November 13, 2015

A Time To Live…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


We shall not come back again, we never shall
come back again. It was October, but we never
shall come back again…

—Thomas Wolfe

It gets a little wearying, to tell the hard things, sometimes. And there’s been some hard stuff going on, lately, in certain branches of my family. I can only look on in shock and disbelief, seems like. And I guess there’s really nothing left to do, except just tell the story as I saw it happen.

It was a joyful day, that Friday a few weeks back. October 30th. A day long looked forward to, by my sister Rhoda and her family, out in Kansas. It was a special time, because Marvin and Rhoda’s oldest daughter, Sara, was getting married that afternoon. A wedding. With all the fixings and fuss and finery a wedding has. It’s a Beachy Amish church that Marvin and Rhoda attend, out there in Hutchinson. A car church. The service was scheduled for early afternoon, at 1:00 o’clock.

And of course, all the extended family was invited. I told Rhoda, though, a few months back. You can’t make it to every wedding. So I probably won’t be there. I have fifty-nine nieces and nephews. A lot of them are married, and a lot of them still aren’t. So it’s all a bit random for me. I make it when I can. And I don’t, when I can’t. And it’s never anything personal at anyone. I just can’t get to every wedding.

The extended family sure showed up, though. I chatted with my brother Steve a few days before. “Oh, yes,” he said, when I asked. “Wilma and I are flying out on Thursday. And we’re leaving for home on Saturday, the day after the wedding. We won’t be hanging around too long after it’s over. But we’re going. Don’t you think you should come, too?” And I told him what I keep saying to anyone who will listen. You can’t make it to every wedding. Or every funeral, either, when you think about it.

And they traveled from all over, and converged on Marvin and Rhoda’s home. The Waglers and the Yutzys, the brothers and sisters, the uncles and aunts. And a whole horde of cousins, too. This was a big deal. Sara, Marvin’s oldest daughter, was getting married. As had been the case with her mother years before, the hounds have bayed in hot pursuit of my niece for years and years. Undeterred, she fended them all off and traveled on her merry way. And I don’t know, it was around a year ago, I think, when she and Reuben Miller started dating. You could see it was different, this time, for Sara, when you saw the pictures on Facebook. You could tell by the excitement shining from her eyes and by the huge smile on her face. This time, it was going all the way. And so it was, that Friday, as family and friends gathered around from all over.

There’s usually some kind of gathering the night before the wedding, that’s how it’s been from the ones I’ve attended. Everyone just kind of gathers around and sits and visits. And vast tables of delicious food are laid out. It’s time to feast, it’s time to celebrate, it’s time to walk around and meet all kinds of people, and talk. It’s always a good time, a fulfilling time. And after a long evening, everyone kind of ambles off, real late, to their lodging places. Tomorrow would be the big day. The Freundschaft had gathered from many different places, to honor the happy couple. It’s a big thing, all of it is. It’s a wedding, and it’s a party.

There’s one place where the family didn’t come from, though, to help celebrate. And that place is Bloomfield, Iowa. My old home stomping grounds, from years ago. Bloomfield is a little different from a lot of Amish settlements. It’s a very progressive place, in some ways. If you leave the Amish and move away, and make no trouble for anyone, the Bloomfielders will not excommunicate you. They’ll leave you alone, to go your own way. There are a whole lot of people here in Lancaster County who could only dream of leaving from an enlightened place like that.

But Bloomfield is extremely regressive in some ways, too. Extremely hard-core. I’ve grumbled about this particular thing before. And here’s why.

If you leave the Bloomfield Amish, like Marvin and Rhoda did fourteen years ago, if you leave and join a car church, well, there are repercussions. And one of the cruelest is this. The people from Bloomfield are forbidden to attend any weddings of the children of the people who left. Or even visit much. It just is what it is. And it all seems so senseless. I mean, it’s a joyful day for someone in the family, and you are not allowed to go and participate. You’re not allowed to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. I’m not saying a lot of Bloomfielders wouldn’t go, if they could. They would, heaven knows. They’re simply not allowed to.

And, oh, yeah, they may attend all the funerals. Any person dies, anywhere, they may go. They’d be allowed to attend my funeral, even. But I’ve always said. What good does that do for anyone whose life has fled? What good does it do, to pay your last respects, when you didn’t respect that person enough while he was alive to visit him? None of any of that policy makes a whole lot of sense to me. But it doesn’t have to, I guess. Any church is free to make its own rules, and stick by them. And I am free, too, to criticize those rules. OK. I’ll bite my tongue, now.

And so it was that Friday morning, as the sun rose, and the wedding guests stirred to meet the day. No Amish from Bloomfield would be there. That included Titus and Ruth, and their boys. And Norman and Ida, Marvin’s parents. And a couple of other sisters and their families. But there were plenty of other people there, at the wedding, to make up for those who should have been there, but weren’t. And that morning, I felt a little tinge of guilt. Maybe I should have gone. Ah, well, too late now. I texted Rhoda. Blessings to all today. Sorry I couldn’t make it. And as busy as she had to be that morning, looking after everything, she texted back, right soon. “Thank you for your prayers….we will miss you.”

And here is where the telling of it all gets a little tricky. And I go back and relive that morning, from the sidelines where I stood and watched in horror as events unfolded around the wedding people and their guests, and around the Bloomfield people, too. Events that will be seared forever in their minds.

Midmorning. Around 10:00 AM. A few hundred miles to the north and east of where the wedding guests had gathered, a few hundred mile away, in Bloomfield, Iowa, the sun was shining, too. A beautiful day. And a busy Friday for everyone. And Norman Yutzy, Marvin’s father, hitched his faithful horse to a two-wheeled cart. He was heading over to help out at the Produce Auction, about a mile north on Drakesville Road. He stopped in to chat a few minutes with Titus, at his truss shop across the road. And then he slapped the reins. The horse and cart lurched off. Down the gravel road, then left onto the pavement. A familiar road, a road that Norman Yutzy had traveled thousands and thousands of times before.

Back in Kansas, things were all astir. There was much bustling about. There was so much to get ready for. The service would be at 1:00 PM. And Rhoda and my other sisters and sisters-in-law were all busy with last minute preparations. Sara beamed and beamed, and disappeared with her bridesmaids to get ready. This was her day, her time. The day she and Reuben had looked forward to for so long. Now it was here, and now it was unfolding. Her wedding day.

Back in Bloomfield, Norman Yutzy may have been humming to himself on that beautiful, cloudless morning, as his horse and cart rolled along right merrily. And as he approached the left turn into the Produce Auction, a large tractor trailer approached from the south, from behind Norman. When the rig’s driver saw the cart in front of him, he slowed way down, below the speed limit. The cart was off to the right shoulder, so the driver began slowly edging his way around, to pass. And that’s when it happened.

No one knows why. No one knows if Norman never saw the approaching tractor trailer, and just turned his horse left, across the road, and onto the drive to the Auction place. All that anyone knows is that the horse did turn left, abruptly, and pulled the cart smack dab in front of the tractor trailer. As slow as the driver was going, there was nothing he could do. Nothing at all. There was a crash. And Norman Yutzy was killed instantly, at that spot, on that road, in that moment.

I heard the news around noon. And you think about that, you think about the tragedy of it all, and it just takes your breath away. Over on this side, you have the wedding, and all the expectant and excited guests. The deliriously happy bride and groom. And all of it laid out, and waiting to happen, in just a few hours. The wedding. The reception. The feasting and rejoicing. The blessing of a new family. The honeymoon.

And over on the other side, cold hard unfathomable death. The grandfather of the bride, the father of my best friend Marvin, instantly and violently killed. All on the same day, within a few hours of each other.

And I thought to myself. Sometimes life throws a curve at you that is almost impossible to take, almost impossible to absorb. This is such a thing, and this is such a day.

But then I thought. Yes. This is such a day and this is such a thing. But you walk forward through it, because there is no other choice. You can and you will and you do.

And what to do? What to do? That’s what the Bloomfield people asked themselves. Titus and the other children. They knew Sara’s wedding was scheduled to happen in a mere few hours. Should they try to keep the news from Marvins, at least until the wedding was over? And I can’t blame them for considering that option. They were all in shock, and it’s hard to keep a clear head sometimes. And I’m not sure quite how it all came down, but somehow they called my sister, Rachel, and told her. Her instant reaction. “We have to tell Marvin and Rhoda. They must know.”

And somehow, Rachel found the strength inside to go and tell my sister and her husband that Norman was gone. And after the initial shock, the thought came to all of them. Would it be possible to keep the news from Sara, at least until after the wedding was over? But they caught themselves. These were extraordinary circumstances. Sara had the right to know. And Marvin and Rhoda called all their children, all their family, off to a private room on the side. And there they spoke the news. Their grandfather, Marvin’s Dad, had been killed a few hours before. Everyone recoiled in shock. And so much of it was swept away like dust, the joy and eager anticipation of that day.

There is some strong, strong blood, buried back there somewhere in the lineage of both the Waglers and the Yutzys. And that blood flows strong today. It showed that day, from the way Marvin and Rhoda and all their family reacted. Marvin spoke gently to his daughter, there in that room. “Let’s focus on the wedding. You don’t have to decide now, about what you want to do later. If you want to go on your honeymoon, that’s completely alright. You don’t have to decide that now. Let’s be joyful, here on your wedding day.”

And Sara did not flinch, and she did not hesitate. She looked right at her father. And she told him. “We will be attending the funeral. The honeymoon can wait. We will be with our family.” And he nodded, relieved. At least the pressure of all that was gone, now. They walked out, then, to join all the guests, as a family. And right on time, the wedding service proceeded.

Sara and Reuben

And I texted Steve, that afternoon. Call me when you can. He called later that evening, and I asked how everything had gone. “It went real well,” he said. “The preacher made a short announcement, right at the beginning, about what had happened. And then they went right on and had the wedding, just like normal.” I’m happy to hear that, I said. “Well, Marvin was going to have a part, a reading of some kind,” Steve told me. “He just got someone else to do it for him. And otherwise, you wouldn’t really have noticed that much was out of the ordinary. It was a wedding. And it was very nice.”

We chatted, then, about Norman. The funeral would be on Monday morning, Steve told me. And most of the Wagler and Yutzy guests changed their traveling plans to include the funeral. They were all heading on up to Bloomfield tomorrow, Steve said. Well, I want to hear all about it, when you get back, I told him. And we hung up.

And I thought a lot about a lot of things, just as I had since I had heard of Norman’s death earlier that day. Of who he was, and of how well I knew the man, years ago. That afternoon, I had quietly decided not to attend the funeral. There are reasons for that, reasons I won’t hash out here. But I did call Marvin on his cell, on the off chance that he might answer. He didn’t, so I left a short and heartfelt message of love and condolences.

My heart was heavy over the next few days, with my sister and her family. And Sara and Reuben. And Titus and Ruth, too. It all hung heavy on my mind, as I combed back through the decades, and sifted through my memories of who Norman Yutzy was.

I remember the first time I saw him. Back in 1976, when a bunch of us came to Bloomfield to build the dairy barn on the farm Dad had bought out north of West Grove. The Yutzy brothers and their sons had already laid the concrete blocks for the barn’s foundation, when we arrived. And they rattled over every day, in their buggies, to keep the building moving along. Those were the ten days or two weeks where I first got to know my future blood brothers, Marvin and Rudy. Right there, that summer, that August, is when and where we first connected.

The Yutzy men liked to holler and carry on a lot, as they were working. Might as well have a little fun while you’re at it, is how they saw it, I think. And of all his brothers, I remember Norman as the quietest. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make noise. He did. He just wasn’t as loud as his brothers. He had a handsome face, and that large Yutzy/Roman nose. And a straight-wired beard. I can’t remember that I ever was intimidated by the man.

Fast forward, then, a few years. To the time that Marvin and I took to running around together, and leaving home and all that. There were a few years, there, that Norman had plenty of reasons to tell me off, to not be kind to me. I mean, it’s always a classic thing, when parents blame someone else’s son for influencing their own son in a bad way. But in all the years that Marvin and I ran around together, in all the years that we got in trouble together, in all the years that we left home and traveled to distant lands, in all those years, I gotta say one thing.

Norman Yutzy never, never took it out on me. And he never blamed me publicly, for influencing his son. He never tried to straighten me out. I have always deeply respected him for that. When I came around, he was always, always kind. Sure, he may have had some personal thoughts about different matters, but he never let on. And right up to real recent times, when I met him at Titus’s truss shop, where he used to work part time, I can say the same thing. He would come up, shake my hand, and just visit a bit. There was no hint of any kind of resentment in his demeanor. None at all. Ever.

The funeral home people weren’t sure that the body could be viewed. But the family insisted. It’s pretty important, to the Amish, that there is a viewing. So they arranged the viewing, and by all accounts, he was recognizable, there in the coffin. It was all set up in my brother Titus’s big new truss plant. Plenty of room there, for the viewing and for the funeral.

And Bloomfield came together, like only an Amish community can. Everything gets taken care of. The bereaved family has no worries about anything. The grave is dug by hand, by others. Vast amounts of food are prepared and served by others. And that Sunday afternoon and evening, hundreds and hundreds of people, both Amish and English, came to pay their respects to Norman Yutzy. He was seventy-seven years old.

And the next morning, on Monday, more than eleven hundred people showed up for the funeral. The big new truss plant was filled to overflowing, and a second service was set up in Titus’s little shop up by the house. The Yutzys came from all over. Every single one of Norman’s deceased brother David Yutzy’s children attended. And most of Ellen’s family attended, too. Norman was her father Adin’s younger brother. We communicated some. I sent her my sympathies. She was going, she texted back. And she knew I would be welcome, too. I thanked her and declined.

After the traditional Amish funeral preaching, the family gathered, one family at a time, around the coffin. And they wept bitter tears of grief and loss for their father, their grandfather, the patriarch of their clan. Then all eleven hundred people walked slowly past, single file. And then the lid was closed, and Norman’s coffin was trundled a few hundred yards down the road to the east, to the little graveyard just east of the schoolhouse that all sits on land that was once part of his farm. The grave had been dug, and the coffin was lowered respectfully. The pallbearers took up their shovels, and soon the earth was piled high on Norman’s new house.

And then it was back to the truss plant, where the Bloomfield Amish fed more than a thousand people. And almost immediately after that, the Freundschaft started drifting away, to distant airports for the long flights home. The clans had gathered one more time to lay one of their own to rest. None of it was planned. It all just happened as it happened.

And I think, too, of what the aftermath will be for Norman’s family. For Marvin and Rhoda, and for all Norman’s children and grandchildren. After the shock, then the rush and fuss of the funeral, after meeting and greeting kin from all over, after that, one must go home. To where everything is eerily quiet, all of a sudden. And that right there is when and where it will all close in.

The aftermath, the grappling with the horror of it, the cold sweats, the nights when sleep will not come. The questions, as to why, and all the if-only’s. And the rage at God, that He could ever allow such a tragic thing, especially on the wedding day of a beautiful bride and her groom. None of any of it makes any sense, and it never will.

The thing is, it’s all OK, the grappling, the horror, the questions. And yes, the rage. The Lord is the Lord. And He can take all that we speak from an honest and hurting heart. He can and He will. Not only that, He can heal all the hurts and all the wounds, in time, of course. He can and He will.

This moment is all there is, here on this earth. It’s all anyone has, or ever had. And now is the time to live.

Before heading back to his home in Kansas, Marvin had one more thing he wanted to do. A couple of Amish men, neighbors, had been the first to arrive on the accident scene where Norman was killed. Marvin wanted to meet those men there, right on the spot. And he wanted them to tell him what they saw, he wanted to hear their stories first-hand.

And they met, the day after the funeral, in late afternoon, I think it was. Most of Norman’s children, and the two or three men who were the first on the scene. And the men shared what they had seen with the family. And as they stood there and spoke their stories, they all suddenly looked up into the sky to the north. And saw a strange and wonderful thing.

A giant bird, flying low, really low, just gliding along at about a hundred feet. An eagle, in all its majestic glory. And everyone looked in awe. A rare sight in these parts, indeed. The eagle swept right along the road until it reached the little group of people below. Then it turned abruptly to the right, to the west, and flew off with short thrusts of its powerful wings.

And all eyes below watched as the great bird gradually receded in the distance, then disappeared into the western skies.



  1. Ecclesiastes1 1:4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — November 13, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

  2. Thank you for this narrative, Ira. It was was 6 weeks to the day that my dad, (Norman’s older brother, Adin) died, also on a Friday morning, and was also buried under a clear blue Monday sky. I have no doubt the brothers are having some great conversations.

    Comment by John Yutzy — November 13, 2015 @ 6:56 pm

  3. Wow, you have such a way with words! Thanks for writing this, it answered some questions I had.

    Comment by Laurie — November 13, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

  4. One part you probably did not know about the man driving the semi. He took it very, very hard. Somehow Bishop Melvin found out that he planned to come Sunday evening to the wake. He is a well known local man. So Melvin watched for him and warmly welcomed him as he came. Then Melvin came and got Marvin, the oldest son. And Marvin embraced him as they wept together and others of Norman’s children gathered around him……

    Comment by Rachel — November 13, 2015 @ 8:05 pm

  5. Yet another wonderful blog, thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Jayme Cutting — November 13, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

  6. Lovely tribute. Funerals are times when we realize we forgot and let slip opportunities we had to connect. Look across the room and say to ourselves. We haven’t seen so and so for 15 years. A truly sad experience they are on many levels. We forgot to “live”, hits us right in the face. Thanks to Rachel for sharing also.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — November 13, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

  7. A beautiful, touching story. I think that eagle was a sign that Norman is flying high in Heaven with the angels. I had a similar experience when my mom died. The day after I went out to my mailbox to mail something, and I heard a loud noise over my head. I looked up and there were two of the largest white birds I had ever seen in my life flying overhead. To me that was a sign from God that my mother and father were together again in Heaven. I had never seen those birds before and I have never seen them again. I feel that God gives us signs to comfort us in our losses.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — November 13, 2015 @ 11:57 pm

  8. I am reading this from high atop the North Atlantic today on my way back to New York. Touching… Thanks for sharing this story of life, joys, loss and suffering… May the God who is there and is real console the family in every way.

    Comment by Reuben — November 14, 2015 @ 7:43 am

  9. Ira, thanks for writing a very accurate account of the life and death of my favorite uncle, my Dad’s best friend and my second Dad. A man with a sweet spirit and a compassionate heart, he is greatly missed.

    Comment by Rudy — November 14, 2015 @ 7:54 am

  10. A haunting, honest glimpse of heaven from those decidedly still here on earth. The beauty in tragedy is always there, but finding it is always brutally slow. I’m just now seeing some of the silver linings of my father-in-law-s instant demise (traffic accident) three years ago. God is always good in everything He brings. Excellent reminder of that here.

    Comment by Maria Rockhill — November 14, 2015 @ 8:29 am

  11. Such courage in the young couple. A bit of life well told. Thank you.

    Comment by Kathy Dean — November 14, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

  12. “In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? . . .All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” (from the Book of Common Prayer)

    Comment by forsythia — November 15, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

  13. I’m from KS, a good friend to your sisters. Some thoughts— In spite of some of the decisions the Bloomfield Amish have made that we don’t agree with, it’s clear that their faith enables them to accept grief and difficult times. And their /our culture does a great job of caring for “our own” in those times.

    Comment by Sharon Mast — November 21, 2015 @ 12:19 am

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