Where everybody knows your name

poorly addressed letter
The way it began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are some definite benefits to living the rural life. The perks will make your life rich, but you won’t necessarily become wealthy.

I recently had a week’s worth of devotions published in a church periodical, Rejoice!. I received an honorarium for my efforts, but that wasn’t the real motivator. I just enjoyed sharing personal and pertinent stories.

What happened after the devotions published became the real reward. A few folks who know me expressed their appreciation for my daily commentaries. An elderly man from Bern, Indiana even sent a nice handwritten note.

He thanked me for my writing and then spent the rest of the letter telling me about his car dealership, now in its fifth generation. That was fun. But it was amazing I received the letter at all.

mail carrier, U.S. mail
The mail cometh.

The kind man simply mailed the envelope with only my full name and Millersburg, Ohio written on the front. No street address. No zip code. And I got it.

The truth is, I wasn’t surprised at all that the letter arrived in our mailbox. It’s not that I’m famous. The fact that my wife and I happen to be the only Stambaughs in the county had to help. However, this was the United States Postal Service, a federal government institution that has had its share of lumps and negative publicity.

That reputation of bigness doesn’t necessarily hold true in Holmes County, Ohio. This isn’t the first time we’ve received a skimpily addressed letter.

Once we had a card from a friend with our name, town and zip on the envelope accompanied by a note scribbled on the envelope that said, “The same road as the restaurant.” When you don’t know the road number, improvise. It worked.

It gets better. Years ago when we lived in the southwest section of the county my ornery older brother sent a letter addressed with only the first names of my wife and me and 44637. That’s the zip code for Killbuck, Ohio. Once again, we got it. My brother couldn’t believe it.

rural life, Ohio's Amish country
Rural defined.

It was a perk of personally knowing the postmaster. A lot of people in the area could say that. In fact, when we moved east to our current location our mail was forwarded far beyond the required time. It stopped the day Bob House retired as Killbuck postmaster.

Bob went above and beyond the call of duty. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to do so. He exemplified the personal consideration and dedication of many folks we have met over our lifetime in this marvelous rural county.

Folks welcomed us into the Amish culture, too, when we relocated to the eastern end of the county. Neighbors invited us to picnics and Amish weddings.

We especially appreciated the invitations to Amish church services. Though we didn’t understand most of what was said, we got the message in the spirit of being treated with kindness and respect.

As educators in the local public schools, my wife and I were shown the highest regard of reverence for our responsibilities with the children of Amish and English alike. Families invited us for meals and visits. We felt more than welcome in both East Holmes and West Holmes.

It’s not always easy living in a county with a population that is less than that of a small city. But as you can see, there are distinct advantages to residing in a locale where everybody knows your name, including the mail carrier.

rural sunset, Holmes County Ohio
Rural sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Helping Grandpa

Amish farmers
Helping Grandpa. © Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Cute as it looks, this photo shows much more than a grandson riding along as his grandfather encourages a team of workhorses across a farm field. This exemplifies the hands-on part of an Amish education. Children learn at a young age how the work gets done, whether on a farm or in a shop or the house. It is practical, productive learning at its finest.

“Helping Grandpa” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A true friend, right down to the end

Edgefield School, basketball team
Edgefield School 6th grade basketball team. Two teammates wore light pants for the photo. Guess who they were?

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are friends, and then there are friends.

Dave and I have been friends for a lifetime. Given our age, that’s a long time. Just to be clear, Dave is several months older than me.

Growing up, we lived just a few blocks apart, though we didn’t necessarily run in the same gangs in our northeast Ohio neighborhood. In the 1950s, that meant we didn’t have the same circle of friends.

lifetime friend
My lifetime friend, Dave.

Still, we’ve been best buddies since grade school. We were in several classes together in our elementary school that overflowed with baby boomers. We have lots of fun memories from good old Edgefield School.

Not only that, but we also went to the same junior high school, high school, and college together. Shoot. We even majored in the same subject, journalism. Dave focused on marketing. I chose news writing.

A funny thing happened on the way to life. After completing our internships, his for a non-profit agency and mine at a major metropolitan newspaper, neither of us pursued that career.

We both ended up in rural Holmes Co., Ohio. Though neither of us was certified, we both became elementary teachers. Dave began his education career at Millersburg, Ohio. I started at nearby Killbuck.

Dave married the love of his life the first year he taught. I married during my second year of pedagogy to a beautiful woman I knew all of nine months. That was 45 years ago.

Guess who our best man was? Yep. Dave. Today, his wife and my wife are also best friends, two of a kind, kind of like Dave and me.

Dave and Kate had a girl and a boy. Neva and I had a girl and boy. We were even in the same Lamaze class together.

Now, no one would ever mistake Dave for me or me for Dave. I’m much more handsome than he is, and more modest too. Dave does have a better head of hair than me, which wouldn’t take much.

Dave and I came from similar God-fearing, middle-class families. His fine folks worked hard to ensure their two sons would contribute in the post-World War II world. Mine did the same, only with five raucous rascals to point in the right direction.

Cleveland Indians
Dave and I both like baseball, too.

Our parents instilled in us good manners, proper eating habits, and to keep the Sabbath like any good, church-going folks would. That meant after Sunday services, we played ball, went fishing or washed the car.

Dave and I dressed alike, too. Hand-me-down flannel shirts and blue jeans were appropriate for many occasions. That trait followed us into adulthood in an uncanny way.

On more than one occasion, Dave and I have shown up at the same event dressed as if we had agreed on the dress code before leaving. We didn’t.

Recently, we arranged to meet for dinner before attending a concert by Sonnenberg Station in Wooster, Ohio.

Right on cue, mostly thanks to our prompt wives, we arrived within minutes of each other. Dave had on a light blue shirt, dark blue sweater, beige khakis, and brown shoes. So did I.

When my wife told Dave’s wife that I was having a colonoscopy, Kate responded, “So is Dave!” The same day. Dave and I just laughed, until the preparations began.

I’m happy to report that we had the same results. We both see our gastroenterologists next in 2026.

I hope each of you have a friend like Dave. I hope you get a good report on your colonoscopy, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Sunset Glory

glowing sunset, Ohio
Sunset glory.

The sunsets just keep getting better and better. Or possibly it’s the string of perpetually gray Ohio days that make the infrequent sunset all the more glorious. Either way, I greatly appreciate the beauty of the evening sky and the radiance that bids the day farewell.

“Sunset Glory” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

United by purpose and priorities

sunny hillside
Sun and shadow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

At first, I was a bit taken aback when the Amish man asked me the question. Pointing to my business card, he wanted to know what the term “blogger” meant.

I tried to explain it verbally before a light went on in my head. I pulled out my iPhone and brought up my blog so Joe (not his real name) could see for himself. He was sincerely intrigued, and genuinely thankful for the first-hand explanation.

His world was dissimilar from mine. In the larger scope of things, however, we weren’t that different at all. In fact, we probably had more in common than we realized. I like to think that applies to most folks. We just need to set aside our biases, listen and look at what is before us.

With his question, we had connected. I had opened a curtain into my world that this inquisitive man would not have otherwise even known to pull back.

Then I realized the magic of the moment. He had just done the same for me.

I had driven a dozen miles south into the unglaciated hills and valleys of Holmes Co., Ohio to shoot some photos of one of the several products Joe makes.

Cameras and Amish usually don’t mix. However, I assured Joe that I respected his beliefs regarding not being personally photographed. I was there to capture the process of creating the shoulder yoke that he made for Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

In today’s hyper-suspicious world, Lehman’s customers had requested proof that Amish indeed make specific items and were not imported from some third-world country. The wooden yoke was one of them.

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I arrived early at Joe’s shop, a lesson I learned long ago from my prompt wife. Joe was ready for me and got right to work. He had all the production steps organized for me to photograph.

He trusted me to shoot only the materials, machines, and tools that he used. Out of respect for his beliefs, I was careful not to include his face in the photos. We moved smoothly from station to station.

In less than half an hour, Joe had taken raw wood and produced his useful yoke. I had to stay alert to keep up with him. Joe was that efficient and prepared.

I was mightily impressed with his skills. Only after we had finished the assignment did I realize the significance of his yoke product.

What he makes both eases a difficult job and provides more comfort for off-the-grid people everywhere. They sling the yoke onto their shoulders, which distributes the weight of the heavy items they have to carry.

If it’s two buckets of water, they balance on opposite ends of the yoke. It’s a simple method and old tradition. Joe’s skilled hands, which show the scars of his years of woodworking, help to make life a little easier for the yoke purchasers scattered across several states.

I couldn’t help but mentally compare the maker and the buyers of these yokes. Like Joe and his family, they probably don’t have electricity or any electronics like my smartphone to make life simpler for them.

Perhaps those who use the yoke ride a horse-drawn cart or raise livestock, too. Maybe they hang their laundry out to dry on a clothesline just like Joe’s wife.

Geography and cultures might separate us. Purpose and priorities unite us.

daffodils
Daffodils.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

April Sunset

sunset, Ohio's Amish country
April sunset.

April’s weather in northeast Ohio can be fickle, to say the least. After a tease of springtime in late March, April brings us all back to reality in short order. In the space of a week, it’s not unusual to experience bitter cold and snow, torrential rains, damaging winds, and a beautiful, still, sunny day.

Regardless of the day’s weather, we can often count on an inspiring sunset. Indeed, this week we had our pick.

“April Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016