Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Sad Story

My grandpa, Adam Miller, was killed when I was a year old; I’ve always known that. [Or wait. Was it Becky that was just over a year old and I was 3 or 4 months? I need to ask Mom.] He was driving a team of horses and a grain wagon down the road not far from his home near Kalona, Iowa, when a young man came roaring up behind him, way too fast, and hit the back of the wagon. Grandpa was thrown out into the ditch and killed instantly.

And that’s about all I remembered. Mom would refer to this incident sometimes but I don’t remember her ever telling it in great detail.

But recently, in the odd way that stories sometimes have of bubbling to the surface after 40-some years, I’ve heard about this from two other perspectives. And found it very interesting, and very sad.

When we were in Iowa in September, Aunt Vina told Rebecca that now that she lives near Harrisonburg, Virginia, she needs to look up Allie.

Allie and her husband Glenn lived down a long lane back somewhere behind Aunt Vina’s and Uncle Mahlon’s houses, as I recall. Glenn passed away a few years ago, and now Allie lives in Virginia and Rebecca needs to look her up, said Vina.

So Rebecca did, and had a wonderful time talking with this very lively and interesting woman. Allie recalled an old photo of all the teachers in the Kalona area, and both she and my dad were on it. And then she told Rebecca how she had been the first on the scene when my grandpa was killed and of course had the task of calling for help, an interesting detail that I had never known and wouldn’t have thought to ask.

Aunt Vina called me this morning to ask about getting some books. She said she had just gotten a letter from Rebecca telling about her visit with Allie. “Rebecca told me about that,” I said, “and how Allie was the first one there when Grandpa was killed.”

Well. That got Vina started, and within five minutes I knew more about that accident than I had known all my life.

It was a load of soybeans that Grandpa was hauling, and it was around suppertime, so I assume he was headed home to eat. (The soybeans spilled all over the road, Vina said, making it as treacherous as ice, so they had to stop all the traffic until it was cleaned up.)

Aunt Clara, Mahlon’s wife, was in the hospital very sick after a hysterectomy, so Art and Vina were going to go visit her. But you couldn’t take children into a hospital so Vina got the boys ready and was going to take them to Grandpa and Grandma’s.

But as she headed toward their house she saw a terrible commotion on the road up ahead. Then she saw Grandpa’s team of horses tied to the fence and sensed what was up. She walked over and found out what had happened and went to the house to tell her mom.

It was in October, and Grandma had just finished making supper, including a batch of late sweet corn from the garden. Vina told her what had happened and Grandma took off out the door and down the lane, [I can just see this] and Vina could hardly keep up.

At the scene, Grandma insisted that she wanted to see her husband, so they allowed her to. And I think what happened next is about the saddest part of this story: Grandma took off her apron and covered Grandpa with it.

Later, my two uncles went to visit the young driver. He was afraid they were going to sue him, but they assured him they only wanted him to mend his ways. I don’t know if he ever served prison time or not. Vina said for a long time afterward he avoided that road, going clear around through Wellman to get to Iowa City. But then one day he did go to Kalona, and he had an accident, and was killed.

A sad story, all around.

I'm so glad I had the chance to know my funny, feisty grandma. I wish I could have known my grandpa. I have a vague conception of a composite of my uncles, but nothing I can really visualize.


  1. My grandpa died when I was a month old, exactly. My mom was divorced at the time and had been divorced for some time. I am your age, and back then it was rather a stigma to have a child out of wedlock, so she debated giving me up for adoption. But she just couldn't bring herself to do it. Shortly after I was born, she smuggled me into the hospital so Grandpa could see me.

    I missed knowing my Grandpa too. I painted his portrait from a picture though, when Mom was giving my daughter and I and a few friends oil painting classes, and I got to learn all kinds of things about my grandpa as Mom reminisced. I have also always kept my ears open for stories over the years. I, too, see him in my uncles. I'm sure that If I met him on the street, I would know who he was!!

  2. Sad story indeed! Especially the last part. The young man should have stopped driving altogether I think.

  3. Allie is truly a wonderful, lively and vivacious lady! She was my teacher in a one room country school from grade 1 -8, and her husband Glen was my Kindergarten teacher.

  4. I am loving the vignettes you give of your extended family, because I find out I know them! I have been one of those silent lurkers--a faithful one--to your blog ever since my aunt forwarded me your writings over Steven's adoption.
    But, since I read of and saw the photos of your visit to Kalona and saw you in Lavina's kitchen and read she is your aunt, I feel like I have got to come out and tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts and feel like I know you!

    I grew up hearing the names Art and Lavina and it was always with lots of warmth, love, and excitement! My father and Art were best of friends as Kauffman cousins and then their wives became wonderful friends. Whenever we got together there was always LOTS of laughter and fun. Our visits to Kalona to Art's were few but packed with fond memories. And your little grandma was a figure in those visits, too, since she lived with them those last years. Art's death was really hard on both my parents. My parents and Lavina got together some in FL last winter and I felt a bit jealous I couldn't have been with them at least a few hours! How I would love to reconnect with Lavina and Charles, Nelson and Merlin.

  5. Thanks for sharing this story Dorcas! I had never heard most of this. So sad!

    Diane Yutzy

  6. Interesting.

    One thing to note also is the way in which the Amish-Mennos grieve after a violent death or tragedy as compared to mainstream.

    One of my first memories that I still remember is of your grandma's funeral at the Grove City church. I must have been a toddler because I was being carried by someone in a long line up to a box of sorts. I remember being in wonder at the solemnity and the long line of people. I whispered into the ear of who was likely an aunt who was carrying me, "Who is in there." To which I got the response, "Dah, Amos Sarah ida Mom."
    When did your grandma die?

  7. esp-paz: my grandma died in 1977, when I was 15. She had lived with us the previous year. Interesting that you remember her funeral.