With the summer solstice just past, summer is in full swing in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley. The physical signs are everywhere in the rural agricultural areas of rolling farmfields and along roadsides.
Examples of summer’s arrival predominate My Photo of the Week, “Signs of Summer.” The azure chickory flowers side-by-side with the bright white blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace fill the foreground along with unmown roadside grasses gone to seed.
Row after row of field corn run east to west to abutt a just-harvested winter wheat field. Note in the far left-hand corner the combine, tractors, and semi-trailers loaded with fresh-cut grain. In the background, the mixed hardwoods of Mole Hill, an ancient volcano, are full with their lush leaves.
Summer has arrived for sure in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The original article was first published on Nov. 11, 2011. I am republishing a revised version today in honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and for all those who work globally for peace.
By Bruce Stambaugh
The very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church 40 years ago was on nonresistance. That was precisely what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.
Now years later, I was to accompany my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day round-trip. Given his physical situation, Dad needed extra care.
Given my nonresistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. To help him accomplish that, regardless of my personal convictions, I needed to go with him.
As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner. This ritual was usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played patriotic music. Red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, and hundreds of volunteers vigorously greeted us.
At the circular, mostly granite World War II memorial, strangers came up to the vets and shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I emotionally took it all in, focusing my attention on caring for my elderly father.
The entourage visited several other war monuments in the U.S. capital that day, too. Back at the airport, we had left in the morning, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said this experience ranked right behind his 67- year marriage.
With that comment, I was exceedingly glad that I had had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored to have been able to accompany him on his most significant day and glad he had gotten to go. Dad died three months later.
Despite all the hoopla of that day or perhaps because of it, the futility of war became all the more obvious to me and had actually reinforced my nonresistance stance. To a person, the vets with whom I spoke said they hated what they had had to do. I also remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.
For a day I had had one foot on the foundation of God and country, and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I had made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world.
Because of this experience, I had bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. And yet, I knew I could not have done what they had, not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.
I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my father in heaven. In that paradox, I had found no conflict whatsoever.
We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.
When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.
Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.
The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.
But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.
We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.
Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.
Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.
Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.
Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.
All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.
Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.
Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.
As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.
My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.
For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.
The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.
Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.
Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.
We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.
My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.
In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.
With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.
We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.
We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.
Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.
The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.
We had been through a lot together.
Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.
Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.
We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.
Clouds intrigue me. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. While driving some back roads in rural Wayne Co., Ohio, I spotted this unusually shaped and colored cloud formation. To use the scientific name, these are stratus undulatus clouds.
In addition to their ribbon-like shape, the wide range of soft colors particularly caught my attention. The trees, mailbox, and fence help add perspective to my Photo of the Week, “Ribbon Clouds.”