December 19, 2008

‘Tis the Season – for Food and Hilarity

Category: News — Ira @ 6:23 pm

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“Laughter is brightest, in the place where the food is.”

—Irish proverb
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The message was waiting on my answering machine last Friday when I got home from the gym. From the Amish housewife, the one who gave me that cherry pie a few weeks ago. She had a deal in mind.

Her family was having their annual Christmas gathering the next day. Their married kids were coming home for the feast. Roasht, with all the fixings. Plus lots of other food, seasonal goodies. If I brought them a hard copy of my latest blog, they would trade it for food.

Who could refuse an offer like that? Sounded like a great deal to me. Will trade blog for food. Maybe I can expand the concept, at least locally to Amish people who don’t have access to a computer.

Amish Roasht (pronounced “Roo-usht”) reigns among my favorite dishes. I didn’t grow up with it. It’s pretty much exclusively a Lancaster County concoction. Like most Amish cooking, it’s pretty simple. Not particularly good for you. But, ah, is it ever tasty.

It’s a mixture of bread, stuffing, chunks of chicken, other tasty ingredients I can’t identify, and topped with dark gravy. Baked and browned to perfection, served at all Amish weddings. Lancaster weddings, that is. In most communities, the bride and groom get to choose their menu. Ham, beef, steak, whatever. Even hot dogs. Not in blue-blooded Lancaster. The meal is traditional, set in stone. Roasht, mashed potatoes, corn, creamed celery. Laden tables of it. With my admittedly unsophisticated palate, I couldn’t imagine getting tired of such fare. But if one had a number of weddings to attend in a short time, it might be possible.

I don’t get invited to many weddings here in Lancaster, so Roasht is a rare treat for me. I usually have to beg the guys at work to skim some from the weddings they attend, which they are extremely hesitant to do. So I promptly called my friends and left a message. I wouldn’t be able to come around until Saturday night, but I would be there, blog in hand. Have my Roasht ready.

Saturday was a busy, extremely eventful day and I didn’t get home until 6:30. After printing the blog, I sallied forth with it to collect my food. Drove the several miles to my friends’ place and pulled in the drive and parked. Through the windows, I saw a circle of stragglers, snacking and visiting after a long day of feasting. The family greeted me cheerfully and the good housewife promptly and loudly introduced me as David Wagler’s son, Ira. Or, as they say my name in Lancaster, “Iar.” No one seemed even slightly impressed. Guess they’d never heard of Dad. Or me. Which was fine.

I sat on a chair at the edge of the circle and chomped on snacks the good housewife pressed on me and joined in the conversation. Everyone was having a boisterous time, swapping old Amish jokes, and stories from the past. One young man launched into a hilarious tale, which he claimed happened right here in Lancaster County. Although I found it extremely funny, I can’t tell you how very dubious I am about the veracity of the tale. Even so, it’s worth repeating.

I didn’t take notes, but near as I can recall, the details are loosely as follows. Please keep in mind that I cannot vouch for the truth of even a single detail.

During all Amish church services, the preachers go into conference, or “Obrote” for about an hour as the service starts. Usually in a side room or upstairs. Most often upstairs. The congregation sings until they return, and proceed with their officiating duties.

One Sunday, in a particular district in Lancaster County (my hosts stubbornly persisted in claiming), the preachers finished up their conference in the Obrote. Decided who would preach, who would read scripture, and so forth. Led by the Bishop, they somberly filed out of the room and approached the stairs to return to the congregation. The Bishop clumped down, looking grave as Bishops are wont to do, followed by four preachers and a deacon, the deacon bringing up the rear.

I don’t know anything about this particular deacon. Perhaps he hadn’t slept well the night before, or perhaps he hadn’t drunk enough coffee that morning, or maybe too much. Maybe he had other things on his mind. Maybe this happened down at the southern end, and he was barefoot, like they do down there. Most likely, though, he just wasn’t paying attention.

In single file, four preachers and the Bishop walked down the stairs in front of him. Sadly, as he stepped down on the top step of the stairs, the deacon stumbled. Flailing wildly for the hand rail, he lurched forward and bumped solidly into the preacher in front of him, two steps below. “Ach, my,” the preacher cried out in warning. But it was too late. He instantly lost his balance and fell forward onto the preacher in front of him, two steps below that. That preacher fell onto the preacher in front of him, two steps down. The last two preachers, alerted by the commotion, instinctively grabbed the hand rail and hung on. Although they momentarily stemmed the flood, it quickly over-whelmed them as well. Down they tumbled, all the way down to the elderly Bishop, who was just reaching for the door knob to open the stairwell door that separated them from the congregation.

The people below, of course, were lustily roaring some slow church tune, perhaps the Lob Song. The house swelled and echoed with their singing. Despite the great noise of their joyful roaring, they suddenly heard a series of sharp bumps and crashes from the stairwell. The clatter increased, distracting the song leader, who was in the middle of a particularly drawn out lead. He faltered and lost his concentration, and promptly got stuck. All the men rushed in to help him get back on track. Their off-key assistance made an awful racket.

The fearful rumbling from the stairwell increased dramatically, like an onrushing tornado. And just then the stairwell door was violently flung open by an unseen force. Before the horrified congregation, their esteemed Bishop shot out as if propelled by a cannon and crumpled to the floor. Instantly followed by the four preachers, who popped out one by one like dominoes, landing around and on top of the unfortunate Bishop. Last of all, the deacon tumbled out, coming to rest at the best possible spot, perched on top of the pile.

All decorum was lost. Whoosh, right out the window, just like that.

The song leader, greatly distracted, lost all composure and gave up any pretense of trying to lead, his voice faltering to a forlorn squeak. The song sputtered to a halt. Everyone gaped at the incredible scene. Several nearby men roused themselves from temporary paralysis and jumped up from their benches and rushed toward the pile of men.

But lo, the pile struggled; arms and legs flailed about and began to untangle them- selves. Muffled exclamations were heard. The deacon rolled off his lofty perch at the top and, in an entirely reflexive reaction, vigorously slapped at his legs to dust off his pants. One by one the preachers unwound themselves and staggered to their feet. Lastly, even the Bishop rose unsteadily to his feet with some assistance from the preachers.

No one was seriously injured. Miraculously.

The song leader cleared his throat. This was his moment. Heroically, he rose to the occasion and restarted the song. Relieved, everyone joined in, and roared lustily again. Led by the now gingerly hobbling Bishop, the preachers regrouped and filed slowly forward to their seats with as much dignity as could be mustered under such calamitous circumstances. The very embarrassed deacon brought up the rear, stepping carefully so as not to stumble again. They all sat down and recomposed themselves to normal austere settings.

The remainder of the service unfolded uneventfully, although no one remembers any details of the sermons.

And that’s the tale. Except for a few mildly embellished details (well, maybe more than a few and perhaps more than mildly embellished), exactly how it was told to me. Along with repeated assurances that the event actually occurred. I don’t know. Seems the stuff of legend, too wild to be true.

But I just write what I hear. Somebody’s got to record this stuff. For the future, and all.

It was time to get back home and watch some football. I gathered my container of Roasht and a pack of cookies, profusely thanked my hosts, and headed for the door. Without question, I got the best of the deal. One blog in exchange for some great material for another, plus a goodly portion of home-cooked food. The Roasht was delicious, and provided two substantive meals.
______________________________________________

On to some facts I can verify. Anne Marie returned home to her family Monday morning. She zips about the house, energetic and active as ever. Wearing a brightly colored little hat to cover her surgery scars. One would never know she had brain surgery last Friday. Her parents arrived from Canada last weekend and plan to stay for a month. I stopped by for supper Wednesday night. Everyone was all hyper about Christmas.

Paul and Anne Marie asked me to thank everyone who sent them cards, letters and gifts. I had not asked permission to post the request, so they were a bit surprised. And very grateful and humbled, to hear from so many people they didn’t even know. And some they did know. Once the official test results return, usually in three to four weeks, they will make the decisions on what treatments to take this time. It’s looking like they may be able to get in at Johns Hopkins for some advice. Thanks to Ellen Wagler for her tireless assistance on this front.

Well, Christmas is almost here. Grinchy as ever, the spirit of the season eludes me as usual. This year, I have one person to shop for, myself. OK, maybe a few family members, too. I always head to the mall on Christmas Eve to walk about, looking for last minute impulse items. It’s always fun, the mall almost spooky in its emptiness.

Weather permitting, my brother Nate and I may head to Kentucky the day after Christmas to see our parents. Which may present some challenges for me to post on schedule, what with them having no electricity and all. Not to mention internet access. I’ll play it by ear and see what happens.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, OOPS, I MEANT TO SAY, “BAH, HUMBUG.”

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(21 Comments) »

  1. This article gives me a stomach ache and tear filled eyes, all because I haven’t laughed this much in ages.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — December 19, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

  2. Merry Christmas to you! Thanks for the weekly “read.” Thank Ellen for her work in getting Anne Marie in at Johns Hopkins!

    Comment by Dawn — December 19, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  3. We live in Berks with parents raised plain Mennonite in Lancaster. I read this to my husband as he was relaxing and we got a great laugh from the thought of all that commotion.

    Comment by Beth — December 19, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

  4. Ira,

    That’s the funniest story I’ve heard in a long time. I laughed until I cried as I read it. I composed myself and told my wife, “You’ve got to hear this story!” And then I attempted to read it to her. No luck. I was laughing so hard she finally got disgusted and went on up to bed (no sense of humor). When I looked up she was gone. Oh well. I can use the solitude.

    Tomorrow we head for Daviess Co. I have the privilege to be at the Graber Post Christmas banquet. I may read your blog as part of the program. I know they would appreciate it more than my wife did.

    Merry Christmas!

    Comment by John Schmid — December 19, 2008 @ 10:21 pm

  5. That was hilarious! Easy to picture and well-written. I sent it to my dad who will, I know, fall on the floor laughing.

    @John above me- as in the guy that sings? *waves*

    Comment by Ann — December 20, 2008 @ 5:12 am

  6. Because we didn’t have a whole lot going at work yesterday, I asked Ira what his blog was about. Usually if I ask that, he’ll say what the topic is or else say that I need to wait and see. This time he told me the story he was putting in and we had some good laughs. Actually I don’t think I ever saw Ira laugh that hard before! He couldn’t even get himself composed for a phone call that came in 5 minutes after telling the story! Thanks Ira.

    Comment by Rosita — December 20, 2008 @ 9:55 am

  7. There’s a new restaurant (Katie’s Kitchen) that opened along 896 near Strasburg that has Amish cooking and is completely staffed by Amish. Every Tuesday evening they feature a “wedding meal supper” that is absolutely delicious!! Complete with roascht, mashed potatoes, cooked celery and the whole works. I highly recommend it.

    Thanks for the great post, as always.

    Comment by Tom — December 20, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

  8. MERRY CHRISTMAS! (I liked your original ending last evening, without the addendum.)

    I came here to post something, and without trying to change the pace or conversation, I will.

    I commend ISAIAH 41 as an excellent meditation for this pre-New Year season. The Lord will use a despised praying people even in the face of … well, you read it. At least it encouraged me this morning.

    Segway back — And don’t miss the strong note of joy in verse 16b – because a Merry heart does good like medicine.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — December 20, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

  9. A great story that will be told in great variations in the plain communities with only the locale changing over the years. It is the type of story that will be enjoyed in our neck of the woods, Holmes County, Ohio. Hard copies will be made, passed out and read in family get togethers as has been done in the past when the blog has pertained to Amish happenings, ordinations etc.

    Appreciate your writings and Merry Christmas!

    Comment by John Yoder — December 20, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  10. Roasht? Is it so exclusive that it not show up in Google? I am truly interested in that recipe!

    Ira’s response: While this blog will NOT turn into a recipe swap, I will make an exception, just this once. Because the joys of Roasht should be spread to the world. Any readers out there who have the recipe and would care to share?

    Comment by Jean H — December 20, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  11. I stumbled out of bed this morning clinging to my coffee and read your blog….much laughter as I envisioned this story in my head. I feel it would be a good alternative to read at Christmas lunch with Uncle Jesse’s, since I’m fairly certain both him and Dad have run out of jokes…..

    Comment by Janice — December 21, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  12. Hi Ira,

    I have a question unrelated to the current blog (which cracked me up, by the way)…in your profile you said you didn’t go to high school and got your GED, but in the pictures section, it has a picture of you with friends at Lebanon Valley Christian School, 1993-94 (but you were born in ’61)? Do tell. Oh wait, maybe did you teach?? Did you maybe start and not finish and if so, why did your parents let you go to high school – were they against it? You’ve come a long way baby!! You’re the same age as my husband, by the way, so I made him read the hockey blog – I think it brought back his old hockey days, too. You’re so fun! Peace and love to Ann Marie and Paul (don’t know them but feel like I do). And peace and love to you and your wit. :)

    Ira’s response: Yep, I taught high school English and History for one year, just before law school.

    Comment by Sbams — December 22, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  13. Ira,

    Your description of the falling preachers was just too funny. I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and my head hurt from laughing so hard. I told our 15 year old Evan the story, and a small group of friends…the humor was quite lost in the “translation.” Even LeRoy hardly thought it was funny. When LeRoy told me about it the night before I read it, I had to laugh really hard then too.

    My theory is, you had to be there to appreciate the humor in it. Meaning, you had to grow up with that depth of solemnity hanging over your head every week. You had to sit in those long services Sunday after Sunday, not daring to let any of your personality show. Nothing that exciting ever happened. I’m not disparaging my upbringing. I appreciate it and all that it molded me into. I met God through it and loved (and still greatly love) the people.

    -Heidi Whitman

    Ira’s response: Very well stated. I knew when I posted that it would be an instant Amish classic, but that those raised non-Amish (or non-Plain) would look askance and wonder why some of us are rolling on the floor in fits of uncontrolled laughter.

    Comment by Heidi Whitman — December 22, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  14. The Year End Is Near

    The year end, its get’n real close,
    We all been watch’n, for the third post.
    Wonder’n what, this time you’ll say,
    Of dear Elmo, and the closing of his day.

    Will it be long, or will it short,
    Will it be, of a controversial sort.
    How will you handle, all the rumors that flew,
    In the closing of his life, with the little that you knew.

    What ever way, the last part you write,
    We all be a wait’n, checking late at night.
    Wondering when you, at last will post,
    Hope’n it will be, real real close.

    Comment by More Christ Like Blog — December 22, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  15. I just reread your post and cried just as hard this time as the first! Great job!! I, too, grew up Amish and “crack up in laughter” every time I think what it would’ve looked like to see my childhood Bishop and fellow preachers in a pile at the bottom of the stairs!!

    Overall, I greatly enjoy your blog and encourage you to keep the stories from your growing up years coming!

    Comment by HENRY — December 22, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  16. Very funny story, almost not believable! I’m going to tell it to my husband later and see if he gets it (but am fully prepared for him not to.) By the way, we’re fans of your dad, too. I’d like to add you to my links if you don’t mind.

    Ira’s response: Please feel free. I’m always honored to be linked to anyone’s blog.

    Comment by Monica — December 22, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  17. I really enjoy your blog even if I don’t leave a comment every week, but this story about the preachers is truly funny. There was a time in my life when I had fantasies about something like that happening to my preachers!

    Ira, your hockey playing had more far-reaching effects then you will ever know! Hockey with my sons is some of the best time we’ve ever spent together, we played like 3 hours this afternoon. Thanks, and I’ll never forget the good old days in Bloomfield when you and your brothers taught us the game.

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — December 22, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  18. Here is the Roasht recipe from my cook book.

    1 Chicken
    FILLING:
    3 loaves bread (cubed)
    3/4 lb. butter (melted and slightly browned)
    2 stems celery (chopped)
    1 t. salt
    1 C. water
    1/2 t. garlic salt
    5 to 6 eggs
    1/2 t. pepper

    Roast chicken in oven until done. Cool, remove meat from bones and cut into small pieces. Set aside. Pour butter over bread cubes. Combine remaining ingredients in blender. Pour over bread cubes and add chicken pieces. Mix well. Place in greased casserole, cover and bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees.

    -Submitted to cook book by Mrs. Lena Beiler

    Comment by Wilma Wagler — December 25, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  19. My daughter and I were highly entertained by this story. It is a “true story” but the way we heard it is that the deacon at the tail end spat on the top step as they went up and then slipped on it as they were going down again. Some one in my history may have gotten it twisted a little, added to it!

    My kids don’t remember being Amish, but I guess we visited enough Amish church services that they see right into this.

    Comment by Bertha Garber — December 28, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  20. My friend and I just got done readng the hilarious joke about the Amish preachers! We totally broke up with laughter it was so funny. We grew up Amish so we can really relate to that. My friend just left her parents and can relate to your book to the T. I really love it too. Thanks for your great work.

    Comment by clara mae schrock — January 10, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  21. My familiy and I joind what was left over of the the ICOC in Vienna four years ago. It was a brekon church with only 15 (out of 50 members) left, and the atmosphere was somewhat between despair and depression. The system did a lot of damage to them. Interestingly I saw them yearning for a more evangelical grace oriented gospel which was the direction I came from, seeing that this is not sound doctrine either. I looked for a more scriptrure based faith and found that the ICOC in theory came a lot closer to it. In theory, reality looked quite different. So I actually pushed in the other direction, and this led to some interesting discussions. There were some who left for evangelical/charismatic churches anyway; but looking back I see the changes God has worked in the hearts of “the remnant”. Many (not all, yet) recovered spiritually. One of the necessary changes was that we reunited with the traditional church of Christ in Vienna. They’ve fellowshipped with them on a biweekly basis for some years already, so two years ago we “unsplitted”. This brought us in contact with older folks and a more balanced view on things. The church leadership which is now going to be confirmed (in June, the Lord willing), consosts of five brethren, two of the traditional background in Vienna, one who is a “fifth generation praecher” within the chuirches of Christ, one from ICOC background and one from evangelical background (that’s me). The merge however did not mean that we broke relations or ties of friendship with the ICOC congregations in Europe; but maybe the situation over here is different in general. But even though I left the evangelical movement, I still maintained the contacts; we even meet biweekly in the building of that evangelical congregation where I was baptized. Alexander

    Comment by Alexander — October 2, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

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