June 19, 2020

Tales From the Trenches…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


…All things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth-
these things will always be the same, for they come up from the
earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts
forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.

—Thomas Wolfe

I don’t quite remember what all went down the first time I met the Amish guy. It was a lot of years ago. He ran a small building crew. He was plain, older, hard core. A South-ender. It was long ago, and I don’t remember exactly what happened or how, the first time he walked in for some pricing there at work. I just remember it left a bad taste in my mouth.

He was small and wiry and grimy. I greeted him with little judgment. You can walk in dressed in rags, or in sackcloth and ashes, and I’ll barely blink. These days, it’s a mask that marks one as a slave to the system. You can walk in wearing one. You’ll notice that I don’t. And if you’re like most people, you’ll peel that silly piece of cloth from your face and be relieved. But if you don’t, I respect that. Do what works best for you. I’ll do the same.

I’ll call the guy Jonas. That’s a good, solid Amish name, but it’s not his real one. Jonas and I didn’t get started on the best of terms, I guess is a polite way to say it. He always looked like he’d just crawled through a nest of cobwebs, and he was always, always in a rush. Yesterday wasn’t soon enough for him. His voice was scratchy and irritating. I’m digging down deep, here, and there just wasn’t a whole lot about Jonas that I was impressed with, early on. I took care of him the best I could, but I never went out of my way, much, to accommodate him. When he called, I was polite but curt. Yes, we had the item he was looking for. This was the price. No, I would not adjust the price down, it was already at builder’s rates. If you want it, I have it. If you don’t, well, I’m not burning much energy to convince you otherwise. That’s how it went, with Jonas and me in the early years.

And it went that way for a long time, between Jonas and me. It’s not like we had all that much contact. He did lots of construction work of all kinds. Residential stuff, where I didn’t stock what he needed. I often didn’t hear from him for months and months. Forgot about him. But not for long, usually. Always, the day came that Rosita would tell me brightly as she got ready to transfer a call. “It’s Jonas.” And I would groan loudly. Then talk politely to the man on the phone. It was more than half draining, getting yanked around like that.

He was deliberately irritating. Or it sure seemed that way. He would call a few minutes before five and demand that a box of trim nails be set outside for him. I finally told him. Look, Jonas. If you want me to set anything outside, you have to call before 4:30. I mean, I can’t just snap my fingers and whoosh, what you want is outside the gate. These are the guidelines. See if you can follow them. And in time, I got him about half trained. Grudgingly, he gimped along. And he still always wanted everything yesterday.

And I had to wonder, now and then, usually right after we had battled to a draw in another contentious exchange. What drives the man? Why is he so abrupt and demanding? So deliberately unlikeable? And I thought about it. Was Jonas bullied as a child? The Amish culture can be brutal if you’re not just like everyone else. And Jonas was small, very slight in stature. Along the way, I got the sense that something is bugging, something is burning in that man. He’s still trying to prove himself to someone. Maybe his father. I don’t know. I wondered about it. If you come from a hard place, it’s next to impossible to shake off the wounds that sliced deep. And I admit, I had no idea, and still don’t, if my musings about Jonas were anywhere close to realistic. I just thought about it, that’s all. Tried to figure it out, what he saw from where he came from.

And then one day, a really strange thing happened. It was a few years ago. Late afternoon, about the time Jonas liked to call. Right when I was wrapping things up for the day. The phone rang. Rosita answered, and then my phone beeped. It was Jonas. I don’t know if my heart was in a better place that day, or what. I greeted Jonas pleasantly. Not just politely. Pleasantly. There’s a difference, and you can usually tell if you think about it when you’re talking to someone on the phone.

And amazingly, Jonas was pleasant, too. Well, for him. We chatted a bit about what he needed and then one of us said something funny. I don’t remember who said it or what it was. But we both laughed. Actually laughed. And I tell you what. You laugh with someone, naturally, in the flow of things, in the moment, you do that because you are enjoying the moment. Jonas and I laughed about something together. And then we hung up. And from that day, things were different between me and that man.

Maybe I was imagining, but it seemed like he got noticeably less demanding. We actually chatted a bit about regular things when we talked on the phone or when he stopped around. He was still a walking dust cloud. But I didn’t judge him so harshly. And it seemed like we both made an effort to get along. He still grumped, now and then, and I still talked back short to him. Neither of us took it personal. And it was great, how peaceably me and Jonas got along. By just about any standard, it was.

And things went a lot better for me and Jonas. Then, a little over a year ago, he stopped in one day to pick up some materials. I forget what. Little bitty stuff, odds and ends, mostly, is what he gets from me. We stood there at the counter and chatted as I wrote up his invoice. And all of a sudden, I thought of something I had never considered before.

My book. The first book, I mean. Growing Up Amish. I had never, ever mentioned to Jonas that I wrote a book. He never seemed to notice the little poster I got taped at the counter on the back of my computer screen. I just never figured he’d be interested. That day, as the idea came to me, I thought, why not? Get your sales pitch going. Sell. Sell. Sell him the book.

So, I stepped back to the box beside my desk and pulled out a copy. Look here, Jonas. Look what I got. I wrote a book, a few years back. I think you’d enjoy reading it. He looked dubious. I forged on. Money talks to these old Amish guys. So I came through that door. And just for today, just for you, I have a real special price. Ten bucks. That barely covers my costs. But for you, today, I’ll make a deal, because I want you to read it. You’ll never get a better price. You really want this book.

Jonas looked at me across the counter, strangely, like I was telling him a tall tale. He hedged. Didn’t seem all that willing. Squeaked around. He didn’t know if he wanted to spend ten whole dollars on a book. But that day, I was determined. I could be stubborn, too. I kept putting on the pressure. Come on. Take a chance. It’s cheap. You’ll never get this book for a better price. It’s a real story. You’ll like it. I know you will.

Jonas muttered to himself. He certainly was less than enthused about this fantastic deal I was offering. I kept plugging away. We had reached a new level of understanding, me and Jonas, and I wasn’t going to let him off the hook unless he just flat out rejected the offer and turned away. He came in from another direction, then. “I don’t have any cash on me today,” he said, half triumphantly. That’s fine, I said, unfazed. You can bring me the cash later. I’ll sell on credit. He grumbled and hedged some more. I kept insisting. I wanted him to read the book. I wanted to see what he thought of it. I mean, the man is a South-ender. His perspective would be unique.

He finally gave in. Grudgingly. “OK,” he said. “I’ll take it. I’ll pay you another time, when I have the money on me.” I’m not worried, I told him. I signed the book with a flourish. To him and his wife. Then I handed it to him. Let me know what you think of it, I told him. He agreed that he would. Then he turned and walked out the door.

And so help me, I did not see that man again, or hear a peep from him, for over a year. I mean, he never even called for pricing of any kind. Well, he never talked to me, if he did. It sure was strange, I thought. Push a book on a guy, on credit, and he just up and disappears on you. And still I heard nothing, saw nothing of the man. It got to where I barely thought about it anymore, that Jonas owed me for a book. Oh, it crossed my mind fleetingly, now and again. What little I thought about it, I did hope that Jonas had read the book. I didn’t know. It just never seemed to me that he had much of an appreciation for book learning.

And then one afternoon, just the other day, he strolled into the office there at work. We were shorthanded, the phones were clattering nonstop, and a steady stream of people traffic flowed through. I had just finished up with a customer when Jonas walked in. And I kind of half hollered across the room. Jonas. My man. Did you bring me money for my book? He walked up to the counter, grinning half sheepishly, extracting his wallet from his barn door pants pocket. He pulled out a handful of small bills. I counted. A dollar short. I snapped it up. Bring me the dollar next time.

We chatted as I wrote up his small order. I figured I might as well plunge right in. So I asked. Did you read the book? He nodded. “Twice,” he said. Twice, what? I asked. You read the book twice? My, my. Do I dare ask what you think?

“I liked you best when you were home,” he said. He wasn’t scolding. Just telling me. He wasn’t quite done. “I think you should go back and marry that girl you left,” he said. I laughed. That’s nice, I said. Problem is, that all happened a lot of years ago. She’s a grandma now. From that, you can conclude that she is already married. He laughed, too.

As he was turning to leave, I quickly showed him a copy of Broken Roads from my stash. He was interested, you could tell. I’m just showing you what else I wrote, I told him. I won’t make a sales pitch until you got some cash on you. He nodded, then turned and walked out.

One of these days, I figure Jonas will be back. And he’ll have some cash on him.

OK. A few words about the book, and life in general. Broken Roads came out of the gate decently strong in a world gone mad. It was available online only for the first few critically important weeks. My agent told me that nonfiction releases in that time period were off by a third. Which seems about right. A friend told me she picked up the book at Walmart. So there’s that. Reviews on Amazon have been decent, although I sure could use some more. I don’t like to beg on social media. The book is what it is, and the market does what it does, all on its own. But I could still use some reviews.

Hachette has lined up a number of decent interviews, online and on air. Most have been prerecorded, so far. Which is fine. This week, I had a real good Zoom interview with Randy Robison of Life Today, an online broadcasting group. Other than the fact that I’m not looking at the camera angle right, it was one of the better interviews I’ve ever done, I think. Mostly because I stayed relaxed. I thank Hachette and I thank Randy. I am grateful for the opportunity and the exposure.

My first book signing is still on. At the Get-Togather Room on the north side of the square in Bloomfield, Iowa. On Friday, July 17th from around 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Bring your book or buy one there. I’ll have copies of Growing Up Amish, as well as Broken Roads. So. I’m looking forward to hitting the road and getting some traveling done. We’ll see how it goes. I’d love to see some of the Amish of Old Bloomfield show up.

Another milestone got here a few days ago. My official one millionth hit on this blog. Not bad for a site that posts every three to four weeks. I saw the other morning on the little counter there at the bottom, one million was coming right up. So I kept a close eye on it and witnessed the milestone when it came. The actual number came a little earlier. Years ago, there was a stretch of time when the counting mechanism quit working. So I figure that elusive hit came a month ago or more without me knowing, or much fanfare. Now it’s official. It’s a big deal to me. I’ve been traveling this blogging road for thirteen years. I’ve said it before. This blog is where it all started, my writing journey, and this blog is where I will always return to. It’s a safe place. It keeps me honest. Thank you for traveling with me, however sporadically.

A few words about the violent societal upheaval going on. We live in a turbulent and dangerous time. It is wise to prepare as best one can. Be a “gray” person. Resist quietly. Don’t make waves, don’t poke the beast. Lay low. Store some water, store some food. A core group of friends is critical. People who got your back, whatever happens, people you can trust if you are ever forced to go underground for any reason. People who will help you and protect you.

I have been very disappointed in a number of figures I had grown to admire and trust, who have seemed clueless and devoid of discernment. No credibility, is what those people now have. I was especially struck at how national Reformed leaders and preachers never stepped up, never made a peep. How they urged the people to bow to the vile false god that is the state. Obey, obey, obey. I won’t ever forget how easily the masses were manipulated and how stridently the frenzied crowds demanded strict obedience to the state’s arbitrary and destructive decrees. And I saw another brutal truth, too, very quickly. Many, if not most of your “friends” will casually betray you. Cut off the ones you can’t trust from any important details of your life.

In the past, I have developed a basic and very simple philosophy of living. A saying with three pillars. Trust God. Walk free. Don’t be afraid. Those are good guidelines to live by.

And now it’s time to refocus and hone those words a bit. Trust God. That stays the same, always and in all circumstances. The next two are the ones I added to. Walk free, but walk wisely. Don’t be afraid, but don’t be stupid.

Safe travels on the journey.



  1. I bought 3 of your first book and you sent one to me, signed. Now my birthday is coming up next month so I will ask my husband to order, Broken roads. I can’t wait to read it. I know it must be a good book because it is written from your heart like all your work. Congratulations on your new book.

    Comment by carol ellmore — June 19, 2020 @ 5:47 pm

  2. Great post, all three parts of it.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — June 19, 2020 @ 7:34 pm

  3. I am a newcomer to your page Ira, and I am enjoying it. Love your life philosophy – simple and relevant.
    Wish I lived in the States and could afford to buy your books – unfortunately the postage is prohibitive, and the exchange rate is not in my favour!
    Stay safe

    Comment by Maxine D — June 20, 2020 @ 1:44 am

  4. “”…..but don’t be stupid.” It is hard for me to understand why you, as an educated man who hopefully understands scientific principles and epidemiological studies, would advocate for flouting the guidelines of medical experts who are trying to help as many people as possible avoid a new virus. Obviously you are a good thinker, can reason and understand, so why would you not make every effort to slow the spread of this disease by staying out of inhalation range of other people’s germs? Why would you berate and belittle people who wear a mask in order to increase their chances of not spreading or getting a virus we still don’t really understand? It’s care-less – without care – and from what I deduce from your writing it’s because you have bought into an oppositional viewpoint that disrespects science and reasonable public health measures. Kind of stupid thinking maybe?

    Ira’s response:
    Covid sheeple

    Comment by Annie Wenger-Nabigon — June 20, 2020 @ 10:52 am

  5. Hello Ira! Hey, have you ever considered getting all your blogs into a book???

    Comment by Pollyanna Hochstetler — June 26, 2020 @ 8:45 pm

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