June 19, 2009

Calling Amos…

Category: News — Ira @ 4:49 pm


“There is in every true woman’s heart, a spark of heavenly fire,
which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which
kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

—Washington Irving

I really don’t know how I get myself into these situations. It’s certainly not like any- thing is planned, or that I’m out consciously looking for adventure. But somehow, stuff just happens. And that day, there I was, in the thick of it all. Not as a participant, just an observer, a chronicler. And what I saw and heard left an indelible impression.

It was a Saturday afternoon a few weeks back. Beautiful sunny day. Planting season. Amish farmers tilled the fields with great jangling teams of horses and mules.

I had a late afternoon business appointment at an Amish place. I arrived right on time, 4 o’clock. Half an hour or so later, after taking care of the business at hand, we sat at the kitchen table and talked.

Twice, I almost left. But for some reason, I sat there and continued visiting. Which is unusual. I’m normally not that sociable. We weren’t discussing anything important. Just this and that, mostly small talk about mutual acquaintances. But then it was time to leave. I took my briefcase and prepared to go.

And at that instant, suddenly the door burst open. The Amish housewife who lived next door poked her head into the kitchen. Spoke urgently. There had been an accident in a nearby field. Something about a young Amish boy and a team of mules.

We all rushed out of the house and ran across the field, which was right next to the house. And there, less than a quarter mile away, at the neighbor’s buildings, stood a six mule team. Several men milled about. The team had been unhooked from the harrow, a wicked looking contraption with curved tines designed to rip the earth. The men were frantically tugging at the harrow, unhooking sections from each other. As I approached, they lifted a section and flipped it back. I couldn’t see from where I was, but I knew a boy had been trapped and dragged by the harrow.

We got there a few seconds before the EMT medics, who had already been called. Wailing sirens approached in the distance. And there he was, sprawled loosely on the ground, a young lad about ten years old. Covered with dirt, from rolling along the field under the harrow. I don’t know how he was positioned when they found him. When I first saw him, he was flat on his back.

His clothes were torn and tattered. His face was caked, his nostrils and mouth clogged with dirt. Eyes open, staring into space at nothing. He didn’t move at all. He looked dead.

The medics arrived as I stood there gaping, running full speed from their vehicles with bags and equipment. With the Amish men who had lifted the harrow, I stood nearby and observed. The medics knelt by the boy and administered first aid. Cleared the dirt from his nose and mouth. Felt for a pulse. Sliced his tattered clothes from his body. Asked for the boy’s name. Called firmly, sharply. “Amos, can you hear me? AMOS!!!” There was no response.

I don’t know this, but they probably felt his pulse. And knew that he was alive, but just knocked out cold.

But I figured he was dead. There was no doubt in my mind at all.

And then, walking through the gate, across the spongy clodded dirt, she came. Not running, just walking fast. A robust, buxom youngish woman, her face and arms reddened from endless hours of toiling in the sun. Barefoot, in a blue dress with a black apron. A light blue scarf on her head, looped and knotted on the back of her neck. She approached, the medics shifted slightly, made room for her. She walked right up to the crumpled, broken body of her son.

She leaned over him. And she called his name, spoke to him in his native tongue. “Amos, can you hear me? Amos, these men are here to help you. Amos.”

Amos. A good solid Lancaster County Amish name. Bland, but solid. He was probably named after one of his grandfathers. Or an uncle. Maybe he was the oldest son. Probably had a string of younger brothers and sisters. These thoughts, and a thousand other jumbled threads, swept fleetingly through my mind as I watched his mother and heard her speak.

She was calm and cool. No trace of hysteria. No tears. She crouched down briefly, as if to brush her hand on his face. But then she pulled back, so as not to interfere with the medics. She called again. Still no response. No movement. Nothing.

The head medic spoke in curt commands. Call for a helicopter. Two-way radios blared. The medics were good. Totally focused. Totally efficient. A small stretcher was fetched, and blankets. Somehow they slid the stretcher under the boy. They continued working feverishly.

The mother paced about. Stopped again, a few feet from her son. Crouched there, slightly bent, her hand resting on her knee. And again she called him. And again, and again. “Amos! Amos!”


Firefighters arrived then and cordoned off the area. I squatted off to the side, with one of the men who had lifted the harrow. He quietly murmured his story to me. He was a nearby neighbor, the husband of the young woman who had alerted us in the kitchen. He had seen Amos all afternoon, driving the team, standing directly behind them on the evener to which the mules were hitched. And then he looked, he said, and saw no one standing on the evener, just the mules plodding across the field. He instantly knew what had happened and rushed out to stop them. By the time he got there, the team had walked all the way to the gate, where they had stopped. The mules hadn’t run away. They’d never even realized that their young driver wasn’t in control.

Somehow, Amos had bounced off the evener. And instantly got caught in the harrow’s teeth. He had been dragged clear across the field, probably an eighth of a mile. When the men got to him, his left leg was protruding backward from the harrow, snapped in two.

Neighbors had now gathered, a small knot of a crowd, craning to see. They were cordoned behind the gate to the field, a good hundred feet away. I had absolutely no business being where I was. None whatsoever. But having run across the field from the other direction, and being one of the first on the scene, I stayed. Aside, out of the way. And just watched it all unfold.

I marveled at the mother. Her calmness. The depths of her quiet strength. She never faltered, never broke down, never shed a tear. Maybe that came later. She was a daughter of generations of tough independent people born to the land, stolid forthright people who tilled the soil and lived fruitful lives of quiet simplicity. Accepted adversity and affliction and tragedy without question as the will of God. And died as they had lived, close to the earth that had sustained them. And at this moment of acute crisis, as the son she had borne lay broken and motionless on the ground, she did not shrink, she did not faint, she did not break, but instinctively summoned a degree of courage and composure that would have been impossible to contrive.

Her husband stood there silently, watching. He did not call his son. From some deep untaught prompting, they knew. The boy might hear his mother’s voice when all others were lost to him.

Time seemed frozen, but minutes passed. There was little doubt in my mind the boy was dead. But she stood there, bent slightly forward, and calmly called her son again and again.

It was not a call of fear. She spoke cheerfully, forcefully, as if rousing him from deep slumber at sunrise.

“Amos, Amos, wake up! Amos, these men are here to help you. Amos, do you want to go on a helicopter ride? The helicopter is coming! Amos. Amos!”

That was the only sound, except for the curt, intense voices of the medics and the occasional jolting blare of the two-way radios.

Again and again she called her son. And again.

And somewhere, from the subconscious realms to where his soul had slipped, the boy heard the echoes of his mother’s voice. He stirred faintly. And he returned.

She had called him back.

He had been utterly unresponsive for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably about ten minutes total, from the time the first men reached him and freed him from the harrow’s teeth.

The medics realized it before anyone else, as they knelt there beside him. They continued working feverishly, intensely. Strapped him onto the stretcher. Placed an oxygen mask on his face, attached tubes.

The boy suddenly emitted a high piercing wail of pain and terror. He was awake, and felt the excruciating pain from his shattered leg. His mother crouched down and spoke to him, comforted him.

We heard the throb of the helicopter then as it chopped in from the east, and circled the field. Swooped down and landed, directed by the firefighters. The door opened. Two medical personnel leaped out and raced to the boy.

As they transported him to the chopper, I got up and walked back across the field to my truck. As I reached Big Blue, the chopper lifted off and headed west.

I reflected on the things I’d seen and heard, made some mental notes so I could later tell the story. And realized I didn’t even know the father’s name. Or the mother’s.

I only knew the first name of their son.


Amos Stoltzfus, 12, was flown to the Hershey Medical Center that day. Miraculously, he suffered no internal injuries. His left leg was shattered, broken in many places. During the first few weeks, Doctors feared his leg might have to be amputated.

Those fears were not realized, thankfully. His leg is on the road to full recovery. Amos returned home to his family two days ago. Spurred by the energy and vitality of his youth, he is expected to be walking again in about four weeks.



  1. To say the least, I am deeply touched.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — June 19, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  2. The voice of a mother calling the name of a child directly or to God on behalf of the child has changed the course of many a life. Another touching story written as only a gifted witness can write.

    P.S. Certainly great to meet you tonight and hope you enjoy your stay in stormy Holmes County!

    Comment by Fellow Traveler — June 19, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  3. That made me go in and hug my boys one more time after tucking them in bed. So happy to hear that he is recovering.

    Comment by Erin — June 19, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

  4. What a lovely ending to a very touching story! Thank you for sharing it.

    Comment by Cricketsong — June 20, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

  5. Research on smoke detectors and how they rouse sleeping people has led to a detector with a voice recorder. Smoke detectors, with their loud and annoying alarm, almost immediately awake adults but children sleep through and then die from burns or CO / HCN poisoning from the fire. The research found that the parents’ voices, especially the mother’s, will awake the soundly sleeping child. In our case, a voice detector would be programmed, using the sharp mother command voice that we all remember from our upbringing, “Susanna, Mina wake up. There is a bad fire. Leave the house now.” This particular female command voice has sometimes amusing affects on adults. One of our church’s families has a young boy named Mark. Several years ago, he was running around the meeting house and making a nuisance until mother sharply said “Mark, sit down now.” So we both did, immediately.

    On the subject of behavior of civilians in fires and other emergencies, the British conducted some complex tests with crowds in the London subway and found that specific voice commands dropped the evacuation time of a crowded station from never (hooting horn caused no change in crowd’s behavior, almost no one appeared to know this horn was an evacuation alarm versus some process alarm for the subway personnel) to 20 minutes (hooting horn with a repeated general voice message asking for people to immediately leave the station) to 3-1/2 minutes (horn followed by specific message saying something like “There is a fire on the west bound platform. Please leave the station now by walking upstairs. Do not use the lifts.” The very specific message that mentioned the threat and its location and therefore the reason to quickly leave the station not only did not cause any panic but dramatically cleared out the station in little time. This research is now changing the codes that govern the design and installation of fire and evacuation alarm systems. It appears that the mother’s voice of authority does rule the world. When you program your evacuation system’s voice commands, have a woman with small children voice it.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — June 20, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

  6. Along with faith, that poor mother was going on pure adrenaline (which, if you ask me, can be quite a gift!). She was completely strong right when she had to be – emotions, I’m sure, came later. I’m so glad he’s on the road to recovery and I’m sure everyone’s breathing a bit easier now.

    Comment by Bethrusso — June 20, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  7. Yes, the POWER of LOVE is a wonderful thing !!! Thanks for sharing. I’ll say a prayer for Amos and his family.
    Take Care All,

    Comment by Michelle V. — June 20, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  8. Good things….bad things….happy things….sad things…..it does not matter…..
    nobody tells a story or talks about life quite like you, Ira. We Internet readers are fortunate to have found you.

    Comment by Robert Miller — June 20, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

  9. You say it so well, Ira. I can put myself in the Mother’s place.

    Comment by Rachel Hochstetler — June 21, 2009 @ 6:39 am

  10. Great blog, as usual. It was so good to have you in Holmes County this weekend. Everybody was looking forward to your visit, and those who didn’t know that you were here were pleasantly surprised and excited to meet you. Obviously, you’re going to have to come back! Some are already dusting off their raisin creme pie recipes to help lure you away from Lancaster Co. Great blog, great weekend!

    Comment by John Schmid — June 21, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  11. A very good friend of mine happened to back over his little child, with a big truck a few days ago. The Mother in this case was strong and sweet all the way through. Their child will recover but will need a wheelchair.

    I have enjoyed reading your blog for a long time, and always look forward to Friday evenings to read a new post.

    Comment by Faith — June 22, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  12. I think the accident Faith is talking about is about a fellow-blogger’s daughter. You can get an update at A Joyful Chaos. She’s former Amish as well, and she refers to her daughter as “Sunbeam”. Faith is right, she’s an awesome, sweet mom and knows the entire thing was an accident. And if this isn’t the same incident, then it’s similar and we still have a LOT of answered prayers this week!!

    Comment by Bethrusso — June 22, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  13. Really enjoy your writings, Ira, you remind me of my mother. She could write like you do. Good with words, and knack of drawing pictures with words. Keep it up! I believe you touch many lives. I do want to comment on your February article and also the other times I’ve read your writings on how you grew up, then left the Amish. Do you believe me when I say I am shocked that there are Amish communities that are so wrapped up in living traditionally that they don’t emphasis the true meaning of Salvation?

    Having grown up Amish myself, I’ve had a lot of questions already of why the Amish do this or that, and I do admit some ways are based on tradition, but a lot trace back to Scripture. And there have been changes and a lot of effort put into changing some things for the better. Such as making sure the young folks, (rumshpringa), leave their usual Sunday evening gathering before 10:00 in order to be home by 12:00 which, no Saturday evening parties. More wholesome activities such as singing at homes and prisons, fund-raisers for those with hospital bills, etc. I believe they even have a commitee now to oversee and stress road, farm, and shop safety. And there is always those who are rebellious and do not seem to want to change. But having talked with one gentleman already, who is concerned for the next generation, his children, and grandchildren, he said they were on the verge of leaving for another church, but saw that it will not make the problems better, so instead they put a lot of effort in to change some things, and now it is rewarding.

    Are the Amish misunderstood?? Probably some, and I know from how I grew up, and what I read about your childhood that it is extremely different in some communities. Why?? Keep on praying, loving,, living for Jesus!! Also remember those who recently parted with loved ones. We have hope that some day we’ll all be together again.

    Oh, another question. The mother of the young boy in the accident, don’t you think she was praying?? Don’t you think she was being upheld by the Strength and Grace of God?? Sometimes there is too much credit given to us human beings. God made us…..

    Comment by Miss Jane — June 23, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  14. Am I only one, wondering what a 12 year boy is doing, driving a six mule team? There should be committees as suggested, to address such safety concerns among the Amish, especially those work duties that overly endanger children!

    I would never suggest, bringing in the outside English world’s authority, to pass their callous cruel criminal judgment, on good hard working Amish. But we do have laws in place, on the outside world to protect children, which limit their hours of work and the type jobs young adolescents maybe employed at.

    I grew up on a hobby farm myself, and worked for other farmers around Gladwin, as a teenager to help out and make money. I can remember back to those times, where grown ups many times, restricted me from doing tasks, they deemed as to risky or felt I was too immature for.

    So my gut wrenches hard in knots, when I hear of a young preteen boy, who is chewed up by a piece of machinery. Where no one in their right mind, should have ever, let him labor behind. I know Ira portrays the parents, as noble representation of Amish fortitude, in such horrific circumstance.

    Though, it should never have happened, to begin with! His parents should be held responsible, in some real manner. The parents’ poor lack of rational common sense, and lack of concern of wellbeing, put that boy in harms way.

    But it is the young boy Amos, which paid the price, by almost dying and ending up with a shattered leg. Amos was only doing, what was expected and required of him, instructed by his Amish loving parents.

    To many times, prideful Amish men, talk about how they support large families. Will more truth is, it is their many young children laboring in fields, which is the main source of their household income.

    The said truth is, Amos will not be last child, hurt by try to please Amish parents and do what asked of him by his Amish cultural religion. And outside society, will shack their heads in discuss, but look the other way and say it’s a Amish problem.

    In way that is better, than having these parents face criminal charges and the children taken away by protective services, which most likely would happen if they were not Amish and this happen in the outside English setting.

    But in another way, no one really takes to heart, the ramification of child endangerment that occurs daily in Amish society. Even this horrific event, will be smoothed over, and no lesson learned.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — June 24, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

  15. I agree totally with the above comment. I live here in Lancaster county and the amount of farm related injuries and deaths involving minors every year is shocking. We read and hear about the worst ones in the news. But there are a lot that never make the headlines. Sorry, but any child under 4 years old is to young to be left unattended outside for any amount of time. The crowds of adorable Amish children walking to and from school, the ones teetering and swerving on the scooters, the ones who meander all over the road on that cute pony cart or the innocent little girl attending to family produce stand by her self, all of those are courting disaster. I could go on and on about all kinds of horrific accidents that have occured in the past couple years, the majority of them totally avoidable, involving children who were given a task way beyond their years or left unattended and found floating in water trough etc….

    I was raised Amish and realize that the parents would never knowingly endanger their children. Most Amish parents are basically clueless when it comes to safety…. They just assume that it will never happen to them. It is past time to wake up and learn a lesson! We don’t live in a Utopian Mayberry.

    Comment by Amy — June 24, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  16. Ira, I printed your post and shared it with some of the extended family of young Amos up here in PA’s “Upper Valleys.” They were very moved. Thanks.

    Comment by Katie H. — June 26, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  17. To comments 14 & 15, I reply that we all take risks every day, we live in a sin-cursed earth in which bad things do happen, and that the attempt to eliminate consequences by limiting freedom is an idolatry.

    Amish use the same arguments about accidents as a reason not to use motor vehicles (and have a much better argument than those who want to restrict legitimate labor and learning).

    I was touched by the article, Ira, though too busy to even comment earlier this week. What impresses me is how you focus on the important things in telling the story. Thus you teach by guidance, rather than moralizing. Not that there isn’t a place for both. But the former is especially needed to communicate in our current context of scepticism. Press on!

    Comment by LeRoy — June 26, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

  18. Problem is to support such large families they have, as instructed by Ordnung, they then are forced by circumstances to use child labor, to make enough money to survive on.

    As long as it is left up to the parents alone, to decide the length and type chores of their kids at any given age, without any repercussions of penalty when their young ones get injured, do to dangerous situations of the farm work they employ their adolescence in. Then it said to say, but the buck will win over common sense every time, and these loving parents will put their children, in harms way for the cash earnings they need them to acquire to get by.

    I am not say that outside world should step in, though the English authorities have been negligent by our laws, for not protecting these defenseless young ones no matter what group or religion they are in. I am say the Plain people clergy, should have set up a long time ago, some formal guidelines to the appropriate ages children are assigned chores for a given length of time. I am also saying, when a child get hurts due to inappropriate labor placement by their parents, then those parents should face some real punishment.

    Only when these parents, serving out some kind of retribution for their poor indecision of endangering their children will any lesson be learned, and the number these kind of immature youth injuries, will hopefully and finally start to reduce.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — July 4, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  19. Quote from post 17;

    “the attempt to eliminate consequences by limiting freedom is an idolatry”.


    After thinking about this for a while, I would agree.
    IF…kept in it’s proper setting.

    It would not be ‘idolatry’, for ex, for parents to ‘eliminate consequences by limiting the freedom of a child’.
    Rather, in the light of how the term ‘idolatry’ is used, it would then be ‘idolatry’ for the parents NOT to do so.
    [“Idolatry’ would be going against how He has set things up to work…man thinking that he has a BETTER/HIGHER/MORE PERFECT way. Adults are not to force other adults to do as they think. But, children are to obey their parents, and parents are to chastise/train/teach that child.]

    It is not His way to ‘force’ folks to live by His principals, nor to ‘force’ folks to love Him.
    What He is seeking, is for folks to serve/obey Him out of love, and not because of the legalism of the law.

    A home can be run the same way.
    Parents can raise their children under the legalism of the law, or they can raise their children so that they learn to obey/respond out of love.
    A small child will learn thru the legalism of the law, so to speak, but as they then grow into young adults themselves, then they should find themselves responding out of love for their parents, and not because they ‘have to’.

    Same way with the husband and wife. The husband/wife relationship can be based upon the legalism of the law, or it can operate based upon love.
    They can stay faithful to each other because they ‘have to’ or they can stay faithful because they ‘love’ each other.

    Doing something thru the legalism of the law, or out of a heart of love, is like two different worlds.
    There is no one more aware of this than He is.

    When some man/men/committee comes along and think that they need to FORCE folks [other adults] to live by what THEY feel is right, then they are trying to do something that God himself doesn’t do.
    They feel they need to improve on His way.
    And that, is idolatry.

    He already has a ‘enforcer’ in place. [law of sowing and reaping]
    Folks can reap blessings if they do right, and they reap hardships if they fail.
    The whole world falls under that.

    When it comes to those that are truly His, then there is another ingredient that enters into the picture.
    Chastisement…if they fail/fall short/sin/miss the mark.
    Chastisement is love. [Anyone that doesn’t get chastised by Him, is a bastard and not a son. ]

    Then there is also the fact that we live in a world where moth and rust do corrupt, and accidents DO HAPPEN.
    Do folks really think that they will have to answer to Him for how someone else raises their child/children?

    Surely anyone would know better than that.

    On the other hand, if folks interfere with how parents raise their children, then they WILL have to give account to Him for that.

    He gave those children to THOSE PARENTS to raise, and no one else needs to stick their nose into the matter.

    Those parents are the ones that will realize if they have failed, or not.
    That is between them and their Creator.

    After all, He is the one that decides if parents should have children or not.
    Think not?
    Then let me ask this.
    Are there any parents that are going to have children if He doesn’t want them to?
    Before the foundation of the world He knew who was going to be honest hearted, and who wasn’t.
    So He gives folks children based upon that…gives folks children…accordingly.
    Based upon His foreknowledge…
    He knew exactly how parents would raise children if He gave them some.
    And who are we to question Him…?

    My….My….there are hundreds of thousands of children that are in far, far worse scenarios than being raised on an Amish farm!

    I was raised on a farm also and was doing chores and out in the fields at a very young age. It was GOOD for me! I’m thankful for being taught to work at a very young age. If i could do it over again, i would want the same raisin…!

    Comment by fritz — July 9, 2009 @ 12:28 am

  20. One evening I was mowing my yard, and asked my 2 daughters, 6 & 4, to pick up some trash, about 10′ from road. Just that instant, a passing car lost control, and skidded about 200′ and over the 2 girls, killing the 6 yr old, injuring the 4 yr old. Am I to also bathe my wounded soul in the harsh criticism of (some of) these comments?

    I will tell you that the positive events resulting from this watershed episode in our lives make quite a story. It has been a long time and I am still trying to understand….

    Comment by Dan Schmucker — January 7, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  21. Ira,

    You did not take a picture of this! You ought to be on staff at National Geographic.

    That poor boy. He must have been terrified. Thank God for his recovery. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but see the pain and confusion in Dan Schmucker’s comment.

    Why? Why was Amos saved and not Dan’s little girl? I have grappled with questions like this for as long as I can remember. I have searched high and low looking for something to satisfy me, to give me clarity about this God who is supposed to love us so much. Was this all a part of God’s plan? I wish I had the answer, but God won’t give it to me or anyone else for that matter. The one thing I do know is Jesus wept and mourned with people who were hurting. He said he would never leave us. There are times when I say, “Well, so what if He’s with me! I hurt so bad, why doesn’t he do something?” Just being honest as is Dan.

    It was wrong for some of your readers to condemn the parents. Nobody knows what the whole situation was. I can guess, though. A farm, lots of work to be done, mouths to feed, bills to pay. A boy of 12 looks mighty mature and rugged compared to his little siblings. Maybe the Dad was tending to a sick animal, plowing another field, mending fences, doing home repairs, who knows? But I’m sure they didn’t want their son to experience what he did. And if he would have passed on I bet they never would have forgiven themselves. Farming is hard work and Amish farming is in a league of its own.

    Comment by Francine — April 2, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

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