The pleasure and perils of driving in Amish country

Red barn white house by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Driving in Amish Country is usually pleasurable and relaxing until the unexpected happens. A couple of recent experiences served as reminders of both the dangers and the benefits of traversing the winding, hilly highways in Holmes County.

A friend of mine, Glenda, and I recently each experienced amazingly similar situations only days apart. We each came away from our separate but comparable incidents feeling bathed in the beauty of humanity’s best behavior.

Glenda was on her way to her office when she came upon a buggy accident only seconds after it had happened. The buggy was crumpled, the horse lay injured in the roadway, and a young Amish woman was seriously hurt.

Glenda said everything happened in a whirl. Someone called 911 while she tended to Katie, the injured buggy passenger. Others came to settle the horse, releasing it from the tangled wreckage, getting it to a safe place and calling a vet.

The ambulance arrived, and transported Katie to the hospital. Glenda continued on the way to her office, wondering how the young girl would be.

Open buggy by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amish enjoy riding in their open buggies on pleasant days.

The following Sunday evening it was my turn. A friend had just arrived at our home for a visit when we heard a muffled crunch, followed by curdling screams of despair. We rushed to the front of our home to watch a horse bolt away, harnesses wildly whipping along the pavement.

A young Amish woman was slumped on the ground in front of a damaged buggy. Blood gushed from her forehead. John, our visitor, was a registered nurse and rushed to the girl’s aid. My wife retrieved towels from the house to help control the girl’s bleeding, and I called 911 on my cell phone.

Neighbors who had also heard the girl’s cries came running from every direction to help. Some brought blankets. Others lit flares to warn approaching traffic of danger on the other side of the hill. John continued to control the bleeding, and reassured the girl, whose name was Ellen.

A wave of bicycles all ridden by young Amish girls glided over the hillcrest. They had been with Ellen at a gathering, and retraced their path when they recognized her runaway horse. They came to see what had happened to their friend.

A few minutes later a pickup rolled up and out jumped Ellen’s parents and siblings. Someone had told them about the accident and they arrived to console their daughter. In addition, a passerby had corralled the horse and taken it to a neighboring farm. All this and the ambulance had yet to arrive.

Fortunately, Ellen was alert and with the bleeding stopped, she became more coherent and said the horse simply spooked. Unlike the accident Glenda happened upon, no other vehicle was involved.

Once the rescue squad arrived, treated and transported Ellen, the scene quieted dramatically. Our neighbors offered a flat trailer to haul away the damaged buggy. It was loaded and transported home. In a few minutes, the pickup returned the borrowed trailer.

The scene soon cleared after that, and we returned to visiting with John as if nothing had happened. Yet much had.

In both trauma situations, good citizens arrived to do what they could. What could have been very tragic instead turned humanitarian spontaneously.

As these two examples reveal, the beauty of driving in Amish Country isn’t always found in the scenery. The compassion of its citizens can outshine any pastoral vista.

Walking a very special walk

By Bruce Stambaugh

To be honest, it wasn’t a walk I thought I would ever make, especially just five weeks out from my robotic prostate surgery.

But when my friend, Kim, a prostate cancer survivor himself, suggested we participate in the Survivor’s Walk at the recent Relay for Life rally for Holmes County, Ohio, I couldn’t say no. I knew I needed to be there. Kim’s encouragement gave me courage.

However, Kim and I each had our own personal reservations about walking. I guess I just hadn’t fully comprehended the meaning of being a survivor while so many others struck with the dreadful disease could no longer say that. Walking together was an incentive to get involved.

When I learned that he, too, hesitated, I relaxed and realized that it was all right to be uncertain. My good wife, who has been an incredible companion throughout my journey with prostate cancer, went along, too.

Though ever supportive of the cause, I had never attended a Relay for Life gathering. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought you had to be part of a team to help raise funds. I was wrong.

When we arrived at the high school football stadium, it looked more like a small tent city. We registered at the survivor’s tent, which just happened to be the largest one there. That should have been a big hint to me.

Other tents hosted auction items, groups, games, sponsors, organizations and several cancer information stations. Still others were for campers who intended to overnight for the 18-hour event.

We found a place in the bleachers opposite the main stage. The co-coordinators reviewed the program schedule for those assembled, and the entertainment committee did their job well. They humorously energized us.

After the relay teams, all attired in color-coordinated T-shirts, were announced, the survivors took to the track. Survivor supporters could also walk if they wanted.

Blue Cure by Bruce Stambaugh
Kim Kellogg (right) and I wore our Blue Cure T-shirts in the Survivor's Walk at the Holmes Co. Relay for Life held recently.

Kim and I, both dressed in our Blue Cure T-shirts, began the walk near the front of the line. The Blue Cure Foundation (www.BlueCure.com) was founded to specifically bring awareness about prostate cancer.

As we began our walk, emotion stirred within. Soon though smiles replaced any doubts we had. Just ahead of us, a man pushed an older woman in a wheelchair. Scores of people lined the sides of the oval track and clapped and boisterously cheered us on.

I looked back, and was shocked to see so many people behind us. I told Kim that for a small-populated, rural county, there were a lot of cancer survivors. We guessed this group represented only a fraction of those affected by some sort of cancer.

Our encouragers included young children, senior citizens, strangers and friends. Yet we were all there for the same reason. We wanted to do something to find a cure, and I concluded that walking the walk I never thought I would make was the least I could do.

As we approached the finish line, the horizon darkened. A rainbow appeared, not in the sky, but on the field. The array of colors was itself bathed in an overarching purple, the universal color designated for every kind of cancer.

This walk I was initially hesitant to make turned out to be one I would not wanted to have missed. In this fight against cancer, none of us were walking alone.

I am my father’s son

By Bruce Stambaugh

My son has been trying not so subtly to tell me this for a long time. I am my father’s son.

What he means of course is that I act just like my late father did. Out of principle, I deny it of course, or at least I did. I didn’t think I was like my father at all, especially not his bad points.

Stambaugh men by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, our late father, Richard "Dick", and myself at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I could clearly see that both my older and younger brothers each had many of Dad’s characteristics. The older is outgoing and antsy. The younger most physically resembles Dad, and is an avid sportsman.

But me be like Dad. No way. Dad wasn’t the best driver. I was once a certified driver education teacher. Dad was consistently late. I like being early. I wasn’t like my father at all, or so I thought.

As I have aged, I have humbly swallowed my pride. I realize that my son is right, although I probably don’t exactly see the resemblances that he sees.

I love some of the same things my late father did: nature, history, geography, travel, sports, antiques, community involvement, a sense of humor, and family. Dad poured his entire being into activities and organizations that revolved around those topics. That was especially true after he retired.

Dad helped found, foster and lead a private sportsmen’s club. He served on a regional planning board for 36 years. I wonder how much Dad’s involvement influenced my own participation in the organizations and institutions with which I affiliated over the years.

Dad’s love of travel took our family on many day trips to art and history museums, parks and other points of interest around the state. We got to know Ohio well.

That desire to explore and learn rubbed off onto me. My wife and I traveled with our two children, and like my own youthful experiences, many of our jaunts were day trips throughout the Buckeye State.

Dad wasn’t afraid to venture beyond Ohio’s boundaries either. He would travel with our mother when she attended out of state art classes. While Mom painted, Dad scoured field after field for Native America artifacts, one of his favorite pastimes.

In the evening, when it was time to share what each artist had accomplished, Dad was invited to show what he had found. Of course, he had to expound on the exact type of artifact, how it was used, and made. Dad knew a lot, much of it self-taught.

Storm clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
The backside of a severe thunderstorm.

My special hobby is the weather, especially extreme weather. I enjoy watching storms, and telling others about them. When people’s eyes start to glaze over, I realize it’s time to quit. That never bothered my father, however.

Dad taught me the value of preserving the old things, especially if the items happened to have been in the family. He and Mom gave my wife and I several well worn but personally valuable antique pieces that go back three family generations.

Dad’s handwriting was hardly legible. Mine is worse. Dad often mispronounced words. He always exchanged a “l’ for the “n” in chimney. When I catch myself garbling words, or more likely, when my son catches me doing that, my thoughts happily connect to Dad.

There it is. I gladly acknowledge that for better or for worse, I am my father’s son. I wonder if my son realizes he is, too.

Siblings by Bruce Stambaugh
The Stambaughs, Craig, Claudia Yarnell, Jim, Elaine Barkan, our mother Marian, and me.

The days we have waited for

Wildflowers by Bruce Stambaugh
A wildflower patch in our backyard.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The days we have long awaited are at hand. After a winter that wouldn’t quit, and a spring that seemed more like November threefold, these desired days have sprung upon us as if a seasonal switch suddenly had been flipped, albeit belatedly.

Like much of the northern part of the country, Ohio spent the first five months of 2011 snowed in, flooded out, and shivering. Officially northeast Ohio had recorded a grand total of six sunny days between Jan. 1 and May 1.

Squall line by Bruce Stambaugh
A squall line charged into Ohio's Amish country.

The predominance of the gloomy, damp and cold days translated into depressed spirits and confined activities. But even as the days of May warmed and trees and flowers budded and bloomed, human outdoor activity remained restricted by wave after wave of heavy rainstorms.

Though we were mostly spared the severe weather that other parts of the country received, outside work and play remained limited. Now all that is behind us. The rich warm days of summer are here, and it is marvelous to inhale and embrace their arrival.

The anxious anticipation for sunnier, warmer days ended seemingly overnight. Farmers all across America’s breadbasket couldn’t wait to get into their fields, though many had to due to the saturated soil. Even teams of workhorses labored extra hard to break the soggy earth.

Plowing by Bruce Stambaugh
Plowing with horses is a long, steady process.

One week wood ducks floated on temporary lakes. The next the waterfowl were gone, replaced by plowed, harrowed and planted fields. That’s what a string of sunny days accompanied by strong warm southwest breezes can do to excess moisture.

Contractors and landscapers worked sun up to sundown to make up for lost time in pouring footers, building, excavating, and planting annuals. Commerce was renewed.

Planting by Bruce Stambaugh
My wife planted some heirloom tomatoes.

Motorcycle clubs and bicycle enthusiasts basked in the opportunities to wind their way all across rural byways. Children rode up and down lanes in pony carts and four-wheelers alike.

Gardeners finally could set their vegetable seeds and plants. In some locales, cooperative groups gathered to make the pleasant process all the more so and speedier.

Teenagers plunged without complaint into chilly lake waters just because they could. The outboard motors of both boaters and fishermen hummed in unison at the freedom to finally be able to play.

Sunset splash by Bruce Stambaugh
Teenagers took the plunge off the dock at Lakeside, OH.

Backyard birds coaxed their fledglings out of their secure nests and into the environs of the real world. Often they paused to collectively sun themselves like gaggles of bathers at the beach sans the bikinis.

Baby robin by Bruce Stambaugh
A young robin enjoyed the nice weather.collectively sun themselves like gaggles of bathers at the beach sans the bikinis.

The deciduous trees unfolded their canopy without delay, painting the landscape green on green. Soon the leaf cutters were hard at work thinning the verdant crop.

Irises, lilacs, peonies, poppies and roses created fragrant rainbows in every neighborhood. Azaleas and rhododendrons revealed their lovely petals just as the dogwoods dropped theirs.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
One of my wife's beautiful flower gardens.

Sitting on the airy deck of our woodland cottage in southeast Ohio, a single butterfly exactly symbolized the temporal jubilance. An impressive yellow and black tiger swallowtail zipped erratically through forest openings forged by gravel roadways and power line cuts.

Woods by Bruce Stambaugh
Where the butterfly roamed.

The butterfly darted unpredictably from shade to sun repeatedly among the emerald lushness. The butterfly improvised its quixotic dance back and forth all afternoon and well into the evening hours. I never saw it land.

Butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
A Tiger Swallow Tail enjoyed our backyard wildflowers.

These are the days we have longed for, hoped for, prayed for. Like the innocent butterfly, let us rejoice and be glad in them, dancing a celebrative dance as if our sole purpose was to simply extol life’s goodness. Perhaps it is.

In praise of bathrooms and healing

By Bruce Stambaugh

I normally don’t write about politics. I try to keep my news on the bright side.

That said, I had a lot of time to fill while recuperating from my recent surgery to remove my cancerous prostate. I listened to the radio, watched television, reflected on life’s really important matters, and appreciated the kindness and generosity of family, friends, neighbors, churches, businesses, organizations and even strangers.

Their cards, visits, well wishes, prayers, flowers and food all rather overwhelmed me. I found it humbling and heartwarming to be told that so many people in so many ways love you.

The post-surgery visit to the doctor was positive, although we will have to wait a month for the results of my next PSA test to be able to say that I am “cancer free.” All things considered, I am very upbeat about my progress so far.

That brings me back to the beginning. While recuperating, I was astonished to already hear so many detailed reports on who might be running for the opportunity to oppose our current president in the 2012 election.

That’s right. Next year’s presidential election was commanding headline media time and it’s only Spring 2011. It was enough to make you nauseous, more so than the pain medication did for me.

The recovery process required that I also listen to my body. Much of that dualistic listening took place in the bathroom, which may be the perfect spot to have to endure premature political discourse.

Even without having had surgery, I’ll confess that I have always loved both bathrooms and politics. In today’s age of sound bite mania, it’s hard to tell the two apart.

In being sensitive to what my body was telling me as it slowly healed, I had to carefully respond appropriately. After they mess with your plumbing, believe me, you don’t want to stray too far from the water closet.

But then, I already had that reputation. As a kid, I got ribbed about using the bathroom so much. I tried not to let it bother me. I knew my business better than others, so to speak, and I learned early on to make sure I took care of business as needed.

Honduran outhouse by Bruce Stambaugh
An outhouse in rural western Honduras.

I used to say that I never saw a bathroom I didn’t like, until I went to Honduras. And even then, I learned the valuable necessity of compromise. As I matured, which is still being debated, medical tests proved what I already knew. Bathrooms were my best friends.

When I go to meetings, I always sit on an end chair just in case. In junior high school, I had a permanent hall pass. I made NASCAR pit stops seem inconsequential.

Minutes, hours, days and now weeks after my delicate, nerve-sparing robotic prostate surgery, I have learned that spending quality time in bathrooms is both a necessity and a positive sign of healing. In that unmentionable course of action, I have learned that patience is definitely a virtue.

I am looking forward to the continued healing and to hopefully hearing the words “cancer free” at my next doctor’s appointment. About 218,000 men in the United States are diagnosed each year with prostate cancer and more than 35,000 die from it annually. (See BlueCure.com for more information.)

Given those statistics, I absolutely feel fortunate to be able to share, even if it is about bathrooms. Premature presidential politics, on the other hand, is another matter.