Category Archives: news

A different approach to Easter

Maybe after all of these years, I’m finally getting the point of Easter.

The holiest of holy days in the Christian tradition, Easter’s resurrection coincides with spring’s rejuvenating renewal. That I always understood, even as a child.

Of course, as a youngster, that spiritual message became overshadowed by other Easter traditions. Hunting for our Easter baskets loaded with chocolaty treats and boiled eggs we had previously colored was a priority.

After all the baskets and colored eggs were found, we enjoyed a breakfast with hot crossed buns. That, too, was always an Easter treat obtained from the neighborhood bakery where our grandmother worked.

Buying an Easter lily for our loving mother was also deemed a must. Of course, we all gussied up in our Sunday best and headed off to church with scores of other baby boomer families.

My wife and I continued some of those traditions as we, too, had children of our own. Helen, our children’s adopted Killbuck, Ohio grandmother, often hosted us after church. I would hide the eggs outside while Helen and Neva prepared their typical delicious meal.

We have continued that tradition with our grandchildren, although that varies according to their busy schedules. We’ll hold our own egg and Easter basket hunt, all the while recording the unfolding events with my camera. Nana usually fixes a scrumptious dinner to complete the secular celebrating.

Church, of course, is still a central element in our Easter celebration. It has to be. Without Easter, there would be no church, as we now know it. Perhaps therein lies my senior moment with this holiday.

As much as I enjoy the candy and the children’s excitement, I can’t shake loose the days that led up to this most consecrated day. In retrospect, they occur in logical succession that actually creates Easter’s real significance.

Triumphant Palm Sunday followed by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, and the stark realization of Good Friday mirror my own ambivalence of the season. I am too much aware of personal grieving, death of loved ones and friends, injuries and unexpected illnesses of innocent little ones, the bigoted injustices of society toward the least, the last, and the lost.

Altogether, it seems too much to tolerate, too much to absorb, too much to accept amid the social and global daily inequities by those in power who twist the truth to their advantage. Bullies become victims and victims made the bullies, no matter the facts.

I struggle to reconcile a glorious day like Easter with the reality of the daily dynamics of a troubled world, of people in pain and mourning.

It is then that I remember that is the way of the world and the very reason for Easter itself. Christians are to model that self-sacrifice in their daily lives, not take advantage of those who have less or nothing at all.

Easter isn’t only a holiday. For those who believe, renewal is to be a daily way of life. That is a tall measure to live up to, but it is the only measure that matters.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the greatest commandment to follow, and the hardest.

That precept, that lifestyle can only be achieved if we acknowledge our own imperfections, our Creator, and our responsibility to help others moment by moment, breath by breath.

That Easter hunt doesn’t come in colored eggs or decorated baskets. It must be resurrected daily, individually, unselfishly, and unconditionally. If not, there is no Easter morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Thanks for the memories Edgefield School

old school, Plain Local School District, Canton OH

Edgefield School. (Photo courtesy of Dave Findley.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stonework over the front door.

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

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

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

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

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

The ball field we played on had long since been paved over for a parking lot.

Classes were large by today’s standards. It wasn’t unusual for 35 to 40 students to pack each self-contained classroom.

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

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

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

My friend and former Edgefield classmate feigning depression over the demolition news.

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under architectural photography, column, history, human interest, news, Ohio, photography, writing

Why the shortest month seems so long

winter in Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

The harsh winter weather has made February seem like a long month.

Every year I get the same sensation. February, the calendar’s shortest month, seems like the longest. A wide range of reasons could account for this annual hunch.

Much of that perception may have to do with February’s unfortunate spot in the calendar birth order. As the year’s second son of 12 siblings, February is bound to have an inferiority complex. Even with an extra day in a leap year, February still can’t measure up.

It certainly doesn’t help to be sandwiched between January and March, each with the maximum 31 days every year. Nor does it help that February is the last full month of winter. By now, humans north of the equator have had it with winter, especially this year. They can’t wait for spring.

Is the shortest month merely clamoring for attention with its temper tantrums of weird and wild weather? To be sure, the weather all across the northern hemisphere has been wicked. A lot of complicated and interconnected reasons account for that. Still, February cannot solely be held responsible.

The polar vortex, which usually calls the Arctic region its winter base, ran away from home this year. It escaped in the waning days of January, and the frigid and frozen effects spilled into February, adding insult to injury.

weather warning map

The latest February weather warning map.

The vortex settled into the eastern U.S., forcing the ordinarily westerly jet stream to warp south around it. We all paid the consequences of that detour, including February.

Blustery winds sent wind chills into the danger zone for millions of citizens, making the environmental conditions all the more brutal. When people thought they couldn’t take it any longer, the vortex slunk away, and a warm front helped set the jet stream aright. Soon, vehicles were mired in muck from a rapid thaw.

About that time, weather officials confirmed an El Nino had developed in the Pacific off southern California. Wave after wave of rain and snowstorms blasted the entire west coast, incapacitating major metro areas.

Damaging floods, mudslides, and icy and snow-clogged roads inundated areas not used to extreme winter weather. Even Hawaii got snow.

More rain pelted down in California. Another snowstorm blasted the state of Washington. Additional freeze warnings plagued northern Florida. All this and February still isn’t over yet. How long does it take 28 days to pass?

It would indeed be unfair to lay all of the responsibility for the climatological miseries on poor February. It was merely an accessory to the crimes, guilty by association.

Ignore the weather, and February has a lot to offer for being the shortest month. It boasts about hosting more holidays per diem than any other month.

February’s progressive party includes Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Valentines Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Presidents’ Day. Of course, all of those human conceived days have morphed into nothing more than flashy marketing ploys for a small town in Pennsylvania and retailers big and small nationwide.

I suppose, however, that much of our February malaise comes from nothing more than cabin fever. Never mind the occasional warm day when you could poke your head outside. As we all know, that was nothing but a February tease. It’s safest to stay inside until March.

Despite February’s chilly temperament, she does offer us at least one advantage besides being the briefest month. From beginning to end, we gain almost an hour of daylight in February.

Winter’s darkness is waning. In that, we find hope, rejoice, and offer February our heartfelt thanks.

A snowy ride.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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When tragedy strikes, communities respond

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Even a peaceful scene in Amish country can become tragic.

Tragedy. It’s bound to invade our lives, often when we least expect it. Too often, it happens more than once in our lifespan.

Unfortunately, we likely have all seen our fair share of tragedy. Calamity merely is part of life. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

I’ve seen and experienced a lot of tragic incidents in my life as a member of volunteer fire and rescue squads. Often I knew people involved in the emergency incidents. That’s not surprising when you live most of your life in a close-knit, rural community.

Sometimes tragic national news hits close to home, too. The recent fatal shooting of Dean Beachy and his son Steve is proof of that. Naturally, people were shocked and horrified at the senseless killings.

Their lives are a huge loss to the family and the many, many people they touched. My wife knew the family well, having taught Steve’s three older brothers.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

An hour after a tornado damaged this farm building, neighbors came to repair its roof.

Most likely, we each could create a long list of personal tragedies that have significantly impacted our lives. Mine would have to start even before I was born.

My great grandfather was killed in an auto accident involving a drunk driver. The crash critically injured my father and his only brother a block from their home. My uncle’s traumatic head injuries caused lifelong, family-wide ramifications.

My mother’s father was electrocuted six months before I was born. I am sure you have a comparable list of interpersonal human misfortune.

We learn life lessons from tragedies. One is when disaster strikes, people respond. That’s the way community works. What affects one family affects us all to varying degrees.

My wife and I experienced and witnessed positive responses many times over our four decades of living in Holmes County, Ohio. When bad things happen to good people, others want to help. So they do. They bring food, share tears, hugs, and sit quietly with the victims’ family.

Some tragedies happen suddenly, like the Beachy shootings, a traffic crash or a house fire. Others happen gradually and last over an extended time. Likely, we have all known someone diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In either situation, shock, denial, anger, fear, and blame all surface in the face of loss. Often those emotions occur at different times for different family members. Heartache knows no boundaries. To be there is what really matters to the hurting individuals.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Barn fire.

As an EMT, I once responded to a drowning call at an Amish farm. The toddler was dead by the time we arrived in the country setting. Still, all the first responders wanted to do something. We comforted the grieving family as best we could.

With the corner’s approval, I carried the youngster’s body to the ambulance where family, friends, and neighbors filed through saying their goodbyes. It was the Amish way, and the officials in charge wanted to respect that.

Regardless of the type of tragedy, whether sudden or lengthy, no one is immune. As human beings, we can choose to offer whatever we can or to ignore the situation.

Those who chose the former realize that in giving there is receiving. In caring, appreciation is returned. In listening, genuine sharing occurs. With your presence, acceptance and understanding slowly unfold.

Human beings have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be available, to help, to be respectful. There is no better time to express those gifts than when tragedy strikes.

It’s not merely the way a community responds. It is the way a caring community thrives.

Ohio's Amish county, Holmes Co. OH

This Amish barn raising occurred less than a month after the farmer’s barn burned.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Let’s make 2019 the Year of Kindness

sunrise, sea oats

A new year, like a new day, has dawned.

A New Year has begun. 2019 is underway.

In many ways for many peoples, 2018 was an unpleasant year, a year not worth repeating. Both natural and human-induced catastrophes dominated the mainstream media. Tsunamis, wildfires, mass shootings, political turmoil, earthquakes, horrific hurricanes, snowstorms, and devastating wars filled every media source imaginable.

Among folks I know, 2018 brought too many illnesses, deaths, personal tragedies, and heartbreaks. Scores of others experienced the same devastating human ramifications with equally dire consequences. Human suffering seemed to know no end.

Regardless of the origin of the hurt, we can do something to help. Acts of kindness, random or intentional, help overcome the most feared, painful physical, mental, or climatological injuries we encounter as individuals or as members of the corporate global human race.

Psychological studies have long proven that being kind to another person helped the giver as much as the receiver. I am not talking NFL football here either. Besides providing for the other person, being kind or generous rewards you with a positive feeling.

I’m no psychologist, but it only makes sense to have a positive outlook on life to be observant and responsive to others in need, whether it’s a relatively minor deed or a significant commitment. So be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others.

The studies show that generosity is contagious. We are all touched when we see someone help another person. It encourages us also to do something altruistic.

That fact should energize us to be generous to others in any situation. And by others, I mean anyone, any race, nationality, or religion. After all, a founding principle of our country is that all people are created equal. Though injustices dot our history into the present, that entreaty has nevertheless stood the test of time. We, too, must make it last. We do so by being kind.

Our neighbors shoveled our driveway just because it needed to be cleared. They did other drives in the neighborhood as well.

Your generosity doesn’t have to be opulent either. Bigheartedness can take only a second, or you can spend quality time with others. You choose.

How can you help? If you encounter someone with a homemade sign asking for any assistance, please don’t ignore the individual. At the very least, offer the person a bottle of water. Know someone who has experienced trauma? Send them a card or a text message. Offer to sit with them. Hold their hand. Listen to their needs.

We all know someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, loss of a loved one, or a terminal illness. The list could go on and on. Just knowing that you care can mean the world to that person or family.

I know personally that in such situations it’s no time to hesitate. As an example, I so appreciated unexpected visits from friends while in the hospital years ago.

In this fast-paced world of instant messaging, smartphones, social media apps, we become vulnerable. If someone hurts you, instead of revenge or avoidance, try a different approach, keeping your own personal safety paramount.

Ask questions. Listen thoughtfully. Be present in each moment. Keep your mind in the here and now instead of anticipating the absolute worst. Breathe deeply. Step back. Wait before responding angrily.

I don’t mean to trivialize deep physical or mental distress. Always keep yourself safe. But in a secure environment, perhaps with neutral, trusting people, reconciliation can reign.

If we all work together, our controllable behaviors can be transformed into tolerable and acceptable acts of kindness. It’s a New Year. Let us together make it a better, kinder one than 2018.

Let 2019 be the Year of Kindness.

rural scene, kindness

May your life’s path in 2019 be one that brings and receives kindness.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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News you may have missed in 2018

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been another strange year on Planet Earth. So much craziness filled the headlines that some serious faux pas got overshadowed. Never fear. I kept track for you.

Jan. 12 – A British butcher who got locked in a walk-in freezer used a frozen sausage to batter his way out at his store in Totnes, England.

Jan. 16 – Eyelashes froze when the temperature reached 88.6 degrees below zero in Russia’s remote region of Yakutia.

Feb. 9 – An Alliance, Ohio kindergarten student took a loaded handgun to school for show and tell, but had the gun confiscated by his school bus driver when the boy showed the weapon to the only other student on the bus.

Feb. 23 – A third-grade student fired a police officer’s revolver by reaching into the hostler and pulling the trigger during a safety demonstration at a Maplewood, Minnesota elementary school.

Feb. 27 – Entrepreneur.com reported that the three fastest growing franchises in the U.S. were Dunkin Donuts, 7-Eleven, and Planet Fitness.

March 13 – A study by Bar-Llan University showed that the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors was transferred to their children and grandchildren.

March 14 – A Seaside, California gun safety teacher’s weapon accidentally fired in class, injuring a student.

March 23 – Orange snow fell on much of Europe due to the combination of sandstorm winds mixing with moisture in snowstorms.

April 5 – A report that studied the Sahara Desert from 1920 to 2013 revealed that the desert, defined by areas that receive four inches of rain or less annually, had expanded by 10 percent in that timeframe.

April 9 – Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois became the first sitting U.S. Senator to give birth while in office.

April 13 – A photographer in Madeira Beach, Florida captured a shot of an osprey in flight carrying a shark that was eating a fish.

May 2 – A new report indicated that Americans ages 18 to 22 were far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and being in ill health.

May 3 – According to federal research released, the rate of people infected by ticks and mosquitoes has tripled in the last 13 years.

May 9 – A new study by researchers at MIT indicated that fasting could dramatically boost stem cells to regenerate.

May 15 – A Gaylord, Michigan couple opened the hood of their car to discover a squirrel had stuffed 50 pounds of pinecones in their engine compartment.

June 7 – A study showed that seven out of 10 Americans were experiencing news fatigue.

June 25 – A kangaroo bounded onto a Canberra, Australia soccer field, interrupting the play between two professional women’s soccer teams for 32 minutes.

July 3 – Mark Hough of Altadena, California found a black bear bobbing in his backyard hot tub and that the bear had finished off the margarita Hough had left behind.

July 10 – Costa Rica became the first country to ban fossil fuels.

July 21 – After receiving a ticket for speeding, an Iowa woman sped away from police who clocked her at 142 m.p.h. and gave her another citation.

July 27 – A pawn shop in Somerville, Massachusetts bought a stolen violin for $50 and discovered from police that its real value was $250,000.

August 1 – A State of the Climate report indicated that 2017 was the third warmest on record globally after 2016 and 2015.

August 5 – Right-handed reliever Oliver Drake became the first Major League Baseball player to pitch for five different teams in the same season.

August 10 – A new scientific study reported that insect-eating birds consume about 400 million tons of insects each year.

September 10- The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center reported that 600 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. by flying into buildings, most often at night when they are lured by illuminated office windows.

September 14 – New census data reported that Social Security, food stamps, and other government programs kept 44 million Americans out of poverty last year.

September 25 – A record 1,260 dogs attended the baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox during Chicago’s promotional Dogs’ Night Out event.

September 26 – The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that an unprecedented 68.5 million people globally have been forced from their homes.

October 15 – A report by the University of Missouri indicated that honeybees stopped flying during the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

October 31 – The journal Nature published a report that showed over the past quarter-century the Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat than previously believed.

November 6 – The World Health Organization listed depression as the leading cause of disability in the world, with the U.S. leading the way with 13 percent of its population on anti-depressants.

November 9 – The Center for Disease Control reported that smoking rates in the U.S. at an all-time low, with 14 percent of adults who smoke cigarettes.

November 25 – A Bank of America ATM machine in Houston, Texas dispensed $100 bill instead of $10, and the bank allowed customers to keep the extra money.

December 8 – A 29-year-old Summerville, South Carolina man was arrested for arson after he allegedly burned several of his neighbors’ outdoor Christmas displays.

December 12 – The CDC listed fentanyl as the deadliest drug in the U.S., causing 18,000 deaths from overdoes in 2016.

December 14 – Snopes.com reported that the busiest day of the year for Chinese restaurants in the U.S. is Christmas Day.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a better year for our planet and all its inhabitants.

Happy New Year!

Let’s let the sun set on 2018.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under baseball, birding, birds, Christmas, Christmas deocrations, column, history, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, nature photography, news, photography, weather, writing

A Christmas Poem: Do Not Fear

Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VA.

“We live in fearsome times.” My father told me that when we uselessly practiced nuclear bomb drills by hiding under our school desks, when with trepidation I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white when JFK called the Russians’ bluff on Cuba, then when Dallas happened, and assassins shot Martin and Bobby, and cities burned, and a president resigned, and revolts occurred, and we always seemed to side with the bad guy, when we chided dictators for gassing people only to bomb the survivors in their mourning.

“We live in fearsome times.” My grandfather told me that when he silently remembered his own gassing in the war to end all wars and died at the age that I am now coughing and coughing and coughing because there were no records that he was poisoned 100 years ago on the western front.

“We live in fearsome times,” I tell my grandchildren in failed efforts to shield them from the constant volleys of lies and accusations and nonsense spewing forth into their innocent world by powerful people who lost their decency, compassion, and empathy long, long ago.

“Have no fear,” I reassure them to ears deafened by headsets and screen time. Still, I think they get it all, the nonsense, the truth-telling, and the untruth-telling. That is my hope in this season of hope. On this darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, there is enough oil now to keep the candles burning. But we have to keep pressing on like those Hanukkah days of old. We must pour new wine into new wineskins, not old. We don’t want to waste the wine by bursting.

We live in fearsome times. We must be patient in the season of waiting. We must choose clarity over certainty, though certainty it is that we too often choose, only to be disappointed, and blame circumstances and others for our wrong choices. Those in the Old and those in the New reported the same. Therefore, in this season of light, hope, peace, patience is the rule as “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Love Advent banner, Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VAWe live in fearsome times. This is the season of anticipation, joy, love, forgiveness, wonder, when blended, a recipe not to fear. We look for the brightest star to lead us forth, but stars are in heaven, not on earth. Behold the heavenly host is near. Do not fear.

We live in fearsome times. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, not on our terms, but Yours and Yours alone. Our fragility and our insecurity overcome our logic, excite our emotions precisely opposite of what the good tidings proclaim, why the angels yet rejoice. They know the true Ruler is the Lamb, not the lion.

We live in fearsome times. Humans always have, always will simply because we are human, unable or unwilling to listen, to hear, to comprehend the goodness, the freedom, the surety bestowed on us to bestow on others, especially during these dark days.

We live in fearsome times. What will we do? How can we go on? Awareness is enough.

“In the beginning was the word… The serpent was more crafty than any other… Everyone who thirsts… Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah… In the sixth month… In those days a decree went out… In that region there were shepherds… And the Word became flesh… Fear not…” Hallelujah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, food photography, human interest, news, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Summer is a humbling time

Amish farm, corn, wheat, oats

Grains of Summer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With all of its positive and pleasant attributes, summer makes it hard to be humble.

We all want to get out and take full advantage of the sunny days filled with warmer temperatures and a wide variety of activities. We fling ourselves full force into each day whether it’s for work or for play. We want to drink in every drop of sunshine, warmth, and blue skies, from dawn to dusk.

Hungry Mother SP VA

At the beach.

Toddlers, children, and teens fill the local swimming pools, both public and backyard venues, while adults keep watchful eyes on the less careful youth. Construction workers bask in the fair weather, narrowing four lanes to one with an arsenal of orange barrels.

Lawnmowers hum morning, noon, and evening throughout global neighborhoods. Contractors and excavators work sunup to sundown. Farmers are in their glory, beginning to harvest the fruits of their labor.

In many places, the corn reached far beyond knee-high-by-the-Fourth-of-July standards. In others, stalks stood only inches tall, drowned out by the super wet spring and early summer rains.

Amber waves of grain really did roll in the wind until giant combines gobbled them up or they formed rows of shocks like so many soldiers standing guard in Amish-owned fields.

Summer, however, has other, more drastic ways to get our attention with her weapons. Summer can humble us lowly humans in many ways. Think floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, golf ball-sized hail, record heat and humidity.

No matter our stature or station in life, we all succumb to those prevailing conditions. Summer humbles us.

humble singFor those unfamiliar with E.B. White’s beloved children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” humility played a major role in the book’s plot and dialogue. The spider Charlotte wove “Humble” into the web that served to save the life of the precocious pig Wilbur. She wanted a word that meant “not proud” as Wilbur’s crowning characteristic.

But humility has a second meaning beyond the social one. Humble implies a willingness to learn, and thankfully summer has much to teach us. The lessons are all around us in a more pleasing, useful, and beautiful form than what disasters wrought.

Vegetable gardens and truck patches team with all sorts of goodies that nurture us. Tasty homegrown sweet corn, luscious red tomatoes, green, red, and yellow peppers, and tangles of zucchini are just a few examples.

Roadside produce stands and supermarkets tempt us with juicy peaches and vine-ripened melons. Generations ago indigenous Americans taught us to plant, tend, and harvest these marvels.

For those non-gardeners among us, we sniff and thump and feel and taste to select the best of the bunch like our parents and grandparents did. The poor fruits and veggies pay the ultimate price.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Flower gardens are peaking with hollyhocks and zinnias and cultivated flowers, too. Leafy hardwoods provide shade and refreshing coolness from the oppressive summer heat for humans and critters alike.

Wildflowers and wildlife, too, show their stuff. Dainty spotted fawns venture out on their own while mom watches from more secluded spaces. Parent bluebirds and house wrens ferry insects, worms, and berries to their youngsters nearly as big as the adult birds.

Families crowd beaches and climb mountains on vacations, exploring new venues or returning to old haunts discovered by previous generations.

Where is humility in all of this? Using the educational definition, it’s merely a reminder of the responsibility of the created to care for the creation. That is about as humbled as we can get.

pasture field, cumulous clouds

Summer landscape.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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