May 22, 2009

Blood Brothers…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:32 pm


A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

—Proverbs 17:17

We gather infrequently these days, the three of us. Usually at a wedding, about every year or two. Last week, as the guests assembled for my nephew’s big day, I looked for them. I knew that they would come.

They are my friends. Best friends might not be quite accurate anymore. As it once was. But old friends is. From way back. Decades ago.

We haven’t lived in the same area since the late 1980s. Not all three of us. We drifted, our lives diverged on different tracks. Pursued our own paths.

And yet, when we get together, it’s pretty much like it’s always been. We share a comfortable sense of affection, a feeling of relaxed acceptance, a solid foundation of quiet trust. Intangible bonds that can only be forged on the tempered twin anvils of experience and time.

I met them in the summer of 1976 in Bloomfield when I was a skinny 15-year-old kid. Marvin Yutzy was about my age. Rudy Yutzy a year or so younger. We hit it off almost immediately.

After my family moved to Bloomfield that fall, we became friends. Somehow we just clicked. Marvin and Rudy were first cousins. Had known each other all their lives. I was the new guy on their turf. They gladly made room for me.

Rudy, the youngest and the tallest, was the orator of the group. He could weave and stitch and thread the most fascinating vivid tales from the most mundane everyday events. No detail was too small, no comment too obscure. He included and expounded on them all in the fantastic colorful narratives that flowed from him in a continuous rolling stream.

Marvin was a bit more reserved. Intelligent, thoughtful, observant, a keen hilariously dry sense of humor. He could deadpan a joke and move on before the true incisive humor of his observation hit you. A natural wingshot. I’ve seen him knock ducks and pheasant and quail out of the sky in quick precise succession with his old Browning 12 gauge.

And me, well, I’m not quite sure where I fit in. Probably the one that brooded and mulled over things. Perhaps over-mulled, if that’s a word. The one who made the occasional comment that made absolutely no sense to the other two. But somehow it worked. Somehow we jelled. We became fast friends.

We were intelligent. Curious. Hungry. Quick to laugh. Found humor where none really existed. Devoured all the books we could lay our hands on. Discussed what we’d read. Passed our worn, dog-eared paperbacks to each other.

We weren’t particularly exclusive, at least not early on. We hung out with other friends, especially the little group of six that eventually formed. But the three of us always had a connection, a special bond.

I turned sixteen first. Marvin a few months later. We began “running around.” Rudy had to wait another year before he could join us.

Marvin and I rattled about in his decrepit little death trap of a topbuggy, hitched to Jane, his driving horse. Jane was small, but fast. She could flat out move. The speeds she sometimes reached, it is a true miracle the decrepit little buggy held together. The way it rattled and creaked and swayed, I was always convinced it would disintegrate at any second. I marvel sometimes, even today, when I think about it. That we didn’t get seriously hurt, or worse. There ain’t enough money, anywhere, to tempt me to take a ride again in that buggy hitched to Jane, were such a thing even possible.

Rudy looked on enviously as his two close friends ran around that first year. We were sixteen. Told each other that we would savor every day of that age. Sixteen. We were men. Or felt that we were.

Soon enough Rudy joined us, and we hung out with our group of six. Restless, driven, full of energy and desire. We hung out as and where we could. Got together every chance we had.

Then one fall day the three of us were together, working in a field. I don’t remember where, or exactly what we were doing. Probably filling silo somewhere, or some such similarly grueling task. We were deeply absorbed in a discussion of how we would always resist the powers that oppressed us, how we would be loyal to each other. Always. Through whatever might come.

I don’t remember whose bright idea it was. Or where he dreamed it up. Probably read it in a book somewhere. Maybe a Louis L’Amour western. Sounds like something Louis might have written. And we were big fans of his.

“Let’s be blood brothers,” said the one with the bright idea. “We can stick our fingers with a pin and join them together. Mingle our blood. That’ll do it.”

With scant consideration, the other two agreed immediately. That would be a fine and noble thing. Blood brothers. Always loyal to each other. Always there for each other. Come what may.

One of us found a safety pin, probably stuck in his coat to replace a missing button. Gingerly then, one by one, we each pricked a thumb. Until we could squeeze out a drop of blood. We held up our hands, thumbs extended. They met. We pressed. The blood mingled.

We swore no oaths. Made no vows. Probably would have, had anyone dredged up the presence of mind to think of one.

“Brothers,” was all we said. “Blood brothers, always.”

And then, out there in that harvest field that afternoon, our little makeshift ceremony was over. We returned to whatever it was we were doing. It’s probably the first and only time in history that three Amish youths did a thing like that.

We talked about it sometimes, what we’d done. It meant something to us. We weren’t sure why, but it was a solemn thing. And despite the years that have passed, we still recall that day and that event.

The years flowed on then, and our deeds and the words we spoke were what they were. Good and bad. Rudy was the first among us to settle down. He began dating Marietta Yoder. When he was twenty years old, they married. Settled in a little trailer house on his father’s farm.

Marvin and I continued our running around. Some time later, he began dating my younger sister Rhoda. In October of this year, they will observe their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Children were born to them both. Strong sons and beautiful daughters. Rudy has been a grandparent now for a year or two, again the first among us to reach that milestone.

My path meandered a bit more, through some rough terrain. In the spring of 1986, my personal life imploded. Reeling from a succession of self-inflicted blows, I wrapped up my business affairs and left Bloomfield. With nothing but the clothes on my back and a thousand bucks. This time, I didn’t sneak away under cover of darkness with only a note to announce my absence. In broad daylight, I boarded the bus and headed out. My two blood brothers remained behind, with their fledgling families.

I would remain in a precarious mental state for a few more years. And yet, throughout all my subsequent wanderings, as I fled to strange and distant places for reasons I could not articulate or fully comprehend, when the winds and fire swept and raged around me, when the vast lifeless wastelands stretched into infinity before me, through it all one fact remained constant.

I was always, always welcome at the homes of my blood brothers. And at their tables. Not that I came around that much. But when I did, they welcomed me. As I was. Who I was. Even though by doing so they risked the smoldering wrath and harsh discipline of the Bloomfield church fathers, who viewed with grim displeasure even the appearance of friendship or fellowship with a backslidden renegade like me.

Always, their doors were open. Quietly, with few words, they supported me as best they could, as best they knew.

They didn’t preach. Or pretend to understand the demons I wrestled. Or ask why I did the inexplicable things I did.

They were just there. As they had promised. In that stubbled field so long ago.

It meant a lot to me then. It still does.

True friends are a rare and precious thing.

In time, both Marvin and Rudy left Bloomfield. And the Amish church. Today, Marvin and his family reside in the Hutchinson, Kansas area. Last year, Rudy and his family moved to Linn, Missouri.


We’re graying now, about the age our fathers were years ago, back when we were convinced they knew nothing. That pretty much all they said or did was madness.

The years flow by like water, and the dreams of who we thought we were or would be by now have receded and fallen by the way. We have seen and lived things we would have thought unfathomable in our youth.

And yet, as we met this past week, we sat about and talked in the calmness of settled contentment. Spoke of the old times. Retold the old jokes and laughed again together. Rehashed old memories. The things we did. The blood ceremony.

We realize our fathers had some wisdom after all. We concede that now in retrospect.

We might not be who we thought we were back then, a lifetime ago. But we are who we are. And one constant fact remains true.

We’re “blood brothers” still. And old friends.



  1. Ira, I covered my face and cried. This story hit a very tender spot. You are very blessed. We don’t all have friends like that when we leave.

    Comment by Rachel Hochstetler — May 23, 2009 @ 8:40 am

  2. That just about made me cry. There is nothing better than an old friend, especially one who won’t judge you and just accepts. I’m sure you know you were given a gift with those friends. Thanks for sharing that story.

    Comment by Beth Russo — May 23, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  3. Marvin is one of the funniest people I know.

    Comment by jason yutzy — May 23, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  4. Sounds like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer… Loved this post.

    Wonder if there’s any Amish-connected person who doesn’t have ties of some sort in Hutch?

    Comment by Ann — May 23, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  5. It’s been said that who you are friends with at 13-15, you can’t help but be friends with forever. Even if twenty years go by without seeing one another. Lovely post. Really nice.

    Comment by Monica — May 23, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  6. You’re blessed.

    Comment by Abbigail Starr — May 23, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  7. Though unintended, you have painted a picture of what the true church should be like, true “Blood” brothers (and sisters). Leaders understanding the significance of their lives and friendship holding up hands in mutual respect. And undying love.

    And moving out to serve others. Helping, lifting, freeing. Understanding that is our calling, even when no one else understands.

    Without all my hyper-space reflections, it is a beautiful post, Ira, full of the good in humanity. Thanks for continuing on.

    Comment by LeRoy — May 23, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  8. I so enjoy checking out your writings. This one made me smile. Reading the weekly posts has become a much anticipated event. Thank you, keep writing. :)

    Comment by Erin — May 23, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  9. I think Ira has touched on a point, too. One that has deep meaning to me, as I am half Amish, on my paternal side. I have always been treated at arms length by my Amish friends I knew being a English outsider. When I found out I was Amish as well, and shared my kinship tie with them , I thought foolishly I be treated more like family. Rather, I feel since I shared that fact, that my father was a Slabaugh, I am more shunned and left out of their tight-knit circle.

    They use degrees of shunning, in order not to deal with situations or people contrary to the spirit. I thought shunning was suppose to be a punishment, not a Christian right to impose wills on others. How does shunning a bewildered soul help motivate the individual back to the flock? Even if one gives into the oppression and stays, I can only imagine the emotional bad feeling it invokes.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — May 24, 2009 @ 1:15 am

  10. I remember the blood brother incident vividly. I also recall if anyone of us three was down, the others would pick him up, rescue and restore him.

    Thanks for the tribute to Jane the fleet footed mare. And while recognizing that the “decrepit little buggy” was no masterpiece, my dad and I built it together. I was always proud of that!

    A few things about Ira, he always knew exactly where he stood on issues and would pursue that end vigorously. He had a ready sense of humor and a very infectious laugh. Quick, nervous energy, channeled thru his mind [mostly].

    Good seeing you last weekend. Thanks again for the bed.

    Comment by Marvin Yutzy — May 24, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  11. This week’s blog brought back many precious memories and some tears too! I would still trust you both with any of my possessions as far as anyone.

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — May 24, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  12. Marvin & Rudy’s comments puts the finishing touch on this post.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 25, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  13. I too have had the privilege of knowing these 2 great men and consider them among my best friends. I worked for Rudy for over 5 years and have lots of good memories.

    I always enjoy reading your posts.

    Comment by Marlin Eicher — May 26, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  14. You know Ira, I have reflected a long time about your posting this week. I realized that to have true friendships as you so beautifully described is quite a blessing, but sorrowfully scarce. I have even noticed that as my life becomes so consumed with work and family, and problems arise, that even ones I had thought and considered true friends wither. I appreciate your timely blog and have come to realize that what you have with these two men is to be treasured.

    Often times we find that we refer to many as “our friends” but when it comes down to it, they are really just acquaintances. True friendship is a Godsend and we must always remember that as acquaintances come in and out of our lives, to pray that the Holy Spirit gives us discernment to know the difference. Thank you, and keep up the thought provoking blogs!

    Comment by Grace — May 29, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  15. Ira,

    Can’t say I always agree with you, but do enjoy reading your blog when I have time. This one on friends was well done. You have been truly blessed to have Marvin & Rudy as friends. Your article gave us a glimpse of what true friendship really is.

    Comment by Neal — June 2, 2009 @ 11:33 am

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