Iowa Writes

TIM TRENKLE
Amish


A soft-spoken roofing crew of three men dressed in blue stood with knees angled like blue heron. Each bent in the whispering rain, and they talked quietly about the measure and spacing of the tin they molded over old shingles.


"Hey!" One of the men yelled to the ground.


The three peered through the foggy mist to the rough earth below and focused on their footing. Their voices were as gentle as the rain.


"Hey. How are you?"


"Okay," the lanky man responded.


Two wore dark hats that covered their faces as they bent to the new tin. The third hat was straw and it teetered upon its owner's brow and laughing eyes and face that opened like a clearing in a wood; the beard was nine years old now, since the marriage vows, and it shook down to its owner's chest. Each cowl caught the rain.


Old order tongues wagged in a German that stretched out into the hovering cloud cover as if foreign visitors regaled this farm roof north of Dubuque.

A soft-spoken roofing crew of three men dressed in blue stood with knees angled like blue heron. Each bent in the whispering rain, and they talked quietly about the measure and spacing of the tin they molded over old shingles.


"Hey!" One of the men yelled to the ground.


The three peered through the foggy mist to the rough earth below and focused on their footing. Their voices were as gentle as the rain.


"Hey. How are you?"


"Okay," the lanky man responded.


Two wore dark hats that covered their faces as they bent to the new tin. The third hat was straw and it teetered upon its owner's brow and laughing eyes and face that opened like a clearing in a wood; the beard was nine years old now, since the marriage vows, and it shook down to its owner's chest. Each cowl caught the rain.


Old order tongues wagged in a German that stretched out into the hovering cloud cover as if foreign visitors regaled this farm roof north of Dubuque.


"Pennsylvania Dutch," Henry said, and he laughed lightly, a laugh of friendship and introduction.


"School is pretty much all English except one day a week in German."


Henry and his brother David, the man in the straw hat, and Phineas, the youngest, unmarried and therefore clean shaven, all hailed from the Beetown area and lived in an alien and old order of Amish, keeping to that which is simple, or, as Henry said, "plain."


Henry did the transfer work and the measuring, moved up and down the ladder and managed the setting; he acknowledged that he'd rather not lead in conversation but was the oldest and seemed accustomed to his role.


"We make our own clothes," he said. "We have our own store for materials. We'll cut off our own bolts."


Each man wore the same blue cloth. From each belt hung tools, long hammers, and nail pouches. Each a jacket and hat. After moving a ladder, Henry adapted to a smaller, folding ladder that stood at the gutter lip.


"You got a mark?" Henry yelled, remembering to use English, allowing a stranger access to the conversation. "Maybe you'll need one," he yelled skyward.


"No, we don't need a mark. We can just see through this metal." David smiled. Henry picked up the humor and smiled in return.

Disputes?


"That's for parents. Parents usually settle arguments."


A breach, a crisis?


"A minister or someone can come and talk."


Technology? Wisconsin has asked them about implanting computer chips in their livestock.


"It's a mark…we believe it's going that way." A reference to Revelations, the beast. None of the Amish will allow chips.


"Oh, there's a lot of people who don't agree with our way."


Henry stood at the edge of the roof and lifted a twelve foot section of green tin. Mist dabbled upon each man's brow and drew into beads and streams.


"Oh, the horse and buggy, they want to go around us and maybe someone screams at us."


David called from the roof: "Fifty-five-and-a-half inches is your length!"


"That's not your angle," Phineas added.


At a peak, Phineas drilled, and the constant hum competed with a cardinal's singing. A screw dropped and spit as it fell down the new tin.


"I need some wire." Henry spied a length, climbed, and then tied the ladder. A collective harmony moved like trees in wind.


In the end, all measures fit. Henry knelt in the wet grass. David stood at a peak near Phineas, and they cleaned up the roof. Tomorrow Henry will work on his farm and David will be at his furniture shop. Phineas will go to an auction, appraising needs and costs.

During clean up, the rain tapped on the new tin, tapped like an ancient sonata. The men's ethic waited in the silence, applied to the roof, waited with the tests of time.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


TIM TRENKLE

Tim Trenkle writes, "Most of my stories are portraits of Iowans who see neighbors with obstacles and want to help. I write about these common people and am one. I see faith and grit in Iowa. I also teach psychology and writing at a community college and have a column in Dubuque's newspaper. My writing has been published in anthologies of poetry and essays."

This page was first displayed
on July 29, 2009

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