January 18, 2008


Category: News — Ira @ 7:02 pm


“. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone,
a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.”

—Thomas Wolfe, “Look Homeward, Angel”

—Aylmer: early 1970s—

His name was Henry Palmer. Tall, toothless, beak-nosed, nasal-voiced, stooped and painfully skinny, old and bald, he eked out a meager existence by taxiing the Amish in his ancient rattletrap black sedan.

He was far from a safe driver, and it’s a miracle that he never had an accident while transporting passengers in his car. My earliest memory of riding in a car was as a passenger in his, on the dust-clogged gravel roads around Aylmer.

Henry was a WWI vet. He ran away from home when he was fourteen, lied about his age and joined the Army. Fought in the mustard gas-blanketed fields, the rat-infested trenches of that terrible conflict. After his return, he never married. He lived like a hermit in a decrepit little shack in the remote hills a few miles outside the small village of Richmond.

On the dash of his car was one of those little vinyl sticker labels you can punch out letter by letter, with his name. Whoever gave it to him had misspelled it; the label read “Henery Pamler.” He never knew the difference. I suspect he couldn’t read. Or write.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, we heard the news at school one day. Some-how, fire had broken out in Henry’s shack the night before, and in a fierce but brief inferno, it had burned to the ground. He hadn’t made it out. We stood around in tight little knots, discussing the tragedy, knowing it couldn’t be true.

It was true. Almost too shocking, too vast, too overwhelming for our young minds to comprehend. The thought of the old man collapsing in the smoke and heat and flames, alone and unheard. And that we would never see him again.

The county buried him, I suppose. He had no one. No family. No kin. No one to mourn him or mark his passing. He was the last of his line. Any shreds of personal history he might have accumulated reduced to ashes with his body. And that’s why we now briefly honor the memory of who he was, before even it disappears, fading unnoticed into the encroaching mists of lost time.

—New Holland: 2007—

“That your truck?” she asked in a raspy voice as I emerged from Sheetz early one morning and walked to Big Blue, bleary-eyed and sipping my coffee.

I glanced at her, a rather plump, amply proportioned forty-ish, cigarette smoking bleached blonde, giving Big Blue the once-over while standing beside her powerhouse Mustang. Sleek beautiful car. Late model. Looked like it could burn some tires and move. And a shimmering electric blue.

“Yup,” I answered.

“I like it,” she said.

“Thank you. I like your car, too,” I replied, “especially the color.”

She chuckled, a full-throated rasp as she opened her car door. “Thanks,” she said. “You know what they say. Great minds think alike.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Not that I would have.

—Aylmer: around 1973—

“The Purdy girls lived back there,” he said. “Two sisters, they had a little shack and some buildings back behind the woods there.”

Gord Brackenbury, a local logger and roustabout hauler, was talking to my Mom and sisters about the Carl Sansburn farm Dad had just bought. I hung around the edge and listened to him talk. Short and rotund, Gord chain-smoked and was all but stone deaf. And it was whispered about the community that he sometimes drank to excess. He could never remember my name and just called me “Junior.”

“That was when I was a kid,” he continued in his slow amiable drawl. “Everything’s gone now. Can’t see any sign of any buildings. As far as I remember, they never got married.”

Later Mom was telling Dad. “Gord Brackenbury said two sisters lived back there behind the woods, and they were so pretty. He remembered that so clearly after all these years. How pretty they were.”

“No, Mom,” my sister Rachel interrupted, “Purdy was their last name. He didn’t call them pretty. Purdy.”

“Ooh,” said Mom.

—New Holland: 2007—

A summer Sunday morning. I stood in line at the counter at Sheetz with my morning cup of coffee. The lady ahead of me had two cups, and ordered a couple of packs of smokes. The clerk fetched them. Then she wanted lottery tickets. They both walked to the far end of the counter where the tickets were sold.

She was thin, probably in her fifties, with a hard worn face and the chronically tired look of the hardscrabble poor. I waited impatiently as she made her lottery ticket selections. Five of this, three of that, blah, blah, blah. Where was another clerk when you needed one? I set my coffee on the counter just off to the side of her items.

Finally she was finished with her picks and they came back to the register. The clerk rang up her purchases. She paid with a couple of twenties and walked out. I motioned to my cup of coffee.

“Oh, she paid for that,” the clerk said. “I rang up everything on the counter. I thought it was hers.” I thanked him and took my coffee and walked out.

She was sitting in the passenger’s seat of an old half-rusted Chevette, about the ugliest little car ever made. A fat scruffy-faced man I assume was her husband sat squeezed behind the wheel. His great bulk flowed over onto her seat. They were scratching the lottery tickets she had just bought. I approached her side of the car.

“Excuse me,” I said politely, “but I think you just paid for my coffee in there by mistake. I had it sitting on the counter and the clerk rang it up with your stuff. I’ll gladly pay you.” I offered a dollar bill.

She looked at the bill hungrily, then quickly glanced over at her husband. He hesitated for less than a second. Then he waved his hand generously. “No, no, you can have it. That’s all right,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “It was a mistake. I’ll gladly pay you.”

“No, no,” he insisted. “Won’t hear of it. That’s all right. You can have it.”

“Then thank you very much,” I said. “That’s very kind of you. I appreciate it.”

Cigarette smoke billowed from the ugly little Chevette’s windows as I walked away.

—Aylmer: early 1970s—

The “English” farmer and his teenage son stood there in their bib overalls in our barn, checking out a milk cow Dad had advertised in the newspaper.

“Is she sound?” The farmer asked suspiciously. “In good health?”

“As far as I know,” Dad answered.

“Well, is she or isn’t she? Not as far as you know,” the farmer retorted. His son looked on and listened, drinking it all in. “Yes or no. Is she or isn’t she?”

“As far as I know,” Dad answered again. “You can see her. You can see she’s healthy. And as far as I know she’s sound.”

The farmer grumbled and growled a bit more. But he bought the cow. For Dad’s asking price of $400.00.

—Lancaster: 2008—

I sat there at a little table in the center of the mall, sipping my usual cup of half-decaf, half-regular. Watching the Saturday afternoon post-holiday crowds. An elderly black gentleman with a neatly trimmed mustache approached and asked if he might sit in one of the three empty chairs at my table. I waved assent.

He carried a cup of regular coffee and a small expresso cup, which was empty. He poured coffee from the large cup to the small cup and drank it. I looked puzzled.

“It’s the way we drink coffee in my home country, in these small cups,” he explained haltingly, with just a bit of an accent. “So sometimes when I get homesick, I come here and drink it like this.”

“Where is your home country?” I asked.


“How long have you been here?”

“Nineteen years,” he said, lifting the expresso cup and slurping its contents in one gulp. “And I’ve never been back to visit.”

I am spending a few days this weekend at the Horse World Expo in Timonium, MD, manning a company booth. It’s always kind of fun to get away from the office for a few days, do something different. I see a lot of vendors once or twice a year, at these Expos. We always kid each other and catch up on the past year.


Speaking to prospective customers, mostly horse people, gets to be quite draining. By the time the show is over, I’m pretty much done. No more. I always resolve that whatever my future lot may be, it will not include owning or having anything to do with horses. Never, never, never.

A word to my nephews who are skiing on the vast slopes in Wyoming or Utah or some such exotic place, at an upscale resort. Have fun. Don’t break a leg. I sometimes grumble that no one ever tells me anything. Had I known that four of you, all big strong, strapping muscular young men, were passing right through Albuquerque, NM, I might have suggested that you stop there and see an old acquaintance of mine. Or you might call him a former friend. Just to say “hi,” of course. And perhaps one or two other choice words and phrases. Maybe you could still stop there on your way back. I hear he likes to hang out at “Jack in the Box” restaurants.




  1. Thanks, Ira, for rekindling my memory on Henry. That was long ago. I remember the ones who found his body that bitterly cold January morning said he was just inside the door. He had actually been trying to escape. And like all Aylmer Amish people then, we were not allowed to attend Henry’s funeral. Due to a certain man’s conscience!!! I have often wondered since, was anyone there?

    We have a booth at Kansas State Fair every year and our men have some real good friends there too. Even some that want home made bread and pumpkin pies.

    About Gorden B., do you remember how he moved us to Iowa, and we pretty much froze in the back of his pickup because the heater ran out of fuel. Why on earth did he not stop at a truck stop and buy some fuel????

    And about all your kin on the way out to Colo. to snowboard and ski next week, be safe: Andrew, Titus, Luann, Larry and David Lynn are all planning to be there. Like any good Mom, I pray and worry. I’m glad for my nice warm house and fresh coffee.

    Rhoda and I plan to go help Mom and Dad load Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Comment by rachel — January 18, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

  2. Great post. I’ll bet those folks that refused your dollar wished they had charged you two, after watching you leave in Big Blue.


    Comment by Bear — January 18, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

  3. February is almost here. Maybe time to vent on former friends and today’s hypocrites, maybe not. Don’t know for sure, only you can make that decision. I will back any decision. Now that I am married after 46 years of preparation, I believe that I can understand the alternation of the mind and soul between rage, pain and apathy.

    Your writing just continues to get better. Thank you for a literate blog.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — January 18, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  4. Son Ira reports they are now somewhere in the desert of Mormon country having hiked to the bottom of The Grand Canyon a few days ago. I’m sure they would’ve loved to scout out those “Jack-in-the-Boxes” for you!

    I’m with Rachel praying for safety of all the skiing relatives meeting in Colo. this wk. Not to mention a dau. (Elaine) in Zambia Africa right now.

    Comment by wilma wagler — January 19, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  5. Enjoyed the stories of ‘real’ life, thanks.

    Comment by sms — January 20, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  6. We stopped in NM but couldn’t find the (bleep)er so we left again.

    Comment by ira l wagler — January 21, 2008 @ 11:08 pm

  7. Ira Lee, it would not be worth my time to go thru or stop in N.M.

    Comment by John Wagler — January 23, 2008 @ 12:05 am

  8. There’s a little inside thingy going on here. Something about New Mexico. Well, now that you know you’re better than that and have moved on to greener pastures…

    Hey, I really liked the way you wrote up these mini stories. I hope you don’t mind, but I may do the same and post them on this date when I’m done. It’ll be fun. I always enjoy finding humor or depth in a situation. And goodness knows I’m surrounded by enough people! Some looney, some desperate, some comical, some kind, some cruel, some needy, and some I just love to be with. They are all out there.

    I simply must put in a snip of gratitude for this unbelievably, glorious Summer. I hesitate to even say Summer. Right around the end of June a black cloud settles over me, like some people have awaiting winter. I feel trapped, locked in, suffocated. Ah! but not this year. Did somebody say global warming? Not! me.

    That was really nice of you to offer the dollar back to that poor couple. You have a good heart, Ira.

    Comment by Francine — August 16, 2013 @ 1:49 am

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