Hugs worth the wait

A pandemic inconvenience

Sodus Point Lighthouse, Sodus Point, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had waited two years for these hugs. When we finally embraced our son and his wife, all seemed right with the world again.

We knew we were not alone. Necessary health restrictions continue to keep millions of global people apart.

So, we felt fortunate to travel from central Virginia to upstate New York finally. The scenery was magnificent. The traffic not so much.

The road to Rochester, New York, was a long and winding one. With the heatwave, it was a hot one, too.

Though the city is due north of our home in the Shenandoah Valley, there is no easy way to get there. We can thank the old, folded Appalachian Mountains for that. The lush, forested mountains contrasted with the ripening grain fields we saw.

One highway closely followed the picturesque Susquehanna River part of the way. We even passed through central Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Hand-painted signs advertising quilts and produce reminded me of our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish population, and where we used to live.

Upper left to right; The Sam Patch tour boat on the Erie Canal; Williamsport, PA; 100-acre pond; Male Eastern Bluebird; a hike on a hot and humid day.

For us, the mini-reunion was especially sweet. Unable to travel in June 2020, we had to watch our son’s street wedding on Zoom. It wasn’t what we wanted, but what we had to do.

Since the specifics of each state’s pandemic policies and restrictions were unique, we had to be patient to see our son and his bride in person. According to the guidelines, they couldn’t come to us from New York State, and we couldn’t visit them from Virginia.

That all changed once the vaccines became available. Our son and daughter-in-law got vaccinated just as we did. With both states relaxing restrictions due to declining infection numbers, we finally set a date to trek north.

Our daughter-in-law teaches middle school English, and her academic year didn’t end until the last week of June. That worked out perfectly for us. We may have missed their wedding, but we would be there to help celebrate their first anniversary.

And celebrate we did! With the heatwave in progress, however, we scaled back the planned outdoor activities. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant boat ride on the Erie Canal and took anniversary photos at a quaint lighthouse on Lake Ontario.

Food enthusiasts that they are, Nathan and Jess, arranged meals at some excellent restaurants. We were even able to eat outside in the evening’s shade. We savored the food and conversation and watched people stroll along city sidewalks.

We visited a park and toured a wildlife rehabilitation center. A refreshing breeze cooled us as we sat on benches overlooking a 100-acre pond. Before we left, we hugged some more.

Yes, we were inconvenienced all those months by the pandemic and the health restrictions needed to deter it. But with those embraces, all of the pent-up stress evaporated into the steamy air.

Yet, there was more. With each hug, I had to think about all those who haven’t yet had the same opportunity. I also thought about all those thousands upon thousands of mourning folks who would never be able to hug their lost loved ones taken by the pandemic’s virulence.

My wife and I were more than rewarded by merely being with our son and his wife. We were most grateful.

As I drove home, it hit me that the long and winding road to Rochester served as a metaphor for the horrific pandemic. The approaches and responses to the coronavirus have taken many twists and turns since its emergence in December 2019.

Hopefully, science will straighten those pandemic curves soon. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish every hug I get.

Tioga River Valley, Tioga, PA. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Summer Sunset

As I arrived at my favorite sunset photo op spot, this stand of grass caught my attention. The setting sun illuminated the seeding heads of the stalks, creating a bleaching effect.

I thought they made the perfect foreground for the sunset over the Allegheny Mountains that mark the Virginia/West Virginia border.

“Summer Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why does summer go so fast?

Why does summertime always seem to go so fast? It’s July already!

Once Memorial Day passes, and school dismisses, it’s on to summertime fun. With the warmer, more pleasant, consistent weather and longer daylight hours, we fill our days with the most enjoyable activities we can.

That’s easy for school children and retirees to do. We have all the time we need to enjoy each moment of each day if we so choose. However, most people who still work have to squeeze in as much outdoor time as possible.

Home improvement projects, gardening, lawn-mowing, fishing, hiking, biking, painting, and grilling are just some of the “ing” activities that fill the hours before and after work. But, from what I can tell, most folks do a fine job of making these precious days count.

Of course, critical social interactions like vacations and weddings also chip away at summer’s beck and call. But, hopefully, all of the planning time and money spent will make the events worthwhile. Usually, the smiles provide proof.

However, summer’s waning is especially noteworthy given all that we have endured during the ongoing pandemic. We here in the United States are most fortunate to have the vaccines so readily available. They allow us to shake off the doldrums of the prolonged, unexpected, and unwanted coronavirus ramifications.

Too many global citizens aren’t as fortunate, though I am glad to see that our country is coming to their aid. But the number of world’s people desiring the shots far outnumber the available vaccines at this point.

On the beach.

Still, Americans are taking to the highways and byways, packing national parks, baking on beaches, and celebrating the opportunities to do so. It’s a joyous feeling. We will continue our travel plans, but we will still be cautious.

My wife and I ventured out on our first out-of-state trip to visit her cousin and spouse in North Carolina. It was nice to be on the road again, even if the Interstates became parking lots from time to time due to accidents or construction.

We didn’t do anything special. The weather put a damper on that. But it was simply a joy to be together again, playing cards, reminiscing, watching TV shows, and enjoying dining out once again.

Another transition back to normalcy also lifted our spirits. We began to attend in-person church services, still with distancing and masks. Words alone can’t express my gratitude.

My wife and I got to see our son and his wife for the first time in nearly two years. We had watched their wedding via Zoom, but we made up for our absence by celebrating their first anniversary with them.

Last summer the pandemic interrupted our annual trip to our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie. We hadn’t missed a summer there since we started going as a family in 1987.

We look forward to renewing friendships and making new ones, which is always easy to do in the summertime resort. I’ll rise to catch the break of dawn and head to the dock each evening to capture the sunset along with scores of other memory-makers.

We’ll play dominoes on the porch, stroll the shoreline sidewalks lined with lilies and hollyhocks. I’ll sit on a bench and watch the boats sail away, and enjoy the lake breezes.

I’m glad it’s summer, and I am thrilled to be able to travel again. However, the joy of reconnecting relationships far overshadows any exotic destinations.

With all of these interactions, perhaps that answers my question as to why summer seems to be already speeding along.

A summer sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Hot Full Moon Rising

I captured this shot of the Hot Full Moon rising over Shenandoah National Park just after sunset on June 24. You can see outlines of the trees along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Given the recent spell of sweltering weather over much of the U.S., including Virginia, the Native Americans properly named this moon.

I stood on the eastern side of Mole Hill 30 miles west of the park to take this photo. The darker line in the foreground is the summit of the Massanutten Mountain ridge.

“Hot Full Moon Rising” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Reconnecting with friends

Food, fun, and fellowship is always an excellent combination.

I had waited a long time to take a picture like this. However, I got so wrapped up at the moment that I left my camera at home. So my smartphone camera would have to suffice.

There we all were 40, gray-headed old souls who finally, after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, gathered together to eat, laugh, and share. I had to capture the moment.

The group was our faith formation or Sunday school class. We had only met a couple of times via Zoom since March 2020. So to finally be meeting in person was a taste of heaven on earth.

As a group, we were all on the same page. We followed the recommended health restrictions issued and altered as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, morphed, and challenged global scientists and medical personnel.

Our hosts had moved to the Harrisonburg, Virginia area from Wayne County, Ohio a year before we moved from a neighboring Ohio county. They had invited the entire class to their rural home nestled into a hill and surrounded by forest and wildlife.

Storms were in the forecast, but this was a determined group. The desire to see each other face-to-face overtook any threat of severe thunderstorms.

Besides, we met in a sweeping semi-circle in our hosts’ expansive and sparkling clean garage. With east and west doors open, a welcome breeze kept us comfortable.

As the first people arrived, an orphaned fawn hobbled across the emerald grass and plopped down. Soon, it righted itself and wobbled into the woods, likely looking for its mother.

Cars arrived at steady intervals, which allowed some positive personal interaction as guests exited their vehicles. With all safely vaccinated, no face masks were required. The many smiles spoke volumes. Fist bumps and hugs abounded.

An approaching storm.

With the hosts providing the main course, half the class brought salads and the other half desserts. Typical for any Mennonite potluck, the offerings were tasty and satisfying. No one went away hungry.

After lunch, we all found our seats in the garage and began the organized sharing. First, the class coordinator asked each person to share briefly about their pandemic situations. Some spoke at length, while others said only a few words.

Several of the attendees live in a local retirement community with even tighter standards than those who lived independently. They were more than delighted to be sitting with this gray-headed crowd.

One man shared how he had lost all of his siblings. Some deaths were due to COVID-19, others from natural causes. Not being able to gather to mourn in the usual fashion compounded his grieving.

Some told of vacations and weddings canceled. Others beamed at finally physically reconnecting with family and meeting grandchildren, some for the first time.

The eldest of the group stole the show, however. When it was this stateman’s turn to share, Cal simply said, “I’m glad to be here,” parroting late-night TV show guests’ comments. Other one-liners had us all laughing with this soon-to-be 96-year-old.

A thundershower clipped through the conversations, but it didn’t deter these determined folks. The laughter, sharing, and caring continued right on through the distant rumbles of thunder.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to see, hear, and be together again in the flesh. But we were also very thankful for the church and political leaders who have guided us through this unwelcome pandemic storm.

The fellowship of like-minded friends is invaluable. Consequently, our bonding time ended in a grateful halleluiah prayer of thanksgiving.     

Can you find the fawn?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Glowing Calla Lilies

The evening sunlight made these Calla Lilies glow. Their variegated leaves only enhanced their beauty.

“Glowing Calla Lilies” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It pays to be flexible in retirement

I thought retirement was going to be peaceful and calm. I was dreaming.

Take two recent back-to-back days, for instance. My wife and I could have gotten ulcers from our on-again, off-again schedules. Instead, we merely went with the flow as we have learned to do.

This particular Tuesday was packed. We skipped our morning Zoom yoga session in favor of hosting Neva’s first cousin and his wife for breakfast before they headed back to Ohio. Of course, Neva did her usual over-the-top hospitality thing.

We looked forward to their long-awaited in-person visit, their first in two years. But there was a problem. I host a Zoom writing group on the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. I knew the lively conversation would last well beyond the Zoom meeting’s starting time. I had no choice but to excuse myself from the enjoyable party.

When I started the Zoom writing meeting, a couple of folks were already waiting to get in. Others arrived late. Since we were in three different states, we spent the waiting time catching up until everyone was present.

The meeting went well with lots of excellent readings and constructive comments. Though the two hours flew by, I was exhausted. Zoom tends to do that to me.

After a light lunch on the porch, I decided to mow the yard since the grass was tall and my afternoon was open. I had to finish by 3:30 p.m., though, so that I could go with my wife to pick up our middle grandchild at the middle school at 4 p.m. Nana was to drop me off at our daughter’s house on the way to taking the youngest grandchild to soccer practice.

From there, I was to ride with our daughter and her husband to watch their oldest play baseball in a neighboring town. However, that plan got altered and then totally scrapped when the home team changed the game start time to 7:30, not 6. It was one big “Never Mind.”

The next day wasn’t much better. All the hustle and bustle activities got squeezed into a late afternoon-early evening time frame. The plan was to host our daughter and whatever family members could attend for dinner.

Nana had made beef stew, and they would all eat and go to the high school for the first live band concert in more than a year. The middle grandchild would play the French horn with the high school band.

Because I had a previously scheduled appointment in town, I was to join them for the 6 p.m. concert after rushing home to enjoy the stew. The high school is just a five-minute drive from our home.

Of course, that all changed when we learned that the band concert started a half-hour later than initially scheduled. Consequently, Nana made a stew run to our daughters, and she and I ate a quick supper on the back porch.

We arrived at the football stadium just as the wind began to pick up. Band members, including our grandson, struggled to keep their sheet music from blowing into Pennsylvania.

To comply with school rules for large gatherings, each musician wore a face mask. So did audience members. Those playing wind instruments, like our grandson, tucked the mouthpiece underneath their masks and played on. Somehow, someway, they pulled it off.

My wife and I were duly impressed with the performance. Given the conditions, the students sounded great.

No matter the circumstances, we wouldn’t have missed any of those activities. In retirement, being flexible pays big dividends despite life’s frenzy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

This June is a Gateway for All

We have all been waiting to exhale, especially this year, once June arrived. We had that same perspective a year ago, but we were wrong.

Last year the estimation was that summer’s warmth would lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Just the opposite happened. People gathered, and the virus spread.

This June appears to be different. The fact that nearly two-thirds of American adults have received at least one vaccination makes it so. That has resulted in the waning of the virus here in the U.S. However, other countries continue to struggle as new variants emerge, spread, sicken, and kill.

But in June 2021, a different feeling is in the air. June is that stepping stone into sunshine, smiles, and satisfaction. People in the U.S. are once again getting together, though some are doing so cautiously.

June is the gateway to summer. The summer solstice late on June 20 merely anoints the welcomed season.

June means longer and generally warmer days than previous months. With health restrictions significantly reduced or altogether eliminated, life in June just might help us all feel “normal” again.

Graduations, vacations, weddings, reunions, picnics, and Little League baseball games are a much better bet to occur with June’s arrival. Church congregations that met remotely are beginning to hold in-person services, some outside, others with controlled numbers assembled indoors.

I’ve always welcomed June from adolescence to this day. School often finished around Memorial Day, which turned us outdoor lovers loose. I still feel that way all those decades later.

But there is something sacred about this particular June. It’s more than just the freedom to move about, go swimming, fishing, hiking, or wearing T-shirts and shorts.

The pandemic isn’t over, but here in the U.S., it seems to be subsiding. Still, we are approaching 600,000 deaths in our great country and 3.5 million globally. Those are sobering figures.

I recall the wise advice of a farmer friend from the weeks-long drought that began in June 1988. Local hay crops had failed, and shipments of baled hay arrived from the Midwest. Many farmers bought the imported bales at exorbitant prices.

When they got it home, they discovered that the hay bales that looked good from the outside had more weeds than nourishment on the inside. I asked my friend if he had purchased any of the high-priced, weedy fodder.

I have never forgotten his reply. “My father once told me that when you see others running for something, you should walk.” So, no, he hadn’t.

Consequently, my wife and I will welcome June without much fanfare. We’ll follow our grandson’s traveling baseball team when we can. We will continue to be cautious about eating inside public places, preferring to dine at establishments that offer outside seating.

We have and will continue to visit vaccinated friends. We’ll use June to ease into renewing our travels, including seeing our son and his wife for the first time in two years.

I’ll continue to hike, but I will be careful to choose the days, watch the weather, and avoid weekends. I’m not a snob or prude. Crowded trails are not my thing.

When we do get out and about in June, we need to be cautious for practical reasons. Reports from many eastern states indicate that ticks are thick this year. Once back inside, check yourself, your children, and your pets. The physical effects of tick bites are devastating.

We can rightfully celebrate June’s arrival. But let’s continue to be alert and careful every step of the way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Pretty Pink Surprise

Since we moved to the Shenandoah Valley four years ago, I have planted two dogwoods in our yard. A white dogwood stands in the front yard between our driveway and the property line with the neighbors to the east. The tree sprouted beautiful silky white blooms six-weeks ago.

I kept watching for hints of buds on the pink dogwood that I had planted outside our bedroom window. It was a Mother’s Day gift for my wife in 2019, and I had it placed there so my wife could see it each morning as it bloomed. Dogwoods are notorious for not blooming for a few years after being transplanted, however. So, I wasn’t too disappointed when the pink dogwood didn’t bloom when all the other native dogwoods did in April and early May.

But the other day I looked out and tiny pink buds were bursting open to the morning sunshine. At first, they were dainty. But as you can see, the unfurled flowers are gorgeous.

“A Pretty Pink Surprise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Memorial Day is for remembering

A Virginia man prepares his Memorial Day decorations.

Memorial Day is for remembering. As a septuagenarian, the bulk of my life is behind me. Memories fill my daily life, but especially so on this solemn weekend.

In the years between ages 21 and 51, I started my career as a public school educator. I met and married my energetic and valiant wife. Our daughter and son were born. I simultaneously served 27 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

I consider those the best years of my life. That is true, not because of anything I did, but because of the people I met and interacted with in the communities where I lived, worked, and served.

To list all the folks would surely be impossible. So, I’ll share a few meaningful examples of those who helped me along life’s way.

Of course, I have to start with my parents, Dick and Marian. In the post-World War II era, men were the breadwinners, and women were for the most part housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s just how it was, and I am exceedingly glad those societal expectations are no longer the norm.

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding celebration.

At 6 foot 2 inches, Dad cut an imposing figure for that era. But he lived like a child turned loose in the world. He loved our mother dearly, but he never saw the need to help much around the house.

Mom always had supper ready when Dad came home from work. After we ate, Dad would often go on some adventure, whether to tend the garden we had on a friend’s property two miles away or to a church softball game.

Mom took things in stride as best she could. None of us five kids ever doubted her love, but we sure tested her limits. Mom was as kind and sweet as she was stalwart and unafraid to have a necessary word or two with Dad or us when needed.

Dad served in World War II on the U.S.S. San Diego, a Navy light cruiser that saw action in 16 major Pacific battles. They never lost a man. Dad was proud of his service but seldom talked much about it. His father, Merle, served in the Army in France in World War I.

Grandpa was gassed by German forces and treated in a field hospital that kept no medical records. He suffered from those damaged lungs until he died at age 72. He never received the financial or medical help that he needed and consequently lived a hard life.

My wife’s parents, Wayne and Esther, took me in like the son they never had. I knew Wayne liked me right away because he ushered me to the barn to see the pigs on my first visit to the farm. My wife said it usually took suitors three trips before they got that introduction.

Family members weren’t my only influencers. I boarded with Helen, a kindly woman, the first year that I taught. We became lifelong friends. Never married, Helen graciously adopted our family as her own. Our daughter and son were the grandchildren she never had.

Many others guided me through life, too: teachers, friends, other family members, even strangers. I cherish the times they spent with me. They all revered the past, never feared the future but sensibly lived in and for the moment at hand. So should we.

You have your saints, too. Remember them we must, for that is what they would want us to do. It is what we all want once we are gone. It’s why we have Memorial Day.

Dad at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009 as part of an Honor Flight.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021