A Look Back on 2021

News that didn’t make the headlines.

Sunset in Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I’m glad 2021 has ended. We would all like to forget it for a million reasons. Likely, we never will, nor should we.

With politics and the coronavirus and its variants making up much of the headline news, I did my usual thing and kept track of some of the more quirky but still significant information.

Here are just a few of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines or the TV news.

January 1 – The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10,275,000 acres, the most ever recorded.

January 7 – Tesla CEO Elon Musk became the wealthiest person globally with a net worth of $185 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos’s paltry $184 billion.

January 8 – A Missouri woman who married a 93-year-old Civil War Veteran when she was 17 died as the last remaining widow of the war.

January 9 – The state fire marshal announced that no child died in a fire in Massachusetts for the first time since officials kept records.

January 15 – A racing pigeon that disappeared from Oregon in October 2020 reappeared in Melbourne, Australia, where officials tried to catch and kill it due to Australia’s strict quarantine rules.

January 18 – D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut, a band teacher, taught students from his Humvee before a 12-hour shift to guard the Capitol Building.

January 25 – A new study showed that the earth is losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice per year through melting glaciers and polar ice caps.

Glaciers globally are melting at rapid rates.

January 26 – Stranded in a snowstorm near Hayes Hill, Oregon, Jefferson County Public Health staff administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were about to expire to motorists who were also stuck.

February 12 – The U.S. had its deadliest week in a century for avalanche deaths when 15 skiers died between January 26 and February 6.

February 16 – Fran Goldman, 90, was so determined to get her first coronavirus vaccine after struggling to get an appointment that she walked six miles round-trip in a foot of snow in Seattle.

February 17 – Houston’s Gallery Furniture opened two stores to shelter people from the cold and snow after power and water supplies were lost all across Texas.

March 3 – The California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles caught a driver in the carpool lane with a realistic-looking passenger dummy wearing a face mask and a Cleveland Indians baseball hat.

March 8 – The sun shining through a crystal ball in the living room of a Delton, Wisconsin home caused a $250,000 fire.

March 9 – Shoe Zone, a foot ware retailer in Great Britain, announced that Terry Boot had replaced Peter Foot as the company’s financial boss.

March 11 – A digital artist known as Beeple sold a collage jpg image at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million.

March 16 – Despite being closed for six weeks during the pandemic, a record 1.7 million people visited Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia, in 2020.

March 19 – Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted for the first time in 800 years.

March 23 – Officials blamed high winds from a dust storm for the grounding of Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, to be blown sideways, blocking the Suez Canal and closing the busy shipping route.

April 8 – Archeologists in Egypt announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost golden city unearthed near the city of Luxor.

April 8 – On his second shot on the seventh hole of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, professional golfer Rory McIlroy hit his spectator father with the golf ball.

April 12 – Hope Trautwine pitched a perfect game for the University of North Texas softball team by striking out all 21 batters from Arkansas Pine Bluff.

April 14 – A report in “Nature Communications” revealed that archeologists had unearthed 3,500-year-old terracotta honey pots in central Nigeria.

April 28 – Walmart restarted its pandemic delayed experiment of online ordering of groceries and having one of their employees not only deliver it to your home but also stock your shelves and refrigerator.

May 8 – Spencer Silver, the research chemist at 3M who invented the Post-It Note, died at age 80 at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.

May 11 – A skull-head painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City for $93.1 million.

May 20 – Research from Minderoo found that the average American throws away 110 pounds of plastic annually.

June 3 – Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold an invisible sculpture at auction for $18,300.

June 5 – A study revealed that, on average, Americans touch their smartphone 2,617 times per day.

June 9 – National Geographic officially recognized the body of water around Antarctica as the world’s fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.

June 23 – A herd of 30 cows escaped from a slaughterhouse in Pico Rivera, California, and were later corralled in a cul-de-sac by police, although deputies shot one cow.

It’s not a herd, but it definitely is loose. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

June 28 – The New York Yankees, the team I love to hate, made Gwen Goldman’s 60-year-old dream come true by making her the team’s honorary batgirl for a game.

June 28 – Ankeny, Iowa, police arrested 42-year-old Robert Gollwitzer, Jr. for phoning in a bomb threat to a local McDonald’s restaurant because employees forgot to include dipping sauce for his chicken McNuggets.

July 8 – Zaita Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, became the first African-American to win the National Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.

July 10 – Death Valley, California, the temperature hit a world-record high of 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

July 12 – The Copernicus Climate Exchange Center reported that June was the hottest on record in North America.

July 13 – Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported that 841 manatees had died between January 1 and July 2, more than any other time in the state’s history.

July 22 – The United Arab Emirates used technologies, including drones, to stimulate clouds to produce rain to counter 120 temperatures and low potable water sources.

August 6 – An unopened Super Mario Brothers video game sold for $2 million at auction.

August 10 – NASA satellite photos showed for the first time in recorded history smoke from wildfires burning in Siberia reached the North Pole.

August 12 – According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the number of White people fell for the first time since 1790.

August 13 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 2021 was the hottest on record, 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th -century average.

Amish children sledding. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

September 9 – France fast-tracked 12,000 frontline COVID-19 workers to citizenship for their valiant ongoing efforts to help those in need.

September 12 – Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans, Louisiana, turned 112, the oldest surviving World War II veteran. (Sadly, Mr. Brooks died January 5, 2022).

September 13 – The governor of Massachusetts mobilized 250 National Guard members to serve as school bus drivers since the state’s schools were short on employed drivers.

September 16 – Tobacco giant Philip Morris purchased Vectura, a British company that manufactures inhalers.

September 17 – Alabama’s Health Officer, Scott Harris, said that for the first time in known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020.

September 20 – The Guinness Book of World Records named the paint developed by researchers at Purdue University as the world’s whitest.

October 4 – A Brazilian soccer player was arrested for attempted murder after kicking a referee in the head during a match.

October 16 – Elon Musk became the world’s richest person when the company’s stock soared, and his net worth grew to $209.4 billion.

October 21 – Timber the Moose, a wooden marketing sign for the Cabin Store in Mt. Hope, Ohio, got its stolen head returned by an Amish youngster who found it in a field 10 miles away.

A real bull moose in Denali National Park.

October 25 – Hertz announced that it had ordered 100,000 Tesla electric cars for its rental inventory.

October 26 – A hiker in Colorado got lost but refused to answer his cell phone because he didn’t recognize the search and rescue team’s number.

November 4 – Colin Craig-Brown of Hamilton, New Zealand, dug up what may be the world’s largest potato that weighed 17.2 pounds from his garden.

November 5 – Billy Coppersmith, a Maine lobsterman, caught a one-in-100 million blue “cotton candy” lobster and donated it to an aquarium in New Hampshire.

November 16 – Psychologists in London revealed a study showed that the perfect hug should last between five and 10 seconds.

November 24 – Roto-Rooter said that plumbers refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving Day as Brown Friday because it’s the busiest day of the year for plumbers.

December 4 – The National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning for the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.

December 7 – A report stated that turf grass is now the biggest plant crop in the U.S., collectively covering an area larger than Wisconsin.

December 9 – Davyon Johnson, 11, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, saved a fellow student from choking using the Heimlich maneuver and saved an older woman from her burning house later in the afternoon.

December 11 – The Oxford Dictionary named “vax” its word of the year for 2021.

December 26 – Kodiak, Alaska hit a record high of 67 degrees, giving the term “baked Alaska” a new meaning.

Will 2022 be as stormy as 2021?

What will 2022 bring?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

What Does Advent Require?

It is more than preparation.

Advent candles and tapestry.

We are halfway through the season of Advent already. Advent in the Christian tradition occurs the four Sundays before December 25. That is the day earmarked as the birth of Jesus.

Advent is generally understood to be an annual time of preparing and waiting for Christmas, the personal recognition of the birth of Christ. For many, Advent is a sacred, significant time.

For others, Advent is just another word in the Christmas vocabulary. It’s familiar to us, but do we genuinely consider its implications in our hustle and bustle before the big day? Perhaps a better question is this: Do we even know what Advent means?

A concise, accurate answer to that question would be to recite the four universally accepted Advent themes: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love, most often celebrated in that order on Advent Sundays.

An Advent banner at church.

I remember as a youngster having an advent calendar in our home. My two brothers and two sisters and I would take turns opening the little doors to reveal the contents hidden behind each tiny flap.

Each day of Advent revealed a colorful illustration, scripture, or word to ponder, or perhaps a suggested act of service to others.

I just remember the pent-up anticipation of what lay hidden behind each door. It was a successful subliminal modeling method for the Christmas waiting.

To be clear, no one would have described our family as devout. We were “religious” only because we celebrated Christ’s birth and attended the local Methodist church regularly.

But as youngsters, we naturally got caught up in all the secular holiday hubbub. Later in my life, I was introduced to knowing and respecting that other religions had solemn and festive holidays.

Consequently, the older I have gotten, the more I sense a spiritual link between the lights of Christmas and those of Hanukkah. It is a significant element of our Judeo-Christian history for this septuagenarian.

That understanding creates a deeper meaning to Advent, one too often ignored. While we wait for Christmas, Advent also calls us to reflect on what has transpired in the course of history, personally and collectively.

Human history is full of cruelty by one race, tribe, or religion to others who look, live or believe differently. The Trail of Tears comes to mind.

White settlers of our nation literally and brutally pushed out Native Americans from their homelands, where they had lived for generations. Those indigenous peoples not only lost their land, but many also lost their lives in the agonizing march west.

A similar but lesser-known atrocity occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin in 1832. The bloody Black Hawk War opened land to white settlers who replaced the Sauk, Fox, and other native nations.

Nor can we ignore the unethical enslavement of an entire race of people for economic purposes. That indictment, unfortunately, applies far beyond our southern states, where slavery was a way of life.

Perhaps you can add personal examples to this lurid list. Sadly, such horrific atrocities continue today around the globe. We only need to look at the headlines for confirmation.

The oft-overlooked reflective aspect of Advent requires each of us to acknowledge and confess these wrong-doings. Doing so is part of the necessary preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

So, Advent, like life itself, has a dark side. We must allow the season’s light to infiltrate the darkness that is all around us. Preparation, anticipation, and repentance are the main ingredients of Advent.

The principles of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love help guide us through these dark times into the light. That is what Advent is all about.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why I Celebrate December

There are many reasons.

An Amish farmstead in December. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.

Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.

Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.

I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.

A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.

I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.

I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.

Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.

Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.

Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.

Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.

Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.

The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.

Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.

Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.

I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.

Advent candles. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Defining Thanksgiving

The ways it has real meaning.

The iconic Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is always the fourth Thursday in November.

Do we truly understand the breadth of what Thanksgiving means, though? Yes, we have our childhood memories of loving, familiar faces gathered around a dining room table ladened with savory food.

For me, and perhaps for you, I cherish those thoughts of the soothing fragrance of a steaming, hot turkey fresh out of the oven, tasty mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, flavorful stuffing, and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. That mental picture never gets old.

In my case, it was usually Grandma Frith’s three daughters and their families who somehow found room to squeeze into one space to enjoy the feast and one another’s company. I hang on to those precious recollections, knowing that it was a different era then.

Times have changed as they should. We’ve all grown up. Our grandmother and all our parents have passed on. Even the oldest of the 17 baby boomer grandchildren died too young.

We are scattered all across the country now, still related but disconnected. We each have created new traditions with our own families. In effect, we are replicating what we knew, what we loved, only altered to fit our situations.

As our adult children married and have children of their own, holidays like Thanksgiving naturally take on new approaches. In our mobile age, families learn to share their loved ones. It’s the prudent thing to do.

So, one year we gather together on Thanksgiving Day with as many immediate family members as possible. The following year, Nana and Poppy find alternative ways to celebrate.

The ways it has real meaning
Thanksgiving with friends during the “off-year.” Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

We gather with our grandchildren and their parents when it is convenient. It’s still Thanksgiving, just not on the designated day. We are thankful nonetheless.

To me, the date and day are insignificant. I am thrilled to assemble with our intimate troupe wherever and whenever we can. While my stomach rumbles full of turkey, my soul is full of joy. The latter is the preferred nourisher.

For that, I am most grateful. I am also aware that all peoples are not equally blessed, and that thought alone humbles me. It stirs me to be more vigilant for opportunities to care and share with those less fortunate.

I count my blessings, indeed, grateful to be where I am, at this place in time, even if the times are hard for some. It is our responsibility to help others however and wherever possible, simply for the common good of all.

For no matter our circumstances, we are one nation indivisible. We must work hard to keep it that way, especially at Thanksgiving.

The word “thanksgiving” is derived from two words and blended for a singular meaning. The word “thanksgiving” dates back to the 1530s and is formed by combining the noun “thanks” with the verb “giving.”

“Thanks” is taken from the Old English “panc,” meaning grateful thought. “Giving” comes from the Old English “giefan,” or to bestow or grant.

Consequently, Thanksgiving is more than a mere term, more than a holiday. Thanksgiving is a sentence requiring appreciation, gratitude, and generosity.

So, Thanksgiving means much more than delicious food, genuine fellowship, and back-to-back-to-back football games. Thanksgiving involves praise, reflection, and acts of kindness.

The Thanksgiving command suggests a trio of actions for each of us. First, we must remember those who have helped us achieve what we have. Second, embrace and celebrate with your friends and family. Third, we need to share our blessings of abundance with others.

In so doing, Thanksgiving weaves the past, the present, and the future into a purposeful, warming lifestyle tapestry. That alone is reason to be thankful.

A tapestry of colors. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Old Hot Rod

I came across this intriguing scene yesterday in a rural Virginia town. The car’s owner appeared from his residence across the street, so I asked permission to take photos of the old hot rod and building. He said he didn’t mind and continued toward the old structure’s entrance.

I asked him what kind of car it was. “A Model T,” he replied. Before he could take another step, I asked him about the building. He kindly told me that it had housed an insurance company’s office many years ago. When I further asked about the front doors, the man said he had installed those for better access to his workshop.

I loved how the color of the door fronts nearly matched the pink wheels of the Model T hot rod. And the shapes of the windows merely added to the building’s character.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Fire Prevention Is Important

For me, it’s always been personal

Fighting a barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Fire Prevention Week, the first week of October, always had a special place in my heart. Belonging to the local volunteer fire department likely had a lot to do with that.

I remember, though, that that affinity began long before my firefighting days. I grew up three blocks from a fire station. When the siren sounded for the volunteers to respond, I was out our front door and at the end of our sidewalk, watching to see which way the trucks would go.

Students paid attention to when firefighters came to school for presentations in the post-World War II days before the internet, cell phones, pagers, boomboxes, and color television. We appreciated the coloring books and leaflets they gave us on what to do in case of a fire in our homes.

In response, I designed an exit plan for every room in our house. Fortunately, we never had to use it.

Ironically, the fire department mounted the fire siren on the roof of our elementary school. In the sixth grade, it was right over our classroom. When the siren rang, teaching and learning both stopped until the loud wailing subsided.

With that background, it’s no wonder I became a volunteer myself for 27 years in Holmes County, Ohio. When Fire Prevention Week rolled around, I combined my educator and firefighter knowledge with the students.

A fully involved barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Other local firefighters came to the schools to share information and handouts, drawing me back to my youth. I asked my students to draw up an emergency exit plan the way I had done when I was their age.

Imagine my surprise when the house of one of my students caught fire during the night. Everyone got out exactly as Russell had planned, and the fire department extinguished the fire without extensive damage. I was proud of that young man.

I also remember a time during fire prevention week when I got another rude awakening. Wanting to surprise the students and me, the fire chief and a few firefighters held an unannounced fire drill at school.

When the fire alarm sounded, students began exiting, following their practiced routes until they couldn’t. Firefighters had blocked some of the exits, telling the students and staff that they had to use another door because a “pretend” fire blocked the way.

I remember it so well because I happened to be in the faculty lounge bathroom at the time. I got deservedly ribbed at the next fire meeting.

After I became a principal, firefighters enhanced their fire prevention lessons considerably. They brought a fire truck to school, and the students got to inspect it and even wear the firefighter’s turnout gear.

That approach greatly pleased the students. Besides the pamphlets, coloring books, and sitting in a fire truck, distributing candy to the kids didn’t hurt either.

Unfortunately, I responded to fires at the homes of some of those students, too. Besides helping douse the flames, I hoped that some of the education presented also helped minimize damage and injuries.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Barns, homes, shops, and outbuildings burned due to various causes. Some injuries occurred, too, along with one death that I can remember.

Perhaps that is the reason again to reemphasize the importance of fire prevention. Have a plan of evacuation with alternate routes and a prearranged reporting location outside the home. Change the batteries in smoke detectors at least twice a year and have the sensors adequately placed on all levels of your home.

I know personally that fire prevention helps to save lives, even if you’re in the bathroom.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Celebrating Being Cancer-free

Anniversary flowers.

Anniversaries of momentous events are generally worth celebrating. Even though we kept it low-key, our 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year was a memorable milestone.

Birthdays fit the bill, too, especially if they end in zero or five. That’s our western culture for you.

Even the anniversary of a loved one’s death needs to be remembered, reverently, openly, and most certainly emotionally. My dear mother would have been 100 on June 22. I can still hear her comforting voice, soft and clear.

Some anniversaries, however, give me pause. I always feel that way each year I get the all-clear pronouncement from my urologist.

I have been cancer-free for 10 years post-robotic prostate cancer surgery. My PSA continues to be immeasurable, meaning no detectable cancer.

When I posted those results on social media, I did so with hesitancy. I hesitated because I know too many people who have not made it through their cancer journey or are currently struggling with the disease.

I am a sensitive old guy, and posting about my good fortune could be tantamount to rubbing it in. I certainly didn’t want to come across with that attitude.

Research shows that such a mindset stems from survivor’s guilt, also called survivor’s remorse. It’s a circumstance where a person survives while others in the same situation don’t, and you feel conflicted, guilty, and remorseful about your outcome versus theirs.

It might seem irrational, but the condition applies far beyond dealing with cancer. People who survive motor vehicle wrecks or a military conflict while others are maimed or killed exhibit survivor’s guilt.

A friend of mine survived the bombing of the Marine base in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. He happened to be away from the barracks at the time of the explosion. Guilt and anger ebbed and flowed throughout my friend’s life.

I empathized with him at the time but didn’t fully comprehend his feelings until I went through my own traumatic experience. When I met other prostate cancer patients who didn’t have the same successful outcome as me, I understood my Marine friend’s agony more fully.

Despite my reluctance, I am glad that I shared my decade of good fortune on social media. I credited my skillful surgeon and expressed thanks for the excellent medical insurance that got me through physically and financially.

A few of the comments in response to my post drew my attention and perhaps sent me over the hump of the lingering compunction. One particularly caught my eye. A former student shared about her current struggle with cancer.

She thanked me for sharing my good news. She said that seeing that others make it through the Big C gives her and other patients like her hope. Reading that brought me great joy.

Signs of hope in nature.

Her response deeply touched me because she has already been through the cancer medical mill with her husband. As a young man, he fought the good fight and won. His humility concealed his challenging journey.

Now his wife is traveling down the cancer highway. I wish her and her family all the best and will endeavor to stay in touch.

Society can easily be dismissive of others without really knowing their unique situations, hardships, and achievements. Friends need to pay attention.

Venezuelan visual artist Carlos Medina captured my sentiment with this quote, “A soul that carries empathy is a soul that has survived enormous pain.”

We can empathize by recognizing and being with the hurting, listening to their stories, or simply holding them in prayer. In those encouraging actions, there is no remorseful guilt. 

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

August came early this year

The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

Wheat shocks glow in the evening sun in Holmes County, Ohio.

August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.

The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.

The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.

A wildfire-enhanced sunset.

August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.

In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.

As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.

You are never too young to help husk corn.

We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.

August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.

A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.

County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.

Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.

If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.

Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.

Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.

I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.

I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.

An August sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Insights about my enigmatic father

My father at the World War II Memorial three months before he died. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a designated day to remind me of my late father. I see him in many of my machinations and manners. I walk, talk, and too often behave much as he did. I’m still working on that.

Understand me, though, that I loved my father unconditionally. It just took me too long to realize that I spent too much of my adolescent and young adult life trying to earn his affection when affection wasn’t his thing. I finally realized that Dad was already sharing his love in how he lived his life.

Dad had many interests. In his nearly nine decades of living, he squeezed in an array of activities. Unfortunately, assisting our dear mother around the house wasn’t high on his list.

My father had Ichabod Crane’s physique and Rip Van Winkle’s spirit. At six foot two inches in his prime, Dad was tall for his era. But his skinny build gave him a gangly appearance.

Dad was athletic and energetic, especially when it came to having fun. He loved to tell stories of dancing with Mom at Moonlight Ballroom in Meyers Lake Park in Canton. We played “Moonlight Serenade” at his memorial service as he danced into glory.

However, the only time I ever physically saw him dance was with Mom at a niece’s wedding. Though in their 80s, they glided across the floor as if they were 20.

Top left: With our parents on Dad’s last Thanksgiving; Middle: Dad with my two brothers, sister and me before our other sister was born; Top right: Mom and Dad on their wedding day; Bottom: The home Dad helped build and where we all grew up.

Dad loved to tell stories. When we lived in Ohio, I would occasionally run into people who knew my father. Their complimentary comments often referenced Dad’s storytelling.

I always acknowledged that Dad was indeed a great storyteller and that some of those stories were actually true. I always smiled when I said it, though.

By profession, Dad was a project engineer. He helped build the red-brick bungalow where he and our mother raised their family. His pride and joy, though, was the inviting cottage he and Mom built at a lake in southeastern Ohio.

Although he couldn’t swim, Dad enlisted in the Navy in World War II. He did so because the Great Lakes Naval Base was only hours from home. However, he found himself in the engine room of the U.S.S. San Diego in the Pacific theater.

After the war, Dad worked on submarine missiles and was part of a team that designed a new gondola for the Goodyear blimp. Yet, projects around home went unfinished or were patch jobs. His favorite tool was duct tape.

Dad loved social gatherings. He took it upon himself to organize family reunions. He also once planned his high school class reunion and then forgot to go.

Dad and Mom visited us frequently in rural Holmes County, Ohio. His pretense was to see his grandchildren, but he spent his time scouring fields for arrowheads. In his excitement to show us what he had found, Dad tracked dirty footprints into the house.

Even as cancer overtook his body, Dad’s passion for life remained. He was ready to go but didn’t want to leave this life he loved.

Though unconscious, the Hospice nurse encouraged me to tell Dad that it was alright to let go. So, I did.

Dad’s reaction didn’t surprise me. Unable to speak or open his eyes, he just waved me away. I took it as an indication that he wanted to die on his terms and time. And that is what he did. Early the following morning, while the nurse left his side for five minutes, Dad took his final breath. I don’t need Father’s Day to remind me of my father, but I am thankful for the day and my dad nonetheless.

Dad gave a presentation to retirement home residents on his favorite topic, Native Americans. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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