Category Archives: writing

Taking time to appreciate my wife

canning, Neva Stambaugh

Neva doing her thing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The pungent smell of ammonia tickled my nose as I sat on the living room couch reading my morning devotions. My energetic wife was already hard at work cleaning the house.

In our 46 years of marriage, I had seen this scenario unfold many, many times. Of course, I do my part to help, which is to say that I mostly stay out of the way at her request. I willingly comply.

I empty the wastebaskets and take out the garbage. I run and unload the dishwasher. After another tasty home-cooked meal, I make it my responsibility to clean up the kitchen. It’s the least I can do after Neva has done more than her share in planning, preparing, and serving the food.

Obviously, cleaning smells aren’t the only fragrances that have wafted through our house. Neva’s gift of hospitality is multifaceted.

I’m blessed by the aromas of other Neva orchestrated domestic activities like pumpkin pie baking in the oven, butternut squash soup simmering on the stove, and the spicy smell of savory tomato sauces boiling down like mini volcanoes.

canned peaches, home canning

Beauty in jars.

We both smile with contentment when we hear the satisfying pops of lids sealing on the freshly canned peaches. I could paint a long laundry list of sensory-stimulated pictures Neva creates in our household. To put it simply, Neva gets things done.

Speaking of laundry, Neva keeps on top of that, too. I help, of course, from time to time. After all of these years, I’ve learned to dance without the caller singing out her instructions. My efforts still have to pass muster, however.

But I’m no fool. When it comes to household chores, I know not to interfere with Neva’s main domain.

canned tomato sauce, home canning

Savory sauce.

Her gift of hospitality hasn’t been confined to our home either. Neva still finds time to help others.

From birthday cards to sympathy cards to comfort food casseroles, Neva puts her faith into practice for others. She has served the church in multiple positions, locally and statewide.

Our lives wouldn’t quite be the same without her devotion to volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. The friendships she has made and nurtured over the years at the thrift store have enriched us individually and as a couple.

Her commitment to community doesn’t stop there. She has also served with Habitat for Humanity, the annual Christmas Church Walk in Millersburg, and with volunteer fire department auxiliaries to name a few.

Then there are our adult children and the grandchildren. Even 350 miles away, Neva watches over them as she can, too. With our son’s blessings, they are a big part of the reason we are moving to Virginia. We want to be closer to them to help whenever and wherever we can. As retirees and grandparents, it’s our primary task now as we enter the winter of our lives.

Bruce and Neva Stambaugh

Neva and me.

Career educator by profession, Neva always has taken her role as mother, wife, and domestic engineer as her chief duties. She has done so impeccably.

Why am I pontificating about my wife? It’s easy for me to take her and all that she does for granted, for me, the family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Neva has enough Mennonite stock in her DNA to deny my praise of her. But she shouldn’t.

Our wedding anniversary is upon us. I want to publicly acknowledge how much I appreciate Neva and all that she does for me and for all those she has touched in our lifetime together.

Happy Anniversary dear!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

12 Comments

Filed under family, human interest, photography, rural life, writing

Spring is just around the corner, I hope

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you live in northern Ohio, you know there is one sure way to tell that spring is just around the corner. Snow has covered the freshly opened daffodil blossoms. Snow never smelled so fragrant.

blooming daffodils

From this…

Those of us who have grown up in northeastern Ohio aren’t surprised by this meteorological conundrum. Snow-blanketed flowers in Holmes Co., Ohio in March is as common as horses and buggies.

daffodils in snow

…to this.

It’s March. It’s Ohio. It’s just a matter of when and how much snow we will have.

March snows are notorious for being heavy, wet, and timed to dampen our spirits along with the countryside. That’s especially true after a relatively mild winter like we’ve experienced this year.

With the temperatures balmy, the sun shining, people get antsy to get out and about to shake off any remnants of cabin fever they may have contracted. And so they do.

Bicycles are dusted off, tires pumped up, and excursions on the Holmes Co. Trail begin. Gardeners are anxious to ready their truck patches and flowerbeds for the soon-to-begin growing season.

That’s when the excitement rises. Coaxed awake by the unseasonably warm winter weather, luscious green shoots emerge from the bulbs through the moist, loamy soil, through the woody mulch, and into the light.

blooming crocuses

Rejoicing in the sun.

Crocuses and a few spring beauties join the trumpeting daffodils to happily announce spring’s debut. In some areas, trilliums even dot forest floors. Of course, they are all premature thanks in part to the warmest February on record globally.

The early taste of warmth spoiled us. So when the weather returns to more seasonal conditions, we go into shock along with the blooming flowers.

Other signs of spring unaltered by the weather also appear to whet our warm weather enthusiasm. College’s annual March Madness basketball tournaments fill TV screens in the quest for men and women’s champions. High school basketball and wrestling tournaments are drawing to a close, signaling the end of winter and the birth of spring.

For me, no other sport says spring more than Major League Baseball. After all, the boys of summer are in the midst of spring training in Arizona and Florida. So it must be spring, right?

Not so fast. Even in the southern United States, where azaleas, hibiscus, iris, lantana, and poinsettias bloomed brightly, caution was the word. Citizens had to be weary of frosts and late winter storms of ice and snow, too.

Those events are rare but all too real. It’s different in Ohio and neighboring states. March sometimes delivers the season’s heaviest snowfall. The problem is the storms often arrive just in time to douse any anticipation of spring’s benefits, like being outdoors, throwing open the windows and doors to replace winter’s staleness with spring’s freshness.

After a few days of airing things out, breathing in warm, fresh air, working in the yard, it’s rather hard to return to winter’s harshness. Nevertheless, that always seems to be our plight. Only we’re back outside covering those tender plants from hard frosts, inches of snow, and biting winds.

Backyard bird feeders get restocked. We tote in more firewood to replenish the supply for the wood burner or fireplace. The hard truth is that there’s just no turning down the damper on the fickle force of nature.

Spring is just around the corner. We just don’t know how long it will be until we reach that particular junction to fondly welcome spring’s return.

Amish farmer, plowing in the snow

Plowing dirt and snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

7 Comments

Filed under human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, weather, writing

The older I get, the colder I get

main beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Beach walkers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it. The older I get, the colder I get. That’s how the math works for me.

The equation yields opposite results for my dear wife, whose thermostat seems to be heading in the other direction. Her female peers know what I mean.

All this is to say I can’t take the cold winter months anymore. My old bones shiver just writing that sentence, and I’m wearing a wool sweater. The goose bumps on my arms give testament to that fact, too.

While others wear shorts and t-shirts, I dress in pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, and maybe even a jacket to stay warm. That’s how cold I get. Part of the chill is a side effect of some of my medication. I take it and dress accordingly, often in layers.

Being cold isn’t the only consequence of growing older in Ohio winters. My fingers swell, stiffen, and are continually cold. The skin on my fingers cracks in the damp, chilly weather. I realize those are minor problems given current world conditions. It’s still annoying.

grandkids sled riding

Good memories.

In my younger years, I enjoyed the cold, especially if it was accompanied by a decent snowfall. I’d join my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and sled ride for hours.

Once hunger and snow blindness set in, we’d head home to warm up with soup and hot chocolate. Our cheeks were rosy to the point of stinging, our noses red from the frosty air, our fingers tingling numb. We would change into dry clothes, and off we would go again, cascading down Winton Avenue as if we owned the road.

Sledding was at its best in an undeveloped section of a local cemetery. We felt charmed if we made it all the way downhill to the creek bank, dragging our feet in the snow like parachutes slowing a dragster.

Those days are long gone. I probably couldn’t even get on a sled. Now my wife and I spend the coldest parts of winter in northern Florida. It’s usually not always balmy there, but it’s not Ohio weather either.

Our hiatus from the northern cold affords us more benefits than warmer days. Neither my arthritis nor my bum right knee hurt as much thanks to the combination of the warmer weather and the many walks we take. The ocean was the front yard to our rented condo unit.

We walked south one day, north the next. Our preference was to stroll the compacted, moist sand at low tide. But walking in the softer sand at high tide worked, too. I felt warm either way. It was better than crunching snow.

Other times, I would head to nearby Egans Creek Greenway, an ecologically friendly nature preserve set in the middle of the island. The walk in the bright sunshine warmed my body and my spirit. Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, marsh rabbits, river otters, white-tailed deer, assorted turtles, butterflies, and baby alligators all coexisted in the diverse habitat of salt marsh reeds, grasses, and shrubs, and the hardwoods, cedars, and pines of the tropical hammock.

I am grateful to be able to make these snowbird trips each winter. I don’t take that lightly at all. I know the time will come when that modus operandi, too, will end.

But until then, Neva and I will likely continue to seek shelter from winter’s harshness by heading south come next January. That’s a warming therapeutic algorithm sure to solve any chilling problem.

sunset, Amelia Island

Until next year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

8 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

The many benefits of a snowbird breakfast

dawn, shorebirds, Atlantic Ocean

Contentment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During our winter’s stay in northeastern Florida, my wife and I often took our snowbird breakfast on the small porch of our condo that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the temperatures in the 50s, you can do that if you’re in Florida and the morning sun is brightly beaming, warming the chilly air.

We set the little glass-topped café table in the usual fashion. Cereal bowls, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and the necessary utensils, spoons, and binoculars fulfill our needs.

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

The beachfront setting offered a menu much greater than our simple fare of cereal and granola. Rolling waves, gliding dolphins, a multitude of shorebirds, and the ocean’s salty bouquet organically stimulated all of our senses.

The configuration of the porch itself enabled our outdoor dining. The condo is built like a bunker with walls of cement. You can hear but not see your neighbors since the walls protrude beyond the edge of the portico. The effect is one of being tucked into a cave entrance where only the sun welcomes you and the wind simply whistles on by.

The boxy porch with concrete walls and floor and glass sliding door behind served as an oven of sorts. The sun’s rays warmed us perfectly, compromising the cooler morning air. The little whiffs of steam rising from our coffee mugs proved the science of this hands-on experiment.

The glass-topped café table that bore our breakfast gave testament to our seaside setting. A thin coating of fine sand and sea salt covered the tiny table top.

Earlier the sun had made its usual predawn show of things, glowing orange the length of where the sea met the sky. A jagged but unbroken line of dark clouds, like a poorly constructed picket fence, identified the Gulf Stream’s boundary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As dawn neared, the sky washed away the hardy orange with pale pastels. The sun peeked above the watery horizon right on schedule. Seconds later, a blazing orange ball balanced on the ocean, then slowly rose and brightened.

Black skimmers and brown pelicans flew in standard formations inches above the water’s surface. The skimmers modeled their name with their levered lower bill by scooping small fish as the birds zoomed along. The pelicans flew in the single-file line for aerodynamics. Beyond them, a small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins foraged south to north, the sun glistening off their wetted backs and dorsal fins as they appeared and disappeared in purposeful rhythm.

A few early birds walked their dogs, jogged, searched for seashells, while lone fishermen drove their plastic pole stands into the soft, moist sand. Tiny sanderlings scampered out around them and then returned to where the low tide lapped at the shore. The little birds probed their pointy black bills into the sand like sewing machine needles as they sought their breakfasts, too.

The ocean was unusually calm. A million ripples played where waves usually rolled. Expectant young surfers bobbed on their boards waiting and watching for a wave to ride.

The sun, of course, continued on its expected ascent into the morning sky. Its rays transformed the mother-of-pearl sea into a field of dancing diamonds. The show was so dazzling, so luminous that you could hardly look at it for hurting your eyes. And yet, you could hardly turn away, the performance was so beautiful, so enthralling.

We basked in our cozy breakfast cubical. The cereal bowls and glasses were all empty. Our spirits, however, overflowed with wonder and joy.

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL

Morning on the beach.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

4 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

A new way for this old guy to tell time

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean

Another day begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago, owning a Timex watch was chic. At least it was from my adolescent point of view as influenced by the ubiquitous TV commercials.

The company’s slogan was as simple as their ads. “Timex: The watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” They demonstrated various ways to challenge the integrity of their watches. The timepieces were stepped on, dropped from high places, and crunched by cars.

Those commercials stuck in my impressionable mind. I can’t recall if I ever owned one of their indestructible watches or not. I did wear a watch religiously as a teen.

Doing so was THE way to tell time unless you were in a room with a clock. I wore a watch for most of my adult life. Watches were the standard retirement gift. I got one when I retired as a school principal. I quit wearing it a few years ago for a more accurate way to tell time.

With the advent of cell phones, I stored my wristwatches with my grandfather’s gold pocket watch that my parents gave to me. I ditched the watches for two reasons.

First, wristwatches bothered me when I wore them. In the summer, I sweated with it strapped to my wrist. Other times the expandable metal band pinched my skin. Secondly, I could easily tell time by just looking at my cell phone. The date and time displayed prominently on the phone’s face.

The same was true when I traded in my flip phone for a smartphone. If I want to know the time, I just pull out my phone and glance at the screen. The time is universally accurate.

I realized, though, that time is more than just seconds, minutes, and hours. I also noticed that instead of a wall calendar or the electronic calendars that sync on my phone and laptop computer, I have begun knowing what day of the week it is in a much different fashion.

I use the calendars for the date. I use my weekly pill case for knowing what day it is.

pills, pillbox, medication

My pillbox.

Like many other baby boomers, I’m a walking pharmacy. I’m embarrassed about how many pills I take every day, four times a day, sometimes five depending on my health. I apparently didn’t inherit my parents’ best genes.

It’s sad but true. Every day before breakfast, I religiously bow to my seven-day plastic pill case. It contains four capped compartments for each day of the week. Just so I know where to begin and end, each compartment is labeled for the proper day of the week. And I thought these were just for old people.

I take so many pills that none of the compartments goes empty. I hate taking so much medicine. A lifetime of stuffing my body with gluten, which I unknowingly couldn’t tolerate, drives most of my various medical conditions.

I finally went gluten-free four years ago. But the compounded irritation damage of the gluten still has to be treated and supplemented. Consequently, my pill box is full.

Like it or not, it has come to pass that instead of an indestructible Timex or a handy-dandy smartphone, a utilitarian pill case has become my measure of time. And just like my old watches, don’t look for it on my wrist.

As I empty those pill compartments one by one, I can’t believe how fast the weeks fly by. I lament that it takes a pillbox to remind me of that.

sunset, Amelia Island FL

The sun sets on another day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

9 Comments

Filed under human interest, photography, writing

Leadership models are still needed today

bald eagle

Our iconic national symbol.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.

Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.

George Washington

George Washington.

With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.

Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.

Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”

Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.

In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.

Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln.

The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.

Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.

Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.

Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.

Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.

Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.

wheat shocks, grain fields

Amber fields of grain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

4 Comments

Filed under history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

Be kind to yourself

Shenandoah National Park, mountain view

Be kind to yourself. Enjoy each view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can be my own worst enemy. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that admission.

I hate to be wrong. Even if I make the simplest mistake, I can be extra hard on myself. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

I went birding, and the bird I had heard but not seen suddenly popped out of the brush and began preening in the warm morning sun. It was the perfect opportunity for the photo I had been seeking. Only in stalking the bird, the dangling straps of my camera and my binoculars became intertwined. By the time I untangled them, the bird had disappeared.

eastern phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

I drove into town to buy three items, but I left the short grocery list on the counter at home thinking I could easily remember what to get. I relied on my sharp memory and growling stomach and purchased 10 items. When I returned home, I discovered I forgot to buy milk, the most important item on the list.

Another time I pulled into a fast food restaurant’s drive-through, placed my order, drove to the pickup window, paid for my food, and drove away with a satisfied smile on my face. Halfway home I realized I hadn’t waited for the server to hand me my food.

Before visiting my trio of grandchildren in Virginia last fall, I thought I would surprise them for Halloween. I bought three perfectly plump pumpkins that would make great Jack-O-Lanterns. I set the bright orange pumpkins on the counter in the garage while I finished packing my vehicle for the trip.

When I arrived at their house on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my heart sank. I couldn’t find the pumpkins anyplace until I returned home several days later. The pumpkins all sat in a row on the counter where I had put them.

Civil War reenactment, living history

Playing the part.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. We sometimes do strange things. Depending on your makeup, some folks just shrug off such silliness, while others can’t forgive themselves for being so inept. I leaned to the latter for most of my life.

I’ll confess that I have spent much too much effort in my lifetime mentally beating myself up over such foolishness. I mumble to myself about my stupidity. I call myself names I wouldn’t dare say out loud.

As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed the goofy mistakes have increased exponentially. I attribute that to the aging process. Several of my peers have verified my suspicions, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

The other seniors have related similar lapses. They, too, show disgust at their ineptness of leaving luggage by the door, losing cell phones, wondering where their glasses are when they are on their head.

I felt great relief in hearing them tell their sadly funny stories and enjoying their hearty laughter at their own forgetfulness. I took my cue from their more appropriate responses.

I realized self-chastisement was a waste of time. Negative self-talk wasn’t helping the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just human nature. I feel much better laughing off my self-induced comedy of errors.

If you’ve been forgetful lately, just know that you are not alone. So be kind to yourself when you do err. Let it go. Laugh a little. Have fun with the miscue, with those you’re with, and with life.

Be kind to yourself. By the way, has anyone seen my car keys?

sunrise, Lakeside OH, Lake Erie

A good way to be kind to yourself.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

1 Comment

Filed under birding, holidays, human interest, writing

Everyone needs an enjoyable day

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean

Sacred moment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In my dreams, this is how I pictured retirement. Only, this particular day wasn’t a dream. It was a blissful reality. From sunup to sundown and beyond, the day had been uplifting in every way.

After considerable effort, the sun finally broke through the usual cloudbank that persists over the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. I embraced dawn’s golden glow that shimmered in the quiet sea from the horizon to the shore.

I photographed the sunrise, and after a simple breakfast, we said our goodbyes to friends who had been visiting for a few days. They needed to return to their new home in North Carolina to finish settling in.

fairbanks bed and breakfast, Fernandina Beach FL

The Fairbanks House.

Then it was off to tour Amelia Island’s historic lighthouse with friends from Millersburg, Ohio, Carl and Judy. Their daughter was a student in my wife’s very first kindergarten class. The couple had secured a condo one floor above us for a month.

We were more than happy to show them the island. They enjoyed similar perks of the barrier island. The Amelia Island Lighthouse was just one of them.

The guided tour was so full that another van had to be used to shuttle the visitors to the sheltered icon. The all white lighthouse with a black top stands nearly hidden on a bluff in a residential neighborhood three-quarters of a mile west of the ocean beyond the beach, beyond the towering sand dunes, and beyond Egans Creek Greenway.

At night, the nautical light flashes its salient signal above the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, across the dormant, brown reeds of the salt marsh, across the protected dunes at Ft. Clinch State Park, across rooftops of condominiums and beach houses, and finally the beach itself. The lighthouse beacon brings personal surety to seafarers relying on impersonal electronic guidance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the lighthouse history lesson, we gawked up the monument’s spiraling granite steps and snapped a few photos. We headed for an early lunch at a local eatery that boasted offering the best burgers on the island. Their milkshakes are pretty good, too, especially when consumed amid congenial company while sitting outside in the warming winter sun. This was Florida after all.

We strolled the streets of this historic town with our friends, viewing its quaint cottages, stately mansions, and inviting bed and breakfasts. Wherever we walked, people were out working, raking dried leaves and fallen palm frawns, scraping peeling paint, patching roofs. When you live in a tropical climate, property repair is non-stop.

We relaxed in the laziness of the afternoon and took in the sunset down by the river in front of the bocce ball court. The pesky no-see-ums, gnat-sized insects that you can’t see but feel their fierce bites, couldn’t deter our enjoyment of the orange and gold, pink and blue living art exhibit.

After a light supper, Neva and I completed the fulfilling day with a quiet evening together watching college basketball on television. She multi-tasks with jigsaw and crossword puzzles while I just enjoy the game.

You don’t have to be retired or be in some exotic locale to have similar experiences. Only look all around you. Examine the place where you are. Listen to the people you are with.

Work or play, engage in the activities at hand. Appreciate, absorb, inhale, touch, and improve your particular environment wherever you may be, whatever your life circumstances.

Why? Because. Every now and then, everyone needs a day like this day.

Amelia River FL, sunset

Nature’s art show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

6 Comments

Filed under friends, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

Sharing life stories created a watershed moment

snowbirds, ocean view

Our ocean view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were four snowbird couples, all in our 60s and 70s, gathered for dessert and discussion. We all vacationed in the same Florida condominium building. We had a lot of tales to tell, and plenty of time and opportunity to relate them.

I wasn’t quite sure how the evening would go, given that not all of the couples knew one another. I need not have worried. The ubiquitous congeniality and spontaneity to share kept the conversation moving smoothly, freely, flawlessly. Amtrak never ran so well.

These had been lives well lived, not arrogantly or haughtily, but for family, community, with purpose and genuine, earthy pleasure. Farming does that to you. Most had some rooted connection, directly or indirectly, to the land in their upbringing.

Holmes Co. OH farm

Farming roots.

The group was geographically diverse, too. Bermuda, England, Ontario, North Carolina, and Ohio were each well represented.

After dessert, the stories just flowed. We all sat around a plain rectangular table. The chatter rolled as naturally as the crashing waves on the beach that served as our winter front yard.

Despite our various backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We were all grandparents, each with two children. Surprisingly, the conversation centered on subjects other than the grandchildren and their parents.

Rather, reminiscing of careers, successes, failures, misadventures, heroics, and pure silliness filled the evening. I marveled at the wisdom that surrounded me. Not once did the current global politics enter the confab. That was an unspoken blessing.

morel mushroom

Morel mushroom.

Instead, true stories of hidden treasures, broken dreams, personal confrontations, changing priorities, and even morel mushrooms dominated the banter. Of course, smartphones did fact checking.

The comfort level with one another was sublime, not altogether surprising given the characters in the room. Years of experience from office managers, teachers, cooks, explorers, antique enthusiasts, carpenters, and community volunteers were present and accounted for.

Unfettered wisdom oozed from each participant. Despite some of the type A personalities in attendance, no braggadocios emerged. It was an equal-opportunity session, and all took advantage of the necessary give and take of listening and responding. I felt honored to be a member of this temporary social club.

We had originated from backgrounds that spanned rural, tropical, transient, suburban. That only enriched our camaraderie and the conversation. One refreshing tale led to another.

colorful parasail

An uplifting and colorful conversation.

Though no clergy was among us, it was pretty clear we were in the midst of a sacred moment that lasted more than three hours. There was no agenda, no order of service, no liturgy, no sermon, only immediate trust, mutual respect, adamant admiration, and unending inquisitiveness. The gathering was church defined.

Amid all the world’s problems, I found peace and hope in these kind folks and their faithfulness despite humanity’s all too frequent calamitous interactions. Our friends’ faith rang loud and clear, always, always in humble, gentle, kind voices.

Some of these individuals had just met, and yet here they were affirming and absorbing and encouraging one another without bias or inquisition. I was grateful to be counted among them. I felt safe, secure, sure, loved, appreciated, and appreciative.

In truth, the beachfront location was the magnet that drew us all together in this pleasant place. The genuine fellowship was the glue that cemented our budding friendships.

Humanity too often measures historical events in earth-shattering happenings. For me, this evening of pure, pleasurable fellowship instead modeled the way we all should go. It was a moving watershed moment that pulled me into this new, transformative year.

dawn, colorful sunrise

The dawning of a new day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

3 Comments

Filed under friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, writing

Holidays heighten reality of moving

sunrise, Amish farm

Dawn shown brightly as the holidays began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The holidays brought it all into perspective. We were celebrating a lot of “lasts” in Ohio. On the outside, I may have been smiling and laughing my way through the gayeties. Internally, my spirit struggled to stay afloat in a torrent of tears.

My wife Neva and I have spent our entire lives as residents of Ohio. I like to tell people that I was born and raised in Canton but that I grew up in Holmes Co. I think my wife feels the same way. We cherished our experiences in this peaceful, rural community. Nevertheless, we joyously anticipate the transplant to Virginia.

The topsy-turvy ride on the emotional roller coaster began last fall. I’m a big picture person, and I knew the May moving date would roll around sooner rather than later. Closure needed to come to my various community commitments. I also knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

As the year wound down, several last events were rapidly approaching. I thought about what I would be facing. The list of “lasts” was long and involved both personal and community commitments.

Reality soon hit hard. Long-held traditions were coming to an end.

chip and seal, Saltcreek Twp. Holmes Co. OH

Road improvement.

After nearly 20 years, I would attend my last township trustee meeting. I loved that aspect of community service. Along with that, I’d end my term on the East Holmes Fire and EMS board of directors, too. I enjoyed working with others to help people solve problems, and making the community even safer than it already was.

Serving in those two worlds brought me great satisfaction. But I knew they successfully could go on without me.

I feared the gatherings of family and those of friends who felt like family members would be the most difficult to face. On the one hand, I lovingly anticipated our get-togethers. On the other, it saddened me to know that this would be the last of its kind. I savored each moment and each situation.

The passing of parents on both sides had taught me that traditions of family gatherings could indeed change and still uplift. Grandchildren were now adults establishing their own lives and traditions. Adjustments had been happening for years already.

gag gifts

Another goofy gift.

The separate gatherings with my siblings and with my wife’s sister and her family were always special. But their lives were changing, too. It is simply the way life is.

Probably the most challenging tradition to end was with our dear lifetime friends Dave and Kate. Dave and I went to elementary, junior high, high school, and college together. He was my best man at our wedding.

Their children and ours were close in age and played together growing up. Many moons ago we started to meet for Christmas Eve breakfast. At first, we met at local restaurants. Then we began to meet in our homes, alternating years hosting the event.

We shared food, fellowship, goofy gifts, and the strongest love of life anyone could imagine. As time passed, the children became adults, began careers, established homes, and some had children of their own. However, this breakfast was so sacred even those who lived far away made it a priority to attend.

In his contemplative prayer before the meal, Dave’s voice broke with emotion in recognition of this poignant finality. The moment acknowledged our mutual appreciation for our revered personal and family friendships.

Dave’s heartfelt words comforted my crying soul. His grateful thanks had blessed much more than the morning’s food. Lifetime friends are like that.

true friends, Christmas Eve

Dave, Kate, Neva, and I posed at our last Christmas Eve breakfast.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

14 Comments

Filed under family, friends, holidays, human interest, Ohio, photography, writing