January 27, 2012


Category: News — Ira @ 6:44 pm


After they are gone, all they have left unsaid will
remain unsaid forever…

—Ira Wagler, At Dusk in Winter

It’s certainly been nothing to complain about, the winter so far. Mild weather, almost no snow. A cold snap now and then. But manageable. By this time, in the last two years, we had been blasted with several massive snow storms. I really detest snow. And we’ll get at least one good whacking at some point, I’m sure.

I should head on down to Sarasota, and hang out with the Pine Craft crowd for a week or two. Especially now that my parents arrived there right around the New Year. They plan to stay for three months.

I’m happy for them. Dad just turned 90 in December. They need to be where it’s warm. And Pine Craft is the perfect place. He likes to putz around and visit with people. He even got a little battery powered cart, to trundle around on. His knee has been bad for decades. Gotten worse, as the years encroached. So it’s hard for him to walk. The little cart should do wonders for his mobility. And, of course, he’ still cranking out his writings and keeping tabs on his numerous business affairs.

Mom is pretty much out of it, from Alzheimer’s. She sits and smiles. And smiles and smiles some more. Maybe she’s enjoying, absorbing her surroundings. Maybe not. And maybe it’s pointless to look too closely at the past. But still, I can’t help but say a few things like I see them.

She never got to enjoy the warmth of Sarasota sunshine in winter back when it would have mattered. Back when she could have lived it, when she could have really soaked in the joy of it. When she could have spent the days with her sister Rachel, and her brothers, Ben and William. And their extended families. Back twenty or even ten years ago.

Because back then, my parents lived in Bloomfield. And it’s against the church rules there, to travel to Florida for a few months or even a few weeks of leisure in winter. Because that’s too worldly. Because there can’t be any benefit in idleness, in simply hanging around every day. No benefit in visiting with others from far-flung communities. And so they forbid it. Ban traveling to Florida in winter.

It’s certainly not unique to Bloomfield. I want to say that clearly, to be fair. I’m not picking on my old home turf just for spite. I’m not. But it’s the only frame of reference that I have. The only scenario I can speak to, from what I saw. The rule is very common, in the many small communities dotted about the Midwest. In all their various flavors of church Ordnungs. In all their plainness, and all their strict living. You do not go to Florida for the winter, or even for a week or two. You just don’t.

I don’t know what they expect their elderly people to do, in those communities that forbid such travel. They sit around, the old people, snowed in, shivering from the cold. Stoking the kitchen fire all day and half the night. And for some of them in those many communities, visitors are scarce. A few rare treasured moments of distraction, over all too soon.

And they settle in for the winter, the old people, and at least some few quietly slip into depression. They have to. There’s simply no other recourse. All because church rules forbid them to travel to a happier clime. Like Pine Craft. Where they could see and meet and visit with all sorts of people. From all sorts of Amish communities, across the land.

A few years ago, my parents moved to May’s Lick, Kentucky. Along with my oldest brother, Joseph and his family. May’s Lick is more advanced in many ways, with more relaxed guidelines. And if you live in May’s Lick, you are allowed to spend the winter months in Florida.

Which is a beautiful thing, for my parents. Each year, Dad can’t wait to head down as winter approaches. Sadly, Mom was already about 85% gone when they moved to May‘s Lick. And now she is allowed to travel south with Dad for the winter. Now. Now, when she has little if any grasp of what’s going on. And I don’t care what anyone says, nothing about any of all that makes a lick of sense.

And I think of her, this woman who is my mother. Of who she was, as a young girl. Of what she saw and felt. And of all that she endured in her 88 years on this earth. Perhaps she’s happier now, in this state, than she’s ever been. Who can know? She has seen so much and endured so much. From the weariness of decades of toil. From her husband. And from certain sons. And still, there she is, smiling and smiling through the dense fog that has enveloped her. Who can really know how much she absorbs from all of life as it flows around her?

In August, when I was in Daviess for that book signing, we toured my mother’s childhood home. My brother Nathan and my nephew John Wagler and me. We were accompanied by some friends who had arranged the visit with the farm’s current owners. I wrote a bit about that when it happened. But I didn’t have the time or space to write it all.

The two young Amish couples who now live there were extremely friendly. Took us all about the outbuildings, and the house. And as things were winding down, one of the young men said they have one more thing to show us. Something they figured we would be interested in seeing. And he told us a story.

A few years back, or whenever it was they were fixing to move onto the place, they remodeled the house Mom grew up in. Whacked out some walls, changed the kitchen, and so forth. In the process, they tore off a lot of the trim around the bases of the rooms. And a lot of other lumber, too. Old wood. All of which was piled up outside to burn. And after a goodly pile had accumulated, they lit the thing. Flames devoured the wood, and it all went up in smoke.

The fire burned until it burned itself out. All the old wood was gone, except for a few small remnants that had burned off and fallen far enough away from the flames to survive. And I don’t know why, but one of the men picked up one of those charred little remnants. Maybe he meant to pitch it onto the glowing embers that remained. But before tossing it away, to be lost forever, he happened to glance down, to look at the back of the old piece of trim. And on that tiny remnant, there was some handwriting. In pencil. Written in 1939. By my mother, when she was a young girl of sixteen.

I look at that, and I marvel. And I wonder. What was it like that Thursday in November, back in 1939? Sixteen. She was sixteen. Was it morning when she wrote that? Or later, in the cold dreariness of a Daviess winter afternoon? Did she sneak that writing in, on a stack of trim? Or did she do it openly, as her father smiled? Did her siblings, too, perhaps write their names on that same piece of trim, now lost in smoke? What was going on around her, as she took those few seconds to scrawl some lines on some wood? Did her mother chide her, and tell her to get to stop goofing off, to get busy with the housework? And a thousand other things. I wonder. I’ll never know, but still, here is this frozen moment in time, preserved for all of history. But more importantly, preserved for all her children. And her children’s children, and beyond.

Any way you look at it, the fact that this little piece of trim survived the twin ravages of time and fire is nothing short of a miracle. I believe that. I really do. Look at it. Charred on two sides, almost the flames took it. Should have taken it, by any measurable standards of mathematical randomness. Taken it away forever. In which case we would have been none the wiser, because we would have never known. But against the longest odds, here it is.

Nathan and I gaped. Then drooled. And the kind young man motioned to me. And spoke.

“It’s yours,” he said. “Take it and keep it. It belongs to your family.”

Awed, we thanked him. And I brought it back home with me. And since I have no children, and have pretty much zero prospects of ever having any, I gave the little treasure to my brother, Stephen. He has sons to carry on the Wagler name. Including his oldest son, named after me, because he was born on my birthday twenty-eight years ago. Which is the only reason he was forever saddled with a name like that.

Ira Lee Wagler, when it gets passed on down to you, preserve and value this treasure for what it is.

Alrighty, then. How about the Super Bowl? It should be a great one, but it’s hard to think that it could match either of the League Championship games last Sunday. Both were classics, ending in abrupt, absolute heartbreak for the losing teams. And with one slightly different outcome, one slightly different bounce of the ball at any given time in either game, the Harbaugh brothers could just as well be facing off across the field come a week Sunday.

I’m for Eli, and the Giants. I take seriously the business of despising certain teams in sports, and the Patriots are right up there close to the top of my hate list. Not that I don’t respect them. I do. A lot. Bellichek and Brady are among the very best at what they do. Not just now. But in all of the history of football.

Much of my intense dislike for the Pats was forever cemented a few years ago, on that 18-game win streak. When they went undefeated, all the way to the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. In many of the regular season games that year, the Patriots blew out their opponents. Didn’t respect them. Brady kept throwing touchdowns when the score was 45-10, or some such ridiculous thing, in the fourth quarter.

When you reach the top of such a rare place, the peak of a mountain that very few have seen, you better have some class. Some respect for where you are. And realize how fleeting it all is, and how soon it will all be gone. Sure, there’s all sorts of excuses. Football is football, and teams should play to the best of their abilities all the way through. That’s lame, though. When a team is beaten, pull back a bit. Don’t push faces into the mud when you don’t need to. That year, Brady and his bunch of bullies did just that. Pushed faces into the mud.

And Eli and his boys took them down. In the closing moments, in spectacular dramatic fashion. It was a beautiful thing to see. Ruthless arrogance shocked and humbled by the harsh reality of the final score. Pretty much the whole world cheered, except for maybe a tiny region around Boston. That was definitely the most satisfying Super Bowl in my memory. Just to see it happen. To see the football gods smile and serve some justice.

This time, the Giants will be more respected. But probably still underdogs. I hope it’s a good game. I’d settle for a yawner, though, as long as it’s the Giants winning in a total blowout.



  1. Real nice, as always. You may wanna protect that wood with a coat of polyurethane; it would make a beautiful plaque…or maybe not. I bet she was Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider!

    Comment by The pizzalady — January 27, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  2. Show that little piece of charred trim to your mother. Read the words out loud to her and let her hold the wood. Even if all she does in response is some more smiling, you’ll have made the attempt to stir up a pleasant memory for her. Hey — it’s something of a miracle that it survived that demolition; it was, perhaps, meant to be more than a serendipitous find!

    Comment by Cara Sheridan O'Donnell — January 27, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

  3. I have not seen your Dad out in the streets or at the park yet this year. I visited them a few weeks ago when Fannie Mae was down here. I want to stop in for another visit.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — January 27, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  4. Great blog!What a miracle that the trim survived, I agree show it to your Mom you might just be surprised and it might bring back a memory!

    Comment by Fannie Miller — January 27, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

  5. That piece of trim is priceless!

    Comment by jason yutzy — January 27, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

  6. Marietta and I got to visit your parents in Fla. several days after they got there. They both seemed to be in good health for their age and in good spirits. Your dad and I agreed it’s been a long while since we had seen each other.

    Yeah it’s a shame older people can’t go enjoy Fla and warm weather in their old age if they so choose. I know the few times my parents and Perrys and your parents would sneak away for a week or two it meant the splinter bench so it just wasn’t worth it!

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — January 28, 2012 @ 12:01 am

  7. Hi Ira,

    I have read your book and cannot express enough how it has touched a place in my heart. I am not very savvy at Internet Social Networking, and have to admit this is the first time that I have ever posted a comment on someone’s blog. However, your January 27th posting has prompted my response. I know people write blogs for many different reasons; but I imagine that you might appreciate a “thank you” from a reader. I will briefly explain that my elderly Mom is Pennsylvania Dutch but not Amish. She was raised not far from you in Pennsylvania but felt trapped as a young girl and had to leave the small town scene at the age of 18, going as far west as she could and settled in Southern California — where I was born and raised. The irony is that she ran from the small town and I have always dreamed about life in a place that moves at a slower pace. I was fortunate to spend summers with my grandparents and other relatives in your neck of the woods. Needless to say, Mom has never really left her true Pennsylvania Dutch self because we have several hex signs hanging on our kitchen walls and the light switches have painted words that read “outen the light.” Also, we are the only So Cal people who crave shoofly pie.

    Aside from the similarities in our backgrounds, I read your blog occasionally and the story about your aging parents and the miraculous treasure of your Mom’s personal inscription on this earth given to you was so enlightening that I had to respond. I am of Christian faith and believe too that it was a miracle from God. The odds were against it surviving but it did. Your story brought tears to my eyes as I was sitting at my computer after a very stressful day of caring for my aging Mom who is 83. Thank you for expressing those thoughts on your blog for a total stranger to read — the world is connected much more than it feels sometimes. I often have a pity party thinking I am the only one in the world dealing with issues of an aging parent. It is sad, as well as uplifting, because I would not prefer it any other way. If I was living life in any other fashion it would mean that my Mom would not be with me anymore and I cherish every day I have her with me on earth.

    You are truly a gifted writer, and I consider myself qualified to state that because I am a Librarian who is an avid reader. And, my undergrad degree is Journalism. Writing never came easy for me. I had to work hard at it. But you seem to have an inherent talent to write very heartfelt and straightforward. Please know that your words are read and appreciated. Thanks for the personal stories you share. However, you lost me when you went on to write about football. Oh well, being a well-rounded individual with diverse interests is important, so please don’t take that as a negative on the football rundown. I am glad you are having a mild winter — my relatives are also relishing the springtime days. Please keep writing, it is appreciated.

    Sincerely, Heidi

    Comment by Heidi — January 28, 2012 @ 12:12 am

  8. This is the stuff Amish legends are made of. Something standing the test of time, surviving destruction, and then returning to the family. Whether it be a person or a piece of trim.

    Comment by Monica — January 28, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

  9. Ira
    My mom had Alzheimer’s and she seems to be the happiest she has ever been in her life. One thing that we notice with mom was her memory when it came to things from early in life. She could not remember anything short term. If you get a chance, show the piece of wood to your mother. My father will be 91 in April. My wife, daughter and I were down by your work place the other week, on our way to Longwood Gardens. I didn’t know it at the time due to not having read your book yet. Great book, sounds just about like my life, except I’m not Amish. I was raised in a strict Christian environment. Which I’m thankful for now. Though it was very legalistic which is not right. I live approx. 45-mins. west of your work place. Sometime I might give you a call. Take care and keep up the great writing.

    Comment by Warren — January 30, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

  10. Found your blog of going to Florida interesting. I never imagined that some Amish were not permitted. Here in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties, going to Sarasota in the winter is what elderly Amish DO. The ‘Amish bus’ makes two round trips a week in the winter – straight through except for rest and food stops.

    Really like your writing, Ira. Have read your book and most of your blogs. Keep it up.


    Comment by Carl M. — January 31, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  11. Great post as always, Ira. And Just so you know, I don’t consider my name to be a burden. Of course, most people immediately think I’m Jewish. I’m honored to have the name Ira. It’s a name that has been passed down through the generations, and I appreciate it and don’t think it was a coincidence I received that name.

    Thank you, Ira, for “willing” that piece of wood to me. I definitely appreciate its significance and it will have an honored place in my home for many years to come (that is if I ever actually get it). Having a Grandma with Alzheimer’s is one of the most difficult things out there. It’s almost like I don’t want to see her because I want to remember her how she was before she was stricken with this horrible sickness. But what if she really knows what’s going on? Usually when I see her and tell her my name’s Ira, I think she thinks I’m her son Ira, and then she’s all confused. It’s just so sad.

    Keep up the good work, Ira. So far no one has mistaken me for the famous author, but I’m sure that day will come.

    Comment by Ira Lee Wagler — January 31, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

  12. I have a piece of wood hanging in my office autographed by my great-great-uncle. I visited the home farm of my great-great-grandfather here in Holmes County and told the current owner that my relatives once lived there and he said, “No…, no Schmids ever lived here.” I told him that one of the children married a Klingler in 1880 and he said, “Klingler!” and he walked over to a pile of boards that had been ripped out of the house in remodeling and pulled out a 1X8 board with “Georg Klingler, Glenmont, O.” written on it in blue crayon! That signature is well over 100 years old! Not as amazing as being plucked from the fire like a brand (Zech 3:2) like your mother’s signature was, but amazing to our clan.

    I’m starting to write all over the boards in our house just in case I ever get famous and have descendants who want a memento of me. You don’t need to do that, Ira, because we all have your autographed book!

    Comment by John Schmid — February 2, 2012 @ 11:12 am

  13. Ira,
    I just read your book Growing Up Amish and loved it. You wrote with such care and thought. I could almost feel your pain.

    I lived in the Goshen area (Syracuse) on CR 48 for about 10 years. Having moved there from San Diego, it was a huge culture shock for me. But I so enjoyed meeting local Amish and Mennonite families, and respect their commitment to their ways. Your book brought back a lot of memories for me. Thank you for writing it. I am going to pass it along to my neighbor.

    I wish you well. And I too, have come to know that God is always there, unchanging. And of this too, I am sure.

    Blessings –

    Comment by Donna McCoy — February 5, 2012 @ 12:00 am

  14. Ira,

    I finished reading your book and want to thank you for writing it! I grew English in a township heavily populated with old order amish in Conewango Valley NYS. I have seen many young people try and leave the church as a teenager only to return with their tails between their legs, defeated and oppressed. My dad still lives in the area and it sent him a copy of the book and he read in one sitting. He calls the Amish communists. You are told what you can do, wear, say, where you can go, just like the communists.

    I enjoy your blog. Keep writing, it is good for the soul!

    Comment by Chris Lampson — February 5, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  15. Wow and double wow – all of it. The piece of wood – it’s so hard to imagine our moms as teenagers and all of the feelings that go along with it, but why on wood? Was it on the underside of something so only she knew it was there, or on the outside so everyone knew she wrote it? Had she contemplated leaving and wanted to leave her mark? And why had the current owners held onto it – a piece of history? It was definitely meant to stay in the family, that’s for sure. Kind of gives me goosebumps how it all worked out. Pretty awesome.

    I really never even thought about some Amish not being able to take vacations. I’m glad your parents are able to now though, because I’m sure your dad is enjoying the company of friends and family he probably hasn’t seen in years. And your mom, bless her heart, can still see the beauty and feel the sunshine.

    Let’s be honest, do you have the best readers or what!? Perusing the comments always leaves me both deeper in thought and usually laughing – keep writing on those walls, John Schmid! Oh, and the comment from your nephew – completely precious.

    Comment by Bethrusso — February 5, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  16. …again this blog was well written as they all are… When my Mother had Alzhiemers, I had to get to know her all over again as another person. She had a stroke in 1995 and never remembered me again. She passed away 5 years ago. I learned that she was still capable of feeling love, like hugs and holding her hand, even if she did not know who I was. I think finding that board as a keepsake is a blessing, and so sweet to picture her writing it when she was 16 and had her whole life before her.

    Even though you have no children you have passed down a heritage to your nephews and nieces through your awesome writing. You seem to be very appreciated by your family and that is nice. I know you must miss the memory of the life you had when you were young because I feel the same way about mine, I welcome change but miss it when I look back on my life and places. I will include you in my prayers that you will be truly happy with where you are now.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — February 9, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  17. Your mom deserved to have the right to go to Florida before the Alzheimer’s. Your anger is righteous. No way exists to defend rules that make no sense, not for Amish, nor any other religion. It is truly heartbreaking, your anguish. Perhaps in some way your mother is enjoying her days in the sun, let’s hope.

    Comment by Eleanor — April 23, 2012 @ 4:55 am

  18. I am a peculiar person. I love the snow. I love the cold. I love the soft, blue, glow of evening after millions upon billions of delicate snowflakes have landed on the black earth. I love the naked and vulnerable trees against the gloomy, gray sky. What a beautiful contrast! And how about the sparkly sugar snow? I can’t even think of words to describe it’s magical beauty. I love snuggling under a blanket watching tv or flipping through a Martha Stewart craft book dreaming about all the beautiful things I can make for my very small but cozy home. And I LOVE Christmas! Let me say that again- I love Christmas! My manger takes center stage every winter. My boys love putting the wise men where Mary should be and the sheep where baby Jesus should be. What a hodge- podge! And just about every night we read our Bible passage, turn off the light above the table and scratch a match to light the Advent candle and pray to Jesus to prepare us for His second coming. One boy gets to light the candle and the other blow it out. Snow and its effects provide me with many comforting thoughts.

    Ira, I know you dislike the restrictions of the Ordnung, but could it be that your parents got a sense of safety and security from it? Maybe it meant more to them than going to Florida. Just a thought.

    Football. I never understood the game. It sickens me to know what these pro-football players make in wages and that there are churches in dire need of money to fund their outreach programs to help the poor. I despise the way women are flaunt-ed and flaunt-ing their wares during commercial time and on the field. None of it seems right to me.

    I’m on round two of reading your book. I attempted two other biographies and couldn’t believe how stupid they were. Shallow, kindergarten level reading, perverted words in just about every paragraph. Ick!

    Keep blogging my friend. This world needs a place to ponder what matters and to feel real heart issues.

    Comment by Francine — November 12, 2012 @ 12:05 am

  19. Ira,

    “After they are gone, all they have left unsaid will remain unsaid forever…”

    Please, Friend, make sure it is not you leaving things left unsaid. Tell them. Tell them what they don’t have the courage to say.

    Comment by Francine — November 13, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

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