by Paul Stutzman
$13.98 & up (used) (Perfect Paperback)
$ 9.39 (kindle)
About the book:
An Amish Love Story About Hope and Finding Home
Everything in God’s nature, Johnny observed, did what it was created to do. Everything, that is, except the human race. Johnny was born into an Amish family, into a long line of farmers and good businessmen. He is expected to follow the traditions of family and church as he grows to adulthood. But even as a boy, he questions whether he can be satisfied with this lifestyle. He wants “more” — more education, more travel, more opportunity.
His restlessness leads him down a dangerous road where too much partying and drinking result in heartbreaking consequences. He’s adrift, and no one seems to be able to help him find his direction.
Then he meets spunky Annie, who seems pure and lovely and devoted to her God. Her past, though, holds sin and heartbreak. She was a worm, she explains, but God has transformed her into a butterfly. Johnny falls hopelessly in love; and eventually he, too, finds the power of God to transform lives.
Settling down on the family farm, he forgets about the questions and the restlessness, thinking that he is happy and at home, at last.
But in a few short hours, tragedy changes his life forever, and he is again wondering… and wandering on a very long journey.
Entwined with Johnny and Annie’s story is the allegory of two Monarch butterflies, worms who have been transformed into amazing creatures specially chosen to carry out the miracle of the fourth generation. They, too, must undertake a long journey before they finally find home.
The Wanderers isn't your typical, run of the mill Amish book. At least it didn't meet my image of the Amish (admittedly from all the books I read) and so I had some trouble getting into the groove of The Wanderers. Opening with the growing up years of Johnny we watch him building his "Think House" where he was able to study the land, animals and surroundings as well as store his collections. This building is a prominent feature to the story and we visit regularly through various scenes in the book.
Mr Stutzman doesn't sugar coat his book like other books I've read. The family in the story are regular folk - Dad is the strong leader busy with farming and carrying on his Bishop duties. Mom is the nuturer in the family and Johnny is the main character. We also meet his sister Naomi, Annie and several other members of the family. Like all good Amish families it's a big one. It was interesting to see how Johnny is introduced to beer at a very early age and he becomes a closet alcoholic. Oh, it doesn't say he's an alcoholic but he can't live without his beer and it's a main feature to the story. It was also interesting to see that the kids had a code for a deliveryman to let him know they needed beer dropped off - I thought it was odd that Dad never put his foot down and put a stop to it. He & Mom turned the other way the whole time - especially since Johnny's parents take the time to teach their children strong moral values and I loved reading Dad's techniques (such as helping him start a egg business so Johnny could buy his own bike) and the wisdom that Dad showed was wonderful.
Johnny's story is one of growing up in an Amish family as well as his wild teens, drinking, and wondering what is beyond the farm. He questions many of the Amish customs such as bed courtship and much of his story shows the depth of his thoughts about his faith, what his parents believe, and should he stay and be a farmer. For a short time during his courtship and marriage to Annie he settles down and it isn't until after Annie's death that he strikes out to travel from California all the way home on his old trusty bike that he bought as a boy. The story of the bike ride isn't long - but very interesting and I wouldn't mind reading a book just about the ride it self. I found the characters and Johnny's growth during this time very interesting. I think my favorite part to this story is the spiritual aspect.
One of the things that surprised me is that mom turns out to be a Christian but for some reason other than teaching her children the "Amish" faith - she and her husband never taught their children to search the Word and they never taught them to pray. And yet, it turns out she, Annie and Naomi (Johnny's sister) are all very strong, committed Christians. The scriptural part of the book is powerful and I particularly enjoyed the Walk to the Cross which is written about during Johnny's ride across America while he is in Texas. This part was beautifully written and clearly spells out the steps to Salvation. In fact, it made me want to visit The Cross and walk the path myself. I wonder if it's a real place?
Very interesting book, very well written - but also very different for the Amish genre. If you like a biography or know someone that does they may just like this book and it would make a great gift. I plan on handing this one off to my Dad - I think he'll really enjoy it. Many parts are reminiscent to his "Wild" days and I think he'll enjoy the Walk to the Cross as well.
The first chapter:
I was ten when I had my first taste of beer. A late start, to be sure, but I was never bothered much by peer pressure. My friends had all sampled the stuff two or three years before, but I had felt no desire or need. There was only one reason I drank on that hot August day. I was thirsty.
Finished with my morning chores, I started across the hayfield with an armful of boards ripped from the old washhouse. Previous generations had scrubbed and soaked and steamed in the one-room shack in front of our farmhouse; my parents, though, had upgraded to a new kerosene washer, and now the women worked in the coolness under the long front porch. An old kettle still hung above the brick fire pit, but the washhouse sagged like a tired old work horse.
My dad had assigned me the task of dismantling the washhouse. That was fine with me; I had plans for that scrap lumber. I wanted to enlarge the deer stand at the edge of the distant woods. The stand was my hideout, where I spent countless hours contemplating life. It was a haven for my wondering mind, and I called it my institution of higher learning.
Eight years of school at Milford Elementary, in the little village several miles east of our farm, were not enough for me. While most Amish children were happy to be finished with formal education, I wept when I could not attend the local high school.
The English students sometimes mocked us Amish as backwards farmers, but I enjoyed school, excelled in sports, and had the gift of gab. Although I was known as something of a "charmer," I never liked the word. It's true, I could talk myself into or out of anything. You do have to make the most of whatever talents God's given you.
The school of higher education that I did attend was built in a stately oak that stood sentinel at the edge of our woods. Two gnarled branches cradled my hideout, ten feet off the ground, overlooking the fields that my family had owned for generations. Years ago, my grandfather had secured several boards across the limbs and nailed short slabs up the oak's trunk, a ladder ascending to the platform. Over time, the trunk swallowed up most of the rungs, but edges still protruded far enough for deer hunters to clamber up and lie in wait for the quarry.
My first hunt with my dad and my brother was also my last. Finally, I was deemed old enough to go hunting with the men. I climbed the ladder and settled into waiting, tense with excitement. Very soon, a doe came through the woods, paused at the spring to drink, then walked slowly down the side of the ravine. One shot echoed through the quiet morning. We scampered down the ladder rungs and approached the deer, lying bleeding on the hillside. It struggled to its feet, took another tumble, and lay still.
My excitement vanished. I felt only sadness and pangs of remorse. The doe's brown eye was open, staring at me, asking, "Why? What did I do to deserve this?"
Dad had a knife in his hands; I knew what must come next. Backtracking, I was violently sick behind a bush. I was not meant to be a hunter, and no one would ever shoot another deer from that stand if I had any say at all.
I did have my say. Well, my mom did. Although Dad was the authority and power in our house, Mom often held the reins. With tears streaming down my face, I unloaded my sad description of the dying deer. "We can't shoot them anymore. We just can't."
Soon the NO HUNTING signs were posted, and the woods, deer stand, and all of God's nature on our 120 acres were mine.
Well, perhaps not quite everything fell under my protection. Every year, we butchered a pig, a horrible sacrifice for the betterment of our family. My dad and brother would select the offering. I always wondered how the selection was made, but I never asked. They'd grab the unlucky swine by the hind legs, lift it over the fence, and carry it away as it squealed in terror. As the surviving porkers looked on in great relief, I'd run to the house, up the stairs, and cover my head with my pillow. I'd hear the shot anyway.
While my family processed the departed, I'd venture to the pig pen. I knew each hog by distinguishing marks; and, in dread, I checked to see who was missing. Spotty had survived. Curly was still here. Snort made the cut. We would be eating Limpy. A wild dog or coyote had wriggled through the board fence one night and taken a bite out of Limpy. Our German shepherd, Biff, had heard the commotion and chased the intruder away before he could get a second bite. On the day of Limpy’s demise, I reminded myself that I must take caution; I must never injure myself in any way that might cause my own lameness.
My usual route from the washhouse to the deer stand followed the cow path leading from the barn to the pasture field and traveled twice a day by our herd. On this day, the hay field between the house and the woods had been mowed and I took advantage of this shorter route. I might have chosen the hay field even if the route were longer; as a ten-year-old, I drank in the sensory gifts of summer: the aroma of new mown hay, the sweetness of warm strawberries, the smell of an August rain on dusty ground.
"Johnny, go get us some Stroh's!" my older brother Jonas called. He and his friend Jacob were in the field, making hay. Jacob had been recruited to help my brother today because Dad was on a lumber buying trip, and the clouds warned there would be rain by tomorrow. I dropped my boards reluctantly and retraced my steps back to the farmhouse.
My great-grandparents had built this house over a spring, and the cool waters flowed through the basement, filling a concrete trough where my mom stored crocks of butter, fresh milk and cream, eggs, watermelon, and any kind of dish she was preparing for the next meal. Those amber bottles of Stroh's were chilling in a corner of the trough just inside the door. I grabbed two by the necks and rushed back outside, leaving a wet trail of spring water.
The Stroh’s stash belonged to Jonas. Dad was bishop of our Amish church, and I had never seen him drink beer. As a church leader, he was very much aware that anything misused, misread, or mistaken could affect his reputation and influence in the community.
Jonas, on the other hand, had no such reputation to protect. Sixteen, he had recently concluded his formal education and he knew exactly where his future lay. He was not yet a member of the church, but he would join in a few years, get married, and settle down right here in our valley. He had big plans to take over the sawmill that my dad ran as a part-time operation. I was the younger of Dad's sons; my father's hope was that I would be farming the Miller family land someday.
"You thirsty?" Jonas handed his half-empty bottle to me. I was thirsty. But that first taste was not good.
Still, that swallow in the hay field meant that now I was one of the men. I may have been a Miller boy, but now I was a Stroh's man.
Yes, I admit, many bottles of Stroh's beer would find their way to the deer stand in the years to come. For a while, it was not only my thinking stand, it was my drinking stand. More of a beer stand than a deer stand. Stroh's beer would get me into so much trouble; but it would also lead to meeting Annie. And then, for a short time, I had it all. I was an Amish man living the dream.
Until it was all taken from me.
About the author:
Paul Stutzman was born in Holmes County, Ohio in an Amish family. His family left the Amish lifestyle soon after Paul was born. They joined a strict Conservative Mennonite Church where Paul was raised to fear God and obey all the rules the church demanded. Paul continued to live among and mingle with his Amish friends and relatives his entire life. Paul married a Mennonite girl and remained in the Amish community working and raising a family. After Paul lost his wife to cancer, he sensed a tug on his heart- the call to a challenge, the call to pursue a dream. With a mixture of dread and determination, Paul left his job, traveled to Georgia, and took his first steps on the 2,176 mile Appalachian Trail. What he learned during the next four and a half months changed his life-and can change yours too. After completing his trek Stutzman wrote Hiking Through—a book about this life changing journey.
In the summer of 2010 Stutzman again heeded the call for adventure and pedaled his bicycle 5,000 miles across America. He began his ride at the Northwest corner of Washington State and pedaled to Key West, Florida. On his journey across America he encounters people in all circumstances, from homelessness to rich abundance. The people he meets touch his life profoundly. Stutzman writes about these encounters in his book Biking Across America.
Recently Stutzman released his first novel entitled The Wanderers. The Wanderers is a story about Johnny, a young Amish boy growing up in a culture he is not sure he wants to embrace. A young Amish girl named Annie wins his heart and life is great for a time. Entwined with Johnny and Annie’s story is the allegory of two Monarch butterflies, worms who have been transformed into amazing creatures specially chosen to carry out the miracle of the fourth generation. They, too, must undertake a long journey before they finally find home.
In addition to writing, he speaks to groups about his hiking and biking experiences and the lessons learned during these adventures. Stutzman resides in Berlin, Ohio and can be contacted through his website at www.hikingthrough.com or www.paulstutzman.com.
Disclaimer: I was offered a copy of the book to read and review. I was not required to have a positive review and no money exchanged hands. Thanks for reading GivingNSharing!