Breaking a long tradition for a heartfelt reason

cuttingthechristmastreebybrucestambaugh
The perfect tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.

For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.

The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.

Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.

Christmas tree, opening gifts, family
Christmas morning.

Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.

We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.

My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.

In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.

With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.

We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.

Concolor, memorial tree
The Jenny tree.

We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.

Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.

The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.

We had been through a lot together.

Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.

Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.

We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.

Paul Roth family
The Roth family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In search of a sunset, I found serenity, too

City sunset
View from the city.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I drove away from the city to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.

I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home in the Virginia valley that is the result of ancient geologic folding. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.

After I had dropped off my oldest grandson at baseball practice, I drove a few miles south and west of the city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.

Veiw west
On Ava’s family farm.
Ava had given me perfect directions to her old place. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.

Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.

I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise.

Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera. I didn’t know that, however.

In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, gather the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys, and mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.

Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.

Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.

My senses were conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark.

Dancing sunset
Dancing rays.
As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.

I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.

We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.

I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.

Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering red and orange rays.

This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.

Allegheny sunset, Shenandoah sunset
Ava’s evening view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Friends of friends become your friends, too

friends, birthday celebration
Friends Ruth, Don and Ken before Gail arrived for the surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.

It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.

Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.

That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.

They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?

With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.

About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.

friends meeting
Meeting place. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.

When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.

Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.

Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.

We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.

Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.

true friends
Gail and Neva. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.

A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.

That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.

For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.

That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.

friends
Friends. © Don Brown 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015