May 9, 2008

The Wedding

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm

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“You can’t go home again.”

—Thomas Wolfe
_____________________

I decided to go. After hunkering down and laying low for over a year, it was time to show my face again. See my family. Mingle. Besides, this wedding was unique.

Luann Yutzy and Larry Yoder would be married in the remote little community of Mountain Grove, MO on Friday, May 2, 2008. Unlike many of the more conservative communities (like Aylmer and Bloomfield), Mountain Grove allows the invitation and presence of non-Amish relatives (although possibly not for long, after our invasion). So all my non-Amish siblings were invited, as were all my Amish siblings and parents. Most planned to attend.

At first I wasn’t sure about making the trip, but my sister Rachel (Luann’s mom) worked the phones tirelessly. So I finally agreed to give it some serious thought. I wanted to go. It was just so far out there. A thousand miles. Closest airport was Springfield. Flights in were few and expensive. Besides, I absolutely hate airports, where people are treated worse than cattle.

So I decided to drive out. Not with Big Blue. Didn’t want all those miles on my truck. Or to deal with its rather horrendous gas mileage. So I called my friends at Enterprise. Sure, they had a car. Mid-sized, with cruise control. I scheduled them to bring the car to me at work Tuesday afternoon.

It was a little red Ford Focus. Mid-sized. I examined it suspiciously. Looked like a nifty little vehicle. I parked Big Blue in the back of the lumber yard and left that evening with the little Ford Focus.

I fit in the driver’s seat OK. Surprisingly. And the little car had zip.

I spent Tuesday evening packing, as is my wont. Pack the night before. Don’t get too tore up about the small details. Throw in extras of everything.

After a fitful night, I set out early Wednesday morning, around 7. It’s been a long, long time since I have hit the road and just drove and drove all day. That’s what I did that day. Just zoned out and moved. Stopping only for gas, restroom breaks and combo pretzels for snacking. I listened to talk radio, communed with myself and reflected on the sad state of modern country music. It’s pretty abysmal. Lots of high whining and moaning, very little actual singing. We badly need a new crop of young Waylons and Haggards and Jones and Cashes.

The little Focus zipped seamlessly through traffic. I was very impressed. Excellent gas mileage too, around 30 mpg. I made it to the eastern outskirts of St. Louis by late the first day. Got a room at a slightly smelly Super 8 motel. I usually like to stay at Holiday Inns, but the local one was fully booked. So that was out.

The next morning by 9 AM I was on the Interstate heading west. I-44 to Rt. 63 South at Rolla. The two lane highway meandered through the rolling countryside. Lined with trashy little gas stations and quaint little restaurants. I felt like I had returned home.

I arrived at the Super 8 in Cabool, MO around noon. The nice desk lady was doubtful that my room was ready, but agreed to check. Thankfully, it was. I unloaded and unpacked my things for the next two days. This Super 8 was clean as a whistle. I was the first of the wedding guests to check in.

After checking in, I headed out to Mountain Grove, ten miles west, to find my sister Rachel. I located the place and pulled up, the first out-of-state guest to arrive. Rachel was glad to see me. She looked tired from the tons and tons of work she had done to get ready. She proudly showed me the vast containers of food, stacks of fresh pecan pies, and all the fixings. Ready for the noon meal after the wedding.

I got her to sit and rest awhile with me and we just talked and drank coffee, catching up on the latest. I knew it would be my only chance to visit with her alone. After a bit, her son Andrew showed up and we were soon sent to Mountain Grove on some errand, getting the cheese sliced, or some such thing. Andrew had snuck out to hunt turkeys that morning under the theory that obtaining forgiveness was easier than getting permission to go. He’d called in two gobblers, but his friends had missed. Too windy, they claimed.

Later that afternoon, Andrew and I, along with his uncles David and Gideon Yutzy, were dispatched to the local Amish schoolhouse, where the wedding service would be held, to make sure a clock was mounted on the wall where the preachers the next day could easily see it. So as not to preach overlong.

It was the biggest one-room Amish schoolhouse I’d ever seen. Benches were already set up, row after row, the song books spread on top. As I paged absently through an Ausbund, Andrew suddenly remembered a question he was supposed to ask me.

“Would you lead a verse of the Lob Song tomorrow?” he asked. “Luann would like you to lead.”

I picked my jaw up off the floor. Lead the Lob Song? What ever gave them such an idea?

“We read your blog,” Andrew explained, “and thought you might want to.”

Ah, yes, my blog, where I’d bragged in great detail about how I’d led the Lob Song. But that was so long ago. A lifetime ago.

I could have nipped the idea in the bud then and there. But I didn’t. It was a huge honor to be considered, even.

“If you, or she, really want me to, I will if asked.” I said. “But believe me, I won’t be offended if someone else does it. There’s plenty of others that could do it better.”

Andrew allowed that he’d find out for sure and let me know the next morning.

That evening, everyone was invited to Jonas Yutzys for supper. A large group gathered a little after six. Waglers, Yutzys, and assorted in-laws. We all had a loud, large time.

Early Friday morning, a savage storm raged through the area. Mountain Grove got hit pretty hard, some small tornados and such. By the time the storm reached Cabool, where I was staying, it had diminished. Some strong winds and rain but little damage.

I left the motel around 7:30, dressed in a new suit and white shirt. And a little black hat, a fedora, I’d bought just for this occasion. The western skies looked like they might clear up. I pulled up to the large school house. Vans and cars and buggies were flowing in from all directions. I helped unload my brother Titus from his van and accompanied him into the basement, where all the men were standing around in a circle, visiting. We shook hands with everyone and took our place in the circle.

Soon it was time to head upstairs. The preachers went first, followed by the married men. Marvin Yutzy and my brother Steve helped me lift Titus on his wheelchair up the long flight of stairs. The women were seated on the left, the men on the right. My Mother sat on a chair on the center front, a place of honor, surrounded by all her daughters. On the other side of the aisle, up front, my Dad sat on a chair by the older men. Titus wheeled to an open spot directly behind Dad, and I sat on the bench beside him.

After we were seated, but before the service actually opened, the song leader treaded lightly over to my father and whispered in his ear. Dad would lead a song. Then the leader stepped over to my brother Titus, seated beside me. He asked Titus to lead the “wedding hymn,” a special song that is sung after the couple returns from the short session with the preachers. He then looked right at me.

“Are you Ira?” he asked, glancing curiously at my “English” suit. I’m sure he was wondering why he had been instructed to ask such an obviously non-Amish man to lead a song.

“I am,” I admitted evasively.

“You are to lead the last two verses of the Lob Song,” he informed me. “Will you do it?”

I gulped. I was actually being asked to lead. Andrew had not been kidding. I took the plunge.

“I will,” I answered bravely. “As long as it’s not started too high. If you start it too high, you’ll have to lead it yourself.”

He chuckled as he returned to his seat. Unconcerned, and perhaps mildly offended that I would even suggest he’d start it too high.

At last everyone was seated. The presiding bishop, Enos Yoder of Chateau, OK, formally announced the opening of the service. Then the song leader promptly announced the first hymn, an old wedding tune. Pages rustled as everyone located the proper number. All was deathly silent.

A pause. Then my father’s full-throated voice launched into the lead. Perfect pitch. The same rich tone I’d always remembered. The old lion still had it. Mostly. The tone rang true. But his voice cracked and broke and trembled just a bit. The ravages of age. I drank in the moment, figuring it was the last time I would ever hear him lead.

As the first line was sung, the preachers got up and slowly filed out, followed by the bridal couple. They would receive some last minute admonitions and formally reiterate their desire to be married.

Dad got through three verses with minimal trouble and the first song was over. All was quiet again. The Lob Song would be next.

“Page 770,” said the song leader solemnly. A pause, as everyone paged to it. Then he started the song.

He got it right. Perfect pitch. Another young man, seated behind me and to the left, took the lead for the first two verses. He had a beautiful soaring voice, and threw in all the extra ornamentation. Chills rippled up and down my spine. I wouldn’t be able to lead nearly as perfectly. Oh, well.

On we roared, through the first verse. Five minutes. One verse down.

At about the start of the second verse, I pretty much freaked. What did I think I was doing, agreeing to lead the Lob Song? Sure I had done it before, but not for twenty-two years. What if I got stuck? I hadn’t led any song of any kind in any church for at least fifteen years. Way out of practice.

I sang along in the second verse to get the rhythm. Let’s see, I thought, here I go up, here I go down. The young man sang on, leading in beautiful, perfect melody. The second verse was half over.

I analyzed the situation. I am proud now that I was not sweating. I simply calculated, in cold logic, what must be done. I decided to shut down my brain and run on pure reflex. Like riding a bike. It’ll come back to me.

Much easier said than done. I battled the waves of panic in my stomach.

The second verse was fast coming to a close. I took a deep breath. A minute before, my brother Titus had slyly slipped me a bottle of Buckley’s Cough Syrup. Take a sip, he mouthed. I did. It did wonders to clear my tight, dry throat. Almost like whiskey. I could have used a good stiff shot. Or better yet, a double.

The last line of the second verse ended. A split second of silence. Time for the new song leader. I forced myself into autopilot. Now. And for the first time in twenty-two plus years, I sang the Lob Song lead. My voice was clear, but not overwhelming or overloud.

“Gib unsern Herzen auch Verstand.”

Slightly shaky. But I still had it. My confidence rose exponentially. I could do it. The second line.

“Erleuchtung hier auch Erden..”

Stretched just right. Less shaky. I was in the groove.

My father, seated just in front and to the right of me, soon realized someone directly behind him was leading. Each time I led, he half-turned, trying to figure out who it was. He told me later he knew it was either me or LeRoy Herschberger, who was seated beside me. Dad seemed impressed that I had led.

I stayed in the groove. For the next ten minutes, through two verses. I remained on autopilot. I even added some slight soaring ornamentation, vocal twists up and down. It felt great.

And then, just like that, it was over. I sagged with relief. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Such a thing had never happened before. Not when you consider who I am, where I’ve been and where I now am. Such a thing will likely never happen again.

There are rare moments, as an event unfolds around you, when time creeps forward in slow motion, yet simultaneously accelerates to lightning speed, when you are aware of the minutest details around you all about. And you grasp the significance of it all and know with utter certainty that there will be few if any such similar moments in your life.

Leading the Lob Song was such a moment.

Luann and Larry had deeply honored me by requesting that I lead. And I had honored them by doing it.

After another song was sung, the bridal couple returned. Time for Titus to lead the wedding hymn. After some shifting in his chair, he belted out the first note. Started it himself, something I have never done. With each lead, his voice rose and fell in powerful controlled waves. The way it’s really done. He sang like my father used to sing in his heyday. A chip off the old block.

After two verses, the preachers returned from the “Obrote” and the song ceased. We all settled in for the preaching.

The first preacher, the groom’s father, stood and preached for forty-five minutes.

After that, another preacher stood and read a chapter of Scripture aloud. He sat down.

And then my brother Joseph rose slowly to take the floor. Graying now, a preacher for almost exactly thirty years, he somberly surveyed the congregation and began to speak with practiced ease. His gaze focused on the far distant wall, he warmed up and soon his powerful voice rolled through every crevice of the vast room. Good old Amish preaching at its finest. The people sat quietly and listened.

I enjoyed his sermon. I had not heard him preach for probably two decades.

After a short fifteen minutes, he took his seat and Bishop Enos Yoder stood to finish the service. After reading a few passages of Scripture and preaching a bit more, he asked the couple to rise and stand before him. A short prayer. Then he took the couple’s hands and joined them. Pronounced them husband and wife. And that was it. Another song, and the service was over.

We stepped outside to a clear beautiful day. The sun shone, the wind was busily drying the muddy yard. It remained beautiful for the rest of the day.

Everyone soon headed the four miles or so to the place where the meal was being served. In a pole shed. Rows of tables were already set up. The wedding couple sat in the “eck” surrounded by their attendants. Family members lined the remainder of their table, including Titus and Ruth and me. My oldest sister Rosemary sat beside me. Mom and Dad sat beside her.

The noon meal was fantastic. All the traditional dishes with brisket as the main dish. Too much, too fattening. But I ate it all. It was a day to throw dieting to the winds.

After the meal, many of the married men sat at a table and sang old church songs, which is traditional at Amish weddings. I did not join them but mingled with others, many of whom I had not seen in some time. I also spent time visiting with my sisters, some of whom I had not seen in years. All were genuinely concerned about how I was doing. Several expressed hesitation in even talking to me for fear the conversation would show up on my blog. I chuckled and promised anonymity.

Around four, I returned to my motel for a short nap. I later returned to the evening service, where another meal was served. We all hung out and sang and visited until after ten o’clock. I headed back to my motel, exhausted.

It was a perfect day.

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again. And that statement is almost always universally true. But on May 2, 2008, the sons and daughters of David and Ida Mae Wagler returned home. Not geographically, but culturally, in observance of ancient Amish customs. For some of us, it was a long journey back, even for a day.

We assembled from distant and far-flung places. We laid aside our differences. We greeted each other warmly and openly, without rancor. We sang the old songs. We heard the old sermons. We witnessed the traditional marriage ceremony. We ate the traditional meals. We were together as we had not been for more than thirty years.

It was a day like no other.

One day, before long, that inevitable hour will come when the family will gather to lay one of our own to rest. It could be any of us, as tomorrow is promised to no one. But the natural course of things, combined with the incessant passing of weeks and months and years, dictates that my parents’ days are numbered and rapidly diminishing. Either could go at any moment, with little warning.

On that day, we will pause in our busy lives. We will gather once more, all of us. Not in celebration, but in solemn observance. We will go home again to say good-bye to the one who has crossed the bar to the final home.

But now, before that day comes, we’ve had this one. A day with memories we can take and turn in our hands and examine, and reminisce as it enters the hallowed annals of our family history. A day that will live on in our hearts.

The perfect day. For one day.

____________PICTURES____________

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The happy couple: Luann and Larry

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My oldest sister Rosemary and oldest brother Joseph
Rosemary brought a quart of Canadian maple syrup for each of her siblings.

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Titus and Rosemary

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Andrew, Rhoda, Mom

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Afternoon singing: Rhoda, Mom, Naomi

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Mother and daughters
Rhoda, Mom, Naomi, Maggie (standing)
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO MOM AND ALL MOTHERS.

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Ruth, unknown person, Titus, Steve in the afternoon

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Men singing in the afternoon

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Mr. Cool at the reception. Ira and his bodyguards.
Reuben, Glenn, the Don, Clifford, Ira Lee

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Marvin and Ira

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Rudy and Ira

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Ira and Marcus Marner.
Marcus used to bus tables at the Gasthof where I worked as a waiter in 1989-90.
I had not seen him since.

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Jesse, Ira, Steve, Marvin after supper

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(24 Comments) »

  1. I enjoyed your article (and pictures) with all the details…yes, it also sent chills up my spine reflecting back to all those memories. I’m glad you went back; your roots never will leave you.

    Comment by Mattie Kauffman — May 9, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  2. Yep! that was a wedding like no other…Stephen & I were uncle AND aunt to Luann, our children had 17 aunts & uncles there, (plus their spouses) both sets of grandparents & a great host of cousins & even 4 of my dad’s siblings came…The food, (like you said ) was wonderful. Lester & Rachel..& the folks at Mt. Grove did a great job too helping…

    Comment by wilmawagler — May 9, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

  3. I am totally surprised that you were allowed to lead the Lob Song at an Amish Wedding. Your sister Rosemary looks like your Mom did when I first got to know her.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 9, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  4. I feigned support at the time, but now behind the safety of my keyboard I dare say your outfit would’ve been more distinguished without the hat.

    Ira’s response: They just don’t make bodyguards like they used to. You’re fired.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — May 10, 2008 @ 3:25 am

  5. I think hats are cool- so there, Reuben =)

    Comment by jason yutzy — May 10, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  6. This brings to mind an old Charley Pride song: “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore.”

    Comment by Ed Yoder — May 10, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  7. The simplicity of the event you describe has a beauty all its own. It is attractive in its own way, even if there are other ways of marrying that might highlight other aspects of the mystery God created. Thanks for letting us see this one, so we can honor it with you.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — May 10, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  8. Wow. Sounds like this was the wedding not to miss. I am reading the blog from Switzerland, and while I do not regret being here, I can see I missed out. The historic leading of the Loblied. But I am glad for the rare occasion the family had of really being together.

    I plan to visit the building in Passau, Deutchland where the Loblied is supposed to have been written. I don’t know if they will let me go poke around the basement or not.

    Comment by Mervin Wagler — May 11, 2008 @ 1:19 am

  9. Dear Uncle, you looked fabulous! I could not have picked a more perfect hat for you that day if I had tried. Reuben, I fear you may have to concede defeat on this one!

    Great job on the blog this week. You managed to capture this unique occasion in a very real way, both through the words and pictures. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Comment by Janice — May 11, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  10. Hey Ira,

    Friday evening I was at a fundraiser when I got a call from a harness maker near Churchtown, Pa. (who will remain nameless) and he said, “Have you read Ira’s blog? You have to read it!” I didn’t get home til late, but I read some of it between songs at the event and while driving home (remember your bad driver’s blog?) When I got home I wrote a long drawn out comment about the time I was asked to lead the Lob Lied.

    Then I pushed the wrong button and erased it all! I was trying not to cry because my son was home from college and he thinks I’m tough. Then all of a sudden I hit another wrong button and emptied all the kerosene out of my Amish computer. Smoked up the whole kitchen. I went to bed.

    Anyway- great blog. It’s just as well that I erased everything Friday night because my comment was longer than your blog. But you nailed it. I, too, was nervous, scared, shook, honored, and relieved when it was done. My resume now reads: -opened for such and such country music big shot; -sang at so and so famous place; -led the Lob Lied at the South Kidron District Amish church…

    Keep up the great work. I look forward to meeting you when I get to Lancaster.

    Comment by John Schmid — May 11, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

  11. A very interesting blog which brings back a lot of memories. I admire the fact that you had the courage to lead the Lob Song after that many years not having done so. I grew up in a similar setting and when my father got remarried, I had not been to a wedding etc. for 20 years. He requested that I lead the Lob Song. After considering the consequences to my pride if my ingrained memory failed me, I declined. So my hat or fedora off to you for truly being able to go back home!!

    Comment by John Yoder — May 11, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

  12. Ira:

    This is simply beautiful in style and substance. You took me to a place that I as an outsider, and from the “Left Coast” at that, am never going to go myself. I am so happy for the couple and the family and thankful for your writing.

    Kent

    Comment by Kent Hansen — May 12, 2008 @ 12:49 am

  13. Ira, that was good writing. You know how to take a person there.

    Elam L

    Comment by Elam L — May 12, 2008 @ 7:28 am

  14. Ira, enjoyed your wedding coverage, and what stands out to me is that all of you came. I have always felt that you can never put any price on family, and to look around that day and realize you all were there, because you wanted to be. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Luann and Larry were truly thrilled with attendance at their wedding, and you honored them by what you did. If there was anything I would have changed if I could have, I would have made the day 36 hours long instead of 24. I don’t know if I even talked to all the nieces and nephews.

    What happens to the little hat now that it has served its purpose? You could donate it to a musuem, except you weren’t wearing it to sing the Loblied. I was there 2 weeks before the wedding, and it was worth every minute for the big day. It was the family that made the wedding what it was.

    Comment by Rachel — May 12, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  15. It used to be, I HAD to wear a hat. Now I don’t have to, so I don’t!

    Comment by John Wagler — May 12, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  16. Footnote to comment # 15; Ira, you probably dont realise how lucky you are. Recently I attended a Plain wedding where a guest was sporting a hat very similar to yours. This went on for a short time, suddenly the guest was accosted by burly Leaders and ORDERED, not ASKED to remove the hat! This resulted in the guest’s premature departure from the event, as he did not feel led to remove the hat!

    Comment by John Wagler — May 13, 2008 @ 12:12 am

  17. The even better part of reading comment #16 is that in my head I can hear cousin John stating this paragraph. Especially the word “accosted” :)

    Comment by Janice — May 13, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

  18. This is a great blog…. :)
    Isn’t family great!

    Comment by Dorothy — May 14, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  19. On a side note, 2 in our family are now officially “of age.” Happy 21st to my baby sis, Rhoda and cousin Justin! (May 13 & 14)

    Comment by Dorothy — May 14, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

  20. Hello Ira.

    Let me introduce myself. My mother and your father were 1st cousins. I say were because mother passed away back in 1992. My grandmother Magdalena was a sister to your grandfather.

    I took your folks, Joe and your aunt Rachel Graber to Aylmer last December for your aunt’s funeral.

    Comment by Rich Miller — May 16, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  21. Ira,
    Great job! I would like to offer a few ideas for consideration:

    I have noticed that Amish weddings are the longest (12 hrs) of any culture I know of, (and I know several others)

    They also have the lowest divorce rate.

    Could these 2 facts be related?

    Also, is the community where this wedding took place known as a New Order Amish community?

    AS you can see, I am almost 2 years late in reading these blogs, and probably this comment will not be noticed. If you have deadline for comments, it is alright if it does not appear.

    I have, however had a nightmare recently recently. I dreamed that I went read or reread some of these stories.

    They were gone!

    I woke in a cold sweat, rushed to my computer and found it was just a dream, a bad one.

    Dan

    Comment by Dan Schmucker — January 24, 2010 @ 8:47 am

  22. Hello Ira,

    I just finished reading your book and have just as recently become a reader and maybe even a fan of your blog, reading month by month, chronologically. I enjoy your writing. Your stories of your/my heritage touch a very deep part in me. I can’t even explain it. I enjoy living in today’s world and the culture, but there is something about the richness of where we came from.

    Comment by Rebecca — September 30, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  23. Oh, I forgot my question: Is it tradition to have all the wind-chimes hanging for a wedding, or is that just coincidentally where the wedding was held? (From the picture with your mother and sisters)Just curious…

    Comment by Rebecca — September 30, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  24. Another fascinating story that is so descriptive that I felt like I attended the wedding also. I really think that a movie needs to be made from your book and stories.

    Comment by Janet Bell — July 21, 2018 @ 11:37 pm

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