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

Breaking a long tradition for a heartfelt reason

cuttingthechristmastreebybrucestambaugh
The perfect tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.

For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.

The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.

Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.

Christmas tree, opening gifts, family
Christmas morning.

Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.

We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.

My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.

In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.

With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.

We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.

Concolor, memorial tree
The Jenny tree.

We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.

Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.

The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.

We had been through a lot together.

Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.

Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.

We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.

Paul Roth family
The Roth family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015