Reconnecting with friends

Food, fun, and fellowship is always an excellent combination.

I had waited a long time to take a picture like this. However, I got so wrapped up at the moment that I left my camera at home. So my smartphone camera would have to suffice.

There we all were 40, gray-headed old souls who finally, after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, gathered together to eat, laugh, and share. I had to capture the moment.

The group was our faith formation or Sunday school class. We had only met a couple of times via Zoom since March 2020. So to finally be meeting in person was a taste of heaven on earth.

As a group, we were all on the same page. We followed the recommended health restrictions issued and altered as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, morphed, and challenged global scientists and medical personnel.

Our hosts had moved to the Harrisonburg, Virginia area from Wayne County, Ohio a year before we moved from a neighboring Ohio county. They had invited the entire class to their rural home nestled into a hill and surrounded by forest and wildlife.

Storms were in the forecast, but this was a determined group. The desire to see each other face-to-face overtook any threat of severe thunderstorms.

Besides, we met in a sweeping semi-circle in our hosts’ expansive and sparkling clean garage. With east and west doors open, a welcome breeze kept us comfortable.

As the first people arrived, an orphaned fawn hobbled across the emerald grass and plopped down. Soon, it righted itself and wobbled into the woods, likely looking for its mother.

Cars arrived at steady intervals, which allowed some positive personal interaction as guests exited their vehicles. With all safely vaccinated, no face masks were required. The many smiles spoke volumes. Fist bumps and hugs abounded.

An approaching storm.

With the hosts providing the main course, half the class brought salads and the other half desserts. Typical for any Mennonite potluck, the offerings were tasty and satisfying. No one went away hungry.

After lunch, we all found our seats in the garage and began the organized sharing. First, the class coordinator asked each person to share briefly about their pandemic situations. Some spoke at length, while others said only a few words.

Several of the attendees live in a local retirement community with even tighter standards than those who lived independently. They were more than delighted to be sitting with this gray-headed crowd.

One man shared how he had lost all of his siblings. Some deaths were due to COVID-19, others from natural causes. Not being able to gather to mourn in the usual fashion compounded his grieving.

Some told of vacations and weddings canceled. Others beamed at finally physically reconnecting with family and meeting grandchildren, some for the first time.

The eldest of the group stole the show, however. When it was this stateman’s turn to share, Cal simply said, “I’m glad to be here,” parroting late-night TV show guests’ comments. Other one-liners had us all laughing with this soon-to-be 96-year-old.

A thundershower clipped through the conversations, but it didn’t deter these determined folks. The laughter, sharing, and caring continued right on through the distant rumbles of thunder.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to see, hear, and be together again in the flesh. But we were also very thankful for the church and political leaders who have guided us through this unwelcome pandemic storm.

The fellowship of like-minded friends is invaluable. Consequently, our bonding time ended in a grateful halleluiah prayer of thanksgiving.     

Can you find the fawn?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It pays to be flexible in retirement

I thought retirement was going to be peaceful and calm. I was dreaming.

Take two recent back-to-back days, for instance. My wife and I could have gotten ulcers from our on-again, off-again schedules. Instead, we merely went with the flow as we have learned to do.

This particular Tuesday was packed. We skipped our morning Zoom yoga session in favor of hosting Neva’s first cousin and his wife for breakfast before they headed back to Ohio. Of course, Neva did her usual over-the-top hospitality thing.

We looked forward to their long-awaited in-person visit, their first in two years. But there was a problem. I host a Zoom writing group on the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. I knew the lively conversation would last well beyond the Zoom meeting’s starting time. I had no choice but to excuse myself from the enjoyable party.

When I started the Zoom writing meeting, a couple of folks were already waiting to get in. Others arrived late. Since we were in three different states, we spent the waiting time catching up until everyone was present.

The meeting went well with lots of excellent readings and constructive comments. Though the two hours flew by, I was exhausted. Zoom tends to do that to me.

After a light lunch on the porch, I decided to mow the yard since the grass was tall and my afternoon was open. I had to finish by 3:30 p.m., though, so that I could go with my wife to pick up our middle grandchild at the middle school at 4 p.m. Nana was to drop me off at our daughter’s house on the way to taking the youngest grandchild to soccer practice.

From there, I was to ride with our daughter and her husband to watch their oldest play baseball in a neighboring town. However, that plan got altered and then totally scrapped when the home team changed the game start time to 7:30, not 6. It was one big “Never Mind.”

The next day wasn’t much better. All the hustle and bustle activities got squeezed into a late afternoon-early evening time frame. The plan was to host our daughter and whatever family members could attend for dinner.

Nana had made beef stew, and they would all eat and go to the high school for the first live band concert in more than a year. The middle grandchild would play the French horn with the high school band.

Because I had a previously scheduled appointment in town, I was to join them for the 6 p.m. concert after rushing home to enjoy the stew. The high school is just a five-minute drive from our home.

Of course, that all changed when we learned that the band concert started a half-hour later than initially scheduled. Consequently, Nana made a stew run to our daughters, and she and I ate a quick supper on the back porch.

We arrived at the football stadium just as the wind began to pick up. Band members, including our grandson, struggled to keep their sheet music from blowing into Pennsylvania.

To comply with school rules for large gatherings, each musician wore a face mask. So did audience members. Those playing wind instruments, like our grandson, tucked the mouthpiece underneath their masks and played on. Somehow, someway, they pulled it off.

My wife and I were duly impressed with the performance. Given the conditions, the students sounded great.

No matter the circumstances, we wouldn’t have missed any of those activities. In retirement, being flexible pays big dividends despite life’s frenzy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Memorial Day is for remembering

A Virginia man prepares his Memorial Day decorations.

Memorial Day is for remembering. As a septuagenarian, the bulk of my life is behind me. Memories fill my daily life, but especially so on this solemn weekend.

In the years between ages 21 and 51, I started my career as a public school educator. I met and married my energetic and valiant wife. Our daughter and son were born. I simultaneously served 27 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

I consider those the best years of my life. That is true, not because of anything I did, but because of the people I met and interacted with in the communities where I lived, worked, and served.

To list all the folks would surely be impossible. So, I’ll share a few meaningful examples of those who helped me along life’s way.

Of course, I have to start with my parents, Dick and Marian. In the post-World War II era, men were the breadwinners, and women were for the most part housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s just how it was, and I am exceedingly glad those societal expectations are no longer the norm.

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding celebration.

At 6 foot 2 inches, Dad cut an imposing figure for that era. But he lived like a child turned loose in the world. He loved our mother dearly, but he never saw the need to help much around the house.

Mom always had supper ready when Dad came home from work. After we ate, Dad would often go on some adventure, whether to tend the garden we had on a friend’s property two miles away or to a church softball game.

Mom took things in stride as best she could. None of us five kids ever doubted her love, but we sure tested her limits. Mom was as kind and sweet as she was stalwart and unafraid to have a necessary word or two with Dad or us when needed.

Dad served in World War II on the U.S.S. San Diego, a Navy light cruiser that saw action in 16 major Pacific battles. They never lost a man. Dad was proud of his service but seldom talked much about it. His father, Merle, served in the Army in France in World War I.

Grandpa was gassed by German forces and treated in a field hospital that kept no medical records. He suffered from those damaged lungs until he died at age 72. He never received the financial or medical help that he needed and consequently lived a hard life.

My wife’s parents, Wayne and Esther, took me in like the son they never had. I knew Wayne liked me right away because he ushered me to the barn to see the pigs on my first visit to the farm. My wife said it usually took suitors three trips before they got that introduction.

Family members weren’t my only influencers. I boarded with Helen, a kindly woman, the first year that I taught. We became lifelong friends. Never married, Helen graciously adopted our family as her own. Our daughter and son were the grandchildren she never had.

Many others guided me through life, too: teachers, friends, other family members, even strangers. I cherish the times they spent with me. They all revered the past, never feared the future but sensibly lived in and for the moment at hand. So should we.

You have your saints, too. Remember them we must, for that is what they would want us to do. It is what we all want once we are gone. It’s why we have Memorial Day.

Dad at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009 as part of an Honor Flight.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Women who influenced my life

A Mother’s Day tribute

One of my mother’s watercolors that she gave to me.

My four siblings and I were most fortunate. We had a loving, caring, creative, dependable mother. We will miss her always.

Though our dear mother died nine years ago, I can still hear her soothing voice. I can also hear her sterner vocalization, to put it delicately. We weren’t perfect children, after all.

She did her best to discipline us appropriately when we needed it. Unlike my ornery younger brother, I never tasted a bar of soap, however.

Mom’s lovely paintings showed her creative side. But she was a perfectionist. My brothers, sisters, and I discovered piles of both finished and unfinished paintings that Mom thought were less than her best. Many of those watercolors now accent walls in our homes and those of our adult children.

Mom’s self-esteem matured as she aged. She learned to drive at age 40 and loved her grandchildren with matronly devotion.

Mom also had no hesitation about putting Dad in his place when it was appropriate. The specific inflective tone that Mom used always got Dad’s attention. Unfortunately, like most males, it didn’t register in his memory bank.

Mom was a near mirror image of her mother, Birdie Pearl. Grandma Frith’s kind and gentle lilt revealed her Virginia roots every time she spoke. We loved to visit her on the job at a local bakeshop, where each lucky grandchild left with a yummy sugar cookie.

Grandma Frith enjoying a boat ride.

Grandma Frith visited us for Sunday lunch every third week. We had to share her with Mom’s two sisters and their families, who lived nearby. Grandma Frith sat quietly at family gatherings, contented to watch her 17 grandchildren run wild. She was a stately woman indeed.

I also remember my grandfather’s mother, whom we called Mom. Like Grandma Frith, her curly silvery hair bespoke simple eloquence. The yellowy square homemade noodles of her chicken potpie were positively delicious. The chickens and eggs came right out of the coop behind the old rickety house.

Nostalgia, though, can’t rule my admiration for caring, gracious mothers. My wife and my daughter serve as prime examples, though I likely am prejudiced. These are two energetic women on missions. They leave no stone unturned in their quest for truth, justice, and their energy to get things done. Others often are the beneficiaries of their drive, desire, and creativity.

It’s been four years since we moved to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to the grandkids. We have enjoyed watching them grow. And grow they have. All three will soon be taller than Nana.

I have equally enjoyed observing the interaction between their mother and father. I am glad that our dynamic, expressive daughter has adopted and implemented different parenting approaches than what my wife and I used.

Ours weren’t wrong. I just wish we had been more patient and took more time to ask and listen to our children when they were children. Our daughter and her husband have a good handle on that with their active trio.

I also see new life and vibrancy in the mother that I love most, my wife. It took us a little while to settle into our Virginia setting, but Neva took her magic gift of hospitality to a new level once we did.

Neva smoothly shifted into high gear during the pandemic. She sewed, cooked, fed, washed, ironed, drove, delivered, and brightened the lives of grandkids, old friends, strangers, family, and neighbors.

I am grateful for caring mothers everywhere who have helped mold lives young and old, including mine. Faith poured into loving action does that.

Nana and our granddaughter icing cookies.

The helpfulness of neighbors

When it is least expected and most appreciated

What is it about a snowstorm that brings out the best in people? Is it the commonality of being snowed-in?

Is it the down-deep desire to be helpful in any way possible? Is it the freshness of the pure white landscape plastered with inches of snow? Or is it the clean, cold, wholesome air?

Or maybe it’s out of the genuine goodness of people’s hearts, the opportunity and ability to help where help is needed that stirs folks into action. Perhaps it is all of these things rolled into one.

Whatever the motivation, the results are the same. Neighbors come together for the common good of all simply because there is a job to do.

In this case, it was to clear driveways and sidewalks.

Our National Weather Service office did an excellent job of warning the good people of the Commonwealth that a winter storm was imminent. Just the mention of snow in the forecast in Virginia, and schools, factories, and offices close.

Even if you had missed the winter storm warning announcement, the crowds at every grocery store should have raised an internal alarm. Supermarkets become jammed the day before, with folks buying enough supplies to last for weeks. I figured for this storm that the only milk left in the county belonged to the dairy cows still in the milking parlor stanchions.

So, yes, we were ready for snow, and when we woke the next morning, we weren’t disappointed. A beautiful five-inches blanketed everything animate and inanimate all around our suburban neighborhood.

The forecast was for the quick burst of heavy snow followed by a lull with more snow once the low hit the east coast. The wrap-around snow later from the nor’easter provided another three inches over a much more extended period.

After I had measured the snow depth at 7 a.m., I shoveled our front sidewalk and a path out to the street. I came back in to send in my snow report via email to the National Weather Service and eat breakfast.

Before I could return to the shoveling, Neva hollered that our neighbor Frank was snow-blowing our driveway. I hurriedly dressed for the elements and headed back outside. I thanked Frank but told him that he didn’t need to be doing our driveway.

A beautiful early morning snow.

Frank chuckled and modestly said that his snowblower needed the dust blown out of it. Given how little snow we usually receive in the Shenandoah Valley, I understood his comment. However, this winter has been different, and this was Frank’s first opportunity to use his machine.

Frank had already cleaned his driveway and that of another neighbor before doing ours. When he finished at our place, he went to Janice’s across the street.

To our surprise, our good-neighbor assistance continued. Frank had no sooner left when our next-door neighbor Wayne showed up and started shoveling the remaining snow. I tried to wave him off, but he was determined.

Then out of nowhere popped Jonathan and his mother, Deb, our across-the-street friends. They joined Wayne in clearing all the leftover snow. Of course, Neva and I helped, too.

I could hear snowblowers on other streets in our nearly 500-home development. We weren’t the only recipients of neighbors helping neighbors.

Neva and I were both thankful and humbled by the spontaneous actions of generosity. It would have taken me much longer than the few minutes that Frank and his impromptu crew needed to clear our drive.

But where were we going to go? Virginia was closed for the day and, just for good measure, the next day, too.   

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Zooming through the pandemic

Zooming with cousins.

Because of the needed health restrictions, we stayed close to home for much of 2020. That didn’t keep us from visiting with family and friends, however.

We recognized that the issued restrictions were and continue to be for our own safety. So, we faithfully followed them.

Like everyone else, we missed our everyday human interactions with friends and family most of all. Then we discovered a satisfactory no contact substitute.

We Zoomed.

Zoom is a program that works on devices like laptops, smartphones, and iPads to share face-to-face. Many businesses and educational institutions use it to operate during the pandemic.

We enjoyed being able to interact with folks and see them, too. We attended lectures, joined college classes, and watched concerts remotely on our computers.

Impressed, I downloaded Zoom onto my laptop, figured out how to set up a meeting, and off we went. Of course, Zoom isn’t the only remote option around. It just seemed the most logical and straightforward to use, especially with groups.

The executives of Zoom are no dummies. Your first session is free with no time limit. After that, the program shuts down after 40 minutes.

I’m no dummy, either. I bought a subscription when it was on sale, of course, and we haven’t looked back.

Zoom helped save our social life without violating the physical distancing requirements. We set up meetings with friends and family far and wide, and we Zoomed away.

We Zoomed at Thanksgiving with our son and his wife in New York. Our daughter and her family were with us, and we managed a holiday family photo with our granddaughter holding her uncle and aunt on her lap. That’s what laptops are for, right?

Before the COVID-19 travel restrictions, we had scheduled a reunion with my wife’s cousins and spouses. We kept the date and met remotely via Zoom.

Everyone liked it so well that we met again two weeks later. We’ve kept that up ever since, with everyone making it a priority. One cousin remarked that we have met together more via Zoom than we had in-person all the years previous. Technology transcends state boundaries or mountain ranges or hundreds of miles.

We heard stories new and old. We laughed and laughed, especially at the play-by-play of a herd of wayward dairy cows. In these dark times, we need as much laughter as we can get.

I even took free Zoom classes to sharpen my hosting skills. I was one of the hundreds in the remote classroom, yet I never left home to learn. I didn’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom, either.

We Zoomed with friends and family in Ohio, North Carolina, and locally, too. My wife contacted some college friends and set up a Zoom meeting. The ladies enjoyed it so much that they also now regularly met.

They chat as if they were in a dorm room. After the classmates’ last Zoom gathering, their laughter carried out of my office clear to the great room.

We have also Zoomed for doctor appointments, church meetings, small groups, worship, and community service meetings. We have visited history museums and taken virtual field trips via Zoom.

Though we use other options to communicate remotely, Zoom is our go-to tool. For the record, I don’t own Zoom stock, and Zoom didn’t endorse my commentary.

Pandemic or no pandemic, we are glad technology has permitted us to continue our lives and personal connections and still stay safe and sound.

Our Thanksgiving Day Zoom.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Evening Grosbeaks

I had heard that flocks of Evening Grosbeaks were in the Rockingham Co., Virginia area. However, I could never discover where they were showing up on a regular basis. Then a friend from Ohio, where we used to live, sent me a text with a photo of Evening Grosbeaks that were regular visitors at her brother’s feeders. He lived a little more than 10 miles from our home.

I called and received persmission to photograph the birds. The home owner, also a birder, said the birds usually fed in the morning between 7 and 9. My wife and I arrived around 8 a.m., and I drove slowly up the farm’s long driveway. As soon as I reached the back of the house where the feeders were, about 30 Evening Grosbeaks flew to trees not far away. I lowered the van windows and waited for them to return.

And return they did! I had both of my cameras along, and I clicked away. I had seen Evening Grosbeaks before, but never this close or this many. Normally, Evening Grosbeaks don’t venture this far south in the winter. But during irruption years, they appear almost randomly at various locations in the east and midwest. It is thought that an irruption occurs when the hatch rate of birds is high, but their usual food supplies can’t match the demand. Other species, like Snow Owls, also appear in irruptions. The Evening Grosbeaks were feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

“Evening Grosbeaks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! Whether you gather in person or remotely or in some combination of both, may this Season of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring purpose, meaning, and grace to each of you.

Thank you so much for following along all these years. Christmas Blessings to one and all!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

How the pandemic has strengthened relationships

The old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” has never been more apt than in the pandemic. It’s one of the realities of following governmental and health restrictions.

The ancient origin of this aphorism referred to lovers. Today’s version also applies to friends and family. My wife and I have missed the gracious person-to-person hospitality and warm congeniality of close friends and family members.

Since early March, Neva and I have taken great pains to follow the recommended health guidelines to avoid passing or contracting the lethal virus. Those precautions include avoiding entering buildings, including homes.

Following those procedures naturally means limitations. Regularly seeing friends and family has undoubtedly been one of the casualties. Relationships mean the world to us, so we have found coping alternatives.

We are fortunate to live nearby our daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. We occasionally commune with them, mostly outdoors.

Physical distancing with our family early in pandemic.

We have visited and hosted friends, but again, always on patios or well-ventilated venues. With the weather growing colder by the day, that option may soon end.

We are unfortunate in not being able to visit in-person with our son and his wife, who live seven hours north of us in upstate New York. We haven’t physically seen them for a year and a half.

Our siblings, cousins, and close friends fit the same scenario. Virtual connectivity has replaced the real thing.

We so appreciate when folks make special efforts to connect. Unexpected cards, emails, texts, and phone calls from friends and family are great gifts.

Even better is when folks go out of their way to see us face to face. We’ll drive an hour or more to meet long-time friends who are passing through Virginia. We’ll gather at a coffee shop, sit around a table outdoors, and chat for hours about everything from baseball to the weather. We do the same with some local acquaintances monthly.

Though we want to, we don’t shake hands or hug. Elbow bumps and invisible embraces have respectfully replaced the more intimate contact, only for the sake of being safe for all concerned.

For now and the foreseeable future, that’s how we will continue to maintain friendships. Virtual and careful in-person contact will have to suffice until a proven vaccine is available to all. I wish we could do better than that, but that is the way it has to be.

Consequently, my wife and I have spent much more time together than if there were no pandemic. Yes, we still give each other space to breathe and do our own thing. But we also have settled into enjoyable daily routines of just being together quietly.

Am I saying that after nearly 50 years of marriage, I have a newfound and more profound appreciation for my spouse? Yes, I am, and yes, I have. It has taken me a long time to arrive at this station in our marriage. I especially appreciate Neva’s gifts of hospitality and creativity.

If the cautious semi-isolation of the past seven months has taught me anything, let it be this. I love my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my devoted friends more and more each day.

Enjoying quiet time together.

I do so because the pandemic has forced me to finally and fully be aware of each moment as it occurs. I try to minimize idiosyncrasies that I formally found irritating, and instead express my appreciation for those that make my life happier.

Committed and loving relationships with family and friends are critical to everyone’s quality of life. That’s especially true in a pandemic.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Great Expectations!


It wasn’t hard to miss these two young girls as they stepped along the river’s shoreline in search of just the right spot to fish. A few minutes earlier, their father gave them instructions and stepped back to let them do their thing.

Initially, the girl with the net had a fishing pole. However, she traded it in for the oversized net in anticipation that her fishing buddy would catch a whopper. The scene reminded me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on one of their adventures. The afternoon sun beamed down on the girls with their floppy hats, clunky boots, matching red shorts, and colorful T-shirts.

“Great Expectation!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020