October 18, 2019

Sons of my People…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:04 pm


What is it that a young man wants? Where is the central source
of that wild fury that boils up in him, that goads and drives and
lashes him, that explodes his energies and strews his purpose to
the wind of a thousand instant and chaotic impulses?

—Thomas Wolfe

He walked in at work late one afternoon a few weeks back to pick up the order his father had called in earlier that day. A young Amish man, maybe twenty years old or so. He smiled at me shyly. We chatted as I pulled up the invoice and got his paperwork. I asked about the project they were building. At some point, his eyes focused on the book sign taped on the back of my computer screen, facing him. Most people who buy from me across the counter never see the sign. He did. I saw him locking in. And so, I asked. Have you heard of my book? Growing Up Amish?

He had. He looked at me and smiled again, an honest, open smile. “Are you Ira?” he asked. Yep, I said. Did you hear of the book before? “Yes,” he said. “I read it, years ago, when I was in the eighth grade.” And now, I gaped. His father was from the south end, that much I knew, just from talking to the guy when he called in the order. South-enders overwhelmingly tend to be plain and very conservative. How in the world did this boy get hold of my book when he was that young? Eighth grade. You have to have some nerve, to sneak around absorbing such contraband at that age.

You read the book? I asked, astounded. I am surprised. And he told me a little bit how it went. His older brother bought the book behind their father’s back, a year or so after it came out. What, seven, eight years ago, probably. And when the older brother got done with it, he shared the book with this young man. I’m a little astonished, when I think of it. Or maybe not. Boys will be boys. We used to hide many books my father would have burned, had he found them. This day, at the counter, the young Amish man kept smiling shyly. He liked the book, that was pretty clear. We chatted about the highlights of the story from the parts he remembered. We got along real well. He was a sharp young man.

We wrapped it up, then. I handed him his paperwork, and he walked outside to his English driver. They pulled back out to the warehouse to load. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was the Amishman, the young man’s Dad. He needed a few more pieces of trim. I took the details, wrote up the order, and walked out to the warehouse to track down the boy. He was checking out our warehouse, drinking everything in. He seemed young and eager, like a child fresh from the country. Which he was, I guess.

I handed him the new paperwork, and we stood and chatted some more, taking up where we had left off a few moments before. I came right out and asked him. Are you content being Amish? He grinned. You can tell when a smile is real. This one was. And he told me. He is completely satisfied as an Amish person. He’s dating and plans to get married soon. And he looked at me, smiling shyly again.

It struck me in that moment. This young Amish man was living in a world such as I had never known. He was content. Amish. That thought went against everything I had fought so hard for, searched for so relentlessly in my youth. He was content among the Amish. He was settling in and sinking his roots, right there close to his home place. You just can’t be against such a thing, I don’t think. Not if that’s the choice someone made. I guess I don’t have to understand everything, I think at such a time. At such a time as this.

You know what? I said. You are choosing to stay Amish. That’s completely OK. You found something I never could. I’m happy for you. I will say, I’m amazed that you boys got that book snuck past your Dad, but it didn’t seem to influence you in a way he wouldn’t approve of. I appreciate that you read my stuff. The boy smiled again. He thanked me. We shook hands. And that was it, for that little incident.

I thought about the young man a lot, that day and that evening. Mulled over things. It sure is strange, how some things are. You think you’ve seen about everything there is to see, and then something comes along that you hadn’t seen before. And I thought, too. The boy grew up in an Amish world that is a lot different from the one I knew in my youth. The world around here seems a lot more tolerant, not in all ways, but in many. And even in the south end, I’m sure, there are pockets of progressive thinking. I’ve often wondered how it would have been to have been raised in the Lancaster County Amish world. I think my breaking free wouldn’t have been near as frantic in this setting. Not that any of it makes any difference from here, I guess. Still. Such were the thoughts that were triggered by my encounter with the young man.

And then one day later, it came at me from the other direction, the thing that holds an Amish son to his roots. Around midmorning, probably, on a lovely, sunny day. An Amish contractor walked in to pay for the building package we had dropped at his job site a few weeks before. I’ve known the guy for years, he’s a farmer who builds on the side. We’ve always got along well. He’s from down south a ways. Middle-aged, I’d say. His beard is broad and wild and untrimmed, like Amish men do when they let loose. When they don’t care anymore. Down south, where they raise lots of tobacco. And if you feel led to go proselytizing in those parts, you won’t get far. So, I don’t. I meet people where they are and deal with them. That just works better. I smiled at my friend and spoke pleasantly. Good morning. Great to see you. Did you bring me some money? He nodded as he reached into the barn door pockets of his pants and pulled out his checkbook.

I pulled up his invoice. We chatted as I printed out his paperwork, and he wrote me a check. Talked about how the job went. It was the biggest project I had ever supplied for this particular builder. And somewhere in there, I told him, offhand like. I talked to your son a few times on this job, when he called in with measurements and such. He was real nice. I enjoyed working with him. He seems alert and capable.

The Amish man looked pleased. He got that “ah, shucks” grin, like they do when you compliment their children. He stopped writing and leaned into the counter and told me a little bit about his son. “He’s nineteen. That’s a big reason I even mess with building pole barns, is because he likes that work. He likes to build. The younger children stay busy on the farm.” His pride for his son shone through, but it was a modest pride. I understood completely. I come from that world. I nodded and smiled.

And I was impressed, I gotta say. Here was a father, connected to his son. Doing what he could to get the boy started in a trade he liked. And no, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of problems with Amish culture. I do. It will never be right, all that pressure that’s applied to Amish children not to leave. Still. Just because it ain’t right don’t mean it’s not real. That’s what that world is like, you think. But here was an Amish father, tuned in to his son in a way I could not have imagined in my youth. And I thought to myself, as I looked at him. Whatever your flaws, if you get that done, I respect you.

We wrapped it up, then. He reckoned there would be another building or two coming my way this fall, yet. So maybe I’ll get to work with his son some more. I’d like that, I said. He smiled and walked out.

And I’ve thought about it a lot, both of those little incidents. The young Amish man who seemed genuinely content to stay there. And now, the Amish father telling me how he is nurturing his oldest son. Well, he didn’t call it nurturing, and likely would be embarrassed at such a phrase, but that’s what he was doing. And I look at it all in some wonder. How can such a thing be, in such a restrictive setting? How is it even possible, that level of communication, in a culture where so many of the heavy things remain unspoken? Where there are no words to describe, I guess, sometimes there are deeds that do.

It struck me, though, what the bottom line had to be in both those families. Somehow, the parents in those families latched onto a basic, simple truth. They made their homes a safe haven for their children, a place the children wanted to come back to. How you get that done in the Amish culture without coercion is beyond me. But they did it. The son who was dating, fixing to get married soon, somehow he chose to walk in the footsteps of his fathers. And he wasn’t dull or stupid. In fact, he seemed quite alert and intelligent.

I’ve known a few people over the years who stayed Amish because it would have been more of a bother to break away than it was to just stay. Or that’s how it looked like to me. I’ve known Amish people who were so extremely laid back, it seemed like they could have just as well chosen to leave, but somehow didn’t get it done. I’ve seen people like that.

No separated group like the Amish will long survive the pressures of the modern age unless some good measure of the children choose to stay. Or can be coerced to. Each generation, or at least a portion of it, must keep walking in the way its fathers walked. Cultural survival is just not possible otherwise.

And it’s all OK. I’m not criticizing, here. Just leading up to the thought that I have not often met a young single Amish man who seemed so exuberantly sure of the road ahead. His feet were firmly planted on the ground. He would not wander, he would not stray from the old ways. It’s hard to grasp a road that was so unfamiliar to me, growing up. It’s hard to compute such a journey in my head.

It is what it is, I guess. As life mostly is.

Moving along, then. The book is rolling along quite nicely, thank you. Last month, a nice little package arrived at the Wagler household in New Holland. From Hachette. It was the page proofs. The book is typed up in proper format, and I get a stack of pages to edit with a pencil. Other than an inordinate amount of section breaks, the narrative seemed to be in good shape. I caught and corrected a few minor errors.

Earlier this month, I wrapped up the stack of pages and sent them back to New York City. And now, I wait. May, 2020, seems far away. Still. The journey rolls on at its own meandering pace. I’m trying to grasp the moments to my memory as they pass. I will say. I am tired.

Seasons come and seasons go. The tides of life roll on. And the blood lineage rolls on, too. I marvel at the beauty and timelessness of it. My nephew, Mervin Wagler (one of my brother Joseph’s younger sons), and his wife Marlene live in upstate New York in a small New Order Amish community. This past Monday, they were blessed with a hearty nine-pound son. He is welcomed by two brothers and two sisters. They named him David Wagler. The boy will carry my father’s name into future generations.

Mervin stated that young David Wagler is “stout as a bull.” Which is a good thing, if the boy is going to shake up the world like his namesake and great-grandfather did.

September 20, 2019

Broken Roads: Cover Me…

Category: News — Ira @ 4:08 pm


He saw now that you can’t go home again–not ever.
There was no road back.

—Thomas Wolfe

OK, then. The time has come, that thing I promised last time. The book cover. It’s here. I’ll get to it in good time. But first, a little tale about some things that have been going on. And where I am this week. I’m at Beach Week. I am writing by the sea. It’s hard to stay focused in such surroundings. It’s peaceful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s hard to stay focused for long when I can hear the dull roar of the ocean and see the waves when I glance up, a few hundred feet away.

And yes, I’m meandering. If I can’t write as I got a mind to when at the beach, well, I just figure I can. I’m at the beach. Why am I fussing about any of this at all? One might certainly be excused for wondering. And asking, even.

I saw it coming, my respite at the beach, way out there as the summer came and flowed on by. And I thought to myself. It’s sure been a different kind of year. A good year. Just different. We lost Dad right after Christmas, and my oldest brother Joseph left in March. Two final good-byes, right there. It wasn’t really a surprise, seeing them leave. We knew it was coming. We saw it approaching, slowly, relentlessly, and so, so final when it got here. You think you’re ready in a time like that, and you are, I guess, as ready as you can be. Still. A loss is a loss. A good-bye is a good-bye. And death brings a curtain between this life and the next. That’s how it went with Dad and Joseph. They are gone.

The thing was, after Dad’s passing, I finally got the closure to finish my book. The thread of it, I mean. It was a big deal. To me, it was. A big deal, just to be able to scratch up a real narrative. I was working on the manuscript, off and on, all this year. It was always a force in my awareness and my existence, the book was. I never got all freaked about it, but the journey was stressful enough, I will concede. You don’t realize how much stress you were under until you look back, sometimes. After it’s gone. Or at least in remission. It’s always gonna creep back into my life again, one way or the other. Right now, it’s receding. I like that.

It felt decently together, my story, after I sent in the last edit of the book. I was fairly calm. We were going to get it all worked out. The summer passed. I saw the date of Beach Week creeping up. It would be here soon. I sent a text to my friend Linford Berry. The man who owns Mountain Valley Motors. Hey, I said. I’d like you to look for a black Jeep, same as the one I got or newer. Only this time, I want four doors. More room. I just need more room. Linford allowed that he’d keep an eye out. I said, no hurry, but I hoped he’d round one up by early September. It was my turn to drive to Beach Week, this year. Me and my friend Wilma take turns. It sure would be nice not to have to bounce all the way down there in my small Jeep, I thought to myself. And sure enough, about three weeks ago, here came an email from Linford. He’d found a four door black Jeep, 2016, with just under 34000 miles on it. It seemed like a sign.

I told him I figured to take it, and we agreed on a trade-in price for the first Jeep I’d bought from him early last year. The man is fair to deal with, which is nice. And early last week, I took a day off and drove down to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Linford’s car lot is in nearby Dayton. It didn’t take us long to get the paperwork done. I wrote out a check for the difference and thanked my friend and proudly drove north with Amish Black II. The Jeep is about as loaded as a Jeep gets, I’d say. It’s even got heated leather seats. A real “Jeep man” would probably scoff. Not me. I’ll take what comforts I can along the cold and often lonely path of life. Even heated seats in a Jeep.

Then came the night before Beach Week. Time to pack up. Tomorrow morning, I thought to myself. Tomorrow morning, me and Amish Black II head for the Outer Banks. For a whole week, unless another hurricane chases us out. Looking back over all the years, I couldn’t recall a time when I was more ready for this break. The pressures of telling your story, those came pushing in hard. So much life had to be relived in the telling. Relived, refelt, and reseen. That gets tough.

I was tired. Exhausted. It never quite sank in, my state of mind as this Beach Week approached. It never quite sank in until the time got here. And then I realized. I need a break. I really do. And I was ready to vedge without guilt. I wanted to hear the roar of the sea and the crashing of the waves. I wanted to breathe the salty air. I wanted to wash my soul clean.

Meanwhile. Over on the other front, things were going on. The book cover. They came out with it a few months back. I immediately wrote back. It looks fantastic. It’s great. I’ve always thought, after the first book. That cover was one in a million. That kind of thing will likely not be seen again, at least not by me. And it was last spring, I think, when we discussed it, me and Virginia. My editor. I told her. I got one request. Maybe it’s a requirement, but we’ll call it a request for now. The title. I want the words, Broken Roads, in the title. The rest of it, the subtitle, the picture and layout for the cover, hey, I’m open to whatever. But I want those words, because my life has been one long journey of broken roads. It’s easy to see if you stop and think about it. Those words will make a fit title. I even asked you, my readers, for your suggestions. More comments came rolling in from that request than I had seen in a long time, maybe ever.

Still. It was Virginia, or someone else there at Hachette who came up with the words to finish out the title. Returning to my Amish Father. It fit, perfectly, I thought. That’s exactly what the journey has been, both literally and figuratively. A return to my father on his death bed. I had fought for his blessing for many years. Decades. Now. I simply wanted closure. The book is about all that. And all the little bunny trails that flow naturally from such a story.

So they sent the cover, months ago. I looked at it and simply marveled. Broken Roads: Returning to my Amish Father. Right there. That’s it. The cover was about as professionally designed as you could imagine. It clearly feeds off the first book. The graphics people designed it with an eye to that. Make it compatible. A pair. They did good. Real good. Better by far than I had ever dared to hope.

I wanted to post the cover way back then. I was chomping at the bit in discontent. The Hachette people instructed me to hold off. Not now. I knew, though, that the Advance Review Copies were coming out in early September. Complete with a real cover. So from that, the world would know, anyway, what the cover was. I chomped at the bit some more. Come on. Let me post it. And around two weeks ago, I finally got the go ahead. OK. Post the cover. Post this pre-order link with it. That was the holdup, I guess. The pre-order link.

So I threw it out on Facebook. Provided the link, publicly. This is small potatoes to someone more astute, I’m sure. But last time I looked, the book cover and link were approaching 200 shares. I mean, people actually took the time to do that. I was awed. This is wild. This could be a new road rising, here. Social media such as I’ve not experienced before. I don’t know. I figure there’s gonna be some adventures, dead ahead, before long. We’ll see, I guess.

And back to my down time at the beach. The week had arrived. I loaded my new black steed with whatever might remotely be needed for the next seven days, then got my coffee at Sheetz and texted Wilma. I’m on my way. Soon after seven, we had her stuff loaded and were heading south. The new Jeep drove much better, more steady than the short one had. Smoother ride, too. I’m liking my Jeep, I think. By three, we had connected with much of the crowd in a seaside pub in Duck, NC. We sat around, just making lots of noise and catching up. The house would be ready at four. Soon after 3:30, Janice got the text. We’re good to go. And on up north we drove, almost to Corolla. Then a right turn into a development, to the same big beach house we had last year.

Beach Week Group
The group this year.

It’s simply impossible to describe the feelings of sweet freedom and relief that wash over you in such a moment as that. When you’re dragging your stuff into the huge mansion, up to the second floor, then a front corner bedroom. The years have taught me to seek out the spot that will be the least affected by loud late night noises the next floor up. I usually grump off to bed before anyone else. I mean, I’m relaxed and all. Just ready for bed. So I go.

And we all just walked into the weekend, then into the next week. The days flow by in some sort of mesmerized rhythm, each day building from the day that has passed, an easy, natural flow of many beautiful things that life can be. I brought along four copies of my new book, the ARCs. I figured if you share Beach Week with me, you got an early shot at reading my new stuff. Of course, Janice and my nephew John Wagler both claimed a signed copy. And my nephew, Steven Marner. He got a signed copy, too. The other one I gave away at random.

The days flowed by. The guys got some fishing done. I mostly just lazed around, reading and pecking away at this blog a little bit every day. We sang songs around the fire ring at night. And talked. The guys all admired my Jeep, although the consensus was that it needs a four-inch lift. And larger tires. Just the next size up. You want to stand out, they told me coaxingly. You want to make a little statement. Nothing too loud. Four inches higher isn’t loud. It’s confident. Oh, good grief, I said. I just spent a nice little chunk of change, buying this thing. I can’t just throw five more grand at it, just for anyhow. I mean, I have to plan my way around such things. I’ll think about it. Maybe, if the book does well. The boys seemed satisfied with that. Well, they had little choice.

Wednesday. We got a little storm early on. Or maybe the storm was out there, away from us. We caught the winds of it. That morning, the sea was angry and loud. The waves crashed high onto the foaming shores of sand. No fishing today, we figured, right off. We considered other options. And that day, a small adventure came. I’d often heard of the wild horses somewhere on the Outer Banks. I never saw them. They seemed mythical, like the unicorn. It would be cool to go hunt some down. See firsthand.

So later that day we traveled in a small convoy over the 4-wheel-drive beach. The only way back to this area was to drive along the beach. Which means at high tide, the place is inaccessible. We roared along the soft sand in 4-wheel-drive, me in my new Jeep, loaded with riders. We let the air out of our tires, down to about 25 lbs. Driving on the beach felt a lot like driving in snow. You just kind of swooshed along in the previous tracks. I’d say a driver was maybe 90 percent in control. That’s how it felt to me, anyway. Mostly, the trip out went well.

Wild horse.

There are houses out there on that godforsaken stretch of sand. We cruised around, keeping a sharp eye out. And then the people in the lead vehicle saw them. We turned and drove slowly past, right close. I can tell you as of that day. The fabled wild horses of Corolla are for real. (I still don’t like horses much. I most likely never will.)

Thursday. The week was winding down, here at the beach. It was cold and windy and sunny. I lazed around most of the day, then opened my eating window with a snack at four o’clock. An hour earlier than I do at home, but hey, this was the beach. Live a little. Supper would be fresh seafood gumbo and jalapeno mac and cheese with scallops. It’s been nothing but a vast and plentiful feast all week. I reckon Saturday will feel like it’s about time for home.

That morning, I went on a coffee run a few miles down the road. It’s a shopping center with many stores, including a Dunkin Donuts and a grocery store. Across the lot, I saw the small bus parked there. Amish people were spilling out all around. Hmm. I thought. I haven’t seen Amish down here at OBX before. Check it out. I looked a little closer.

There were two families, looked like. Two youngish bearded men with straw hats like they wear in very plain communities. I didn’t think the women looked all that extra plain, though. A host of young children churned about, almost bursting with excitement. A young man walked from the group to the grocery store. Probably eighteenish. He puffed freely and openly on a cigarette. Which was totally fine and none of my business. But it told me he comes from a fairly plain place. An Amish teenager won’t smoke openly in front of his father unless he comes from a real plain place. Chances are his father smokes as well. That was my musing as I observed.

Anyway, the whole lot of them was down in the area, getting ready for a big day at the beach, looked like.

And now it’s Friday night. Post time. Also, the end of Beach Week, until next year. And now, as promised, the link to my new book. Get on there and pre-order. The release date is May, 2020. Help me out, here. And thanks to all in advance.

broken roads
The Book Cover. Perfection, right there. Click to enlarge, then click to enlarge again.