In memory of a beautiful mother

Mom with painting by Bruce Stambaugh
My mother, Marian Stambaugh, with her award-winning painting with the mauve matting, “River Run.” It was painted from a scene near Burnsville, NC.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My mother was a beautiful woman in so many ways.

Mom was a pretty woman to be sure. Yet her graciousness and her colorful paintings revealed her artistic inner beauty. She also modestly disclosed her creativity through her color-coordinated attire.

Mom at 90 by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh just after she turned 90 in June 2011.
Mom died peacefully in her sleep on April 23 after a lengthy trial with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 90.

Though she had lost much of her recall of all things past, Mom still knew who her five children were. She couldn’t always call us by name, but she recognized us. She also lit up when old friends stopped for a visit. Conversation for her, however, was difficult.

My brothers, sisters and I found it intriguing that Mom maintained her pleasant personality throughout her journey with Alzheimer’s. The staff all loved her at both the retirement home, where she lived with Dad before he died in December 2009, and at the nursing home where Mom spent her last year.

Mom was a model resident. She was polite, gracious, kind and asked for little. She didn’t wander, was not a bother to anyone, and maintained her politeness despite her dementia.

In her last days, she had pain, but because of her diminished language skills, was unable to articulate where she hurt. The staff and family could only guess.

At the calling hours and during the funeral, the same descriptive word kept being repeated to define our mother. Beauty. Mom radiated beauty not only in her looks, but in the humble and generous way she lived her life. She was the kind of mother everyone wished for. We were very, very fortunate to have her for so long.

Dad was always very proud of Mom, perhaps even to the point of being a bit overprotective. Early in their marriage, Dad took Mom to a company party. When his male coworkers saw her for the first time, they feigned shock that Dad had such a beautiful wife. They even teased Dad that his wife must have been mad at herself the day they married.
Painting 1 by Bruce Stambaugh
As the preacher at her funeral said, Mom never drew attention to herself. She just drew, and painted. Even when she won awards for her lovely landscapes, Mom would respectfully accept the award, and often declare that some other artist should have won.

Mom also showed her beauty in how she raised her five children in the tumultuous post-World War II era. We had rules to follow, simple household chores to do, and if we didn’t quite respect what should have been done, she judiciously administered a discipline that was appropriate for our age and the offense. She was as fair as she was attractive.

It wasn’t easy to rear five energetic and individualistic children. Since she was a stay-at-home mother, Mom carried the primary responsibility of keeping us clothed, fed, nurtured and behaved. She could have written a book on parenting. Given the beauty of her personality, she probably would have used a pseudonym if she had.
Painting 2 by Bruce Stambaugh
Mom was a wonderful woman, and we will never forget her kindness, gentleness and most of all the exquisiteness she naturally shared in this world through her paintings and her authentic living.

At the funeral, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace about our wonderful mother. It was as if Mom’s gracious, artistic spirit had permeated the service in one last beautiful brush stroke for all to behold.
Painting 3 by Bruce Stambaugh

Painting 4 by Bruce Stambaugh

Painting 5 by Bruce Stambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Giving praise where praise is due

Marigolds by Bruce Stambaugh
Marigolds highlight an Amish homestead.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been a difficult day.

As the silvery sunset melted into the horizon, I reflected on the last few days and the people and events that had occurred. In reviewing the various situations, it hit me that like it or not I was entering the October of my own life, and that got my attention.

Days earlier I had met my friend Steve in a Mexican restaurant in the city where I was born and raised. Steve is a long-time buddy connected to my school principal days. Steve and I have a lot in common. First and foremost is that we both like to talk, at least according to our spouses.

If for no other reason than that alone, Steve and I have agreed to meet periodically without the wives. We get more talking done that way.

Steve is the kind of friend every guy should have. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. He is a self-appointed critic of my writing, and is unabashed about finding any mistakes that somehow make it through to publication. Well, at least he thinks they are mistakes, but he usually is mistaken.

Bright Angel Canyon by Bruce Stambaugh
Bright Angel Canyon at the Grand Canyon, AZ is a favorite spot for hikers, painters and photographers alike.

That’s the kind of friends we are. He has the same theology about technology that I do. He loves to frequent the western United States and does so annually, months at a time, mostly hunting for arrowheads. Archeology and travel are other mutual interests.

At bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball is my favorite sport.

Another thing we have in common is baseball. He hates it. I love it. Also, we enjoy discussing politics, until the conversation gets too political, then we switch to a more congenial topic, like baseball.

We talk about our late fathers and how our mothers are doing. And of course, we extol our wives, and try not to roll our eyes too much. Did I mention we laugh a lot?

A few days later, I took my mother on a short drive around the colorful countryside near the retirement home where she lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Mom always enjoys getting out when one of us “kids” can take her.

Mud Valley by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country, this one near Walnut Creek, Ohio.

This day was exceptional. The sky was pure blue, allowing the sun to heighten the already vivid colors. Since Mom was an avid and prolific watercolor painter, I always hope these short rides spark a memory of those days gone by when she and her friends would find a spot to paint, set up their easels and spend the day communing with nature and one another, beautifully interpreting what they saw.

Besides the warm hues of the leaves, a stunning red-tailed hawk flew right across our path. Around the curve, Mom spied some flashy marigolds. All in all, it was an invigorating jaunt. Seeing that Mom enjoyed the little excursion, I chose to tell her a comment that Steve had shared with me at the Mexican restaurant.

Marian Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh, 89, taught me to see and share in creative ways.

Knowing my mother was an accomplished landscape artist, Steve said, “You have your mother’s eye.” I non-verbally asked for clarification. “Instead of a brush, you paint with words and through the lens of your camera.” I don’t know if Steve noticed or not, but tears welled in my eyes. I was honored with the keen compliment. When I shared the kind words with Mom, tears welled up in her eyes, too. Despite her advanced dementia, knowing that Mom had understood at least a little of the depth and breadth of Steve’s insight made the compliment all the more meaningful.

The circle of blessing was now complete. It had returned to its rightful owner, the creative and artful woman who had taught me to see and share Creation’s beauty.

Suddenly, this difficult October day didn’t seem so difficult after all.