A Simple Promise




Lester Yoder is anxious. It’s been more than a week since he spoke to Millie and she told him the best letter ever would soon be coming his way.

Quietly working away, Lester sheepishly glances out his shop window, hoping for a sign from his friend Perry, signaling today’s mail will deliver the long awaited promise. Still far down the lane with the mail in hand, Perry doesn’t reveal a clue as he strides – head down, his expression well covered up by a large black cowboy hat.

I was first introduced to Lester and Perry at JB’s restaurant in Miles City, Montana where I was meeting rancher, Dave Bliss. A Long Island, NY transplant, Dave headed his compass west 40 some years ago with the belief that ranch life was the only life for him. Rounding the bend into his 60’s now, Dave still carries his lanky frame with a purpose – albeit a bit bowed by time, he wears his age well.

As I joined up with this unlikely threesome, I learned I’d be giving Lester and Perry a ride back to their Amish community in nearby Ashland, Montana as I made my way to the Bliss Ranch. And so it was that I first befriended these two amiable young lads and in doing so, was graced with a touch of serendipity during my westward travels.

The Yoder family came to Montana from their Wisconsin home when Lester was just a boy. After 13 years, the family opted to return to the warmth of an Up North winter in lieu of the routine arctic blast commonly experienced in this high plains country. But, the love of horses and the open range would not relinquish their hold on Lester and so he stayed on. As the first Amish custom saddle maker, Lester is carving out a unique niche for himself, crafting beautiful pieces of art that are quietly being collected by cowboys from across the United States.

“It’s the creative part that pushes me. I can sit down, draw patterns and work with the leather for hours,” Lester says while sniping away at the lambs wool backing for a new saddle. He’s focused now, there seems to be an urgency – a rhythm to his work and thoughts of Millie, are for this very moment at least, visibly removed.

Outside, a brisk wind blows, relieving the late fall leaves from a nearby Aspen tree . . . Lester stops and looks as Perry approaches, but says nothing as he opens the door.

Perry Hochstetler is Lester’s roommate and best friend. He’s the joker, always fronting a big smile that matches his face well. He grins at Lester upon entering and begins talking about what the two should do for dinner. Lester will have none of it.

This moment is about Millie’s letter and it has, at long last arrived.

A soft spoken man with large hands and piercing blue eyes, Lester can barely contain his excitement. His countenance is now duly transformed into that of an 8 year old on Christmas morning. Lester and Millie began dating two years ago while he was visiting his family in Wisconsin. He’s trying to find the right words to describe what makes her so special, but they fall short. Picking up the letter “ooh, that’s heavy,” he smiles. Taking a knife from the work bench, Lester gently slides the blade taking extra care not to tear anything but the seam of the envelope.

Perry, his job now complete, turns himself to the remainder of the mail – while I sit watching Lester, first breathe in each page of Millie’s letter before partaking of her words.

As Lester immersed himself in Millie’s letter, a faint smile came to his face and then he stopped . . . everything. He stopped reading, stopped moving – hell, I swear he almost stopped breathing. And his smile turned into a glow, that grew and warmed the entire room.

Three months have since passed as I sat there watching Lester and I can still feel the fullness of his love for Millie.

A simple promise was delivered that day.

The love of his life awaits him. Come this spring, Lester Yoder will wait no more.

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