July 11, 2008

Road Trip…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:37 pm

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“And we hit the road. You and me and our whole great nation.
With high hopes and no expectations for the future.”

—Ira Glass
___________________________________________________

I wanted to take Big Blue. I planned to take Big Blue. A man drives a truck. And by golly, I would drive a truck on my long-anticipated two week summer trip west.

The date approached. Big Blue gleamed in the sun as I drove him to work every day. It would be fun, to take an extended trip and really get the feel of the truck on the open road. And a proud thing, to show it off to my friends and family.

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But, alas, there are a tiny handful of factors that can make a man decide to part company with his truck. One such factor is gas prices. Now at $4 plus a gallon. I just couldn’t compute the numbers rationally in my head. Not for twenty five hundred miles. Image is a good thing, but there comes a point when its cost is not.

The decision came to me gradually, over the course of the last month or so. As the realization sank in, I silently cursed the politicians who triggered our current energy crisis. Dogs. All of them. The Republicans for not using their power effectively when they had it. The Democrats for, well, being Democrats and doing what elitist Democrats naturally do (They should change their party name to “Demoncrats” because they demonize productivity, personal freedom and wealth). For obnoxiously obstructing all domestic drilling for the last thirty years. Where do they think energy comes from, wishful thinking? Nuts and wackos, they are.

Yes, I’m bitter. And will be for awhile.

Bitter or not, all the stewing in the world won’t postpone the inevitable. So I called my old friends at Enterprise. They came through for me a few months ago for the wedding in MO. They could do it again, they assured me. A mid-sized car, with cruise control. So I made the reservation.

They delivered the car to my office, as usual. A dark blue Chrysler Sebring. Looked cool enough. Roomy. Plenty of space for luggage in the trunk. I apologized to Big Blue and parked him in the mechanic’s garage for twelve days. After taking careful note of his mileage in case the yard boys decided to utilize my truck in my absence.

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Little Blue and me.

Around 1 PM that afternoon (Thursday July 3), I left for Winchester, WV and the house of my friend, Dominic Haskin. Dominic and his father Chris, sell and install pole buildings. They buy their packages from Graber and are among our top customers in volume each year. Dominic always hosts a large party on July 4th, and invited me to stop by and participate. His place would be my kickoff point.

I arrived at his house around 3:30 that afternoon. I’d figured it would be later, but the traffic was not bad. So Little Blue, as I christianed the car, and I zipped along and made good time. Dominic had just returned from Horst Meats in Hagarstown, MD, with a fully dressed hog carcass. For the big pig roast the next day. He and I hung out the rest of the day, getting things ready for the big bash. I met a bunch of his buddies as they came and went.

The next morning at 8 AM, he and his buddies hoisted the hog onto a spit and fired up the charcoal. The pig was carefully attended to and basted all day as the crowd accumulated. Guests splashed in Dominic’s pool and ate snacks as they waited for the word that the main course was served.

A little after five that afternoon, the pig was ready. Fully and thoroughly and deliciously roasted. Despite a steady afternoon drizzle, about forty-five people had gathered for the feast. A wonderful time was had by all, eating mouth-watering food and drinking from a vast array of beverages.

Along with the food, much wisdom was dispensed. I hung out and socialized and made a lot of new friends. The action subsided late and I went to bed after midnight, exhausted. A fitting July 4th it was, and one I will remember fondly for years.

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The pig, main guest of honor. Chris Haskin observing on right.

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Dominic and Ira

The next morning I slept in, along with everyone else in the house. Around noon, Little Blue and I hit the interstate in the brooding weeping skies. Next stop, Mays Lick, KY and the new home of my oldest brother Joseph. He and his family and my parents moved to Mays Lick earlier this year. I wanted to stop by and see the place, even though my parents had left for Aylmer for the summer the previous week.

Because of my late start, I faced a dilemma. I could drive through, arrive late and stay at Josephs for the night. Or I could stop and get a motel room and arrive the next day after they returned from church. I chose the motel, figuring if I arrived late, I’d keep everyone up late. We could visit just as well on Sunday afternoon.

I found his place and made myself at home in my parents’ new modular home until Josephs returned from church. Mervin Wagler from Worthington and Glen Waglers from Kokomo were also there for the weekend. Everyone was home by one, and we all had a great time catching up. Joseph’s wife Iva fixed an early supper and we ate at around four. Glens then left for home and I also left. Mervin traveled with me to Indianapolis, where a taxi picked him up and returned him to his home. So I had an additional bonus of three hours of catching up with him. I drove west for another hour after dropping Mervin off, then stopped for the night.

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My parents’ new modular home.

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Mervin and Ira

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Glen and Ira

Now I’m a Holiday Inn guy. They’re a bit more expensive, but they are clean and have firm beds and pillows that won’t crick your neck. That night, I strayed in my loyalty. I stopped at a Comfort Inn, even though a regal older Holiday Inn beckoned practically next door. Save a few bucks, I thought. Big mistake. Huge (as Julia Roberts says in “Pretty Woman”). A foul dank odor assailed me as I opened the door to my room. The place was worse than a dump. Crappy bathroom with crusty shower tub. Flat lumpy pillows. Even then, I would have survived. I’ve slept in some bad places in my past travels. But then I went to fire up my laptop, and the wireless WiFi didn’t work. No connection, it flashed blithely on my screen. And that was the last straw. I called the clerk and politely informed him the WiFi malfunction was unacceptable. He grudgingly returned my credit and checked me out. I fled, chastened, to the Holiday Inn, paid an additional $30.00 over the Comfort Inn price, and relaxed in comfort. I will never stray again.

After waking up refreshed the next morning, I headed west through Illinois, bound for southern Iowa. Bloomfield would be my next stop.

Bloomfield. Where the David Wagler empire had existed for thirty years. Now only one original family member remains. One holdout. My brother Titus and his family.

My family moved to Bloomfield in 1976. Dad bought a 250 acre farm and sold 80 acres to Joseph, who set up house halfway out the long lane. In the next ten years, five of my siblings married in the community and set up their own households, in close proximity to my father’s farm. My parents seemed to have the ideal setup, entering their sunset years surrounded by their children and grandchilden. The old would phase out, the young emerge.

But the best laid plans can go awry. And this one was not to be.

Little Blue and I sped along Highway 2 from the east, through Milton and Pulaski. Approached Bloomfield. And on out into Amish country.

I felt no stirring in my chest, no feeling that I was approaching home. You can’t go home again to a place that is no longer home to your heart.

So much had changed. So many people had passed on. It was all so long ago. And few in the county even remember who I am. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just the way of things.

When we moved there in 1976, there was one church district. When I left in the mid-80s, there were two. Now there are eight, going on nine. New blood has moved in. New families sprouted. New dynasties founded.

I turned from the highway and drove the half mile to my brother’s place. Titus, Ruth, Robert and Thomas all greeted me warmly. I gave the boys their gifts of water pistols, which were immediately unlimbered and used to spritz everything and everyone within range. My brother and I sat and talked. He proudly gave me a tour of his ever expanding truss factory. There might be a national economic slowdown, but you wouldn’t know it around his place. Or the community, for that matter.

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Midwest Truss. Titus Wagler, Manager.

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Robert, Thomas and little cousin on the pony cart.

And for the next two days I relaxed, loafed and observed. The mid west is saturated with water, many crops have not been planted, or worse, have been and are now drowning in the incessant rains. Titus grimly proclaimed that this fall the world will know how important Iowa is, after no corn is harvested from the state. The first night, I lay in bed awake as a thunderstorm hovered for three hours. Lightning crackled and the thunder boomed directly above the house. It was impossible to sleep. At around 2 AM it finally quit. The next morning the rain gauge showed that five inches had fallen overnight. Unbelievable.

On Tuesday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I left in Little Blue to tour my old haunts. I drove to town and circled the half dead square. Most businesses there are struggling. The stores I remember are all gone, except for the bars, which tells you what’s important. I then drove out to West Grove and hung out at the old coffee shop. The morning crowd had left already, but Linda the proprietor greeted me warmly. She remembers me as an Amish kid. I caught up with all the local gossip, mostly who had passed on since I visited last about three years ago.

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At the coffee shop; Ira and old friend Phillip Goodson.

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Ira and Linda.

Little Blue and I crunched down the bumpy, washed out gravel country roads, the same ones I walked and rode as a youth. Except for many many new Amish homes that have popped up like crops in places that used to be pastures and cornfields. I drove by the old home farm, the original homestead, but did not stop. I felt only silence inside, no voices drew me in.

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The original David Wagler homestead from the road.

I attended the Amish produce auction the first morning. The auction was founded a number of years ago to provide an outlet for Amish produce growers. It has succeeded somewhat, as bidders for the local grocery store chains are now attending and snapping up quality products for their stores. I mingled in the crowd, looking for familiar faces. Most were strangers, although one or two recognized and acknowledged me. At least one cast grim, bearish glances and was not friendly.

The Wagler family’s exodus from Bloomfield began in the 1990s. Not counting me and my brother Nate, who were long gone. One by one, my married siblings packed up and struck out for distant lands and new settlements. A generation ago my father had left his home in Daviess County, Indiana, to fulfill his vision of how life should be lived. Now his sons and daughters did the same. They left. To forge new paths, to travel new roads in faraway lands. In Pennsylvania. Missouri. Kansas. And now Kentucky.

He tried to halt the migration of his children, to keep them around him like a cocoon. It was like spitting in the wind. He could not stem the tide. They, like he, were strong-willed enough to make their own choices. And they did. Now all but one are gone. And he chose to stay.

On Tuesday evening, my last there, John and Dorothy Wagler and Lester and Rachel Beechy (Joseph’s married children) and their families all assembled at Tituses for pizza and ice cream in my honor. We sat out on Titus’s newly laid patio with new fire pit and chilled and talked. And ate way too much.

Later, Titus and I sat out late and talked. About how things used to be. And how they now are. For both of us. He and his family are settled in Bloomfield. They have a beautiful place, designed throughout for wheelchair access. He and Ruth are raising their sons there. Robert and Thomas.

It’s kind of strange, when you think of it. How life works. One day, solid and settled. Confident in your course. The next, scattered to the winds. All your plans smashed to bits.

The best one can do is to get up and keep moving forward.

The next day, with much shouting and fussing and waving of good-byes from their little boys, I thanked them for their hospitality and took my leave.

I headed west and south for southern Missouri, and the home of my brother-in-law and sister, Alvin and Naomi Yutzy. Halfway there, I stopped at a lovely Holiday Inn and worked for six straight hours writing this post to date.

Thursday. My week was flying by. And soon enough I’ll be heading back to PA and home. But first, a stop in Sarcoxie for the night. I headed south on Highway 71 through the rolling MO countryside. After calling Naomi for directions, I arrived at their home around 2:30 PM.

Naomi was excited and glad to see me. She showed me my lodging, a lovely little log cabin a few hundred feet from their house, beside a large pond. Beautiful idyllic setting. And for the first time in a week, I was able to do some laundry, which had accumulated in a garbage bag.

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Naomi and Ira outside the Yutzy home.

After sitting about and chatting and drinking coffee, I went fishing in the pond with their youngest son, Chris. I caught five tiny little catfish. Chris claimed they were too small to photograph, too embarrassing. He was a fine, sturdy little guide; all I had to do was fish. He baited my hook for me and unhooked and released all the fish I caught.

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Chris and Ira heading out to fish.

Naomi cooked a great classic supper, frying hens with all the fixings. I am eating way too much on this trip, but what the heck, if someone bothers to take the time and effort to create an exceptional meal, it would be rude not to feast heartily. So I did.

After supper, Alvin showed me about the place a bit, and we all went for a walk through the countryside. Then sat up late and just talked, Caught up. Reminisced about old memories, things that happened years ago. I had never been around Naomi’s children much. A group of sharp, intelligent boys and one daughter, Rosemary. So we all know each other a bit better now.

Friday morning, I slept in. In the idyllic log cabin. After drinking coffee and visiting a bit more, I packed Little Blue, thanked my sister, and left.

Little Blue and I headed for the windy flatlands of Hutchinson, Kansas.

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(4 Comments) »

  1. I have a very good opportunity to observe “Old Age” living with my Dad. Your parents’ old age dream was to always stay in Iowa surrounded by most of their children but it was not to be so… My Dad never imagined how his old age will be lived out in years gone by. He now is old and feeble both in body and mind and yet he may have to make another move before he passes on into eternity, for I can not help him get around and once he can’t walk anymore, he will have to be moved to another home. It hurts. I feel sorry for him and for his sake I hope he will die in the comfort of his own little grandpa house.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — July 12, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  2. What takes you to Hutch?

    Man, that picture on the boat tugged hard. I grew up like that, not too far from where you were.

    Comment by RagPicker — July 12, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

  3. Your trip sounds interesting and exciting. Too bad I couldn’t run into you during your travels. Are you really worried about Big Blue and his gas mileage, or do you enjoy driving rental cars?

    The term “close proximity” is a redundancy. (I couldn’t resist).

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — July 17, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

  4. Hey Ira,
    Is this my first cousin, Philip Goodson, from the Moulton area, son of Gene and Pauletta? I’m dying to know!

    Comment by Melanie Hunt — March 2, 2010 @ 12:15 am

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