June 6, 2014

The Sons of Albert Stoll…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:13 pm

photo-2-small.JPG

What is this strange and bitter miracle of life? Is it to feel…
the evening hush, the sorrow of lost, fading light, far sounds
and broken cries, and footsteps, voices, music, and all lost–
and something murmurous, immense, and mighty in the air?

—Thomas Wolfe
______________

The email came in last spring, a little more than a year ago. From a man in Texas who claimed to be my cousin. Elmer Stoll, better known as Garner. And he had some things to tell me.

We are passing close to your area next year, sometime in May, the email said. My brother Amos and me. And we’d like to connect with you, if you have the time. We’ve never met. We are the sons of your Uncle Albert and Aunt Mary. Absolutely, I wrote back. Just let me know when you’re in the area, and we’ll get together.

And I looked forward to it. He emailed me again, right over the time I was getting out of the hospital with my mended heart. And somehow, I let it slide. Didn’t think much about it. It was the Coumadin, messing with my head, I think. I was going to answer him. But the days just slid by, and I never got it done. I just flat out forgot. Then, the Friday before Memorial Day, I got a call at the office. A soft-voiced guy. Samuel Martin, a nephew to Garner and Amos. He was going to be in the area, too, the next Monday evening. Memorial Day evening. And they were all just wondering if I still wanted to meet. I slapped myself upside the head. Groaned aloud, on the phone. I’m so sorry, I told Samuel. Of course I want to meet. There’s been a bunch of crap going on in my life, lately. “Yeah, I’ve been following that on your blog,” he said. It totally slipped my mind, I said. I’m sorry. Let’s get together at Vinola’s around seven, in Leola. “All right,” he said. “I’ll let the others know. We’ll plan on it.” Great, I said. And we exchanged cell phone numbers.

Over the weekend, I hung out with old friends at the cabin in West Virginia. As I was getting close to home on Monday afternoon, my phone rang. Unfamiliar number. I answered. This is Ira. “This is Garner Stoll,” the man said. “We’re looking forward to meeting you tonight.” Great. Me too, I said. I found out that Vinola’s is closed, though. There’s a little pub just outside New Holland, Brady’s. Why don’t we meet there at 6:30? “We’ll be there,” he said. Me too, I said. And we hung up.

I was waiting for them at a table outside Brady’s just before 6:30. And right on time, they walked up. It had to be them. Two guys, a decade or so older than me. And a lithe young man, who looked to be a teenager. They waved as they walked up. And I got up and walked to meet them. They were lean and fit, and looked familiar. They had strong Stoll features, but I had never met them before. We shook hands, and introduced ourselves. Amos Stoll. Elmer Stoll. Elmer’s son, Evan. Ira Wagler. Immediately we hit it off, as if we’d known each other for years. They were totally open, friendly, smiling. And it struck me fully for the first time at that moment. These men, these strangers, were my first cousins. Blood of my blood. Flesh of my flesh. They were family. They had read my blog, sporadically, over the years, and maybe my book, too. And now they had made the effort to reach out, to come and meet me. They were Albert and Mary’s sons. Their mother was my father’s older sister, a woman I never knew. But I felt it, clear and strong, our connection. And something stirred deep inside me.

Albert and Mary Stoll. I can’t recall their faces in my mind, which means I can’t remember ever seeing them. My siblings claim I did, back when I was very young. So I won’t dispute that. But I have no recollection of their faces. I’ve heard their names, though, in countless stories. Uncle Albert has always been sort of an infamous legend in the family lore.

He was born in 1905, in Daviess, one of the many sons of his father, Victor. And his father’s wild strange Stoll blood coursed through him. Victor was a man who stirred always, and questioned everything. Challenged the preachers on all kinds of theological points. I won’t vouch that this is true, but I think it is, because I remember Mom telling it many times. It’s the only such story I’ve ever heard. Victor was estranged from the Amish church in Daviess when he died. I don’t know if he was excommunicated, but he sure wasn’t having much to do with anyone. And on his deathbed, he decreed that there should be no preaching at his funeral, because none of the preachers were good enough to preach over him. That’s what Mom always claimed. Victor was buried, there in Daviess. And there was no preaching at his funeral.

That’s the kind of setting Albert came from. I don’t know if it’s true of all the Stoll branches in Daviess, but of this particular branch, it is. They have wild, strange blood. And brilliant minds. (My Wagler blood is wild, but melancholy and brooding. You have to be in a cave, to get the real honest, gut-level writing out.) The Stolls are brilliant, on the math side of their brains. They can figure things out. Problem is, though, they use those brains of theirs, as often as not, to dispute and argue. About the tiniest little silly things. How can the church rules be tweaked, so we’re serving God better? What could we do, to suffer a bit more, so He’ll be pleased? Historically, they’ve fussed about the mustache a lot. They believe the Amish should have mustaches. It all seems so futile, all that fussing. If you’re part of a group, accept the rules or get out.

Albert grew up, and like his father, he questioned just about everything there was to question. And somewhere along the way, he married my father’s older sister, Mary. She was five years younger, but they seemed to get along well. And they started their family, there in Daviess. He never was happy there. I don’t know what the problems were, that far back. Maybe the Daviess youth drank and partied. I don’t know. Anyway, Albert had all kinds of issues, and he was always stirring about. And then, when he was still a young married man, they ordained a preacher, there in his district. And it was destined to be. The lot fell on Albert Stoll. The preacher lot always seems to hit the Stolls a lot, wherever they live. Somehow, it just does. It’s a strange thing. Now he was a preacher, a part of the group he had so many problems with. A part of the leadership of a church he felt was doomed.

He never fit in, as a preacher. Which is sure no surprise. There was no way he could conform. He was always his own man. Always questioning, always stirring. And somewhere right along about then, a man from the strange and shadowy “Sleeping Preacher” churches came wandering through Daviess. And somehow, he got to Albert’s ear. And Mary’s. He got them to listen to him. It probably wasn’t that hard, as they were both convinced the Amish church was sliding downhill fast. And they were both convicted. And they both adopted the Sleeping Preacher heresies. As an Amish preacher, there was no way Albert could stay for long in Daviess after that. And he didn’t.

In 1942, Albert and Mary moved out of Daviess. Along with a small group of families, they founded a little Amish community in Jerome, Michigan. I don’t know much about this place, except that Albert’s brother, Peter Stoll, and his family also moved up there. Peter, like Albert, had married one of my father’s older sisters. Anna. And there in the Jerome community is where their son, Elmo, was born. The man who, decades later, would stride through the Amish world like a giant, and then forsake it, preaching in his mesmerizing voice wherever he went.

I don’t know much about how it was in Jerome. Actually, I don’t know much about how it was in any community Albert and Mary lived in. I can only write from my perspective. And try to retell the tales as I heard them. Jerome was a small community, maybe half a dozen families, or so. Not all of them came from Daviess. It was a ragtag group. The community lasted for less than ten years. Then the people disbanded, and headed their separate ways. Who knows what the reasons were? Maybe there was dissension. Or maybe it was just time to move on. Peter and Anna Stoll moved over to Piketon, Ohio, to join my parents there in that new fledgling Amish settlement. And before many years had passed, Piketon was blowing up. They claimed at the time that it was the large nuclear plant being installed so close, that’s what made them move out. That’s not true. The place was blowing up, from dissension inside the church. The nuclear plant was just a convenient excuse. But Piketon really has nothing to do with Albert and Mary.

After the Piketon debacle, Peter Stoll and his family moved to Aylmer, to join my father’s group in settling in southern Ontario. Albert and Mary weren’t interested in that, though. They wanted something harder, something plainer. “Zurick und Nunna. Nett usht in ein Weg, ahva in allie Weg.” “Stand back, and be humble. Not in just one way, but in every way.” That had been their motto, their code of conduct, ever since the Sleeping Preacher man converted them. Zurick und Nunna, in allie Weg. They wanted to be plainer. More humble. More remote.

And so they moved, again. To Everton, Arkansas. A remote place. Rocky and hilly. A place where they figured they could live in peace. But “peace” is a fragile thing. You can see it, you can almost grasp it, but somehow it eludes you like the morning mists. They were hopeful, though, when they moved there. As you would have to be, to even attempt such a thing. They had sons and daughters now, sons and daughters who needed to be taught the right way. Eight sons. And three daughters. (And a few children who were stillborn.) All of them growing up, all of them looking around, the wild strange Stoll blood flowing through all of them. Albert had been taught, by his father. Question everything around you. He taught his sons what his father taught him. Question everything. And soon enough, they would. Soon enough, they would question the foundational bedrock of his own beliefs.

It was an odd little group of misfits, there in Arkansas. Rudy Wickey and his family moved in from somewhere. And John Martin came over from the Old Order Mennonites. And a few other families drifted in and out over the years. They were fringe people, all of them. Despite that, the Everton community managed to cling to its Amish identity. They were very plain, almost at Swartzentruber level. No running water in the house, no plumbing at all. Albert was the preacher. They had no bishop. Once in a great while, maybe every year or every other year, they managed to cajole some bishop from another community somewhere to come around and hold communion services. Otherwise, they were pretty much isolated. Maybe that’s how they wanted it. Seems odd, but maybe. Anyhow, that’s the way it went.

My parents and a bunch of my siblings traveled to Arkansas by train to visit Alberts when I was a little baby. I remember nothing of it, of course. But I was there. And the stories have come down. They claim that I wasn’t feeling well, and that I screamed and cried during the entire trip down on the train. All night long, I bawled lustily. Mom and my sisters could do nothing to quiet me. I’m sure I kept a lot of people from sleeping that night on the train. I’m sure many annoyed glances were stabbed at my family by the surrounding English. I’m sure my family was hugely mortified. Oh, well. What can I say at this point, to make it all better?

When I was growing up, Stephen, Titus, and I were known as “the three little boys.” Albert and Mary had their own three little boys. Amos. Alvin. And Elmer. My brothers and I ran wild and ragged and barefoot on the old home farm. I’m sure the other three little boys ran wild and ragged and barefoot through the rocky Arkansas hills. They grew up, tough and lithe. The thing is, they grew up, all of Albert’s children. And that’s when the foundations of his world began to shake a bit. That’s when things happened that would drive him and his wife deep into the remote hills in Central America, in the country of Belize.

It was a lonely place, that home in Arkansas. Albert’s children didn’t have a whole lot of peers around them. And as they grew into adulthood, they began drifting away from their home. To other places, where there was a more active social life. They came to Aylmer for long stays, when I was very young. I don’t remember them, but I’ve always heard the stories. In 1966, Alvin and Elmer came to stay with their Uncle Peter’s family for the whole summer. I think they were well accepted by the Aylmer youth. I know that my sister Magdalena and my brother Joseph befriended them. I know that because Elmer told me that. It was a fond memory for him.

I don’t know who left first, for good. But, in time, two of the older sons drifted off. Ervin joined the Holderman church, somewhere not that far away from Everton. I’m not sure if Holdermans consider themselves Mennonite, but they are pretty plain. They have very strict rules. And they consider themselves to be in sole possession of the knowledge of the path to salvation. If you ever join that group, you can never leave, not without getting excommunicated. It’s kind of like the Amish, I guess, at least like the Amish in certain areas.

Then their son Ira left. He didn’t stray too far from the faith of his father. He moved up to Aylmer and stayed with his uncle, Peter Stoll’s, family. He adopted that family as his own, and they adopted him. He worked at odd jobs around the community. He was working for my father on the old home farm the day I was born.

It was shocking, to Albert, to see his sons leave like that. Ira, not so much. Albert had always called down doom upon the Amish church. It was corrupt, the mainstream part of it. It was doomed. It would not last long, not the way it was going. Still, Ira’s departure to the Amish fold in Aylmer sent only small shock waves through Albert and Mary. Their son Ervin leaving for the Holdermans hit a lot harder. Those people drove cars. They were worldly. And all too soon, the oldest of the three little boys stepped out, too, from Albert’s home in Arkansas.

Amos. I don’t know if he was reserved or outgoing, growing up. I picture him as quiet. I don’t know that, though. He left, too. Followed his older brother, to the Holdermans. But he would not last long in that world. Maybe a year. Sometime in there, he went off to the big city, to serve in 1-W service. As a conscientious objector to the war. Albert had taught his sons right, that way. Amos wasn’t going to go off and kill or be killed, in senseless, bloody battles. So he served in a hospital, as an orderly, instead.

And there, working in that hospital, he saw a world he had never seen before. He saw how things were, outside his own confined upbringing. He could never go back. After serving, he quietly went and got his GED. And enrolled in college. His brilliant Stoll brain thrived, through it all. He pushed right on through college, right on through medical school. He was a stellar student. And the oldest of Albert’s “three little boys” went on to become a neurosurgeon. A guy who operated on people’s brains. He obviously drew deep from the Stoll side of his brain. No Wagler could ever accomplish such a thing.

It was highly unsettling to Albert and Mary, to see their sons leaving like that. Well, maybe unsettling is not quite strong enough a word. They fretted and fussed and grieved. How could they have failed so badly as parents? They had tried to teach their children the right path. The path the Sleeping Preacher people had showed them. Something wasn’t working. Maybe they could still keep their remaining sons with them, if only they moved to the right place. Zurick und Nunna. Stand back and be humble. And somehow, they got the idea that it would be a good thing to relocate again. To leave the hills and rocks and brambles of Arkansas, to leave that setting for a far more remote place.

There is no hiding place for any family, not after the sons start stirring about and leaving. Moving to a new place will not address the foundational issues. It’s a Band Aide. A quick change of scenery, so things will get better. They rarely do. Because the reasons the sons were leaving were never faced or dealt with. By that time, it’s usually too late, anyway. It’s futile, to move to try to hide the reasons you needed to move. My father found that out when he moved from Aylmer to Bloomfield, to try to salvage the Amish way for his sons. It didn’t work for Dad. It never had a chance to work. And it didn’t work for Albert.

In 1966, Albert’s little ragtag group moved to the west central area of Belize. Most of the families from his Arkansas church moved with him. It was known as the Pilgrimage Valley, the place they moved to. A fairly fertile land. And from that valley, their sons kept on leaving. Alvin left, when he was 20 years old. Went out, and wandered among the people of his father’s culture. Taught school, for a year, at some plain community. He saw what Amos was doing, going to college and all. And soon enough, he left it all behind, all that he grew up with. He got his GED, and went off to college, too.

The “three little boys” all left when they were around twenty years old, near as I can tell. Elmer (Garner) left right at that age. They all stepped out, from their restrictive world, into some sort of plain community. So it wouldn’t hurt their parents so much. And from that first step, they kept right on moving. Right on into college, and right on into a world of education. For their brilliant Stoll minds, the college world was not a problem. They all excelled, in all their studies. Alvin got his law degree, and worked as an attorney, then as an administrative judge in Texas. Garner got his degree, and ended up as the head city planner of Austin, Texas. I think they both retired recently, from their work. I look at that, I look at all the “three little boys” got accomplished in their lives, and I marvel. These guys are my cousins. My father’s sister’s sons.

And I think, too, how that must have been for them. They walked into a new world, and embraced it completely. I held on a little tighter to my roots, way back when I got my GED and went to college. My journey was a lot different from theirs. My parents lived in Bloomfield, Iowa. Their parents lived in a real remote section of Belize. What are the costs, to totally break away? I never did it. I always kept connected. I think Albert’s sons could tell me a whole lot about those costs. A whole lot of things I never knew or saw. Nathan and I went home to see our parents, every year at Christmas. That was not an option for Albert’s sons. Their parents were too far away, inaccessible, really. Zurick und Nunna, all the way. And my heart goes out to the three little boys. It had to be a tough slog, sometimes. It had to be a hard thing, sometimes. It just had to be.

They all got married, eventually. To totally English women. I think they all had families of their own. Elmer’s first marriage blew up in a pretty brutal way, kind of like my own did. We chatted about it. I can tell you all about how that is, I told him. And, of course, the people in the world he came from dramatically shook their heads. Poor Elmer. Look how it went for him. That’s a good lesson, for our children. That’s just how it goes, when you leave the path your parents taught you.

Uncle Albert had one more card to play. His sons were deserting. That must mean he wasn’t Zurick und Nunna enough. In 1972, he and his flock retreated even further into the hinterlands. To Barton’s Creek, a truly remote place in Belize. Here, they could be plain enough. Here, they could be humble enough. Here, they could live what the Sleeping Preacher people had taught them to be. And here is where they would die. Here. In a place so remote that few of the freundschaft would ever come to visit. Here, they were buried, Albert and Mary. Estranged from most of their sons.

They were very poor, the people in that community. They didn’t have much, and that’s the way they wanted it. They scrabbled out a living on the rough land. Kept a few head of lean cattle. Grew some truck crops, vegetables and such. In season, they hitched up a pair of very thin horses to an air-tired wagon and hauled what produce they had to the nearest town. And sold it on the streets. Zurick und Nunna. That’s how they lived, right to the core.

Aunt Mary was very close to her sister, Anna, Peter Stoll’s wife. And after Peter followed the call of his own strange wild Stoll blood and moved to Honduras, the two sisters connected. At least once, I’m told, Anna traveled to Belize to see Mary. And some of Mary’s siblings made the trek to Belize, too, to visit, at least once in their lifetimes. Bishop Pete Yoder and his wife Martha (Mary’s sister), went to see them. And Dad and Mom went too, I’m not sure of the date. It was probably in the late 1980s, after I had left Bloomfield. By this time, Albert was the classic picture of the aging patriarch, with a full white beard and a glorious white mustache. Dad came back with a funny little story. He took some flashlights along, to give to Albert and Mary as a gift. He figured flashlights might be hard to come by, in Belize. He offered his gifts. They were refused. The people of Barton’s Creek didn’t believe in having flashlights. Zurick und Nunna, that’s how they lived. All the way. So no flashlights. Dad brought his gifts back home.

You choose to live how you live. And you have every right to. It doesn’t have to make any sense to anyone else, as long as it makes sense to you. Sure, you can make all kinds of judgments from a distance, especially about the past. You can wipe your forehead and think. What were those people thinking? You can do that. But still. I choose to believe that most people do the best they know to do, in the moment. And with all their flaws, Albert and Mary did the best they knew to do. I don’t judge them. And I don’t judge their sons. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see or know what anyone went through. I didn’t see or know what they felt, what they saw, what they lived. On either side of that father/son divide.

And in the end, none of that matters, I suppose, as long as you’re at peace with yourself and at peace with God. Death came calling, in Albert’s family, back in the early 1990s. First it came for him. He died in May, 1992. And then it came for his daughter, Sarah Ann. She had rheumatic fever, as a child. She was always sickly. But if I’m not wrong, she married and had children. She sank and passed away, in September, 1992. Those were two hard hits, for the family. That close together. And Aunt Mary could not last long after that.

She died in February, 1994. She could not long survive the passing of her daughter and her husband. Who knows, what griefs she bore? Who knows, what pain? I’m sure she kept it all to herself, as the Sleeping Preacher people had taught. Zurick und Nunna. Now the three of them are buried, in some remote graveyard in some remote area of Belize. And there they rest.

And I think, too, of how hard it must have been, for their children, the ones living here in the States. You get the word. Your father just passed away. The funeral is tomorrow. There’s no way you can get there. And then your sister passed. And then your mother. You can’t get there, to say good-bye. It’s not physically possible. My own mother just passed away, a little over a month ago. I know how that feels, that loss. We gathered, the clans did, because we could. Because there was time to. Because my parents lived in Aylmer, not in Belize. It had to be a tough thing for Albert and Mary’s children to face and absorb. How do you grieve the loss, how do you get closure, from such a distance?

We stood there, outside Brady’s Pub, just talking for a few minutes. Amos and Elmer and me. Elmer’s son, Evan, nineteen years old, stood by quietly. Elmer had written me, so I knew. They were hiking the Appalachian Trail. Every year, they hike for a few weeks. Then the next year, they take up right where they left off the year before. By 2016, I think, they figure to get it done. Tonight, they were staying in a local motel. Tomorrow, they’d take off, east. Evan had flown in that day to join his father and uncle for a week of hiking. And I thought to myself, looking at that. There were some good parents in Evan’s life, or that wouldn’t be happening. I can’t imagine ever wanting to hike any trail with my father, not at that age.

We went into the little pub and were seated at a large table. We just talked right along. A few minutes later, Samuel Martin walked in. We shook hands. He’s the son of Albert’s second oldest daughter, Loveda. She and her husband, David, live in Tennessee, somewhere, I think. They live plain, kind of like they were brought up. Samuel had broken away, too. He got his RN degree, and has worked in Austin, Texas, on a helicopter ambulance crew. He was on his way up to Aylmer, for some sort of Martin reunion. His uncle, John Martin, is the bishop who preached at Mom’s funeral. He was a quiet intelligent man, Samuel, bearded, with shoulder length hair. He smiled and listened to our talk. Now and then he spoke.

We ordered our food, and some beers. And just sat there, and talked and talked. It was like we had a lifetime of catching up to do. Then I got a quick idea. Got up and walked outside. Called my brother, Steve. I’m here, in New Holland, with two of our first cousins we’ve never met. Amos and Elmer Stoll. Albert’s sons. Steve was all enthusiastic. “We’re here at home. The children are all here, tonight. Bring them right over, after you’re done eating.”

We feasted on ribs and cole slaw and beer. And just talked nonstop. After wrapping that up, we headed out for Steve’s, except for Samuel. His family was back at the motel, he said. He’d better get back to them. I thanked him for coming. And the Stoll brothers and I hit the highway and headed west to where Steve lives.

We got there just as it was getting dark. They were sitting outside, around a fire. Steve welcomed his cousins to his home. And we sat around and swapped stories of our lives. It was almost surreal, looking back. These guys were of our blood. We never knew them. And yet, somehow, they had made the effort to stop by to see us.

Soon after dark, I was drooping. I’d had a long weekend, and a long road of traveling to West Virginia and back. I got up to leave. I shook Elmer’s hand. And his son’s. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by. I’m honored. I really am. You have no idea, the stories I’ve always heard about your family. Thanks so much, for stopping by. Let’s connect again.

Amos stood off in the distance, talking on his phone. I started to my truck, then waited until he hung up. I walked over and shook his hand and thanked him. I’m really honored that you took the time to stop by, I said. He smiled, and we stood there and chatted for a minute. “I don’t get to all your blogs, but I thank you for writing,” he said. “That one you wrote years ago about traveling on the Greyhound bus, that one was my favorite. You described it exactly as it was. It brought back so many memories. That’s exactly how it was.” Thanks, I said. I appreciate the time anyone takes to read what I write. We shook hands again. And I left.

And I’ve thought about it since. That’s really what did it, I think, that they ever came. The writing. They read a voice from their own blood. That’s what drew them to connect. That, and the fact that no one’s getting any younger these days.

I don’t write for the money. I never have. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take all the money I can get for any of my stuff, if someone wants to pay me. And the book has brought in some very nice checks. It was a big deal, to get published by Tyndale. I’ll never downplay that. And I will always be grateful to the people who made it happen. I hope the book will keep right on bringing in many more checks for a long time.

But that’s not why I write. It never was a reason. I write because I want to tell my story, and the story of my people. Right from where I am, wherever that is. And I throw my stuff out on this blog for free. That’s just how it’s worked best for me, so far. If you want to read it, great. If you don’t want to read it, thanks anyway, for stopping by when you did.

Once in a while, though, the writing brings in some real returns. Like a blood connection I never knew before. Like meeting the sons of Uncle Albert and Aunt Mary, after we had lived all our lives as strangers. That’s a pretty powerful thing. Family is family, and blood is blood. And in the end, I think, that’s what real writing is all about.

Share

(25 Comments) »

  1. Interesting story of this family. I think people of pioneer stock tend to have a wild streak within them. We have a need to keep reaching. Liked the “zurich und nunna” repeat. It gave the piece nice rhythm and cohesion. Totally fun to read.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — June 6, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

  2. I always like to read your blogs. I never know what you will tell us next.

    Comment by J. Wood — June 6, 2014 @ 11:38 pm

  3. Thanks Ira. Amazing story… So sorry I missed them. They are my cousins as well.

    Comment by Reuben — June 7, 2014 @ 7:12 am

  4. The story, terrific, as always. The ending is the beginning, middle and core of it all…family is family and blood is blood. We spend a lot of our lives trying to escape or make sense of family and blood ties, but to be able to connect with kindred spirits puts heaven a lot closer in a very real way. Thanks for the heart felt writing, as always!!!

    Comment by Pam — June 7, 2014 @ 9:37 am

  5. Wonderful experience for you. I love to meet my cousins,first and second etc, and see the things we have in common. Faimly reunions are great too any time. It all works together.

    Comment by Linda Ault — June 7, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  6. Ira, today is my 66th birthday and reading and rereading “Sons of Albert Stoll” resulted in a totally unexpected and memorable birthday present! Only a gifted writer could accurately describe our family and the break-a-way Amish communities in Arkansas and Belize without experencing them first hand. Really masterful work. Thank you so much for meeting with us and for writing such an incisive and respectful article about Mom and Dad.

    Comment by Garner (Elmer) Stoll — June 7, 2014 @ 11:34 am

  7. My family left the Amish more than a generation ago, but I still feel they are family. Your blog connects me to people whose names I also have heard of often, probably not these Stolls, or Hochstetlers, or Millers, or Yoders, but the names remain the same so the connection does also. And the stories are passed on again. Thank you for sharing those ties with all your scattered relations, no matter how distant we are.

    Comment by Sherida Yoder — June 7, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

  8. I am the youngest of the siblings and I really enjoyed the blog about our family. I can attest to the truth of the saying “The apple does not fall far from the tree”. My husband Luis always calls me a skeptic and tells me that I question everything. I believe there lots of advantages of not just taking everything at face value. I also know all about the 3 little boys. They were always doing things like camping, sleeping in tree houses, exploring caves, bird watching, canoeing on the Buffalo River, and on and on. Much to my dismay I was not able to join them beings I am a girl. Thank you for taking the time to write about our family…

    Comment by Emma Stoll — June 7, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

  9. This post stirred up some surprising connections for me. Our family lived in Jerome, Michigan with the Stoll family during the winter of 1955 & 1956. I was only 3 years old. I only vaguely remember visiting the family later, in Arkansas. We were there only after dark, and I remember a whole lot of “children” older than I moving about in that strange place. The most tangible memory I have of their family resides in my china cabinet. It is a tiny porcelain owl perched next to a hollow stump, which serves as a toothpick holder. I always remembered it as a gift from ” ‘s Shtulla Emmy.” My father was an Old Order Amish preacher at that time, and I’ve been told that he moved to Michigan with his family in an effort to help out a struggling Amish church. Preserving it proved futile, apparently.

    Comment by Miriam Iwashige — June 7, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

  10. On that train to Arkansas in 1961, you really did yell, maybe you were “Trainsick.”

    Alberts had an actual cave there in the hills of their farm. The “three little boys” let us go into the cave, after giving us dire warning of what would happen to us if we so much as touch one of those icicle stoney things that are inside the caves. (I rose nicely to the occasion packed off home a nice little one, size of my thumb).

    I think the last time I heard or saw any of them was in 1972, during the US Presidential campaign, Elmer was visiting in Aylmer, and I heard him proclaim. “Yep, we”re gonna win.” I assume he was referring to Candidate George McGovern and his band of hippies…..

    Comment by Jesse — June 7, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

  11. Beautiful post on “family.” I had that kind of experience recently, when I met up with first cousins I hadn’t seen in 23 years. It was like we had just seen each other yesterday. We just picked up where we left off. That’s how it is with family. I am happy you got to meet with your first cousins and that you all felt the kinship. No matter what, family is special. Have a good weekend, Ira.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — June 7, 2014 @ 7:57 pm

  12. I loved reading the Stoll blog. At our age, it is high time we learn to appreciate and know our blood relatives. I remember our trip to Arkansas in 1961, and what impressed me was what fun we children had. While the grown ups were busy arguing about sleeping preachers, etc., their big children played with us. One afternoon, we all went over to the Wickeys, and their big children played with us, too. Hide and seek, Frozen tag..good old fashioned games. Either they did not often get company, or then they had nothing pressing going on. Arkansas has held a huge fascination for me ever since.

    Several years ago, we were passing through that area and I wanted to stop and again behold that wonderful place. Sad to say, now it was a hilly barren place. Nothing of that childhood fascination was left….so thanks to the 3 little boys who made our trip there so fun. It’s like you said in the end, it’s family that counts..

    Comment by Rachel — June 7, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

  13. Ira, I actually met your uncle Albert and a son or two while visiting my brother in Belize once. As I recall he reminded me of the Quaker Oats dude, except with the big beard. It really was a remote area. Had no idea of the “Sleeping Preacher” connection. I did some research on that phenomenon a couple of years ago. Very good blog post and interesting read.

    Comment by Leon — June 7, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

  14. Ira and the Stoll cousins, I’d like to share this rather interesting and unique experience with you, which happened some twenty-five years ago. Hopefully this may be of interest to you. I live in Belize, some 15 miles from the remote village you wrote about. I don’t know a thing about the life of Albert or his family, except for this unusual, very brief visit to his house one day. Nor do I remember seeing his wife or anybody else around. To this day I consider this to be one of my most unusual and yet beautiful experiences, helping a hand laborer find his way to his former employer, and witnessing a guilty, repenting sinner finding the grace to confess. He had a troubled past and there seemingly was a specific issue, a particular wrong-doing he really wanted to go and make right with Albert.

    When I realized the situation in which the native Belizean found himself, I offered the man a ride all the way to your uncle/father’s place, whenever he was ready. I got out my 175 YAMAHA dirt bike and off we went to the exact place you mentioned in your blog, Barton’s Creek. This man was somewhere in his 30’s or early 40’s at the time I took him there. He had actually been involved at some point in time with cattle hustling from your uncle/father. Now, after all these years he had enough courage to go and clear the records with the man of whose cows he had stolen. We arrived there and after a short introduction and greeting, and yes, both knew each other well, the man disclosed his reason for making this trip that day.

    All I can say as a silent observer, there were many tears, there was repentance and sincere confession, during that difficult moment between a former cattle hustler and an aged, weather-beaten farmer. Albert sat there, deeply touched by this man revealing and confessing his past wrong doing. He readily accepted the confession and forgave him. And if I’m not mistaken, the offender offered to pay for the stolen animals but it was not needed. The man had found the day he had so much longed for. After all was said and done we left their yard and headed back home. The person riding with me, for all I know, achieved his desired goal and felt so relieved. Quite a memorable trip. This blog triggered in me the notion to write this little story.

    Comment by Peter R Reimer — June 7, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

  15. Lovely.

    Comment by pizzalady — June 8, 2014 @ 1:09 am

  16. What a complex and layered world we all live in, even the “Plain People.” We (the English) see a horse and buggy and think “simple, peaceful life.” Sleeping preachers, the polite refusal of the gift of flashlights—what next? Please keep writing, Ira. You have many more tales to tell.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — June 8, 2014 @ 10:07 am

  17. It is really great to hear from more Wagler cousins and to read Peter Reimer’s story about meeting Dad and the confessions of the cattle hustler. It all sounds authentic.

    Jesse, thanks for reminding us, that at a very young age, we possessed the common decency not to disfigure our neighbor’s cave.

    Also, I guess it’s never too late to spike the ball on the 1972 election results.

    Comment by Garner (Elmer) Stoll — June 8, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

  18. I wonder what Uncle Albert was so feverishly running from. You’re right about the geographical cure business; doesn’t work. And you can pretty much tell when a person is running TO something. Oh, the angst in a heart that refuses to be stilled. Maybe refuses is an unfair word. Maybe there is no choice. Maybe the gluttonous beast just won’t let up and one finds himself in a desolate land; a stranger amongst stranger.

    So, you were a little orator too. Well, well.

    This whole experience you’ve had with your long lost cousins is really awesome. You are so blessed to have such a large family. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen in my pint sized blood line. I know all seven of my cousins. Seven! Cheese Whiz! It’s embarrassing. And my one niece. I shudder with shame.

    I think it’s official-you are now the honorary Wagler Family Historian.

    Comment by Francine — June 9, 2014 @ 2:10 am

  19. Love reading your blog. I am a great-granddaughter of Victor Stoll. I have heard some of the stories which are referenced in your blog from my mother and aunts. Your account seems very similar to some of the things I had heard. One story we have heard is that Albert and my grandmother, Sarah Ann had a pact between them, that they would name their first-born child after each other. And my grandmother named her first son Albert, and Great Uncle Albert named his first daughter Sarah Ann.

    Each time you post a new blog, our family (Ben/Sarah Stoll Wagler) passes on the word that you have written and we all log on and read it.

    Comment by Pamela Stoll Brooks — June 9, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

  20. Quite ironic that I am sitting at DFW waiting to board a plane to Belize as I first read this. Later this afternoon, I will be driving through Georgeville, a village on the Western Highway, 8 miles from Barton Creek, on my way to Cayo (San Ignacio). I’m not certain if the community you speak of is Upper Barton Creek or Lower Barton Creek. These 2 communities are Old Order Mennonites. The Upper Barton Creek community is a sister community of the Rich Hill, Missouri community (and Holland, Kentucky, I believe), and many of them moved even further “out” to the new Bird Walk community near Saint Margaret. They were trying to get away from the tourist influx that has begun to frequent Barton Creek Cave and the Barton Creek Outpost.

    I don’t know a lot of them, but David and Ada Shirk (who are now in Bird Walk) are wonderful people (as are their nephew Enos Glick, and his wife Edith of the Rich Hill, Missouri community). Of course I disagree with their view that all my problems would be solved if I converted to their understandings, but they have been wonderful friends. We certainly agree that we love the Lord Jesus, and seek to walk in love and obedience to him.

    Keep writing, brother.

    Comment by Jon — June 11, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

  21. Interesting piece. I read this aloud for my Mom and she added many details. I lived in Belize for two years and visited Barton’s Creek several times during that period. I found the graves of the Stolls on the overgrown hilltop behind the meeting house.

    My Dad asked me to post his observations about this blog:

    “A few years ago when our son Daniel was teaching school in Belize we visited “Zurick und Nunna” where Alberts lived their final days. After eight miles of the roughest road you ever saw in your life, we came past the cemetery where Albert and Mary and their daughter Sara are buried. Going on another mile or so, we forded a river with the mission van and came to the home of one of Albert’s granddaughters who is married to a converted Mayan Indian. They and their ten children showed us the world’s best hospitality and treated us to a delicious noon meal. They would have visited with us all day long.

    Sometimes when my plate is piled full of stress, I think of those people “Zurick und Nunna”— No phone bills, no electric bills, No Wal-Mart or traffic jams. Surrounded by lush green trees and gardens and lawns. All the food they want at their fingertips, raised outside their house. Their only power source a water wheel harnessed to the creek flowing merrily by their front door. Sitting on the front porch listening to the gentle pattering of rain on the tin roof. I wistfully long for their idyllic life at least a little bit.” -Alvin Yutzy

    Comment by Daniel Yutzy — June 13, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

  22. I liked it. Growing up Old Order was all I knew, the imprint was painful and disturbing to me in some ways, for I felt that I did not fit in or belong for some reason and that really bothered me. My mother, the youngest of eight, was the only one who stayed in the culture. And so there I was, playing with my cousins, a part of me envying them and some of the freedoms they had. The imprint led to the decision to join the church, the bishop grandpa babtized me, I still did not fit. The years of living, the fast cars, the English girlfriends, Zurick and Nunna couldn’t be found anywhere. And so it went, out there knocking around, doing it the hard way, for sometimes that is the only way for me to learn. It’s all worked out, the way it was supposed to, couldn’t see it at the time and I don’t want to do it over like that again for I don’t have it in me any more. The reason I didn’t fit in was revealed and there is peace in that for me. I see Zurick and Nunna at times, even tho I don’t like them much, they have a place in my life…and I am grateful. Thanks IRA, another well written peice..

    Comment by Lenny G — June 20, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

  23. I just read this blog today and immediately got lost in another world of long ago. You are a very talented writer. You have the gift to bring out truths, emotions, and feelings, (that many of us feel but cannot express) in such clarity and accuracy! Thanks!

    Comment by Mary English — July 1, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

  24. HI THERE IRA,

    YOU CANT GUESS WHAT LADY READ THIS ALL THE WAY IN BOLIVIA SOUTH AMERICA. YOU WAS IN MY GRADE THE FIRST TIME I ATTENDED SCHOOL IN MY LIFE IN ALYMER, ONTARIO CANADA. I AM IN LA PAZ,BOLIVIA AND WAS VERY MUCH IN A HURRY AS I CHECKED SOMETHING ON FACEBOOK AND I REALLY WAS SURPRISED TO FIND YOUR BLOG. IT WAS LIKE TIME TOTALLY STOPPED, AND I DIDNT CARE EITHER. I HAD TEARS WHEN I FINISHED READING YOUR BLOG. AS AT FIRST YOU WERE ONE OF MY FIRST GRADE PLAY MATES WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN AGAIN. AND THEN FROM ARKANSAS ON I WAS INVOLVED IN THE STORIES OF ALBERT AND MARY STOLL’S COMMUNITIES AND COULD WRITE A BOOK ABOUT WHAT I REMEMBER, MY PARENTS BEING JOE AND MARY ELLEN MILLER.

    ONE THING I GREATLY APPRECIATED IS THAT YOU DID NOT OVERLY CRITICIZE THEIR SO CALLED STRANGE WAY OF BELIEF, BUT TRIED TO SEE THEIR GOOD POINTS. ANY INTELLIGENT PERSON CAN PLAINLY SEE THERE IS SOMETHING VERY WRONG IN THE WHOLE WORLD TODAY AND I AM SURE THEY SEEN IT BEFORE WE WERE BORN, AND WERE SEARCHING THE SOLUTION IN THE BEST WAY THEY COULD WHILE MOST OF US TRY TO BLOCK IT OUT OF OUR MIND AND GET ALL WE CAN OUT OF THE DAZZLINGLY ATTRACTIVE WORLD OF TECHNOLOGY, ALMOST A MIRACLE IT “SEEMS”. AND I BELIEVE IS A PART OF THE BEAST THAT IT SAYS IN REVELATIONS THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER, THO I DON’T CLAIM TO HAVE THE SOLUTION OR BE FREE FROM THE JAWS OF THIS POWERFUL BEAST. THE ONLY SOLUTION IS IF GOD BREATHES THE HOLY SPIRIT IN OUR FRAIL MORTAL FRAME AND ENLIGHTENS US SOMEHOW, HOW TO LIVE IN IT WITHOUT BEING CAUGHT UP IN A WRONG WAY.

    I AM ALMOST 55 YEARS OLD NOW AND REMEMBER MY TIME IN YOUR UNCLE ALBERT’S COMMUNITY AS SOME OF THE SWEETEST YEARS OF MY CHILDHOOD AS THO THEY WERE YESTERDAY. I WAS 10 TO 12 YEARS OLD AT THAT TIME AND LOVED VISITING YOUR AUNT MARY VERY MUCH, AND THAT SHE ALWAYS GAVE US THE BEST COOKIES I EVER ATE IN MY LIFE OR SO IT SEEMED. I REMEMBER HER SHOWING ME SOME HORRIBLE SORES SHE HAD AND HOW THEY HURT HER, BUT I REMEMBER HER AS A VERY GODLY PERSON AND HUMBLE.

    I DON’T REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT EMMA AND YOUR COUSINS EXCEPT KNOWING THEM THAT’S ALL. I DON’T REMEMBER THEM SHOWING THE AFFECTION TO US AS CHILDREN THAT ALBERT AND MARY DID, AND I REMEMBER THAT THEY GAVE ME THE IMPRESSION AS BEING UNHAPPY AND IN A WORLD VERY DIFFERENT THEN THEIR PARENTS.

    WE ALL TRAVELED BY TRAIN AS A COMMUNITY FROM ST. JOE ARK TO BELIZE, THAT WAS THE FUNNEST TRIP I EVER REMEMBER AS A CHILD. I FEEL VERY PRIVILEGED TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF THAT MOVEMENT AND I FEEL LIKE IT HELPED FORM MY LIFE FOR GOOD THE REST OF MY LIFE, AND I FEEL THAT THEY ALL LOVED EACH OTHER AT THE TIME AND SHARED EACH OTHERS BURDENS AS BEST AS THEY COULD. I REMEMBER TAKING IT VERY HARD WHEN AS A CHILD I FOUND OUT THERE WAS THE FIRST DIVISION.

    AS A TEENAGER,I WAS AS SNUG IN THE BELIEFS MY FATHER BROUGHT ME UP IN AS YOUR COUSINS WERE DISCONTENT AND MY FATHER HAD LEFT THE AMISH TOO NOT TO BE MORE MODERN AS MOST DO BUT TO BE MORE CONSERVATIVE AS YOUR UNCLE ALBERT. MY FATHER DIED 24 YEARS AGO, BUT I STILL LOVE AND BELIEVE IN THE BIBLICAL POINTS HE TAUGHT AND GREATLY APPRECIATE the simple way of life him and YOUR UNCLE Albert taught. I AM CONVINCED BEYOND THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT IT IS THE BEST WAY WHEN YOU DO SO OUT OF FAITH, THO I WAS NEVER A MEMBER OF THE AMISH IN MY LIFE, MY HUSBAND JOE AND I BOTH LIVE PLAINER THEN MOST AMISH. I DO USE PUBLIC INTERNET BUT SOMETIMES I WONDER ABOUT THAT. AND WE ENJOY LIVING IN A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY BECAUSE IT IS EASIER TO BE THAT WAY BECAUSE EVERYBODY HAS A TENDENCY TO BE POORER AS A WAY OF LIFE. IT’S BEEN 22 YEARS SINCE WE LIVE HERE. MOST OF OUR CHILDREN SHARE OUR CONVICTIONS ON THIS.

    I JUST SEEN YOUR MOM AND DAD 5 YEARS AGO FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 40 YEARS WHILE I WAS VISITING THE STATES IN SARASOTA FLORIDA AND READING YOUR BLOG I FOUND OUT YOUR MOM DIED. I HAD A VERY NICE VISIT WITH THEM.

    my postal address is Correo 1409,Correo Central,La Paz,Bolivia s.a MY EMAIL ADDRESS OF YET IS sarahbeiler@yahoo.com

    Do you still remember me? I remember warming my hands many a time at your house on the way to school and enjoyed looking at all the beautiful things I seen in the bookstore your family owned at that time, again thanks for taking me back to a very neat and interesting time of my own life. I feel refreshed. Sarah Beiler in the jungles of Ixiamas, BOLIVIA

    Comment by Sarah Beiler — July 3, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

  25. As you likely know, the Swartzentruber Amish refrain from using trucks with some exceptions. So when Tennessee became the destination for those Who eschewed bundling, one Rudy Wickey from Wayne County, Ohio chose to move to Tennessee by horse and wagon. Little did he take into account that the news media would follow the story day by day. I was still in school and an avid reader. Dad had subscribed to The Wooster Daily Record, and every day his progress was printed along with photos. My uncle Noah had already moved his family using a truck.

    When you mention the people who moved to Arkansas, it is not surprising that the people who went to Arkansas included Rudy Wickey. In fact, my uncle Noah moved there as well. And then on to Paraguay, South America, where they lost pretty well everything. Yes, Amish life often weaves a very crooked trail.

    Comment by Eli Stutzman — September 26, 2017 @ 10:43 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags):
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .

*