Monthly Archives: October 2011

Whatever happened to the Halloween I once knew?

Amish country fall by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Halloween didn’t use to have such a bad reputation.

When I was growing up, us post-World War II youngsters looked forward to this benign, unofficial holiday. We just had fun.

Sure. There were mischief-makers, roughnecked teens that crossed the line. But they fortunately were in the minority. They certainly didn’t exhibit the violence and gore that we too often see associated with Halloween today.
Jack 'O Lantern by Bruce Stambaugh
I remember some bully stealing our carefully carved jack-o’-lantern off our front porch. When I spotted the costumed thief running away with our pumpkin, I yelled at him. The much bigger boy responded posthaste by threatening me. Fearful, I said nothing more. I didn’t want to lose my bulging bag of candy that I had so carefully gleaned from our burgeoning neighborhood.

Other Halloween hooligans would soap windows. The really nasty ones would use paraffin, which was much harder to get off the glass. A silly prank was to throw a handful of shelled corn against someone’s windowpane. That trick was used if you got no treat at the front door, which seldom happened.

Of course there were the unfounded scares of razor blades in apples and tampered with candy. We just took precautions and had a good time.

At school, Halloween parties were held in each classroom. All the kids would dress up, many in mundane outfits like cowboys, ghosts, witches, pirates, and princesses. Homeroom mothers would prepare snacks that usually included punch and homemade cookies.

Even our parents got caught up in the fun. I distinctly remember Mom and Dad going to a Halloween party dressed as outhouses, hers and his of course. They won a prize, which I think was a bag of corncobs.
Trick or Treat by Bruce Stambaugh
My wife and I wanted those same experiences for our own children as they grew up. However, living in the country is much different than living in a suburb. There was and continues to be no Trick or Treat night in our sparsely populated neighborhood.

Local towns held Trick or Treat night, but we never felt comfortable having our children beg for candy at homes where they were not known. Fortunately, local civic groups, including the volunteer fire department, hosted a Halloween parade and a party with judging, games and treats for all area children at the elementary school.
Betsy Ross by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son and daughter went one year dressed as a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush. Maybe they thought that would counter the cavities they would develop devouring all of that sugary candy.

To be sure, there were and still are other downsides to Halloween in rural America, including Amish Country. Pranks include corn shocks burned or moved into the roadway, and extensive toilet papering. Dozens of rolls of toilet paper are unfurled on trees, utility lines, in yards and on town squares, creating a TP style blizzard.
Cornshalks by Bruce Stambaugh
In our hectic world, with an unlimited stream of electronic information vying for our attention 24/7, my nostalgic description of Halloween seems pretty blasé. People today seem to have the desire to be scared out of their wits and often pay good money for the privilege.

In this age of skepticism and trepidation, some see Halloween as a demonic plague on society. They claim there is just too much evil and violence connected with the frightful celebration.

Since I tend to avoid malevolence, I’ll not quibble with that assessment. I do wonder, however, whatever happened to the Halloween that once focused on fun instead of fear.
Fog and trees by Bruce Stambaugh

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Pumpkins are for more than pie

Great pumpkin by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins, including the Great Pumpkin apparently, are sold in lots of large boxs at a produce auction near Mt. Hope, OH.


By Bruce Stambaugh

Besides the colorful leaves, pumpkins have to be right up there as one of the top icons of fall. The portly orange fruit seems to be everywhere this time of year.

By their sheer numbers, people appear to be in love with pumpkins. Maybe that’s because they don’t have to rake them like they do the pumpkin’s leafy fall compatriots.

Perhaps the pumpkin’s versatility is the primary reason for its popularity. Pumpkins are used for all sorts of things. My favorite, of course, is in pumpkin pie; hold the whipped cream please.

Pumpkin pie by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife's fabulous pumpkin pie.


I know I’m prejudiced. I’m partial to the pies my good wife makes. That doesn’t deter me, however, from enjoying the baking efforts of others just to prove my point.

Fall is the time of year when real, honest-to-goodness pumpkin pie begins to show up on the menus of local restaurants. There’s good reason for that. It’s pumpkin harvest time. Of course with canning and freezing, pumpkin pie can be made anytime. But given its delicate ingredients, it’s best made in cooler climes.

It’s also worth noting that the pumpkins we see for sale in the market, at roadside stands and in people’s front yards are not generally the kind of pumpkins of which pie is made. For that, you need pie pumpkins, which makes perfect sense to me.

Pumpkin display by Bruce Stambaugh

Homestead Furniture, Mt. Hope, OH used pumpkins in it's 20th Anniversary Sale last October.


These pumpkins have a much higher calling. They are for show. Pumpkins decorate front porches, yard displays, commercial displays and accent fall flower gardens. Their bright orange color warms the coolest autumn morning.

Toward Halloween, people pick the perfect pumpkin for their Jack O’ Lantern. Carving a face into the anointed pumpkin can be a family affair that makes lasting memories for impressionable children. On October’s darkened nights, a single lighted candle sufficiently illuminates the caricature designed and desired.

Colorful pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins of different colors.


To be chic, pumpkins now come in alternate colors. There are white ones, gray ones, brown ones and even blue ones. These, too, are prized for their ornamentation qualities, and exhibited indoors and out.

Pumpkins are so highly regarded in our North American societies that they even earn their very own festivals. Towns around the country, especially in the Midwest where most pumpkins are grown, celebrated with contests like the largest pie and the largest pumpkin grown. To date, the record belongs to a young man in Wisconsin with a pumpkin that weighed in at 1,810.5 pounds.

Painted pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins even get painted rather than carved so they last longer.


Pumpkins show up on our dinner tables in other forms besides pies and decorations. There are pumpkin cakes, rolls, ice cream, lattes, ravioli and soups. The seeds can even be roasted and eaten for snacks.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. We are simply repeating history. Native Americans taught early explorers to North America to roast pumpkin slices skewered on long sticks over an open fire. Settlers learned to cut the top off a whole pumpkin, hollow it out, and fill it with milk and spices, and then bake it on hot coals. This entrée was the forerunner to our pumpkin pie.

The indigenous peoples also understood the pumpkin’s versatility. They would dry strips of pumpkin, and then weave them into mats to sit on.

Besides our early history, pumpkins have also played major roles in our folklore. Cinderella’s coach turned into a pumpkin at midnight. The headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow threw a pumpkin at poor Ichabod Crane. Of course, Charlie Brown is full of hope, still looking for the elusive Great Pumpkin.

Whether reading, eating or decorating, enjoy the pumpkin variety show while it lasts. Now pass the pie please.

Large pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are sold every fall at the Mt. Hope Produce Auction, Mt. Hope, OH.

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Fall, a time to die and a time to live

Fall in Amish country Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

For those of us fortunate enough to live within proximity of giant stands of mixed hardwood trees, fall is a glorious time of year to observe life’s constant changes.

The annual autumn spectacular of the once lush leaves magically transforming the emerald landscape into magnificent warm rainbows carries us into nostalgic reflectivity. This year I couldn’t help but note a symbolic similarity in the recent death of the ingenious Steve Jobs, the guru who started Apple Computer.

Rainbow of colors by Bruce Stambaugh

Fall's rainbow of colors on display.


The very first computer I ever used was an Apple. Just the name of the computer endeared educators to these amazing, easy to use personal computers. School systems across the country bought them for student and teacher use. The fact that Apple was wise enough to give teachers and school districts educator discounts on their purchases made them all the more attractive.

One of the schools where I was principal acquired an Apple computer for the library in 1989. Now obsolete floppy discs were inserted to boot programs or software for students to use. I have primarily used Apple computers ever since.
Apples by Bruce Stambaugh
Shortly after hearing of Jobs’ death, the Internet was full of information about his life. I found many of the touching quotes and reflections via posts on Facebook.

One particular poignant clip greatly moved me. It was a 15-minute video of Jobs’ address at the 2005 Stanford University commencement. No one would have mistaken the pure genius that produced innovative personal electronic devises like the iPod, iPhone and iPad for Shakespeare. But his message was prophetic nevertheless.

His words were neither flowery nor convoluted. Like his multitude of popular electronic inventions, his exhortation was straightforward and concise. He had three simple points for the graduating class that day. Each was illustrated by personal stories from his humble yet incredible, creative life.

His final point was perhaps the most powerful and applicable. Just a year removed from having survived pancreatic cancer, Jobs told the sun-drenched audience “death is very likely the single best invention of life.” He told those gathered that if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll be right. Jobs was as pragmatic as he was innovative.

Though he had hoped to live decades longer, Jobs emphasized that remembering that he would be dead soon was the most important motivator for him. He related that view even though he of course had no idea how long he would live. Jobs said no one wants to die, but death is the destination that we all share. Death clears out the old to make way for the new.
Maple tree by Bruce Stambaugh
That’s the way it is with the leaves. They bud in spring, unfold overnight to lush, lovely green or crimson until their predictable fate in the fall. Having done their job of helping the tree thrive and grow another year, the leaves succumb to the inevitable.

The leaves unveil their natural, vibrant colors, keep us captivated for a few precious days, and then drop and wither. Left behind is a tiny bud that will become next year’s new foliage. The old give way to the new, returning to the earth from whence they came.

Our lives follow the same cycle, though most span more than a year. The colors of some leaves are more remarkable than others. In the same way, some lives shine brighter than others for humankind.
Sugar maple leaf by Bruce Stambaugh
Steve Jobs was one of those brilliant leaves.

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A change of plans for Mil Agnor

By Bruce Stambaugh

Mil Agnor is returning to Romania, but not to continue her Peace Corps service.

“I wanted to go back to say goodbye and thank you,” Agnor said.

Mil Agnor by Bruce Stambaugh

Mil Agnor


The gregarious Agnor had an unexpected change of plans. Earlier this year during an annual physical exam, the doctor found something she didn’t like.

The Peace Corps flew Agnor back to the United States via Medevac. She underwent a thorough exam and was diagnosed with a bladder cancer.

That changed everything for the adventuresome Agnor.

“When the Peace Corps flies you back for medical reasons, you have 45 days to get things in order,” Agnor explained. “If you can’t, your term is completed.”

That is exactly the scenario that played out for Agnor. She was unable though not unwilling to complete her two-year term. She was officially discharged from the Peace Corps August 3.

“I had my things all packed up before I had to leave,” Agnor said, “because I planned on moving to another house, not returning to Ohio.” The ever-dedicated Agnor knew she had to go back to Romania for more than her belongings.

“Life is all about relationships,” Agnor said. Though her volunteering was cut short, she made wonderful friends in the school and community of Palanca. Agnor needs this trip as much for them as for herself.

Agnor taught conversational English to 184 students in grades three through eight.

“These students live in the poorest part of Romania,” Agnor said. She said otherwise they would have very little exposure to the English language.

“The kids there have no organized activities,” she said. “We started after school programs and camps for them.”

When asked about someone her age going into the Peace Corps, Agnor just smiled and said, “I want to be remembered for something other than my age.”

Agnor said the Peace Corps actually markets to older people who have finished careers. Agnor had a quilting business in Holmes County for 28 years.

“I always admired the Amish in how they lived their lives,” Agnor said. She worked with several Amish women over the years to create custom quilts.

Agnor said she will spend two weeks in Romania bidding farewell and saying thanks. She will also do some traveling prior to returning to her new home in Stow, Ohio. Her son, Ross, lives in nearby Hudson.

“My intention was to at some point live close to him,” Agnor said. “It just got speeded up a bit.”

Agnor found what she called “a wonderful house at the end of a cul-de-sac.”

“There are lots of trees,” she said. “I have birdfeeders out, and I get to watch a Cooper’s Hawk chase a fox squirrel.”

Agnor said the surgery to remove the cancer was a success and that, other than losing some weight, she has no side effects from the immunotherapy treatments. She said she gets the treatments every six weeks initially, then every month for a year. After that, she will be monitored for the rest of her life.

The spunky senior made it clear that she has had no discomfort. Agnor said her situation is quite manageable and that she feels very fortunate and thankful that the Peace Corps doctors caught her cancer in an early stage.

“I have some good years yet,” she said. When she returns to Ohio at the end of the month, Agnor said she plans on volunteering at a library or in a park system.

“I love to sing,” she said, “so I’ll probably join a church choir, too.”

Volunteering is nothing new for Agnor. While in Millersburg, she served many years with the Holmes County Habitat for Humanity.

For now, Agnor will focus on revisiting her friends in Romania.

“I want to see the science lab that was started while I was there,” she said.

No doubt Agnor’s brief reunion with her former students and staff will be an emotional one. Agnor said the students made a quilt for her when they learned of her illness. The quilt had a cutout of each of their handprints on it.

There can also be no doubt that the effervescent Agnor will have lots to share about her goodbye tour of Romania once she returns home. That, of course, will be another exciting story in the energetic Agnor’s life.

Mil and Maric by Bruce Stambaugh

Mil Agnor and Romanian artist Ion Maric at an exhibit of his paintings in Palanca, Romania.

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White and gold

White and gold by Bruce Stambaugh

Fog in the valleys,
a golden sunrise backdrop
silhouettes the hills.

Bruce Stambaugh
Oct. 9, 2011

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Admiring children’s creativity, especially the grandchildren’s

Grandkids by Bruce Stambaugh

Our grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren.


By Bruce Stambaugh

A painting hangs on a wall in my home office where I spend much of my workday. The artistry isn’t one of my mother’s rich landscape watercolors.

The painting is simple in content, perhaps even a bit juvenile in style. That’s why I like it so much. I purchased the watercolor from a former student.

The sixth-grade artist took a common setting and made it exquisite. She had captured perfectly the daily scene in her classroom. A row of colorful books lined the soldier brick windowsill. The black tattered blinds, cords hanging limp, covered the upper third of the old steel framed windows.

I wanted the painting as a memento. I also wanted to encourage her to keep painting. That was a long time ago, and I don’t know if the girl, now a young woman, still paints or not. I hope she does. She had a creative eye.

Mother and daughter by Bruce Stambaugh

Maren insisted that I take a picture of her with her mommy and their sunglasses.


My middle grandchild does, too. His older brother by two years, and his 2-year old sister also have their own individual flashes of creativity. But Davis is different for sure. He is left-handed after all.

For a 5-year old, he seems to see patterns that others, myself included, look right through or ignore altogether. Davis may have inherited some of his great-grandmother’s artistic ability.

My wife and I visited recently with our daughter and her family in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. During our stay, Davis’ creativeness burst forth on more than one occasion.

He showed me his rock collection, which is housed on the porch of an unused entrance to their home. Davis uses several characteristics to choose his rocks. Size, color, texture, shape, and weight are all his geologic requisites.

I was honored when he asked me to identify a rock he chose to take to preschool to share with the other students. I told him it was granite, and Nana chimed in that countertops are made of granite. This took us to the Internet for pictures of the coarse-grained igneous rock. Davis was fascinated with all the different types and colors.

Touchdown by Bruce Stambaugh

The grandsons enjoy their football.


While playing football with him outside, I pointed out a big puffy cloud floating overhead. Davis informed me that it was a dragon. On second glance, I don’t know how I missed that obvious observation.

The sure sign that we may have a budding Picasso in the family was Davis’ intensity while drawing. He stared at the Wii characters on the television screen as his big brother played a game. Davis turned to his drawing paper over and over again, dedicated to replicate what he saw. He didn’t quit until he was satisfied with what he had sketched.

His siblings, Evan and Maren, draw, too. Evan is a meticulous stay-between-the-lines kind of guy, while little Maren is just honing her abstract expressionism. She sent a sample of her early work back to Ohio with us.

Sketching by Bruce Stambaugh

Davis sketching in the pea gravel at the playground.


At the park, Davis discovered a shark designed cleverly onto a section of a gigantic wooden play set. Like the dragon, I didn’t see it until Davis pointed it out. The sharp teeth, the menacing eye, the dorsal fins and the fanned tail were all right there. Creative kid that he is, Davis sat down in the pea gravel and began to outline a replica with his index finger.

I marvel at children who can see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I admire it all the more when the children happen to be youngsters I know well, like my grandchildren.

Shark by Bruce Stambaugh

Davis and his playground shark.

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