Monthly Archives: August 2010

A private woman has a very public life

Lucille Hastings by Bruce Stambaugh

Books have always played an integral part of Lucille Hastings' life.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For someone who relishes her privacy, Lucille Hastings of Big Prairie, Ohio has led a very public life.

Perhaps that seemingly contradictory situation is because of her love for life long learning. Hastings has had this instinctive drive to share what she learns. In short, contributing personally and professionally to the community at large has been a way of life.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise for someone who has her major life concepts down pat. Her life has revolved around her personal faith and church fellowship, service to others, which includes family, friends and the larger community.

Having lived on a farm for most of her life, she heartily reveres the land as a true gift from God. To accomplish and enjoy all that, she also believes in healthy personal lifestyles.

“I do water aerobics three times a week,” she said. “I need to watch my weight.”

Once she began her own well-researched and devised low carbohydrate diet a dozen years ago, Hastings lost 100 pounds. She has continued to be very careful about what she eats.

“Physical and emotional health are very important,” she related. Hastings said that as much for herself as for the benefit of others.

Hastings is fastidious about everything she does. But some things in life have been out of her control.

Hastings retired in 1992 from West Holmes Local Schools after serving 34 years as the library/media director in charge of the district’s libraries. Since then, she has continued as a part-time educational library/media consultant to the district.

“I retired because Jim retired,” she said, referring to her late husband. He died in 2000. “I miss Jim,” she said wistfully, “but I worked through it.” They had been married for 43 years.

She still lives on the Hastings family farm, which is rented out to an area farmer. The farm’s old barn was burned several years ago when a string of arson fires hit Holmes and surrounding counties.

Lover of the land that she is, Hastings said she marvels at how the agriculture around her has changed over the years. She has a great appreciation for her neighbors.

“The Amish have gradually moved into our area because the land was cheaper,” she said. “They are simply wonderful neighbors.”

With her background in library, it should come as no surprise that she considers herself a very organized person. She attributes that trait to enabling her to be of service to the larger community.

“Services like libraries, schools and churches happen because people make them happen,” Hastings said. “They just don’t happen by themselves.” Given her life long service to the surrounding community, Hastings clearly has done her best to improve those services for the community at large.

Here is a sampling of the many positions in which Hastings has served. She was president of the State Library Board of Ohio. She served on the Holmes County Library board for 16 years, 10 of which she was president. She was chairperson of the Ohio Reading Circle board for 16 years. That volunteer position allowed her to donate $350,000 worth of Reading Circle books to the county and local school libraries.

Hastings is a member of the Ohio Director of Agriculture’s 12-person advisory committee for administration of Ohio’s $25 million Clean Air/Clean Water Fund for Farmland Preservation.

She was the first woman president of the Holmes County Farm Bureau, and she is the only woman Sunday school teacher at her church. She has taught Sunday school for 60 years, and she is chairperson of the Mission Ministry at Ripley Church of Christ. She was a member of the Holmes County board of elections for eight years.

Hastings good works haven’t gone unnoticed. She has been dooly recognized for her many efforts. She received the Martha Holden Jennings Outstanding Teacher Award in 1974. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year Hastings received the Outstanding Alumni Award from Kent State University, where she received her Master of Arts Degree.

Hastings has two sons. Joel lives in Dallas, Texas, and Sidney resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I feel like I have been blessed,” she said. “I have had some unique opportunities.” And because she made the most of those chances, the community has reaped the benefits.

That’s what happens when life long learning is generously and graciously shared.

This article appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, August 30, 2010.

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Directions of a different sort

Buggies at Mt. Hope by Bruce Stambaugh

Buggies tied at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope in the heart of Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Word to the wise. If you ask for directions in Holmes County, Ohio, you just might want to get a second or even third opinion. Better yet, use a map, atlas, a GPS or a combination of those geographical aides.

Here’s why. With three to four million visitors to our fine county every year, some of them get lost, or at least do not know exactly where they are. Shoot. Some might not even know where they want to go.

Coming and going by Bruce Stambaugh

Wagons come and go during the oats harvest in Holmes County, Ohio.

But given what I have observed and heard over the years, that’s not a problem either. The genial folks who live here will gladly offer some directional advice if asked.

Generally, the directions given answer the directions sought. But not always. Holmes County has its fair share of ornery characters.

Of course, I wouldn’t be one of them, though living where I do I certainly have had plenty of chances. While working outside, it is not uncommon for a car to slow on our busy highway and have either a passenger or the driver ask how to get to Berlin or Millersburg, or a specific business.

I try to be as succinct as possible, using landmarks and road numbers and the appropriate “turn right” or “turn left.” I like to end with what I have heard countless other locals finish their directional spiel. “Like we say in Holmes County, you can’t miss it.”

Goldfinch by Bruce Stambaugh

An American Goldfinch enjoys the fresh seeds of a volunteer sunflower. With its many habitats, birds are among the tourists who flock to Holmes County every year.

Meant as affable words of encouragement, too often I fear they are the deathblow to everything that preceded that comment. Since I never see the persons again, I can’t testify whether the colloquialism is true or not. But it could be worse, and sometimes is. The following antidotal incidents are completely true.

After a tourist inquired of a local where a certain person lived, the native immediately asked in all seriousness, “Do you know where the eight-sided barn used to be?” The point of reference had burned to the ground several years previous.

Here’s another. A tourist asked for directions to little unincorporated Saltillo, a cluster of homes at the diagonal crossroads of two county highways. These were the instructions. “You go up a long hill, over a small hump in the road, then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from there.”

They get better. The state superintendent of public instruction, driving a state car with state license plates, stopped and asked for directions. Seeing the distinguished gentleman’s suit and tie and glancing at the plates, the unsuspecting superintendent got directions that took him far out of his way. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor and understood the county’s suspicions towards state and federal officials.

A friend of mine was standing on the square in Millersburg when someone in a car going west asked directions to Berlin, five miles to the east. My friend sent them north to Wooster, east to Canton, south to Dover and west to Berlin, a distance of 96 miles.

Baling hay by Bruce Stambaugh

Millions of tourist visit Holmes County's Amish country annually to see the Amish work in the fields.

The same friend was once asked for directions from Millersburg to Mohawk Dam in Coshocton County from someone from out of the area. The vehicle was pulling a fishing boat.

My friend figured someone was sending this poor fellow on a wild goose chase. Since the guy had driven this far, my friend figured he might as well complete the ruse. The proper directions were given and the man and his boat were on their way.

Mohawk Dam is a flood-control, dry dam. I’m sure they couldn’t have missed it.

August sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

A glowing August sunset in Holmes County's Amish country.

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Vivian Miller offers compassion through cards and visits

By Bruce Stambaugh

After the doctor informed Vivian Miller, 68, four years ago that she had Parkinson’s disease, he asked how she felt about the diagnosis.

Miller didn’t flinch. She mustered up her usual pluck and said, “It’s not going to put me in a corner someplace.” Indeed it hasn’t.

In the time since, Miller has spent her life quietly helping others.

“It’s not about me,” she said modestly. “God uses me as an encouragement and support for others.”

Miller, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, intentionally looks for those in need, though she clearly tries to be subtle and discreet. If she finds out about someone with health or personal problems, Miller doesn’t hesitate to help, even if it’s simply by sending a homemade card.

She uses a software program to create personally appropriate cards. Miller often incorporates a picture of the person or herself into the card’s design.

Vivian Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Vivian Miller enjoys making personalized cards for people.

When she was unable to go on a cruise with her Sunday School class, Miller knew what to do. Instead of being envious, she made a welcome home card for each member. On the front of the card was the picture of the cruise ship on which the group had sailed.

“I wanted them to have a special memento from their trip,” Miller said.

That statement pretty well sums up Miller’s approach to life. Her doctor told her she would do well with that positive attitude, and Miller has. Miller said it really boils down to a pretty fundamental formula.

“It’s about listening to others,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and all you need to do is listen.”

Miller retired as a deputy director in the Holmes County Treasurer’s office in 2006. She had also worked in the office at Rodhe’s IGA in Millersburg for several years.

“From my vantage point in the office, I would see the same people come into the store over and over,” she said. “They usually just wanted someone to talk to.”

“I try to see the goodness in people,” Miller said, “no matter what their situation is.”

Miller credits her term as a deaconess at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church with giving her the courage and opportunities to be in a helping mode. She did hospital visits and checked in on the less mobile.

Miller looks for every possible way to help and to meet new people. She even works at the polls at times to help expand her circle of friends.

Miller especially has sought out others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She explained that support, no matter what the issue, is critical for quality of life.

According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a motor systems disorder, which is the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.

Often times the onset of Parkinson’s is due to surgery or a head injury. In Miller’s case, she noticed the symptoms after a series of unrelated surgeries following her retirement.

For Miller, the disease has affected her left side. She discretely calms her left arm with her right hand and continues her conversation. That in itself is a physical sign of the inner awareness that Miller has. She is determined to share her compassion no matter what.

“Sometimes people seek me out,” Miller said, “and sometimes I go to them.”

Each situation is different, and Miller tries her best to be mindful of that. Miller just takes her illness in stride.

“Now it’s my turn to help,” she said. “Some of my best friends have come as the result of just being with families in need.”

Strident comforter that she is to others, Miller recognizes that she, too, needs support to do what she does. Miller credits her husband, Duane, and adult children, Valerie Gerber of Sugarcreek, and Scott Miller of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with providing the emotional and physical uplifting that she needs to maintain her active and involved pace.

“Duane has been wonderful,” she said, “and Valerie calls me everyday.” Her son sent her a laptop computer while she had an extended stay in the hospital. In part, that gift is what led to Miller’s practice of designing, printing and sending the personalized cards.

“I have been blessed by everyone I have met,” Miller said. Most likely, the recipients of her kindness could say the same thing about her.

This article was initially published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.

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From every angle, August is golden

Golden sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

Hazy sunsets in Amish country are the norm in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

These are what I call August’s golden days. If I only referenced orangey sunrises and the hazy, citrus sunsets, that moniker would apply.

August is so much more than lovely solar appearances and disappearances. It is always full of golden moments that make golden memories.

I realize my reflections are provincial. In a world full of disease, disaster, dismay and hostilities, not all would share my august perspectives. However, I cannot deny what I have observed and experienced in this transitional month in Amish country.

In calling August golden, I mean to take the broadest definition possible. Everywhere you turn, deep, rich yellows and golds appear. August is golden, too, in that it is good, providing success and satisfaction as the harvesting begins.

Mowing oats by Bruce Stambaugh

Mowing and stacking the oats into shocks is the first step in the harvesting process for the Amish.

August is usually a hot month in most of the northern hemisphere. Even the poor people in Moscow, Russia, where temperatures have seemed more like Dallas, Texas, have been especially suffering.

True to form, hot and humid have been the bywords in Ohio, too. Those who have had to work out in these blazing elements would argue for sizzling and sultry as better descriptors. But no matter how we describe the daily dog days of August, the benefits surely outweigh the negatives, no matter how muggy.

Coming and going by Bruce Stamabugh

One wagon heads to the barn while the other returns to the field to be loaded again.

My Amish neighbor’s circle of friends purposefully gathers the air-dried, ripened oat shocks wagonload after wagonload. Their water thermos got a workout, too. With their cooperative efforts, the impressive stand of honey-colored sheaves had disappeared by day’s end.

I always find it a miracle that once the sea of grain is cut and shocked, a carpet of bright green immediately replaces it. The hardy clover thrives all the more once it has the ground to itself.

There are other kinds of gold in August, too. The Incredible sweet corn arrives almost simultaneously with the transparent apples. It’s husking, cutting, cooking and freezing corn one day, making tartly sweet applesauce the next.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Heirloom tomatoes ripen on the vine.

The growth of the heirloom tomato plants my wife and son planted in late May is so
prolific, the plant runners get tied daily. Their yellow, red and green-striped fruit add to the festivities.

House wren by Bruce Stambaugh

A house wren leaves the nest after feeding her brood.

The noisy tan house wrens worked frantically to satisfy their last brood of the summer. Their hungry youngsters consumed an amazing amount of worms, caterpillars and insects.

When the little ones began to greet their parents at the entrance to their birthplace, it’s nearly time for them to fly. In our case, the babies were there before church, but not when we got home. The grandsons and I found them learning to forage and hide in the brush pile under the pines near the hammock where other golden moments were made.

Monarch and swallowtail butterflies joined the goodness of the month as they enjoyed the nectar of the milkweed and wild and domestic flowers. Both the black and yellow-billed cuckoo birds announced their arrivals as the tent caterpillars hatched.

The much publicized but often under performing Perseid meteor showers still managed to send enough bright streaks though the new moon sky to extend the month’s goldenness 24/7.

Next week the full moon will strut its stuff, casting a golden glow across landscapes, rural and urban alike. Ready or not, summer vacation has yielded to elongated yellow buses and excited, golden voices of children beginning a new school year.

All things considered, August is a positively golden time of year.

Hammock fun by Bruce Stambaugh

Playing on a hammock in the cool shade serves as a diversion from the August heat and humidity.

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Quaking aspen haiku

Against lazy clouds
and sapphire sky, emeralds
silently quiver.

Bruce Stambaugh
August 18, 2010

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Revitalization weekend at the cottage

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been an unusually stressful week for me. You would think that in semi-retirement, stress wouldn’t even be in my vocabulary. But it is.

Without going into the sordid details, here is a sampling of the week’s chain of events that had sent me over the top by Friday’s end. My six-year old grandson got whacked in the face with a metal baseball bat. The next evening, his daddy severely injured his right knee rounding first base in a softball game.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh

Our 10-month old granddaughter, Maren.

The following day our daughter reported that our 10-month old granddaughter’s first tooth finally had broken through. In and of itself, that was a good thing. However, Miss Maren was still pretty cranky, with other teeth ready to make their appearance.

Other nerve-racking events oozed into our normally quiet lives in Ohio’s Amish country, too. For confidential reasons, I won’t reveal the nasty details, other than to say one of the logjams required a plunger.

Clearly you can see that the weekend getaway to our cottage was just what the plumber needed. It was the necessary salve to my pent up emotional sores.

First of all, my wife and I feel fortunate to have the cottage my parents built in 1975. We purchased it from them a couple of years ago and finished it the way my mother had always envisioned it would be.

The cottage’s location alone has several advantages. Its rural hillside setting on the natural shoreline lake is the most obvious. Having good neighbors who own other nearby cabins is another.

The cottage by Bruce Stambaugh

Our cottage retreat in southeast Ohio.

But the cottage makes for an ideal sanctuary for other reasons. We have no landline. Cell phone reception is marginal at best. There is no television, no email, no Internet. Other than electricity, the cottage is the epitome of electronic reclusiveness.

Right after we arrived Saturday morning, we went to work cleaning up inside and out. Though the cottage was locked up tight and unused for a couple of weeks, insects not surprisingly managed to make themselves at home. My wife soon took care of that.

Meanwhile, I donned gloves and pruners and attacked the weeds with a mission. That’s no easy task on a steep slope that falls away quickly to the graveled lane below. But just being out in the fresh air was invigorating, and the exercise personally beneficial.

The real blessings came at the marvelous supper my wife prepared. We ate the tasty meal on the open-air deck.

For dessert, we simply sat on the porch and watched and listened. Cicadas intermittently sang their monotonous song. Colorful butterflies enjoyed the sweet fragrance of various wildflower blossoms.

Butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh

A tiger swallowtail butterfly enjoyed a variety of wildflowers.

A Carolina wren serenaded us with its luscious calls. Chickadees and tufted titmice played and fed in the surrounding mixed hardwoods. Cardinals sounded their evening songs. A great blue heron grunted from water’s edge, hidden by the forest curtain.

A gentle breeze rustled the nervous leaves of a quaking aspen. Human induced sounds intruded, too. We have accepted the fact that lawnmowers, weed eaters, shouting children, dogs barking in the distance are all part of the cottage life at times.

Altogether this harmonic mishmash of sights and sounds must have worked its magic. I slept 11 hours that night.

With those revitalizing results, we should embrace the cottage’s graciousness more often.

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Abigail Troyer experienced a shakeup of plans

Abigail Troyer by Bruce Stambaugh

Abigail Troyer of Sugarcreek, Ohio showed of the T-shirt signed by each member of the Heart to Heart International team she assisted in the Haiti earthquake.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When the earth roared like thunder, everything changed for young Abigail Troyer.

The 19-year old rural Sugarcreek woman was in Haiti visiting a friend who worked at a home for poor girls in Leogane, a city of 120,000. When the massive earthquake hit on January 12, Troyer’s vacation turned into a spontaneous mission trip.

With the frightening sound and incredible shaking her first thought was to exit the food storage building she was in. Troyer said she was able to stay on her feet to get out. But once outside she had to crawl on her hands and knees due to the fierce shaking.

“After the shaking stopped, I couldn’t believe it really happened,” Troyer said. “I wasn’t hurt, but I was emotionally spent.”

Troyer said she huddled with the staff and girls in the compound of the school, which is operated by Blue Ridge Missions, headquartered in Montgomery, Indiana. The school helps poor girls with education, hygiene and basic life skills.

Troyer said one of the problems was that the tremblers kept coming every five to 10 minutes, and she wondered when they would quit. Fortunately, no one at the school was seriously hurt, although the buildings and protective concrete wall were severely damaged. Troyer said it could have been much worse, too. She said several of the girls were delayed in going into a building that was destroyed.

“It was scary, especially at night,” Troyer said. “Outside in the streets it was chaos.” Fortunately, the school had a generator, which was run periodically to provide some light for security.

“We also had a couple of guard dogs that protected us,” she said. “Some men from Blue Ridge Missions arrived via the Dominican Republic five days later.” All that time, the staff and schoolgirls slept outside on mats and blankets, Troyer said.

Troyer has worked as a graphic designer at Carlisle Printing in Walnut Creek for two years. But her real ambition is to go to college to become a Registered Nurse.
Little did Troyer know that she would get some first-hand nursing experience before she left for Haiti last New Year’s Eve. But several days after the quake, she got recruited to help the injured.

An aid organization called Heart to Heart International, based in Kansas City, Kansas, sent medical personnel to assist with the multitude of injuries caused by the quake. In searching for a place to locate, members of the group came upon the girls’ school.

“Heart to Heart set up a temporary hospital in the neighborhood,” Troyer explained, “and since we had water from a well, they did their laundry at the compound.”

Once she saw what Heart to Heart was doing, she volunteered her services. Troyer assisted with the injured, and boxed medical supplies for the nurses and doctors.

“I helped clean wounds and wrapped bandages for six days,” Troyer said. “It was amazing to see the wounds heal in that amount of time.” She said she worked with the nurses and doctors six to eight hours a day.

“Originally I went there for a vacation,” she said. “Helping like that wasn’t what we had planned, like shopping, which of course didn’t happen.

Troyer did manage a few souvenirs, just not the ones she had imagined before she left Ohio. A favorite is the colorful flag of Haiti in the form of a scarf. Another is a T-shirt signed by all the Heart to Heart staff with whom she worked.

Troyer has plenty of pictures that she is more than happy to share. Since her return, she has given several programs at area churches about her experiences.

Laurie Mast, whose sister, Emily, works at the mission school, accompanied Troyer on the trip. They were able to return to Ohio on February 1 by way of the airport in the Dominican Republic.

This vacation trip turned volunteer nurses’ aid was an experience Troyer will never forget. Furthermore, Troyer indicated that it has greatly enhanced her vision of becoming a nurse. With her confidence, courage and assertive approach to life, that aspiration is pretty certain to happen.

For information about Troyer sharing her experiences in Haiti, contact her at abigailnicoletroyer@yahoo.com.

This article first appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, August 9, 2010.

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The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh

The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh

Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh

Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

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Confronting life’s unpredictable perils

wading in surf by Anna Bishop

Wading in the North Carolina surf. (Photo by Anna Bishop)

By Bruce Stambaugh

Within hours of one another, I received three divergent yet emotional messages about grandchildren.

The first came after I had changed my profile picture on Facebook to a shot of my middle grandchild celebrating his fourth birthday. The picture showed Davis heartily laughing in front of his makeshift birthday cake.

The four candles signifying his age burned as bright as his smile. The candles were securely stuck in a row in the thick, chocolate frosting of a cream stick that Nana and I had bought at a local Amish bakery before leaving Ohio.

Davis' fourth birthday by Bruce Stambaugh

A cream stick for a birthday cake.

It was a fun time, with the family finally gathered for his birthday. It was the first one we had celebrated with Davis. Texas was just too hot and we always seemed to be extra-busy in the middle of July.

But now that Davis and his family had moved to Virginia, we made sure we were there with and for him. The message about all this was from his mother, my daughter, asking for the pictures from the party. I had yet to share them with her. She loved the shot and wanted to see the rest.

When I checked my Facebook page in the morning, I found a disturbing and extremely sad posting by the son of a friend of mine. His sister’s newborn daughter had died right after birth.

I shared the sad news with my wife. We are close friends with the expectant grandparents. This baby would have been their first grandchild, one they had so longed for and had happily anticipated.

Now all expectation of playful days ahead had been dashed. I couldn’t imagine how devastated they must feel. I felt guilty for having three healthy grandchildren.

Their daughter lived in Indiana and I knew they would be with her. What could I do to offer my deepest sympathies, to reach out to them in their time of need?

While I struggled with this dilemma, I received an email containing the weekly column of a friend and writing peer in Virginia. He had written about his vacation with his grandchildren and included a picture of him wading in the ocean, a towheaded granddaughter tugging on one arm, a brown-haired grandson on the other as the foamy surf broke upon them.

It was clear that both grandchildren hung on to their grandfather in trust and love as the soft, warm waves crashed against them. I was happy for him, sad for my other friends, and conflicted about being able to reconcile these seemingly disconnected incidents.

Grandparents are supposed to be wise and loving and adored. My friend’s picture clearly revealed those dynamics. But we also know that there are times when life simply isn’t fair and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I hope and pray that my three grandchildren will grow and prosper and live lives of service to humanity. I am deeply distraught that my friends Bruce and Helen cannot now say the same thing for their granddaughter.

I am sure many of their friends will reach out to this fine couple in their grief. When I get the chance, though, I will pretend we are at the shore, standing knee-deep in the churning surf, readying for life’s perilous waves to come crashing against us, Helen clasping one arm, Bruce the other, trusting and loving.

At this mournful moment, that is all I can offer.
Seaside sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

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Weatherwax lends a helping hand

By Bruce Stambaugh

Jill Weatherwax, 59, of Glenmont, Ohio likes to lend a helping hand whenever she can.

Weatherwax, who by day works at Rice-Chadwick Rubber Company in Killbuck, spends several evenings each month helping others feel better. She provides reflexology treatments for residents at area retirement and nursing homes.

Weatherwax has been offering her services to seniors for a dozen years now. In fact, she specifically focuses on the elderly for a personal reason.

“I got into this because I missed my grandparents, Bob and Sally Allison,” the petite woman said. “I felt a void without them around.”

Jill Weatherwax by Bruce Stambaugh

Jill Weatherwax provided reflexology treatments for Esther Miller, a resident of Walnut Hills Retirement Home in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

Weatherwax has easily filled the void all these years with her gentle touches. She is careful to differentiate what she does from that of massage therapy.

Reflexology is considered a complementary touch therapy. Weatherwax gently, but firmly, works with the hands and feet of senior residents at Majora Lane Nursing Home, Sycamore Run Nursing Home, both in Millersburg, and Walnut Hills Retirement Home, Walnut Creek.

Residents who receive her treatments report relief from pain, stiffness, and other maladies.

“I like it because I can sleep better,” Esther Miller said. Miller is a resident at Walnut Hills Retirement Home and said she looks forward to the helpful visits by Weatherwax.

Weatherwax said it is not unusual for residents to report such extended advantages to the reflexology treatments.

“Relaxing the hands and feet improves the circulation,” she said. “Consequently, the entire body is relaxed, which is why some people report being able to sleep better.”

Her visits, which are paid for by the facilities and offered to the residents free of charge, are regularly scheduled at each location. She said she visits Majora Lane twice a week, Sycamore Lane weekly, and Walnut Hills every other week. And she does so after completing her daytime shift at Rice-Chadwick, where she has worked for 33 years.

“I am on my feet for eight-hours a day,” Weatherwax said. “So I know how important taking care of your hands and feet is.”

Weatherwax, who is certified to offer the reflexology services, said that before she works on residents, she gives the facilities’ administrators the opportunity to experience her treatments. That way they know exactly what is happening when she is there, she said.

“After my grandparents passed on, I asked God to do something to help me fill the void,” she said. After the third time of having her own hands and feet treated by a reflexology therapist, she realized she could provide the same services.

She said she knew such services were not offered in the area. “People don’t want to handle other people’s feet,” she said. “But I feel called to do it.”

According to the Farber Family Foundation, reflexology is a unique method of using the thumb and fingers on reflex areas in the feet and hands that correspond to all of the glands, organs and part of the body to elicit areas of potential or actual disorder. Pressure applied to the reflex points promotes better blood flow and nerve impulses, along with other physiological benefits.

Weatherwax began at Majora Lane, and then reached out to the other retirement centers. She actually finds the sessions therapeutic herself.

“The therapy works both ways,” Weatherwax said. “I get to listen to them while I work on their hands and feet, and they get to listen to me.”

“You need to be in tune with the person you are working with,” she said. “You have to be compassionate for each situation. If not, you are going to hurt them.”

Weatherwax’s gentle touch, soft-spoken approach and years of experience help provide positive results for many area seniors. That’s what helping hands are meant to do.

This article first appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, Ohio, August 2, 2010.

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