March 16, 2018

Vagabond Traveler: Amish Black

Category: News — Ira @ 5:52 pm


The sight of these closed golden houses with their warmth of life
awoke in him a bitter, poignant, strangely mixed emotion of exile
and return, of loneliness and security, of being forever shut out…
of being so close to it that he could touch it with his hand…

—Thomas Wolfe

It was a lazy Saturday, a few weeks ago. And I didn’t have much of anything particular on my mind. Well, other than normal, I mean. I’d stop by the home of some of my good Amish friends for coffee that afternoon. The late February skies were spitting random specks of snow and drops of rain when I pulled into their drive around two, all spiffy in my new black Jeep. I showed myself in through the first door and walked up the stairs and knocked.

The housewife opened the inner door and smiled in welcome. “Come on in.” I smiled back and thanked her, then took a seat at the kitchen table at my usual spot. And the housewife walked to a doorway and called into the back room, where her husband was working in his office. I heard the words clearly, even though she wasn’t talking to me. “Ira is here,” she said. “Come for coffee. Then we will go shopping with Amish Black.”

Amish Black. Oh, my, I thought. Where did she come up with that? Was that my new nickname, now? You never know, around these Amish places, what they’re calling you behind your back. It was fine, though. Nobody meant anything bad, I was sure. But still. I asked her. What in the world is Amish Black?

“Your Jeep,” she said. (She might as well have said, “Duh.” But she didn’t. She just explained the obvious to a simpleton.) “Your Jeep. It’s Amish Black.”

I laughed. Oh, my. I said. I’m not quite sure how I feel about you naming my Jeep like that. I guess if it sticks, it sticks. She smiled. She didn’t say it, but thought it, I’m sure. “What do you mean, if it sticks? Of course, it will stick.”

We sat at the table and drank our coffee and caught up with our visiting. And then I took them on their Saturday afternoon shopping run, in Amish Black. First, our usual stop at Miller’s Health Foods, on the other side of Monterey. And then on to Lantz’s Discount Groceries just outside Leola. As is the custom, I got to sneak a few items into the cart, that my friends paid for. The perks of hauling Amish around, I guess. And it was a little tight, having a person in the back seat with boxes and bags of groceries. There’s not a lot of room in a two-door Jeep, not the kind of room Big Blue had. But we made it work.

And I have thought about it a lot since that day. The name the housewife gave my Jeep. Amish Black. It sure has a ring to it. And that ring might echo all the way to the title of the book I’m working on sporadically these days. It’s catchy, and people will remember. Amish Black. File those two words away in your head. You’ll see them again down the road, I’m thinking.

A few days later, then, the next week at work. An Amish builder walked in one morning to order a few items. He’s young married. I’ve known him, or at least known who he was, since he was a kid, going to work with his Dad. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I spoke his name. He spoke mine. And we chatted for a few minutes, before I realized something was different. I looked closer. He was all cleaned up, with stubbled face, and wearing an English denim jacket. Which is no big deal, for the Lancaster Amish. Around here, the young guys dress about half English, anyway. I glanced outside. There was no driver sitting in his Suburban, waiting, like Amish drivers do. He had driven himself.

He’s a quiet guy, and a little shy. So I slipped it in, after we had written up what he came for. So how long have you been driving? He grinned. “A few months,” he said. And I asked him how it went. I remembered his father well, he was a good friend of mine. He passed away unexpectedly several years ago, the father did.

And I remembered a little thing that happened, soon after my book came out. The father, who will remain unnamed, stopped in one day for some materials. I was gone that day. He placed his order, then asked about buying one of Ira’s books. My coworkers told the man. “Ira is gone today, but we can sell you a copy.” The father considered the offer for a moment. Then he shook his head. “I’ll wait, and get it from Ira,” he said. I was touched, later, when they told me. The next time the father stopped in, he bought a signed copy of my book. I never forgot.

And now, here stood his youngest son, or close to the youngest. He was the first in his family to leave the Amish. It had to be hard on his widowed mother, I figured. Not that I mentioned any such thing. I just asked how it’s going with the family. He smiled again, a little shyly, and my heart went out to him. “They’re taking it pretty hard,” he said. “I haven’t seen any of them in a while. But they’ll get over it, I think.”

I nodded. Yeah, I said. I hear that. I know how it is, a little bit, to walk that road.

Another weekend came, then. The Saturday before, I had stopped at the thrift shop over in Leola. I rarely do that, but that day I had a few minutes for a quick walk-through. I found a pair of brand new khakis, just my size. (Well, my new size, since my One Meal a Day diet.) Tommy Hilfigers, still with tags. 38 x 32s. They’d never been worn. I shelled out the $4, and dropped them off at the dry cleaners. I got them back the next Saturday and tried them on. The waist fit fine, but they were one fold too long at the bottom. I grumbled to myself. Come on, the tag lied. It was what it was, though. I thought about my options. And I settled on a plan.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled my Jeep into the drive of the home of some Amish friends, where I often stop for coffee on a Saturday morning. No, this is not the place where my Jeep was unceremoniously dubbed Amish Black. This here was another couple I’ve known for years and years. I count them among the best of all my friends, anywhere. That’s how well I know them, how long I’ve been coming around. I parked and knocked on the front door. It was almost lunch time, but they knew I wasn’t hedging around for food, what with my One Meal a Day and all. (And yes, I still feel fantastic, every day. And no, not a drop of alcohol since late August. Knocking on wood, here.) After greeting everyone and visiting a bit, I laid my khakis on the table. And I told the goodwife. Esther, I said. These pants are too long. I have a flicca job for you (Flicca means mending in PA Dutch.). She took the pants from me and I showed her. One fold up, inside or out. That’s all I need done.

She scoffed. “Inside is where you want it folded, not outside,” she said. “Do you want to look like Farmer Brown, with your pant legs rolled up?” No, I said weakly. But an outside cuff can be stylish, too. She scoffed some more. OK, I said. Inside it is, then. I’ll just leave them here and pick them up next week sometime.

“What’s wrong with right now?’ She asked. And the woman unlimbered her sewing machine and got to work with nimble hands. The sewing machine hummed and clacked. She snipped away at the thread, and it was done in ten minutes or so. I sat and visited with them all, there at the table. And then I hemmed a bit and said I must be going. I thanked the goodwife, took my Hilfigers, and left. And I thought to myself, as I was driving along in my Jeep. I bet there’s not a lot of single guys out there who got such good connections as I have, to get stuff like this done while you wait. I mean, it really is quite remarkable.

The days rolled on, then. And looking back, I can’t quite remember that such a thing ever happened before, there at work. A husband and wife stopped in to price some snow guards for the roof of their pole building. The building package had come from Graber a few years ago, through a local contractor. They really liked it, they both claimed. But all that snow this winter coming off the roof tore the gutters right off the building. So they wanted snow guards. I priced what they asked for, the stainless steel snow guards we stock. They got to telling me, then. They needed someone to install the snow guards, and there was some more repair work other buildings to do, too, from the snow damage. I was writing up their invoice, when the door opened and another man walked in.

He came right up to the counter and interrupted us. Inserted himself, is more like it. He wasn’t shy at all. He was just driving by, he told me, and he wanted to stop and thank me for referring my Amish contractor friend, Levi, a few months ago. He had called different people who claimed to do remodeling work, and no one would pay him any attention, or give him a quote. Until he called my buddy, Levi. He came out, he gave a quote, and then he came and did the work. Levi did what he said he would, and he did it right. The first couple looked on and listened with extreme interest. Then they got to asking the second man. Who was this Levi, and what had he done for the guy? They were looking for someone, too, to come and do repairs on the snow damage on their pole building.

The second man jumped at the open door. He got all dramatic and descriptive, all of a sudden. He waved his hands this way and that. And he told the man and wife. He had almost despaired of finding a contractor. Then he stopped in and talked to Ira, here. (A wave at me.) And Ira connected him to Levi. The man then pulled out his smart phone with a flourish. He had before and after pictures. He whipped them up on the screen. The husband and wife “ooh’d” and “aah’d.” The first pic showed a dilapidated old building, on the verge of collapse. The second pic showed a beautiful building, all new and dressed up and gleaming with painted metal roofing and siding from Graber. I didn’t even have to say much, other than exclaim at the contrast the pictures showed. The second man did all my selling for me. The husband and wife practically salivated. They wanted Levi’s phone number. They were going to call him right away. I wrote the information on the back of my business card and gave it to them. Mention my name, when you call Levi, I told them. He’ll take care of you. It could have been a scene in a movie.

They all walked out then, and I saw the second guy standing there, talking and waving his arms with great vigor, practically accosting the other couple. He was still selling for me and Levi, right out there in the parking lot. You can only shake your head in disbelief when such a thing as that comes at you. I mean, the timing has to be perfect. I just smile and look to God with a grateful heart for all the little blessings flowing around me in the course of an ordinary day.

Another weekend came, and I went on an adventure. There was a gun show at the Harrisburg Farm Show Complex. It had been a few years since I attended a gun show. Pre-Sandy Hook, I think. And that was in 2012. I called my buddy Amos, the horse dentist, the day before. Hey, it’s been a while since we hung out. Do you want to go the gun show with me tomorrow? Of course he did. The place opened at 9:00, we got there around 9:30. There was a long line outside, about four people wide and several thousand feet long, snaking halfway back around the building. It took us half an hour to get in. Many stern signs warned. NO PICTURES. STRICTLY ENFORCED. I couldn’t blame the show organizers for that. All kinds of whack job leftists would be taking all kinds of unflattering photos and posting them with false narratives as fake news.

Amos and I went our separate ways and agreed to meet up front around noon. I strolled about, taking my time. I am very much at home at a gun show. The place was packed out with a very diverse crowd. There were a surprising number of women (that’s my kind of woman, right there, someone who is totally comfortable around guns), and I saw several young couples holding toddlers or pushing a baby carriage. Getting’em started young, there. I loved it. Warmed my heart, it did.

And I looked at all those people. Young and old, and every age between. Graybeards, moonshiners, rum runners, and just plain old country redneck working class, a lot of them were. Plenty of professional people mixed in there, too. And I thought about it. These were the people who voted Trump into office. Salt of the earth, they were, the kind of people who would feed you if you were hungry. They’d shoot you, too, if you tried any stupid stuff with them. And these were the people the left is determined to disarm, with their silly little high school walkouts. It’s so ludicrous and so wrong, that young people are being manipulated into marching and demanding to give up their rights. Only a brainwashed people would do or support such a thing. Shades of “1984.” It simply boggles the mind. Whatever the brainwashed students think they’re “marching” for, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. The left will keep trying, though. Disarming the common folks will always be a wet dream to people who love and worship the vile false god that is the state.

I bought a few odds and ends, stuff I didn’t really need. But you gotta get something at a gun show. I did pick up my first ever Zero Tolerance assisted-open knife at a better price than I’ve ever seen on the internet. So that was my splurge for the day. I overheard snippets of conversation, here and there. One old vendor stood behind his tables loaded with long guns and other shooting stuff for sale. The man had a magnificent gray beard flowing all the way down to his chest. I overheard him chatting with a prospective customer. “Yeah,” he said. “My wife is a vegan.” The customer looked startled, and I hung close, straining to hear what Graybeard would say next. He chuckled. “Yep,” he said. “She’s a vegan, she is. People are surprised when I tell them. We make it work.” I drifted on, then, as the old man muttered illogically. “I sure do love my dog.”

Hey. That’s the kind of scene you see and hear at a gun show. Amos and I met up, then, and headed out for home. It was great, just to catch up with my old friend. Amos has some really fascinating theories about Amish blood and Amish history. He makes a lot of sense, too, I gotta say.

And the next day was a Sunday. The Amish had church at a farm about a mile from Chestnut Chapel that morning. I saw all the buggies parked in rows on my way to church. And I saw their service was over as I was heading home from mine. A young Amish girl had just left and was walking home along the side of the road toward me, in my lane. She was a teenager, maybe twenty, and she was alone. Her face glowed with life and health and joy. She smiled and waved at me as I approached and passed. I waved back, pleased and a little startled. I’m not used to seeing pretty young Amish girls waving at me for no particular reason. But then the realization clobbered me over the head like a sledgehammer.

She wasn’t waving at my handsome bearded face or my Territory Ahead shirt and matching tie or my Burberry trench coat. She was waving at Amish Black.



  1. I didn’t need to read this to be sold on your vehicle, I liked it from the beginning,but reading this was a fun way to hear you talk about your Jeep. I just love Jeeps. We have a used red one, but for us it is as good as new. My husband drove a Jeep and a tank in the army and he loves them too. Also; When I was a wisp of a girl in high school I joined the gun club.They sent us to the Marine Reserve Center in Folsom, Pa. to learn to shoot one. I must have weighed about 80 or less and when I tried to hold the gun it was heavy, the Marines thought it was charming that I tried. But, guess what, I learned to out shoot most people, including my husband who had awards from the army for shooting.

    Comment by carol ellmore — March 16, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

  2. Good luck with the Jeep, You could have known that a 2 door won’t work with all those Amish friends. Years ago I had a Jeep Comanche, a pickup. I loved it, it was built like a heavy duty truck. Fire engine red with a black stripe on the side and it had a “SporTruck” decal on the bed. I remember one of my buddies asking me, “Which one is it, Spor Truck or Sport Ruck”?

    Comment by Joe Troyer — March 17, 2018 @ 6:29 am

  3. Enjoyed all your musings this time around. I will remember “Amish Black” for future reference.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — March 17, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

  4. Amish black box buggy it is. So, maybe you should’ve gotten another pickup to woo gun toting, pit bull leading English women. Now you’re going to spend the next 6 years dodging young Amish girls in the road. Life is full of unintended consequences….

    Comment by lisa — March 18, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

  5. You should be very proud of the name Amish Black. That is the name quilters ask for when purchasing black fabric for their quilts, we know it is a true black, and not white fabric that has been dyed, a perfect black fabric. You will keep the gals waving when you come round :-) G.

    Comment by Georgia — March 19, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

  6. Another good read. Wonder what your family and friends would say if you drove Amish Black back to Bloomfield??? Totally understand if you don’t want to put all those miles on her, but my dream ending would be getting compliments-as opposed to the things that are said when we first leave-kinda imaging it being one of those full circle moments. Representing the unconditional respect members/x-members can sometimes come to share. Thanks for sharing your journey…

    Comment by Phyllisity — March 21, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

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