Grateful I Heeded the Warning Signs

It was good to be back in Holmes County, Ohio.

I had been struggling with high blood pressure for weeks. A prescription for pain set off a chain of events that has taken weeks to rectify.

The orthopedic surgeon prescribed pain medication for the discomfort in my hip, but only if my family physician approved. She did, but on the condition that I take my blood pressure morning and evening. The prescription tended to elevate people’s bp, she said.

It didn’t take long to prove my primary care doctor was correct. In a short time, my bp was sky-high. The physical symptoms I had foretold that it would be: a constant headache, lightheadedness, and my balance was off. Even though I was approaching age 75, I had always been steady on my feet. I wasn’t now.

The symptoms didn’t stop there. I was waking in the middle of the night and, occasionally, had pressure on my chest. Having served on the local volunteer rescue squad for 27 years, I knew that was a red flag. I stopped taking the pain med and returned to the doctor’s office.

Much to my chagrin, I was prescribed two more medications to help bring down my blood pressure. However, the symptoms and my elevated bp persisted.

Of course, all of this happened around the holidays. We had planned on attending a gathering of my siblings for the first time since the pandemic hit. Despite my uneasiness, we decided to go and drove the 350 miles from Virginia to Ohio. Fortunately, all went well, and we had an enjoyable time together.

The Stambaaugh Five.

That evening, good friends invited us to a soup supper at their church in Holmes County, Ohio, where we had spent most of our lives and each completed 30-year education careers. We enjoyed more fellowship with other friends and acquaintances there. The soup was delicious, too.

As we were about to leave the church, however, I felt the heaviness in my chest again. My family doctor told me to head to the emergency room if that returned. The pressure had a habit of coming and going, so I just lived with it. However, the chest discomfort felt more intense this time. And it wasn’t the soup.

We had intended to return to Virginia the next day. Driving all those miles through primarily rural, mountainous terrain, with limited cellphone service, seemed risky. I didn’t want to put that burden on my loving wife. Our lifelong friends, who knew I was uncomfortable, encouraged us to go to the local small-town hospital instead. They reasoned I would get quick attention for my issue and receive excellent care. We took their advice, and headed to the little hospital’s emergency room. As soon as I mentioned pressure on my chest, I was ushered into a room and immediately examined.

I doubt the response would have been the same at a big city hospital, especially on a Saturday night. While the nurse and an EMT doing clinical time as part of his training got me settled, my wife checked me in. Later, she told me they already had our Virginia address, health insurance, and other information in their system.

Having lived in that rural community for 46 years, this was not my first visit to this facility. I had previously been treated there for assorted ailments over the years. Our daughter and son were both born there. I had also served on the hospital board for six years, almost two decades ago. So, yes, I had a particular affinity for this medical facility.

My blood tests and EKG came back normal, but with the chest pressure and my medical history, the caring ER doctor decided to admit me. She ordered a stress test and an echocardiogram. Unfortunately, those would have to wait until Monday morning.

Sunday passed surprisingly quickly. My wife sat by my side late morning into the evening. In between, nurses, aides, and a doctor came and went. The local social grapevine went into overdrive. Relatives and close friends helped the day zoom by with brief visits. My blood pressure lessened each time it was taken.

I was awakened early Monday by a cheery lab tech for the ordered tests. I passed the stress test with ease, and the echocardiogram revealed no blockage in the arteries to my heart. I was greatly relieved.

By early afternoon, the doctor on duty added a relaxing medication and sent us on our way. She also ensured we had all the documented results of every test I had taken. My family doctor was impressed when I saw her a couple of days later.

A Holmes County sunset.

I was so glad we had decided to let this small, rural hospital’s professional staff care for me. I am most grateful to my friends who encouraged us to vist Pomerene Memorial Hospital, and for its caring and professional personnel.

I was equally happy that I had heeded the warning signs. My blood pressure is back to normal, and so is my life.

So, if you have symptoms that don’t seem right, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room, no matter its size. Common sense always eclipses ego, no matter one’s age.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

How Amish Celebrate the Holidays

An Amish farm on Christmas Day in Holmes County, Ohio.

The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.

Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.

There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.

The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.

Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.

The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.

Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.

Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.

Christmas

From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.

Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.

The Amish appreciate natural holiday “decorations,” like this sundog, while a red-tailed hawk roosts on a distant tree.

Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.

After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.

Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.

Family and friends gather for a Christmas program at an Amish school near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Old Christmas

Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.

Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.

No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.

An Amish school sits empty on a snow hillside during a brief Christmas break.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Amish Farms in December

Scanning through some photo files, I found several photos of Amish farms in December. These photos were all taken in or near Holmes County, Ohio.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

On Shenandoah Mountain

A colorful curve on Shenandoah Mountain.

What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.

Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.

The view from our backyard at our former Ohio home in Amish country.

I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.

The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.

Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.

The Dry River, Riven Rock Park, Rockingham Co., Virginia.

Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.

Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.

I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.

Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.

Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.

I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.

After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.

Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.

Autumn’s glory along US 33 on Shenandoah Mountain, Virginia.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

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

Joy in a Time of Sorrow

Yes, it is possible.

A tornado-damaged barn in Ohio’s Amish country.

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.

Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.

This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.

As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.

As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.

I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.

Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.

Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.

At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.

During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.

The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.

How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.

We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.

Joy on Christmas morning.

Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.

With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.

Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.

That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.

We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.

An Amish farmstead in December.

© 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

A Natural Combination

My old friend and Halloween

Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.

Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.

Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.

Paul Sauerbrey

Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.

Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.

He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.

He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.

His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.

I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.

A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.

John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.

Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.

The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.

The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.

Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.

Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.

Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.

To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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