A Day in Aylmer, Reunited with Friends and Heroes from the Past

It’s a funny thing… some of the most amazing things in life, I find almost impossible to put into words. At least soon after they happen. Given enough time and space, I am usually able to ‘tell the story’ of it, but at the time, it all gets locked away someplace sacred until such a time as my heart finds words to tell it. And that’s my dilemma about some recent events. How do you put into words experiences that are completely exhilarating and as fully unbelievable? But I will try…

I wrote in my previous blog about the notes that have started to trickle in from former neighbours in Mexico, many of whom are referred to in my book, or their families if not their names, specifically; and the notes keep coming in. As a result of those connections a book signing was scheduled at The Central (most amazing restaurant in Aylmer, IMO) on Saturday May 2nd from 11:00am to 2:00pm. But the action and excitement started the previous day…

I drove to Aylmer late afternoon for an interview with Craig Bradford, with the Aylmer Express, who was very kind in his questioning. Not having had the opportunity to read the book in advance, he needed a brief overview of my story, to know where to take the article. With Corinth, a small hamlet about ten minutes from Aylmer, being a significant part of the first half of the book, he was very interested in those years, while establishing family dynamics and context. We parted ways within an hour, with the promise that he would return in the morning to speak with a few people from my past.

My cousin Helen Knelsen and I had agreed we would meet after the interview, and go see her parents, my Uncle Jake and Aunt Anna Peters. They are the sweetest couple, those two, and always had a special place in my heart in childhood and early teens; something many years of separation did not rob from me. I’ve connected with Aunt Anna numerous times in the past few years at my mom’s, and promised one day I would show up at her house. This was the day.

We pulled in the drive and it hit me, “Do they know we’re coming?” I asked. Helen burst out laughing and said she figured I had contacted them. A surprise visit it would be, then, we decided.

Seeing Uncle Jake working in the yard, I jumped out of the car and waved and called out enthusiastically, “Hi Uncle Jake!”

Uncle Jake squinted, “Wha… What?” He paused. “What?… Uncle?” he asked, clearly not recognizing me, and wondering why this stranger called him uncle. Walking toward each other I said, “I’m Peter Harder’s Trudy”.

Uncle Jake & Aunt Anna
Uncle Jake and Aunt Anna Peters

 

“What?! No…!!” he said, chuckling, and threw our arms around each other in a warm hug. We wandered to the house and Aunt Anna arrived at the door just at that moment, shocked to see me, and we indulged in a few more hugs. Sitting at their island and chatting, Uncle Jake would walk by every now and then and squeeze my shoulders, still trying to absorb it and struggling to believe it was me. It was delightful!

“I’ve grown up and out,” I said, at one point, laughing. Last time he saw me I was a scrawny teenager, slightly underweight. Well, not anymore, I told him. I’m a mom of five healthy children, which played a role, but being on heart medications did more than seven pregnancies to contribute to weight gain. He kept laughing and telling me I don’t look like Trudy, and I kept giggling, delighted by his antics and lingering shock.

Aunt Anna asked if we had supper. Helen had, but I had not. Not that I was very hungry. Of course, with aunts and moms and grandmas, it will never do to not eat, so she set to work making more tacos. And I’m talking the real deal, not that packaged powder stuff. She seasoned the meat to perfection and served them with the real Mexican tortillas. They were incredible!

We women retreated to the living room, afterwards, relaxing on the couch and chatting. Soon Uncle Jake joined us, but went to a card table in the far corner of the room to work on a jigsaw puzzle, where he could still join in conversation, but keep himself busy. We sat there a long while, listening to stories, telling stories and reminiscing. Their solid faith is such an encouragement, affirmed by their testimony that salvation is only through Jesus, not church or denomination, though they are ‘at home’ in the Old Colony church.

“Your Grandpa Wall was like that,” Uncle Jake said, “and visited many different churches when he traveled away from home.” Aunt Anna jumped in, then, and said Grandpa visited everything from Baptist, to United to Catholic, and always he worshiped God without criticizing the church.”

What a legacy, I thought to myself! No wonder my heart always felt safe with Grandpa Wall, who seemed truly to be a godly man with a kind and tender demeanor, and who always treated Grandma with gentleness, to my memory, even using endearing terms.

Such a stark contrast to Grandma’s father, Great Grandpa Dyck, who was a desperately wicked man, beating up his wife until she developed a permanent growth, and eventually ordering his second son, Peter, to push her to her death, from the metal staircase that led from their upstairs to the ground level. She died a week later and Henry, the oldest son, sat by her bed to support her in her suffering. Aunt Anna pulled out photos of Great Grandpa, and another with Great Grandma standing between her parents, and her then very young Henry. Great Grandma is positioned to show only a side profile, in order to hide a deformity that resulted from her husband constantly punching and beating her. It is utterly heart-wrenching to think this would continue, relatively unchecked.

© Trudy Harder Metzger
Great Grandpa Dyck
© Trudy Harder Metzger
Great Grandma Dyck–hiding her very bruised face–her young son, Henry, and her parents

 

We ended the evening with a few snapshots and even talked Uncle Jake, who despises all things technological, to take a few shots. (And he did a a great job!)

IMG_2840[1]
Aunt Anna Peters and Cousin Helen Knelsen
More hugs all around, and with that we drove off to Helen’s home in St. Thomas, where I spent the night to save on driving the following morning. I crawled in bed a bit before midnight, fulfilled and happy and almost too excited to sleep.

I tried to set the alarm, fearing I’d fall asleep too soundly, with my heart meds. It blared loudly in  Spanish, startling me. I quickly shut it off, fearing I’d wake Rick, Helen’s husband, who had to work early in the morning. I set the volume to ‘off’ and tried again. It blared just as loudly. I made a few more adjustments and tried a third time. Again it blared, and I decided to take my chances. What were the odds that I could actually sleep in on a day like that?

I was about to meet an unknown number of people, many  of whom had been friends and neighbours in Mexico and whom I had not seen in  forty years…

 ****

Saturday morning I awoke, bright and early. No alarm. No noise. Just adrenaline, I presume, because my medications generally drop my heart rate and blood pressure so low that it takes more than a little racket, poking or prodding to wake me up.

Helen and I enjoyed a coffee and a heart-to-heart chat, as we tend to do, when we’re together. Some days I can hardly believe that she was one of the ‘older cousins’–though only 4 years older than me–with whom I lost touch in my late preteens, at a time when 4 years is a huge age gap. Now she is one of my best friends, since reconnecting in 2010.

A few minutes after 9:00am I gave Helen a bye hug, and headed for Aylmer, where I was scheduled to meet someone for an hour, prior to the signing. The meeting went well, and before I knew it, we were setting up for the book signing. The Central isn’t just a restaurant. True, their food is delicious. I’ve tried many items in the past months of meeting clients there, in a quiet corner, to talk, or sitting with friends, and I’ve never been disappointed. But the restaurant is about a bigger vision for families and relationships. (And if you keep cell phones away during dinner, you get a discount!) To learn more about the restaurant, visit: The Central, and to learn about their Charity mission, click HERE.

My good friend, and faithful sidekick, Helen Reddekopp arrived bright and early, buzzing about, setting up and organizing the best ‘flow of action’. What would I do without her? And then the action started. People came and went. Names, faces, memories and new introductions blurred together. Some faces offered an instant familiarity, sending my mind back to an undefined time and place, trying to make connections, others a vague niggling of having once known them, and yet others drew a complete blank. And then one couple walked in….

Mrs. Wolfe. The sweet neighbour who always welcomed me into her home, between the ages of 6 and 9, and who offered us a safe place that fateful day when my dad threatened to kill us. Millie walked in, all dressed up, with her husband Charles by her side. Her eyes sparkled and danced. After chatting a while, I gave them a book, signed with much love and a thank you for that day. She accepted it, reminiscing of a time gone by, when life was much harder. “I never thought I’d be in a book,” she said, and explained that she simply did what she could, knowing life was hard, but never realized how much impact it had. “And do you remember I told you that Cheerios were donut seeds?” she asked. “You even planted some, didn’t you?”

The reporter, Craig Bradshaw, came by and asked a lot of questions, trying to get the story from Mrs. Wolfe’s perspective, and how it felt back then, with the threat of death before us. Then he asked Mrs. Wolfe how she feels about me writing about it in a book, and her specifically. Eyes beaming with pride, she looked at me when she answered, “I’m so proud of her. Very proud of her!”

There were many pleasant moments at the book signing, but there is nothing like sitting with a woman who saved my life as a child, and gave my heart a safe place in a chaotic world. I will always have a special place for her, in my memory. A place filled with love and inspiration.

Time moved quickly, and by mid-afternoon, we had packed up and headed to Peter and Mary Froese’s home. They had graciously offered to host an after party, with neighbours and friends. What a delight that was! I met many of the Froese siblings as well as a few of the Hildebrandt family. A gifted lot of story tellers, they shared story after story, of Mexico, and we laughed at the shenanigans of my siblings and their friends, in days gone by.

After the guests left, Mary and Peter pulled out photo albums and shared more current pictures of the neighbourhood where we lived. It helped me place many memories, and stirred up new ones.

It was late when I returned home, at about 12:30am, and my heart was full to the brim, and spilling over, with thankfulness for what God has done, and how He has redeemed and restored my life.  Out of the darkness that once was, He has brought blessings beyond what my mind can grasp, and more than words can tell.

As doors continue to open, and requests to travel and speak trickle in, I pray that God will continue to redeem and restore, not only in my life, but even more in lives around me. I pray that the ripples of His grace will spread far beyond anything I will ever know about, and reclaim sons and daughters whose lives have been devastated, so that people will know Jesus is the Healer. He is my reason for reaching out. He not only gave my life back, but He gave me a new and better life filled with hope, knowing He loves me. He offers the same to all.

Jesus loves you.

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

A Whirlwind, Forty Years & A Trip to Aylmer to Reconnect with Lost Friends

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. An exciting whirlwind, spinning wide open in a dance, just like they did in Mexico in the dust. How I loved the way they spun and twirled, rushing across the yard! And that’s sort of how I feel right now, about life. Oh, there’s been some ‘downers’, like the death of my beloved Mazda 3, nicknamed Rustbucket. In the weeks before its death, I had started to call it Rattletrap, and even joked that one day the tires will just keep rolling down the road, and the rest will fall off, and there I’ll sit. Fortunately, it gave up the ghost, slowly and safely. Anyway, that was distressing, and made even more so because we hadn’t had a chance to do anything about replacing it yet, when the brakes on our van went, leaving us with any vehicle. But enough of the depressing things… Overlapping with this some very exciting things happened…

It started April 21, 2015, to be exact. I had received a friend request on Facebook, a day or two earlier, from Peter and Mary Froese, and accepted. The name stood out, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. We Germans have a lot of Loewens, Reddekopps, Klassens, Froeses and, well, you pick the name and there’s just a lot of us, so I didn’t even consider trying to figure out if it’s a family I know.

I had been in a meeting, and when I came out that afternoon, there was a Facebook message posted to my timeline from Peter. It read as follows:

Hello Trudy. Thank you for accepting our friendship. I read your book last weekend. Wow, I have never read a book as fast as this one. It only took me just over two days and I’m not a reader. Many memories, since, I was your neighbor boy back in the old country. I remember many of the events you are sharing in the book, including your moves, the house without windows, plus the three funerals. I was very surprised of the details that you remembered. I must say the book was very well done. But what interested me most was the point of it all. To bring out and point out the real God from the harsh God of religion which is indeed no god at all.

I’m looking forward to your next book. The rest of the story. How you got from there to where you are now. The healing steps, the growth etc.

May God continue to use you for his Kingdom and bless you.

I can’t quite describe the emotions that filled my chest. These are people I knew as a youngster in Mexico, and have never seen again, since moving to Canada. That’s forty years of separation, this summer. This month it will be, in fact, to be specific; we left Mexico in May 1975.

family in mexico

Days later I received a friend request from another familiar name. Herbert Hildebrandt. Again, the name caught my eye, but again, I didn’t over analyze it. But, again, the following message landed in my inbox.

Hi Trudy, I first heard about your book thru Ira Wagler, intending to buy it some time when I come across it. Only yesterday we realized that our family has a personal connection in that you lived on my grandparents property in #82 (David Hildebrandt). My dad is Henry, he vividly remembers your family being there and the fact that your brother had the ability to determine what brand of tire a vehicle had by the tread pattern left on the dirt road and yard! He’s told that story since I was a little boy…so yesterday someone in Aylmer let us know what the connection was to you and the book. Having said that, is there a place to buy the book locally? If not, we’ll order a few online for the family. Two of my uncles died of cancer in the past decade, not sure if you remember them – John and David. We admire for you speaking out in word and print, blessings to you and your family. Herbert Hildebrandt

It was almost surreal, this double chain of events, and rediscovering neighbours from the same community, one living to the left and down a ways, and the other to the right, if my memory has it accurately. There is a connection and a bond that happens in early childhood, that cannot be recreated, and it flooded back, after all these years. I could hardly absorb it all, that these re-connections were spilling in so soon after the release of Between 2 Gods. These are things you don’t think of, when you write a book with the hope of reaching a few broken hearts, here and there. The radar simply doesn’t extend that far. At least it didn’t for me. So it has come as a complete surprise, and an incredible blessing; the payback and the gift of these invaluable connections.

Some quick brainstorming with Peter and Mary, and with connections at The Central–an amazing restaurant in Aylmer, and my favourite place in town–we planned a book signing for Saturday, May 2, 2015. Peter checked with deBridg radio in Aylmer, and sure enough, they agreed to do an interview. Could I make it Wednesday, April 29, for 2:00pm, they wondered. Yes, I told him, even though I wasn’t sure how I’d get there without a car. Something would work out.

Fortunately Tim’s mom had let us borrow a vehicle for until the brakes were the van brakes were repaired, so we had that, but so many things happening in our household. Five children. Three jobs.  My client appointments. It’s a busy household. By Saturday April 25 we had found a decent used vehicle–a gorgeous and incredibly under-priced Honda Accord, which the owner sold at less than two-thirds of going wholesale price, and less than half of going retail. The perks: leather interior, manual, and just a sweet looking vehicle. The downside: two-door, therefore slightly higher insurance, but with the price, still a better deal. The ultimate bonus, of course, is that it falls in the ‘Honda and Toyota’ category. I trust those vehicles. A lot. That car is a little miracle, in every way. Still, there was a lot to be done, and I had no guarantees I’d have it on the road for Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, having purchased and done the E-Test and Safety on the vehicle, I drove it to the Service Canada office to register it, having acquired insurance at 4:45pm–15 minutes before close–on Tuesday night. By 10:00am Wednesday morning, it was a done deal. My car was ready. Well, almost. I still needed the right plates on it.  Tim had put a ratchet and screw driver on the passenger seat, for me to install the plates before heading to Aylmer. I pulled into the Foodland parking lot, surrounded by trucks and truckers headed into Tim Hortons for their coffees, and there I attached the plates, all dressed up and ready for my radio interview. Tim, in the meantime, printed out the insurance slip because our printer was not working, and I drove over to his work, to pick it up.

When I arrived in Aylmer for the interview, Hein Rempel greeted me, and immediately we jumped into German conversation, preparing for the interview. “We knew some Rempels in Mexico,” I said, casually, not expecting there to be an easy connection. “Isaac Rempels,” I added as an afterthought.

Hein chuckled. “I had a brother Isaac,” he said. Hein looked too young to be a brother to the man I remembered, I thought to myself, but I pursued it.

“He was a bit of a ‘frotz’ (clown),” I said, injecting a German word into my English sentence. Hein nodded, adding a chuckle, and said his brother was too. “He used to get my brothers to hide under the table,” I said, “and if they would stay under it for a given length of time, he would promise to give them a peso. Then he would proceed to pound on the table and do anything to make them come out.” This had fascinated me as a little 4-year-old, and I wished Mr. Rempel would offer me a peso too. I’d sit there for it.

Now Hein laughed, almost certain it had to be his brother. And then it popped in my head, the moment of being in the Rempel home, and seeing their daughters, and hearing their names. Memories that had long disappeared into whatever unknown place they visit, when you don’t think about them for almost 40 years. “Did he have a daughter Utje…” I asked, intending to also ask about the other daughter.

“Yes!” Hein said, “and Sushje.” It was confirmed. I had just connected with yet another family member of our friends in Mexico!

We did the interview then, and  shared with the Aylmer community a wee glimpse into the ‘why’ of my story, as well as the ‘what’, and let them know that I will be back on Saturday to hopefully meet many more. I don’t really know what to expect, and how many friends and relatives I will see, or if some other unexpected past connections might happen. What I do know, for sure, is that Saturday is going to be a very exciting day! We left Mexico in late May, 1975. Now, in May 2015, I will see friends I played with… or ‘tried’ to play with, since they were a bit older and I was still the ‘pesky little sister’ who liked to tag along. How cool is that?!

I walked to my car, accompanied by my friend Maria Dyck, from deBridg, to get her a book from my trunk. We stood on the sidewalk and chatted a moment, when a woman stopped, after Maria greeted her with a, “Hi Helen!” She saw the book in Maria’s hands. “I just read that book,” she said, and explained how she borrowed it from a friend. Helen looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her until she told me we recently connected on Facebook. Moments later another friend walked by, a woman I met at a speaking engagement; Mary. I realized again, how small the world is, and what a blessing relationships are.

Checking on messages, I found one from Peter, saying he hopes the interview went well, and then added a note he received from a pastor in Mexico:  “Her story is not unlike many others in our Mennonite world. Really sad but so blessed that Trudy has the guts to reveal what’s going on in so many homes.” 

I walked to The Central to finalize details with Peter, and inside was greeted by more friends. People I met in the eight months, when I traveled to Aylmer to meet clients for sessions at The Central. It’s a friendly town, and th ‘familiarity’ from days gone by, even in the accents, make me feel at home there.

My last stop, before heading back home, was at my mom’s. I spent about an hour and a half with her, listening to her tell stories, and answering questions. She told me she supports me telling our story publicly, because so many victims are stuck in shame, and get all suicidal, and give up hope. “It’s cost too many lives,” she said.

I warned her the book wouldn’t be an easy read, and I’d be happy if she never gets her hands on it because of what I think it would do to her. She understood, but made no promises, which was fine since I wasn’t looking to tell her what to do. She’s a big girl and whatever she decides, I will bless. It’s not really my business anyway. It’s just that I’d rather she not need to feel and walk through all that again, in story form. I know what it did to me in the writing process.

“People will start asking you about it,” I warned. “They might give you a hard time for me speaking out.”

She chuckled and told me how it’s starting, the questions and wondering. Even as I arrived to visit her, a group of women saw me coming toward the building, and when mom said my name, they asked, “Is she the one on the radio, who has written a book?” and mom just giggled and said she doesn’t know about the radio, but yes I am the one who wrote the book.

She’s taking it all in stride, this thing of having the ‘outside world’ peek into the windows of our family’s story. I’m glad for that. And I hope it stays that way. And I hope it never becomes an attack on her, or a rejection for giving birth to me and raising me, for those who don’t like this ‘telling’.  But that we leave in God’s hands.

book signing poster

Tomorrow is just a day away now, and I’m excited. The action starts tonight already, when I meet with a reporter from the Aylmer Express, who will do a story on the book, and will come again tomorrow to interview ‘characters’ from the book. Some Froese family members and hopefully some Hildebrandts, will answer a few questions the reporter has. And I’ve called Mrs. Wolfe, to whose place my mother fled when dad threatened to kill her and our family the summer before I turned seven, and asked her to come for a book and to talk to a reporter. She will come, she said. And that makes my heart so very happy!

It’s going to feel like a regular family reunion, being among my Plautdeutsch friends like that, and in one of the communities in which I lived. It is beautifully mind-boggling.

I’ve asked my cousin Helen Knelsen, if we could slip over to see her mom and dad, my Aunt Anna & Uncle Jake, so we’ll be doing that after the interview wraps up. And then I will head back to Helen’s house and crash… hopefully…. if I can sleep tonight…  Few things get me so excited that my sleep is interrupted, but this just might!

I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and if you’re in the Aylmer area, please pop by! We’d love to see you! The Central has offered to serve coffee and refreshments, and we’ll be doing a draw for a few prizes, so don’t miss out!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

More Adventures in Amish Country: Milking Water Buffalo (Part 2)

The little excursion through my old hick town of Corinth was secondary to my real purpose for being in Aylmer, but I was glad I did it. And I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t impact me more negatively, and make me jittery or even a bit emotional. Nothing. I was good.

I drove west, down the back roads I had discovered that morning, memorizing paths from Corinth to Carter Road, where I would again visit my Amish friends. I parked my car, and walked toward the house.

Nate and Ira greeted me at the door, offering bear hugs and a warm welcome. Nate hasn’t shrunk and inch, still towering over me, making me feel petite, at 5′ 10″. And Ira is as warm and friendly in person as he is on the phone and in the virtual realm of Facebook. (That is, when he’s not all riled up talking politics and such.) It was great to see them both and to meet Ira for the first time.

When Ira asked a while later where we should get our pictures taken, I said, “In front of a buggy, of course!” He groaned. And obliged. At least I didn’t make him sit in it, or give me a ride.

Inside the house was quiet. Rosemary, who bustled about the last time I visited, sat quietly with her leg elevated. She developed an ulcer and needs to take it easy–something she does not do easily, or naturally. Her eyes twinkled with that same warm welcome I felt the first time I came.

Her daughter, Edna, sat in a chair across the room, nursing a very sore back. One of those back pains that shows on the face, the kind I have not had in many years, but can still feel when I see it. In spite of this, she was pleasant and enjoyed pleasant conversation.

In my previous visit I met Magdalena and Ray Marner and delighted to meet their daughter Janice, from Phoenix Arizona. A beautiful red-head with a ready smile, looking very ‘English’, it took me off guard when Pennsylvania Dutch flowed smoothly from her lips. Even though I knew it is her background, to hear her speak so comfortably made me smile.

Titus sat in his wheelchair at a table, resting. It was a pleasure to meet him and his son Thomas. (I didn’t meet Ruth and Robert until later, after supper.) Thomas is a handful of mischief and a delightful young lad! He was quite taken with Juanita and did what he had to do, to keep her attention. It was fun to watch. What a gift Titus and Ruth have given these boys! And no doubt they feel very blessed as well, to have these little lives trusted into their care.
 
We visited for a while, and then went up to see Edna’s room, which is almost more like a little bachelor apartment minus the kitchenette. It’s a cozy space, with a china cabinet dividing her sleeping quarters from the sitting area. An open Bible is displayed on the coffee table, and a hymnal lies beside it. Juanita sang ‘Tears are a language..’ as I massaged Edna’s back, attempting to give her some relief from the pain. It probably comforted me more than her… but watching her in pain like that, the least I could do was try, and hope I wasn’t going to make it worse. When I finished she said it wasn’t worse, and it felt okay while I was working on it, so that was a good sign. 
 
Ira, Nate, Juanita, Janice and I went for a drive around the countryside. The mission was to find an ‘Aylmer’ sign and take some pictures. We had so much fun!
 
Nate decided it would be a great time to tell everyone how we met. One day, he said, I had knocked on the door at a mutual friend’s home, where he was staying. Upon discovering that Ron and Cindy were not home, when he showed up at the door, he claimed that I practically pushed 5 children into his arms and tried to make him babysit for me. He demonstrated my deep, demanding tone of voice, and how it left him feeling intimidated and helpless. At least that is how I interpreted it.
 
That was not how I recalled the story at all. So I told my side of the story. I showed up at Ron and Cindy’s late one afternoon expecting to find her home, and intending to ask if my children could play a few minutes while I ran an errand. I was horrified when this big, burly, mean-looking stranger towered over me and asked me what I want. Clearly trembling and traumatized, I, in the most reserved and bashful tone, asked if Cindy was here. He snarled some unintelligible jargon, demanding I leave my children. They would be fine in his care. Fearful that some great harm had already befallen my friends at the hands of this giant, I didn’t want to leave the premises, but fearing our own demise, and out of desire to protect my children, I reluctantly left, carefully counting my children as we drove away, making sure he had not snatched one. Following a restless night, it was a great relief the next morning, when I finally managed to get hold of Cindy and discover that, while big, mean and burly looking, Nate was a friend and more of a teddy bear than his gruff voice let on. And that was how Nate and I became friends.
 
Ira, Juanita and Janice were far too discerning to believe either tale. They concluded the truth must lie somewhere in between. Just where, one cannot know for certain. And Ira did tell me, “Trudy, let’s just say the Waglers are not the only ones who can spin a good tale.”
 
I’ll take that as an honour, “Thank you very much, sir!” 
 
And just about the time we had finished spinning tales, we came across an ‘Aylmer’ sign. Poor Ira! Three women squawking, “There Ira! Pull over!” as he slams on the breaks and pull over. He grumbled a bit about the stone and it not being a ‘real’ sign, but was quite cooperative about having pictures done.
 
 
No more had we jumped back in, driven a few hundred feet and the squawking started all over again. A ‘real’ sign this time. So Ira again whipped over and got some pictures of the ‘real’ sign. 
 
 
 
That’s when Nate started talking about the water buffalo. Simon and Kathleen have some. They milk them… “Trudy, you’ll go with us to watch them milk the buffalo, right?” 
 
“Of course I will!” I said. “What are we talking about anyway? And what time?” Nate explained and I agreed to go.
 
I have a song for everything, so that little conversation started the Veggie Tales, ‘Silly Songs With Larry’ Water Buffalo song playing in my head. From time to time throughout the remainder of the day I would start singing, “Everybody wants a water buffalo, yours is fast and mine is slow, where do you get them, I don’t know but everybody wants a water buffalo….
 
We returned to Rosemary and Joe’s farm, visited a while longer and then it was time for the big adventure. We would go to the farm and watch them. As we pulled up to the farm, having travelled a long and winding lane, a thought occurred to me. I knew I shouldn’t…. But I couldn’t miss it for the world… So I gave in to a tiny little temptation. 
 
I grabbed my iPod and carried it discreetly in front of me, having it turned on and facing out. I wouldn’t be able to focus it properly, but I could snap random shots and hope for something good to show for. I confess, I pushed aside the teensy bit of guilt that threatened. The thought was entirely too appealing, and I didn’t think God would mind nearly so much as they would. As long as I could keep it looking innocent, I’d not really be doing any harm. 
 
So it was that I wandered about, taking a total off 117 pictures. A few were close up shots of my fingers, many were fuzzy, but a sprinkled throughout were decent shots of the barn, Simon’s young son, and the farm. Now little waves of guilt wash over me as I contemplate posting them here…
 
Once again, the thought is too appealing to resist and if a family member kindly asks me to take them down, I will do so. Until then, it is all too sweet not to share. With not seeing the screen and focusing properly, and with no light in the barn, the quality is poor, but gives you a feel for the water buffalo farm.
 
 
 
Simon clearly loves his animals. His rainbow eyes sparkle like no one else I’ve ever met. When he introduced us to the buffalo, he placed his arm around the head of one of the huge beasts, placed his face right against the animal and said, “They’re almost more like pet. Like a big dog. Very affectionate.” 
 
 
Ivan came out minutes later and demonstrated the gentleness of the animals by jumping on the back of one and jumping from back to back. He was quite pleased with being able to perform for us, and we enjoyed the show.
 
While Simon gave us a tour, several of his children set up to do the milking, and having come full circle, we stood and watched awhile. “My mother taught me to milk cows,” I said. “This sure brings back memories.”
 
Simon chuckled, “Would you want to try milking a buffalo?” he asked. 
 
I lit up. “Oh yes! I would love to!” I said.
 
He looked almost startled at my answer. Nate looked to be headed into full-blown panic. “You’re not serious!” he said, more than asked.
 
“Of course I am!” 
 
“But you’re wearing a white skirt.”
 
“Meh, what’s a white skirt? It’s washable.” It isn’t every day you get to milk a water buffalo.
 
And so it was determined that I would milk the most gentle buffalo. Ivan would get it washed up and primed, and then I could have a go at it. 
 
“We have to get a picture of this!” Nate said. And, coincidentally, I had a camera! How handy was this? I showed Juanita how to use it, and I sat down to try my hand at it.
 
 
 
Teeny, tiny little streams of milk came out. And I didn’t get kicked. That, I decided, was the definition of success in this situation. I would have been there a day trying to get all the milk so I turned it back to Ivan, who produced rivers of milk in place of my teeny tiny streams. Not a career path I’ll pick up just yet, but a very amazing experience!
 
 
A little more wandering around and it was time to return to Rosemary’s farm…. 
 
To Be Continued…. 
 
© Trudy Metzger
 
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Adventures in Amish Country

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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