June 15, 2012


Category: News — Ira @ 6:39 pm


Where shall the weary rest? When shall the lonely
of heart come home? What doors are open for the
wanderer?….And in what land? Where?

Where the weary of heart can abide forever, where
the weary of wandering can find peace, where the
tumult, the fever, and the fret shall be forever stilled.

—Thomas Wolfe

You never know what any given day will bring, in even such a mundane place as the office. In the last month or so, several odd things happened at Graber. And no, I’m not making this stuff up, my coworkers can attest to that. The first incident interrupted our lives for a few brief moments, completely unexpected, as is usually the case with such things. And it wasn’t that big a deal, really. But still, I’ve mulled over it a lot since that day. Relived it over and over in my mind.

I can’t remember the exact date, but it was around mid-morning about a month ago. Customers came and went; the phones rang right along. And then the little Christmas bell tied to our front door announced another customer. I turned from my computer and got up to serve the man.

A black guy, probably in his mid forties, I’d guess. Looking a bit confused, smiling shyly. I didn’t think about the fear in his eyes until later. He just seemed like an ordinary customer. Can I help you? I asked. He looked around, still smiling hesitantly, confused. Then mumbled. “I think I’m in the wrong place.”

Sure. I smiled at him. He walked across the room toward me. “Could I have a drink of water?” He asked. Almost apologetic. Sure, again. Right here’s the cooler. Help yourself. He took a paper cup and filled it, and gulped the water down. Then filled and drank another. He smiled shyly again and thanked me, then turned and walked out. Strange, I thought. A moment later the little door bell clinked again. He walked in, three steps or so, then turned and walked out again without a word. Now I was curious. I watched through the window. He didn’t return to his battered little pickup, parked across the lot. Instead, he turned right and walked up the hill behind our warehouse. Just strolled up the lane into the fields and disappeared.

Very curious. And very strange. That’s what we all said, as we returned to our desks. About ten minutes passed. And the little bell on the door announced another arrival. This time it was a cop. Did you see the guy who owns that little black pickup out there? He gave me the slip. There’s a bench warrant out for him.

So that’s what was up. The guy was running from the cops. Yeah, he was here, I said. He just walked off. I don’t know where he went. What else could I say? His pickup was parked on my lot. The cop turned and rushed out.

And in my heart, I immediately felt sorry for the fugitive. I didn’t know what he’d done, and still don’t. A bench warrant is for the small stuff, usually. Like not paying fines, maybe falling behind on child support. Or writing bad checks, or getting caught with contraband. Who knew what he’d done? Whatever it was, the local cops were swarming. And all I could think of was his desperate hopeless flight on foot. To get away, to not get caught. To remain free. And I hoped he would succeed.

He didn’t, of course. They got him, walking down Old Rt. 41, trying to act nonchalant, like he was just out on a stroll. He was arrested and hauled in. A second cop stopped by to tell us they had nabbed him. They had contacted his relatives in Lancaster. And they, the relatives, would come out and fetch the little old black pickup, if that was OK with me. If I didn’t want it around, they’d get it towed.

I have no problem if that truck doesn’t get picked up for a week, I said. It’s not bothering me. No, don’t get it towed. I feel kind of bad for the guy. I don’t want to add to his problems. The cop looked at me a little strangely, then left.

I’m not writing this to bash those cops. I’m writing this to try to imagine how it would feel, to be that man who walked in that morning. You know that bench warrant’s out there. But you’re out cruising along the highway one fine sunny day. You meet a cop, who recognizes you and your truck. I don’t know how. Maybe he was tipped off. As the cop does a quick U turn on the road, you take off in panic before he can get his flashers on. And turn into the parking lot of a nearby business. Park the pickup behind some other vehicles, so it’s not visible from the road. Then you walk into the office, and ask for a drink of water. You hesitate. Who are these people, in this office? Would they help you? Nah. A quick decision. Then you flee over the hills on foot, leaving your truck behind. There’s no way that’s ever going to work. No way. But you do it anyhow, because you don’t want to get caught. And, of course, you get nailed. And arrested. You go to jail.

Who knows for what? Who knows for how long?

I don’t know what the guy did. What the outstanding bench warrant was for. But I do know this. We are programmed to always assume guilt in such a scenario. If the law’s after a guy, he’s guilty. Or they wouldn’t be after him. We hope the cops will catch him. And bring him to justice. Lock him up. Throw away the key.

But that’s wrong. Because we haven’t heard the other side of the story. We never will, because the accused has no voice. Oh, sure, he has a right to trial. What does that mean? That’s a shell game. Most cases are never tried in court. They plead out, regardless of actual guilt. Because the state has all the power. The individual has none. It’s too risky to take a chance. The law is the accuser. Why should we doubt the law? And all too often, it’s just one big factory to generate revenue or to provide inmates for the prisons.

This is how I see it, and will always see it. When a man is deprived of his freedom, it should be so shocking to our senses that our hearts are with him until it’s proven that he actually is guilty of some real crime. Not a “crime” as defined by some arbitrary statute. But the real thing. A crime where there was a real victim. Victimless crimes are myriad; the state creates dozens of new ones every year. And for those “crimes,” my heart will always be with the so-called perpetrator. Always.

I’m glad I gave the guy a drink of water that day when he walked in. Sure, he might have been guilty as sin. He might well deserve to sit in jail for months or years. But had I known he was a fugitive fleeing a bench warrant arrest, I would have given him food as well.


And then last week one day, shortly after lunch, another odd thing happened. The phone rang. Rosita answered. Graber Supply. A brief conversation with the caller. Then she beeped me. “Jack” from Kennebunkport, Maine. Asked for me. “I think it’s one of your fans,” she said brightly. Then she transferred the call.

Kennebunkport, Maine? Good grief. That’s where president George H.W. Bush keeps a house. Where he often vacationed while president. Who was Jack and what did he want? So I spoke. This is Ira. May I help you?

And the voice on the other end was thick and broad. Pure New England accent. “Ira? Is that you?” Yep. It is. “I can’t believe this is happening.” And Jack introduced himself. He lived in Kennebunkport. Just two days before, he’d picked up my book. Off the bestseller’s shelf, he said. And he’d finished it, in two days. I gathered that this was an aberration in Jack’s world, to finish a book that quickly.

“I’ll be 81 years old, come October, if I last that long,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this before, call an author. I can’t believe I’m talking to you.” Well, you are, I said. I’m just here at work, where I always am. And Jack launched in like he knew my family. Like he was just an old friend, asking about them.

“How are your sisters?” he asked. “Where are they all by now? And Nathan, where is he? And bless you for dedicating the book to your Mother. That woman bore a lot of grief and pain from you boys. It’s the least you could have done, to recognize her like that. When she stood there, calling after Nathan, that…that was…” And his voice trailed off into silence.

That was the hardest thing in the book to write, I told him. It was pretty brutal to remember and to relive.

And then he asked the question many readers ask. “How is Sarah? Where is she today?”

And I told him, in a few brief minutes. Where my sisters now lived. And Nathan. About Sarah. And my parents. Dad is 90 years old now, and still cranking out his writing. Mom has Alzheimer’s. She’s totally out of it. She’ll never know about the book. That’s why I dedicated it to her in the past tense. She’s here. But she’s not. She’ll never know I wrote the book, or that I dedicated it to her. She always lived in the shadows of Dad’s fame, I said. She had a hard life.

“You were a bad, bad boy,” he said, half sternly. “A bad boy.”

Yes, sir. I said ruefully. I was a bad boy.

“That could have been my story,” he said then, almost wistfully. “That could have been my story.” Who knows what he saw in his mind when he said that? Who knows what the man went through way back when? I didn’t pursue it. He was connecting with my book. Remembering his own youth. Remembering his journey. I wanted to respect that.

He caught himself, then. And we closed it down. I was at work. I can’t spend a lot of time talking to people about my book without robbing my employer. “I’m Jack.” He said. “If you ever make it to Kennebunkport, look me up. I’ll have a place for you to stay.” Yes, sir, I said. I can’t quite imagine that I’ll make it up there. But if I do, I’ll try to look you up. And then we hung up.

That was a wild experience.

A couple of housekeeping notes. First, you can now subscribe to this blog. Earlier this week, my webmaster added the link to the top of the page, just below the Home link. (A new large Subscribe button was added above the Home link after this blog was posted. Not quite sure what’s going on, there.) It’s kind of strange. It never occurred to me that it might be a good idea to set up something that will alert my readers when a new blog is posted. It wasn’t even on my radar screen until a few emails from readers trickled in recently, asking for the link. OK, I thought. Maybe it’s time.

I’ve never considered myself a blogger, not in the true sense of the word. I mean, according to the rules, you gotta throw your stuff out there every day if possible. Keep churning, keep writing. That’s how you grow your audience, get your numbers up. Keep your presence before the public, develop your “platform.” Which is all fine, if that works for you. I’ve never posted daily. I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, which I don’t. For the first few years, I posted weekly, every Friday night. Lately I’ve been posting every two weeks.

I guess it wasn’t important to me to have a subscriber link because I have never written to see how many readers I could nab. I wrote because I wanted to write. It’s that simple. And I consider every reader a gift, a bonus. An astonishing thing, for which I’m grateful.

So if you feel like it, subscribe. I’d appreciate it very much. All that will happen is you’ll get an email with the link to this site whenever I post a new blog. And rest assured, your email address will never be shared or sold by me. (I don’t even know how to access the subscriber data.) If you don’t feel like subscribing, that’s cool too. Y’all come back sometime, as they say down south, and check out the site once in a while for new stuff. I’ll keep it coming. Right now, this blog is where I can write my voice. So for now, this is where I will speak.

And finally, I’m very much looking forward to next Friday evening, June 22. I’m heading out to Holmes County, Ohio, one more time. My good friend John Schmid invited me out for Benton Days, an old time hoe-down in the village where he lives. There’ll be food, lots of delicious food, including that Holmes County specialty: the best homemade potato salad in the world. There will be volleyball, corn hole, pie baking, all the good stuff small town folks usually come up with. And John will sing. He’s even convinced me to say a few words. My speech will be very brief, as always. So if you’re in the area, come early or you’ll miss it. I will be signing books as well, for those who bring their copies. And I’ll have a few copies to sell to those who don’t.

Then on Saturday morning, June 23, I’ll be at a book signing at Gospel Book Store in Berlin. From 9 AM to noon. If you can’t make it to Benton Days on Friday night, come to Berlin on Saturday. Stop by and chat. You are welcome, with one exception. If you feel compelled to confront and admonish me for writing the book, don’t bother showing up. Because I’ve already heard it all. There’s nothing new you can say. So leave the agenda at home. If you can do that, I’ll be happy to see you. And grateful that you came.



  1. Am I the first to subscribe?? Pick me, pick me!

    Comment by Pizzalady — June 15, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

  2. Seriously, your posts are always great!
    Your stories come to life, no matter what they are!

    Comment by Pizzalady — June 15, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

  3. Your Blog is becoming a bit addictive. I look forward to seeing what you have written. I am glad to be a subscriber.

    I, too, read your book over Memorial Day Weekend and took my time with it. You have heard it all before but it is a really good read. I enjoyed the insights into the Amish life and I felt your despair. I love Holmes County Ohio, but alas I live in Washington DC–so maybe one day when I am in Lancaster I will see if I can get my book signed. Thank you.

    Comment by Jennifer — June 15, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

  4. I feel for the black guy you wrote about. I have been around the homeless that grace the Pinecraft Park and have seen a few arrests.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — June 15, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

  5. Your blog has a place on my blogroll in Blogspot, so I always know when you post something new.

    We have an Amish-built cabin in Knox County (near Greer). Knox is right next to Holmes. We go through Berlin coming and going, and always stop at a
    bulk-food store run by (I think) old-order Mennonites. If we were going to be in Ohio next weekend, we’d be sure to look you up at the Gospel Book Store.

    Helicopters have been buzzing over our house several times the past few weeks. One time they were looking for a convict who had escaped from a crew working on a road bordering our community. Who knew that Maryland had chain gangs?

    Comment by Cynthia — June 16, 2012 @ 9:30 am

  6. I agree. I too would’ve liked for your customer friend to be free, although if he was running he would’ve never truly been free. It’s sad that there are countless people everywhere looking for a chance to truly live life or to have a do-over with their past. Thanks for sharing. After reading about Nicholas a little earlier today you’ve given me a lot to ponder today. Wish there was a way to literally save all those who are lost & hurting & wandering. Blessings.

    Comment by Linda Taylor — June 16, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

  7. Kindness and respect to people at any age is important. People don’t stop being people just because they are over 60. You were very polite to both men and took the time to be so, and in today’s world I am sure it was much appreciated.

    Comment by carol ellmore — June 16, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  8. Appreciation for the merciful heart that comes through in your writing this week. It’s a grace.

    I wanted to just pick up on that thread about trials. Jury trials. Innocent until Proven guilty. The old country saw enough show trials to Guarantee us a Trial by Jury. A jury of our peers (fellow community members). That includes “jury nullification” in which the jury can rule to disregard the judge’s instructions, or even to virtually amend an unjust law, if they truly feel it does not apply to their fellow who is being accused. I won’t post sites here, but it is a worthwhile thing to educate ourselves on the subject. Someday, our lives could literally depend on it. Which is why the Founders made sure to have the provision enscribed.

    Comment by LeRoy — June 16, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

  9. And now this morning (June 17) I picked up a copy of The Wooster Daily Record. There I spied a story about Benton days coming up on June 22. “Renowned” author of the New York Times best-seller “Growing up Amish” Ira Wagler will be there signing his book for clients. Imagine that. And I didn’t even know he was “nowned”!

    Comment by Eli Stutzman — June 17, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

  10. Thank you for the simple message; believe them innocent until proven guilty. How much easier and more pleasant life would be for us all if we practiced this in the little things in life, like the way we talk about others and tend to condemn them for what we think they did, with no intentions of ever hearing, much less trying to understand their story. This is a reality of life that we all have to face in one way or another. For myself the shame and utter disgrace of having been sued for divorce and the rejection from family and ex-friends who have nothing but condemnation and no intentions of ever trying to understand is very difficult to face. In a sense I can feel for the poor black guy, he desired to keep his mistake hidden but knew it will come out in the end. There is a hopeless feeling of despair,knowing that there is no way to keep oneself hidden.
    Keep up the writing that speaks to the heart. God bless you.

    Comment by Rachel Zook — June 22, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  11. Re: Juries, here is a website that brings together lots of materials: http://fija.org , the Fully Informed Jury Association.

    They state on the home page: “The primary function of the independent juror is not, as many think, to dispense punishment to fellow citizens accused of breaking various laws, but rather to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical abuses of power by government.” This may sound like some modern conspiracy theorist rant, but it is grounded in HISTORY, real human history. Why, we might ask, do we have juries in the first place?

    Comment by LeRoy — June 23, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  12. Ira, I liked the post regarding the black man. Turns out he was a criminal of some sort. I would have done exactly as you did– giving him water. Sometimes I think maybe I’m too nice a person–I try to see some good in almost everyone, and I’ll give most people a chance. Needless to say, I’ve been a fool a few times, and taken advantage of. Then I feel like such an idiot, and wonder why I’m “too nice and trusting.” It’s my nature, though.

    Comment by Bev — June 29, 2012 @ 1:41 am

  13. I was at a mom’s group several years back when I lived in NJ. I didn’t know the women I just found the group in a local newspaper and being a new mother in a strange land I decided to go. One of the girls in the group, 20ish, was talking very poorly about a relative from Scotland. “I can’t believe she got pregnant again-not married-a terrible mother-sleeps around-she’s giving up another baby…whom we’re adopting.” The women clucked in total agreement at the lack of decency in the pregnant girl and fawned over the fact that the baby would be in a “good” home once she was born. Immediately I blurted out, “That poor girl. Giving up her babies. I can’t even imagine the pain in that”. The room went dead silent. “How dare you!” wafted about the room, unspoken but heard and felt. Talk about an intense moment. A sad moment. I quit the group not long after.

    Another time driving down the highway I spotted a group of young men in their orange vests picking up litter. Oh, I cried. “Young man”, I thought, “when you were little and sweet did your daddy tell you he loved you? Did he tell you you were good and he was proud of you? Did he hug you and place his large hand on your little head to guide you? Did he call you Son? Did your mama hold you on her lap and tell you stories? Did her lips melt into your plump cheeks as she held you in her arms and breathed in your sweet scent?”

    Hurt people, hurt people. It’s as sad and as simple as that. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus wants, desires, is crazy in love with all people. Makes Himself available to people right where they are. There is hope for all, those with hard hearts and those who make mistakes.

    Comment by Francine — October 29, 2012 @ 12:32 am

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