February 20, 2015

Pinecraft and Me; My Father’s Return…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:03 pm


And now, because you have known madness and despair, and
because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening,
…we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult,
pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all
that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to
take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.

—Thomas Wolfe

He hadn’t been down the past few years, because Mom was too sick to travel. So he stayed up there in Aylmer through those long and brutal winters, by her side. If she couldn’t go, he wasn’t going anywhere. And then Mom passed, last spring. And we all gathered to mourn and honor her. From that point, it didn’t take my father’s eyes very long to take to gazing wistfully to the south, as fall rolled on by and winter approached. He wanted to go real bad. Oh, yes. Dad wanted very much to get back down to Florida again, to hold court in Pinecraft. And he worked real hard, after his sickness and stroke last summer, to get his strength back. He knew he had to be strong enough, or the trip south wouldn’t happen.

And in early January, he went down to Florida. He was strong enough to make the trip. Or maybe it was just simple old determination. Whatever it was, he got down there. His nephew and my cousin, Simon Wagler and his wife accompanied him and stayed with him for the first month or so. Omar Eicher and his wife came along, too, to stay with Dad and Simons. And then, both families, they traveled back home to Aylmer and north. And there were family conference calls going on, right along through all this. It was decreed. All of us should consider taking a turn to go down and stay a week to take care of Dad. It will work, if everyone takes their turn. Ah, I muttered. I figure I’ll just pass, like I always have before, back when you all were taking turns a few years ago, to go when Mom was there with Dad. I never took my turn, back then. And I figured that’s pretty much the way it would be this time, too.

And then, about a month back, I got a text from my sister, Rhoda, one day. She was going down to be with Dad over the last week of February. This month. Marvin wasn’t planning to go down with her. So she figured me and her could use a little brother/sister time, since it’s been so long since we’ve just hung out together and all. And I looked at her text and chuckled. Pretty smooth, she was. And then I thought. Why not? This is the year you vowed to do things different. To lay it all out on the table. So do a thing you wouldn’t have done before, no matter how small that seems. Go down to Pinecraft, and take your turn, taking care of your father. So I messaged Rhoda back. That seems like a pretty good possibility. I’ll see what I can do. Which meant, yeah, I’ll plan on being there.

And so it has been spoken. And so it shall be done. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I’ll be heading on down south in a rental car I just now picked up. Nope. It isn’t a Charger. It’s a brand new Ford Fusion, and from what I can tell, it drives pretty much like a rocket ship. I’ll be arriving in Pinecraft at Dad’s house sometime Sunday, around mid day, probably. And I will stay until the following Saturday, the last day of the month. And then I’ll head back home. Naomi will be there when I get there. Rhoda will take her place a few days in. So I guess I’ll have brother/sister time with two sisters, not just one. That’s a bonus, right there.

And still. I think about it. I’ve mentioned it before, a few years back. It seems so strange. Maybe a little awkward. Maybe not. But definitely a little strange, how things turn out in the long run sometimes. For most of his life, Dad didn’t believe in going down to Pinecraft for the winter. It was a bad place, where wild Amish youth went to hang out and party, when they should have been quiet and content at home. I can tell you all about all that. And it’s a place where some renegade older Amish people go, too, the ones that don’t know any better, the ones that don’t realize or don’t want to know what a bad example they are to the youth. That was Pinecraft’s reputation, way back. It sure wasn’t the popular winter destination it is today. At least it wasn’t, in any world I was in.

And my father was officially against such a thing, as church policy. As well he should have been, I suppose, since he lived in Bloomfield back then. Bloomfield has lots of very sensible things going on. They allowed mechanical milkers, some years back. (When that happened I told Dad I might have stayed on the farm, if only milkers had been allowed back then. But I was forced to milk all those cows by hand, and it was just too much to take. He laughed that little tale off as a joke, which it was.) And LP gas, too. They’ve allowed that, in Bloomfield, for heat and light, and for their refrigerators. But the one hurdle they can’t seem to cross — it’s against the Ordnung, it’s always been against church rules to do such a sensible thing as go south in wintertime. Especially for the older folks, it’s the most sensible and humane policy you can have. Go to Florida, for a few months over winter. Go, and soak in a slice of warmth and light in the midst of an otherwise dull and dreary and depressing season.

But Dad never lived in a place that allowed it, all his life. Well at least not since he left Daviess all those decades ago. And Dad always fully supported the rules in whatever community he happened to live in, so near as we could ever tell, he actually believed it was wrong to go to Florida in winter. Age grinds things down, though. And after He and Mom moved to May’s Lick, Kentucky, back in 2008, things changed. The May’s Lick rules freely allow for people to go on down to Pinecraft in winter, for as long or short a time as they see fit. And next thing you knew, Dad was heading down there for a few months at a time, right over the colder months. We all cheered him on, of course, and Mom enjoyed a few seasons in Pinecraft, too, with what little awareness she had left at that time. And then she couldn’t make it over the past few winters. She wasn’t well enough. And so Dad didn’t make it, either.

And it just seems so strange, when you look back over that long road Dad traveled, how so much of that road was way more rocky than it would have had to be. Simply because of choices he made. And now, here, calmly, here at the end, this is how things stand. Here he is staying, in Florida. In Pinecraft. And here I am, going down to stay with him for a week. For most of my adult life, anything remotely resembling such a scenario has been all but impossible to imagine.

And I think back through the years. I look back at what Pinecraft was to me, during different times of my life. It was a formative place, in some ways. Very formative. Not that I’ve ever felt any particular loyalty or longing for the place. It just seems like when I wandered through, whether my stay was long or short, well, those were usually very important times in my life. For better or for worse. Those were life-changing times.

I haven’t been there that often. Maybe four times, total, if my memory serves me right. One of those times was in summer, for just a few days. I don’t remember a lot about that trip. But the other three times I was down there, well, yeah, the river of memory flows. The river flows on forever, in my mind.

January, 1981. A tense and troubled time, at home. Marvin and I boarded the bus in Bloomfield. We headed south. Before reaching Florida, we stopped off in South Carolina for a few days. My brother Jesse was getting married to Lynda Stoll. And I wanted to be there, for that. We had not been allowed anywhere close to my sister Magdalena’s wedding to Ray Marner, back a few years before. We lived in Aylmer, then. And no one in my family could go to my sister’s wedding in Pennsylvania. And I always knew it instinctively, at twelve years old. I don’t care what they’re telling you. This is so very, very wrong. But what’re you gonna do, at that age? There’s nothing you can do, in a moment like that. Maybe when it ever happens again, maybe you can go then. So that’s why I wanted to attend Jesse’s wedding so badly. And that’s why I did.

I can’t remember much about that day, sadly, other than I recall that I was sick as a dog. Chest pains. It hurt when I breathed. When Lynda’s family realized how sick I was, they sent me to their local doctor, a kindly old man who poked and prodded me and took my temperature. I had double pneumonia, or some such thing, he proclaimed. And he prescribed some pills. I paid the meager fee, fifteen bucks or so. And I remember that Dad called down, somewhere about then. They had heard I was sick, and he told me on no uncertain terms to go see a doctor, to take care of myself. I said I had. And I was getting better about the time we got to Florida the following week.

We arrived in Pinecraft. A sunny Mecca. Problem was, we were pretty close to broke, which wasn’t that unusual, I guess, for two Amish boys who came from where we came from. That was just life, and we totally accepted it. We had some friends, some contacts, who helped us get lodging in some dumpy little travel trailer back along the creek behind Fred Jack’s house. Three of us jammed into that little travel trailer. We didn’t have much choice. We took what we could afford. And we went to work, on Dennis Bontrager’s mason crew. As laborers. Mud boys. Slinging concrete blocks for the masons. All for the princely sum of six bucks an hour.

We scrabbled and scratched and ate from tin cans in the evenings, fretted because we had run out of cigarettes and there wouldn’t be any money until the first paycheck next Friday. And when that paycheck came, we were kings. We were going to make it, make it on our own. We knew that.

It was a good year, looking back, 1981 was. Sure, I was wandering pretty aimlessly. And I had no clue how things would ever turn out, long term. But we just settled into the routine that summer, Marvin and me. Enjoyed life. Got to know a few people, new friends. And when October came that year, we were ready to head on back to Bloomfield. I left Florida that first time, with a lot of uneasiness roiling inside me. There was no plan, other than to make it work back home in Bloomfield, just like we’d seen a lot of others do before us. How little I knew, how naïve I was. And that first time I left Pinecraft, I figured I would probably never see the place again. Where I was going, you weren’t allowed to come back.

It took only six short years for Pinecraft to beckon once again as a place of refuge for me.

January, 1987. Approaching a year since I had fled Bloomfield in shame, leaving behind a whole lot of twisted wreckage, a whole lot of broken promises and shattered dreams. The summer of the wheat harvest out west. A month or so after I got back to Daviess from those wanderings, I meandered on down to Florida in my Drifter truck. Deep down inside, a quiet, desperate panic stirred. But still, I walked forward. And again, I have a lot of good memories of those few months I spent down there, that winter, and early spring. I remember the faces of my friends, the people I hung out with. My brother Nathan was living right in the center of Pinecraft with his friend, Eli Yutzy. And looking back, that winter was a real bonding time for me and Nathan. We were out there on our own, refugees of sorts. And pretty much outlaws, too. Unaffiliated with any church group, anywhere. There was no vestige of any safety net for us anywhere. Not short of surrendering and returning home. Which, by that time, we wouldn’t do. I look back, and, as Waylon sings in Bob Wills is still the King, “In spite of all the hard times, I’d live it all again.” And I would, too.

And I remember how I felt when I left Pinecraft that spring, for Daviess. I planned to head on up to Canada to help Ben Walters plant his wheat crop. After that, well, it was back to the Amish in northern Indiana. And I remember thinking. You can only look forward, to make it work. Not back. Not back to Pinecraft, not back to any of the time I spent there or anywhere else, or the people I got to know. Forward. Only. And deep down, it was a quiet, desperate thing, leaving Pinecraft in 1987.

And this time I did not return for close to two decades.

February, 2007. The last time I was in Pinecraft. Almost exactly eight years ago. A hugely formative moment. I look back on it, and the dark drumbeats roll in my head. This was when things happened, that finally proclaimed to all the world the fact that my marriage was in shambles, a hopeless wreck. That, and a whole lot more, all of it affecting a whole lot of lives. The Florida Nightmare. Eight years ago, right this moment, I was entering one of the darkest places I have ever seen on this earth. Those were hard days, and those were long days. It seemed that they would never end.

And yet, from the heat of all that unfolded, all that was triggered there in Pinecraft, from the white-hot forge of utter devastation, from that came the genesis of my writing voice. From the vast pressures and from the deepest shame, I wrote. Right here, like I never had before in my life. And I look back over all of it, and none of it is a single thing I would willingly have chosen. So what the heck sense did any of it make? Well, there is a price, I suppose, on every good and noble thing in life, on every dream and vision of the heart. A very steep cost of suffering, sometimes. And when that price is being extracted, you might as well go ahead and make use of whatever the heck it’s paying for.

And now it’s February, 2015. And now I’m heading down to Pinecraft again, for the first time since those brutal days back in 2007. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding the place, or anything like that. It’s just that it never has seemed all that important, for me to get down there again.

And now, at this moment, it is important to go. It’s important to go, and hang out with my Dad. And no, I’m not expecting any great revelations, or anything like that. But I think I won’t quit wrestling, I won’t let go of the angel until I extract at least some small blessing of some kind. That much I think I can say. However small and quiet that blessing is.

I look forward, to just chatting with my Dad. Visiting. There, in a nice warm place, away from this brutal winter cold at home. We have a few things in common, I think. He was known to his generation. I am known to mine. We both got a little something accomplished with our writing. And for a short time, at least, our voices will remain on this earth after we pass on. It’s a beautiful thing, to talk face to face and eye to eye with your father on such a matter as that. At least, that’s how I’ve found it so far.

So this time, in Pinecraft, I look for a nice warm place where I can rest a bit from the weary road, and just relax with my Dad. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m looking forward to the journey.



  1. I live in Pinecraft. Can I visit for a little bit while you are here?

    Comment by Katie Troyer — February 20, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

  2. You have no clue how much your Dad will be sure to enjoy your visit. When Reuben and I visited with him in Jan he kept bringing up Ira an Nate. I get the sense in his own way he’s proud of the fact one of his offspring is writing..

    Enjoy Pinecraft!

    Comment by John Wagler — February 20, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

  3. Great Blog!
    Relax and sing with him.

    Comment by Janice — February 20, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

  4. Great Blog, like Janice said.

    Enjoy your time with your Dad. You will meet lots of interesting people; he seems to have visitors all the time. That’s a good thing.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — February 20, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

  5. I recently returned from Pinecraft,after visiting my parents for a few days. My last visit was 35 years ago and of course,so much has changed since! The people,3 wheel bikes and the sun are still there. I would have enjoyed meeting your Dad if I had known he was there. So enjoy every moment and soak up that glorious sunshine! Pinecraft is indeed a little slice of heaven on earth!

    Comment by Doris Vetter — February 20, 2015 @ 11:09 pm

  6. Hope you have an amazing time!! The next step of the journey sounds like an exciting one. As always, I love the emotions woven into the story…..

    Comment by Smucker — February 21, 2015 @ 2:31 am

  7. Very Lovely

    Comment by pizzalady — February 21, 2015 @ 12:53 pm

  8. Blessings, Ira, on your time in Florida! Loved your writing this week… and it was special to be able to visit with you the other day. I love listening to you and Richard’s discussions! Have a great trip!

    Comment by TinaJewel — February 21, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

  9. One of your best posts ever.

    Comment by Ava — February 21, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

  10. This has to be the best blog of yours that I’ve read! I have to admit I’m prejudiced, living in Sarasota during the winter months and knowing what beautiful weather you’re driving towards. But it’s the combination of the way you wrote about the past and your father, and the way that our Father is bringing you to a new beginning with so many issues, that brings such a joyous feeling to my soul. Sometimes, in facing the past in that spot where so many momentous events took place, God takes ahold of our souls and shakes us alive, to know that He is in control of it all and that He brings us full circle to know that ‘it is good’. God bless you on this journey, Ira. I pray that it unfolds in sunshine and good will. You and your father will make wonderful memories and I am so glad that he is here, and you will be soon!!!!

    Comment by Pam Moore — February 21, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

  11. Went to Pinecraft for a couple of hours last winter. Ate dinner with friends at Yoders. Would like to go again some time and just walk around and “take in the sights and sounds” of that Amish culture.
    You are coming at a good time as the temps are again rising. It has been a cool winter for those of us who have lived here a while. Have a fine time with your Dad and visit the beach.

    Comment by Marilyn Romancky — February 21, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

  12. I have been visiting my father, 2-years this March in a assisted living home, 2-3 or more times a week. As my father, who will be 94. April 7, loses more of his processing abilities mentally, he talks more about his life growing up. It is amazing how much my dad and I are alike. What I know about your life, growing up in a strict home, as I was, going to church and all. You may find that your dad and you had/have some of the same dreams in life, you just happen to act on your dreams. Enjoy your stay with your father, and grasp each moment you have with him.

    Comment by Warren — February 22, 2015 @ 5:13 pm

  13. You will never regret spending this time with your Dad. I will pray for your blessing from your Dad.

    Comment by Chris Lampson — February 23, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

  14. Well, 2015 is certainly starting to be a year of new adventures. I hope and pray that you have a calm, peaceful time in Florida. I think your father is growing some. It must be difficult for that generation to let go of the old shalt nots. They have truly been brainwashed. It is maturing to realize the difference between man-made rules and rules of life that God wants us to live by. Somehow I think the younger generations now are better at that. I feel that your father is proud of you and loves you. I hope only good things happen from your visit and that that small blessing comes your way. Peace and all good to you and your family.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — February 23, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

  15. I haven’t been in Pinecraft since 1996.Have been thinking about it a lot lately.Don’t know why,maybe it’s because I was in and out of the place for 15 years back in the 70s and 80s.A lot of hazy memories, faces,cousins,aunts and uncles who have passed on to the great beyond,good times on the beach,going to school.Met the first wife,we left and got married,then moved back for a couple of years.I don’t know what it’s like now,having been gone for so many years.The father/son thing,communication, any commen ground ,its a wonderful thing,have a great time in the sun…peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — February 24, 2015 @ 6:36 pm

  16. Ira…good post.
    I visited Pinecraft for the first time in about 20 years over Christmas and was struck again of the uniqueness of the place.

    It really is a cultural phenomona that deserves a blog post from you while you are there. Maybe a little combo 1-2 punch from you and your dad if he was up to it.

    As always, great post.

    Comment by Gregory Miller — February 24, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

  17. Ira, good for you. Glad you are going. Enjoy your time there.

    I met up with your dad when I was there the 1st week in February. Bought two books from him.

    Comment by Paul H — February 27, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  18. Ya, I get ya. I too left Iowa for Florida. Winter of ’89, after leaving wreckage I caused. The only difference is that I stayed for 12 years. I can still remember stepping outside the Orlando airport when I arrived. It was at night. But no matter. It was soothingly warm. I could feel the humidity and the scent of Jasmine was in the air. Hummm, nice flashback on a cold morning here. :)

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — March 4, 2015 @ 10:38 am

  19. This was great reading. Sounds like you’re getting a little spring back in your step. I was surprised to see you had written since I didn’t receive my notification this time around. I actually pulled up your blog with the intent of bribing you with a $20 spot to write a story. I’m not kidding.

    I felt bad when I read you weren’t allowed to attend your sister’s wedding. Gosh, that must have really hurt her. I suppose like it did when no one showed up at your graduation. Those events are so important to share with family and friends. Glad you were able to make the next wedding.

    It was, also, interesting that you knew at the tender age of twelve that it wasn’t right to ignore such a special time in your sister’s life. “From the mouths of babes.” I told you you were intuitive. Yes, indeed.

    This really struck me from where I’m at these days: “And I remember thinking. You can only look forward to make it work. Not back.” Eventually, yes, you have to stop meandering into what was. I’m learning this over and over again. Sometimes it just gets so old and so stale…and so hopeless to keep reliving what was. I’ve been journaling a bit these days and I’ve realized I’m writing the same crap I was three years ago, four years ago. You know, the negative messages about myself, about the world, about life. Ugg! Finally, today I said, “What now God? I’m ready to be done with this.” So, we shall see.

    I hope you had fun in Florida. Good for you for doing it different this time. I was jealous. I wanted to have the opportunity to take a road trip to Florida. I’m ready for spring.

    Thanks for writing another triumph. Be well, friend.

    Comment by Francine — March 5, 2015 @ 1:14 am

  20. Ahem. Cough, cough.

    Comment by Francine — March 17, 2015 @ 12:39 am

  21. 3/24/15-HELLO!Did you decide to ‘hibernate’ in FL -looking forward to hearing about your trip and visit-THANKS for sharing!

    Comment by RUTH MAXWELL — March 24, 2015 @ 6:16 pm

  22. …read somewhere, approx this comment “better to have traveled the for awhile the road you shouldn’t have & only to find the road you have traveled down”…appreciate how you share from your lives journey…it’s real, it’s believable, it’s worthy of being heard…

    Comment by p klassen — March 28, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

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