Yesterday was a day unlike any I’ve had before. My friend Juanita and I visited Aylmer Amish country to meet her boyfriend’s family, the Waglers. When Juanita asked me, a few weeks ago, if I would like to accompany her, it took me all of one second to decide if I would like to go.
Not only did I grow up only minutes from the Wagler home, but her boyfriend, Nate, is a very good brother-kind-of-friend to me, with whom my husband and I have spent hours talking, laughing and playing games. Since moving to the states several years ago, we’ve not seen Nate and have only interacted through social media, but he’s the kind of friend that you pick up where you left off, no matter the time that has passed.
Through Nate I also met Ira Wagler, his brother. Ira is has a blog that I follow, and is the author of ‘Growing Up Amish’ a memoir that made it to the New York Times Best Seller list. It gives readers a glimpse into the Amish culture, through the eyes of someone who was born and raised in it. Ira takes us on a journey through his life, and the struggle to leave the only culture he had really known as a child. I found it to be an emotional read, more so than most books, because of my own ties to the Mennonite culture, which is not unlike some of what he shares. By the end of the book I felt as though I knew the Wagler family, as though I had made friends with Nate and Ira’s siblings, and was sad to have them step out of my life so abruptly.
I was thrilled when Juanita asked if I would go with her to meet Magdalena, the second oldest sister, who was visiting from South Carolina, and the Wagler family who lived in the Aylmer area. The opportunity to meet in real life some of the characters in a book, was something I would not pass up!
Yesterday we made that trip to Amish country. When Juanita and I get together two things are a given: laughter, and tears. We have known each other since our preteens, but it was in our early twenties when we became close friends.
We spent some time in the wooded area at Pinecroft Tea Room, where we had hoped to grab a bite to eat, but the Tea Room was closed. Instead, we looked through the gift shop and took photos. (I got a bit camera happy and now have pictures of Juanita with almost every possible expression on her face. I will not post them here, for fear she would get even.)
Following this little escapade, we went to Ruby’s Cookhouse, in Aylmer, and enjoyed a lovely meal. I’m not a fan of burgers, really, but they serve an amazing burger! We talked heart to heart, sharing ministry dreams and hopes for the future and thanking God for what He has done in our past.
Finally the time came…
We were invited for 6:30pm to the Wagler home and arrived pretty much on time. Magdalena and Ray Marner greeted us warmly and invited us into their little ‘home’ in the basement of Rosemary’s house. It was refreshingly cool, given the heat outdoors, and the lack of electricity made lighting dim, but pleasant.
We all connected immediately. Magdalena with a heart of gold, an easy communicator, and Ray, with his gentle eyes, is soft-spoken but deep. Both made us feel welcome and took us to meet everyone.
Juanita was the main attraction, as she should be, being Nate’s girlfriend and all. She was delightfully ‘Juanita’ and everyone seemed intrigued with her bubbly responses in conversation. Juanita is animated, expressive and engaging—even a bit more so when a touch nervous—and this seemed to draw in the Wagler family, whose culture is much more reserved than she…. let alone the two of us together. (I have no doubt they are still recovering from the shock of these to ‘English Women’, who most likely behaved much to youthful for our age. Still, they were obviously delighted with our visits. That, or they were very good at acting.)
Mr. Wagler—or ‘Pappie’, as he is called by family—intrigued me. A highly intelligent man, with a wealth of knowledge in writing and history, among other things, he was an engaging conversationalist. The kind of man I could spend hours listening to, asking questions, and ‘reading’ him, to figure out how he thinks, what lies hidden below the surface.
Mrs. Wagler, or ‘Mammie’, suffers from Alzheimer’s and is bedridden, relying on help to sit up. I wished I had known her, in the days when she could speak and communicate clearly. She had the most beautiful smile—one inherited by her daughters and granddaughters—and her eyes carried depth. Depth of pride and joy was evident in the way she responded to her family—though it would not be expressed as pride in the culture—and depth of sorrow. Hidden behind that beautiful smile, and those tender eyes, was a story and a heart I would have liked to know.
Rosemary, the oldest daughter and in whose home we visited, had eyes that sparkled as she engaged in conversation with Juanita and me. Her daughter told her I had worked with the elderly, with Alzheimer’s patients, and that I had loved it. This led to questions and an engaging conversation about caring for elderly and various aspects of health challenges and caring for the different stages of the disease. I don’t recall how it came about, when ‘Pappie’ talked of writing, but someone asked if I enjoy writing too, and when I said ‘yes’, Rosemary asked what I’m writing. I mentioned my blog, and that I’m working on a book, and she said she would like a copy when I finish it. I promised that I would drive out to her home and hand-deliver a signed copy to her when it is complete. I will keep that promise.
Rosemary’s daughter and son-in-law, Naomi and Peter, obliged us in a horse and buggy ride. It all started when I told Magdalena that I had asked Ira if he would give me a buggy ride later in the summer when he comes, and that Ira had playfully said buggies are not safe. At this Magdalena lit up, “Oh, would you like a ride? I’m sure you could take the horse and buggy.”
Immediately I lit up, eager to try it, but then thought about holding those reins and trying to control horses, and cringed. In the end Peter and Naomi seemed pleased—grinning from ear to ear—at taking these two ‘English ladies’ out for a short ride.
“Would you like to go slow or fast?” Peter asked.
Simultaneously we responded, “Fast!” and then I added, “As fast as we can go!”
We travelled down the road and back, pleasantly surprised at the comfort of the buggy and how safe and sturdy it felt. I could have spent hours with the breeze blowing over me, chatting and enjoying the scenery.
After the buggy ride, Magdalena took us around the countryside, showing us the childhood home that Ira wrote about in his book. The school they attended. The exact places where certain events took place. The emotions rose and fell, happy to sad, as she relived some of her own childhood as she shared.
Inside the school building I crawled around in the dark, with nothing more than a key-chain LED flashlight, climbing over desks and through spiders webs in search of names and initials scratched or written in pen under the stairs.
The experience brought “Growing Up Amish” to life in a whole new way, as I read the names of students, not the least of which was “Ira Wagler” accompanied by his age and the date. I’ve decided to read the book again, something I don’t do.
After a chat with Magdalene by the fire pit—that ended abruptly when a bat swooped at Juanita’s face and she let out a scream—we went back into the basement. The remainder of the evening was spent with Ray and Magdalena, with an oil lamp as our light, connecting on a deep level about God, life, faith, religion and much more.
It was a full day that left my heart just as full. To be welcomed so warmly, and have the opportunity to experience a small taste Amish culture, was a delight. The memory will go with me for a long time. And one day, hopefully sooner than later, I will return, my own book in hand, to deliver a signed copy to Rosemary.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
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