the older ones who returned. And they went back to see that world again.

And so Dad moved his little family out of Daviess. Mom was very sad. Soon after they moved, my sister Naomi was born. Mom smiled again. She had a baby to take care of. Still, I can’t even fathom what all she went through during that period of her life. Sure, there is social life in any Amish community, and I’m sure there was in Piketon. But still. This is one of the biggest struggles I’ve had over the years with bitterness toward my father, because of what he decreed way back then. Mom was never allowed to reconnect with her close family ties back home. Never. The Yoders were bad, because they had left the Amish. She was forced to disown her family. That was a brutal thing, for anyone to ask or demand of anyone. And it was so very wrong.

But it was what it was. And they lived there in Piketon for a short time. A few years, exactly how many is not that important. And then that settlement disbanded, because a great big nuclear (or military, I don’t remember. But it was a big thing.) plant was going to be built, a few miles away. And so they left, the Amish. A lot of them moved to Aylmer. And ironically, whatever had scared them out of Piketon was never built. Just as well, those people could have stayed there, had they known the future. But they didn’t, and so they didn’t.

And for the next twenty-three years, my parents lived in Aylmer. There, in Aylmer, their family grew until it was done. All the children from Rachel on down were born there. And Dad, ever driven, grew to be the man he was in the Amish world. An intellectual, a writer, a man who spoke great and noble things of how it should be in a perfect world. His bold venture in launching and publishing Family Life cemented his reputation as a mover and a shaker. The man became a legend in his world. That’s simply how it was.

I think now of how it was for Mom during that time. Just quietly in the background, raising her children and not saying all that much. And feeding the flocks of pilgrims that flooded through the mecca that was Aylmer in those days. She had her own thoughts and feelings about a lot of things, I’m sure. She just never got heard much.

And through it all, Dad despised and detested her family. Mom’s older sister, Rachel, was married to Henry (surname nickname: Mealy) Wagler in Daviess. They were Block Church people, who had left the Amish and drove cars. And Rachel lost two of her adult sons in terrible accidents, just a couple of years apart. One got chewed up by a corn chopper, the other crashed into a train. Both were killed instantly. Mom wept and wept and begged to attend the funerals. And Dad looked all dark and grim and flatly refused to let her go to her own sister’s sons’ funerals. Those are big wounds, right there, any way you look at them. Brutal wounds. And Mom endured them all.

And then her children started leaving. Not moving on, as in leaving to establish their own families in the Amish world. But leaving that world altogether. I can’t even begin to grasp how she endured all that. They hung together, my parents, through all that life was for them. For better or for worse. And a lot of it was for worse, in those years. No party is ever innocent, when a marriage is for worse. I can tell you that, from where I’ve been. And there’s no sense in pretending that Mom wasn’t flawed. She was. We all are. But still, I look at all she had to deal with, and I marvel at her strength, just to keep a half-even keel in her world. I don’t know how she did it.

And Dad plunged on to Bloomfield, then, because his way of doing things wasn’t working out in Aylmer. I give him all the credit in the world, for doing what he thought he needed to do to keep his family. I realize today what all it cost him, in more ways than one. But there were deeper things, way down there, that he never saw or considered. And Bloomfield, of course, is the core place I broke away from. Not a whole lot of need to recount any of all that here, either.

And I look at who my parents were, all the way through that journey. They had a tough road. They saw and lived a lot that I will never see or live. And there’s no way I can judge either of them for their flaws. I just can’t. But I can sure sympathize with both of them, especially Mom. She endured so much. And most of that, she endured in silence.

From here, from where I am today, the bottom line is this. Yeah, it’s true. She never had a voice. And she suffered a great deal. Not just from her husband dragging her around to new communities and new settlements. And not just from Dad roping her off from her family. Her children caused her a lot of pain, too, especially her wayward sons. We left, in the middle of the night, with no warning. Just like that, we were gone. And she had no idea of where we were, or if we were safe. And looking back, I try to imagine how my own journey must have made her feel through all those long years. I was seventeen the first time I ran away. That’s a child. And later, the whiplash, the back and forth and back and forth. Her mother’s heart tearing to shreds every time I left. And what joy she must have felt for me, when it seemed like it all would work out. All the way to the doorstep of getting married Amish. And then pulling back, for reasons she could never comprehend. And running once again, leaving all that wreckage behind. It must have been brutal for her. It just had to be.

You think about that, and you don’t judge Dad so harshly for doing what he did. Yeah, he could have done things a lot better. But so could I. And looking back from where I am today, it was all just one big flawed jumbled mess.

I don’t know how she kept her sanity. But I rarely remember her not smiling, not in her daily walk through life. Maybe that smile wasn’t real, sometimes. But we didn’t know that, back then. Mom was Mom. Just a rock, always there, and always loving and always welcoming. I don’t know how she did it. Except her heart was just full of love.

Despite all his flaws, and despite how he’d taken her for granted all those years, Dad couldn’t bear to see her leave him as the Alzheimer’s settled in. He got all gentle and protective, all of a sudden, when he realized what was going on. This late in life, for the first time ever, she just faded out, just left him. She couldn’t hear him speak about how things were, and how she couldn’t see her family. And when he saw what was actually happening, it was a hard thing for him to deal with.

He never faltered, though, not after he knew where she was going. She could not leave him. He was pretty determined about that. And he did all he could, to keep her there with him. As she gradually drifted from his world into the twilight that is Alzheimer’s, it was touching to see how hard he held on. This could not be happening. He had vitamins. Those will bring her back. He did all he could, to keep her with him. All to no avail, of course. She left, except she didn’t. He could still talk to her, even though she didn’t hear. He could still do the little things, to show her how much he cared. And he does those little things now, every day.

And that right there is the real tragedy of so much of their seventy-two years together. Those little things, to show how much he cared. Cared about who she was, and how much she meant to him. He could never speak those little things, never show them, not through all those years while she lived with him as an alert and beautiful woman. He could never do it. Maybe he just didn’t know how. I don’t judge that in the man. I’ve got my own flaws, believe me. I’m just saying. That was the real tragedy of the journey of their lives together.

Seventy-two years. At the end of such a long road, you look at that, and you marvel. And I look back at my own life, and my own failed marriage. Mine lasted a measly seven years before it just blew up. They held it together for more than ten times that long. That took some doing, any way you look at it. There was a price, to get there. There always is. There were huge costs. There were a lot of hard roads. And maybe it wouldn’t have held together, had they been in my world. But they weren’t. They were in theirs. They had little choice, really, but to slog on through, regardless of how it went sometimes. Because that’s the culture they lived in.

Those were yesterdays, all the stories of their lives back then. Today is today. And that’s all anyone has, including my parents. And there they live, in Aylmer, as Mom slowly wastes away. The pain of what she saw and lived and felt is gone, now. I like to think that she knows joy from where she is. No one can ever know that, because no one can ever return from such a world to tell us. She is where she is, cared for as tenderly as any person in her condition and at her age could ever hope to be cared for. And there is no question that she is deeply loved by the man she married seventy-two years ago.

And today, in the story of their lives, that’s all that really matters.

I guess I’ll cough politely here. And clear my throat. Ahem. How about that Super Bowl? For the second year in a row, I’m proud to have picked the winner. Right here on my blog, before the game was ever played. Last year I nailed it, right down to the points. This year, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was so far off. Seattle by three indeed. How about Seattle by thirty-five?

No one could have seen that coming. I’m just proud that I picked the winner. And like I said before, I got nothing against Peyton. I’ve always liked him. I felt kind of bad for him as his team got demolished in an old-style knockdown. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve seen such a lopsided Super Bowl. We’ve been spoiled, the last while, with real close nail-biters. This year, we saw that football is just a completely unpredictable game. You can “know” all you want, but no one knows until the game is played, how it will all turn out.

Seattle was just hungrier. Plus, they had a “real” coach. A guy who had built that team up from scratch, made it into an image of what he wanted it to be. You gotta respect Pete Carroll. John Fox is not a real coach. (And yes, I know he had that heart attack last season, and I’m all sympathetic about all that.) But he’s not a real coach. The last real coach Peyton ever played for was Tony Dungy.

Anyway, the game got a little boring, there toward the end. No real reason to watch it, except you knew it was the last football game you’ll see until August. That’s a long ways away. Congrats to the Seahawks. You earned it. You deserve it. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because in the NFL, it’s always only a moment, as the Ravens know all too well. Next year, some other hungry team will rise up.



  1. Thank you for sharing the beautiful, touching story of your parents’ marriage. You have moved me to tears.

    Comment by Rosanna — February 7, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

  2. What is there to say?

    Comment by Rhonda — February 7, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

  3. Well do you think Hitler would have stopt at England or only killed the Jews at home? Some times you must fight back but lets get out of the middle east. Very touching story about your parents

    Comment by Johnny Wood — February 7, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

  4. What a story! Hope I can be married 72 years. Hard to imagine that someone got married during world war 2 and are still together.

    Comment by Gideon D. Yutzy — February 7, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

  5. A few years ago I happened to have a conversation at my sister’s funeral with my cousin John. He asked where I lived and I replied that it was near Aylmer. “Oh,” he said “We lived in Aylmer community for three weeks way back when we first came to Canada.” After explaining that the farm they left in Tennessee changed hands three weeks before their new farm was available near Chesley, I asked where they stayed. He replied that they lived with David Waglers. I thought to myself “of course”. That was long before you were born, in the early 1950’s.

    Probably no surprise to anyone.

    Comment by Eli Stutzman — February 8, 2014 @ 12:43 am

  6. Your story reminded me of a family in this area. I used to stop in, even when the children weren’t home, and their mother would make me coffee. One time I commented on what an ideal family they were. Amish don’t always take compilments very gracefully, but she blushed and smiled and said, “Oh, yes. It’s so nice… but the first five years of our marriage…” She shook her head. “I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t been Amish…”

    I know what they would have done. Right there in her kitchen I began to realize that sometimes those cultural pressures and taboos about leaving a marriage have happy endings.

    Anyway, great blog, as usual. Warts and all, your dad is your dad, and like all of us, he was (and is) doing what he thought was right. And 72 years! Enough said.

    Comment by John Schmid — February 8, 2014 @ 4:17 am

  7. A very touching story. Our second baby was born in the hospital in Wooster, OH. The Vietnam War was on. Our meal trays were delivered by a young Amish man, one of those COs. There is nothing despicable about being a CO. It’s a right guaranteed by the Constitution, and brave are the people who take that path.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — February 8, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

  8. Great stuff as always Ira! On my show I picked the Seahawks to kill Denver and man oh man did I get flamed on social media…..I loved it!

    Take care my fellow Jets Brother!!


    Comment by Phil Naessens — February 8, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  9. I’ve had quite a few dealings with couples where the wife had Alzheimer’s. As an ex-social worker I’ve seen many sad things, but seeing the devotion of a husband whos wife had Alzheimer’s was beautifully amazing. Every day they came receiving no compensation, if anything the opposite. But they came, dutifully, to make sure their wives were cared for as lovingly as possible. They would sit for hours, every single day. Like Johnny Cash said, “Ever since time nothings ever been found that’s stronger than love.” Amen, Johnny, wherever you may be.

    I’m with you on war especially because I have two sons. My grandfather served in WWII and my uncle in Vietnam. Both men were changed after they arrived home, of course they were. But my grandpa seemed to fare with it a little better. Every year he and his war buddies would get together for a reunion. I believe their bonds helped them through some trying mental times. Plus, WWII soldiers were seen as heros. I don’t know if that was the case in Vietnam since the country was in full swing of major changes including attitude changes. The 60’s-sex, drugs, rock & roll, “Make love, not war”, mushrooms, “Go ask Alice when she’s 10 feet tall.” and all that wild and weird stuff.

    There have been other times when you’ve written about the great difficulties and sorrows your mother endured. Though I have no doubt these trying times existed, I think it would please her that your heart not be so burdened by them. I’m sure you and your siblings brought her a thousand times more joy in her life than heartache. And don’t forget, she loved the Lord and had a relationship with Him. I’m sure her smiles were genuine.

    I, too, clear my throat and puff out my chest. I’m a two time winner, as well. Not because I knew anything about the football teams playing, but because I either liked their uniforms or their name. There was a great sense of “Oh yeah! Oh, yeah!” knowing my team kicked keester…and them some. While the others moaned I did the touchdown trot with prideful glee. Woo Hoo! Na, na, na, na, na! In your face! Not yours, Ira, the losers. They know who they are.

    Comment by Francine — February 8, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

  10. It is a sad story. I am not really surprised as I know some Amish in Daviess Co. Their lifestyles are different now expecially for the young couples but I will never understand it. It is not in my genes to not have a voice. His caring seems to me to be too little too late but as you say it is what it is.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 8, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

  11. The 25th paragraph sounds like a chapter right out of my Dad & Mothers life. I understand very well, from standing on the outside like yourself. One thing about my mothers alzheimer’s, was that it was the first time I ever seen her smile on a regular basis, she seem always happy and content.

    Comment by Warren — February 8, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

  12. I just wanted to tell you that I just read your latest blog about your parents’ 72nd anniversary. And I wanted to make you aware that indeed, the nuclear plant WAS built in Piketon, Ohio. I am not at all sure of the year it was built. I suppose I could find it on the web, but I haven’t looked.

    I live about twenty minutes..maybe half an hour south of Piketon. I was born and raised in this area but I have lived in several different places during my lifetime. Detroit, Columbus, and in Florida. So for several years, I was not around here. But as we travel north on Rt. 23 to Columbus, we will pass through Piketon and again on the return trip. I really know nothing much about the area only having gone through it many, many times on 23..but never to actually visit the area.

    Most everything about the plant in Piketon is super secretive. We know there are silos underground that hold missles..but you will never get the gov’t or the military to admit it. And on second thought, perhaps one cannot find anything about the plant on the web after all.

    I could understand so much about how your Mother lived as well. My Dad put my Mom though a lot of the same things. And, like your Mom, mine also just did what was expected of her without complaint. How they both endured is beyond me. I know my Mom always depended on the Lord to help her through anything and everything. Including the deaths of both of my brothers. One from drowning in 1952, he was 15 yrs. old..and the other by a self-inflicted gun shot wound in 1984. But endure, she did.

    I enjoy your blogs very much, Ira.

    Comment by D — February 8, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

  13. Not an individual alive that didn’t come from parents. Though such an obvious fact, with all the rhetoric about marriage and psychology about wounds and such, the commandment to honor our parents makes more sense than ever. Thanks, Ira, for taking time to not only to think through for yourself but to write in a way that helps us too, as we live – all of us – in a broken world. There is so much to appreciate. In the end, everything tends to try to teach us to get our eyes off ourselves, and how important is the way we relate to others. Thanks.

    Comment by LeRoy — February 8, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

  14. My dad called me one evening here in Phoenix over 20 years ago with news that shook my world. Mom had a cancer diagnosis. I heard the pain and shock in his voice, he was looking for some comfort from his first born. And after the initial shock I was irritated, a little angry for all those years growing up Old Order, we did not talk about feelings and emotions much, that the feeling that I wanted to be closer to my dad was not important. And so I tried to listen and told him that he had a support system around him in the community there in the Midwest. And maybe he did. I don’t know for I had left the culture and the church years before that conversation. All that I could see at the time was the darkness in me and I blamed him for that, the way he raised me. The church. The rules. And so I listened with some of that still in my head. There was not much empathy for him in me.

    Mom died about 9 months after that conversation. She was 59 years old.Dad had been married to her since they were teenagers. I saw and felt the grief. Over the years since we talk at times. I tell him to call me, he does on an infrequent basis. And I’m able to see him for what he is. A flawed human being as I am, who does the best he can with what he has. And we talk about how we feel at times. Not that much, but its enough. Regret is a rather useless emotion if practiced too much for it is always today. And that is where I try to stay..Ira.it is always good to see how you are able to put down on paper what many of us feel and it is appreciated on my part.

    Comment by Lenny — February 12, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  15. Biggest Super Bowl blowout was 1/16/1972 when Dallas scored 800% of their opponent’s score. Dallas 24, Miami 3, January 1972.

    And Tom Landry was a “real” coach! Just sayin’ :)

    Comment by Jay — February 15, 2014 @ 12:12 am

  16. Beautiful story. What a test… of Love, Alzheimer’s is.

    Perhaps it is for the purpose that when your mother goes to Heaven and her mind is restored there that she can look back and see or know how much her husband loved her…loved her so tenderly in her hour of greatest need…perhaps a picture of how CHRIST loves the (spiritual) Church, His Bride? Perhaps it will make up (to her) for all the pain he caused her prior to that. Your mother’s disease was/is your father’s Cross to bear. Sounds like he bore it…all the way.

    Your writing is delightful.

    Comment by Cy — February 20, 2014 @ 6:14 am

  17. Ira –
    A wise man once said to me “Healing is going back to a point of pain (bad Pain) in our life…with a new view”.
    I believe that is what you do.
    You help others see themselves.
    Thank you, again.

    Comment by Marlene Papich Terrell — February 21, 2014 @ 1:38 am

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