A more personal March Madness

Amelia Island FL, sunsets
One of my favorite photos, a sunset in northern Florida.

My wife and I love to watch college basketball. It’s how we often spend many quiet winter evenings together at home.

We’ll watch a college hoops game at 7 p.m. and even switch back and forth to other collegiate games that are simultaneously broadcast on TV. At 9, we start the process all over again, usually until half time when it’s lights out for this tired and retired couple.

When its tournament time, more commonly known as March Madness, we are in basketball heaven. Neva claims the love seat while I relax in the recliner. Now, it’s not like all we do is watch talented athletes run up and down the court making incredible plays and acrobatic shots.

In our 48 years of marriage, Neva has taught me to multi-task. With the game going full blast on TV, she reads or works on her iPad while I often write or edit photos to post on my online blog or social media. Of course, the game gets our full attention if it is close, especially as the game clock ticks down.

The happy couple.

Basketball isn’t the only kind of madness happening in March for us. We just celebrated our wedding anniversary. How and where we met and when we married is the rest of the remarkable story.

It was one of those “meant to be” situations. In June 1970 before we ever knew one another, Neva and I separately agreed to supervise a group of 10 energetic youth from the church I attended. It was a weeklong work-study project deep into eastern Kentucky’s coalmine region. The first time I saw her was when the group assembled to leave.

Our work involved hoeing three acres of cucumbers in the morning’s coolness. We studied and visited local sites in the afternoon when the temperatures and humidity were both off the charts.

To further learn about the Appalachian culture, we visited local homes far up those infamous hollows. We also did home repairs. Short on tools, we used large rocks to pound roofing nails into tarpaper.

It was an inspiring experience. What impressed me most, however, was Neva. Love interfered with logic. We were married the following March at the height of both college and Ohio high school basketball tournaments.

Our fathers had to wonder about our timing. They both loved basketball. We thought for sure that Neva’s father would walk her down the aisle holding a transistor radio to one ear listening to a game.

Somehow we survived that day and all the days that have followed. We haven’t lived a charmed life together, and it certainly hasn’t been perfect. But we have thrived as both a couple and as individuals. Mutual forgiveness, love, and trust will do that.

birds
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Our skills and interests have nicely balanced our life together. Neva is a marvelous cook and I am a grateful, hungry husband. Neva prefers reading. I write. She sews. I bird. She quilts. I take photos. You get the picture, no pun intended.

As March plays out into April, Neva and I will be watching how the college basketball playoffs turn out. Of course we each fill out a bracket, making our best guesses as to which teams will be in the final four. The chances of our winning are low. Our marriage, however, has beaten the odds.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep holding hands, and doing what we can to make this world a better place. We have celebrated another personal March Madness milestone and look forward to many more together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Signs of Spring

daffodils, sleeping on a park bench
What more evidence is needed that Spring is finally here? Daffodils blooming in a wooded hillside and a man sleeping on a park bench in the afternoon sunshine pretty much says it all. Spring has arrived indeed.

“Signs of Spring” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

In honor of a long life well-lived and served

Dr. Paul Roth, dedicated service
Paul Roth, his wife Caroll, and daughter Linda, knotting a comforter in 2010 at Millersburg (OH) Mennonite Church.

Paul Roth was the most powerful man I ever knew. He was also the most humble.

Paul Roth died recently after a long life well lived. He was 91.

Paul viewed and lived life through very different lenses than most other mortals. Humility, kindness, compassion, service, patience, hospitality, and generosity towards others bestowed that power that he never misused or even acknowledged. Control and manipulation were never goals to which he aspired.

Devoted Christian that he was, Paul forsook attention to himself. He forewent pleasures and luxuries he rightly earned through his hard work and position as an admired and gentle physician. Instead, he always focused equally on the needs of others, family, friends, and strangers alike.

It was that strange duo of power and humility that made Paul Roth most admired and appreciated. Through compassionate service to others, his community, and his church he became one of the most respected individuals I ever knew.

Paul understood both the purpose and value of life. Giving to others gave him joy, inspiration, courage, wisdom, and personal satisfaction. That was all the reward he needed. If anyone indeed denied himself, took up his cross, and followed where the spirit led, it surely was Paul Roth.

He ventured from farm to college to med school to serving in Puerto Rico, Killbuck, Ohio, Haiti, Honduras, and many other places helping generations of appreciative folks over decades. He found joy in doing the most menial of jobs, like cutting rags for hours on end at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio.

family doctor, birth of a son
When Dr. Paul Roth delivered our son, he held Nathan up by the legs and proclaimed, “She’s a boy!”

Because he did all of these things for others, Paul Roth was a highly revered man by those he served with compassion, dignity, self-worth, and genuine Christian love. He was a real peacemaker, always on the lookout for common ground, respect for all persons and living things great and small.

Paul understood that taking action was a life-giving, daily practice. He salvaged discarded wood and transformed it into works of art or toys for grandkids and gifts for friends. Paul listened to his patients when no one else would. He knotted comforters simply because someone needed to do it.

Paul would not want any of this attention or these accolades. Focusing on self ran counter to his servanthood culture. But when one who put his faith into action his entire life dies, there is no shame, no harm in honoring him and the good life he lived.

At his memorial service, a granddaughter shared how she loved to go down to the garden with Paul to plant, weed, and pick the fruits of their labor. Since the garden was near the highway that connected Killbuck and Millersburg, she was impressed with how many cars honked their horns as they passed. That’s the way friends and patients recognized their favorite doctor. She said Paul always tried to wave back.

Another attendee at the service privately noted that the waving wasn’t so much for the drivers as it was for his granddaughter. Even in that familiar gesture, he modeled the importance of gratitude. Indeed, Paul was also the most grateful person I knew.

The Roths, however, were not immune to life’s perils. Paul and his ever-devoted wife Caroll knew too much sadness in their lives. A fire destroyed their home at Christmas 1978. They lost their son Steve to cancer at age 25. Their daughter Jenny, adopted from Korea as a toddler, died of an aneurysm at age 47.

Yes, they knew heartache and grief, too, but Paul and Caroll persevered, continued serving, giving of their time, talents, and hospitality whenever, wherever, however they could. It was as if tragedy had made them even more loving.

The respect and admiration for Paul stretch across many cultures, languages, social standings, and ethnicities. He was an equal opportunity servant. Shoot. He even made house calls.

Paul was also a person to imitate in how to live a productive and peaceful life in service to others, all done out of the universal love for his God, his family, and his community.

That, praise be, is Paul Roth’s lasting, golden-rule legacy.

Dr. Paul Roth, Killbuck OH, Holmes Co. OH
This photo was taken when my wife and I visited Caroll and Paul Roth last July.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Impressionistic sunset

impressionism, Allegheny Mountains, sunset
My goal was to capture the vernal equinox sunset. Instead, I came away with a shot that resembled a Claude Monet landscape.

I positioned myself on a hill in northwest Harrisonburg, Virginia in hopes of getting photos of the Super Full Worm Moon rising over the Massanutten Mountains that run north to south in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, a layer of rain clouds blocked that attempt. With that foiled, I turned my attention to the setting sun on the first day of spring.

Hazy clouds filled the western horizon as well, though the sun did its best to burn through. Residue smoke from controlled burns in the Jefferson National Forest during the day fuzzed up the view all the more. Sunsets around the equinoxes are the shortest of the year. This one merely melted away behind the blue, blue folds of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Impressionistic sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Thanks for the memories Edgefield School

old school, Plain Local School District, Canton OH
Edgefield School. (Photo courtesy of Dave Findley.)

Given its age, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the news, but I was. The old elementary school where I attended for the first six years of my formal education will be torn down soon.

The building more than outlived its usefulness. Built in 1915, Edgefield served as an educational institution long after students quit attending several years ago. The county office of education took over the empty building for offices. The Stark County Educational Service Center provided a variety of educational services for multiple local school districts throughout the county and beyond.

Hundreds of baby boomer scholars traipsed through the halls and up and down the three stories of steps at Edgefield, and hundreds more before and after that. I can’t speak for them, but my Edgefield experiences provided lots of fond memories.

The storied school’s staff supplied me with a solid foundation for life. Not that I was ever the best student. But Edgefield instilled in me a love of learning, a respect for teaching, and a joy of being with others.

I began my stint at the old brick building as a first grader at age five. My school district didn’t offer kindergarten back then.

I can remember the name of every teacher that I had in all six grades. I even recall the principal and the affable custodian, Bill Meola. I feared the former and worshiped the latter.

Stonework over the front door.
Bill was an excellent custodian and a great human being. All the kids loved him for his kindness and his skill at keeping the building clean. Somehow he ensured Edgefield avoided the usual institutional smell.

His was not an easy job either with the school overflowing with runny-nosed children. The school had a kitchen but no cafeteria. At the appointed time, we lined up, trudged quietly down the steps to the first floor, and filed through a buffet-style line. Only, it wasn’t a buffet by any stretch of the imagination. I haven’t eaten a stewed tomato since.

We just took what was placed onto our compartmentalized light green plastic trays. We retreated back up the steps to eat at our classroom desks. Occasionally someone slipped and spilled their tray. Mr. Meola was right there to clean up the mess.

I don’t want to sentimentalize my experiences at Edgefield. Still, the interconnectedness of the school’s atmosphere, the reliable teachers, the instructional routines we developed, the rules we followed, the games we played at recess, the sense of personal worth that helped formulate who I became, what I appreciated in life, and instilled in me the value of a good education.

All of that must have had a subliminal influence on me. Despite having graduated from college with a journalism degree, I became a public school educator for 30 years. I taught how I was taught.

The ball field we played on had long since been paved over for a parking lot.
Classes were large by today’s standards. It wasn’t unusual for 35 to 40 students to pack each self-contained classroom.

In every class, we sat in straight, long rows of wooden desks with steel frames. The teachers taught, and the students obeyed. Those who didn’t felt the sting of the paddle that hung at the front of Mr. Bartley’s sixth-grade classroom.

To this day I can smell those mimeographed worksheets the teachers handed out. Chills still run down my spine at the thought of white chalk screeching on the slate blackboard worn smooth from years of erasing assignments.

In the winter, students would place their wet gloves on the old silver radiators to dry after building snowmen at recess. Throwing snowballs was a no-no of course.

My friend and former Edgefield classmate feigning depression over the demolition news.
At Edgefield School, students were taught the three Rs and much more. Being polite and using proper manners were also priorities. In today’s terms, the instruction at this grammar school was basic but holistic. Being a good citizen was paramount.

Nostalgia can interfere with reality. Regardless, old Edgefield can be torn down, but no wrecking crew can ever destroy my cherished school memories.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Beautiful view, horrific history

Shenandoah NP, New Hope VA
The one thing that constantly amazes me is how much I learn by taking photos. And often what I learn has more to do with the setting than photography itself. This photo is the perfect example.

Anyone would be happy to take this shot. I certainly was. The late afternoon light was perfect shining on the Blue Ridge Mountains, highlighting the ice-encrusted trees along the undulating summit. This is the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.

I noticed a historical plaque close to where I had stopped to get the shot. So I pulled up to read what the plate said. I was stunned. Here among all these rolling farm fields against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Mountains a bloody, decisive Civil War battle had been fought. Known as the Battle of Piedmont, Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops. This led to the fall of Staunton and control of the railways in the Shenandoah Valley, known as the Breadbasket of Confederacy.

The combat was costly on both sides. The Union suffered 800 casualties and the South nearly twice as many with 1,500. I wondered if passersby knew of the blood spilled all those decades ago. What did the farmers think as they plowed those fields?

I took the photo with mixed emotions. The scenery was marvelous, the history humbling. Without the marker, this would be just another beautiful rural scene. In reality, it is so much more than that.

“Beautiful view, horrific history” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Different state, same old weather

stream in winter, Holmes Co. OH
Winter weather creates beautiful scenes, but the extended cold gets tiring.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for spring. It’s been a severe winter all around, and it’s not over yet.

Just last week on three consecutive days the National Weather Service issued Winter Weather Advisories for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Winter assaulted us with an assortment of ammunition from her arsenal. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, and accumulating snow pelted down upon the usually lovely Shenandoah Valley. And then yet another arctic blast settled in.

It was even worse in the Deep South. Massive tornadoes marched across a broad landscape reaping incredible destruction and death. That devastation put our whining about the blustery weather into proper perspective. Still, I’m ready for spring.

When people learned my wife and I planned to move from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia, we heard a common theme, “At least the weather will be better there.” Well, not necessarily.

ice storm, Harrisonburg VA
Results of the latest freezing rain.
We’ve lived in the central Shenandoah Valley now for nearly two years. When it comes to weather, it’s a lot like Ohio. That only stands to reason. We live near Harrisonburg, which is no further south than Cincinnati.

Of course, longitude, latitude, and altitude jointly play leading roles in the weather everywhere. Millersburg, Ohio, our former home, sits at 899 feet above sea level while Harrisonburg’s elevation is 1,325 feet despite being in The Valley.

Thanks to the dangerous combination of an El Nino and a wildly fluctuating northern jet stream, most folks in the United States share my winter weather fatigue. The El Nino off of California’s coast has incubated storm after storm that pounded the Pacific coast. With a rerouted jet stream, those storms have dumped heavy snows in places not accustomed to such stuff. Just ask the good citizens of Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.

The jet stream speeds the storms along its southeasterly flow. That results in areas already hit by too much snow getting pounded again and again. If warm air did manage to mingle into the mess, flooding ensued. Rivers all across the country have run high most of the winter. Flood warnings have lasted days on end.

The wild weather hasn’t always been wet, either. Windstorms have caused havoc with power outages and buildings being damaged by downed trees. In Shenandoah National Park, 100 trees per mile were reported down along one section of the Skyline Drive.

Purple Finches, Harrisonburg VA
Purple Finches stopped to refuel on their way back north.
Friends in the Buckeye state have teased me that Ohio’s wintry weather seemed to follow us to The Commonwealth. Friends in Virginia have kiddingly blamed me for the lousy Virginia winter weather. I just shrug my shoulders.

Despite the miserable weather, signs of spring have made themselves known. Birders are ecstatic that migrating birds are once again on the wing. Our neighbor’s forsythia is pushing its yellow buds in competition with trumpeting daffodils. Despite the ugly weather, photos of crocuses blooming flooded social media. Tree buds are ready to unfurl their hidden life.

We take for granted another sign of spring. Daylight hours are increasing daily, although we will “lose” an hour with the return of Daylight Savings Time.

Spring is officially just days away. March’s vernal equinox can’t come soon enough.

Our neighbor’s blooming forsythia covered by snow.
Still, there is no guarantee that winter’s harsh hand will let go of its hoary grasp on us. Our only hope is to hang on as best we can until spring’s warm kisses smother us with fragrant bouquets and songbird serenades.

Why has this winter seemed never-ending? Perhaps it is so we will joyously welcome spring’s gentile weather with a renewed appreciation for its refreshing rebirth.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019