March 27, 1971 was a beautiful Saturday. It was warm, the sun was shining, and spring was definitely in the air. The field next to the church had just been sprayed with liquid manure.
I remember it well, the wedding, not the smell. It was the day I married my best friend. Of course, I didn’t know she would become my best friend. My best friend was my best man. I married Neva to be my wife, or so I thought. It has turned out so much more than that naïve 23 year-old groom could have imagined.
We soon discovered that we had a lot in common besides amorous affection. We both liked travel, adventure, antiques, nature and Milky Way candy bars.
The summer after our wedding we lived on a mountain with no communications, no electricity or running water. As part of a church sponsored summer service project, we hosted hikers at a camp about halfway up Pikes Peak in Colorado. I chopped the firewood and Neva prepared our meals over either a woodstove or an open fire.
That experience helped set the stage for all that was to transpire in the next 42 years. Through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, we strived and thrived as individuals and as a couple. It hasn’t all been pretty or perfect, but we have endured, much the way we did on the mountain.
We each spent a career in public education, something we both dearly believe in for the good of our own children, our community and our country. It was an honor to serve in that capacity.
We built one new home and completed another. Both had excellent views and wonderful neighbors.
We raised two beautiful children, who each have an amazing spouse of their own. It’s a joy to watch them all blaze their trails through life, positively affecting others. Of course, we adore our three grandchildren as precious gifts, too.
Our similarities and differences have balanced, renewed and enriched our lives, and have helped cement our marital friendship. Neva loves helping at the local thrift shop. I enjoy photographing sunsets. She quietly quilts or sews while I write.
The length and strength of our marriage can be attributed to our many common interests, and the recognition that we try to allow space for our own wants, wishes, talents and abilities. We complement one another, and we compliment one another.
After 42 years of marriage, Neva and I have reached a new phase in our relationship. We love being grandparents, and seize each opportunity to host, visit or vacation with the grandkids. Being mostly retired allows us to do that.
It also gives us pause to ponder how we have made it through the good and bad that life has thrown at us. All I can determine is that we have survived for two main reasons. We have many faithful friends and family members who have unwaveringly stood by us, and we have each other.
With a mesmerizing fire in the fireplace, a cup of coffee and some of Neva’s delicious homemade cookies, we spend many winter evenings together enjoying college basketball games on TV. It doesn’t take much to make us happy.
We are still close friends with our best man and his gregarious wife. But as I look back on our life together, it is obvious that Neva and I are more than wife and husband. We indeed are each other’s best friends.
“Who knew it would be so much fun?” That was an email reply to me from a grandparent friend. Indeed, who knew?
Though we have always lived many miles apart, we have tried to be involved with our three grandchildren as much as time and distance allowed. First it was Texas, and now Virginia.
Our daughter, whose husband works for a university in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, asked if we would care for her trio of children while they spent the school’s spring break in Florida. We didn’t hesitate. We rearranged our schedules and headed 350 miles southeast.
Like her mother, our daughter is extremely organized. She had the week’s agenda outlined day by day. Of course, life has a way of upsetting the best of plans.
The upheaval began not long after our daughter and her husband headed south. During the night Davis, the six year old, got sick. Monday it was his big brother’s turn. At first we thought Evan just missed his parents. When the school called to say Evan was ill, we realized he wasn’t just being overly sensitive. The next night little sister, Maren, woke up sick, too.
With the weather cooler than norm for The Valley, we kept the woodstove stoked overnight. Once, though, the smoke detector suddenly screamed. The woodstove apparently was a little too stoked, its temperature needle reaching the danger zone.
Halfway through our weeklong mission a major winter storm stirred. Harrisonburg became the bull’s eye on the official snow accumulation chart. A total of 15 inches of heavy, wet snow piled up, cancelling school for two days, with a delay the third. Retrofitted garbage trucks morphed into snowplows to help clear the roads.
Fortunately, the sicknesses lessened as the snow depth increased. Sledding and snowman building became the focus of activity. Neighbors loaned slippery sleds that zoomed the bundled up kids down the steep hill behind their father’s office building. They were fearless in their swooshing, especially the youngest.
During down times between sledding excursions Maren kept us busy with her favorite activity, playing a memory card game. No matter how many pairs of cards we laid out, she skunked us all. To watch her consistently recall where the matching cards were, and hear her glee at winning was worth the licking Nana and I took.
We also made good use of the snowy elements. Nana whipped up a yummy batch of snow ice cream using nothing more than vanilla, heavy cream, sugar and snow.
Maren kept us all entertained playing hide and seek her way. She would tell us where she was going to hide, and then insist we close our eyes and count to 10 before beginning the imaginative search.
Sweet Maren had to keep track of her folks, too. At least three times a day she followed the route her parents took from their home to Sarasota on a Google map I had created on my computer. After a while, I merely pointed the curser, and she recited the travel log.
The grandkids enjoyed seeing their parents a few times via Face Time using Nana’s computer on our end and a smartphone in the Sunshine state. Those opportunities seemed to allay any apprehensions the grandkids had about their extended separation from their loving parents.
For Nana and I, this was one more chance for quality time with our creative and energetic grandchildren. Who knew it would be so much fun?
Amish buggies in Ohio’s Amish Country may be all black, but they definitely aren’t all the same. The nondescript, unobtrusive color merely keeps them uniform and modest.
Even if they all are black, a closer look reveals that there are many differences in buggies. These variances are especially true for buggies owned by younger Amish men. Particular attention is paid to the kind of accessories included on their buggies. After all, a buggy can last for 30 years if it is well maintained.
At least two-dozen buggy shops are sprinkled around the Greater Holmes County area. That way the Amish do not have to travel far to order a buggy or have one repaired. That concept is maintained in all aspects of the Amish lifestyle.
Demand for new buggies is high. Most buggy shops reported a year’s wait for a new buggy. Depending on the size of the shop and the kind of buggies being built, buggies are produced at the rate of no greater than one per week. Buggy repairs are worked in accordingly. Should a buggy be damaged in an accident or lose a wheel, for example, it would receive priority status.
Most buggy shops are family operations. A father and his son or sons may run the shop, assisted by an apprentice or even wives and daughters. This way the trade can be passed from generation to generation.
Because each buggy is custom-built one at a time, assembling a buggy is a prolonged process, taking as long as a year to complete. To build a sturdy, useful buggy, shop owners and workers need a variety of skills. They must be a carpenter, welder, upholsterer, painter and mechanic all in one.
According to Menno Schlabach, owner and operator of M & S Coach near Berlin, buggies start with a wooden base. Reinforced with metal braces, a wood framed structure is attached. The sides and tops are covered with a grained, vinyl coated black cloth.
“With 150 church districts in the area, customization of each buggy varies a great deal,” Schlabach said.
Indeed, it is the customization that allows the customer to put personal preferences into the new buggy to give it character. That process also slows the construction. With all the various options, Schlabach said it takes an average of 150 hours to build a new buggy.
Some buggies have curtain doors that roll up, while others have sliding doors on the side and a hinged door in the back for easier access. Other buggy accessories include shelves for storage, switches, battery compartments, mirrors, window sizes and shapes including the choice of glass or Plexiglas or no glass at all, shapes and cushioning of seats, manually operated windshield wipers, brakes, upholstery and a variety of lighting options. Even the materials of the wheels and shafts vary.
Dashboards seem to be the telling tale of the owners’ preferences. Some are intricately made using inlaid or exotic wood. The dashboards are mounted on the inside of the front piece of the buggy. They generally house switches for exterior and interior lights and turn signals.
Even the exterior lighting is customized. Just like cars, buggies have headlights and taillights. Most also have amber warning lights on the top rear of the buggy. Running lights along the sides of the buggies help drivers see at night. Marker lights positioned on the front and sides of buggies are other accessories that give the buggy its individual distinction. Only buggies owned by Swartzentruber Amish, the lowest Amish order, still use kerosene lanterns for visibility.
The style of buggy is determined by its purpose. A two-wheeled cart is the simplest of all buggy types and is used for quick, local trips. The hack is the Amish equivalent to a pick up truck. Sometimes called buckboards, a hack is a four-wheel buggy that is designed for hauling livestock and other bulk items. Some driver compartments of hacks are covered, while others are open.
The most common buggy type is the surrey. They are built with a bench seat and a storage area in the back that also has an option for two small flat seats along the insides. The side seats can be removed to increase storage. Usually children use those rear seats.
Surreys come covered or open. Covered buggies are called top buggies. The family version of a surrey has two bench seats and four openings for access, plus some storage space in the rear with a door or curtain that rolls up.
The newest buggy version is the mini-surrey, which can actually hold more passengers than a regular top buggy. Affectionately called a minivan by some Amish, the mini-surrey serves the same purpose. The side seats behind the front bench comfortably hold two adults or several children on each side.
The cost of new buggies varies depending on the type and size of the buggy and the kind and amount of accessories included. A new cart could cost $1,500 while a new, well-equipped mini-surrey could run up to $7,000.
With a horse for an engine, the buggy’s driver steers with a set of reins instead of a steering wheel. Still, the purpose of a buggy is the same as a motorized vehicle. It transports its passengers from one place to the other, just at a much slower speed.
Buggies may be black. But they are an important element that helps keep the Amish culture moving in every way.
I love to write, but writing doesn’t like me. Let me explain.
I have always enjoyed finding out the details of situations, then telling other people about what I learned. I guess I was born with a nose for news.
Growing up in post-World War II suburbia, a neighbor lady affectionately called me “The Beacon Journal,” in honor of the Akron, Ohio newspaper. Her point was that I not only knew the latest neighborhood news, but my facts usually checked out, too. At least that’s what I always thought she meant.
Unfortunately, I had a problem when it came to actually writing down the information. I could remember details all right. It was just that my handwriting was so bad it was nigh impossible for people to decipher. This was especially true for school projects.
On top of that, I wasn’t the best speller either. The problem there was that I spelled phonetically, which in the English language won’t carry your written communications very far.
So here I was a young storyteller with atrocious handwriting and horrible spelling skills. I can’t tell you how many times I would seek out a teacher to ask how to spell a certain word. The answer was always the same, as if it were an educators’ conspiracy. “Go look it up,” was the universal response.
In junior high study hall, we had one huge dictionary that students queued to use. I wore a path in the checkered tile from my assigned seat to the lexicon lectern. With impatient peers waiting in line while I fumbled through trying to find a word that I had no idea how to spell, I would break out in a cold sweat.
Whenever I heard that hated phrase “go look it up,” I cringed. What was the logic in trying to find a word in a dictionary when I had no idea what letter the word even started with?
Let’s just say that the answer to that was that I did a lot of erasing in my schooldays. I knew I was in trouble already in the first grade. Those big fat cigar-like red pencils they gave us to use to practice our letters were not only hard to hold they didn’t have any eraser on the top. I had to always borrow one from the teacher until she finally asked my parents to buy my own.
That led to another problem. The pencil lead was dark and gritty on that pale green writing paper with the two-toned blue lines that I never seemed to be able to follow. Out came the eraser, and pretty soon the paper was not only smudged, it often had at least one hole in it. Those lettering lessons would have made really neat abstract art.
That’s what happens when you start first grade at age five with no preschool or kindergarten experience. My fine motor skills have never caught up.
My handwriting is still horrible. So is my spelling. But thank goodness for computers and word processing software. I sit in awe sometimes when I run the spellchecker and the program can actually figure out the word I meant.
Typing has saved me from trying to decode my scraggly penmanship, unless of course I’ve done an interview with someone. I usually have to hustle home and quickly transcribe my scribbling so I can remember exactly what I wrote.
That’s how bad my handwriting was and still is. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell saved my life, purely in a literary sense of course.
Marcella Hawkins of Glenmont, Ohio has a passion for Eastern Bluebirds. That passion became productively evident Feb. 23 at the Ohio Society of Bluebirds (OSB) annual conference in Wooster, Ohio. Hawkins is the executive director of OSB.
From the record number of people who attended the conference held Feb. 23, Hawkins is not alone. More than 300 bluebird enthusiasts participated in the all day event, held at the Shisler Conference Center on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center.
The day was filled with exhibits, vendors, speakers and presentations, with only a few breaks. Experts and amateurs alike shared their research and experiences regarding some aspect of bluebirds, their predators and habitats.
Darlene Sillick, a conservationist and birder from Powell, Ohio, related her years of experiences with the Ohio Wildlife Center with owls. She explained that owls could turn their head 270 degrees because they have 14 vertebrate, twice the number of humans.
Sillick said owls depend on their keen sense of hearing and large eyes to track prey. She shared that it is the force of the owl’s talons that kills its prey.
Sillick introduced Matthew Wiese of Dublin, Ohio. Wiese, 17, did a nest box project on Safari Golf Club for his Eagle Scout badge. Wiese said he put in a total of 319 volunteer hours in planning, mapping and checking the numerous bluebird boxes he installed. He also learned to band the hatchlings in several of the boxes.
Roger Downer of Wooster, a retired entomologist from the OARDC, gave a presentation on moths. He said the important connection between moths and bluebirds are the caterpillars that serve as a food source for the bluebirds. Those that survive become moths, which other birds also use as food.
Chuck Jakubchak of Strongsville, Ohio gave a pep rally style presentation about how birds know when to migrate. In the case of Eastern Bluebirds, he proposed three scenarios. He said studies show that some bluebirds migrate to the southeastern states with habitat similar to what they have in Ohio. Others only partially migrate, going to warmer but closer states where they compete for food with non-migrating birds.
Jakubchak said the bluebirds seen in Ohio during the winter are non-migrating.
“They stay put, perhaps because they have had a successful breeding history,” he said. “But we really don’t know for sure, other than the fact that they choose to stay.”
Jason Martin of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., spoke on the importance of documenting Eastern Bluebirds by monitoring their nesting boxes. He invited participants to join his project, Nest Watch, by keeping track of what is happening inside the nesting boxes.
“Inside the boxes,” Martin said, “is where the action is.” The Nest Watch project began in 1960 and has progressed to online reporting of nesting activity from around the country.
Greg Miller of Sugarcreek, Ohio closed out the session with a spellbinding account of his Big Year experience. He especially focused on the time he spent as the bird consultant on the set of the movie, The Big Year. He told personal accounts of meeting the movie producers and stars, including Jack Black, who played Miller in the movie.
Allen and Nina Bower of Britton, Mich., received OBS’s Blue Feather Award for their effort in spreading the importance of proper nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds. The group’s Wildlife Conservation Award went to Charlie Zepp of Dublin. Zepp has built more than 6,000 bluebird boxes with wood he gathered from refuge bins at construction sites.
After announcing several winners of donated raffle prizes, Hawkins thanked the volunteers and sponsors of the conference, which was free of charge for those who had preregistered.
On my way to dinner with a friend, a simple yet pleasant notice brought a smile to my face. As my car turned the sharp corner, I saw the sign in front of the volunteer fire station. It read, “Baseball sign up Saturday.”
With yet another wintry storm on the way, that was welcome news to me. Just the thought of those youngsters already registering to play baseball got me through the next day’s ugly weather.
That’s what I like about March. It’s both winter’s last gasp and spring’s first breath. That posting was a clarion call for more than little leaguers. It was a sign of hope.
Once we reach March, I feel like a new person. I know winter’s icy grip is behind us, and that spring is peeping.
I’m also old enough to know not to get too giddy too soon. March often offers up some of winter’s heaviest snows. But with the days growing longer, not counting Daylight Savings Time, you know the snow will not last long.
In fact, March often delivers us a four-star package deal on weather. Wait. You had better make that a four seasons package. March is famous for thawing out winter’s clutch, teasing us with summer-like days, then bringing us back to reality with a fall-like cold front. One day we could enjoy a welcomed spring rain, and the next be dodging tornadoes. March can be as fickle as it is friendly.
This year March brings us a Trifecta of joy. St. Patrick’s Day, Palm Sunday and Easter consecutively complete March’s Sundays.
There’s much more, too. Early migratory birds begin to make an appearance. The male Red-wing Blackbirds begin to scout out their territories. American Robins come out of hiding and begin their bob, bob, bobbing along.
The Song Sparrows pick their fence post perches, tilt back their striped heads, and let it rip. American Goldfinches brighten as they begin their lemony spring molt.
If the ground is dry enough, farmers begin their plowing in earnest. Crocuses and daffodils poke their pointy green shoots through the crystalized snow remnants and await the sun’s command to bloom.
We humans follow their lead. We shake off our cabin fever, and find any excuse we can to go outside. If we do have an early warm spell, dedicated gardeners will be sure to be planting their peas.
We check our property for any winter damage. Without complaint we pick up sticks deposited by winter’s frequent, fierce winds. We’re just happy to be breathing in the freshness of life, and exhale without seeing our own breath freeze in midair.
Bicycles, motorcycles and fishing gear are all dusted off, even if they won’t be used right away. Winter’s smudge is washed off the windows on the first reasonably warm day. Of course, the boys of summer spend March warming up for their April to October baseball games.
High school and college men and women create excitement and celebration with their basketball March madness. We dutifully follow along even if we haven’t attended a game all year.
As you might be able to tell, I’m ready for some consistently warmer weather. The fact that we have already opened March’s door confidently tells me that winter is well on the wane.
As if we had any say in the matter, March always has her way with us. I for one am ready to be under her seductive spell, and bid a fond farewell to her bully winter cousins.