Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Good American: John Omar Stolzfus

It's a good thing my practical sister was with me when my car broke down on Rt. 896 somewhere near Oxford, as she was the one with the working cell phone. The rattling of the engine had turned to a groaning whine, and smoke was pouring out of the hood, so even I knew something was wrong. I pulled over to the side of the road.

Nina and I got out of the car and I called AAA, and a nice guy on the line told me a tow truck would come to rescue us in about a half hour.

A short time after I pulled over, a kind young man stopped and asked if we needed help. I told him AAA was on the way and thanked him. He drove off and returned shortly with an orange road cone, placing it behind the car.

"You know," he said with concern, "this road is really busy and you aren't quite far enough off the road, so this will help alert the cars coming by."

He waved goodbye and departed.

"My goodness, " I said to Nina with surprise written on my face, "what a nice thing to do."

I thought, why, in Philadelphia I could have been road kill and three thousand drivers would have rocketed by without so much as a glance.

"Yes, it was," said Nina. A few moments passed. "I need to use the bathroom, and I'm really getting cold!"

"So do I," I responded. "I wish there were someone at home in that house behind us so we could use the bathroom and get warm. But I don't see any lights on."

We both turned to watch for the promised tow truck, stamping our feet and rubbing our gloved hands together to keep warm. Suddenly we heard a voice behind us.

"Why don't you ladies come inside the house to get warm?"

We turned to see a kindly, smiling face and then looked at each other with astonishment and relief.

"'OK, " we chorused, rubbing our frozen hands together. "How nice of you."

The kindly face smiled again. "This way," he said. "I have a fire going in our new fireplace. It will warm you up in no time."

With only a slight hesitation in the back of our minds, a hesitation born of long years of city suspicions, we went in and sat by the fire and chatted. The nice man's name was John Omar Stolzfus. He had an American farmer's story to tell. He and his family had owned and farmed the land his house was sitting on for generations. Although he himself did not toil on the land, he sold seed and fertilizer.

"Farming is a good business to be in," he said. "It's feast or famine sometimes, but it's good to rely on sunshine and rain, good to see crops grow, to feed people."

He told us about his family. His two sons had chosen other careers. One was a pilot and the other was into computer programming. But his two nephews had continued the work on the farm. I could see he was glad the family tradition was being maintained.

I could see he was proud of his thick stone walled house, built by strong hands long ago. The worn, comfortable furniture also told me the wealth and pride of this family was in the land. They loved and cherished the land.

But most of all, I could see this kindly, gentle Mennonite was a good man. A good American. A God fearing American.

I thought to myself with inner rage and sorrow about the trashing our country's elite had given this man and others like him, characterizing them as clinging to "religion and guns," calling them "racist." I thought of the constant sneers directed toward faith, patriotism, loyalty to his wife and children. I thought of the arrogance and hubris of those who would tear down every vestige of faith if they could.

The tears came to my eyes.

Later, safely ensconced in Nina's car, which her husband Jim had driven out to pick us up, I said to them, "You know, I am so filled with anger at the likes of our president and his administration for the way they have spoken of people like John Stoltzfus. John Stoltzfus and others like him are the salt of the earth. They are good Americans."

I remembered when much more of the country was filled with people like John Stoltzfus. I guess it's called "flyover country" now by the elite of the East and West. But some of my sharpest memories come from flyover country.

I remembered when I was in Hull, Iowa. I lost my purse. I had everything in it. I thought I'd never see it again, but the next day it was returned to me by a big, tall guy wearing cowboy boots and hat.

"I heard you are Bill's sister-in-law visiting from out East, so I knew where you were and I wanted to return this to you." Of course, everything was still in it, down to the last penny.

I remembered when we walked down town, men tipped their hats and the women all smiled and said, "Hi, how you doing?"

I remembered the stronget expletive I heard was "Golly."

I remembered the biggest scandal in Hull centered around a beer can thrown in the middle of Main Street.

But most of all, I remembered Hull was filled with good, kindly country and small town people like John Stolzfus; people who cared about other people and took to heart the parable of the good Samaritan; people of deep faith; and, yes, people who sometimes carried guns and hunted.

And like John Stolzfus, when they did a kind deed, they expected no thanks, no money, no further thought about it.

They were just good Americans.

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