February 18, 2011

The Pancake Story…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:52 pm


The stories of our great feats were told and retold,
and grew more fantastic with each telling.

–Ira Wagler: Growing Up Amish

For decades now, the story has resided among the most retold, and perhaps the most embellished, of classics in the seemingly bottomless repository of the Wagler family annals. I’ve always suspected it might be humorous only to us. It certainly is vastly more hilarious when related in Pennsylvania Dutch, the language in which it all came down. I also always knew that someday, somehow, I’d write it. Or try to. The time now seems right.

It was back in the early 80s. Sometime during the summer after my second flight from home, which was a short, intense excursion lasting only a few months. That summer, my cousin Reuben, from Marshfield, Mo., was staying with us in our home there in Bloomfield. Marshfield didn’t have much of a youth group, so Reuben was allowed to come spend the summer with us, hanging out with my brothers and me. He worked construction with my older brother Stephen.

That summer, my right arm was secured in a sturdy plaster cast, bent at the elbow and supported by a sling. Broken, snapped in two in a farming accident. But that’s another story. It was pretty cumbersome, the cast and arm sling, but it sure got me out of a lot of farm work. So it wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

We hung out with our cousin, me and my brothers. Enjoyed his company probably about as much as he enjoyed his time of freedom away from home. We didn’t particularly get into a lot of mischief, at least not the serious stuff.

I don’t know who first saw the notice in the paper. Stephen or Titus, probably. Pancake Day in Centerville. A day of feasting and celebration, for some reason or other.

Such small town festivals were off limits to us, and had always been. Such shallow revelry was not for us. Too worldly. Plus, there would be live music, a band of some sort. Definitely of the world. Not acceptable to the Amish people of Bloomfield. Not back then, at least. Or now, either, unless there’s been some drastic changes in the last twenty five years. Which could be possible, I suppose.

The three of them, Stephen, Titus and Reuben talked about it. How it would be fun to go. And then, right on cue, it was discovered that Dad would be gone that day. All day. Probably to a farm auction somewhere in the area. He loved auctions. Always returned with loads of stuff, mostly junk. And when he left for a sale, it was just assumed that he would be gone until that evening.

So the boys crafted their bold plan, and followed through. Somehow, it was decided that I wouldn’t be allowed to go. Maybe my broken arm had something to do with that. After Dad left that morning, I watched enviously as they rattled out our long drive and drove up to West Grove. There, they tied up their horse somewhere, probably at Henry Egbert’s place. Then they stood beside the highway and hitchhiked west. And soon enough, some English guy stopped and picked them up. They bounced about excitedly as the twenty miles flowed by. And soon they arrived in Centerville.

They walked to the square. And it was all they had expected. A great festival, with flags waving, a large crowd milling about. A center stage. The live band played. Then the mayor made a rousing speech. Then the band played again. And, boy, were there pancakes, pancakes, everywhere. More than they could possibly eat. And sausages. The boys stuffed themselves and loafed about, drinking it all in, deeply savoring this rare worldly treat.

And by mid afternoon, they returned. Safely back to our home farm. Dad was still at the auction. They breathed a sigh of relief. They had pulled it off. And the story might have ended there, in which case it would have been long forgotten as not worthy of being told. But further events unfolded, and thus a tale was born.

That night, after supper, we all sat around, reading and chatting. Dad was sitting on his favorite chair, leafing through the local paper. One little ad caught his eye.

“Har, har,” he chuckled. “Looks like they had Pancake Day in Centerville today.”

It was an offhand comment, totally random. The boys hunched down, silent. They certainly had nothing to add. Dad turned the page of his paper.

And then, from the kitchen, Mom piped up.

“Pancake Day,” she exclaimed. “Why, these boys were there.”

It was like an elephant had suddenly lumbered into the room unannounced, and collapsed the house. Deathly silence followed. Dad’s face twisted into a serious frown as he absorbed the shocking news. Stephen and Titus groaned inside. I said nothing. Hey, I didn’t go. I was innocent. A frozen moment passed.

“What!” Dad roused himself from the rubble and shook off the dust. “I hope not. I hope no one in this house would have done something like that.”

Stephen and Titus remained silent. And in the normal course of things, the issue would probably have flared briefly on the spot, then died. Dad would have scolded a bit, and then left it. But Reuben was the wild card in the room. In his family dynamics, back in Marshfield, economics were always factored in. His father, Homer, was a practical man, not given to lofty rhetoric. Reuben stirred and looked at my brothers. Why weren’t they speaking up?

They sat there, obstinate and stonily silent. Obviously, they were not about to defend themselves. So Reuben rashly plunged in.

“They were totally free,” he chirped. “The pancakes were free.” Surely uncle Dave could see the sense in that. Free food was free food. Sadly, his reasoning made not the slightest impression on Dad. It probably made things even worse in his mind, that one would sin so grievously, just because something was free.

His face darkened into an even more serious frown. He pursed his lips into the famous Wagler “schnoot.” But he didn’t say much, not right then. But we knew we hadn’t heard the last of the matter. We soon drifted off downstairs to our bedroom in the basement. There, we roundly scolded Reuben for inserting himself into the conversation. And then everyone retired for the night.

The next morning after breakfast, that’s when it would all come down. That’s when Dad always delivered his important admonitions, after reading the Scriptural passage. Because that’s the only time we were a captive audience. We couldn’t just get up and walk out. At least, we never did. Never crossed our minds. So through the years, we heard many rather strident lectures, sitting there at the table after a tense and strained breakfast.

And we were right. Dad was in a particularly fine fettle the next morning, having stewed over the matter the entire night, apparently. And after reading a short section of appropriate Scripture, he launched his offensive.

It was the usual stuff. He and Mom were shocked and disappointed that the boys had attended Pancake Day in Centerville. Me and Mom. That’s what he always said. Why, Pancake Day was such a thing of the world. Live music, yet, and all the bad stuff associated with worldly entertainment. There was no reason that any Amish person should ever attend such an event.

His lectures were always circular. Always, by the time he was done, he had repeated himself at least twice, maybe three times. That morning was no different. On and on he rolled. And then he closed it out with the piece de resistance.

“It’s certainly not necessary, to go to Centerville for pancakes,” he intoned. “Why, anytime you want pancakes, just come into the house and ask Mom, and she will make you all the pancakes you want.”

And that statement would have been fine. Or at least unchallenged, had he stopped right there. But he just couldn’t quite let it go. Couldn’t stress his closing point enough. Round and round he went, in a wide looping circle. Just in case there might be some slight chance we hadn’t grasped, hadn’t absorbed his message as we should have.

“Anytime, anytime you want pancakes, you just come into the house and ask Mom. Anytime. She will gladly make you all the pancakes you want, much better pancakes than they have in Centerville.”

And yet again. “Anytime, just anytime. Mom will gladly make you pancakes anytime.”

Through the entire lecture, we all sat silent. No one made a peep. Not a word.

“Anytime, anytime.” Dad closed it out. Then he settled back, somewhat smugly. The lecture was over. His decree firmly impressed upon us all.

But then, alas, someone spoke.

“Not anytime,” said Mom.



  1. it’s still funny in English, but not quite as funny as hearing it in Dutch with lots of Wagler laughter!

    Comment by Janice — February 18, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

  2. I never knew you missed out on the pancakes. That little detail must have been passed over, or perhaps I missed it in anticipation of the punch line.

    I always pictured grandma bustling around in the kitchen, rattling dishes and taking something out of the oven, then upon hearing doddy’s unconditional offer of pancakes anytime, she briefly paused and turned toward the somber group. “Not anytime,” then back to the dishes.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — February 18, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  3. It’s a much better tale when told by one of the three men who actually went to said heathen event. I have heard two of them tell their story, and it’s fine stuff for a story telling convention.

    Paul Yutzy

    Comment by Paul Yutzy — February 18, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  4. HILARIOUS!!! You go, mom! “Dad was in a particularly fine fettle” – I’m STILL cracking up at that. A pancake festival too worldly? Will wonders never cease? :D I don’t know how you all ate pancakes with a straight face after that ~ you probably didn’t. I’m not sure I can now!

    Comment by Bethrusso — February 18, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

  5. It’s hilarious to me. Even in English! I hope this made it into the book…

    Comment by Gary — February 18, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

  6. This really is my all time favorite story….so glad you have taken the time to write it out! Definitely one of those happy places in my memory is sitting around hearing the loud roaring Wagler laughter as the story is told….I echo the “hope it’s in the book” sentiment!

    Comment by Dorothy — February 18, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

  7. I have wondered if that circular reasoning we were so often subjected to back then was because there really were no underlying reasons for many of the verboten things. And having those things threshed out at meal/devotion time was a real indigestion help.

    Comment by Ruth — February 19, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  8. Very funny story that I can relate to. I orderd the book but before I read it, will cross out the title and rename it to what it should be “Look Back Amish Boy”.

    Comment by Kurt — February 19, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  9. Great story, Ira! And how ironic. I just finished a concert in Virginia and went out with several of the musicians… to IHOP! I still have syrup on my shirt!

    Comment by John Schmid — February 20, 2011 @ 12:03 am

  10. Ha, Ha. Think Mom just wanted to make sure we didn’t walk in any time of the day, demanding pancakes!

    Comment by Bro Steve — February 20, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  11. I laughed. Your poor Mom- glad she got a word in.

    Comment by Ann — February 21, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  12. Was wondering… why did your mom find out they were there? Was she usually in the loop on such things?

    Comment by jason yutzy — February 21, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

  13. I remember hearing this story told and retold as a kid. Good job in writing about it. I will always remember the “Nay, nett ennihah zeit,” followed by peals of laughter.

    Comment by Ira Lee — February 21, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

  14. Great story!! I also look forward to reading it in the book we ordered. But I have consoled myself with the hope that if it isn’t in this one, it will be in the sequel!!!

    Comment by Mary S — February 22, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  15. I just finished my second pass, proofreading your book–and maybe it’s partly because I could relate to some of it, having driven for and gotten to know so many Amish people–but for the first time in years, I couldn’t wait to get back to work every day! Trust me, folks, the book is a good investment. Literally a page-turner. I too am waiting for the sequel!

    Comment by Marti — February 23, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  16. I am broken over the religious spirits, that is, the many fine, sincere men and women of God who have been harmed by them. May the Lord heal our hearts, and refine us all. Ps. 1. True Christian discipleship is distinct from what goes by the name of “the church.”

    Comment by LeRoy — February 25, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  17. Funny stuff! I also was curious how mom found out??

    Comment by Gideon Yutzy — September 24, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  18. Have heard this story a thousand times and it is still my favorite Wagler story. However, when I was around 10 years old my whole family went to Centerville for Pancake Day, on the sly I am sure!

    Comment by Andrew — September 24, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  19. I love this story and not unlike what some “English” kids have done. I would love to know how mom found out those 3 boys went to Pancake Days. Loved her response, what humor, but she may not have meant it in a humorous way.

    I remember going to Centerville from Bloomfield for Pancake Days also, BUT with my mother. LOL You brought back memories I have not thought of for a long time.

    Comment by Connie Phillis — February 6, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  20. This is …spectacular. You are such a good writer, Ira. My goodness! Your words flow. You’re able to retrieve long forgotten memories and emotions in your readers. Your humor is unbeatable. You draw the reader into your world…and…as if that weren’t enough, you make them feel welcome! Thank you so much for putting forth such great efforts in making this blog so utterly pleasurable. Wow!

    Now back to the story. Being a mother myself, I’m sure the jig was up just minutes after the plot was hatched. Moms know their kids, they just do.
    When my husband is correcting our sons he, too, goes on and on and re-cycles. I’ve talked with him about it a few times, how the eyes glaze over and the mouths gape after the third go round. Did no good, whatsoever. I’ve since learned releasing a heavy sigh from whatever room I’m in, when he’s in action, will usually do the trick. (Our quarters are tight). I bet there were many times when your dear mother would have loved to have said, “Will ya shud-up already!”

    Comment by Francine — December 18, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

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