October 9, 2009

Autumn…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:58 pm

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“Then summer fades and passes and October comes. We’ll
smell smoke then, and feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill
of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure.”

—Thomas Wolfe
______________

We almost made it, all of us. But once again, a few didn’t. The record remains intact. I have not been together with all my brothers and sisters and our parents at the same place at the same time for close to forty years.

Two brothers couldn’t make it this time. Just the way it worked out. A few years ago, I was the only who didn’t show. And so nine of us, with our parents, gathered with other guests last week for the wedding of my niece, Mary Ann Wagler, and Jason Stutzman. Mary Ann is the daughter of my oldest brother Joseph.

The service was held on Friday, Oct. 2, at the little New Order Amish community of Worthington, IN. Just north and west of Daviess County, the land my father left more than fifty years ago.

I headed out Wednesday afternoon. Didn’t feel like doing the 12 hour drive in one stretch. Not through the desolation of western PA, which only seems to get worse, each time I travel through. After passing into Ohio, I searched in vain for a Holiday Inn, but had to settle for a Hampton. Not as classy. Not as comfortable. But it would have to do. And it was OK.

I arrived in the Worthington area about mid afternoon on Thursday and hung out with my nephews, Joseph’s sons. Seems like we see each other mostly at events like this. We chilled and chatted, drinking coffee and catching up on the latest. And running last minute errands. Meeting the happy couple. Mary Ann smiled and smiled.

Later, everyone gathered at a neighbor’s shop for supper. We were among the first to arrive. Before long, many of my siblings trickled in. Maggie and her husband Ray from South Carolina. Rachel and Rhoda and their husbands from Kansas. Naomi and Alvin from their new home in Arkansas. And of course, Joseph and Iva, the bride’s parents. We greeted each other cheerfully and sat about and talked.

There’s always joy, in such a gathering. Or should be. Ten years ago, we would not have gathered like this. Couldn’t have. Now we can, and it’s a beautiful thing.

And then, just as the food was being set out, the door opened, and they shambled in, both leaning on canes. Dad and Mom, with my oldest sister Rosemary. Mom walked between them, supported on each side. They helped her to a seat. She looked small and very frail, certainly worse than when I saw her last at Christmas. But she was smiling.

After waiting a few minutes for her to settle on her chair, I walked over to her. Would she still recognize me? She had slipped a lot lately mentally, I’d heard. To the point where she sometimes does not even recognize her own daughters. I greeted her and took her hand. She smiled and spoke my name. I sat beside her and we talked.

She was there, and yet she wasn’t. Aware of some of us, some of the time. She lives now in her childhood world in Daviess County. She speaks in soft halting tones of family, neighbors, places, things. All from that safe dimension from long ago, where her heart has remained all these years. A world to which she has returned.

It’s gut-wrenching. And yet, somehow, I think her state of existence brings its own degree of peace. At least, one hopes as much. And grasps what solace one can from that hope.

She is in the depths of a winter that has been long and cold. And after winter comes the spring. Soon she will enter that new spring, unlike any she has ever known. There, her smile will not be dead and vacant, but alive with a joy that can never be taken from her. Her mind will be clear again as she walks into eternal peace.

We assembled the next morning at nine o’clock for the wedding. The service was held in a large tent beside Marcus Marner’s shop. Although rain had been forecast, the day broke clear and cool. Perfect weather. I walked the gauntlet, shaking hands with a hundred strangers, mumbling greetings. Yes, I was Joseph’s brother. The bride’s uncle. No, my wife wasn’t with me. Actually, I’m not married. And so on.

Soon it was time to file in to be seated. I followed Titus on his motorized wheelchair and sat beside him on a backless bench. Up front with the married men. It’s not often that I get to be with him, so I was honored for the opportunity.

It was, I think, my first New Order Amish service. Or maybe I attended before, but it was long ago. Things are done loosely the way the Old Orders do it. Same old slow songs, but fewer verses. The entire Lob Song in all its glory. The main difference was the preaching. It was mostly in English, which would never happen in an Old Order service. Old Orders preach only in the “Muttersproch,” the mother tongue. A defining symbol of their survival.

Things rolled along smoothly, and around 11:15 the couple rose and stood before Bishop Monroe Hostetler and exchanged their marriage vows. A few testimonials, another song, and it was over. We filed out.

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Mary Ann and Jason at the “Eck” for the noon meal

After a delicious meal of grilled chicken and all the fixings, we mingled and visited. I sat about with my siblings and we talked. About this and that, the little things. And the fact that so many of us could make it to this place for this special day.

And it suddenly struck me as I sat there in the low dull hum of a hundred murmured conversations and observed. That we are no longer what one would call young. We are gray or graying now, all of us. The years have flowed unchecked, they have accumulated, and from each of us they have extracted their toll. The fires of youth no longer burn. And the rage of youth has died.

And I looked on their worn tired faces, each reflecting the wisdom only years can bring, each interwoven with the stories only siblings know, each wrinkled with the deep tracks of time, the passage of long and weary decades. And the somber fact sank in, absorbed as never before.

That we had entered autumn. The autumn of our lives.

It is a hard thing to grasp, to turn in our minds and examine. That morning was so long ago, that the youth we thought would last forever has fled, that we have entered the fields of age from which there is no return. That approaching winter looms.

For me, it’s not particularly a sad thing, or a happy thing. It just is. But it heightens my awareness of my own mortality. We all too shall pass, the young men and women of the next generation will rise and replace us, until they too enter their own seasons of autumn and finally winter. The way it’s always been. And will always be until the end of time.

************************
Perhaps it’s because I’m knocking at autumn’s door. I don’t know. But lately, in the last month or so, I have been extremely restless. Unsettled. Mid-life crisis, or some such thing. I’m sure there’s a label for it.

I haven’t felt remotely this restless since my Amish youth days, when I churned with inner turmoil about my identity and my future. So it feels a bit strange. A lot strange.

I don’t know if the restlessness triggered my decision to write less, or vice versa. I do know that since less time is spent writing, the void must be filled with something.

I’m not freaking out or anything. But it’s not particularly fun either. I’m plugging along. Life goes on. It always does.

And life goes on, too, for my friends Paul and Anne Marie. A few weeks ago, after several days of severe headaches, Anne Marie went to the hospital for an unscheduled MRI scan. They received the results within hours.

The brain tumor has returned. Full blown. Virulent. Deadly. Larger than ever.

They called me the next morning, a Saturday. I stopped by to see them. The third time now that they’ve had to deal with same grim news.

Strangely, it’s different this time. Maybe they’re used to it, not that you could ever get used to such things. But they were utterly calm. Matter of fact, almost. We discussed the options. This time they wanted to go to Johns Hopkins for the surgery.

The following week, they traveled to JH. The tumor was golf ball sized. Strangely, Doctors did not consider it necessary to operate immediately. Yesterday, after more severe headaches, Paul rushed her down to JH, where she was admitted into Intensive Care. A CAT scan showed that the tumor was bleeding. This morning, after loss of some motor skills, she was rushed into surgery. Paul called this afternoon to tell me everything went well, and she is awake and alert. She might be able to return home as soon as Monday, which boggles the mind.

Other than that, I don’t have a lot to say. As always, they would appreciate your prayers. They are grateful for the gift of almost two years that Anne Marie has been granted since the tumor was first discovered. Naturally they hope for many more years, but they will accept the future as it unfolds. Not that there’s much choice. The Lord may choose to give. He may also choose to take.

I ain’t askin’ nobody for nothin’, as the song goes. But for those who wish to send support in the form of cards and letters, their address is as follows:

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Paul and Anne Marie Zook
588 Meetinghouse Road
Gap, PA 17527

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(14 Comments) »

  1. It hurts deeply to see our parents age and there is not a thing we can do about it. I watched my Dad carefully walk with a walker, and even then he fell and needed help getting on his feet again. At limes he would lose his mind and wander out or live in the past and enjoy telling me stories of those times. The day came when he could no longer walk, and no longer talk and soon he drew his last breath. It hurts but time heals. And now I am that generation…

    Comment by Katie Troyer — October 9, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

  2. I tell you what, watching parents age is a difficult thing at best. They have so much more time now to spend with their children who are all now busy with their own lives. “Cats in the Cradle” and all. The reality just sneaks up on you. I’m with you hoping that your mom has a new type of peace within. Realizing our own mortality has its own way of sneaking up too!! I sometimes get up and think, am I just tired or is that what I look like?? I do, however, enjoy the peace of losing the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality and have found much contentment with that. I’m so glad you enjoy your family so much – what a gift!! Have a great week ~ :)

    Comment by Bethrusso — October 9, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  3. P.S. Many prayers go out to Paul and especially Anne Marie – they’re going through so much. Thanks again for sharing their address ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — October 9, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  4. GOTTA LOVE THOSE FAMILY REUNIONS and all that comes with it! Relatives, especially siblings have a way of descending on each other that is totally unequal to anything else I’ve ever experienced. PRICELESS!!! The twelve of us are scattered all over creation and like your family it has been years since all of us were under the same roof. It’s always one or two missing….sad, but that’s life.

    Your mother sounds like a soft, gentle lady. My mother always spoke very highly of her. She was a kind, compassionate friend to my Mom during the difficult years in Canada. I always wished to meet her.

    Thanks for remembering your readers, your writings are a wonderful way to welcome the weekends. I’ll be praying for your friends.

    Comment by Amy — October 9, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  5. I remember when I was 5 years old my mom worked at the local General Store. I heard her tell a customer, my friend’s dad, “I’m 29 years old.” He said, “I am, too.” I thought to myself, “29! One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel! They don’t have much time left!”.

    That was 45 years ago. I’m 30 years older now than they were then, and they are both still living (and I am, too!). I’m starting to believe the Latin phrase on our old clock: “Tempus Fugit.” I’ve enjoyed every phase of life. Getting old is one of my goals in life. I’m in Autumn.

    It’s good to have you back at the old blog. The only excuse you should have to skip more than one week is that you’re writing your book.

    Comment by John Schmid — October 10, 2009 @ 12:18 am

  6. Hello Brother, we’re sorry we couldn’t make it for this Wedding .

    I think it was Ben Franklin who once noted. ”A young person thinks that 20 years or 20 Pounds ($$) can about never be spent”.

    Comment by Grandpa Jess — October 10, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

  7. Very impressive job of weaving the wedding/ reunion story in with the autumn story.

    It was great seeing you and everybody else for a few days. Fortunately there were no yokels there.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — October 10, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

  8. Bumping all the way in to Ind w/ 9 other people has its rewards, actually it was fun traveling w Marvins and worth every minute of being together. I think Marcus Marners put several stars in their crown doing these large weddings, it was awesome to be together w/family. Like Ira said 10 yrs ago this couldnt have happened. Jason’s Mom spoke very highly of Mary Ann and her brothers, it seems the brothers were there most of the week helping to get this together. Thanks to you all, it is a great spot in my memory, and so happy for Mary, she deserved the best of the best, it would seem she has it. No more weddings on the horizen, I think every time, then another niece or nephew pops up w/someone worthy to share their life with. Bless you all.

    Comment by Rachel — October 11, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  9. What a great post!!! It is very sobering to begin to really understand that our life is like a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow! Keep on posting, I love to read them.

    Comment by Cricketsong — October 11, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  10. Appreciate your thoughts, as always. I only remind us that while our life does go through seasons, winter is not the end of a journey, but part of a cycle of seasons. I’m glad Moses did not stay in the desert, but turned aside to look and listen at the burning bush, there gaining a new commission based on what he’d learned.

    Some of your readers may be interested in the “PA Dutch” New Testament. One place that sells is here:
    http://www.lehmans.com/store/Books___Amish_and_Mennonite___Bibles__Stories__and_Calendars___Amish_Bible___BC6487?Args=#

    Though in the Ohio dialect, we know neighbors here in Pennsylvania who’ve said it made the Word come alive for them, compared to the High German (and because they speak it at home, rather than English). Once you get onto the spelling used to represent the vowels, the lights go on.

    Comment by LeRoy — October 12, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  11. Ira, whenever the long stretches of western PA prove too much, feel free to stay the night here in Grove City at our place, just before you hit the Ohio border. No reservations required…

    Comment by Mark Graham — October 14, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

  12. Hello Ira,

    We were ‘once’ your employers…a very long time ago!

    Gene and I had breakfast with John Schmidt a few months ago in Iowa. He mentioned you and spoke of your blogging. We have read your blogs. We wanted to tell you that we are in Lititz, Pa. Have been here since the first of Sept. and will be here for several months. We would love to reconnect with you sometime…if I understand it, you are living in Lancaster. Let us know if you would want to meet for coffee, breakfast, etc. Gene and I would love it. You can email us.

    Gene and Mabel Bontrager

    Comment by Mabel Bontrager — October 21, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  13. Man, the mid-life crisis thing. Restless…oh yeah! I’ve never felt so intense about… things in my life. I felt barbaric at times. I prayed. Mercy, did I pray. “God I give this to you.” “God, what’s going on?” “God, get me through this without doing something really stupid!” Sigh. I even got a Charger to make me look and feel younger. I died my hair for the first time in my life. I started listening to 80’s music with a vengeance. I think, I hope, for the most part it’s passing. It’s not so intense, at least. I don’t feel so bad about not becoming rich, famous, the heart throb of every male over the age of …25, no, 24. I still wish I had my girlish figure, but unless I’m willing to invest $25,000 in nips and tucks I can hang that up. Especially after housing two strapping boys for 9 months each.

    Autumn. What a beautiful word. And you’re right about reaping wisdom in the autumn years. Being wise about the unkindnesses of life, comfortable in the skin, who cares what people think?, guiding the younger generation. I like the autumn years. And I love the autumn.

    Comment by Francine — January 23, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  14. Blessings upon the Zook family.

    Comment by Sho — November 8, 2018 @ 10:51 pm

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