Archive for March, 2011


I think I’m finally old enough to officially classify myself as a curmudgeon, if not a full-fledged geezer.  I can’t get through a conversation anymore without using some variant of the phrase, “Back in my day…”  Especially if I’m talking to one of my kids.

Back in my day, if you wanted a car you figured out how to get one.  Yourself.  I didn’t even think about asking my father to buy me a car; he would have injured himself laughing.  That kind of foolishness only happened in rich families.  Back then if a boy wanted a car he’d scrape together a couple hundred bucks any way he could— cutting grass, digging stumps, picking up Coke bottles (back in my day they were glass, returnable for 2 cents a bottle).  You were lucky if there was a grocery store within walking distance where you could sack groceries for tips— usually a quarter.  When you got enough money together you’d buy some old beater that you had to work on all the time just to keep it running, and you…

Amish Rules

One of my Amish cousins passed through here on her way home today (my favorite cousin), and she stopped by to visit for a couple hours.  I noticed she was driving a car, and since there were several Cramers in the room a certain amount of good-natured ribbing naturally ensued.

The conversation evolved into a sort of free-for-all discussion of Amish customs, and the distinctions between one church and another.  The first thing I would mention, for those of you not familiar with Amish rules, is the car.

I’d always understood it to be this way but I never heard anybody put it quite as bluntly as my cousin did when she said, “If you own a car you’re not Amish.”  Even something that sounds so clear cut on the surface is subject to hair-splitting.  For instance, you can be Amish and own a business that owns a car, and you can ride in the company car but you can’t drive it.  You can also have electricity at your place of business, and sometimes computers.  I know Amish who…

Panama— Part 3 (End)

We decide not to eat at the yacht club— “Muy ‘spensive,” Omar says. We cross the bay from the old city to the new over a rock levee at least two miles long and straight as a string, with navigable water on both sides. The levee is man-made, built with a couple million tons of rock, so I ask Omar (somehow) if it was made out of debris from the canal.

“Si,” he says, and then mimes how he used to swim and fish there as a child.

I ask him if he likes to fish and he says, “Si!” We talk around each other for a while and use up a lot of hand gestures before I realize I’m talking about catching fish and Omar’s talking about eating them. By then we’re in the really old city, the rough part of town in the shadow of the new skyscrapers, and Omar’s zipping through a rabbit warren of shabby

Panama— Part 2

Omar is there to meet me at the terminal in Panama City. He’s holding up a sign with my name on it, but I can tell from his grin he’s already picked me out of the crowd and knows he’s got the right gringo. Omar just knows things. He’s a touch stocky for a Panamanian, though nowhere near as big as me, and he smiles a lot— not the obsequious smile of somebody trying to fleece you, but the genuine warmth of a good man who likes his life and is eager to invite you into it. Over the course of the afternoon as he zips in and out of traffic in his ten-year-old economy car giving me the quick tour of Panama City, I glean from his few words of English and my few words of Spanish that he has six kids, four girls and two boys, all grown, and a mess of grandkids. Pointing, gesturing, he tells me he and his wife live just past the Bridge of

Panama— Part 1

Several years ago I escorted a group of teenagers down to Panama for a week or so, helping out at a mission way up in the mountains near Boquete.  The highlands of western Panama is beautiful green country, as hilly as West Virginia, no flat land anywhere, just conical mountains pushed up by magma and over the centuries covered by tropical forest.  Around Boquete there are coffee plantations carved into the hillsides.  The cleared ground between the rows and at the edge of the jungle is solid pink and white with wild impatiens, everywhere you look.  They call it the Valley of the Flowers.

I went along partly as a chaperone, but mainly as an electrician, spending most of my time upgrading the wiring on the missionaries’ houses. In tropical countries the termites rule, so you won’t find a lot of wood in the houses; they’re built with concrete block and steel.  The wiring is atrocious by American standards so I had plenty to do, but I don’t remember much about it.  I do remember the earthquake.  A local…