July 26, 2019

Battlefields of Summer…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:32 pm


They rarely come alone. They march single file through miniscule cracks
around windows or under doors, looking for crumbs, water or a warm place
to make a new home. Often you’ll see them trooping up your walls or across
your counter, organized and on a mission.

You have an ant invasion.

—Mary Jo Dilonardo

It’s been a running battle every year since the first year me and Ellen lived here. Every spring the armies came marching. Usually in the kitchen, where the food crumbs fell. That’s where the vermin showed up. Well, maybe “showed up” isn’t quite an accurate term. Invaded is more like it. The house got invaded by great hordes of tiny black ants. Such was the reality of our world. And later, my world.

They were always a presence of some sort in the kitchen, the ants were, during the years Ellen and I were together. But only in the summers. They quietly vanished when it got cold. I don’t know. I think those things hibernate, somewhere far below the surface of the earth until the spring thaw warms the air. Then they wake up and get about the serious business of invading the nearest house. Which, to a great many ants over a long period of time, happened to be the house I live in.

I didn’t get all that perturbed about anything. We discussed our options. Should we get an exterminator? Those guys have some magic poisons that they set around. Ellen didn’t think it was necessary, though, to spend that kind of money. And she went and bought some Terro ant killer. Sweet stuff, that you set out as bait. We set it all around, on those little cardboard strips. It was very satisfying to see swarms of ants congregating and devouring the Terro. Thousands of ants met their doom that way. The problem was, what are thousands of ant deaths when there are hundreds of thousands of ants around? When one fell, ten took its place. Near as I can tell, that’s how it went. The Terro never did make a noticeable dent in the ant swarms. And I never was all that impressed with the stuff.

And that’s how it went, there for years. We’d get fed up with it all, and then the summer would end. Fall came. Cooler air. The ants went away, then. And we thought, oh, how nice. We got used to not having any ants around. Until the next spring. That’s how the circle went, until Ellen left. And then the problem was mine to deal with.

I don’t remember much about any invasion of ants that first year I lived alone. Probably because there were a whole lot of other more pressing things on my mind. And when I got around to paying some attention, I went out and bought a can of wasp spray. The kind that fogs up. It killed ants on contact. So, when the great marching armies of ants got to be a bit much, I just unleashed my spray bomb. Whole regiments of ants froze on contact, instantly petrified. Often, I left them right there for a while as a warning to any other invaders. Look. We can exist, if you just watch out a bit. Don’t get in my face. Stay away from my food. If I catch you on my counter, you will die.

It’s been kind of funny. Every spring, about the time the ants start stirring, the tenant gives me a text or a call. He always comes up with two or three of those vile smoke bombs that supposedly kill every living insect in the house. He always asks me to leave the basement door unlocked the next day, so he can set up the smoke bombs and get out for the day. You can’t be in the house when you set those things off. The chemicals make your eyes water. Can’t be healthy. I always allowed the tenant to carry out his campaign against the ants. The problem was, those silly little bombs never did much. Oh, the ants got scarce for a few days, but then they swarmed right back in, more numerous than before. I think that poison smoke actually made them breed more.

Which brings us to this year. This spring. This invasion of ants. Small and black and everywhere. They never bit anyone. They just got in the way. The tenant duly unleashed his bombs back in April or May. Didn’t seem to do a lick of good. And the ants came in extra fierce this spring. My first mistake was when I bought a different brand of spray. If it killed any ants, it did so by drowning them, because I covered whole divisions of them with the liquid spray. The ants just looked surprised at the deluge. Near as I could tell, the spray didn’t harm the ants at all. I was distraught.

And that’s how it went. Me and the ants coexisted uneasily. They were trespassing. We both knew that. But what was I going to do about it? That was the issue. I may never have gotten anything done about any of it until the cool fall weather came and the ants would leave on their own. That is, until the cleaning lady got involved.

I like my cleaning lady. I think I’ve seen her twice in about five years. She comes around once a month and cleans my house. That’s often enough for a bachelor, I think. She gets on her hands and knees and scrubs the kitchen floor. She’s quite indispensable. She’s generally quite content and happy, too, as long as I remember to leave the check for payment. Still. Once in a while, she’ll pipe up. Leave a note or send a text. A few years ago she persistently reminded me to get a new kitchen rug, there by the sink. I thought the old rug had a good bit of use in it, yet, and ignored the suggestions for a while. She persisted. She even offered to go and buy a rug for me. I think that’s how we solved it, then. I left her some cash and told her to buy a rug and keep the change. She came back the next month with a nice new rug. I made a fuss about how lovely it was. The cleaning lady beamed. I smiled. Everyone was happy.

And there was another time when the cleaning lady pestered me firmly. Get rid of some of these shoes around here that no one wears. She could tell, from one month to the next, if the shoes had been moved at all. Mostly, they weren’t. And so, here came a stream of nagging notes. Every month, she left another one. These shoes were making her work harder than she’d have to if I just got them out of her way. And so on and on. And one Saturday, I had enough. I ransacked the house. More than two dozen pairs of shoes were dropped at the donation box over by Grocery Outlet. What I’m saying is, when the cleaning lady leaves a note or makes any other kind of noises about anything, I’ve learned to pay attention. Yes, ma’am. Whatever you think. I’ll see to it right away.

And sure enough, early this month, she left a note. I always shudder when I see one of those things on the kitchen table. What’s wrong now? I’m always afraid she’s gonna tell me to get rid of my old 70’s vintage yellow linoleum on the kitchen floor. I’ve been petrified of that for a while. I’m determined to stand firm on that one. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with that linoleum. I quickly scanned the words. You have lots of ants by the kitchen sink, was the message. Get rid of them, was the unwritten message. I sighed. Ah, well. My floor was safe. I had a month to figure something out about the ants. I didn’t know what. I figured the Terro bait would probably be my best bet. That stuff Ellen had used, way back. It’s still out there on the market. Still as insipid and useless as ever, too, I’m sure. I just didn’t see a lot of other viable options.

The next Saturday morning arrived. The ants and I had maintained an uneasy truce during that week. I was out and about that morning, running errands. Dropped some shirts at the dry cleaners. Stopped by some Amish friends for coffee. The goodwife greeted me cheerfully. How was my week? I sighed. I got problems, I told her. Ants. The cleaning lady is grumbling. I have to do something about it. Got any ideas I can go with? I’m about ready to go buy me some Terro. I don’t want to. That stuff is worthless.

Amazingly, she did have an idea. “Of course,” she told me. “I have just the thing for you. It will kill all your ants.” And she got busy mixing two ingredients, half and half. Refined white sugar and Borax. She found a plastic pint container and mixed it in that. And she told me. “Take this home and sprinkle it all around your house, on the outside. Tomorrow morning, there will be no ants.” That was an astounding statement. I looked dubious.

But I smiled, of course. How quaint, that she thought sugar and Borax would kill my ants. Still. Be polite, I told myself. We drank coffee and talked about other things. I took it all home later. It was a bright, sunny day. I sprinkled the white mixture around my house, right close to the foundation. I could see the ground moving with little black ants. Take this, my beauties, I said, as I worked my way around the house.

I ran out of the sugar/Borax mix before I got all the way back to my starting point. Still. Let’s see what that does, I thought. Come, my beautiful ants, come. A great feast is spread for you. Come and eat. And I noticed that afternoon. The ant traffic in the kitchen had diminished greatly. I mean, could they have eaten the Borax that fast? Apparently, yes. The Amish goodwife was totally right. The next morning, there were zero ants on my kitchen counter. None. Nada. Not one. I was astonished. And delighted. Oh, yes, indeed. I was delighted. I still am.

It’s been three weeks, now. In that time, I have seen exactly two ants in my kitchen, on the counter. Both were alone, probably mutant scouts sent out from decimated colonies to explore the terrain. Both were smashed instantly, so neither of them returned to report back. It rained hard the night after I spread the mixture. The goodwife claims that will make no difference. The sugar/Borax will stay and last the rest of the summer. I’m dubious about that. But I went and bought my own supply. Next time I see an ant inside, or any swarm of them, the house will be treated again. I have the answer, now.

And there you have it. My contribution to polite society this summer. Just pretend we’re standing around at a garden party, making small talk. If you got ants in the house, don’t call an exterminator. Don’t buy Terro. Simply mix up refined white sugar and Borax, half and half. Mix thoroughly, as the goodwife told me. It has to be stirred, mixed hard and right. Then sprinkle the stuff lightly all around the outside of your house, right by the base of the foundation. If you live in an apartment complex, just set some of the mixture inside, where the ants are. They will eat the sugar and the Borax. They will carry the sweet feast to their queen. And they will die. All of them will die.

I know. Where has this information been, all my life? You are welcome. Thank the goodwife.

The other day at work I got a call from a good old country boy contractor from down south a bit. He needed a quote on a metal roof. I’ve dealt with the guy for years and consider him a friend. We chatted about this and that as I punched in the materials and gave him a number. And then he thought about what else he wanted to ask me.

“Ahra,” he said. (He calls me Ahra, that’s how he talks.) “Ahra, how’s the book coming along?” This guy was a huge fan of the first book. He even bought signed copies for some of his friends. I had told him when the contract came for the second one. That’s why he even knew anything about it. Well, I said. I’m working on wrapping up the first round of edits. My editor seems to like it OK. It’s coming out next spring. He made appropriate noises and told me he’s sure looking forward to reading the book.

And I thought to myself after we hung up. This is exactly how I’d choose it to be. It’s not primarily the intellectuals who ask about the book. Some do, of course, and that’s fine. I welcome that. Still, I guess I’m just not around them that much. Most often, it’s blue-collar workers like my friend, making a living with their hands, out there, slogging along. They’re the ones keeping an eye on the sequel, nudging me for an update now and then.

And I’m honored. Always. These are my people.

The tenant was out puttering around when I got home one night earlier this week. We chatted a bit. Talked about how the ants have disappeared lately. I told him how I spread that mixture the goodwife gave me. I don’t see any ants downstairs.

And the talk came around, then, to a question the tenant had. Am I having a garage party this summer? I think not, I told him. Next year, the book will be done. Then I’ll throw the biggest garage party you ever saw. It’ll be time to celebrate. He asked a bit about the book. You’re in it, I told him. He looked startled until I explained. The stone angel, I told him. You uncovered it. That’s going to be in the book.

And one day at work this week, an old-time local builder stopped in for a few items. I used to deal with him a lot, but he’s been retired for about the last five years, so I haven’t seen him much. We chatted and caught up. As we were winding down, I told him. I got another book coming out next year. Wanna see the cover? And I showed it to him.

He looked doubtful and a little bit impressed. Then he admitted. He never even got the first book. Hasn’t read it at all. Oh my, I said, closing in for an easy sale. I got those right here. Let me sell you one at a discount. Nothing like a captive audience, I figured.

He wasn’t having any of it. “Nope,” he said, holding out his hand to stop me. “I’m too lazy to read. I’ll wait for the movie.” I had to laugh at that. Well, I said. That’s the first time I heard such a thing. It’s fine. You might be waiting a while, unless the second book stirs some things up. One can always hope, I guess.

Seasons come and seasons go. The tides of life roll on. This has been a time of loss for my extended family. We lost Dad in December, and in March, we lost my oldest brother, Joseph. Next Saturday, August 3rd, will be the wedding of Joseph and Iva’s youngest son, Samuel Wagler. He will marry his lovely fiancé, Keila Grace Slack. She has not a drop of “Plain” blood in her. Which I think is just fantastic. It would have been fantastic either way, of course. Still. New blood is new blood. I cheer that heartily. Welcome to the family, Keila, from one of Samuel’s eccentric old uncles.

Joseph met his future daughter-in-law before he died. She and he got along real well. He approved of the relationship and pronounced his blessing upon it. At the time, there were some shimmers of hope that he might even be around to attend the ceremony. Sadly, that was not to be. And so, we carry on without him. That’s how it is, now.

Samuel has always been the quietest in a long row of strong and silent sons. I’ve never heard him say much in any setting. He’s content to stay quiet, I guess, unless he got something important enough to make some noise. The wedding will be in Kokomo, Indiana. I’m looking forward to renting a car and heading out next Friday. I wish every blessing to my oldest brother’s youngest son and his bride.

Samuel and Keila
Samuel and Keila

June 28, 2019

The Dust of Life…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:46 pm


“Come to us, Father, in the watches of the night. Come to us as you always came,
bringing to us the invincible sustenance of your strength, the limitless treasure
of your bounty, the tremendous structure of your life that will shape all lost and
broken things on earth again…”

—Thomas Wolfe

We had planned the day back in January. The family, the extended clan of David and Ida Mae Wagler. There were some conference calls soon after we buried Dad. The brothers and sisters all agreed. We’d get together in June sometime. In Kentucky, at my brother Joseph’s home. All the children would come, and all the grandchildren who wanted to. We would gather at the farm where my parents had lived before the Alzheimer’s slipped in and took Mom out. And we would have an auction, to dispose of all the earthly goods my parents had owned before their passing.

It was the best place, the most central location, Joseph’s farm in May’s Lick. That’s where most of Dad and Mom’s stuff actually was. They moved with Joseph and Iva Mae from Bloomfield to Kentucky, way back in 2008. And later, when my parents landed up in Aylmer to live out their remaining days after Mom got weak, most of their belongings stayed right there on the farm. It was all stored in a little mini barn, the type that you buy prefabbed and gets dropped off. I checked out the little barn a few times. Didn’t seem like all that much in there. Dad made noises in the last few years, to hold a public auction. He was convinced there were enough items in the little barn to keep a crowd entertained for a while. And he had some unrealistic visions as to how much it might all be worth, too.

It went pretty well after Dad died. I mean, there were eleven children. From Amish to English, and every shade between. And we all agreed. It would be share and share alike. Years ago, that was one of Dad’s favorite threats. You won’t get any inheritance. He told me that a dozen times, at least. I just shrugged. OK. If that’s the way it is, then so be it. I will walk free even if I never get a penny of inheritance. It seems so futile, looking back. Threats and force. To be fair to the man, that’s all he knew. His own father disinherited at least one son. Ezra. That did not go well. It created a curse that follows Ezra’s bloodline to this day. He cut off one of his own sons. And that son would not allow his one daughter who had left the Amish to attend her own mother’s funeral. They turned her, weeping, from the door. Brutal stuff, right there.

In the end, a similar curse was deflected from my family for a couple of reasons. Dad mellowed. His last Will wasn’t near as harsh as his first one was. Mom always hammered him hard for not including all the children. Eventually, he saw things her way a little more. Not that it would have mattered, anyway. Because after he died, the children decided on their own how things would be divided. Even, across the board. From Nathan, the youngest, to Rosemary, the oldest. If everyone agrees, you can divide any inheritance any way you want, regardless of what the Will says. That’s what we did. Not that Dad had a huge fortune or anything. Still. What he had was evenly divided. That’s how family should work.

We had a conference call one sunny day in January, soon after we buried Dad. And we hashed it all out. Different people had different opinions. Which was completely fine. We talked it through. And we decided to have the family dispersal auction in June. Joseph was particularly eager to plan the auction. We didn’t know how long he’d be around. At that moment, it seemed entirely reasonable to assume that he’s still be here in June. That assumption was wrong.

Joseph died in March. Never hung on long enough for the sale. When death comes calling, nothing else matters. We mourned our brother. He had so looked forward to the auction. Now, he’d never see it. The clans gathered and buried him. And then we all returned home. And soon enough, June came knocking.

It kind of snuck up on us, the noise of it. My sisters got all bossy a few months before the sale date. Everyone needed to get there a day early, to help get ready. That was the decree. I rebelled at the thought. I was already taking a vacation day off work on Friday. I didn’t want to burn two. Besides, I didn’t remember that the little barn with Dad’s things had seemed all that full. Those living a little closer could get there early, I said to myself. I ain’t gonna go a day early. If they need help on Friday afternoon when I get there, I’ll be happy to pitch in. Otherwise, not so much.

And I thought about it, soon after Dad passed. His stuff. I really had little use for much of it. I mean, I have no children. No sons or daughters to carry on my legacy or my name. I told the others. I’ll bid stuff up. I don’t really want much of anything. That was, until I got to thinking over things a little more. And it came to me. His typewriters. Dad’s typewriters. Someone needed to preserve those. And I wondered if the local Mennonite historian, Amos Hoover, would be interested in something like that. I nudged the word out there to my family. Any old typewriters Dad had, make sure those get to the auction. I sent word to Amos through a mutual friend. Do you want a typewriter that David Wagler actually used? The answer came back. Yes. Yes. Amos would like that very much. He would be delighted and grateful.

And the plan was, whoever had anything my parents had owned would bring it. Rhoda had an old mixing bowl that was gifted to Mom soon after she and Dad got married. From an aunt in Daviess, the bowl came. It was newfangled, a new kind of steel. Stainless steel. Up in Aylmer, they had the small items Dad had when he died. My sister Rosemary called me one day, after I had left a message about the typewriters. And she told me. They had at least one up there, maybe two. And no, nobody had any of Dad’s old style, heavy manual typewriters. From talking about it later, we figured out that Dad had switched to an electric model before they moved from Bloomfield to May’s Lick in 2008. They adapted the power to hook to a big 12-volt battery. That’s how Dad ran, in the last few decades. And way back then, when he made that switch, no one paid any attention. Someone should have saved those old typewriters. For history. It’s so, so typical of the Amish, to overlook the importance of such things until years later, when it’s way too late. Oh, well. At this sale, there would be at least two of Dad’s old typewriters, maybe three. I figured to latch onto all of them.

From Bloomfield, Titus would bring some items, as well. When Dad was in service as a conscientious objector during WWII, he worked on a farm in Boonsboro, MD. At some point, then, he went to visit Gettysburg. And there, he bought an old cannonball from a vendor for a little bit of next to nothing. A dollar, maybe. And from plowing the fields of that farm in Boonsboro, Dad found a couple of rifle bullets. They were huge, at least .50 caliber. One was flattened by impact, the other probably fell out of a soldier’s pouch, never fired. We grew up with these items in the kitchen “Shonk,” the hutch where Mom kept her fancy dishes. The old cannonball, the bullets, and a little old worn leather pouch with old coins, those things were all stuck up there on the top shelf of the Shonk. I handled them all as a child. From those days, these things were forever stamped into our memories, the smell and feel of them.

And June came at us. Time doesn’t stop, I like to say. It didn’t then. And soon enough, it was time to pack up for the trip. Nothing too elaborate this time. Just a duffle bag for a few days. I figured to take Amish Black. It’s kind of strange. I used to always, always rent a car for a trip like this. The Jeep doesn’t drive that comfortable, long distance. Still. I like to take it places. It’s part of the image. And also, deep down, I’m thinking. If I get some miles on my Jeep, I’ll be able to trade it off for a four-door. That’s the vision, in this moment. It’ll take another year or two, I figure. You just keep working toward the goal. And then Friday morning was here. I got up early, cleaned up, threw my bags into the back seat, and was off. After picking up my coffee at Sheetz, I glanced at the time. 5:30. Good. I’d be there nice and early that afternoon.

We bucketed along through the sparse early traffic. My GPS always takes me on the PA Turnpike, heading west. Which is fine, except for the cost. Every year, the price goes up. Right now, that road will cost you at least fifteen cents a mile, more for the shorter runs. It’s madness. The vile false idol that is the state can’t even run a toll road efficiently. So, anyway. On west, then south toward Cumberland. A hundred miles on the toll road cost me exactly fifteen bucks. Why am I paying taxes on every gallon of gas I buy, again? West, then south, then west again. I had driven this exact same route only months ago to my brother’s funeral. And I thought about him as Amish Black and I pushed west and south.

I remembered the last time I saw him there at The James at Ohio State. Hope lived in him then, it would live in him until it couldn’t, anymore. He told me, mentioned it a few times that weekend. The sale. The family sale, there at his home in May’s Lick. He sure was looking forward to that event. And there was reason enough to think that it might actually be. Until there wasn’t. Now he was gone. He would never attend his heart’s desire that weekend. He would only be present in our minds and memories.

After numerous detours, I finally pulled into the Maysville Hampton. Same place we all stayed before. A clean little three-story motel with nicely furnished rooms with a fridge. I always remembered that, from the first time I stayed there a decade ago. I had a reservation. The Wagler Family group. We had a special rate. Of course, we did. I unloaded my luggage and settled in my third-floor room with king bed, then headed on south to the farm. Joseph’s farm. A fifteen-minute drive or so. It’s beautiful country, out through there.

The place was packed out, I saw as I got close. Lots of vehicles parked about. A large tent had been erected in the yard. I parked under a shade tree and got out. People were walking around, milling about. I walked out to the large tent and peered in, gaping. Then I walked in. There were rows and rows of tables loaded with, well, some of it was junk, I guess. A lot of it would have been junk to anyone outside our family. And there was a lot of antique glassware, too, some of it passed down through generations. The typewriters. Where are the typewriters? I asked. Someone pointed me the right way, and I walked over. Looked like two old electric typewriters that Dad had actually used. I poked around some more. Wandered about, just absorbing and looking. There was a lot of stuff. Dad had been right. There was enough here for a real auction. Enough to last a good long morning, anyway. Maybe longer.

My sisters had arrived, already. Rosemary and Joe Gascho from Canada. Maggie and Ray Marner from South Carolina. Naomi and Alvin Yutzy from Arkansas. Rachel and Lester Yuty and Rhoda and Marvin Yutzy, all from Kansas. And my brothers, too, all except Nathan, who couldn’t make it at the last moment. Jesse and Lynda from South Carolina. Stephen and Wilma from Lancaster County. Titus and Ruth from Bloomfield. And me. Nine out of eleven wasn’t bad. I walked around, greeting everyone. Hugs all around. Iva Mae, Joseph’s widow, smiled and smiled in welcome. Almost all her children would be here for the auction. And a good many other grandchildren, too, from all around. Not everyone showed up. But a lot did. There had never been a day like this before, in all my family’s history. There would never be a day like this again.

And somewhere about right in here, the strange thing came at me. Right out of way out in left field somewhere. Rosemary handed me a bag filled with letters. A clear plastic bag. I’d say maybe two or three dozen. Some I had written and sent home. Most strangely, though, a number of them were letters both Dad and Mom had sent to me the first time I ran away. To Valentine, Nebraska, when I was seventeen. I opened a letter Dad had sent. I remembered how those were. Always a downer. Then I rummaged around and found a smaller envelope, hand addressed to me. Star Rt. 1, Valentine, Nebraska. Mom’s letter to me. I slipped it out of the envelope and glanced at the writing. The greeting. The first line. What a shock that you have left us! That was the first line. This was the first letter I ever got from her after I left home. The first one. Ever. I sat there, intrigued and horrified. The pain I put that woman through, it’s simply beyond comprehension, from where I am today. She had a rough life, my mother did. From pretty much all of the men in her life. Her husband and her sons. Well, most of her sons.

And I remembered how it was, holding that letter in my hand for the first time, back when I was a skinny kid. Standing there in the bleak and desolate landscape that is Valentine, Nebraska. I remembered how Dad’s letters always made me feel a little down and guilty. Mom’s letters just made me feel sad. And there weren’t that many, maybe half a dozen in all. This one was the first one. I marveled at how such a relic as that ever got preserved. I must have dragged all those letters home, and Mom must have faithfully saved them all after I left. And they lugged them around with them, too, when they moved. I am grateful to Mom for that simple act of kindness.

At some point before we ate, we all chose an item to keep as our own. From oldest to youngest. We had heard that’s how people do it. Let the children get in and pick one item as their own, before the auction. A few things were off limits. The cannonball, the bullets, any coins, and the large arrowhead collection Dad had purchased at another auction way back. I knew nothing of the arrowheads, as that all happened after I had fled Bloomfield. I guess it was kind of a big deal to many of the grandchildren, though. They all knew the tales of how Dad got all excited after he bought some fake arrowheads at a junk auction. When he got them home and realized they were fake, he got all stirred up. And he traveled out here to PA for an auction and bought a very respectable collection of artifacts. Some of the grandsons had traveled in from far away to get a whack at Dad’s arrowheads. I wasn’t interested in those at all, since I knew nothing of them. Anyway, they were off limits, when we made our choices.

Dad sake items
Siblings and treasures

Rosemary chose first. The old John Yoder clock. The wind-up wall clock that Mom grew up with. It hasn’t worked in years. But still. After Rosemary, it was Magdalena’s turn. And then Iva Mae took Joseph’s turn. And down the row we went, from oldest to youngest. Naomi. Jesse. Rachel. Stephen. I can’t remember what all everyone chose. Titus got the big old dinner bell, the one we heard as children on the farm. I kept an eye out for that stainless steel bowl Mom had gotten as a wedding gift. And when my turn came, I picked it. That was a big mistake, apparently. Rhoda had her name on that thing. The sisters scowled darkly. Oh, my, I said, when I realized what was going on. By all means, let Rhoda have it. I looked around and chose something else, instead.

From my earliest memories, Dad had an aluminum sign hanging out over our mailbox. Kind of a bar, with his name in raised, stamped letters. David L. Wagler, the sign proclaimed. Titus had preserved the sign, and now it was there for the taking. I hastily grabbed it. This is what I actually want, I said, after the sisters started apologizing for scolding me for choosing the bowl. In the end, it all worked out. We all got something that we wanted.

They had two tents set up. Might as well make it comfortable. The estate was paying all the expenses and the food. The big tent was where the sale would be. And another tent between the house and the shop, all set up with tables. This was the dining tent. A great meal had been prepared for Friday evening. I was getting hungry for my One Meal when five o’clock rolled around. We all gathered in the dining tent. Joseph’s son, Mervin, welcomed us and prayed the meal blessing. I didn’t mess around after that. Get through the line and get food. There was much conversation and laughter as we all settled in for the delicious feast. This was family. The David and Ida Mae Wagler family, such as we were. Tomorrow would be the big day.

But first, it was tonight. And there were things planned. After supper, we all headed over to visit Joseph’s grave. I boarded Amish Black with my brother-in-law, Marvin Yutzy. The ride over and back would be our time together. We chatted about many things as we rolled along in the convoy of mini vans and SUVs, over to the graveyard. There, we parked and got out. A crowd soon gathered. We waited until the van arrived with Titus and his family. They got out and joined us. The sun was sinking into the western skies as we all stood around my brother’s resting place in a large semicircle. It’s in a peaceful spot, the grave. Reuben Wagler, Joseph’s son, stood and spoke for a few minutes. He remembered and recognized the choices his father had made to love and accept all his children, wherever they were, however they lived. After Reuben wrapped up with a brief prayer, we sang Precious Memories. Some of the siblings shared their memories of Joseph’s last days. It was over, for him. He could never rejoin us here in this life. But we could go to where he was. We all headed back to the farm as darkness drifted in.

Dad sale Joepah grave
A gathering around Joseph’s grave. Reuben eulogizing his father.

We would gather around the fire ring in the yard, there by the tent. That was the plan. And we did, sitting in a large circle. Many conversations were going on at the same time. Off in the corner, some guitars were tuning up. I sat around and visited with Simon Gascho, Rosemary’s oldest son, and a few others. We feasted on Smores, melted to soft, moist deliciousness over the open fire. I’m not really fond of Smores, but that night I ate more than my share, I will say. Soon after ten, we meandered to town and our motel rooms, those who were staying there.

Saturday morning. The big day. Unlike any day before or since. It dawned clear and beautiful. I got to the farm in good time and parked my Jeep off to the side, under a tree. I strolled into the dining tent, where coffee and donuts were being served. Black coffee only, I said. And water, of course. Someone had been dispatched to Walmart for several hundred bottles of water. And ice. This was all poured into a vast cooler.

We wanted to get started by 8:30. People wanted to head out for home after the sale, so it was critical to get done on time. 8:30 came and went. We milled about. I’ve mentioned before. Titus Aden Yutzy, Rachel’s second son, is a talented auctioneer, in high demand in his local area in Kansas. He got his sound system all hooked up, then called us to order. Titus and Ruth’s oldest son, Robert, was the main ring man. He took bids and handed out the wares. We were starting at the back side, by the books. Tables and tables of books. I had little use for any of that, at least early on. We all stood, then, as my brother Jesse spoke a few words. Welcoming everyone to this historic event on this historic day. Titus Aden then explained how the system would work. We got numbers, all the bidders. I didn’t get number one, so I asked for number thirteen. I wanted something easy to remember, a number that stuck out. And just about then, Titus Aden called the auction to order. The first lot. A stack of books on the book table. And we walked into the morning, all of us as a family.

Titus Aden pounded out the first sale, and we settled down. Books and books and more books, seemed to be the agenda. And then on down the row on the far wall. At some point there early, I bought a bunch of Dad’s two most famous efforts. The Mighty Whirlwind was his first ever book. Through Deep Waters was perhaps his best known. Both of those titles have fetched high prices on Amazon and on eBay. I figured, what the heck? Might as well load up with a few copies for a few bucks apiece. Down the far side the crowd moved right along, Titus Aden egging us on. Up the first row in the middle, then. My two typewriters came up, and I bought them both. Well, that was easy enough. Then, minutes later, here was another typewriter, one I had not seen. By now, my nephew Andrew Yutzy decided he wanted this model. We whacked away, bidding against each other. It got knocked off to me for over a hundred dollars. Oh, well. Can’t wait around. Keep moving. And the sale rolled merrily along.

Dad Sale arrowheads
Titus Aden selling Indian artifacts.

Dad sale scene
From Left: Naomi, Ira, Roesmary, Lester and Tina Gascho, Titus, Wilma, Magdalena, Rhoda, half of Rachel

There were a lot of things I simply never knew existed. Old records. An old Yoder Family wall hanging. No one had ever seen it before. Jason Yutzy, Naomi’s oldest son, snatched it up. It was good to see people bid on even the tiniest little thing. Sentimental value is whatever you’re willing to spend. I picked up a few more things, mostly stuff Dad wore or used. A couple of old stem battery lamps. And I ended up with a dozen pairs of his old spectacles, too. His latest pair, all the way back to those round lens wire-rimmed glasses he wore when I was a child.

The high sale of the day? That would have been the kitchen table Mom had at home. It pulled out to some massive length, and all the leaves were there, neatly stored in the original wooden rack. A beautiful and functional memory of my parents, I guess that table would be. And two of my nephews got it in their heads that the table might be worth taking home to use. Andrew Yutzy and Stephen Gascho. Almost, the table got knocked off to Andrew for a measly $150.00. But then Stephen jumped in and the two were off to the races. Some breathless minutes later, the table went to Andrew for the princely sum of $1500.00. We all clapped when Titus said sold.

The cannonball sold, too. Kind of funny, how it all happened. My brother Titus had the high bid at $300.00. Titus Aden hollered around, looking for another bid. I figured I’d bid once. So I did. $325.00. And Titus wouldn’t bid again. The cannonball got knocked off to me. I was fine with that. I set the cannonball off to the side, by my other purchases. A few minutes later, Thomas approached me. Titus and Ruth’s youngest son. He told me. If I ever want to get rid of that cannonball, he wanted it. And then I realized. He had planned on buying it. Titus had quit bidding, just so I could have it. I felt bad.

So, I slipped over to where Titus sat. Thomas wanted that cannonball pretty bad, I told him. I don’t really need it. I’ll go and change the buyer on the chart. You can have it for what I bid. Titus was agreeable. So I went and told the clerk. Move the cannonball over to Titus’s number. I found Thomas, then, and told him. This is yours. Your Dad bought it from me. You’ll take better care of it than I ever will. I handed him the treasure. He smiled and smiled.

Things moved right along. Some old quilts came up. I had not known there was even such a thing. Two were owned by Mom when she was a girl. And there was one owned by Dad when he was a teenager, too. I never knew there was such a thing, either. Mom’s two sold first. The girls wanted those. I watched the one Dad owned, and jumped in at the start. I had the high bid at $50.00, which I thought was quite reasonable. I dropped it at the dry cleaners the other day. Some day it might be a gift. I don’t know. We’ll see.

I watched the glass ware sell with interest. I think I bought one bowl that had been owned by Aunt Martha, Bishop Pete Yoder’s wife, Dad’s older sister. I probably saw that very dish in her hutch when they had church back in Aylmer. I got it for a few dollars. Some of the sets of glass ware brought substantially more. It was interesting, to see what was important and what was less so. Titus Aden kept selling furiously, there toward the end. His father Lester spelled him for a bit somewhere in the middle. Titus Aden started things and finished things.

Around one o’clock, we sat under the food tent and ate the large meal that had been catered in, courtesy of Dad’s estate. Some of the Amish people there set up a chicken meal with all the fixings. I moved up my One Meal to this time, of course. You can only feast once at the estate auction of your father. And it’s not a big deal. When I feast sooner one day, I fast longer the next day, to make up for it. It works for me.

After the large meal, people made moves to load up and get out. I had made a pile of my purchases off to one end. I scavenged a bit, too, through the castoffs and left behind junk. I ended up with a suitcase full of Dad’s barn door pants and shirts. The everyday clothes, or some of them. I had bought one of Dad’s old felt hats at the auction. And Andrew gave me a pair of Dad’s shoes that he had purchased in a pile. So I had it all, I felt like. Dad’s clothes, his hat, his spectacles, and his typewriter. That’s about all I came for, I thought to myself. Right there, that’s what I came for. Pieces of my father.

People started loading up. My brother Jesse and his son Ronald had driven up in a rented SUV, a little thing. Jesse has an eye for good bargains at any sale, so he was a frequent bidder that morning. They got it all packed in there, somehow, he and Ronald. I ambled out and saw them off as they were leaving, Ronald at the wheel. I think they both drive fairly leisurely. Others loaded up, too. Rachel and Lester threw their items into the back of their pickup truck and headed out. They had a long old drive. Andrew had rushed out that morning and rented a real nice sized U Haul trailer, which he hooked up behind his van. He backed the whole contraption right up to the tent. He got some help, loading up his bigger items.

Later, after most people had left, I drove Amish Black over to the back side of the large tent. Close to my pile of stuff. I whipped around and parked and got out. And I slowly and methodically loaded my little Jeep to the gills, pretty much. Boxes of books. A small wooden trunk with Uncle Pete Yoder’s name scrawled on it. That little trunk was almost filled with some old toys I bought, toys I had played with as a child, toys I had not seen in decades and decades. These are the kinds of things I loaded in my Jeep. Things that evoke such memories as no other things can.

I got it all packed in and parked Amish Black out back under the shade tree once again. Most of the siblings had gone. I had stayed. And my sister Magdalena and her husband, Ray. They stayed, too. Most of Joseph’s children hung around that night. They ate again, of course. I drank black coffee only. I had a real good time catching up with everyone who was there. We chilled and chatted and just hung out. By eleven, I was back at my room.

The next morning I was on the road by eight. A hard rain storm had swept through minutes before, scattering small limbs and other debris loosely about the highway. And me and Amish Black headed east and north for home. I had one more thing to get done when I got there.

And last Saturday morning, that one more thing got done. I loaded up my Jeep with the best of the typewriters, the biggest battery lamp Dad used, and a pair of his old round spectacles. I drove the few miles to the home of my Amish friends, David and Esther Smucker. Esther was the one who had called the Mennonite historian, Amos Hoover. And after I got home, I called her. See if you can get us in to see Amos this Saturday. I’ll come around and pick you up. Esther called back a day or so later. She had contacted Amos. He was eager and excited to have us stop by.

We sat at their kitchen table and drank coffee, catching up on things. Soon it was time to leave. Esther fussed and scolded. She wanted to take a copy of my blog about Dad’s funeral along for Amos. That’s fine, I said. Take it. I’ll get you a new copy. We all got loaded into Amish Black. It’s moments like this when I think. I really need a four-door. It’s hard to pack my Amish friends in the back seat of my Jeep. We headed across the back roads, over to Fairmount Homes. We were meeting Amos at his home, a mile or so away from Fairmount.

After stumbling around some, looking for the place, we finally pulled in. I knocked. Amos answered the door. Smiling. Yes. He was home. He was looking for us. David and Esther then emerged from the Jeep. I reached into the back seat and extracted Dad’s old typewriter. I slipped the reading lamp out the back door, and grabbed the old round spectacles. We all walked into the cluttered kitchen. Amos had been working on some research. He moved his notepads over and made room on the end of the table for the typewriter. I set it down. We stood around, just visiting.

Dad sake typewriter Amos Hoover
Amos Hoover, Esther and David Smucker

Amos realized what it all was. A typewriter, a reading lamp, and an old pair of glasses, all the personal property of David Wagler. Stuff he had actually used, to write. That’s what struck Amos, I think. The beauty and the mystery of that. They’re so down to earth, though, the Amish and the Mennonites. These items had historical value to Amos. As well they should have. Still. He never wanted to praise Dad too much. You admire a man’s work without holding the man too high. That’s the humble Mennonite way.

I told Amos. I wrote up a little letter of authenticity, here. I have it with me. He handed me a pen, and I filled in the date and signed it. He’ll keep it with the typewriter, I’m sure. He’s old and a little frail. I mean, he could be around for years. But even years fly by fast. Sometime before long, my letter will be the only connection identifying the gifts I gave to Amos that day.

He took us on a tour, then, of the Muddy Creek Museum. Over in Fairmount Homes. They have several rooms with displays set up in the basement. Then a large side room with items that are not on display. They have a lot of old stuff there. Amos got a vast selection of tools, machines, coffins, furniture, and just about anything else you can imagine. He knows every piece, what it is and where it came from. Our time was limited that day. An hour or so, is what we had. It flew by fast.

And that was it, then. The end of an extraordinary week. An estate auction one Saturday, and going to see Amos Hoover, the Mennonite historian, the next. It was a good thing, I thought, that we got Dad’s typewriter over to a place where it will be preserved.

My father walked through life with long and mighty strides. He was a visionary, a giant among his people. Soon enough, the memory of him will fade into nothing. Some remnant of who he was will remain with a man like Amos, who will pass it on to others like him, on down through the mists of time. That will be a fitting legacy for Dad when all else has been stripped away and forgotten.

Some housekeeping notes. First, I got my manuscript back this week. Virginia is optimistic that the book will turn out well. This weekend, I plunge into my edits. We’ll see, I reckon, how it all goes. And speaking of the book, that cover is still as cool as ever. I can’t share it until sometime later. Probably this fall.

I gave the typewriter and lamp and reading glasses to Amos to preserve. I have another set almost like it. I have two more of Dad’s typewriters. A bunch of his old reading glasses. And that second lamp is still here, too. I would give one of each to some group or institution that has an interest in preserving a bit of Amish history. Let me know if that’s you.