October 6, 2017

Rachel’s Tears…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


…Her face was suddenly contorted by that grotesque and pitiable grimace of
sorrow that women have had in moments of grief since the beginning of time,
and digging her fist into her closed eye quickly with the pathetic gesture of a
child, she lowered her head and wept bitterly.

—Thomas Wolfe

We knew her passing was imminent, and that morning the text was on my phone when I got up. Miriam went to be with Jesus early this morning. And there it was. The final word we knew would come. Miriam Graber, my first cousin. A person I had known all my life. And now she was gone. And I thought to myself. There’s one more senseless blow for the Homer Graber family.

Homer and Rachel Graber were connected to my family in a special way, since way back. Rachel is my father’s younger sister. She and Dad are the two youngest in their family. And back when Dad was dating Mom, Homer Graber came calling at the farm of Joseph K. Wagler. He was attracted to the youngest daughter, there. And Rachel smiled and smiled, and welcomed him. I don’t know what Joseph K. did. He might have looked a little grim when Homer first came around, what with Rachel being so young and all.

They got married in a double wedding ceremony on February 3, 1942. Dad and Mom. And Homer and Rachel. They were young, all of them. But especially the brides. Mom was just shy of nineteen. Rachel was seventeen, almost eighteen. I’ve always heard they pushed up the wedding date, so the men might not have to go to service in camps for WWII. They were needed at home to take care of their wives, and to farm. That was the plan. It halfway worked. Homer was never called up. Dad was. He served as a conscientious objector in camps in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

They settled there in Daviess. Both couples. After his conscientious objector service, Dad bought a small farm just north of town on Montgomery Road. I’m not sure where Homer and Rachel lived. On his home farm, maybe. And life came at them all. Of the two couples, one would soon taste the bitter cup of sorrow and loss.

They had children, Homer and Rachel. A daughter, Leona. Then a son, LeRoy. When the boy was small, maybe two years old, he got sick with diarrhea. They got him to the doctor, then the hospital. But back in those days, the care just wasn’t what it would be now. Weakened by dehydration, LeRoy sank lower and lower. Rachel still talks about it today, how he settled in to sleep. “Good-bye,” he said to his Mom. She was not sure how to take that. He insisted. “Good-bye.” And then he went to sleep. He never woke up. The Grabers buried their firstborn son, there in Daviess. Rachel wept quiet, bitter tears, and grieved. She wasn’t bitter, not in her heart, I mean. She totally accepted the loss. But her tears had to be bitter-tasting. There is no other way they could have been.

A few years after he got back from his service, Dad moved his little family to Piketon, Ohio. A new Amish community had started there. A small group of radicals, the kind of people Dad naturally gravitated to. Piketon never made it big. It didn’t last that long, either. Less than a decade. And soon Dad was moving again. The western Amish are way more footloose than the Blueblood Amish of Lancaster County. Especially today. But even back then, they were. And this time Dad joined a group settling in Canada. Aylmer. And this time, a few families from Daviess joined the Aylmer settlers. Bishop Peter Yoder, and his wife, Martha. Dad’s brother, Abner Wagler, and his wife, Katie. And Homer and Rachel Graber.

I’m not sure of all the dynamics involved, as to who actually wanted to pick up and leave Daviess, and who didn’t. I always figured Homer would have been content there. It was the strong Wagler blood in Rachel that drove them to move. For the sake of peace, and because he loved his wife, Homer went along with it. I don’t know that. I just think it. And I’ve always heard it told. Homer smoked, when he lived in Daviess. In Aylmer, that would not fly. Tobacco use was strictly forbidden. So Homer enjoyed his last cigarette on the truck hauling his family’s belongings from Daviess to Aylmer. He drew that last delicious drag in deep, then threw the butt out the window. And that was it, for Homer and his tobacco. He never touched it again. As one who knows what it is to be addicted to both cigarettes and whiskey, I’ve always found this little tale fascinating. And I’ve always respected Homer for making a hard choice and sticking with it.

In Aylmer, life moved on for Homer and Rachel, and for my parents. More sons and daughters were born to them. My sister Rachel was the first baby born in the Aylmer Amish community. She was named after her aunt. Well, Mom had an older sister, too, named Rachel. So I guess my sister was named after two aunts. A baby girl arrived at the Graber home a year or so after my sister was born. They named her Miriam. And, of course, my older brothers, Stephen and Titus came along, as did Miriam’s younger siblings, too. We grew up together, the Homer Graber children and the David Wagler children. Hung out. Laughed and played and fought and got into all kinds of mischief.

Homer was a hard-working, simple man, not given to viewing much of life in any shade of gray. It was black and white. I think he viewed my father’s writing with some suspicion. How could any man sit in an office and type, right in the middle of the day, when there was work to be done in the fields? Homer muttered to his boys and shook his head. The man was always busy farming, and selling feed and seed from his farm store. Homer had a real drive for business, there was never any question about that.

In the early 1970s, Aylmer was in a bit of a flux. I’m not sure what forces were surging below the surface of things. But people were moving out. Peter Stoll and much of his clan left for Honduras, where Peter had idealistic visions of proselytizing the natives. Bishop Peter Yoder moved to the new fledgling settlement sprouting to life in Marshfield, Missouri. And Homer and Rachel Graber moved to Marshfield, too. My Mom always said, back then. “We’ll go where Pete Yoders go.” But when the good bishop left, Dad stayed put, right there in Aylmer. He would not move, not before he had to. And he never would move to Marshfield.

I have vivid memories of that time. I felt sad that Homer’s sons and my good friends, Reuben and Philip, were leaving the community where we had lived all our lives. The Homer Graber family left for Marshfield in January, right in the middle of a brutal snowstorm. That’s what I remember, anyway. And we soon got used to not having them around. We went to Marshfield now and then, to visit, too. And Philip and I wrote each other sporadically. And life moved on, as life always does.

Somewhere in the early 1980s, the Amish settlement in Marshfield kind of went kaput. It had never grown to more than a single district. I don’t know what the issues were, why it didn’t grow more. Some say this, and some say that. It was church problems, most likely. When a settlement stays dormant, or shrinks, that’s usually the number one reason. Not always, and maybe not there. Still, I recall that Marshfield had plenty of internal turmoil. Much of that turmoil has traditionally been blamed on Sam Beachy, an unorthodox Amish preacher who had settled there.

And at some point, Homer Grabers left, too. I’m sure that was a tough decision, to just uproot and move away like that. After investing all those years in one place. Still. You do what you figure is best. In 1981, they packed up and moved to Rexford, Montana, for a year or two. That was always meant to be temporary, until they could find another suitable settlement. And then, in 1983, Homer and Rachel moved to one of the most unique Amish communities in the country. Kalona, Iowa.

Kalona is, well, it’s just different. It always has been. I’m not sure it’s that way anymore, but when I was young, you could always tell when a married Amish man was from Kalona. He would have his hair parted in the middle, combed out and back from his forehead. And they wore tiny, pointed hats, too, the Kalona men. And the people could farm with tractors, too, I do remember that. Steel-wheeled tractors, but tractors nonetheless. I always was a bit envious of that single fact alone, about Kalona.

Kalona has one of the strangest top buggies ever designed in the Amish world. Absolutely unique. Small, with a boxed tail. And doors that slide up into the roof. I had never seen such a thing, and I gaped when I saw my first Kalona buggy. The Kalona people, too, are quite unique. You can tell where they are from by the bone structure of their faces. And by the way the men comb their hair, of course. They are hard-working people. Set in their ways, but hard working. And one more thing. I don’t know how to say it nice, so I’ll just say it. Kalona has the dubious reputation of being one of the most gossip-infested Amish and Mennonite settlements in the world. Maybe that reputation is earned, and maybe it isn’t. It just is what it is. And I’ll leave it at that.

Into this world, then, Homer and Rachel moved with their remaining single children. The sequence of events gets ever more murky with the passing of the years. I don’t figure it’s that important, anyway. I just know that Homers settled there, close to the west edge of the settlement. Miriam would have been in her upper twenties then. She moved with her parents and family to this new place. I still marvel today that Homer and Rachel moved right into this strange new land and made it work. That took some nerve. There is no other way to look at it.

The next two decades, I suppose, were about as peaceful a time as there ever was in the lives of Homer and Rachel Graber. They settled there, in Kalona. Their children soon paired off, and most of them got married. All except Miriam. She was a beautiful girl. Always smiling. But near as I can remember, she never so much as had a date. She was content at home. And at home she stayed.

And then, in 2001, Homer took sick. And before anyone knew what was going on, he sank and died. Right there, at home. He was 79 years old. Which isn’t that old, when you see how Rachel survived him until today. Still, his time on earth was over, just like that. I remember how the clans gathered for the funeral. Ellen and I were young-married, back then. I can’t remember if she accompanied me or not. I know a bunch of us got motel rooms in nearby Iowa City. And we attended the ceremony as Uncle Homer was laid to rest, there in Kalona. It still seemed like a foreign place to me. But I guess it wasn’t to Homer and his family, and that’s all that matters.

Rachel soldiered on alone, then. Who knows, what she thought? She bore her sorrow in stoic silence. Maybe she pined to leave this earth, this vale of tears, and go and join her beloved Homer. I don’t know that. It would not be, in any case. She would remain, there in her home, for many more years than anyone could have imagined.

Rachel settled in her role as a widow, with gravitas and dignity. All the children were married, soon, with children of their own. All except Miriam. She remained at home, with her mother. Content to live at home. She worked part time, cleaning houses. And the two of them seemed inseparable, Miriam and her Mom, it seemed like. Where you saw one, you saw the other. Miriam was always smiling, always good-natured.

Rachel faced a few more sorrows, along the road. At some point, back in the early 2000s, she came down with cancer of some kind. I’m not sure, it might have been in her stomach. She rejected any kind of chemo treatment. And she went natural. Drank carrot juice and ate only raw vegetables and fruits. And she exercised. Went walking a lot. She strode down the road, determined and vigorous. And she beat the cancer. I don’t know if it was the vegetable diet and exercise, or if her body was simply too old for the cancer to grow in. Whatever the case, she was pronounced cancer free after a few years.

And another sorrow came, a few years ago. Her daughter, Esther, had married Alvin Yoder way back in Marshfield. They had sons and daughters, a large family. And after Marshfield collapsed, Alvin and Esther had moved to Windsor. Missouri. There they lived for many years. But Esther was not well. She had serious heart issues. And she gradually sank lower and lower. A few years ago, she passed away, there in Windsor, and was buried there. The Graber family gathered around their mother to lay one of their own to rest. And before Esther was buried in the ground, a niece, one of Rachel’s granddaughters, got tragically killed in a four-wheeler accident. The family staggered from the continuous blows. And Rachel wept again. First, it was a son. Then her husband. And now, a daughter and a granddaughter, right after each other. It was all a bit much to absorb.

The years slid on by. And one more large sorrow loomed. No one could have known, and no one could have seen it coming. Which is just as well. If we knew what all the future was bringing at us, half the time we would be too paralyzed to move.

Life moved on for the Graber family in Kalona. And then, earlier this year, the shocking news came throbbing out. Miriam was the fourth daughter in the family. Right close to the middle, in the lineup. She was always smiling, always pleasant, and she always saw the glass of life as half full and filling up. Never as half empty and draining down. And now, Miriam had stage four cancer. And again, the Graber family staggered with the blow. The rest of us, the cousins, we simply absorbed the news in silence and disbelief. I mean, you don’t look too closely at such news when it comes. You hear, but you kind of balk at it. And that’s the way it was with us. We heard. Tried to absorb. And we half tried to ignore it, too. Maybe it would all go away.

They took her to a clinic in Chicago, somewhere, for treatment. I don’t know if the clinic people made any kind of promises. Probably not. Maybe they insinuated they could help. One thing I learned long ago. I don’t question anyone’s decision on where they go for cancer treatment. Go to Mexico. Go natural. Go with the latest chemo. It’s your life, it’s your fight, and it’s your choice. I remember years ago, when Ellen worked at Hershey Medical, on the cancer floor. She saw all the latest approved treatments. She administered those treatments. She got attached to her patients, before they all passed on, one after another. And she told me more than once. If she ever gets cancer, she’s going to Mexico for treatment. Or she’ll go natural. She would never, never take chemo. That’s what she told me. I never forgot.

I was kind of out there on the edge of things, this time around. I never went to visit Miriam. I mean, I had known her all my life. There never was a time in my memory that she was not a character in my world. Still. She was older than me. Same age as my older siblings. I don’t know if anyone in my family made it to see her. I know my niece Dorothy stopped by a few times. Dorothy lives there, in the Kalona area, with her husband Lowell and their children. Each time she stopped to see Miriam, she duly reported it on the family site on Facebook. Rachel was taking it pretty hard, Dorothy told us. She walks around and cries and keeps asking why she can’t be the one to go, instead of Miriam.

Miriam had worked hard all her life. She was looking forward to relaxing and getting some traveling done in her later years. It was simply not to be, as the cancer aggressively closed in. She grappled, fought for life. But the vile disease just kept encroaching, encroaching. And early last week, we heard the end was near. She was suffering dreadfully. As she grew weaker and weaker, her family traveled in to say good-bye.

And Miriam Graber passed from this earth on Wednesday morning, September 27th, in the predawn hours. Her suffering was over. So were all the earthly joys and hopes and dreams she had ever harbored in her heart. I heard that day from her brother, Reuben, my boss. The funeral would be on Sunday morning. I chatted with Reuben. He was flying out on his plane. Did he have room for me? He wasn’t sure. He was picking up a couple of his sons in western PA. He’d let me know.

On Thursday morning, he called me. He didn’t really have room for me on his plane. But he had plenty of airline miles saved up. He would get me a ticket. Whatever works, I told him. You certainly don’t have to feel obligated, but I do really appreciate that. And thus it was that early on Friday morning, I was driving Big Blue through the predawn darkness, over the toll road to the Philadelphia Airport.

It’s no secret that I detest airports. I don’t mind flying, necessarily, but I absolutely despise the way they treat you before they let you in. I parked in the long-term lot and boarded the bus take me over to the United Airlines area. I had packed light. A shoulder bag, and a small suitcase on wheels, small enough that I wouldn’t have to check it in. I’d keep everything with me all the time. And I joined the line, there in Philly. That early, it wasn’t bad. And half an hour later, I had been herded through, prodded and patted down with all the rest of the cattle. I seethed as I took my stuff from the conveyer and headed to a nearby bench to put on my shoes. Good Lord. The security apparatus at any airport is the most colossal waste of resources you could imagine. It simply is.

My ticket took me from Philly to O’Hare in Chicago, then a change of planes over to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Just a bit north and west of Kalona. I’ve always been leery of O’Hare, because it’s just such a vast place. Any kind of blip, and your flight gets delayed in and out. Still, my trip from Philly to Chicago went about as smoothly as it could have. And the next leg was smooth, too. Shortly after 3 PM, I walked off the plane in Cedar Rapids.

I’ve taken to wearing a hat, lately, especially when traveling. And for this trip, I unlimbered a nice little fedora I had picked up over a year ago, on sale, of course. A Stetson fedora, made of the softest supple leather. I had never worn it. That day, I did. Back brim up, front brim down. And it looked pretty snazzy, I gotta say. Kind of gangsterish. In Cedar Rapids, I walked out to where I had reserved a car at the Alamo counter. Nope, the Enterprise people didn’t get me, this time. Maybe I was still a little bitter at them for sticking me with that red jelly bean, back in July. So when I booked online, I picked Alamo.

ira fedora

The nice lady smiled at me when I told her my name and reservation number. She seemed taken with my hat. Not that she mentioned it, but something about me impressed her. And I don’t figure it was my face. She punched around on her computer. Treat me right, now, I told her. Oh, yes, she would. And for no particular reason that I could tell, she upgraded me to a brand new Hyundai Santa Fe SUV, with 2000 miles on it. She told me, and smiled brightly. I fell over myself, thanking her. It had to be the hat, I figured. And I took the paperwork and the keys and trundled my bag out the door to the brand new, dark blue vehicle that would be mine for the next two days.

My niece, Dorothy, had told me before I left. She had a bed for me. They had a nice motor home, parked out by the shed. She would get everything ready, and I could sleep in that. Seemed like a real cool plan to me. I got a plane ticket from Reuben’s points, and now a bed to sleep on from Dorothy. This would be one inexpensive trip. And then I got the SUV upgrade. Seemed like the Lord was looking out for me, right along on this trip. That’s what I thought to myself.

Dorothy was gone when I pulled into her place, so I parked over by the motor home and dragged my stuff in. Hung out the shirts I would wear over the next few days, so they wouldn’t be so wrinkled. I had been up since 4 AM, so I was tired. After unpacking, I stretched out on the nice firm bed for a short nap. Around 6:00, I got up and dressed, and headed over to the Graber place. It looked like they had just finished serving supper in the large shop where all the events would come down. I slipped in to the side room, where the coffin was set up.

Miriam lay there, as if asleep. She looked natural and relaxed. All that pain, all that suffering she had endured was wiped clean from her face. She looked calm and at peace. I stood there alone beside her for a few minutes and just absorbed my memories of who she was, and what she had been. And then I turned and walked out to the main room, where the family sat, all lined up. Tonight was Friday night. Mostly the older people would come through. Tomorrow night, the young people would come and most of the relatives from out of state. And the youth would sing, I was told later. I got in line to greet the family.

The line moved slowly, as people took their time, talking to the Graber family. And then I approached. Aunt Rachel was the first in the line. She huddled in her chair, bent and old. I stooped and took her hand and spoke her name. She lifted her face and smiled. I’m not sure she recognized me, with my beard and all. I had at least dropped the gangster hat outside, on the table with all the other Amish hats. Rachel smiled into my face. I am Ira, I said. And she smiled again as she recognized the name. We spoke briefly, and she thanked me for making the effort to come. And on down the line I went.

I took a seat in the back with extended family. It was a somber group of older people who filed through that evening. They came, they lined up and shook hands with Rachel and her family. And then they sat back, on row after row of backless benches. There were no smiles, there was no chatter, there was no visiting. Just somber faces, sitting in stony silence. Shortly before nine, a young preacher stood and spoke a short devotional, then a prayer. And we were all dismissed. I headed on over to Dorothy’s house.

She had just arrived home from working at a fund raiser all day. We sat at her kitchen table and talked. My mind flashed back to the last time I had sat in that room. After little Abby died, back in 2014. Dorothy and Lowell have traveled far on this journey, but the pain still lingers. You can tell. We talked and snacked on fresh pecan pie. And there went my diet, boom, blown right out of the water. Soon after 10:00, I headed out to the motor home to sleep.

Saturday morning. Moving along, here. I had planned to run over to Bloomfield to visit my brother Titus over lunch. They would attend the funeral on Sunday. But it had been a few years since I had been to Bloomfield. The Reunion in July, 2014. That’s been a while. So I wanted to run over and see some friends, do lunch with my brother, then head back to Kalona in time for supper at the viewing. After chowing on the breakfast of waffles Dorothy insisted on fixing for me, my diet sank out of sight, down, down, I loaded up and headed south and west. Bloomfield is right at ninety miles away. Shortly after eleven, I pulled into the L&M Cafe in West Grove. Chuck and Margaret’s daughter, Linda Clark, runs the little place now. It’s just down the road from where the old cafe was, years ago. Linda greeted me with a big hug. Mrs. C was at the Pancake Festival in Centerville, so I wouldn’t get to see her. Chucky, Jr. and his wife were visiting from their home in Arkansas, so that was a bonus I had not expected. After sipping coffee with my old friends, I headed over to the home of Titus and Ruth.

Titus greeted me at the door. Ruth was at the neighbors, and their son Thomas was helping with work on a nearby farm. That’s fine, I said. I don’t need much for lunch. We sat and talked and caught up. Titus had just received a copy of Dad’s new book, the fourth in the lineup. Fresh off the press. Stories Worth Remembering. A quaint little title. And after a while, Ruth wandered in. She fixed a quick lunch, and we all sat there at the table and ate together. Bloomfield sure is a different place than it was way back when I lived there. Every time I come around, this little fact becomes more evident to me. Titus and I sat and visited after lunch for an hour or so. It was nap time for him, so I took my leave. I drove through the community and then through the town of Bloomfield. The old square is almost dead now. Certainly a lot more quiet and run down than it was decades ago.

And a strange little incident came at me on the way out. I stopped at a gas station, for some coffee to fortify me on my drive back north. I was getting sleepy. I walked in, all spiffy in my gangster fedora. I recoiled from the coffee, though. In the pot it looked black and thick, like oil. How fresh is this stuff? I asked the attendant, who was working nearby. She was pretty, and looked to be around 18.

She smiled, all brightly. “It’s three hours old,” she said. “But I’ll make you a fresh pot. Today’s my last day here, so I can get away with brewing fresh coffee for as long as I want.” She got busy brewing. I thanked her. We chatted.

Her new job was better paying, she told me when I asked. And she was hoping to maybe get to college, too, in a couple of years. I asked questions and she talked. And she told me. She likes to write on the side. She was working on a short story she’s getting ready to submit for publication.

Well. What was I gonna do with that? We talked about writing. I told her. It’s more important to get people to feel what you’re feeling than it is to pay attention to grammar rules. She looked thoughtful and nodded. “That makes sense,” she said. And I told her, too. Don’t take writing classes in college. That’s all formulaic, and it will ruin your voice. Just write. That’s the only real way to develop your voice. Write. I had no idea what she thought, about me giving her all that advice. Still. We just chatted right along. She told me the title of her short story, and the name of the magazine she was submitting it to. I nodded and spoke encouragement.

The coffee was done, then, and I poured me a cup. Thanked her. And I asked her. Did you ever hear about the book, Growing Up Amish? She smiled. Yes, she had. Someone was just talking to her about it the other day. And I told her who I was. The book is about this area. It’s a NYT Bestseller, in its seventh printing. Sold almost 200,000 copies. I was just here, visiting family. She smiled and gaped at me a little wide-eyed.

It was time to go, to head on north. I wished her well, in her new job and in her writing. We shook hands. I thanked her for the fresh coffee. And then I left.

I pulled into the Graber homestead right at 5:30. Crowds milled about. Supper was being served. I ducked in to where the food was, and filled me a plate. Good, simple stuff. Noodles, potato salad, buttered bread. I walked into the next room where people were eating. And there I saw many of my siblings. My sister Rosemary, from Aylmer. Rachel and Lester. Naomi, without her husband. Stephen and Wilma. And Rhoda and Marvin. It felt almost like a family reunion. I guess that’s what funerals are, a lot of times. Family reunions, just a little more serious ones.

I sat beside Rosemary, and we ate and talked. They had brought Dad to the funeral. He wanted to come. So they brought him. They had left way early that morning. My cousin, Lydia and her husband, Clayton Zehr, had come along to take care of Dad. After eating, I walked into the front room and over to the table where Dad was. He had just finished eating. He sat there, on his wheelchair. He didn’t look much different than he had when I saw him in Florida last April. He was talking to someone, so I stood aside until he was free. He turned to me then, and we shook hands. He smiled and spoke my name. “Ira.” Hi, Dad, I said. And we chatted a bit, just catching up. Did you have a good trip? Yes. Did you? Yes.

I strolled around for the next hour or so and visited with different people. As darkness settled in, the family sat in a receiving line. Rachel sat in stately chair in the middle, her children on both sides of her on benches. And Dad was given a seat of honor beside his sister. I backed his wheelchair into the spot. The two of them sat there, somber and dressed in black. And the people filed in through the side room where Miriam lay. And then they walked up past the front line and shook hands with everyone there. Dad and Rachel got special attention. I sat in the next row behind Dad, beside Marvin and the others in my family.

Rachel 2

Rachel and Dad

And soon after eight, they filed in. The Kalona youth. There were around 300 or so, I was told. From both the Old Order and New Order Amish churches in the area. They would sing. They filed in and sat like we used to sit, back in Bloomfield. A bench of girls, a bench of boys, all across the room. It took a while, for 300 young people to walk in and get settled on the benches. Eventually the room was filled. And then they began to sing.

Their voices echoed in harmony through the vast open shop area. It was beautiful and haunting, and it took me back to many years ago. Here, in this room, all these young people were singing. And it struck me again, for the first time in a long time. How it felt, way back, to be part of a group like that. I whispered to Marvin, beside me. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt what I’m feeling now. We whispered back and forth, my old friend and me, just like we did at the singings in Bloomfield a generation ago. The songs rose and swept and swelled around us. I sat there, almost frozen in rapt attention. The thing is, I whispered to Marvin. The thing is, these young people don’t really grasp, they can’t really grasp, what they are a part of and what they are singing. They’re just doing what they have always done, which is fine. It’s just beautiful. It brings back so much in my head.

After an hour or so, the youth closed it out. Sang the last song. My cousin Philip Wagler stood then, and delivered a short exhortation, then read a poem. Philip and Fannie had come from their home in Michigan, where Philip was ordained some years ago. And more recently, he was ordained a bishop. He spoke loudly and clearly. Some memories of Miriam, growing up. And then we stood, while he read a prayer. Then we were dismissed.

And then the youth filed out, past the coffin, which had been set up at the far wall, just before the exit. They all paid their respects to Miriam. Lord knows Miriam had been a part of that youth group for many decades, in the past. Only when she had grown older had she stopped going to the singings. And it was all good. She just did what was comfortable to her. And now the youth filed past in silent respect. I mingled a bit, chatting with people. Then I headed on over to Dorothy’s place and my bed in the motor home. Traveling gets tiring. I fell into bed and slumbered hard that night.

The next morning, early, I was up and dressed. Dorothy had breakfast ready at seven, for me and all my siblings. We sat around her kitchen table and ate and drank coffee and talked. It was quite a clamorous time, as is usually the case when a bunch of Waglers get together. And I headed out, soon, then. I needed to get some gas into my SUV. I would head out from the funeral, to catch my flight back that afternoon. And shortly before nine, I pulled in to where the funeral would be. I met my siblings outside, and we all walked in together. To the section where close relatives were seated. Close to the front, off to the side a bit. The family sat up in the front section. Again, Dad was given a seat of honor with his sister on the front row. The two of them sat, heads bowed, huddled and old and tired. Again, for one more funeral of one more person so much younger than they are.

And shortly after 9:30, the first preacher stood. David Raber, from Hicksville, Ohio, via Daviess. He spoke in a strong Daviess accent. A fairly brief sermon. Then the second preacher stood. Henry Yoder, a local from the area. Before 11:00, he sat down, too. In Kalona, they do something I can’t remember seeing before at an Amish funeral. After the sermons, the home bishop gives his testimony, then asks the remaining seated preachers for their testimony, too. By the time all five or six preachers stood and added their very important but totally redundant and droning observations, another half hour had passed. I kept glancing at my watch in frustration. My flight out was scheduled for that afternoon. I would not have time to go to the graveyard for the burial.

After the last preacher had finally wound down with his testimony, the people started filing through, for one last look at Miriam. And soon enough, it was our time to file past. The line was directed outside. I stood about for a while, then walked back in and sat beside my brother, Titus. We watched as the Grabers said their last good-byes. Family by family, they went up and surrounded the coffin and grieved. From oldest to youngest, each family went.

Somewhere in the middle, Rachel stood and walked up to the coffin. Her son, Joseph, stood and pushed Dad up in his wheelchair. And the two of them stood and sat there, together, alone. Rachel was grieving the hardest, of course. This was her daughter. But Dad sat there solidly with her. I don’t know if he reached out and took her hand, but he might have. After a few moments, Joseph pushed Dad back to his space. Rachel remained standing beside the coffin as the last of her children came. They stood, they stroked Miriam’s face, and they wept. And then the service was over.

I walked out and mingled briefly with my siblings. Here and there, some total stranger came up and asked if I was Ira. Yep, I said. I am. And they spoke to me, of how they had read my book or liked to read my blog. I looked around for those in my family. I could see only a few. I told them. I’m leaving. I have to go catch my plane. I set my gangster fedora firmly on my head, and walked to my car and headed north and west.

Behind me, the buggy hearse had pulled up to the large shop. The pallbearers carried the coffin out and loaded it. And Miriam Graber was taken on her last ride. Later it was told how a group of young people had stood behind the knoll, there at the graveyard. And they sang. Their echoing voices sounded like angels singing, it was claimed, as the coffin was lowered into the earth. And the angels sang, too, in another realm as Miriam Graber was welcomed to her eternal home.

And Rachel stood and wept as men with shovels covered her daughter’s final resting place on this earth.



  1. Very interesting, Ira! I knew Miriam and since Kalona is my home community, I absorbed all these details.

    Comment by Mattie Kauffman — October 6, 2017 @ 9:05 pm

  2. Thank you Ira. Probably one of the best blogs I have read in a long time. Very interesting to me as I am a “Jack”. My Grandpa Louis was Homer’s brother.

    I did visit with your dad in Florida last winter and looking forward to again this winter God willing.

    Comment by Fred — October 6, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

  3. Sorry for the loss of another member of your family. I can hardly type for my eyes are full of tears that have been absent for several years. I do love to read your blogs, they touch me in my heart. Thank you for adding me to the ones you send your blog to.
    In Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Linda Morris — October 6, 2017 @ 10:36 pm

  4. My sister and I often talk. Our children have no idea the way we grew up! They’ll never know!

    These words really resonated with me: “They can’t really grasp, what they are a part of and what they are singing. They’re just doing what they have always done.”

    Comment by Julie — October 7, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

  5. Thanks Ira for your kind and gracious words. The Graber family is deeply appreciative of the love and support from all the Waglers.

    Comment by Reuben Graber — October 8, 2017 @ 7:22 am

  6. Thanks for honoring Miriam in this way. I can see her shake her head as she would have done and say she wasn’t worthy of a blog…but she was worthy. For all the years she took care of her parents and then her Mother.

    My very favorite memory of her was about 10 years ago Stephens and us were in Montana with the Yutzy Granpas. They told us that Green Country Tours would be eating supper at the neighbors that night and Miriam was along. So Stephen and I went over and Miriam was standing in the food line. We sneaked up behind her and surprised her and had a great visit while she ate her supper.

    R.I.P. Miriam always we will remember you.

    Comment by Rachel — October 8, 2017 @ 8:18 am

  7. Glad you made it to the Funeral.

    A little background on that double wedding, on Tuesday, Feb 03 1942. Joseph K Wagler died in July 1940, so both our Dad and Homer possibly dodged that scrutiny from strict Joseph K in choosing their life partners.

    A Simon Lengacher, Jr. from Daviess co. Ind (He goes to Florida), once told me that he remembers well, as a 15 year old boy, seeing the Bishop standing up after Church to “Announce” the upcoming wedding of these 2 couples. Much hemming and hawing when they do this…

    Comment by Jesse — October 8, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

  8. You forgot to include Stephen Eicher (son of Levi and Leona), a grandson who passed away in December the same year Esther left in May. He died with cancer, leaving a wife and family behind in Richmond, Missouri. His oldest son Arlin and wife Jannette live here and we count them as relatives.

    Comment by Rachel — October 9, 2017 @ 10:34 am

  9. I wish I could have heard the young people sing.

    Comment by Forsythia — October 9, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

  10. Brings back lots of memories of singing as an Amish teenager! Sorry for the loss in your family again. I stumbled on your blog and have been reading for several weeks. Promised myself not to buy the book until I am done but will be in Kalona at the end of the month. Do you know if any stores in that area carry it? Would love to pick it up there.

    I have relatives there and in Bloomfield and have only been to Bloomfield for my aunt’s funeral since I left Jamesport, MO in 1990 to go to college and beyond. Thoroughly enjoying your writing, especially since I used to know some of the people in your life. Carry on!

    Comment by Edna Vandervort — October 16, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

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