June 8, 2018

A Resting Place…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take…

—Children’s bedtime prayer

An ordinary Monday morning at work. I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, from the weekend. Not that my weekends are wild or anything. Not anymore. And not that I was up late and running around the night before. I wasn’t. I’m about as meek and mild as a lamb these days. Still. It takes a little time to get unlimbered, to get in the flow of things on a Monday. And you just never know, what the first day of the work week will bring at you.

I had just got off the phone when the doorbell jangled. I got up to take care of the customer who clumped up to my counter. An old friend, who has bought from me sporadically over the years. I smiled and greeted him. Good morning. I don’t know if the man ever was a cowboy, but he could have been. He’s tall and lean and bald with a long and majestic gray beard. He’s impeccably polite, neatly dressed in jeans and lumberjack shirt and cowboy boots. He stands ramrod straight, no slumping. And that morning, he was after the usual. Some white pine siding. That’s pretty much what he always buys from me. A few dozen pieces at a time. That’s all I’ve ever sold him, I think, those white pine boards.

I knew he had retired a few years back. He had told me when it happened. And now, this morning, I asked him a little bit about how that’s going. How’s life treating you? Staying busy? He chuckled. “You know,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, back when I retired. But I got more to do now than I ever did before. All kinds of projects to fix up at home. And you know what? That’s the way I like it.” I agreed. Yes. You gotta have something to work on, something to stay focused on. Otherwise, you’ll just wither up. And that’s no good. You’ll waste into nothing.

I don’t remember if I ever told the man about my book. I might have. Might have sold him a copy, even. I just don’t remember. But I must have talked to him about going up to Canada to see my parents, over the years. I’m sure I mentioned to him when Mom died. And I’m sure he was genuinely sympathetic. He remembers what I told him a little better than I remember the telling, I think. And he asked, right there, just kind of out of the blue. “How’s your Dad doing?”

And I told him. Dad’s doing pretty well, considering he’s ninety-six. He’s staying with family, up there in Canada. I’m fixing to head up to see him, later this month or sometime in the next. But to your question. He takes a lot of care. Every day. A lot of attention and a lot of work. When you’re as old as he is, everything takes time, to get done. Everything takes effort, and it takes energy. I’ve wondered sometimes. I respect the Amish for the way they take care of their elderly. Well. The way they take care of their own across the board. Including the elderly. In that culture, you live at home and you die at home. As much as possible, anyway, you do. Still. I’ve wondered sometimes if it wouldn’t be just as good when you get really old, to go stay in a retirement home where you get professional care and attention. I don’t know. I just don’t know, anymore.

The man nodded and leaned in on the counter. Something I had said stirred something down inside him. And he told me. His Mom is ninety-four. She has full blown Alzheimer’s. Sounds familiar, I said. He went on telling me. It got to where he just couldn’t give her the care she needed every day. She lived at home, and she wanted to stay there. But a few years ago, he had made the decision. And he had placed her in a “home” where they were staffed with professional help. And she was pretty comfortable there. He drove by every day, to see her. She’s getting bad, and can’t remember things. It’s hard, when she doesn’t know him. Still. He was grateful that she was at a place where she could be cared for by trained people. She was in a resting place. And she was as comfortable at this stage in life as he could make her.

And we stood there, he and I, face to face across the counter. Most real talk comes down in a place like that, in the natural flow of ordinary lives. And I told my friend. I know how that is. That’s how it was with Mom, too. She died back in 2014. She was completely out of it when she passed. And at the end, she took a tremendous amount of care, of time and effort from my sister and her family. And the community, too. I wondered back then. Would she have been as well off in some nursing home? I don’t know. I sure don’t judge any family who makes that decision. I just don’t. It’s too personal. People do the best they can with the options they have. Life has way different circumstances for you than it does for me. That’s just how it works.

My friend paid up and left, then. And that little conversation triggered a few other things that were stirring around in my head. I’ve thought about it often, in the past few years. Well, I think a lot of things, watching my father grow old. I’ve seen how hard it is, to walk that road. I’ve felt for the man. Used to be he could do pretty much what he wanted to, when he wanted to do it. Back through most of his life, that was how it was for him. Now he’s old. And now he can’t. It’s like the Scripture says. When you are old, a child will lead you by the hand and take you to a place you do not want to go. Now, today, the simple things in life aren’t that simple anymore. Everything is a production, everything has to be planned out. From getting up to cleaning up to sitting at the table and eating a meal. It all takes a lot of time. And it all takes the care and attention of someone else. That’s life, when you’re old. This I can say, from watching my father.

And I’ve wondered. Would Dad be better off in a nursing home of some kind? A place that is geared to taking care of you when you’re ninety-six? Why would one not at least consider such a thing? Can it really be that wrong?

Such a thought is anathema to the people I come from, of course. The Amish. One of the very few groups in the western world who have hung on to the traditional concept of what family is, going way back before there was any government “assistance” for anyone. It’s simply ingrained into their thinking from the way things always were. We take care of our own. Family is the first line of defense. Backing that up, that line of defense, is the church community. Culture and religion mix. And the bottom line when it comes to taking care of family is this. You don’t stick your old people in some antiseptic nursing home where they’ll be ignored. You don’t take someone from old familiar surroundings and put them in a place where they will wither and waste away. It’s just not done. Not in our world.

We are people of the land, the Amish say. The earth sustains us. We know we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. The land is our home on this earth. We live at home. And if there’s any means possible, if there’s any way to make it happen, we choose to die at home, too. That is where we lived. That is where we will lay down to rest. And that’s our resting place. And when all that is all you ever saw or knew from the time of your youth, it’s hard to grasp the thought that there might be another way. Another path that is just as right.

When you get out of the Amish culture, when you get around the Plain Mennonites, there they do it. There, it’s pretty much accepted, to place old people into a retirement home. It’s not always done, not by a long shot. But it is done. Their youth often go into “service” working at such homes. Way back after I left the Amish and moved down to Daviess, it was a pretty common thing. People I knew, good friends of mine, went away to work a year or two at Mountain View Home in Virginia. And there’s Hillcrest, in Arkansas, too. Both those places served as a “meet market” for Beachy and Mennonite youth, almost on par with Bible School. I’d say they still do, although I have been away from those circles for decades. Such things generally don’t change much.

Years ago, back in 1990s, I visited Mountain View Home over a weekend to see some friends who were working there. I was fairly impressed with the place. It was clean, well run, and the old people who lived there seemed about as content as an old person in a retirement home could be. I had just started college at Vincennes. I remember attending the Beachy church service that Sunday morning in the Mountain View community. And how the bearded Beachy “bears” looked at me a little grim and suspicious, I thought. Might have been my imagination. I never hung around that world long enough to really tell. Of course, those grim Beachy bears would not have been surprised at all that I didn’t stick around. They could tell I was being drawn out into the “world,” what with me going off to college and all. You don’t do that when you’re on the proper humble Beachy path. Not in those days, you didn’t, anyway. It’s probably a lot more accepted now in Beachy circles, to go to college.

A little side road, here. Well, it might end up a detour. The other week, I got to texting my old friend, Amos Smucker, the horse dentist. We don’t see each other that much since I quit drinking. I used to hang out at Vinola’s all the time, and he’d come over to meet me there. And we got together and talked a lot. Just to be clear. He hung out at the bar because I was there. Not because he hangs out at bars, much. Don’t want him to get in trouble here with his lovely wife.

Anyway, we try to stay connected in other places now, too. Me and Amos. I mean, I still eat at Vinola’s once in a great while, and we usually meet up for that. A few months ago, I wrote about going to the gun show with him. And he told me the other week, in his text. He was going to see his father-in-law the next Saturday morning. He thought I might be interested in going along. Of course, I said. I knew about his father-in-law. I couldn’t remember his name, but I knew the man was over a hundred years old. And I remembered how Amos had told me a few years ago at the bar. They were placing the man into a retirement home over in Ephrata, right around his hundredth birthday. I had listened to the story at the time, but it never really sank in. Not until that day, when Amos asked me if I wanted to go with him to visit. And I didn’t hesitate. Sure. I’ll go talk to a hundred-year-old man just about any time, I told him.

Saturday morning. A beautiful sunny day. Amos was stopping by around ten. I drifted out and about, ran some errands. Picked up some shirts at the dry cleaners. This and that. And by 9:30, I was back home, waiting for my friend. Just before ten, I saw his old car pull in. Amos waved as I walked out. We took off and were busy talking until about a mile down the road. Then he asked, abruptly. “Did you bring a book, for my Dad in law?” Well, no, I hadn’t. Never crossed my mind. But I definitely think I should take him one. Let’s go back and get one. And back we went, to my home. I threw a couple of books into my trusty messenger bag, and we took off again. North and east. Around Ephrata, then off on a side road. And Amos pulled in and parked. It was a Mennonite Rest Home. A spacious low flung place with different wings, looked like. We got out. I shouldered my bag and followed Amos across the parking lot and into the front doors.

It’s been a while since I walked into a place where old people live. The lobby was bright enough, and the place smelled clean. Still. There they sat, willy-nilly, in a rough half circle. And scattered about randomly. Old men and old women, hunched and scrunched over on their chairs and wheelchairs. Bent over and leaning on canes. I thought of a scene from Thomas Wolfe, where he vividly described the dust and ashes of old age. “They had been young and full of pain and combat, and now all this was dead in them: they smiled mildly, feebly, gently, they spoke in thin voices, and they looked at one another with eyes dead to desire, hostility, and passion.”

And that’s exactly how these people looked. They had been young once, all of them, and filled with passion and desire. Now their eyes were dead. Some of them seemed alert enough. Some glanced at us. Some stared into the distance. Others stared blankly at nothing. A few attendants flitted about. Plain girls in flowery cape dresses, wearing head coverings, smiling cheerfully. A shiver sliced through me, a premonition of something cold and lonely and dark. Lord. Please don’t ever let me live long enough to end up in a place like this. Or if I do, please make sure I got access to lots of whiskey. It won’t matter much either way at that point, I don’t reckon. This I pray from my heart.

Amos strode through the lobby like he’d been there before. I tagged close behind, clutching my McDonald’s coffee. Black and hot, it was. Off into a hallway, then, and down the hall. Not far. A door stood ajar, and Amos stopped outside. Knocked. Called out. “Hey, anyone home?” Someone shuffled about inside. A voice called to us, high and thin. We walked in.

The place was small, but roomy enough, I guess. Like a motel room, really. A bathroom walled off in the corner. A bed, desk, and some chairs. A table against the wall. And the man who lived there stood from his easy chair in the corner. He walked to greet us. He sure looked spry enough. Aaron K. Martin. That was his name. Mennonite stock. Old Order and Black Bumper. Clean shaven, like almost all old blood Plain Mennonites are. Somehow, Amos had connected with Aaron’s daughter, Velma. Amos comes from pure Amish blood, over in the Conestoga area. Velma is pure Black Bumper Mennonite. It’s extremely rare, that the two cultures mix in marriage. Amos turned to me and spoke my name. “This is my friend, Ira Wagler. He’s one of David Wagler’s boys.” The old man looked a little blank about that. Then he smiled and shook my hand. He seemed wiry and alert. He was also 102 years old. That right there was astonishing to me.

I took a seat, there at the end of the bed, beside the table. And we sat and talked, me and the old man. Aaron K. Martin. Here he lived, in this old people’s home. He looked to be in fantastic shape for having been around over a hundred years. And it wasn’t planned, any of it. But somehow, he spoke a few words in his native tongue. Pennsylvania Dutch. I talked back the same way. Comfortably and fluently. I’ve kept the mother tongue. Made a conscious effort to keep it over the years, by speaking it when I’m with my siblings or with people from my background. It greased the skids with Aaron. His eyes lit up. And we got to visiting about a lot of things.

He’d heard of my Dad, he claimed, when I asked him. Well, I had to nudge him a little. You know, the David Wagler who started Family Life. The magazine. Oh, yes. I saw in his eyes, that he had heard the name. And I asked him a lot of questions, then. About his memories of his youth. He was born in 1916. That was during the first World War. A long, long time ago.

And he told me, when I asked. He was born into the horse and buggy Mennonites. Back then, pretty much everyone drove a horse and buggy. And some people in his church decided it was OK to have a car, back when he was a boy. It didn’t seem like that big a deal, that he remembered. But then some people had a problem with the car. And the church split, right there. His parents went with the car faction that would later be known as Black Bumpers. His father was a businessman. And he was fairly well off during the Depression, when a lot of people weren’t.

We chatted right along. In a moment like that, you never quite realize how rare it is, what you’re seeing. And that’s fine. You have to walk naturally into every situation. So we just talked. I asked of how it was, when he was young and running around. And he told me. Just before his eighteenth birthday, his father bought him a car. Back then, Ford started off with the Model T. Then came the Model A, and after that, they made the Model B. I had never heard of the Model B, but I took the man’s word for it. His father bought him a Model B Touring car with a curtain top. For the grand price of $185.00. It was used, over a year old. And I don’t know if I heard the old man right, but I think I did. When it rained, he had to stop and snap the curtains over the side windows, too. That seemed strange to me. But I just nodded. And he told me, too. The car had no heater. The roads were mostly dirt, except for Rt. 322, which was paved pretty early on.

We talked about church things, too. Still in our native tongue. And along at some point, the old man asked me. He was making small talk, is all. “Are you married?” Well. What was I going to say to that? No, was my first response. He looked surprised, until I told him. I’m divorced. I wouldn’t have had to tell him that. He looked a little shocked at how lackadaisical I was about it. The thing is, I made up my mind long ago. I will never flinch from who I am. I won’t pretend to be someone I’m not. Would that have to mean that I tell an old man I’m divorced? No, it would not. But we were getting along just fine, and I felt comfortable telling him. He looked like he could handle it. So I said. I’m divorced. His eyes widened a little. And the conversation rolled on.

“Oh, well,” he soothed himself. “You’re not remarried, then?” I shook my head. He looked pleased. And again. I could have let it go and probably should have. But I didn’t. I piped up. I would get married again to the right woman, I said bravely. Or maybe it was a little foolishly. I should have let it go. Quit tormenting the old man. But something in me bristled a little, that he just assumed I’d never remarry. That’s the black and white world I came from. The Amish and the Plain Mennonites got all the answers, got all the marriage rules pretty much perfect and inflexible. Doesn’t matter who does what or who says what or who’s abusing who. You stay married. That’s why some (not all, but way too many) Amish and Plain Mennonite women stare at life somberly with hard, sad, stern faces that look like they’re set in stone. They are trapped. They have no options.

And I told the old man. It wasn’t me, that filed for divorce. I got served the papers. So I signed on the line and didn’t fight it. He smiled at me. Got a little conciliatory. “Oh, I see,” he said, relieved. “You were wronged in your marriage. You were the innocent one.” And one more time, I had to disagree. One more time, I had to shake up his worldview a little. No, I said. When there is a divorce, there are no innocent parties. Well, other than children. We didn’t have any children. I’m talking husband and wife. Sure, one might have made worse choices than the other. But neither one is innocent, regardless of how it looks from the outside. We’re all flawed. There is no innocence. He looked at me, astounded, as if he had never heard such an analysis about divorce in all his years.

We meandered off, then, down happier roads. I asked him how it was, way back when the Black Bumpers split off from the horse and buggy Mennonites. This man had seen the birth of all the Plain car churches. Everywhere. That is an astonishing thing. He saw them all because he was born before there were any. And I asked him. Where are your church houses? Are they still the same as they always were?

We meandered down a lot of bunny trails, too. Assurance of salvation was one of the man’s pet issues. And he was a little dubious at the plainer buggy people, that they shied away from the subject. The Amish and the OOMs don’t like to talk about “assurance of salvation.” They will generally make noises about having “hope” of salvation. And it seemed to be an issue with the old man, that they couldn’t see what was so clear to him. Still, when I asked about the split, about how the Black Bumpers broke off from the Old Order Mennonites, his eyes gleamed. And he told me. “There was a split, yes. But we worked it out, to where one group used the church house on one Sunday, and the other group used it the next. We have church every two weeks. So even though there were disagreements, we could still work together. That much, we could do.” I agreed. Yes, that was very peaceful and brotherly, to work out a schedule where two groups could use the same church house like that. I cheer for such unity.

I asked him a little bit about how that was, to move into a communal home like this after a lifetime of living free on the outside like he had. He smiled wryly and admitted. It had been a struggle for him to adapt, early on. But he had done it. And he liked it well enough, the lifestyle here. That’s what he told me, and I believed him.

It was getting time to wind down. Soon lunch would be served in the dining room. Amos and I made noises to leave. I reached into my bag and pulled out a copy of my book. I want to give you this before I go, I told Aaron. He smiled in thanks. I signed the book and handed it to him. He allowed that he’s not much of a reader, but he’ll look over what I wrote. I’d be honored, I said. As I was, that he accepted my gift.

Amos and I left then, walked back outside into the beautiful sunny day. And I couldn’t help thinking of the old man and my father, in the same thoughts. Aaron K. Martin and David L. Wagler. They are both in a place that very few people ever see. Dad was very much in the limelight in his journey among his people. Aaron labored in obscurity in his. One lived with the “hope” of salvation. The other lived with “assurance.” I bet they’d get along pretty well, now, anyway. Without a lot of fuss and argument.

Age has a resting place. Well, I guess it does. Dad lives with members of his family in their homes. Aaron lives in a retirement home. Both seem about as content as one could expect. Both are functioning decently well. Aaron is in better shape than Dad, physically and mentally, even though he’s six years older. Which is a lot, when you’re 102. Life is really random, like that.

And the logistics would probably be impossible, but I can’t help but think to myself. I sure wish those two men could meet.

A brief update, here. Some of you may remember when I wrote back in 2015 about my sister, Magdalena. Early that year, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. It had riddled her body, all through. She was in really bad shape. She bravely told us. She would not do chemo or radiation. She would leave this life with integrity if she had to go.

We trekked down, all of us, to take our leave and say good-bye. Even Dad insisted that he wanted to make the trip, the thousand miles down to see his daughter. We all went, at one time or another. There was little question in any of our minds that Magdalena would not remain long on this earth.

She went on an intensive natural treatment regimen with essential oils. She sank pretty low. And then a strange thing happened. She started improving. And by late that year, the cancer had left. She was healed. Cancer free. We all marveled and shook our heads in amazement. Miracles still do happen, we saw for ourselves. Magdalena has remained healthy since that time. She is entirely cancer free, which, again, is just astonishing.

And sometime along the way since then, she was interviewed about her journey. The story was professionally produced. It’s short, only six minutes or so. And I know how that is, when you speak on camera for hours, and the final result is edited to a few soundbites. Many of the details you spoke get left out. But still. It’s a powerful story, in my sister’s own voice and in her own words. Here’s the link. I’m proud of her honesty and her unabashed gratitude to the Lord for the miracle of healing and the blessing of life.



  1. Great blog, as usual. I really enjoy your uplifting spirit in what you write these days. There is nothing that seems morose or melancholic and I so appreciate your way of acceptance… of nursing homes, of divorce, of viewpoints contrary to yours. The sun is shining over you and you are staying away from the depression of alcohol. With what’s been in the news lately, I wish more people would wise up and realize how much evil alcohol does. I am very happy for you in your daily walk!

    Comment by Pam Moore — June 8, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

  2. I hope to write like you, someday. In the meantime, I quite enjoy reading your words. :)

    On a funnier note. My son went to that nursing home to sing Christmas Carols with his 1st grade class this past year. Later he told my mom, his nana, in response to her stating she is getting old: you could go to Fairmount! It’s really nice and it’s where alllllll the old people go!!

    Comment by Rachelle — June 8, 2018 @ 8:43 pm

  3. I love the comparison of the two men. My grandma always said, “Twice a child, once a man.” The progression of baby, adult… and baby again

    Comment by Patricia — June 8, 2018 @ 9:01 pm

  4. Ira, I’m happy that you met ‘Pop’!

    Although he may not have recognized your Father by name, we eagerly anticipated the arrival of both Family Life and Young Companion each month at our home as far back as I can remember. When we were getting ready for his auction in the fall of ’16, there were stacks of both, still in his attic.

    The conversation about confidence vs hope is one we have had many times, and I am grateful for a Father who has a passion to pass this on, not only to his family, but to anyone who cared to engage.

    Comment by Velma Smucker — June 8, 2018 @ 9:45 pm

  5. Is it possible to have “higher standards” without judging others? There are so many aspects of our Plain communities I admire. Yet, can’t help but wonder if the things which are said and done to those who fail to meet “black and white…perfect and inflexible” rules truly reflect how God wants His people to treat each other. I’ve certainly failed! And can relate to the women staring “at life somberly with hard, sad, stern faces that look like they’re set in stone”. Feeling trapped. Like I have no options…Little different because I actually LOVED being an “Amish” wife and mother. Still kinda describes what it felt like trying to follow rules I didn’t understand; submitting without question to interpretations of scripture which didn’t make sense. Your writing is compassionate but thought provoking. Maybe some traditions are worth reconsidering?

    Comment by Phyllis — June 9, 2018 @ 7:49 am

  6. Thank you for another thoughtful and insightful post.

    I have given much thought and consideration to the issues of home care vs nursing home end of life decisions.

    My parents (mom died in 1996 – age 80 and dad in 1998 – age 90) were determined not to end their lives in a nursing home. While they both were not at all interested in placing each other in a nursing home situation I do not think that they progressed in their thinking to the point of what do we do if there are no other options. I believe their thinking was molded to some degree by having lived in the era of the poor house each county supported. They did not want any part of that. As it turned out the Lord allowed each of them to die without having to go to a nursing home.

    It is so vitally important that parents adequately communicate their thoughtful reasons to their children ahead of time and allow a serious discussion on these issues.

    I have several close friends who are in nursing homes who are in various stages of Alzheimers or dementia. How awful is this disease. It is most devastating to friends and family but especially to the caregiver who usually is the spouse.

    There is a book published by Crossway that I have found to be absolutely superb in explaining many aspects of Dementia and offering great help especially to caregivers. The book is entitled “Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia” by Dr. John Dunlop. He is a Christian and medical doctor who specialized in geriatrics. The book is available from a variety of sources.

    Thanks again for your honest and transparent posts. I look forward to reading them each month.

    Comment by Jim — June 9, 2018 @ 7:12 pm

  7. Note to self- Index in next book. Personal prayers>unusual>desperate whiskey :)

    Comment by lisa — June 10, 2018 @ 1:21 pm

  8. I enjoyed the story of Magdalena. Wow!

    Comment by Chris — June 11, 2018 @ 10:18 am

  9. Give Magdalena my love. I loved how she raised her hand and said, “it was God”.

    Great writing, it is like no other. You can feel your heart and soul in it by the way you express yourself. Thanks for being real and being you!

    Enjoyed meeting you in May.

    Comment by Elsie Peachey — June 12, 2018 @ 8:04 pm

  10. I LOVE the story of Magdalena! I’m an essential oils user and I believe in the power of my Heavenly Father! Thank you for taking the time to write your heart out for others to read. It’s so beautiful!

    Comment by Evelyn Jane Dalton — June 23, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

  11. We enjoy your writings, Ira. Glen used to live in Aylmer for a couple long years ago, and knows your family well.

    Comment by POLLYANNA Hochstetler — July 2, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

  12. So how is your dad doing at present? We enjoyed Magdalena’s lil story.

    Comment by POLLYANNA HOCHSTETLER — July 2, 2018 @ 7:04 pm

  13. Powerful Magdalena testimony! Thank You Almighty God!

    Comment by Sho — November 5, 2018 @ 2:46 am

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