Celebrating July 4th, then and now

A Fourth of July parade in Lakeside, Ohio.

As a youngster, I remember having mixed emotions about the Fourth of July. It had nothing to do with my patriotism, and everything to do with my youth.

I joyously anticipated the fireworks displays, wherever and however we got to see them. The reality, though, was that this red, white, and blue holiday marked the halfway point of the year. More importantly, it meant in my young mind that we were already halfway through the summer. Schools would be starting before we knew it.

When my four siblings and I were young, we would gather on a starry July 4th night on the edge of the hill a block west of our brick bungalow. We would anxiously look south and wait for the sparkling pyrotechnic patterns.

On rare occasions, we talked our father into driving closer to Meyers Lake Amusement Park, where the fireworks were ignited to explode over the lake. To avoid the parking lot traffic jam, Dad chose a side street that afforded a decent view of the aerial show.

The fireworks tradition continued into my adulthood when my wife and I started our family. From our home on County Road 201, we could see fireworks from various towns north, east, and southeast.

The summer of 1988 may have been the best time for fireworks for our family of four. Flying back from a vacation in California, we left Chicago’s O’Hare airport right at dark for the last leg of our trip. We looked down from on high as multiple fireworks displays erupted until we landed an hour later at Ohio’s Akron-Canton airport.

Nature’s fireworks over Holmes Co., Ohio are just as impressive.

Years later, friends built a beautiful home high on a hill overlooking Millersburg. They had the perfect view of the fireworks shot from the safety of the former county fairgrounds location. Our friends made it a grand occasion, inviting one and all. A plate of food to share was the price of admission.

I enjoyed the fellowship of friends, former students, and some people I had only just met. We oohed and awed together once the colorful and noisy celebration began.

That’s one tradition we left behind when we moved to the heart of Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. Our city launches its fireworks display from a local park. We have enjoyed the show with our grandchildren on more than one occasion. Not this year.

A local resort, Massanutten, also holds a festival that features fireworks. However, like many locations across the nation, that won’t happen this year because of the pandemic. Officials were wisely concerned about keeping physical distances, which is much harder to do with crowds of people.

Massanutten Mountain, Harrisonburg, VA.

Some localities canceled everything, while others like Massanutten, canceled the festival. The fireworks will fly as usual.

These are the times in which we live. We need to accept that we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. The viral repercussions range far beyond silent, darkened skies on the Fourth of July.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionOur Founding Fathers created the most daring democratic republic experiment ever attempted. It’s entirely up to each of us to make sure our democracy endures for all peoples to exercise each of their first amendment rights.

Whether watching fireworks live or on TV, let those symbolic rockets red glares and bombs bursting in the air be a rededication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can the sparks ignite a new fire of freedom for all the nation’s people regardless of race, color, creed, or religion? Isn’t that the intent of the First Amendment?

Only then can freedom truly ring.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Unpacking boxes and memories

The kind of field my father hunted for artifacts.

After three years, my wife and I have finally unpacked all of the boxes since we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. It’s another coronavirus sequestering accomplishment that we can check off our “to-do” list.

We weren’t negligent or procrastinating. We knew what those heavy cardboard boxes contained. We just didn’t have a place to display or properly store them. Now that they are unpacked, we still don’t.

My late father divided his extensive Native American artifact collection among his offspring and the grandchildren. He designated who got what primarily based on geography.

Dad marked where he found each artifact he considered “good.” Consequently, Neva and I ended up with the majority of the ones discovered in Holmes County, Ohio, and those from near my wife’s home farm east of Louisville, Ohio.

How Dad marked his finds.

I can’t tell you how many plowed fields Dad and those of us who joined him walked. With heads down and separated six-feet apart, we ambled one end of the field to the other. Yes, we socially distanced before it was even a thing. Doing so allowed us to cover an area more efficiently.

Dad delved deep into historic Native American cultures. His love for history and the near half-century he spent collecting made him a noted amateur archeologist.

As his knowledge and collection grew, Dad began to share what he learned and what he had found. He joined archeology groups. Professional archeologists even invited Dad to join digs to save Indian encampments that would be destroyed for various construction projects or by strip mining.

Dad even spent his lunchtimes on lovely days looking for surface finds near his workplace in Akron, Ohio. When his job required travel, Dad scoured fields in Arizona, California, and many other states.

Dad accompanied our mother on artists retreats to North Carolina. While the artists painted, Dad visited local farmers to inquire about hunting their fields.

The landowners often showed him what they had already found, and Dad would gladly identify and date the points and pottery shards for the farmers. For that, he gained access to their land, made new friends, and expanded his collection.

Our artist mother would occasionally return the favor by accompanying Dad on a dig. One of her paintings graced the book cover that documented one significant excavation.

Dad lecturing at the retirement home.

Dad lectured at schools, church meetings, service organizations, presented at historical society gatherings, and at the retirement home where he died. He even won a few awards for his displays at archeology shows.

I found one of Dad’s notecards that he used in his presentations. It was an impressive list of how indigenous peoples used natural renewable resources. Dad shared how the Indians used the entire animal that they had killed. They ate the meat, fashioned clothing and shelter from hides, and used bones for tools.

Ironically, Dad privately questioned why Native Americans, as intuitive and ingenious as they were, didn’t develop the country the way European immigrants did. With his Germanic linage, I sensed it was a rhetorical question.

I found it curious, even disconcerting that Dad admired and taught about a people and their cultures, and yet he didn’t comprehend their devotion to preserving the environment they so cherished. Nor did he address the horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples that even continues today. In retrospect, I should have pressed my father on those issues.

Marian and Dick Stambaugh. One of my mother’s paintings is on the wall behind her.
I loved my father, and I love that he bequeathed so many of his artifacts to the family. For me, they serve as tangible reminders to universally respect all peoples, no matter their color or creeds, then and now.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Whistling in June


I reached into my archives and found this lovely Eastern Meadowlark singing from an old wooden fence post. You can frequently hear these colorful robin-sized birds before you spot them.

I thought the shot was the perfect way to welcome you all to June. “Whistling in June” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Prothonotary Warbler


I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.

So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.

“Prothonotary Warbler” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Honoring a loving mother

mother and children
This photo of my our mother and my siblings and me was taken at Christmas 2011.

My brothers and sisters and I were fortunate. Our late mother was as loving and caring as we could have ever hoped.

Mom exhibited those endearing qualities for as long as I can remember until she died eight years ago. Even in her final months as Alzheimer’s took its toll on her memory, she remained pleasant. As her adult offspring, we embraced her goodness as often as we could.

As a gang of five youngsters, I’m sure we didn’t fully understand or appreciate just how kind our mother was. Still, each of us tried to express our love and affection for our kindly mother, especially at Mother’s Day.

As I recall, our elementary school teachers spurred us on with class projects that created gifts for our mothers. The fact that most of the teachers were mothers themselves likely influenced their desire to honor our mothers.
tulips, spring flowers
The art teacher helped with that cause, too. She had us make cards or draw flowers or paint a landscape for our mothers.

Ironically, my only male teacher in elementary school was perhaps the most resourceful. Mr. Bartley arranged for a local greenhouse to have a variety of violets for us to choose as Mother’s Day gifts. We walked from school to the nursery, picked our flower, and handed over the dollar bill that sealed the deal.

Our mother loved flowers, so I was most pleased with the teacher’s decision. It just so happened that the lovely plant that I had selected bloomed as a double-violet. Mom’s smile doubled, too, when she saw the frilly bloom.

Mom cultivated flower gardens around the exterior of our red-brick bungalow. She loved the bright tulips, the white, yellow, and blue irises, and the showy roses.

I loved them, too. One particular red tulip stood out to me, and I wanted to share it with my teacher. Mom took time out of her busy household chores to carefully dig up the flower and place it in a terracotta flower pot for my teacher.

Not only did she grow flowers, but she also painted them, too. When my sister Claudia brought home a fragrant, bulging bouquet of lavender lilacs, Mom was moved.

She placed them in a pitcher and was so enamored by them that she also painted a stunning oil still-life that perfectly preserved that marvelous gift. Fittingly, my sister still has the painting that she inspired, “Claudia’s Bouquet.”

Mom did her best to feed her hungry flock on Dad’s meager salary. Supper was always ready by the time he arrived home from work. Her Sunday noon meals were the highlight of her culinary skills.

Besides being an artist and homemaker, Mom enjoyed sports, too. If my brothers weren’t available, Mom would take time away from her household chores and play pitch and catch with me. She threw straight and hard, too.

You can imagine with our brood that our mother’s patience could easily wear thin at times. She was never mean or harsh with her discipline, which I think made us kids feel even more guilty for whatever offense we had committed.

I’m glad there is a day designated to honor and remember mothers everywhere. I realize that not everyone had a happy and loving relationship with their mother. It’s all too easy to take a mother’s love for granted or to think that all mothers are as devoted as mine was. I wish they were.

I am glad that Marian Frith Stambaugh was a caring, loving person. And I am incredibly happy that kindness and creativity are her motherly legacies.

Rural road by Marian Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country


It was exactly five years ago today that I took this photo of our Amish neighbor planting corn in the late-April sunshine. Add in the faithful dog, and it’s an iconic spring scene in Ohio’s Amish country. A majority of the three to four million tourists who visit Holmes Co., Ohio, every year come for such nostalgic vistas as this. Horsedrawn plows and planters bring back fond memories for our most senior folks. It’s a way of life that is rapidly disappearing, even in the largest Amish population in the world. Today, fewer than 10 percent of Amish still farm.

“Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Basking Beauty


Eastern Bluebirds are some of my favorite birds. I love everything about them. Their colors are stunning, as this male perfectly models. Their songs are subdued, wishful, peaceful, and satisfying. They are docile, eat tons of insects and seeds, and are generally congenial to humans. Once on the decline, Eastern Bluebirds are making a comeback thanks in part to bluebird trails being established in appropriate habitat for them.

I took this photo five years ago in our Ohio backyard. This male was basking in the morning sunshine on a day late in March. Eastern Bluebirds made regular visits to my feeders year-round.

“Basking Beauty” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

It’s always good to be home

A new day dawns in Ohio’s Amish country.

Home. It’s a four-letter word that conjures up both good and sad emotions. It all depends on one’s circumstances.

I was fortunate. Returning home has always been a rewarding, meaningful experience for me.

I have no recollection of living in my first home on a channel of a lake near Akron, Ohio. But I recall many stories told to me in my adolescent years. I still get chided for grinding up coal cinders from the driveway. Apparently, I thought they tasted good.

My earliest childhood recollection was when I was about four years old. My father handed me a cold Coca Cola while I sat overhead on a rafter of the house my folks were building.

I spent my formative years in the little red-brick bungalow in Canton, Ohio. Baby boomer families like ours filled that middle-class neighborhood. Pick up Whiffle ball, baseball, and football games were commonplace, along with hide and seek sessions that went long into warm summer evenings.

That modest home was always a welcome sight returning home from college. Though the house was sometimes filled with shouting and disagreements, I always felt safe there. It was my home and my family, after all.

All of that changed once I graduated and started teaching in Killbuck, Ohio. I met and married my wife, and we built our own home just out of town next to an old cemetery. My school principal built right next to us. I loved to tell people that at least we had good neighbors on one side of our home.

We spent 10 incredible years there. It’s where our daughter and son learned to walk, talk, and play. Oh, the stories I could tell of those good old days in that hardscrabble town. For now, it’s best to let them remain dormant.

After I became a principal in East Holmes Local Schools, we moved to near Berlin, Ohio. The house we bought was on an Amish farm, and all of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their primary language. That wasn’t a hindrance at all.

Just like when I grew up, our daughter and son had plenty of children to play with. They often met at the giant old black oak tree across the road from us. It was a joy to be able to watch them interact and quickly solve any squabbles without an adult having to intervene.

We lived there for 38 years, longer than any other place, including our childhood homes. Our neighbors were friendly and helpful. Amazing sunrises and sunsets enhanced the already beautiful views that we enjoyed.

Despite our deep roots in the community, we decided it was time to be nearer to our three grandchildren, who were growing all too fast. We found a home only five miles away from them in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

We bought and remodeled a little ranch house amid nearly 500 other homes. Just like their owners, each one has a personality all its own. Instead of being in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we now live in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

We can watch our high school grandson strike out batters in a baseball game. We enjoy a middle school concert in which our other grandson plays the French horn. We watch and listen with pride as our granddaughter sings in a prestigious children’s choir.

In the words of Maya Angelo, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Indeed, it’s good to be home, wherever that is. I hope that’s true for you as well.

At home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Christmas Morning in Amish Country


This is one of my favorite Christmas morning shots. It’s also very personal and sentimental. After 37 years in the same house, December 25, 2016 was our last Christmas here before we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to be near the grandkids.

This photo shows our granddog, a Sproodle (English Springer Spaniel/Poodle mix), watching a horse-drawn Amish buggy trotting by the house. It was a familiar scene for us all those years. The clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves on the payment of the busy road on which we lived soothed our souls. We miss that a lot.

I suppose, in part, that is why I chose this peaceful Christmas morning photo to share. I took it in the calm of the blessed morning before the grandkids awoke one last time at our Holmes Co., Ohio, home.

“Christmas Morning in Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A Shadow of Itself


This beautiful male pileated woodpecker was only concerned about one thing: breakfast. The early morning sun, low in the southeastern horizon, brightly highlighted North America’s biggest woodpecker just before the winter solstice of 2014. The angle allowed the bird’s shadow and that of the peanut butter suet feeder to be cast on the trunk of the old sugar maple in our backyard near Mt. Hope, Ohio. The pileated woodpeckers came to our feeders year-round, even bringing their young to our home in Ohio’s Amish country. Those birds would be in the top 10 things that I miss since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley two and a half years ago.

“A Shadow of Itself” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019