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.Share