April 11, 2014

Uncle Ezra…(Sketch #17)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:12 pm


I’ve had choices since the day that I was born,
There were voices that told me right from wrong.
If I had listened, no, I wouldn’t be here today,
Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.

George Jones, lyrics

I hadn’t thought about the man in years. There was no reason to, really. He had moved with his family from Daviess, I don’t know, probably sixty years ago. To a level of the Amish world way lower than ours. And we never got to see that much of him. In the few rare times when our families stopped by each other’s place to visit, we looked at him with a good deal of fascination. He was my father’s older brother. And we called him Uncle Ezra.

Well, we called him by other descriptive names, too. Everybody gets a nickname, that’s written in the Wagler code of laws somewhere. The one I remember for Uncle Ezra is “Cave Man.” He was a good-sized man, like my father. But it was his hair that we stared at. It waved in long oily coils. Waved way down his back, down almost to his shoulder blades. And he had that big bushy beard. He always wore a flat wide brimmed hat. I don’t remember ever seeing him smile much. Not saying he didn’t. Just that he always looked pretty grim, whether I saw him in his world or my own.

And there would be little reason to remember much of who he was, because he was pretty much a stranger to me. But that changed, a few weeks back. In rather dramatic fashion. Right there, when I was stretched out on the table in the LGH emergency room. When the doctor and his team were pretty convinced I was having a heart attack. They were swarming around, prodding and stabbing me with all sorts of needles. The doctor shot the questions, rat-a-tat. “Does your family have a history of heart problems?” No, not that I can think of, I said. Then I thought of it. Uncle Ezra. Yes, there was an uncle who died from a heart attack. “When?” I don’t know, back in the eighties sometime. “How old was he?” I don’t know, probably in his sixties. And from that little exchange, the memories stirred in me later. And I got to thinking. And then I got to writing.

He was born in Daviess in 1916, five years before my father came along. He wasn’t the oldest child, or even the oldest son. He was filled with all that Wagler piss and vinegar, and grew into quite the wild young man. Got into all sorts of mischief. He was a wild son. I’ve always found it hard to connect the stories of his youth with the grim bear of a man I saw when he came around. And, oh, yes, those stories were told, mostly in hushed tones, of who he was when he was young.

He didn’t listen very well to his parents. And I’m not being critical, here. Lord knows I didn’t listen very well to mine, either, when I was young. I’m not talking down at anyone. It’s just a story. He was pretty wild. He insisted on cutting his hair way short and shingled. They could never figure out where the boy was getting his hair cut. He never got to town much, and didn’t have money for such trifles when he did get there. And then one day someone walked into his bedroom. Somehow, he had forgotten to lock the door. And there sat Ezra, surrounded by mirrors, carefully snipping away, giving himself that verboten haircut. And thus he was caught. I don’t think that fazed him a bit, or that he quit cutting his hair the way he wanted it, even after that.

I don’t know how he looked, what his features were like in his youth. There are no pictures. He had the high-boned Wagler face, I think. Later you could never tell, because of his burly beard. And he ran wild, then, in Rumspringa. Back then, the youth didn’t tend to leave home, as me and my buddies did decades later. Daviess was a raggedy and uncouth place in those days. And their youth partied hard. And this story has trickled down through the years. Dad’s older brother, Noah, married Fannie Raber. I don’t know if Ezra didn’t particularly care for her, or what. But on the day of the wedding, he loudly made fun of Fannie’s dress. I can’t imagine what he was thinking, or why anyone would ever do such a thing. Fannie remembered that slight for the rest of her life. She muttered about it, way into her later years, when we’d come around. I guess she chose to hold onto that, and shouldn’t have. Ezra could have made it right, too. I don’t know if he ever did or didn’t, just that Fannie held on to that slight for as long as she lived. She died, just a year ago, or so. But back to Ezra. It’s always been a mystery to me, why anyone would make fun of the bride’s dress on her wedding day. He must have been dealing with some pretty deep emotional issues of some sort. That’s all I can figure out.

I don’t know when Ezra found the love of his life. It was there, in Daviess. A girl named Rosie. I have almost no memories of what she looked like. A buxom woman, as I recall. But that was after she had borne sons and daughters. And after they were married, the man truly settled down. At some point, then, he took a real hard turn to a real hard plainness, maybe to atone for all those sins of his wild youth. I’m not saying that had anything to do with it. But from here, I wonder.

Sons and daughters were born to them. Four sons, two daughters. And from what I’m told, it never was Ezra’s intention, to ever leave Daviess. He was pretty settled there, as he was. It was my Dad who was restless, and wanting to get out of there. And it was my Dad who wanted to go check out a rather plain community in Missouri. Bowling Green. So he bought a bus ticket, to go. And Ezra decided to go along, just for anyhow, and to keep my father company.

And the two of them headed out, to check the place out over a Sunday. Bowling Green is a fairly old settlement, for the Midwest. Not sure when it was founded, but at that time, it was rolling along pretty good. And I’m not saying anything disparaging about what the place is today. From what I hear, they’ve modernized a little bit. But back in those days, it was a cesspool, a hard-core lower end Amish settlement. Very plain. From when we visited when I was a child, I don’t recall that they had running water in the houses, even. I might be wrong about that. But it was hard-core, a place of low repute among the larger blue-blood settlements. Kind of like Daviess, maybe. But even worse.

Thankfully, Dad recoiled from the place. He was not impressed. I can never be grateful enough for that. Growing up in Bowling Green would have been a whole lot different than growing up in Aylmer and Bloomfield. I give Dad a lot of credit, for seeing what the place was. And for not moving there.

And strangely, Uncle Ezra, who only went along to keep Dad company, found himself drawn to the place. They traveled back home to Daviess. And in time, Dad moved his family to Piketon, Ohio. And Uncle Ezra and Rosie moved with theirs to Bowling Green. It boggles my mind, that he did such a thing. And again, I can’t help but wonder if the man was somehow trying to atone for his wild and wicked youth. He would suffer before God. Make life harder for himself. I may be off on a totally wild tangent, here. But something, some psychological pull, had to draw the man to such a plain and brutally austere place.

So they moved there, with their family. Eventually their sons took wives to themselves, good Bowling Green stock. And in time, Uncle Ezra was ordained as a deacon there, like his father was before him. It’s rare, for a Wagler of my direct lineage to be a preacher. My brother Joseph is pretty much an exception. But a deacon? That little job goes way back, generations.

The preachers are all to be feared, in any Amish settlement. But especially the deacon. He is the enforcer. When he comes knocking at your door, you can bet it’s not a social call. That kind of conditioning follows you all your life, if you come from the Amish. I still always have a brief, but intense rush of panic when my pastor, Mark Potter, suggests on a given Sunday that we get together for breakfast that following week. What did I do wrong, now? That’s the first, fleeting thought. And I always catch myself. He wants to get together for breakfast, not to chew you out, but because he just wants to get together for breakfast. It’s a pretty brutal thing, to come out of such a mindset. And from what little I’ve ever heard, Uncle Ezra fulfilled his role as deacon and enforcer quite efficiently. If people needed to be straightened out, brought back into line, or otherwise disciplined, he went and did it. That’s what he was ordained for.

And it’s kind of strange, in the Amish world. Well, I guess it’s that way in any setting. From an established settlement like Daviess, my father and a couple of his brothers emigrated to various places. And because of where they moved to and how they lived, their families rarely hung around each other. Ezra moved his family to a hard-core, plain Amish world. And I can’t say that I even know my first cousins. I wouldn’t know them if I met them. Because there was almost no crossing of boundaries, between their world and ours. And now Waglers are sprinkled throughout all kinds of really plain settlements in the Midwest. Ezra’s offspring. It’s still rare, that anyone from their world crosses over to the one I came from, or vice versa. Maybe for funerals, once in a while. But increasingly, not even for that. Not bemoaning anything, here. It’s just how it is.

Tragedy struck Ezra in 1973, when we still lived in Aylmer. He and his wife Rosie had traveled this state, to Snyder County, PA. And real early one morning, they got up to catch the bus in town. Ezra wanted to travel over here to Lancaster, to visit a few people he knew. And somehow, in the little town where they were to catch their bus ride, they had to cross the street. It was early and dark. Ezra looked, and the road was clear. He strode across, thinking Rosie was right behind him. And somehow, no one knows quite how it happened, she held back, and tried to cross back. She was struck by a car right on that spot. And killed instantly.

I remember hearing the news, there in Aylmer. And how my parents and others got ready and headed to Bowling Green for the funeral. Ezra was almost beyond consolation. A man of the hills, he had never trusted modern towns, or modern transportation. And now one of those modern places had claimed his wife. He wept and wept and grieved her.

Ezra never did have much use for my father’s writings. I don’t know if he allowed Family Life in his home or not. He wasn’t impressed by Dad’s fame at all. But the man got involved in a few little publishing ventures of his own. The main one that I remember was Die Botschaft. The Message. Ezra didn’t like The Budget, because a lot of people who wrote in that weekly paper came from car churches. He longed for something more pure, something where the car church people wouldn’t be allowed to participate. And somehow, he got it together, got all the principals lined up. I don’t know when exactly that happened. Late 70s, maybe. And Die Botschaft has been a success. It gets published every week, and no one from any car church writes for it. It’s totally for horse and buggy people. Ezra’s vision was a little different, from my father’s. But still, he had one, and followed through on it. You gotta respect that.

My father had a wanderlust. He moved from Daviess, to Piketon, to Aylmer, to Bloomfield. All in the span of about twenty-five years. Ezra didn’t wander quite that much. But still, he did move out of Bowling Green, to pursue one last vision that would fail. I guess he finally saw it, that Bowling Green was not a good place for any man to plant his roots. And he dreamed of starting a new community. Just him and his sons and daughters and their families. And a few hangers-on. And again, I’m not exactly sure of the exact date, when it happened. Late 70s, early 80s, near as I can tell without doing a whole lot of specific research.

And Uncle Ezra was the founding patriarch of a new little community in Prairie Home, Missouri. He and his sons bought farms there, and settled in. My sister Rachel recalls that some in our family traveled over to help for a few days, to build Ezra’s house. I don’t know what all the rules were, in Prairie Home. But it was an extremely plain settlement. From out of one frying pan, right into another, that’s where Ezra tumbled. I look at who he was, and what his hopes and dreams were, and my heart feels for the man.

Prairie Home was an unmitigated disaster, right from the start. The strong Wagler blood stirred in Ezra’s sons, and they took to squabbling with each other. The plainer the community, the sillier the squabbles, usually. I don’t know a whole lot of details, or a whole lot of specific stories. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t write them. They’re not important. The specifics rarely are. It’s the condition of people’s hearts that really matters.

And here we get to where I was always going, in this story. The thing that was triggered in me, there in that brutal emergency room at LGH. At some point right along in here, Uncle Ezra developed a serious heart condition. It was the plumbing. His veins were clogged up. He went and took all sorts of tests, and the doctor told him. “It’s serious, Ezra. You really need to let us go in and clean out those veins. If you walk out of here like this, you could easily keel over at any moment.”

And for whatever reason, Uncle Ezra just flat out rejected the doctor’s advice. I figure the man was just weary and half worn out and tired of life, missing his Rosie. He didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money, trying to hang on. And he chose to reject the doctor’s recommended treatments. I don’t know what he was thinking. I don’t know if he felt fear in his heart. Something tells me the man just made up his mind, and that was the way it was. If he lived, he lived. If he died, he died.

He did take some kind of natural treatment, to clear his veins. And it happened right while he was in Kansas City, taking those treatments. The stories claim that Ezra asked for a double dose of whatever it was they were shooting through him. And that double dose loosened the plaque in his veins. Might be hearsay. Might be true. But on December 16, 1983, the man went into a full blown heart attack in the clinic where he was taking treatments. And he died right there on the spot, there in Kansas City. He was sixty-seven years old.

I remember the day of the funeral. I didn’t go. I stayed home to be with Titus, and to do the chores, the milking and such. Eli Yutzy came over to help me. It was bitterly, bitterly cold. Snowing down, full blast. They took Ezra back to Bowling Green, and buried him beside his beloved Rosie. And those who were there still talk about how brutally cold it all was. How, at the graveside, the Bishop’s teeth were chattering so hard he could barely speak.

The little settlement he had founded in Prairie Home was in the process of blowing up when Ezra died. His sons all moved out soon after. A few other families hung on for another ten years or so. But the dissension that was rooted at the birth of the place would not go away. Today Prairie Home is an extinct settlement. As far as I know, no vestiges remain of Uncle Ezra’s little band of settlors. The people all scattered to the winds, moved to other places.

And so passed away the man who was my uncle, a man I barely knew. And yeah, from here, it might seem like he was a fool, to make the choices he did. He could have lived for another good ten to twenty years, had he just taken care of himself a bit. Made different choices. I don’t think he was a fool, though. I respect the right of any person to choose the conditions in which he will pass through this earth. Sure, I would have made different choices, from where I am. But he wasn’t where I am. And I’m not where he was.

That’s the blood I come from, right there. Stubborn, absolutely stubborn blood. Mildly unhinged, probably, with just a touch of madness. Waglers have held the reputation of being slightly mad for generations, at least the ones on the fringes. And I concur. We probably are. We live intensely. We feel things deeply. And mostly, it doesn’t matter much what anyone else says or thinks, we will always insist on walking our own paths. And we will live and die by the choices we make.

That’s who Uncle Ezra was, a man like that.

OK. A brief update on my heart situation. I don’t like the word “condition,” as in heart condition. So situation it is. After something like that comes down, it takes about a week to work out of freak-out mode. You’re all jumpy and touchy. I measured my pulse rate many times, just to make sure the heart was beating right. It always was. I went to work the first Monday morning, the Saturday after getting home. Sure, I was a bit tense and tired. But I figured I could sit home, all tense and tired. Or just go to work, and get done what I could. I haven’t missed a day of work since that two-day break at the hospital.

And it was really strange, that first week, to realize something. I used to get dog-tired by late afternoon into evening. Every day. It was that flutter heart, beating way out there. And I realized, during the afternoons, that I’m not nearly as tired as I was used to being. Not saying I’m not tired, in the afternoon at work. I am. But it’s not the dog-tiredness I was used to. I’m pretty happy about that.

The Coumadin and I are not getting along so well. And that’s by far the most depressing thing that came out of this whole ordeal. By far the most depressing. They got me penned in, taking that pharmaceutical rat poison. Right now, I’m on a pretty heavy daily dose, to get my body leveled out. The stuff makes me lethargic. I’m always cold. It hurts my stomach now and then. And it tends to make me drool, right out both sides of my mouth. And you don’t want to nick or bump into anything, because the cuts and bruises won’t go away. It’s pretty maddening. And no, I’m not pulling an “Uncle Ezra” and going off and ignoring the doctors. So don’t start squawking at me, all you medical people. I will have my first full checkup sometime next month. At that point, I figure I’ll tell the doctor exactly what I think of it all. There has to be a better, more natural way, without all those disastrous side effects. There has to be.

And, of course, since I can’t take my Superfood like my body’s been used to, I came down with a full fledged deep chest and head cold this week, complete with a savage hacking cough. With Superfood, I’d get maybe one cold a year. Sometimes not even that. Well, here’s the first one without it. I’m on Maximum Strength Mucinex 24 hours a day, or I wouldn’t be breathing at all. Again, it makes me crazy, how you can’t take natural things to help your body, because the Coumadin people tell you not to. And again. It’s maddening.

Last week, early, I texted my friend, Dwylin the plumber. Hey, think you can get over and get my softner system set up? He called right back. Yeah, he’d try to make it by late week. I knew he had good intentions. But the man is so overwhelmed with work that I half expected him not to show up. And last Friday morning, he texted me. He was there, in my basement, working. He never had time to be there, the first time, when I was in the hospital. But he took the time, because he’s my friend. And he came back as he’d promised, because he’s my friend. And he installed two new water heaters, one for me and one for the tenant. And the new softner system. The water heaters will pay for themselves in about a year or so, he told me. So now I won’t be heating any more water with all that expensive oil through my furnace.

It’s going to take a little chunk of change, to pay for all that. Funny thing is, the day before Dwylin showed up, my biannual royalty check arrived from Tyndale. I had planned on traveling a bit this summer, with some of that. And I still will. But a few of those planned trips just kind of went away, lately. They ain’t gonna happen. They never were gonna happen, they were always meant to be a mirage. It just took me way too long to figure that out. And now here’s the check. I figure after taxes, there should be just about enough to pay for the whole water system, and maybe I’ll have enough left over for a trip to Bloomfield this summer sometime.

I know I like to grumble now and then. But deep down, I also know this. The Lord provides, just as He always promised He would. And I am thankful.



  1. Thank you for the story on Uncle Ezra. I never knew the man.

    Several years ago, I was on a business trip to St Louis and stopped in Bowling Green for fuel and coffee. A young Amish man was eyeing my truck, with the Wagler lettering on the door. He approached me and introduced himself as Joseph Wagler. He seemed to think we’re related. He must be one of Ezra’s Raymond’s boys.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — April 11, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

  2. I met your Uncle Ezra in the late 1970’s and his home was a safe refuge from the mocking and pinching I got from the Bowling Green children and youth. The mocking and pinching was so bad that when I left, I vowed I will never set foot in Bowling Green ever again and I never did. I still cringe whenever I see a person from Bowling Green unless he is a Wagler. I want nothing to do with Bowling Green.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — April 11, 2014 @ 10:39 pm

  3. I am a snyder county native, born and bred. I am enjoying your blog and just finished reading your book. I can relate to a lot of your stories. My best girl friend was Mennonite and she and I ran the back roads of Port Trevorton flat chasing after the boos. I was a rumspringa girl friend, so do understand the pressures of family and church heaped on the youth.

    Comment by tracie trawitz — April 11, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

  4. Great story. Poor Ezra missing his Rosie. And what a strange and horrible way to die.

    Some people take baby aspirin daily to keep their blood thin, but I don’t know if it would be adequate for a person with heart issues. Drinking water helps but again, is it enough? If Coumadin isn’t agreeing with you make the doctor give you something else. Stand up for your rights! Well, most docs. will opt for what works best with your body so I’m sure you won’t have to get ugly about it.
    You…stubborn…no way! Yes way I say. But who isn’t? Everybody wants to rule the world beginning with themselves.

    I agree with you on God’s provision at just the right time. It’s nice to know that God will tend to every single need I have. I can’t even imagine the day when I meet Jesus face to face. But the day will come. Yes indeed, that day will come.

    Listen, when I received the notification that you submitted a new story I also received a very long list of your email addresses. Possibly those that also receive notification. I forwarded them back to you immediately as I have no desire for any more addresses. Just letting you know there’s a glitch somewhere.

    Comment by Francine — April 12, 2014 @ 12:56 am

  5. Always enjoy the messages you send us every 2 weeks…faithful and always seem to be Christian-themed, so I learn new blessings to be thankful for and thankful for your presence in my life. Your words are plain-spoken and real and the core truths of life…faith, family, roots, gratitude and self-worth. Happy Easter, Ira!

    Comment by Pam Moore — April 12, 2014 @ 11:26 am

  6. I hear the many other themes upon which you touch, and appreciate them; it is the way you draw the picture that leads one to see it, and that is hard work, so thanks.

    I’d just like to add comment on something I’ve been reflecting upon the past several years. It relates to what is called “the prophetic.” And that is, how our cognition actually works. It is a little bit of madness perhaps. Or perhaps the madness is in not recognizing it and generally assuming that all those thoughts in our head as “just me” and “the way things really are.” So, it amazes me that the simple prompt by the doctor brought back a small memory, which “later grew within you” (or however you spoke about that seed thought). And will probably be incorporated into, and maybe even change some of the direction of your next book. Cognitive stimuli come at us all day, in words spoken, music heard, and even images viewed (as in glancing at a decoration somewhere). It is truly fascinating to me … all the ways God may speak to us, or the things we use to silence His Voice (many, if not most, times even denying He can speak or would have anything to say). I’m just fascinated by that little cognitive spark. From which, hundreds and thousands will now be affected through what you’ve written. And how that can be something that could bring critical decisions in some lives. It’s truly amazing.

    I don’t want to get this off topic, but I wanted to add this little seed thought, since you – so unusually – were able to trace the origin of your decision to write this piece.

    Comment by LeRoy — April 12, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  7. if your doctor advises you to not take greens while on Coumadin you need another Doctor – one who is keeping up with current medical research rather than simply following outdated protocol

    Comment by rosanna — April 12, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

  8. Your stories about the Amish and the way they live is like looking in someones window for us English. Even though we don’t live that far away from the Amish we respect their privacy….. People are like automobiles, we age and the parts wear down; some can be replaced and some can’t. It’s very time consuming to take care of ourselves and live healthy, but it comes with getting older. It is fine for us to tell people when we are ill because, people want to pray for us, as they want us to pray for them. How are people going to pray for us if we don’t let them know we need prayer?

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — April 13, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

  9. Hey Ira, As I happened to stumble on your blog tonight, I was rather shocked to see your account on your uncle Ezra. I grew with this family, one of Ezra’s sons, Jacob, is married to my wifes sister.

    Yes, in all my growing up years, Ezra was a feared man by most of the youth.

    Even with all that you wrote concerning your uncle, not the half has been told….Even so, may he rest in peace.

    Comment by Ben Girod — April 13, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

  10. Great story about your Uncle Ezra. God doesn’t take away our free will so no one else should try to either. We all need to do what we feel is right for us. I have several family members on Coumadin. It will take a while for you to get regulated. It is still the “Cadillac” of blood thinners. Thank you for writing so beautifully on your blog. May you have a very blessed and happy Easter. You are in my prayers.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — April 15, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

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