Enjoying the people I meet along life’s way

The Rebault Club Inn, Ft. George Island, Florida.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I greatly enjoy the people I meet along life’s journey.

Many of the people I’ll encounter again I’m sure, if only by proximity to where I live or my relationship to them. Others I may never see again, but I’ll certainly remember their kindness and hospitality.

On our recent trip south, my wife and I met several people who graciously shared those two dynamic characteristics. I’d like you to meet just two of them.

Like much of North America, the winter in the southern United States this year has been hard. With the potential of slippery roads ahead, we decided to stop for the night at a motel in Richburg, South Carolina.

After checking in, we walked to a nearby no frills mom and pop restaurant. Only a few tables were occupied when my wife and I arrived. A kind lady draped with a stained apron and holding a wet washcloth invited us to sit wherever we wanted. We chose a table well away from the door where cold air rushed in at every opening.

The official forecast for that area projected black ice on roadways in the South Carolina Piedmont region, where Richburg is located. Hearing that, the restaurant manager had sent the young help home before dark since they were all inexperienced drivers.

A skeleton crew kept the restaurant open. The thinking was they wouldn’t get many evening customers. Most of the day had already been slow.

However, shortly after Neva and I sat down, several other people filed in and the restaurant was soon abuzz with hungry diners. The kind woman, who later introduced herself as Laura, welcomed everyone the same way she had us, with an apologetic invitation to find a seat.

“I’m so sorry,” Laura said in her soft, easy southern drawl. “We’re short staffed since we sent our young help home because of the weather. Please be patient with us.”

Bill, the volunteer greeter at the Rebault Club Inn.
Laura was a stately woman in her 50s. She kept repeating the same thing to every new patron who arrived. She cleared, cleaned and waited on every table by herself. She sent the dinner orders to the kitchen and returned to check on every table. With each visit, she kept kindly apologizing.

Yet she and the kitchen staff seemed to work miracles. The food was not only served in a timely manner, it was as delightful as Laura’s hospitality. The baked chicken, black-eyed peas and grits were scrumptious. This woman defined both graciousness and efficiency. I hope all her tips were generous.

Then there was Bill, an octogenarian volunteer guide who greeted us at the door of an out-of-the way national historical site we discovered by accident in Florida. We easily struck up a conversation with Bill as he greeted us as we entered the Rebault Club Inn. Originally from the far southwestern hills of Virginia, we enjoyed hearing his personal story as much as we did touring the beautiful estate.

Bill’s eyes sparkled and his smile grew with each question I asked him. He had come to northern Florida to get away from the harsh winters of the Appalachian Mountains. He was glad he had.

Imagine my surprise when he told us that he had graduated with honors from Ohio University at age 68. When the dean announced his name, he received a standing ovation. Bill repeated the story like the audience was still applauding.

No matter our destination, it’s people like Laura and Bill who really make our travels memorable.

The lawn of the backyard of the Rebault Club Inn, where many weddings are held.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

The winter of our youth has returned


By Bruce Stambaugh

When it comes to winter weather, the younger generations now have something to brag about. They have finally experienced a good old-fashioned winter.

It’s been a long time coming, too. Sure, we’ve had bitter cold snaps, and heavy snows in the past few decades. But nothing has resembled the winters of my youth or those older then me for that matter.

The worst back-to-back winters that I can recall were those of 1976-77 and 1977-78. They were record breaking, unforgettable winters. Once we went from tornado warnings to blizzard warnings in a matter of minutes. Extreme cold followed the blizzard. Those storms brought wide-ranging effects with no exaggeration needed.

Amish children sled riding.
We had 22 foot snow drifts behind our house. A front-end loader shoveled the snow out of our driveway. The driver of a semi-tractor trailer truck was buried for days in the cab of his truck. The tip of his radio antenna sticking out of the snow enabled rescuers to find him. Given today’s digital gizmos, do I need to explain what a radio antenna was?

The severe weather closed school for 17 days. Those of you who lived through those fateful winter storms have your own amazing stories.

Of course, I was a young man then, not a youngster. Youth tend to remember the upsides of harsh winters. They leave the negatives for the adults to unravel. I was no different.

When heavy snows hit and extended cold spells settled in when I was a kid, the outdoors was our playground. I’m sure mothers everywhere were grateful for that.

We would bundle up as best we could, layered with jackets, stocking caps, scarves and fur-lined gloves. Off we would go, sledding, ice skating, making snow angels and snowmen, snow forts, and firing volley after volley of snowballs. We never had to worry about running out of ammunition.

We played until we got too cold or too wet or both. We went home, and hung the soaked clothing as close to the furnace as possible where it was likely to dry the quickest. At school, kids’ clothing covered the old steam radiators until the next recess.

These memories weren’t from one-time storms either. This was the way winter went. It was extremely unusual if snow didn’t cover the ground for a majority of the winter.

This wasn’t true for just my youth. I remember seeing pictures and hearing stories from my parents and grandparents about how difficult their winters had persistently been. I recall seeing pictures of gangs of volunteers clearing the state route in Mt. Hope, Ohio by hand with shovels, not plows. The snow was piled well above their heads.

That hasn’t happened in recent years. In fact, records show that nine out of the last 10 years global records have been set for above average annual temperatures. That did not bode well for a sustained winter anywhere.

For a multitude of climatological reasons, that has all changed this winter. Storm after storm, often following similar tracks, have pelted most of North America, especially areas east of the Rocky Mountains.
Snowplows have worked overtime clearing the roads. Road salt has become a precious commodity.

This winter certainly has been a doozy. My guess is it will leave the kind of lasting impressions on the younger generations like it did for my generation and those previous.

There is one minor problem that I hate to even mention. Winter isn’t over yet. More memories may yet be made.

Amish buggies regularly use the Holmes Co. Trail, even in winter.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Spying on the NSA

The NSA listening station near Sugar Grove, West Virginia.

Today bloggers around the world are protesting the unreasonable intrusions into our private lives, all in the name of national security that the NSA does daily to both U.S. and world citizens. I clearly understand that “they” have an important job to do in tracking down terrorists.

I communicate regularly with friends around the world via this blog, on Facebook, and by emails on personal matters with them. Not one of them is threatening to any government, anywhere. In fact, as a Mennonite, I am a non-violent person, and most of my writing is about or for citizens of the Amish community. We are people of peace, but we also want and enjoy our privacy as well.

Last fall, while visiting in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I ventured up to Reddish Knob, a lovely location along the Appalachian Mountain range. From my vantage point, I noticed some large disks and several buildings in the valley to the west. I was told that was one of the NSA’s listening locations, near Sugar Grove, West Virginia.

Of course I did the obvious. I took some pictures of the facility. In effect, I was spying on the NSA. I’m sure I wasn’t the first, and clearly I gained nothing but a chuckle from the juxtaposition.

I understand that the NSA has a job to do. However, I hope that our right to privacy is soon restored since my friends, followers, and I have absolutely nothing to do with violence.

Grace and peace to all.


Celebrating more than a birthday

Our birthday gathering.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we all were. The five Stambaugh “kids” gathered around a common table, celebrating another birthday. This wasn’t any old birthday either. Wait. I better rephrase that.

We were gathered to celebrate the oldest sibling’s very special day, his 70th birthday. All but one of our spouses joined in the merrymaking, too.

We met in a nice restaurant that the birthday boy chose. It was centrally located, which made it easy for us to assemble. Given our ages, stations in life, and individual schedules, it was a rare treat to gather together.

The food was excellent. The fellowship was better.

Despite the din in the open, high ceiling eatery, the conversation around the table was lively and animated. It reminded me of meals at dinnertime at the little brick bungalow where we all grew up in the suburbs of Canton, Ohio.

Craig was the only pre-World War II child in our immediate family. The rest of us were all of the Baby Boomer generation. Consequently, there was never a dull moment in the Stambaugh household. That’s what always made for lively interaction at mealtime in our younger years.

Take the time my older brother bet me a nickel that I couldn’t eat a spoonful of mustard. As I recall, I got the nickel, but Craig really won the wager.

I marveled at the table talk that evening. You would have thought we were all children again by the enthusiasm and joyous chatter. I liked that a lot. Our late parents taught us well.

There was one main difference, however. Instead of acting like children, we talked about our children and grandchildren. They are scattered from New York City to Orlando, Florida and many places in between.

The house that our father built and where all of us “kids” grew up.
Growing up, it wasn’t always so lovey dovey. We quibbled and quarreled and played together throughout our childhood. But being four years or more ahead of the rest of the clan, Craig’s recollection of times gone by enjoins a wider view of our family history. I’m trying to be kind here.

Take the time when I was a toddler, and Craig was charged with watching me while Mom focused on other agenda. Craig was specifically told to make sure that I didn’t step into our yet to be seeded front yard, which was one giant mud hole.

When our mother heard the wailing from the front yard, she rushed to my rescue. My shoes were stuck fast smack in the middle of the mud, and Craig was nowhere to be found.

I was much too young to remember that traumatic experience. Craig was not, however. To his credit, Craig is the one who told the story.

We always teased Craig that as the oldest he was the favorite in the family. In fact, I bribed the preacher at our mother’s funeral to say that Mom had had an only child and then four children. Mischief sometimes masquerades for love.

Craig may have hit 70, but the rest of us are right on his heels. Our celebrative gathering was far more than a birthday bash. It was recognition of the kinship we all share, and the unspoken affection we all have for one another.

Though it wasn’t a surprise party, I know my big brother thoroughly enjoyed the time. One of his daughters told me that being together was the best gift we could have given him.

Growing up, birthdays were always special days in the Stambaugh household. I’m glad they still are.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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