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

Spontaneity in a time of pandemic

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham Co.

My wife and I have closely followed the stay-at-home coronavirus requirements since they began in mid-March. We hadn’t even been out of our county until just the other day.

Even though Rockingham is the second-largest county in square miles in Virginia, we stayed close to home nevertheless. We have taken the pandemic and the safety recommendations suggested by medical professionals seriously.

While waiting for the predicted rain to arrive, Neva and I went about our regular homebound routines. She sewed and read. I wrote and spent too much time on social media, including sorting my many daily emails. When our church’s weekly newsletter landed in my inbox, I got an idea after reading it.

Friends had recently visited Shenandoah National Park, which stretches 105-miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains grace and mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham County. The mountain laurel bushes were in full bloom.

That’s all that I needed to read. With the afternoon half gone and the forecasted rain failing to appear, I suggested we head to the park, too. Neva gladly agreed.

Fog rolled in from the east.
We dressed for the cooler weather that we were sure to encounter in the higher elevations of the park. We were glad we did. Fearsome black clouds hovered over the mountains as we headed east.

We have lived here long enough to know that the mountain weather’s main characteristic is fickleness. The weather changes quickly in those blue mountains.

Sure enough, in the 25 miles we drove on Skyline Drive to Limberlost Trail, we dodged in and out of the sunshine, clouds, fast-moving fog, mist, and even a little rain. We kept going.

We were so glad we had. Only a couple of other cars were in the parking lot of the handicapped accessible trail. Limberlost is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is beautiful in every season.

I had never been on the trail in the spring when the mountain laurel bloomed. Neva had never been there at all. We were both in for an awe-inspiring treat.

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We only had to walk a short distance before we encountered the beautiful blooming bushes. We were glad that we had dropped what we were doing and followed our friends’ advice.

Individual bushes and thickets of blooming mountain laurel flourished all along the circular path. They overwhelmed other, more subtle wildflowers that I almost missed.

This area of the park had burned several years ago. Many of the old-growth trees were gone, replaced by patches of spindly saplings. The trail ran through them, creating a fairy-like world. Colorful fungus grew out of tree stumps, and fallen timber left lying right where they landed.

Lush Christmas ferns carpeted the forest floor. The fragrant pink and white blossoms of the mountain laurel painted a lovely contrast to the emerald of the tree canopy above and the sea of ferns below.

We noticed no bees or butterflies, however. I later learned that this variety of rhododendron is toxic to both pollinators and humans. Look, but don’t touch.

A chorus of warblers, vireos, and other woodland birds serenaded us on our enchanting stroll. We were clearly in a national park, but it felt like paradise. Our spontaneity had certainly paid off.

The trail even featured an ancient basalt columnar outcropping.
I realize not everyone has a national park to hurry off to in less than an hour. But you likely have a special place that you have meant to visit, someplace you haven’t been since a child.

So, pack up the kids, the snacks, drinks, and don’t forget the hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and your camera. You just might find paradise, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

What will the summer bring?

A summer solstice sunrise.

Summer is here. That short sentence constructed of three little words strung together usually conjures up fond anticipation of good things to come with the passing of the summer solstice.

Summer usually means vacations to both familiar and foreign places, family reunions, children joyously shouting as they splash each other in the local public swimming pool.

Summer means a lazier time with no school for students, and longer, warmer days to garden, read, visit, and work. It means weddings and picnics, hikes in state and national parks, children sleeping in tents instead of their beds.

Alpenglow at Mt. Rainier National Park won’t be on our summer schedule.

All of this and much more usually comes on the heels of graduation celebrations and Memorial Day gatherings. We graduated, partied, and then commenced into summer. This year, not so much.

The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be very different thanks to the pandemic. We saw that coming in so many ways, given the sequestering and necessary physical distancing of the last three months.

It’s going to be a different kind of summer for all of us. My wife and I have already missed our grandchildren’s canceled spring plays, concerts, and soccer and baseball games. Summer opportunities for their sporting events also seem limited.

Sadly, we won’t be attending our son’s forthcoming wedding in New York State. Out of an abundance of caution, my wife and I will watch the small ceremony via Zoom. We’ll offer a silent blessing with the exchanging of the vows.

For the first time since 1987, we will skip our annual summer stay at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. The Chautauqua on Lake Erie canceled most programming due to the Covid-19.

Since my wife and I are in the high-risk category, we have to put our health ahead of our desires. We will dearly miss our Lakeside friends and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the magical Lakeside spell of peace and calm.

A summer sunset at Lakeside, OH.

Despite those disappointments, we will not lament those paradigm shifts. We will approach this summer with open arms and cautious optimism and careful actions. Our focus must be adjusting for the long haul, on celebrating each moment, whether in person six feet apart or via Zoom.

What will the summer of 2020 hold for us all? I suppose it depends on your age, situation, location, and just how seriously you consider the coronavirus crisis to be.

As for us, my wife and I will pray for a summer of calm, healing, and reconciliation, given the political rankling and the global unrest due to racial tensions. Each one of us must make every effort to confront our prejudices, hear the criticisms of others without harsh rhetorical defense.

For the summer of 2020 to be a success, each one of us bears the responsibility to restore civility. It is incumbent upon each one of us to treat everyone we meet and encounter with respect, fairness, and honor, just the way we want to be treated. Decency and kindness must prevail regardless of skin color, race, religion, and cultures.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31). In other words, let’s live summer to the full as best we can for everyone’s safety, health, and well-being.

We can begin to make that happen by practicing these five suggestions:

1. Ask others, how can I help?
2. Be a positive person.
3. Communicate in uplifting ways.
4. Be thankful.
5. Express your appreciation of others personally.

Summer has begun. Let’s all work together to make it the best one possible.

© 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

When you know it’s June

A June sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

No calendar is needed to know what month it is. Doors and windows are flung wide open. Summer’s pleasing sounds and pleasant aromas waft in. It must be June.

Sit by a stream where the cottonwoods grow. A summer breeze stirs, and suddenly it’s a blizzard of cottony seeds drifting everywhere. The situation can be as aggravating as it is beautiful.

Once the dew dries, a cacophony of motorized humming ensues, seemingly lasting all day. All the neighbors want to get their lawns mowed before the anticipated rain arrives. It never does. At least the yards are manicured.

To protect their precious eggs, grackles and American robins perform Kamikaze raids on the backyard squirrels who are in search of lunch. The rabbits munch the tender grass undisturbed and unknowing nearby.

The leaves of the deciduous trees appear to have fully unfurled overnight. Contented with their newfound shade, grazing livestock swish their tails, flicking flies left and right, left and right.

Dinner tables brighten with outdoor bouquets brought indoors. Red roses, pink and white peonies, blue salvia, and lavender snapdragons proudly show their colors and intermingle their delicate fragrances.

On the stove, kettles of fresh-picked mint disperse organic menthol. Thirsty throats endure the wait, knowing lunchtime will bring refreshing minty sweetness.

Even the gray catbird pauses for a sip from the birdbath, having warbled all morning from the depths and darkness of the neighbor’s dense yew. The territorial northern mockingbird cuts short that respite, however.

Balmy mornings slip quietly into steamy afternoons. Cumulous clouds build and billow, dappling the landscape with their speeding, oscillating shadows.

By late afternoon, the cooling breezes have retreated. A sultry stillness is ubiquitous. Even the birds grow quiet in anticipation of the coming storms.

A line of darkness fills the western horizon. Soon thunder rumbles the squall line’s approach. Sweaty farmhands work faster still if that is even possible. Saving the first-cutting of hay becomes the day’s primary objective.

After the storm, a double rainbow temporarily shines in the east. Thankful for the cooler air, the rectangular bales stack the haymow higher and higher. Those abandoned in the flattened field will have to wait until they dry.

In the city, waitresses hustle to dry dampened outdoor tables and chairs, all spaced safely according to coronavirus standards. Soon, the customers return, jackets in hand as a precaution for the cooling evening.

In the Allegheny, the Blue Ridge, and the Massanutten Mountain ranges, plump little Louisiana waterthrushes fill the air with luxurious songs. They serve as soliloquies to the music of the rushing mountain streams.

Mountain laurel bushes are at peak bloom, while other wildflowers are only now appearing. The valley-to-mountaintop elevations allow June’s sweetness to thrive all month long.

Honey bees and bumblebees enjoy all the blooms, whether domesticated or wild. They are not picky. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zig and zag at sugar-water feeders to the delight of bird-lovers young and old.

House wrens continue their month-long chatter of courtship, nest-building, incubation, and non-stop feeding. Once the constant rattling goes silent, the brood has fledged, and the cycle begins anew.

We humans of the northern hemisphere enjoy the extended daylight June affords. We work and play all day.

When the sun yields its daytime dominion, the moon, the stars, and the planets light up the heavens. We can enjoy the sparkling show until the neighborhood skunk sends us inside.

Given all of this, it’s no wonder this month is the favorite among brides and grooms. In every aspect, June is a welcomed date.

Cottonwood seeds at the spillway.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The advantages of staying home


There are advantages to staying home. The obvious, of course, is it lowers your risk of acquiring the coronavirus.

There is another positive upshot of being homebound. It can stimulate our mental psyche. We just need to be observant.

Being retired for a few years now, I quickly grew used to being at home. I thought I knew how to relax and make the best use of my time. The COVID-19 crisis taught me differently.

Having to stay at home, I learned to really pay attention, to simply be thankful, even when the weather was damp and cold. We had a lot of that in April and May all across the eastern U.S. The typically sunny Shenandoah Valley didn’t escape the dullness either.

I savored the stillness and the lack of interruptions to my new sequestered routines. The steady hum of my wife’s sewing machine transfixed me at times. Altogether, she has made over 700 face masks. Others have made many more and donated them to businesses, medical facilities, agencies who assist the homeless, local institutions, and Mennonite Disaster Service.

Rather than grumble about being at home so much, I tried to appreciate each moment at hand. I would often sit at my desk where I write. I raised the Venetian blinds and observed whatever came into view.

Despite the weather, I saw kids on bicycles, people walking dogs, dogs walking people, delivery trucks, northern cardinals searching for food, American robins bobbing along, and gathering nesting material.

I couldn’t count the number of squirrels that came to dig up their buried food caches. Most of the squirrels are gray busybodies. One particular squirrel, however, stood out.

This squirrel was blond, especially its bushy tail. Its pigmentation had to be an anomaly. The squirrely rodent even acted differently, sometimes like it didn’t have a care in the world.

The sun seemed to bleach the squirrel’s tail as it bounded through neighboring backyards on its way to ours. I had seen the squirrel in late winter searching for morsels beneath our birdfeeders. “Blondie” continued to frequent our yard even after I took down the feeders.

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The blond squirrel scurried across the open backyard in the middle of the day, its tail flapping in the wind like a golden, glowing flag. The squirrel played at the birdbath, apparently happy for the opportunity to wash its paws and face. Did it somehow know about the coronavirus?

The unusual-looking squirrel felt at home in our maple trees. On the hottest day of the year so far, it stretched out on our green grass, apparently to cool off in the shade of the maple.

Showing off.

Once rested, it returned to its squirrely antics, devouring juicy maple seeds that had just twirled to the ground. Some of its repertoire of poses were almost comical. Its playful personality matched its coloration.

It’s not like the squirrel had it made, however. Other squirrels chased it, not because of its fur color, but because that’s what squirrels do.

The blond always got away unscathed. When the coast was clear, it reappeared looking for food, or another drink, or just to lounge on a crook in the maple tree, taking in the limited sunshine.

I enjoyed the squirrel’s behaviors and resilience. Unlike the gray squirrels, the blond one somehow seemed contented, satisfied, unfettered, detached from the life of the survival of the fittest of all things wild.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from watching this fantastic squirrel. No matter what life throws at you, relax, enjoy each moment, and above all, don’t worry.

“Blondie.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Keeping Memorial Day memorable during a pandemic


I am glad we have Memorial Day. Its intent is like no other U.S. public holiday.

There is no popping of champagne bottles, no chocolate bunnies, no fireworks, no unwrapping presents. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was set to honor the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War.

Now, of course, Memorial Day has a much broader purpose. In 1968, Congress established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day to honor all who served. The legislation also created a three-day weekend for federal employees.

A Civil War monument.
Consequently, Memorial Day morphed into a long weekend with picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, patriotic parades, and other assorted gatherings. Miniature American flags mark the graves of veterans.

Memorial Day always meant a lot to my parents. They made sure fresh flowers were placed or planted at the graves of close relatives. It was a time of solemn, respectful remembrances.

I embraced that lesson. After Dad died, I took it upon myself to carry on the family tradition of commemorating family graves with flowers. By then, most cemetery rules had changed to only allow artificial arrangements and wreaths at headstones, and only for so long.

I suppose real or plastic floral displays weren’t the point. The act of remembering was what mattered.

Since we no longer live in Ohio, that physical act of remembering has ended for me. Like most everything else in our current COVID-19 world, I’ll do a virtual visit through my photo library to pay my respects and refresh my memories.

The pandemic will definitely make this a different kind of Memorial Day for most. Many parks and playgrounds will rightly remain closed as a necessary precaution against the spread of this invisible virus.

There will be no baseball games to attend or watch, no picnics to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. Concerts and parades have been canceled. Nevertheless, we can still carry on the intended spirit of the day.

I will sit on our patio and contemplate the good times of the past. I will especially remember those who are gone. I’ll recall memorable family stories that my parents told about relatives that I never met. Grandpa Frith died from accidental electrocution six months before I was born. A thoughtless prank in a steel factory killed a great uncle. Every family has similar sad stories.

In many places, our western society views Memorial Day as the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. Both of those may be true, but the classes of 2020 won’t have the pomp and circumstance of traditional commencement ceremonies or the celebration of graduation parties.

As much as we would like to be out and about for such events, my wife and I will continue to play it safe. We will continue to social distance and mostly stay at home for the duration.

Vacations, weddings, celebrations, and sports activities, to name a few, have all been canceled, delayed, or postponed due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many may happen virtually using today’s innovative technology.

For that, I am happy. However, many will mourn either a recent loss or a loved one who died long ago. I will grieve, too.

Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring. For those who survive this momentous universal event, however long it lasts, I hope they look back to this Memorial Day in awe. I hope, too, the day will etch a more meaningful, profound, and indelible mental mark.

Wasn’t that the primary point of Memorial Day? Isn’t it still?

Making memories.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Finding a treasure while sequested

Our infant daughter sitting on a 105-pound pumpkin was just one of the old photos we found while sorting.
Whether by hook or by crook, our dynamic daughter models many of her mother’s positive qualities. Keeping things tidy and organized through sorting is just one of them.

Our daughter has been cleaning, discarding, donating, organizing, selling, and otherwise giving away items from her home during the pandemic. I suspect you all have to some extent as well.

My wife and I have followed that trend, too, since we have the time during this health crisis sequestering. So far, we have sorted old slides and photos, books, clothes, and files.

My wife and I chuckled at long-forgotten moments captured on slides and photos stuck in boxes buried deep in a closet. The feelings they evoked ran the gamut of emotions.

All of this reordering has stirred memories and even uncovered a mystery. Our daughter found a children’s book published 55 years ago. The author had even signed it.

Carrie couldn’t remember where the book came from but suspected we had given it to her as she began her elementary teaching. Of course, Carrie passed it on to us to contemplate. The book didn’t register with either my wife or me.

“Deneki: An Alaskan Moose” by William D. Berry had a nicely illustrated jacket cover, which was torn at the binding. I examined the skinny book for clues of its origin. The hardback cover and pages were well-preserved.

I read the enlightening story and enjoyed the many illustrations, also done by the author. The storyline revolved around the encounters of a yearling bull moose near Denali National Park.


It was a first edition book, and I found that Berry had autographed the book twice. One signature was on a card with a moose he had drawn and pasted on the inside right-hand cover. He also signed by his name on the author page.

Neither Neva nor I could remember the book, where we got it, or when. Carrie was sure we had given it to her. Since Neva and I were both educators, there were plenty of options. We just all drew blanks.

Berry’s writing was crisp, the story factual and informative, and his illustrations superb. A signed, first edition book was a treasure. The question was, whose prize was it?

I was intrigued. The setting was near one of the areas where Neva and I had visited last August on our tour of Alaska. I easily imagined the geography and topography the young moose and its mother traversed.

I Googled the author and found he had a studio in Alaska. I clicked on the website and discovered that William D. Berry had died in 1979. Berry’s son, Mark, and his wife Diane now ran the studio, located in Gustavus, Alaska.

I emailed them from their webpage, telling of the book’s discovery, and offered to donate it to them. By morning, I already had a reply.

Mark was thrilled to learn about the book. He said that the studio ironically never had a signed copy of “Deneki.” They had to buy one off of eBay for more than the book had earned in royalties in its initial year of publication.

Mark said he would donate the book to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, once it reopens from the COVID-19 emergency closures. The university houses an archive of his father’s field sketches and other items.

The book arrived safely in Alaska by U.S. mail. It’s a treasure that might have remained hidden without the methodical house cleaning of our daughter and the foggy memories of her parents.

I reckon “Deneki” will be glad to be home, too.

© 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

Gratitude and concern during the pandemic


I am always happy when we reach May, especially this year. The beautiful blossoms and warming temperatures spur a sense of gratitude.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we all must remain grateful. Given the stealth-like nature of the coronavirus, it would be easy for fear and despair to overwhelm us.

We must not let that happen. Those negative feelings can transition into depression unless we come to accept the ugly situation for what it is.

Now, the COVID-19 condition may not be as dire where you are as it is in other parts of the world. Here in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, the deaths and confirmed cases are spiking. That, in part, is due to more accurate testing and proper reporting.

Of course, my wife and I have taken the necessary precautions as recommended by state and local leaders. We are grateful for their specific directives in this uncertain time.

I am also thankful that my niece and friends who live in New York City remain safe. Some of them are treating those infected. I am both grateful and concerned for frontline staff and first-responders everywhere who take extraordinary risks in merely doing their daily jobs.


We can’t take for granted public utilities like electricity, water, and sewer that remain consistent and safe. Having power has permitted us to communicate remotely with family, friends, church members, and even doctors if needed.

I am grateful for local businesses that have prevailed in the face of potentially devastating economic conditions. I appreciate both their curbside and home deliveries. The indefinite length of the closure orders for them, however, is disconcerting for their financial well-being.

I am thankful for people’s resilience, creativity, and patience during their unplanned sequestering. It can’t be easy trying to work from home while teaching active, restless children and simultaneously trying to complete household chores. This perspective became more apparent to me when a friend found her son’s homework in the refrigerator.

I am grateful for our daughter and her family, who regularly check in on us via text messages and with social distancing visits. We celebrated our oldest grandchild’s 16th birthday via FaceTime. Evan seemed as pleased as if we were all actually eating ice cream and cake around their dining room table.

I am also glad our son and his fiancée are both safe and well in another New York hotspot, Rochester.

I am thankful for the garbage workers who continue on their regular routes, not knowing what precisely it is they are hauling. I pray for their continued safety.

I am thankful for people who show their love by sending us notes, text messages, emails, and making phone calls. Doing so keeps us connected and uplifted, even if it is only remotely.

I am thankful for the universal generosity of people who share their gifts most graciously. Using their talents to make personal protective products for strangers who need them is priceless.

I am grateful for a safe and secure home and neighborhood where my wife and I can both hunker down and walk for exercise among nature’s artistry. However, I am most uneasy about those who are not as well-off. More critically, this terrible virus is attacking the poor and minorities at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you. I hope you are well and can find ways to be genuinely thankful, too.

May in the arboretum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020