Concert in the park offers mixed melodies

The amphithearter in Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia, Ohio provides a great venue for an old-fashioned concert in the park.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the second year in a row, my wife and I attended the last concert of the season for a local community ensemble, the Dominic Greco Band. The group performed in an outdoor amphitheater at Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia, Ohio. To say that the evening was again a joy would be an understatement.

The two evenings spaced a year apart were comparable with only a few exceptions. For one, I remembered to take my camera this year to capture all of the action that I anticipated from last year’s experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

The weather was significantly dissimilar, too. Just like the rest of summer 2012, it was rather warm at last year’s performance. This time the temperature was unusually cool for late August in Ohio. I was comfortable in a sweater and eventually a jacket, too.

Of course the band played a different set of tunes. But they could have given the identical show, and I would have been happy. The fact that we knew some of the performers and soloists made the event even more special for us.

The band was in its preconcert mood when we arrived a half hour early.

We arrived with the orchestra warming up, their squeaky woodwind sounds competing with a hubbub of other audible commotion normally associated with a park setting. Again, it was like back to the future.

The park is in the basin of an ages old Wisconsin Glacier outwash plain. The parking lot sits atop a lateral moraine, with picnic shelters, tables and barbeque grills scattered beneath a stand of giant hardwoods on the east slope of the park.

We sat at the end of one of the long rows of metal bleachers that fan across the hill in front of the amphitheater. A paved path descends beyond the stage and unfolds into the rest of the park. In that arrangement, all of the sounds carry up to the audience, and no one’s view is obstructed.

And what a mismatched, Americana landscape it was. There was the orchestra preparing to play while the rest of the park buzzed with activity. To the south the amusement park section bubbled with action.

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The concession stand sold its hotdogs and snow cones. The calliope music of the old merry-go-round played away, beckoning young and old alike. Next door the little train that could stood ready and waiting for passengers. As soon as a few had their tickets, off it went on its clackety clack oval route.

Without waiting for the conductor’s wand, the engineer sounded the horn at the approach of each pedestrian crossing. A few shouts of glee arose from the top of the Ferris wheel, too.

Just as the band got into the swing of things, the sound of aluminum bat on leather softball emanated a rhythm of its own from the batting cages situated right behind the amphitheater. Beyond that, a large flock of geese landed in the outfield grass of the baseball field. Last year, the sights and sounds of a real game competed with the music. This year, the geese got their turn.

As if time had stood still, the local high school football team again pounded their shoulder pads into the blocks during their evening practice. I was almost disappointed that the ambulance and police car that raced by last year didn’t reappear.

The clamorous pulse of the park that accompanied the band’s melodies made the harmonious concert all the sweeter. It was a symbiotic symphony if ever there was one.

The view from the top of the hill at Tuscora Park shows how the area unfolds.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A fire in the neighborhood

This was the first picture that I took of the barn fire shortly before 10:30 p.m. on August 12, 2013

By Bruce Stambaugh

We had just turned out the lights for the night in anticipation of a really good night’s sleep when we heard the sirens. With the windows open on this warm and wonderful August evening, the sirens grew louder as they quickly approached.

I headed to the dining room to look north out the windows. Above the stand of giant field corn an eerie dancing orange glow lit up the night sky. We had a big fire somewhere in the neighborhood.

I got dressed as quickly as I could, grabbed my cameras and headed to the garage. In the meantime, my wife had ventured out into the front yard. She reported back that it was either our friend’s excavating business or the neighbor’s barn that was burning.

Once the parade of responding fire vehicles passed by, I pulled my car onto the road and quickly saw that indeed it was our neighbor’s barn. It was fully involved in flames. Only the sheet metal roof remained, held up by the century old timber frame, dark against the constantly changing fiery kaleidoscope that was quickly consuming its host.

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With the barn that far gone, the firefighters executed their only logical option. They concentrated their hoses on protecting the other exposures situated around the old bank barn. Soon long streams of water played back and forth dousing the rooftops, cooling them from the ferocious temperatures generated by the destructive flames.

My first instinct was to see what I could do to help directly at the scene. Knowing I’d only be in the way, I instead pulled into my excavator friend’s parking lot, focused my cameras and started snapping.

I wasn’t alone. Scores of others joined me. Tractors, vans, cars, pickups and bicycles filled the parking lot. Most spectators, like me, were lined along the wire fence that separated a farm field from the parking lot a football field from the blaze.

I photographed the various stages of the fire. Just 11 minutes after I had taken the first picture, the roof succumbed to the inferno. Embers of burning debris cascaded high into the dark sky, carried aloft by a steady south wind.

With the barn completely collapsed, I walked down the road to console the owners and to talk with firefighters that I knew. I was amazed at both their numbers and their efficiency.

Normally, rural areas are hurting for volunteer firefighters. This night, so many men and women in turn out gear or auxiliary smocks had responded to the alarm that they had to take turns spraying water or offering food and drink. The response for this emergency was tremendous. It was an impressive display of community service.

In addition, a gallery of onlookers congregated close to the old farmhouse. Most were family, friends and neighbors who had come to see if they could help in any way. Many had arrived before the first fire engine.

In less than an hour, the bank barn was reduced to burning hay inside of charred basement walls.

I took a few more photographs and spoke with the owners. Everyone was fine. No animals had been harmed, and most of the equipment had been removed from the barn just that day. The only losses were the barn, its storehouse of hay, and personal cultivated memories. Amish church insurance would compensate for the material losses of the accidental fire. The origin of the fire was either from wet hay or sparks from an unattended burn pile several feet west of the barn.

I was sad for my neighbors, but heartened by the many people who came to help. A crisis can test the mettle of a community. This August night, its people showed their stuff.

The clean up began the next day amid the ruins of the smoldering barn.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

The cottage tradition continues

Shoreline in the evening.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The smoke from the evening campfire rose up and over the cottage my parents had built three decades ago. Stars and planets were beginning to twinkle through the broken canopy of the mixed hardwoods that clung tight to the steep hillside.

Through the thicket down the hill, the lake shimmered with the evening’s last light. All was still except for the crackle of the fire and a few katydids.

We humans broke the spell with inquisitive conversation. The couple with whom my wife and I shared this pleasant woodsy setting was new to the cottage neighborhood. For them, it was a dream come true to own a cottage an hour from home where they could find peace and quiet away from his busy construction work.

The Briar Hill fireplace that is the centerpiece of the cottage.
My father had made it clear that he wanted the cottage to stay in the family after he was gone. To honor that desire more than fulfilling my own dream, my wife and I purchased the cottage the year before my father died in December 2009. It has been a labor of love and restful retreat ever since.

Dad had had cottage fever for a long time. When a small building lot became available 50 years ago on his favorite fishing lake, he bought it for $500. I think he actually had to borrow the money to complete the deal. That’s how passionate Dad was about making his dream come true.

Design and construction of the cottage followed a decade later. Contractors laid the foundation, and built the massive sandstone chimney, which is the cottage’s centerpiece. Its earthy colored stone came from the Briar Hill scrap pile in Glenmont, Ohio.

There was nothing fancy about the cottage in either its style or structure. Basically a 24 by 24 foot square building, our artist mother realized setting the cottage on the lot diamond-like would enhance the view from inside and out. It was a most excellent decision.

Deer often pass close to the cottage.
After it was framed, Dad was determined to finish out the cottage on his own. In other words, he had lots of help from friends, family and hunting and fishing buddies.

Dad was way ahead of his time. He repurposed as much of the building materials as he could in the cottage. That included some white oak lumber he obtained on the cheap, and had planed smooth. It became the porch held up by beams he had salvaged from the old roller coaster at Meyer’s Lake Park in Canton, Ohio.

To Dad’s delight, many family gatherings were held on that porch. The problem was that Dad only saw the cottage as it originally was, not as it really was as it aged.

The porch, for example, began to deteriorate, despite Dad’s patching efforts to keep it repaired. As our families expanded with grandchildren, Dad’s organized gatherings became smaller and as tenuous as the porch itself.

When we bought the cottage and began the remodeling process, the first thing to go was the old porch. Dad wasn’t too happy with me. While he and Mom were still mobile, my wife and I gave them a tour of the refurbished cottage on what was to be Dad’s last Father’s Day.

A view of the cottage from the campfire circle.

Today we use the place as a get away to renew our spirits and connect with nature. Just like Dad, we particularly enjoy hosting others.

Like our new neighbors, we wanted Dad’s cottage dream to continue. Gazing upon that heavenly host of constellations, I think I saw Dad winking his approval.

The campfire circle hosts many enjoyable conversations on summer evenings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

The breakfast clubs

This hearty breakfast was served at the Friday break held outdoors on the company’s campus.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Who doesn’t love food, fun and fellowship, even if they happen early in the day around the breakfast table?

Studies show that eating breakfast is important to maintain good health. It helps you get your day started right. I’ve discovered that’s true far beyond the nutritional benefits of healthy breakfast foods.

When it comes to breakfast, I am a fortunate person indeed. I don’t mean the quality or quantity of the early morning fare or the sacred times alone with my wife or sharing blueberry pancakes with the grandkids.

I am blessed to be a part of three entirely different, unrelated groups that all happen to meet regularly in charming Mt. Hope, Ohio for breakfast. Sharing around a common meal, including breakfast time, is special. Given the conversations, there is no dozing at these tables.

For several years now, I have been privileged to commune at breakfast every Friday morning at a local business where I serve as a consultant. At least that’s my definition of how and why I keep showing up for Friday morning “break” as the regular employees refer to the gathering. And what a time it is, too.

My wife always comes up with some delicious dish for breakfast break at Homestead Furniture in Mt. Hope, Ohio. Her latest creation was a tasty fruit crisp.
On a rotating basis, each member of the company’s team, plus me, takes turns bringing breakfast for the 15 or so staff members. The menu is entirely up to the person responsible for hosting the break. The cuisine ranges from sausage gravy on biscuits to homemade sweet rolls to French toast casseroles. Fresh fruit and juice are often provided, too.

An employee helps herself to some fresh fruit.
Anxious anticipation always seems to precede my turns. They’re not afraid that I’ll forget or even of what I bring because my lovely wife always whips up some tasty breakfast treat. To be honest, I think that’s the only reason they keep me on the list.

You get your own food cafeteria style and come to the giant table surrounded by chairs and benches. Then the fun begins all around, with internal jokes and good natured kidding.

The second group is a gang from church that meets monthly in the town’s restaurant. Dubbed “55 Plus,” the attendees belong to the senior citizen bracket, unless our young pastors make an appearance.

Though I can’t always participate, I love to hear their experiential stories. That age group has a lot to teach us young bucks if we’ll just listen. From time to time, an informative speaker does the sharing.

The other group is the newest and most serious of the three. The straightforward sharing has priority over any food, which is more often than not simply toast and oatmeal. The troop started as a support group for three of us, all prostate cancer survivors. We share the latest concerning our conditions and healing, both physical and emotional.

A fourth prostate cancer cohort joined the group, and then recently, we added two more to the Blue Men’s group, which is what we have labeled ourselves. The title reflects the fact that blue is the color for prostate cancer. One of the newbies is also a prostate cancer survivor. The other is fighting a courageous battle against a more formidable, horrible kind of cancer.

The extraordinary club includes business owners, pastor, engineer, writer and banker. Cancer indiscriminately invades many careers. I admire my friends’ frankness and honesty, their devotion to staying positive and living a servant lifestyle, no matter their profession or personal prognosis.

Friends and food make for fine fellowship. Together they sweetly season even toast and oatmeal with faith and hope.

My prostate cancer support group added a new member who has a different, rather aggressive kind of cancer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

No rainy days at Lakeside, Ohio

From sunrise to sunset, the area around Lakeside, Ohio’s dock is where the action is.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There’s never a rainy day at Lakeside, Ohio, making it the perfect summer vacation spot for all ages.

Sure, it rains at Lakeside. It’s in Ohio after all and on the shallow, sometimes precarious south shore of Lake Erie. That doesn’t mean the weather puts a damper on vacationing visitors, some who come from California and other foreign countries.

The weather, no matter how fierce, can’t quash Lakeside’s infectious community spirit. Sunshine or downpour, you can witness Lakesiders being Lakesiders wherever you go in the little resort town populated with quaint cottages and genial folks.

If it does rain, which it did on more than one occasion during our latest week in the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, no one dismays. Plenty of great activities await, with gaggles of polite people to encounter.

Steamboat style cottages dot the streets of Lakeside, Ohio.

The new splash park is a cool hit with youngsters on a hot summer’s day. If the weather denies them that chance, you can likely find them sitting on one of the many inviting front porches that distinguish Lakeside cottages and homes.

A wise, gray-haired grandma centers a wicker loveseat, arms embracing grandchildren. They read aloud, do word games, Sudoku, or tell family stories, true and otherwise.

If three generations can’t enjoy a rousing round of miniature golf under the canopy of old-age hardwoods, the family won’t grow bored. They might turn to board games, Scrabble, chess, checkers, or Monopoly.

Thanks to its Chautauqua pillars of religion, education, arts and entertainment, and recreation, Lakeside is known for many engaging activities. Since 1928, shuffleboard has topped the sporting list historically.

Tennis, too, has its fair play at Lakeside. Families, couples, teams, and playing partners ply clay and paved courts for fun and competition.

Should it storm, chairs soon form a tight ring around antique dining room tables, cards are shuffled, and the competitive spirits are expended differently. Instead of power drinks to keep them going, homemade sweet tea and lemonade hit the spot.

Around the two-mile jogging trail that rings Lakeside’s boundary flows a steady stream of fitness. If the weather is too ugly to brave, brainpower replaces muscle power through summer reading or a spirited round of dominoes with family, friends and visitors.

The Lakeside dock is the centerpiece of the summer sun worshippers. Young swimmers, sailors, fishing generations and sun soakers congregate to do their things. In the event that the dock is closed due to inclement weather or northerly gales that swamp the cement pier with crashing waves, alternative plans are made with few complaints.

The handful of Lakeside’s eclectic restaurants and niche cafes, where scores of high school and college students earn a summer’s wage, offer plenty of fare and latitude to accommodate all. Patience whets the appetite for homemade donuts and refreshing ice cream.

Even on the sunniest of days, hundreds of folks hungry for other kinds of food are filled to capacity by the rich stories offered by the weekly chaplains. It’s as cerebral as it is churchy.

Weather-resistant, creatively designed indoor activities abound for children, while adults pick and choose between lectures, programs and displays. Nearly every week, some sort of special community function is offered.

Evenings bring out a large portion of the town’s population for a medley of performances in historic Hoover Auditorium. Others linger dockside basking in the glow of another inspiring sunset, sometimes only minutes after the end of an all-day rain.

Rain or shine, there really are no rainy days at Lakeside, Ohio.

Watching the sunset from the dock is part of the Lakeside tradition.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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