Category Archives: writing

Simple writing prompt mentally sends me back in time to the classroom

By Bruce Stambaugh

The assignment was to write about an object of our choosing located in this sterile college classroom. Typical for a writing workshop, the prompt was designed to get the participants to use sensory descriptors to illustrate the object.

I chose the pencil sharpener affixed to the wall by the only doorway in this institutional setting. The sharpener stood out for me because it seemed so out of place in this 21st century technologically driven global society of ours.

manual pencil sharpener

An old pencil sharpener.

I wondered what in the world an old-fashioned pencil sharpener was doing in this classroom in 2017? Did anyone even use pencils anymore? I thought college students recorded everything on smartphones, iPads and laptop computers.

The answer to my silent wondering became evident as I scanned this bland environment. Everything in this classroom screamed 1977.

Boring blue-gray paint covered the cement block walls on three sides. Strange, random circular insets pockmarked the poured cement west wall. Front and back white boards with telltale scribbling from previous lessons served as classroom bookends. Parallel rows of the old-style fluorescent lights emitted a familiar faint buzzing sound. The textured tile of the suspended ceiling held the lights captive. The well-worn Formica tabletops told their age. I wiggled in the uncomfortable hard plastic molded seats riveted to shiny steel supports that were the student chairs.

My eyes kept returning to the pencil sharpener. It engaged my mind, generating pleasant, personal flashbacks to my teaching days now long past. Nostalgia washed over me as I studied the sharpener and rapidly scrawled my notes. I pictured my classroom setting.

Keen, evocative thoughts flooded my brain bringing a smile to my face. This pencil sharpener was situated exactly where all of the others in my elementary classrooms had been, right by the door and hung conveniently above a wastebasket.

The sights, sounds, smell, and textures associated with sharpening a pencil mentally filled my senses. I fixated on the circular dial with holes on the sharpener’s face. It accommodated various pencil sizes, the bulbous container that held the shavings, and the crank handle. The sharpener possessed me.

elementary school

Where I was principal for 21 years.

To keep the custodian happy, I often emptied the pencil sharpeners of their spent contents myself. Students occasionally managed to somehow miss the wastebasket, spilling the shredded pencil shavings and pulverized lead and graphite residue onto the floor.

The pencil sharpener was the office water cooler of the elementary classroom. If a line formed, I instinctively knew students had more than pencil sharpening in mind.

Some students made a game out of it. They would stand quietly and crank the sharpener’s handle, grinding the poor pencil to a pulp.

Despite my obsession, the sharpener’s reservoir often overflowed its ground up contents. The intermingled woody, metallic scent of the shavings invigorated my senses. That pungent freshness helped compromise the curious blend of 30 human body odors. I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

black and white photo of students

Some of my first students.

With the students studying at their desks, I quietly emptied the sharpener’s mutilated remains into the wastebasket with several quick shakes back-and-forth to ensure all the grindings found their mark. I replaced the sharpener’s rounded case with a metal-against-metal clink and returned to my instructional duties.

I was both surprised and elated by how this unique, unsophisticated classroom mechanism had spawned such poignant recollections for me. This writing assignment triggered treasures long forgotten, aromas and delightful textures resurrected from my 30-year career as a public school educator.

I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even an electric pencil sharpener.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Settling into our new home is settling

Mole Hill, Harrisonburg VA

Our new view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Moving is said to be one of life’s most stressful events. It hasn’t turned out to be that way for my wife and me. Taking a year and a half to make the transition from Ohio to Virginia likely took some of the pressure off of us. We are so glad we took our time.

We love everything about our new home, our new setting, and our situation so far. Please don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t easy leaving home, community, church, relatives, and friends that we were so attached to for all of our adult lives. Tears were shed to be sure.

For now, Neva and I have been busy arranging our new household inside and out. It’s been both a chore and a joy. Others who had experience moving advised us to take our time.

moving day

Moving in.

Sort one box at a time they said. And for the most part, that’s about the pace we have gone. Our expert movers helped make that happen by carrying and setting up all of the weighty and cumbersome furniture.

Our daughter’s family visited us a lot, helping us to unpack and put things away. Our IT son-in-law got us up and running with the internet, email, and the new smart TV he so kindly purchased for us with our money of course. I’m sure he’ll be over often to ensure that it’s working.

Most of our close neighbors introduced themselves, too. They all are as friendly as can be. One even brought homemade rolls and the best strawberry jam I ever tasted. That alone almost made the move worthwhile.

Of course, we moved to be near our grandchildren. Besides visiting us several times already, we’ve jumped right into their activities, too, sometimes simultaneously. Like when we attended our granddaughter’s violin recital. Her big brother was playing baseball two hours away. We covertly watched the action in animation on a smartphone.

We arrived in time to help our daughter celebrate another birthday. That’s something we haven’t had a chance to do in a long, long time.

We kept the unpacked boxes in the garage so as not to clutter the house. And did I mention that we love our downsized, one-story retirement home? We do, very much.

new home, transplating

Help with transplanting.

In fact, neither Neva nor I can stop smiling we are so pleased with how everything seems to be fitting into place. We rightly purged our belongings before we left. We are also glad we made the physical changes to our place that we did. It’s still a work in progress, especially the landscaping.

Most importantly, our new house feels like home. I didn’t think I would say that this soon after the move. But I did, and it does.

The day after we moved in we took a break to attend a May Day event at the elementary school where the two younger grandkids are students. It was a fun time even if it was a bit chilly.

Our creative daughter helped arrange a design for our new landscaping. We had the old, overgrown shrubs pulled for more palatable, harmonious plants. Spring rains made them easier to plant in the thick, sticky Virginia clay they call topsoil.

After the house was nearly put together, I set up my bird feeders. It didn’t take long for the usual suspects to find the free food. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows are some of the species so far.

Our feathered friends appear to be settling in much the way we are. It’s good to be at home this far away from home.

backyard birds, Virginia

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Grateful for a creative mother

Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late mother was very creative. She expressed it so many ways in the long life that she led. She did so through her versatility as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and an artist.

When Mom died five years ago, Alzheimer’s disease had removed her far from the woman I remember as a youngster and as an adult son. Her eyes no longer had that sparkle of awareness of the beauty she had seen in everyday life, the joy she recreated in her vibrant landscape and still life paintings.

Marian Stambaugh, Mother's Day

Mom.

Those paintings reflected her very being and the beauty she brought to life. Mom painted hundreds, perhaps thousands of renderings, mostly watercolors. But many of those paintings were left unfinished.

Mom was a perfectionist when it came to her paintings. If she felt she couldn’t get it right, she left the picture partially finished, hidden away. Going through her things, the family found stacks of incomplete paintings. To others, the paintings looked fine. Mom only saw the flaws.

Mom was too self-critical when it came to her paintings. She felt they just didn’t measure up to the works of her peers. The attitude of Mom’s dominating father perhaps influenced that lack of confidence at a young age. Mom wanted to go to art school. Instead, she was sent to business school to help her prepare for a job should one be needed.

In those pre-World War II days, women were to work until they married and then raise any and all children that came along. That’s just the way it was, and in many respects, still is in today’s global society.

Our father, himself a controlling man in his own right, saw both Mom’s physical comeliness and the beauty within. He loved almost to a fault this kind, generous, creative woman who was our mother. And he saw her talent in recreating the beauty all around her through her early drawings and paintings.

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Dad must have also sensed Mom’s lack of confidence in revealing this creative side. So Dad encouraged Mom to take private painting lessons given by established, prominent artists, and at the Canton Art Institute.

Thanks to her cohorts and mentors, Mom painted prolifically. Using mostly the medium of watercolor, her still life and landscape scenes were usually vivid, real, inspiring, eye-catching.

Again prodded by Dad, Mom entered art contests. She did so reluctantly, but also successfully. Mom won several awards, including the Peoples’ Choice Award on more than one occasion. Mom modestly accepted the accolades.

Mom’s creativity extended beyond brush and easel. She dressed splendidly but not opulently. She couldn’t afford to do that if she had wanted. Mom simply made do with the wardrobe she had.

wedding photo

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Stylish wouldn’t begin to describe my mother. Even late in her battle with Alzheimer’s, Mom continued to dress herself, always in a color-coordinated outfit. Residents and staff at the retirement community where she lived her last days often complimented Mom on her stunning look. In her typical modesty, Mom just smiled or returned a pleasant “thank you.”

Mom’s creativity remains alive through her realistic paintings and in our pleasant memories of her loving motherhood. More than that, the artistic genes of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will continue to contribute to life’s magnificence in various means, manner, and places.

Mom’s passion for painting taught us all to appreciate our surroundings, look for the beauty in everything, and generously share that splendor. That is Marian Stambaugh’s legacy of creativity.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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That old house served us well

home, fall scene

That old house in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

By the time you read this, my wife and I will be settling into our new old home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We’re excited about the change as we enter the autumn of our lives.

We’ll do our best to keep in touch with our friends and relatives in Ohio and elsewhere. They have been the fibers that helped stitch our lives together.

Of course, we will miss our old home, too. It served us well for 38 years. That’s a long time by today’s standards where Americans move on average of 11 times.

When we bought our home in eastern Holmes County, it was as young in housing as we were in parenting. The house was unfinished and budding, like our two and four-year-olds. Neva and I had been married eight years.

That old house helped us raise our daughter and our son from toddlers into productive young adults. It served as ground zero for my amazing wife to hone her effusive hospitality skills.

Our former home holds more memories good and bad than I can recall. But it knows. The house’s walls harbor nearly four decades of our personal saga.

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The house has a beautiful setting that we so enjoyed. We had excellent views of our Amish country surroundings. We could see five miles north to Wayne County. To the east, explosive sunrises stirred our bodies and our souls into another day. To the west, sunsets often thrilled us far beyond their beauty. To the south, our road still looked like an Olympic ski slope as it curved up, then flattened out, and then quickly back down past our house.

The property itself was a sanctuary. People often complimented Neva on her annuals and perennials that kept the old place bathed in colors spring to late fall.

The many trees and shrubs I planted matured, providing habitats for wildlife I never could have imagined. The skunks and raccoons could have found other homes though. The many birds, however, were always welcome.

The old house endured many storms over all the seasons and years as Nature used her full arsenal. Deep snows, large hail, six different lightning strikes, damaging winds, earthquakes, and the severe ice storm of late December 2004 pounded away. They all altered the property but could not subdue it.

The most memorable events though weren’t earth shattering at all. They were the everyday, common occurrences. Crackling fires in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night; sleepovers; the productive, magical hum of Neva’s sewing machine; both planned and impromptu visits from friends, neighbors, and church youth groups, and the whoosh of chimney swifts that rattled the glass fireplace doors only begin the recollections.

None of those, however, can hold a candle to the memories of the grandkids. They were mesmerized by the clop, clop, clop of horse and buggies trotting by, rosy-cheeked from snowball fights and sled rides, giddy with wonder and excitement on Christmas morning.

family fun, roasting hotdogs, roasting marshmellos

Hotdog roast.

After all, the grandchildren are the main reason we uprooted ourselves from all that we have been. They are the reason we will settle into new routines, new roles, and our new home in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

Time is short. Neva and I have chosen to fill our elder days with the activities, joys, and disappointments, competitions and achievements of our progeny’s children.

Those will be the sights and sounds, fragrances and satisfactions of all our days ahead, however many or few they may be. Perhaps those memories will be just as sweet, if not sweeter than those generated by that old Holmes County house we called home.

They will not, they cannot replace them.

We wish the new owners well and hope their memories are as fruitful, meaningful, and lasting as ours.

Snow, Ohio

Our old house.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Saying both thank you and goodbye

trees in blossom, spring in Ohio

Goodbye blooms.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In a couple of days, the moving truck will arrive. Men I’ve never met will pack our selected belongings into the straight bed of a box truck. A couple of days later, they’ll reverse the process, and we’ll begin life anew in our new home in Virginia.

I have looked forward to this event. I have dreaded this event. I am excited to be close to our daughter and her family. I’m sad that we’ll be six hours away from our son and other family members along with a lengthy list of lifetime friends.

That’s the dichotomy of uprooting yourself after spending all of your quality years in one geographic location. A time to dance and a time to refrain from dancing as the scripture goes.

We recognized that this major decision came with both good and bad consequences. We will spend time with our grandchildren, watch them grow from adolescence into young adults, the good Lord willing.

We’ll also help out our daughter and her husband with their hectic work and household agenda. The grandkids’ and their parent’s schedules aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

We recognize, too, the friends, neighbors, and family we leave behind, the relationships that will forever change by not being able to commune together regularly. We will dearly miss that.

We have lots of folks to thank for their faithful support for us as we worked in the local public schools and the various community service endeavors in which we participated. We know we gained far more than we were able to give.

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Church, school, fire department and rescue squad, township, thrift store, friendships, neighborhood and family activities and gatherings all pieced together the crazy quilt that formed our active lives. We can never repay them all for the kindness, patience, acceptance, and including us in their lives.

We anticipate this transplanting will take some time for our roots to take hold in our new community endeavors. Virginia friends and new acquaintances have already begun to make us feel welcomed, and we haven’t even moved yet. That’s southern hospitality for you.

I’ll continue to write and share what I encounter as we settle in, explore our new surroundings, meet new folks, and experience all that is in store for us. My words just may develop a southern accent.

Friends and family have given us an extended send-off. These last few days have been bittersweet. We have been showered with hugs and kisses, tears and celebratory well-wishes. The fellowship we have experienced added spice to the already delicious meals we’ve shared with dear friends and relatives. Close neighbors even held a carry-in and gave us an unexpected monetary gift as goodbye presents.

Even the vegetation around our house blossomed a flowery finale for us. The flowering trees, shrubs, and plants bloomed the best and brightest that they have in our 38 years of living here. As the daffodils faded, the dogwoods and lilacs burst with vibrancy. Their fragrances were intoxicating. It was as if they had conspired to ensure us a very colorful goodbye.

The backyard birds joined the party, too. The Red-headed Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, the Pileated Woodpeckers, and even the resident Bald Eagles took turns bidding us an avian adieu.

Thanks to each one of you for all of your help along the way, and for your blessings as we begin this next phase of our lives. I’ll say goodbye, but not farewell. That has too much of a final ring to it.

I’ll see ya’ll later.

blooming dogwoods

Colorful sendoff.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Trying to stay focused on the present

Red Mug Cafe, Mt. Hope OH

At the Red Mug.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in my favorite café sipping a delicious cup of coffee. I often met my older brother there or enjoyed a yummy breakfast with my wife. Today I was alone, musing upon what had recently transpired, and what was yet to come.

As customers came and went, my mind raced over the events of the last days and of the days ahead. I had no regrets and no dissatisfaction. I was at peace with the world.

My friend Susan helped me arrive at that conclusion. She had just stepped to the counter to order and didn’t notice me until she was about to leave.

We exchanged fond greetings, and when Susan asked how the moving preparations were progressing, I told her of two emotional partings I had recently experienced.

Only an hour earlier I had bid farewell to one of my most precious possessions. I sold my beloved 1970 Chevrolet Malibu Sport Coupe, the car I had helped a dear friend purchase brand new at a dealership in Millersburg, Ohio.

I loved that car, and so did its original owner, the late Helen Youngs. She took good care of it, too. I tried to do the same once she sold it to me in the summer of 1988.

Now, after all of those years, someone else owned the car. A man from out of the area bought it for his wife. He told me he liked the car’s story as much as the car itself. He purchased the Chevy for his wife without ever having driven it. She had owned the exact model as a young woman.

I witnessed her joyous reaction when I drove my Chevy into her garage. I knew then and there Helen’s car was in good hands and that I could lovingly let go. I wish you could have seen her.

I needed to sell my automotive treasure. No one in the family wanted it, and I had no place to store it in Virginia. Plus, I didn’t drive it enough to justify keeping it.

grandchildren

Celebrating a birthday.

Just as it was time to sell the Chevy, it’s also time to move on in our lives. We want to experience all we can with our busy grandkids. Concerts, ball games, shuttling them to appointments are all part of our Virginia agenda.

Only the day before we came to grips with the emotion of moving. Our daughter and her family had returned for one last visit before we joined them in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

handkerchief quilt

Our granddaughter helped hold the handkerchief quilt my wife made.

All went well until it was time to leave. Before our daughter jumped into the family van, she broke down and so did we. Tears freely flowed. Tears have incredible power. As they trickle down from eyes to cheeks and are wiped away, tears cleanse us, help us to heal, force us to accept the situation just as it is.

Our love affair with our home, our community, our good friends was coming to an end.

As I watched the van drive away, I was happy that this last visit for Carrie’s family had been a memorable one. I hoped and prayed it had brought them a semblance of closure.

As my friend Susan had reminded me, we are much better to live in the present. No sense longing for the way things were or fearing what may be ahead in life.

I am most happy for the past. I joyfully anticipate whatever the future holds for us. We need to embrace the present with gusto, delight, and jubilation. I have my friend Susan to thank for that reminder.

Family home, Holmes Co. OH

Home for 38 years.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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A lesson learned from packing to move

springtime in Ohio's Amish country

A lovely and familiar Holmes Co. scene.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The time has nearly arrived. My wife and I have worked diligently for a year and a half to prepare for this moment.

After spending our entire adult lives in one of the most beautiful, friendly places in Ohio, Neva and I are preparing to move to Virginia’s picturesque and historic Shenandoah Valley.

I’m glad it has taken us that long to transition from one place to the other. We deliberately took our time. We didn’t want to merely cut and run from the people and place we love.

grandchildren

With the grandkids.

That interlude gave us the opportunity and space we needed to adjust to this major, life-changing decision. We’ve spent much effort sorting and packing clothing, furniture, and household goods. We’ve also met with close friends and family before we exit, often over meals.

We’re moving for the very best reason. We want to be closer to our grandchildren to watch them grow and assist their busy household. Ironically, my older brother and his wife are doing the same thing for the same reason only in reverse. They’re moving from Virginia to Ohio, Holmes Co. in fact.

I jokingly tell people that we have to move because decades ago the county commissioners passed a resolution ensuring only one Stambaugh family at a time could live in Holmes Co. Therefore I have to yield to my big brother.

Silliness aside, Neva and I have learned first-hand that we don’t need as much as we have. Being snowbirds taught us that by living in much smaller quarters with limited storage space. It was a valuable lesson to learn. Since we are downsizing to a smaller ranch home with no basement or attic, we’ve been busy deciding what to take and what to give away or sell.

In sorting through drawers, closets, and shelves, and prioritizing furniture, we uncovered many fond memories. It was easy to decide I didn’t need two-dozen dress shirts. It was much harder jettisoning personal items that served only to remind us of many precious days gone by.

Amish farmers

Neighbors making hay.

We had no other choice. Our new house can only hold so much, so we identified the essentials we’d need and what we didn’t. Our current home is filled with antiques, mostly from all sides of both families, which added to our conundrum.

Our son and daughter took certain items to keep them in the family. We reached out to extended family and close friends, too. But most of them are our peers. They don’t want to add to their lifetime collections either.

What do I do with my grandfather’s first-grade reader? Can I bring myself to sell an old garden tool a friend long-deceased gave to us? Practicality had to override nostalgia.

We met with the local mover that we hired. A sincere young man, he clearly knew his business. We found the combination of his expertise and experience immensely helpful in deciding what to take and what to leave.

As we rapidly approach the moving date, Neva and I reflected on what we have learned from all of this sorting, cleaning, and packing, this drastic rearranging of our lives. The most important lesson was evident. But having lived in the same house for 38 years, we never had to confront it before.

Our most valuable possessions don’t fit in boxes. Rather, family, friends, our little church, neighbors, relationships, and memories are lovingly stored in our hearts.

blooming dogwood

In our memories of Holmes Co., it will always be springtime.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Clinging to hope despite experiencing the dark side of baseball

first pitch 2016 World Series

First pitch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Another Major League Baseball season has begun. As a devoted Cleveland Indians fan, I’m hoping this will finally be the year they win it all. I say that every year. But this year is different.

Coming off of last year’s incredible run to the seventh game of the World Series, the Indians have a better than average chance of repeating as American League champions. That’s true if everything goes as planned. Like most things in life, they usually don’t. But Indians fans do what they have always done. We hope.

This year, however, my hope is less rosy, less enthusiastic. That has nothing to do with the Tribe’s chances.

It’s just that having attended my first ever World Series last year I saw the reality of professional baseball, the business end, the dark side if you will. I wasn’t impressed. My naiveté hit a brick wall.

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field

Our “regular” seats.

As a member of a group of season ticket holders, we had prime opportunity to purchase our seats for the playoffs. Only, the seats we were given weren’t the ones we had during the regular season.

Our group discovered that Major League Baseball had confiscated our seats, and we had to purchase alternative seats two sections farther from home plate and twice as far from the field of play. MLB and the Indians treated other long-time season ticket holders similarly.

I didn’t have to inquire too far into the system to realize why. Money. Our tickets were being resold to the highest bidder, meaning they sold for thousands of dollars each.

The tickets for the substitute seats we were assigned went for half as much, if we wanted to sell them, which I didn’t. When I inquired of the Indians about the situation, I received no response.

I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment of the World Series. I was happy for the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions. I was elated for my oft-beleaguered Indians for just making it to the World Series.

erikkratzbybrucestambaugh

When Erik caught for the Phillies.

Still, a bad taste lingered in my mouth until the Indians signed the only professional baseball player I know personally, Erik Kratz. He’s an acquaintance of our daughter’s family. His son and our grandson played on the same baseball team and were in preschool together. Though I have seen him in those settings, Erik wouldn’t know me from Adam.

Erik is 37 years old. That’s ancient in baseball time. He is past his prime playing days. And yet, he keeps trying to make a major league team. This year it was with my Indians.

A sports writer chronicled Erik’s long and windy path to the major leagues. Even after all these twists and turns, the ups and downs, the trades, and releases, the opportunities, and disappointments, Erik gave a very positive perspective about why he keeps playing baseball.

True to his faith, Erik shared a story of hope, determination, and dedication to both his career as a baseball player and his family. His story awakened me from my first world pouting.

If Erik could endure all the circuitous travels across the country, and the emotional ups and downs between major and minor league teams, I could certainly buck it up and give baseball one more try. Hope should always triumph over disillusionment.

I decided that I would not let the bureaucratic dark side spoil my lifetime love for the game. After all, this could be the year the Cleveland Indians win it all.

Hope is a true healer of all ills, especially for diehard Cleveland Indians fans.

Cleveland Indians, fireworks

Hoping for World Series fireworks in 2017.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Reaching the end of the roll

By Bruce Stambaugh

If I ever wrote an autobiography, I know what the title would be. I’d call the masterpiece, “The End of the Roll.”

I know this is a family blog. But I just can’t take it anymore. Please make sure your children aren’t anywhere nearby when you read this.

I have been seeking the answer to this important question for most of my adult life. Why can’t men change empty toilet paper rolls?

great egret in flght

No end of the roll for this bird.

I’m serious. If I had a dollar for every roll of toilet paper I have had to put on the holder, I’d be a millionaire. I realize most humbly what that says about my digestive system.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to come out of the stall once and for all and say it like it is. Men have to be helpless if they can’t change a roll of toilet paper.

Of course, never having been a regular in the women’s room, I can’t really know if the same is true on the skirted side of restrooms. I’ve privately asked my wife this touchy question, but she just stares at me in prolonged silence.

I’ll just assume empty toilet paper rolls in female water closets are not a problem. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

But let’s get back to the issue, or should I say tissue, at hand. Is it so difficult a task that men can’t figure out how to take an empty cardboard roll off its holder and replace it with a new roll of TP?

Now I know not all toilet paper rolls are created equal. Shoot. Some TP doesn’t even come on a roll. Some “holders” dispense all too tiny pieces of thin paper that are, well to be truthful, less than adequate for the job, please excuse the pun.

I will say, though, that as long as the supply lasts, they have to be better than those European bidet units. The last thing I need is to be hosed down while reclining in a compromised position. And please don’t try to imagine that either.

But, again, I digress.

I mean how difficult is it to change a roll of toilet paper? These are the same men who rebuild diesel engines, send rockets to Mars, build an entire barn in a day, approve multi-million dollar budgets in the twinkling of an eye, and climb sheer mountain cliffs with no ropes or safety harnesses.

Yet these same masculine minions are so inept that they can’t even unlatch an empty toilet paper tube from its holder, discard the spent roll, unwrap a fresh roll of toilet paper, slide it into place, and secure the holder. It absolutely makes no sense.

Can you tell this is important to me? I mean I can’t be the only thoughtful, regulated man on earth. But then again, maybe I am, given the number of times I’ve had to install a new roll of TP.

dog on beach

No end of the roll for this dog either.

This male ineptitude seems to be universal. It doesn’t matter where the bathrooms are, church, businesses, rest areas, restaurants, even private homes. I’ve replaced roll after roll wherever I go.

Maybe I’m just too old-fashioned. Replacing empty toilet paper rolls with full ones just happens to be one of those important values instilled by my loving parents.

My parents set the tone. If we borrowed something from someone, my brothers and sisters and I were taught to return it in better shape than we got it. If we used someone’s car, we filled up the gas tank before we returned it. Of course, gasoline was 33 cents a gallon then, too.

Maybe that’s the problem. I’m an old guy with old-fashioned values. Replacing empty toilet paper rolls with full ones just happens to be one of those important values instilled by my loving parents. I’m sure they would be most proud of my TP obsession.

So men, please think about this the next time you reach the end of a roll. That’s especially true if it happens to be on April Fools Day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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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

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