August 10, 2007

Memories of a Tragedy (Sketch #2)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us
all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see
ourselves as we really are.”
—Arthur Golden

On August 3rd, my family observed the 25th anniversary of an event that deeply affected all of us, although few of us have ever expressed it much. My older brother, Titus, on that warm and muggy Iowa night in 1982, dived into a pond on his future father-in-law’s farm and hit the bottom head first. He never walked another step. He was 23 years old. My father has written a book about the event and its aftermath, “Through Deep Waters,” and I will not rehash here the details of the accident. But on this particular day, this year, it struck me anew that Titus has now existed on a wheel chair for more years than he walked. And that’s something to ponder and absorb.

Titus Wagler in rehab in Waterloo, IA, 1982-83.
From L, Rhoda, Titus and Friends.

In my opinion, the Amish have a one of the strongest and most efficient support structures in existence. The community rallies around and provides whatever physical and financial support is needed, and did so for us. But the system is also lacking in at least one very important aspect. It offers no real way to cope with the emotional after-effects of tragic events, especially unexpected ones. This is not a criticism, but an observation. It’s just the way it is. Things are not said. Communication is sparse or nonexistent. Feelings are quashed. One is expected to accept and bear one’s burdens in silence. One does. And the years move on. I still look back sometimes and think it cannot be that my brother cannot walk. It’s just a bad dream, a thing that we have all accepted over the course of many years. It’s not really true.

But it is true. And will always be.

At the time, I was a troubled and unsettled young man, a few weeks shy of my 21st birthday, and I will never forget that day or the days and weeks that followed. I remember the night it happened quite clearly. It was dark, and I had already gone to bed. I was not asleep. A vehicle came barreling into our long lane at a high rate of speed. My window was open and I could hear the engine roar and tires crunching on the gravel. Shadows from the vehicle’s lights bounced and pitched on my bedroom walls. It slid to a halt in our driveway. A truck door slammed. A staccato of footsteps up the walks, then a great clattering of footsteps up the stairs. I was annoyed. Didn’t whoever it was know that it was bedtime? People were trying to sleep here. Then my sister Rachel’s voice, speaking a rush of words so fast I could not grasp what she was saying. A terrible accident. Titus. Dive. Pond. Hospital. Bad. Can’t feel anything. My Dad’s voice, calm and disbelieving, then hurrying steps in the house as he and Mom prepared to leave with Dick Hutchins, the “English” man who had brought Rachel to our house. I got up and went out. I was quickly told what had happened. They left. I returned to bed but did not sleep that night.

The next morning we learned that Titus had been flown to Iowa City in a helicopter. A helicopter. It must be bad. Dad returned later that day. Mom stayed at the hospital. Dad looked drained. He tried to put on a good face, but I could tell he was shaken. The doctors’ diagnosis had been grim. Titus was paralyzed. They would do what they could. Feeling might return. But they thought not. In fact, the head doctor stated affirmatively that it would not. We listened in a haze of disbelief. The words were clear, but we could not grasp them. The first full day passed in slow motion.

The second morning dawned. We got up and did the chores, then ate a somber break-fast. No one was really hungry. Only four were present; my sister Rhoda, my brother Nathan, Dad, and me. Dad would leave that day for Iowa City. As was the custom in our home, after breakfast Dad took his German Bible and read a passage out loud. We then knelt for Morning Prayer, which was always recited from a little black prayer book. Dad didn’t use the book, because he knew them all by heart. He got through the five-minute prayer with no trouble until the end, which closes with the Lord’s Prayer. With barely a pause, he began the familiar refrain, his rich, mellow voice rising and falling in the rhythmic, comforting flow we’d heard a thousand times before.

“Our Father Who art in Heaven…..Hallowed be Thy Name…..Thy Kingdom come…..”
“Unser Vater in dem Himmel…Geheiligt verde dein Name…Zu uns komme dein Reich..”

Abruptly, his voice broke and he faltered. He struggled silently for some moments. Through the vast gulf that separated me from him at the time, and in the grip of my own shock and grief, my heart cried out for him. A tough, stoic, hard-bitten old Amish man. Broken. Hurting. In anguish before God. For his son. Fighting emotions he could not show. He wept silently and cleared his throat. Began speaking again, then stopped. Silence. Struggle. Cleared his throat again. But then he said the words, and I have always believed from the bottom of my heart that he meant them with all of his.

“…..Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.….”


In 1998, I lived in a little ramshackle trailer house along Peters Road in the Welsh Mountains. I stayed there for almost two years. In retrospect, it was one of the best periods of my life. I putzed around on about an acre of ground and had a large yard to mow. Soon after I moved there, I went to Wal Mart with my friend Allan and bought the cheapest lawn mower there for the whopping price of $99.99. It was no-frills, not self-propelled, light and quite sufficient. No bagger, no gizmos, just a motor and blade. I used that mower exclusively to mow my yard since. Every spring when I took it to my young Amish small-engine repairman, Nathan Stoltzfus (who I’ve known since he was a child) to get it serviced for the summer, he always chuckled and asked if this was still my Wal Mart mower. I always proudly said “yes, and good as ever.”

Sadly, as I was mowing last Saturday, there was a loud clunk and clatter as the mower hit a large rock. The engine revved up all by itself, but nothing seemed to be happen-ing. I finally diagnosed the problem; the blade had fallen off. Even more alarming, a small hole was knocked into the platform beside an engine mount. I couldn’t believe it. After all these years. After surveying the carnage, it became clear to me that an era had passed. I observed a moment of silence, then loaded it on my truck and trundled off to Nathan’s shop. He wasn’t there, but his boss was. He said the mower was not repairable; the shaft was bent. I looked around the shop and picked out a nice little green mower that was serviced and sitting there waiting for a new owner. Price: $125.00. It’s light and not self-propelled, no bagger, no gizmos. But it’s a bit heavier and clunkier than my old one. I took it home and finished my mowing. And so a new era begins.

Last Friday evening, I went with a friend to the late show and finally saw The Simpsons at the new theaters in Lititz. Very nice, the seats are comfortable enough to camp in. The movie was about what I expected, a string of slapstick events tied to a longer plot. The producers take equal opportunity pot shots at the entire spectrum of sacred cows, so there’s plenty for everyone to laugh at and/or to take offense, if so minded. I was very surprised that Ned Flanders, the sappy fundamentalist Christian, was generally treated quite sympathetically.

The dog days of summer have been unleashed. The sun beats in full force. Heat, heat, heat. I am thankful each day for my air-conditioned office. I can’t imagine doing much outside activity of any kind, including hiking or camping. The strain of the heat is showing in baseball too, where many journeyman pitchers are being knocked about a good bit. The Braves could use a few good upgrades to their bullpen and a new closer. They’ve lost more than one game lately in the late innings.

Speaking of baseball, Barry Bonds finally did it, and I didn’t even see it live. It was a late game against the Nationals in San Fran, and I watched his first at-bat, then went to bed. He clobbered the historic home run in his next at-bat. The baying bloodhounds of the press have been persistently denigrating him in the worst way for his supposed steriod use. Bonds is surly and defiant. He may have used steriods. It’s not been proven. I used to depise Bonds, but I’m so sick of the press preaching to me about how terrible he is that I have actually been rooting for him. (The Michael Vick lynching is even worse. I’ll opine about that another time.) Way to go, Barry. Whatever else is ever said or written, the fact remains that you have hit more home runs in the major leagues than any other player in history. And no one can ever take that from you. Except the guy who breaks your record.

It’s a bit hard to grasp and very exciting to think that in less than a month, football season will be in full swing. That’s always the first reminder to me that summer is ending; fall and the harvest season will come soon. NFL Preseason has begun. I love to watch the Pros, but am also a big fan of the college game. No particular team in college, although I cheer for Iowa when I can because I lived there years ago. At work, the Eagles fans are stirring with their usual clamor about how great the team will be this year. That’ll last until about the third or fourth week, at which time McNabb or some other indispensible player will collapse and be out for the season.


Congratulations to Glen and Leann on their engagement
A March wedding is planned.

Lester and Rachel (my sister) Yutzy and family visited our area over the weekend. They live in Hutchinson, KS and were in VA last Saturday for a wedding. They stayed at Steves and we had many gatherings over the weekend. Monday evening I hosted everyone for ice cream and coffee. We all sat around out by my garage and just hung out and had a great time catching up and recounting old times and discussing the world’s problems. Lesters left for home Wednesday morning.

Sunday lunch at Steves

Rachel, Lester, and Ira

Titus and Sheri

Ira Lee and Rosa



(No Comments)

  1. Fascinating post on uncle Titus’ accident. It was an era before my time but it has always captivated me in how you brothers and sisters reacted and felt at that stage. I was a wee little boy, so I remember nothing.

    I also have a $99 lawn mower from Wally World that I bought the first year we were married and it is still in fine shape less a few minor parts. I use it to mow the rough areas.

    P.S. Love your blog. Very well written and I always get a good chuckle out of something or other.

    Comment by Andrew — August 10, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  2. We just had our 6th day in triple digit heat, but are expecting a cool front this weekend [upper to mid 90s]. The good news about that is our pool is one of the few around thats still cool.[under 90 degrees water temp]. That’s because it’s 80 percent in shade. That’s Phoenix weather, this extreme temp., what’s it doing here? Seems like anyone that builds a city or chooses to live in the desert deserves super hot temps. Maybe Al Gore is more right than we know about global warming…And yes, I’m carefully watering my prize row of lceland cyprus bushes. They are spaced exactly 25 ft. apart, and there’s 13 of them, aprox. 20 ft tall. That’s about the only gardening I do. Come admire them with us……My wisdom thought for today is this..”Life’s too short to spend time behind a non-propelled push mower.”

    Comment by jess from S.C. — August 10, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  3. We are also members of the Wal Mart lawnmower club–We purchased ours at the end of the season at an extremely reduced rate as the wheel needed to be tightened…big job :)

    When we were first married, we thought ourselves too poor to buy a riding mower for our LARGE lawn, so we always drove the mile over to Lowell’s mom and dad and borrowed theirs, which is practically antique and has to be started by poking the screwdriver into some wire plug or connector…

    Fast forward to buying our first home which has a much smaller yard; our first lawnmower was one of three we purchased in one day at an auction. It lasted 2 seasons, I do believe, which was a funny tidbit as we only paid a mere $3 for it versus $30 for another one of the 3. The “expensive” one of the pack was the only riding mower and got slightly remodeled, painted and lost its deck so my clowning gig could use it to participate in the 3-4 mile long parades. It was gracefully retired after too many poor little children were scared to come get their balloon animals from the weirdos who came roaring up on a rather loud machine.

    Comment by Dorothy — August 10, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

  4. I cannot believe my Uncle Ira even in his most irrational state of mind would root for the likes of Barry Bonds. May you repent.

    Ira’s response: You’re just sore because he broke Mark McGuire’s single-season home run record. McGuire was as juiced as anyone, so get over it. Go Barry. I will NOT repent.

    Comment by john wagler — August 11, 2007 @ 12:25 am

  5. There is a question I ask myself on occasion…”Could I tie my husband’s shoes for 27 years?” …. My mother did.

    My mother’s Amish extended family let her bear up under it all, because of course she left, and hardship is just the way it is, her Mennonite family and friends fared only slightly better and encouraged her to examine her life for her sin, live purer and just be a better wife, the Evangelicals thought she should loose 25lbs, be a better wife, think correctly and “consider it pure joy” the members of my father’s childhood Methodist Sunday school gave her $20 a week for gas money when he was in the hospital.

    There was a discussion of feminism on the blog some weeks ago. I said nothing because the two extremes were so far apart and did not seem to connect in reality. It seems those two views are connected more to expectations both social and personal. A conversation I over heard some years ago included a statement to the effect “expectations are hidden resentments” ….I don’t quite believe that to be true but it gives me pause in the feminism discussion. Do I resent all the women whose fathers/brothers/husbands/uncles “do” for them? Is it because that expectation is unmet for me? Lets not forget the looks of pure self indulgent pity I receive (and more pointedly my mother) from those women. Ladies – could you give up what it is that you expect from your husbands? Gentlemen – would you have someone teach your daughter to “change the oil” because you will never be the one she calls in an emergency?

    …. Love the lawn mower story, mom and I are the proud owners of several that predate my existence on the planet, courtesy of those lovely things known as estate sales.

    Comment by Glo — August 11, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  6. Elaine turns 21 tomorrow in Jamaica (the 14th) thought all you relatives might want to wish her a happy birthday!

    Those were some sad days when Titus had his accident, Steve’s bro. & he was seriously dating my best friend (& cousin). It is something a mother would never quite get over. In June ’06 when we visited Doddys, Mom talked & cried to us about it & said it’s still so hard.

    To Andrew; not long before the accident your parents & we were at Doddys for supper & Titus pretended he was a turtle & scared you & Ella (you were the only children then!) You ran & shrieked in terror!

    Comment by wilma wagler — August 13, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  7. How about those braves?

    Comment by Ira L Wagler — August 13, 2007 @ 8:58 pm

  8. Is your father’s book “Through Deep Waters” in English, and if so, could you post how one can obtain a copy?

    Ira’s response: The book is in English (as were all those he wrote), and I found some available on the links. I believe the book is out of print, although my Dad may have some copies for sale at his home. He may be contacted as follows: David L. Wagler, 19035 Ice Ave., Bloomfield, IA 52537

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — August 14, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  9. Good job, Ira, on getting those memories down on black and white. I will never forget those first long hours and days. My first impulsive thoughts were that I would have nothing left to live for if I was him have often filled me with shame since; against all odds he has gone on, built his own business and blessed many people besides. He loved life to the fullest before the freak accident and afterwards he made the most, the very most of what he had. Regardless of where I am, I will do my best to talk to a wheelchair person when I meet one. I find many are like Titus; they do not appreciate pity in any shape or form, and their wisdom is deep.

    We really enjoyed Pa. Thanks to Stephens, Ira, Curtis and Ella. Those late night singings and discussions, all the old memories were awesome. We are working hard to get ready to fly the 24th to S.C. for the wedding. Love, Rachel

    Comment by rachel — August 14, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  10. Ira,

    My Dad, Monroe finally has his book in print from our life and times in Honduras and you need to buy it and read it.

    You will find it very interesting.

    Comment by John Hochstetler — August 18, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  11. Ira, it really brought back memories, as that last summer before Titus’s accident he and I probably spent more time together then at any other time.

    Go Hawkeyes!

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — August 22, 2007 @ 11:31 pm

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