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

Past and present meet at the strangest places

By Bruce Stambaugh

The past and present sometimes intersect in the strangest places.

I had lazily let scores of previously read email messages in my inbox pile up for much too long. Never mind how many there were. Let’s just say it was the equivalent of a very messy desk.

rainy day, Shenandoah Valley
Rainy day.
While waiting for the chilly rain to quit in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I took action to remedy the situation born of my procrastination. I spent several hours over parts of two days, but I finally cleared all the old emails away.

What took so long? Well, I had to read some of them of course.

The variety of clutter I discovered I had left shocked me. Messages from sales people, church folks, friends, family, businesses, and people I didn’t even remember tickled my brain cells.

I deleted most of the emails. A few were rather important, and I was surprised that I had just left them hanging there like those infamous Florida chads. Rereading several of the messages reawakened good and bad emotions long.

newborn baby
At the hospital.
When I reached the ones from early October 2009, I was pleasantly transported back in time. Long forgotten electronic correspondence between family members and myself got my old heart racing.

The birth of our granddaughter, Maren, was the main topic. How timely I thought. We were in the midst of preparing for her sixth birthday party. Reading those notes from friends and family brought back fond memories.

I found updates from my wife about how our daughter felt as she approached delivery, and what Nana was doing to entertain the grandsons in Texas, where they lived then. I was still in Ohio.

Now our daughter and her family live in this sprawling valley cradled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghenies to the west. They have settled in nicely. Texas is but a memory, much like my uncovering the orphaned emails.

Occasionally it’s good to look back, to remember, to recollect the past, to resurrect old feelings of joy. The birth of a baby is always a celebration, especially if it’s your granddaughter.

I was glad Nana was there to help with the grandsons, Evan and Davis. They were only five and three at the time. They needed her.

newborn baby
One week old.
I arrived a few days later to hold my newborn granddaughter. Maren was as beautiful as her name, a derivative of Marian, which was my mother’s name.

As I revisited those old emails, Maren’s birth seemed like yesterday. Here we were celebrating her sixth birthday. Where in the world had the time gone?

One day she is swaddled in diapers surrounded by stuffed animals and curious brothers. Today she is an active, self-assured kindergartner learning to speak Spanish.

I chuckle at her impressive English vocabulary alone. Maren rattles off words like “actually,” “random,” “responsibility,” and “unrecognizable” in the proper contexts. The days of cooing are long over.

Next thing you know, she’ll be going out on her first date. But let’s not rush it.

Nana and I enjoyed Maren’s little birthday party. She just reminds us of her mother when she was six, only Maren persists with all things pink.

For now, Nana and I enjoy watching our three grandchildren grow, mature, fight, play ball, do gymnastics, and interact with their peers, parents and friends.

I’ll cherish these moments as best I can. Keeping a clean inbox is a good way to start.

birthday presents
Ready for presents.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Baseball’s playoffs have begun, minus Cleveland of course

former Cleveland Indians
The glory days.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Another Major League Baseball regular season is over. The playoffs have begun.

My favorite team won’t be playing in the postseason again this year, despite the extended playoff schedule. The Cleveland Indians have packed it in once again. Even the most casual baseball fan knows it’s not the first time.

The Indians have been in this position for most of their existence. The Cleveland club has only won the World Series twice. They came close in 1997. But 18 years later, it’s still too painful to recall.

Yes, I am a diehard Cleveland Indians fan, though I do wish they would change their mascot. We have the Cincinnati Reds. How about the Cleveland Blues? That name would appropriately represent the feelings of Cleveland’s fans this time every year.

Terry Francona, Rocky Colavito
Terry Francona and Rocky Colavito.

I would love to see the Indians win the World Series just once. To be fair, I was alive the last time the Indians won it all. Not that I remember it. I was a year old.

Like most other kids, I collected baseball cards growing up. In those days, we had to buy them one pack at a time and hope the flattened stick of bubblegum wasn’t too stale. I spent a lot of nickels saving those cards.

I wish I still had them. The cards accidentally got pitched while I attended college.

My favorite Cleveland Indians were Rocky Colavito, Minnie Minoso, Herb Score, Bubba Phillips, and of course Lou Klimchock. He led the Indians in hitting in 1969 with a whopping .287 average.

I’d stay up late at night listening to Jimmy Dudley call the games on the radio. For some strange reason, he always seemed more excited at the beginning of the season than at the end. I think I know why.

I remember going to a doubleheader game on Father’s Day against the dreaded and perennial powerhouse New York Yankees. The Indians had won the first two games of the series. We sat out in the left field stands in old Municipal Stadium. A standing room only crowd packed the cavernous place.

Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and the late Yogi Berra filled the Yankee roster. Cleveland won both games and swept the series. Our spirits were high.

baseball fan, Cleveland Indians
Typical fan?

It seemed like every year the Tribe played their hearts out and built hope against hope that this might finally be the year. But once the Fourth of July rolled around, the Tribe did their annual swan song. By season’s end, the Yankees were the American League champions. The Indians? Well, take a guess.

Keep in mind those were the days when the team that won the pennant in each league went to the World Series. It was all or nothing. It’s been zip for Cleveland for too long.

Hopes rose again when Cleveland built a new stadium, affectionately called The Jake, now corporately named Progressive Field. Unfortunately, the Tribe still hasn’t made much progress toward winning it all.

The Indians have gone to the playoffs a few times in the last two decades. But some of those winning teams were filled with shining stars bloated with egos and steroids. No names mentioned, however.

Since that era, the season has usually ended right on schedule for the Tribe. When that happens, just like this year, all faithful Cleveland Indians fans know what to say.

“Wait until next year!” We always do.

Slider, grandsons
Better than a World Series win.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

A strong work ethic is a universal trait

Amish produce stand
Produce stand.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been working since I was eight years old. To earn a little spending money of my own, my first job I went door-to-door selling seed packets. I’ve been working ever since, and that’s a very good thing.

There is great satisfaction in earning money through hard work. That was especially true as a youngster who grew up in a family that had pittance left over for life’s extravagances. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich by earthly standards either.

Rather, our wealth came in the joy of working together as a family and learning to enjoy work’s energy and accomplishments, whether we earned money or not. If it benefited others, payment was received in ways that far exceeded any monetary gain.

If my siblings and I earned money helping others at businesses or homes, you could be sure we used the profits for wise choices. The candy store was just five minutes away. Of course, our folks taught us the advantages of saving and giving, too.

I have my parents and grandparents, and likely generations before them, to thank for instilling work as a personal core value. Dad worked 43 years for the same company as a tool engineer. Mom was a household engineer before the profession was so christened.

Living in Holmes County, Ohio, all of my adult life, I have come to appreciate the community’s emphasis on exercising a robust work ethic. I marvel at seeing it played out every day.

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I only have to observe my neighbor’s family gathering crops. Three generations are often literally bringing in the sheaves.

That should be no surprise. Having a strong work ethic is common and a highly valued principle here. It’s one of the reasons our region consistently has one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates in Ohio.

County residents pride themselves on enthusiastically employing their work ethic. That’s ironic for a society that holds humility in equally high esteem. Folks manage to balance that apparent contradiction for self and others successfully.

The method to instilling the work ethic to the next generation is simple. Folks here both model and include younger generations in work. In other words, the adults give the youngsters responsibilities that result in projects completed.

Children on farms help with chores. Feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, walking the dog all count as productivity. Drive around and you’ll likely see children including work in their play.

I always get a chuckle when I see Amish children playing horse and buggy. A couple of toddlers sit in a wagon while an older sibling plays the horse. A short piece of rope serves as the reins.

Amish children playing
At play.
From time to time as a principal, I would get a note from home asking that Johnny be permitted to visit the local store to buy some grocery items needed for that evening’s supper. I usually approved the request by driving to the store and letting the sixth grader do his deed.

At the produce stand we frequent, the entire family chips in to make the business go. From time to time, a request is made for an item not available on the shelf. Junior will gladly fetch the requested item from the field to accommodate the customer.

It’s all in a day’s work. Of course, the work ethic extends far beyond our insulated world. Working and earning are universally esteemed characteristics.

I’m glad we have Labor Day to remind us of that fact.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Watching the grandkids grow from afar

grandchildren, grandparents
The grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

We love our grandchildren. No headline news in that statement, I know.

But since the oldest of the three was born 11 years ago, Nana and Poppy have watched the trio, Evan, Davis and Maren, grow up from afar. All three of our grandchildren were born in Austin, Texas. Nana made sure she was on scene to help at each birth. Poppy arrived once the excitement had waned.

It wasn’t easy having your grandchildren 1,450 miles away. But we managed. We visited as often as we could.

We went for birthday parties at fire stations, helped carve pumpkins at Halloween, and any other time we could manage. The physical changes in the kids between visits were visible.

grandkids, grandchildren
The Texans. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
When our daughter announced five years ago that they were moving to Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, we were elated. Now they were only 350 miles away. The overland trip still took six and a half hours.

We visit as often as we can, and we still marvel at how all three change, even if it has only been a few weeks since we last saw them. A recent visit drove home that stark reality for me.

Evan is now nearly as tall as Nana. As you might guess, he is as active as any 11-year-old can be. He is a sports fanatic, with baseball his first love. That should be no surprise. From little on up, Evan enjoyed anything that would roll, or he could throw.

Davis is a very inquisitive youngster. You can tell he’s left-handed. Now nine, Davis has a gift to explore and imagine. He’s as happy playing with a stick as he is with an electronic game. How can you not like a boy like that?

At five, Maren is our pink tomboy. She is a girly girl if there ever was one. She enjoys helping Nana bake cookies. She hustles at soccer and baseball, too, even if her long, golden locks occasionally block her vision.

I remember as a youngster how much I loved being around grandparents. Though he had little, Grandpa Merle often brought us candy. Our dentist loved him, too.

I can still hear the hint of that soft, lovely southern Virginia accent in my Grandma Frith’s voice. My lips still smack at the tart taste of her made from scratch lemon meringue pies.

memories with grandkids
Making memories. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Nana and I want to create those same memories with and for our grandkids, too. It’s just a bit harder with all those old age mountains between us. Still we do what we can.

I’ve always played a guessing game with all three of them. I hide an object in one of my fists, and the kids have to find which hand it’s in. During a recent visit, Maren guessed with such accuracy that I encouraged her to go buy a lottery ticket. Her response? “What’s that?”

It’s been a joy to see each gain confidence. Davis fearlessly dove off a swimming pool diving board. He asks more questions than even I have answers. To me, it seems just yesterday that he was poking holes in Texas fire ant hills.

As the oldest, Evan strives to ensure that he is not usurped of that position as if that were even possible. Still, he’s one smart kid when it comes to mathematics and board games.

It’s nice to see our grandkids progress from diapers to where they are today. I just wish those eight mountain passes weren’t in the way.

grandchildren on vacation
On vacation. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Summer weather in Ohio is as variable as life’s events

flower garden
Summer bouquet. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

After another wonderful summer day with partly sunny skies, pleasant temperatures, light breezes and little humidity, I’m watching the rain pour down.

It’s July. It’s Ohio. It’s the way weather happens here.

After the harsh winter and cool, damp spring, we were ready for an old-fashioned summertime. To be clear, that meant nothing but clear skies and warm sunny weather through September.

Of course, that never really has happened, never will. But we can dream can’t we?

The truth is we need to be honest with ourselves about summer weather in Ohio. We can have good days, better days, and then there’s the rest. Some of Ohio’s summer weather can be downright nasty, if not hazardous.

The consequential weather can be fearsome, and put a kink into your best-laid plans. A picture perfect day can morph into our worst nightmares. Tornadoes, hail storms, damaging thunderstorm winds are among the wicked weather menu options.

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The July 1969 flood comes to mind. I didn’t live in Holmes County then. Still, the storm was widespread, and I saw damage and destruction. I was an intern reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. I headed to the Chautauqua Institution near Jamestown, New York for the holiday weekend.

I didn’t stay long. All the activities got rained out. On the way back to my apartment in a western Cleveland suburb, I passed several ConEdison power company trucks in New York heading west on the interstate.

I stopped at the newspaper on the way back and saw photos of boats being bashed against the rocky lakeshore. Power was out in much of the Cleveland area, including my neighborhood. In fact, one of those ConEdison trucks that I had passed was parked in front of my apartment.

Powerful winds drove the pouring rain right through the old, thick brick walls of our building. Huge trees snapped in a nearby park, and teenagers directed traffic at busy intersections.

Six weeks later I saw the damage done in Killbuck, my new home. Folks were still trying to recover from the devastating flood that touched nearly every building in the creekside town.

Weather is to be both appreciated and respected when it interrupts our human plans. When we hear thunder, we need to take cover. Avoid those treacherous floodwaters and find another way around.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

As a weather buff, I cringe when I hear of people being struck by lightning playing golf or baseball, and when I learn of youngsters being swept away playing in swollen streams. Those are sad stories that need not have happened.

Weather is a lot like life, isn’t it? A wise Amish farmer once told me, “We just have to take whatever weather comes our way.” I think that philosophy applies to other aspects of our lives as well.

How do we respond when one of life’s happenings strikes us like a lightning bolt?

A surprise medical diagnosis by the doctor, an unexpected budget-breaking bill, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one can all wash over our emotions like a flash flood.

It’s summer in Ohio. Not every day will be sunny, nor will everything that happens to us be fair. We can’t change the weather, and sometimes can’t even alter our personal circumstances.

What we can do is keep on hoping for sunny summer days. It won’t be all cloudy and miserable forever.

It’s July. It’s Ohio. It’s the way weather and life happen here.

Summer sunset
Summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015