March 20, 2009

The Child in Spring (Sketch #13)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm

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“The years flow by like water, and one day it is spring again.
Shall we ever ride out of the gates of the East again, as we
did once at morning, and seek again, as we did then, new
lands…..and glory, joy and triumph, and a shining city?”

—Thomas Wolfe
_____________

The dawn of spring. It always takes me back to the Aylmer days of childhood. In a fading sense each year, it seems, as the vivid memories recede ever further into the mists, and I wonder sometimes which are real and which are ghosts, figments in the subconscious mind of things not lived, but only seen or heard. Or if I can even tell the difference anymore.

Time languishes when you are a child. A day lasts a week. A long adventure from dawn to dusk. Where even the most mundane events are exciting forays into wild, uncharted terrain, the experiences eagerly absorbed and processed by a young and hungry mind. The sun, when it shines, does so endlessly, and a sunset lingers for hours, frozen in the western skies. The seasons creep slowly by, each a span of years by adult standards. A blustery March day, a lingering eternity of dark and wind-swept clouds.

And so it was in those long ago days.

Back then, the winters were always tough up there. Cold. And long. The Lake Erie effect. By late January or early February, our hockey games were over. Thawing and refreezing made the pond unsafe. We focused then on slogging through days and weeks to the coming breath, the warmth of spring, yearned for it with the fervent desire that only children know.

In March then, the winds howled, the hard cold rain spit sideways from the skies, the real thaws came, and the mud. Black greasy sticky stuff. Leeched onto and soiled everything it touched. Clogged our shoes as we huddled against the elements and doggedly trudged off to school on the spongy gravel roads. The great snow banks that had bordered the roads only weeks before now sat sad and shriveled, a shadow of their former grandeur, dirt-spattered by passing cars and trucks.

At school, we sat at our desks and longed for summer and heard the winds swoop and moan and rattle the windows. Chafed at recess, because the yard was too muddy or too wet to go out and play. Set up the carom board and played game after game during the lunch hour.

The sun shone too sometimes in March, and the warm winds blew and dried the earth. Like bees from hives, the plows came then to the fields on every farm about. We heard the jangling teams, saw the farmers hunched over on the cast-iron seats, and the endless ribbons of black dirt flowing from the plowshares.

In the afternoon, we walked home through the bustling neighborhood. And we could feel the pulse of new life in the air. Here a house wife, planting an early garden, there another gathering the flapping laundry from the backyard wash line. And everywhere the timid sprouts of green emerging in yards and pastures. Above us the great rafts of geese and ducks swept back to the north, returning now from their winter stay in southern climes. And maybe it was just me, but in spring I did not feel the deep longings that always stirred within when I saw them heading south in the fall. In October, they were leaving home, in March they were returning. Somehow it just wasn’t the same.

On the farms the impatient livestock milled about knee deep in muddy barnyards. The fields were still too soft and too tender to graze the cattle. So they remained confined, stirring in restless discontent until the day they would be freed.

The mud was everywhere.

And it got me one day, when I was probably four years old. My friend Karen and her Mom were at our house for the day. Karen was my best friend, and we played together several times a week. That afternoon, the March clouds parted, the sun emerged and it seemed like summer. Karen and I played outside, running here and there in the grass and mud.

Shortly after three o’clock, we looked to the west, and saw our siblings half a mile away, coming home from school, over the little hill at Neighbor John’s. Two of my brothers, Stephen and Titus, and maybe my sister Rachel. And several of Karen’s older brothers and sisters.

One of us got the bright idea that we could walk down the road to meet them. So we headed out, two little children, best friends. As we trudged along contentedly, I suddenly decided to veer through our pasture field on the south side of the road.

I don’t know what got into me. I wasn’t showing off or anything. Just a snap decision of a child. No rhyme or reason. Didn’t need one.

“I’m taking a long cut through this field,” I told Karen matter-of-factly. I don’t know where I got it, but that’s the term I used. Long cut. Guess I figured if you can take a short cut, it must follow that you can take a long one too.

Karen looked dubious. But she didn’t dissuade me. She didn’t follow me either.

There was no fence. I slopped through the road ditch and into the field and walked along on the soft dead grass. Almost immediately, serious difficulties arose. Mud. With each step, I sank down further. But I’d get through, I figured. I kept slogging on, veering further into the field. Sank deeper. Finally realizing there was no way forward, I turned back to the road. Too late. I was stuck. And how. Couldn’t move. The harder I struggled, the deeper my little boots sank.

Karen, who’d wisely stayed on the road, saw me sink and heard my distressed wail.

“I’m stuck,” I shouted. Duh. I swayed back and forth. My boots sank even deeper.

Karen remained calm. “Mark will get you out,” she called back. Mark was her older brother, a stocky powerful seventh grader.

By now the crowd of school children approached. Karen ran to meet them.

“Ira’s stuck,” she told them, pointing at me. Duh, again. They could see that much. I was still struggling forlornly, increasingly helpless, sinking ever deeper. But I didn’t cry.

Her brother chuckled a hearty burly chuckle. He handed his lunch box to one of my brothers. Walked into the field toward me. I waited helplessly, fearing he’d get stuck too. What would we do then?

But he plowed right in, and came up to me. “Are you stuck?” he roared cheerfully. Duh, again. He grasped me firmly under my armpits and lifted with a powerful heave. Up I shot, one of my boots making a loud sucking sound as it was unwillingly extracted from the mud. My other boot slipped off and remained stuck. Somehow Mark cradled me under one arm and reached down and pulled up the recalcitrant boot.

Still holding me under one arm, he strode through the mud back to terra firma. I marveled at his strength. We reached the road and he set me on my feet. I stomped and kicked vigorously to rid my boots of mud.

Karen flitted about, proud of her big brother who had rescued her best friend. And that was that. We all walked on home to our warm house, where Mom and Mandy, Karen’s mom, were finishing their afternoon coffee. No one fussed too much at my unfortunate little adventure.

That’s what it was to me. An adventure. A thing to reflect on and ponder. I quietly locked it safely away in the files of my memory.

And that was spring when I was four.

*******************************
Last weekend several relatives showed up unexpectedly. Lester Yutzy from Kansas was at Steves Friday night for one night. Also, my nephew Gideon Yutzy drove over for the weekend from his classes at Faith Builders in western PA.

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Gideon and Ira

Gideon is in his student stage, attending classes and grappling with the issues of his culture and generation. After supper we sat around and debated many things, iron sharpening iron. Fairly or unfairly, I’ve always been mildly suspicious of Faith Builders as a quasi-socialistic Beachy/Mennonite enclave. Somewhat hostile to wealth. Open to theories of voluntary poverty, and so forth. Which are anathema to me. But I might have it all wrong. If so, I’m open to correction. Any Faith Builders students out there who might care to clarify?

We had a great time. Lots of fun, debating. I did manage to push a book on him, entitled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators. David Chilton’s timeless classic. Which Gideon promised to read. I read the book back in the mid 1990s, and it had tremendous influence on the way I view a lot of things, including wealth. I look forward to hashing it out with him in future discussions.

Obama continues his hapless floundering while trying to socialize every aspect of our culture, under the guise of stimulating the economy. Every time he announces a new bailout, the markets plummet another couple hundred points.

But last week I heard of a policy he wants to change, one that I would definitely support. The lifting of the embargo on Cuba. One of the most senseless policies in our country’s recent history. JFK installed the embargo back in the 1960s, as a punishment for Castro. No president since has had the guts to revoke it.

So when Obama proposes something I agree with, I’ll support him most heartily. As I do on this, the only thing I’ve heard from him that makes even the slightest lick of sense. The embargo’s major accomplishment: It has for over a generation cruelly deprived Americans of the finest cigars in the world. Break open the gates. Cuban stogie, anyone?

My buddy Erik Wesner of Amish America headlined me on his blog again. Very favor-ably. Guess I really need to get him that case of good wine now. Or at least take him out for a decent meal when he’s in the area. Welcome to all new readers.

A few thoughts on last week’s post. Whoa, Nellie. I certainly didn’t expect such visceral reactions. A great cacophony of yowling, like cats with their tails tied together. Readers merrily whacking each other, which was fine. And a few cheap shots at me. But that’s OK. I’m a big guy. I can take it. And all for merely suggesting that alien life might exist out there. I feel fortunate the Inquisition is not around anymore. I would surely be defending myself before a grim hooded tribunal. And be stretched out on the rack by now, in preparation for burning at the stake.

Not that I didn’t appreciate every comment. All 25 of them, certainly a record for recent months. I always appreciate all comments, at least the ones you see posted. But I am surprised nobody excoriated me for enjoying such childish things as Tom and Jerry cartoons. Maybe someone could take up that cudgel this week. Should be no shortage of volunteers.

I wrote what I wrote. I stand by it. And I’d write it again.

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  1. Correction: 26 comments. But sorry for “hijacking” your site!

    Comment by LeRoy — March 20, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  2. Congratulations on 26 comments.

    A few random observations…

    Tom and Jerry is an entertaining show who’s kind is becoming hard to find on TV today.

    The earth looks very big to us, but it’s actually a very tiny ball compared to what we know abount and even imagine, and it would seem arrogant and ignorant to suggest we are the only life anywhere.

    Mud is fun if you have a 4 wheel drive truck.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — March 20, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

  3. As a former, eh, inmate of Faith Builders (served several summer terms) I’m surprised at your impression that FBEP is “somewhat hostile to wealth.” That would be a bit like biting the hand that feeds them, wouldn’t it?

    My impression is that FB would certainly allow and even encourage various opinions on the subject of wealth to be expressed, but a radical guest speaker doesn’t necessarily characterize their philosophy.

    Comment by Mike — March 21, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  4. Ah those Ontario springs!! They are memories of my childhood too. I happened to get stuck in the mud once or twice too.

    Thank you for bringing my childhood meomories back. It made my day.

    Comment by Cheryl — March 21, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  5. Ahhh, hence the Amish “mud sales” I’ve often heard about?? I haven’t been to one, but it sounds like fun! I don’t know if the Amish in Missouri do that, but if so, I’ll check it out. I’m picturing your poor mother cleaning off all those shoes and clothes! She has my sympathies.

    Well you sure got the natives restless last week, Ira! And this week you’re challenging your nephew’s faith beliefs. Tsk tsk – you’re a “something” disturber! I can see why you were attracted to the legal field. I bet you’re a great debater.

    Speaking of Cuba, my mother-in-law just came back from there a couple weeks ago – it’s her orginal homeland. Had to go through a lot of red tape to get there. Her cousin went with her and brought back some cigars – had I known you were interested….

    Well, it sounds like Grumpy is turning Happy with the new weather, the new beginnings, and a whole lot of great memories. Loved your last line this week starting with “I wrote what I wrote…” – why didn’t you just end it with “nanny nanny boo boo!”?? Have a great week!! :)

    Comment by Beth Russo — March 21, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

  6. Beautiful writing – you can see every scene. Loved it!

    Comment by Ann — March 22, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  7. Ira, I’m glad you’re “back.” Great meditations about childhood, and so skillfully written. I think I’m becoming a groupie. But let’s not start saying “Dittos”!

    Below is a quote that fits your ‘guilt about being productive’ nod as well as your column a few weeks ago about riding a “Green” horse. I think your readers will also enjoy it:

    Guy Dauncey, a British Green, writes that our “ruthless exploitation of nature,” our “commitment to materialism and personal gain” and the West’s “disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources” have proven to be our undoing. Twenty percent of the world’s population in the West are accused of consuming 80 percent of the world’s resources.

    For those not easily buffaloed by such crude guilt manipulation, the next question might be, “Well, so what?” Would everybody be more comfortable if we left the 30 minerals in the ground, and hovered naked around peat fires like our ancestors? Apparently, the Greenies’ answer is yes.

    The wealth of the world consists in the things men dig from the ground or nurture out of it. If natural resource exploitation can be prevented and controlled, potential and private wealth will not be generated and whole populations can be kept dependent. When new mineral wealth is suppressed, existing developments become more valuable, and the status quo of wealth distribution and power is preserved and strengthened. The key to the survival of monopolistic economic power is the ability to keep out the competition. Or, as John D. Rockefeller expressed it with characteristic cogency, “Competition is a sin.” The [public-private Green] “partnership” will know who is “suitable” and who isn’t.

    –Larry Abraham, The Greening (now online at http://www.lawfulpath.com/ref/greening.shtml )

    Comment by LeRoy — March 22, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  8. While I would agree that there are other creative works going on out there, that have ‘life’, [with qualifiers], I wouldn’t agree that believing otherwise would be ‘arrogant and ignorant’. [post #2]

    I would believe that there are many good, sincere folks that believe otherwise.

    Comment by Fritz — March 23, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  9. Just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your posting this week. I too had a mud experience, I don’t believe that I was that young, but one to remember. Your writings still amaze me…you write with such detail, but yet still manage to keep so much of who you are inside. I get the impression that many people feel or believe that you provide much detail about yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I think you provide much detail about your life, but not about you. You are just a very interesting individual and I would love to have you write about who you are…just wanted you to know what I was thinking… Continue to love reading your blogs.

    Comment by Grace — March 24, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

  10. Ira,

    What a great surprise! I read Amish America and saw the link. It’s been, what, almost 12 years since our time at DSL? Your blogs take me back to our debates in the Curtilage. I am glad to see you are well and look forward to exploring your musings.

    Comment by John L. — March 26, 2009 @ 12:01 am

  11. As a one-time summer student at FBEP and friend to many other regular visitors, I will add my two cents about the place (not that it will change your impression of it).

    Not sure where you got the impressions about it. Like all educational institutions it has its share of free-ranging (if not somewhat unconventional) thinkers roaming its halls – just like those that roam the halls of blogs (hee-hee). Add to that fact that most Menno/Beachy private school teachers (to which it caters) pretty much have to take a vow of poverty when they start teaching school, and hence you might get the idea that they are loathe to accumulate wealth. However, during my entire time there and speaking with others that have been there, I have never heard the subject addressed directly.

    Peace and prosperity to all…

    Comment by Clayton S — March 26, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  12. HI IRA,

    I WAS SURFING THE NET TONITE AND FOUND YOUR SITE AND AM ENJOYING IT. MY HUSBAND AND I ARE EX-AMISH TOO. I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YOU. I WENT TO SCHOOL CLOSE TO SHIPSHEWANA INDIANA AND WE HAD 2 TEACHERS FROM AYLMER ONTARIO. MARY STOLTZFUS [HER DAD’S NAME IS IKE] AND FANNIE MAE WAGLER. DO YOU KNOW THEM? I TRAVELED TO CANADA WITH THEM TWICE WHILE I WAS IN SCHOOL AND LOVED THE SAND DUNES! I WENT HIKING IN THE STOLZFUS’ WOODS 1 TIME AND GOT SERIOUSLY LOST BUT I WAS RESCUED BY THIS CUTE GUY SO IT ALL TURNED OUT OK. LOL.

    WE ENJOY TOM AND JERRY TOO. WE WATCH IT WITH OUR 3 KIDS SOMETIMES.

    I’M NOT REALLY INTO THE WHOLE ALIEN THING BUT YOU COULD HAVE SOME REALLY GOOD DISCUSSIONS ON THAT SUBJECT WITH MY 8 YEAR OLD SON. HE’S GOING TO BE AN ASTRONAUT – SCIENTIST [HE SAYS] AND WILL FIND AND EXPLORE OTHER PLANETS. HE KEEPS TELLING HIS LITTLE SISTERS THAT HE’S PRETTY SURE GOD MADE MORE WORLDS WITH HUMANS THAN JUST OURS. OUR 6 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER IS GOING TO BE A PILOT WHEN SHE GROWS UP AND OUR 5 YR OLD DAUGHTER WANTS TO BE A VET.

    I’M SO THANKFUL THAT THEY WILL HAVE THOSE OPTIONS. SEND ME A NOTE SOMETIME WHEN YOU GET A COUPLE MINUTES.

    Comment by ELLEN — March 27, 2009 @ 1:23 am

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