Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

When the cousins all gathered

Fun and genuine comaraderie ensued

Finally, it happened. The six Rohrer cousins were in the same room at the same time.

We originally intended to gather on April 30, 2020. Of course, that wasn’t possible with the pandemic raging. That didn’t discourage us, however.

The cousins all made it a priority to Zoom every two weeks until we could meet again in the flesh. Spouses often joined in. Stories, old photographs, and laughter filled each session.

But it wasn’t the same as being there with one another. In the cousins’ formative years, the Linder, Miller, and Rohrer families all lived in northeast Ohio, no more than an easy drive from one another.

As the five women and one male married, fulfilled careers, and reared children, we dispersed into different locales, including other states. The trend even continued when we all retired.

Cousin Barb lives in southern California. Her sister Brenda moved from Ohio to North Carolina to be close to her granddaughters.

Pastor Larry and his wife moved from northern Indiana back to her family farm near Dover. His little sister Cathy and her husband settled in her home community of Columbiana.

My wife’s sister Audrey and her husband Bob have spent most of their lives in their beautiful home with envious views near Sugarcreek, where we agreed to meet. Of course, my wife Neva and I relocated from our beloved Holmes County to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, also to be close to grandchildren.

Where we gathered.

The timing of this cousin reunion revolved around two criteria. First, we all needed to feel comfortable that it was indeed safe to gather together. We were mindful of the ravages of the Delta variant of the coronavirus even though we were all vaccinated.

The second element was when cousin Barb could fly in from California. Once she finally solidified her travel plans, we settled on a date to meet. We all headed to Sugarcreek for a day of frivolity, childhood memories, and remembrances of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

Of course, we started the day with food, a carry-in style brunch that provided plenty of options to stay fueled for the next few hours. Our hosts had everything perfectly arranged.

We met around tables in the airy garage since we’re all vaccinated baby boomers, some with compromised immune systems. Neva and I had taken along games, but the dominoes and cards never saw the light of day.

We were too satisfied with finally being together that nothing was going to interfere with the free-flowing fellowship. We listened, laughed, and basked in the wonders of our lives.

From a non-blood relative perspective, it seemed to me that these were more siblings than cousins. Close, supportive families are a rare treasure today.

Preacher Larry captured our attention with family stories and photos. And our hosts even had a repurposed festive fall-themed Christmas tree for decoration.

I admired the genuine appreciation and interest the cousins showed to one another. Retired preacher Larry shared snippets of genealogical discoveries that he had made.

I marveled at the life that each of these good people has lived, is living. Their vocations and avocations, their service, and their faithful commitment to family, friends, church, and one another comprised their lives.

Respect for another was paramount. It’s a character seemingly forgotten in today’s divisive world.

The group got a pleasant surprise before I left to pick up the pizzas from a local pizzeria. A niece and her husband arrived from Michigan to join the party.

With only two slices of pizza left, it was photo time. We took shots of the group, couples, and siblings. And then, it was time to say farewell for now.

To both witness and participate in this manifestation of familial love brought pure delight.

The happy cousins, oldest to youngest.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Christmastime is gathering time

christmastreebybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Christmastime is gathering time. The very origins of the holiday make it so.

Though we may not think about it, those who gather in celebration replicate the inexplicable cast of characters that assembled for the first Christmas. Paying homage for this special birth, their lot represented a cross-section of social, political and religious backgrounds, not unlike today.

nativityscenebybrucestambaughTo be sure, they were a motley bunch, unassuming, even unaware of the tradition being created. Of course, we have no way of knowing the exact date or even time of year for the birth of the Christ child. We can only follow the story as it has been transcribed and translated for us.

Over time, the traditions of Christmas have been handed down and culturally adjusted to fit the changing times. There’s no documentation for tinseled evergreen trees or a jolly St. Nick in Bethlehem that ancient night.

An angelic troupe serenaded stunned shepherds huddled in a field, watching over their flocks. Astute individuals, long on the lookout for a messiah, offered praise and prayer. A ruler trembled. Later, wise kings traveled from afar to worship the boy, and offered precious gifts.

Mary and Joseph themselves were among the throngs reassembling in their hometowns on governmental orders of the day. Harsh as their journey may have been, they complied. History wouldn’t be the same if they had not.

snowbuggybybrucestambaughCenturies later millions travel by modern means to celebrate Christmas, and not always on Dec. 25th either. That fits the Advent model as well. Perhaps, because of schedules or availability, you have already gathered for the holidays.

Here in the largest Amish population in the world, both traditional Christmas Day and the more reverent Old Christmas, always Jan. 6, will find families and friends gathering and sharing food, fellowship, and gifts. You might know Old Christmas as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.

Our own families will make merry on several occasions. Christmas Eve morning two kinships are blended into one for a festive breakfast, a holiday custom spanning three decades.

On Christmas Day, we’ll repeat the family ritual of enjoying a tasty holiday meal, and opening gifts. Those traditions have been toned down a bit from my childhood days when my good parents splurged beyond their means to make Christmas merry.

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Some of us will eat tofu instead of turkey or ham, and the gift giving has been reigned in as well. We set a reasonable spending limit, pick a name out of a hat, and that’s that. Of course Santa still fills the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel.

Later, the five Stambaugh siblings and any available family members will met at our little sister’s home to honor the season and our folks. After all, Mom and Dad instilled in us a fervent love for Christmas.

Myriads of global families will mirror my own, each in their own traditions and styles. Others have already gathered to bake cookies, or attended school programs, or a holiday concert. Still others packed food and clothing for the needy or served meals to too many homeless peoples around the world.

A curious collection of peoples was drawn to that original anointed Nativity scene. Once the event’s date was arbitrarily fixed as Dec. 25, families have been assembling ever since.

Centuries later, Christmas is still for gathering. The modes and means of doing so may have changed, but the reason has not.
In that, let us all rejoice and be glad that we can gather together indeed.

friendsgatherbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Summer is for gathering

familypicnicbybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Summer is for gatherings. The season of lyrical calls of songbirds and insects helps set the stage for people coming together for social get-togethers of every kind.

The warmer weather is a big incentive, too. Rain, on the other hand, can be a party pooper for all things outdoors.

At family gatherings, the kid in all of us emerges at dusk when the flight of the fireflies begins. Curious children run with jars to capture the luring light, fascinated with the elusive insects’ blinking ability. Hopefully the kids practice the capture and release approach to the illuminating inspection.

Corralling fireflies is only one checkmark on a long list of summer social events. Family picnics, school reunions, parties, parades, benefit sales, vacations, camping jamborees, weddings, garage sales, backyard cookouts, mud runs, races, ballgames, benefit auctions and fireworks all belong on a summer event calendar.

smoresbybrucestambaugh
Roasting marshmallows over hot coals runs the risk of things being a little smokey.

With their varying purposes, they still all result in people interacting with other people. Some see each other regularly. For others, it can be decades since they have last met.

Long spontaneous conversations ensue, some with participants standing the full length of the chatting. Along comes another familiar face, and the course of the discussion takes another turn, ears attentive to the new flow. What you would expect from friends separated by too much time and space?

Fortunately, gatherings involve more than gabbing. Well, at least the good ones do. Horseshoe and corn hole games, baseball, softball, badminton and volleyball are just some of the friendly competition.

bigcatchbybrucestambaugh
Of course the curious kids had to check out their Dad’s big catch.

Some prefer to relax on a bass boat or pontoon boat and fish the while away. If keepers are caught, it’s a double blessing on the day’s investment. A day at the pool or beach with friends and family can be just as satisfying as a string full of crappies.

I remember my late father’s group from work had an outing at one of northeast Ohio’s many lakes. I was so young I only remember tidy pastel cottages ringed the shores, and behind them towering hardwoods provided plenty of shade.

boatingbybrucestambaugh
A little rowboat cruise around a large pond is always a treat with the kids.

It was what happened under that cool canopy that sticks in my mind the most. The men were pitching horseshoes and kids were allowed to retrieve them. My math skills either weren’t the best or I got too anxious and stuck my hand in for a horseshoe when one came down hard on my small hand. A little cold water and a bandage did the trick, and I’ve steered clear of horseshoe pits ever since.

goodyearblimpbybrucestambaugh
The Goodyear Blimp often made touch and go landings at its hangar near Wingfoot Park east of Akron, Ohio.
Dad orchestrated annual summer gatherings for our extended family for years. Named the Frith reunion, in honor of the maiden name of our mother and her two sisters, we would usually assemble at a shelter in the company park at Goodyear’s lovely Wingfoot Lake east of Akron.

It was a popular place, with families and extended families joining in the summer fun. Carry-ins were the rule, with lots of favorite homemade dishes laid out on the tables. As the children grew into adults, they brought boy friends and girl friends, and then spouses and later still, their own children as the years flew by.

Sadly, that annual ritual has passed along with the three Frith sisters. With generations of descendants scattered all across the country and beyond, the Frith family reunion may be rejuvenated with a multiple of offshoots that will continue the relational connections.

Being with friends and family in both formal and informal settings in the summer helps define the season. Without them, summer just wouldn’t be the same.

facepaintingbybrucestambaugh
Activities like face painting always add fun to summer gatherings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

See how they grow, the grandchildren that is

The boys and Slider by Bruce Stambaugh
Slider pounced on Evan and Davis at a Cleveland Indians game in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Every time I see my three grandchildren, I marvel at how much they have grown. I used to think that a lot when they lived in Texas, and we only saw them three or four times a year.

Each time we visited, whether the venue was here or there, our Texan born grandchildren showed obvious changes. One would expect that given the infrequent gatherings.

Massanutten Mountain by Bruce Stambaugh
Massanutten Mountain dominates the Shenandoah Valley at Harrisonburg, VA.

But now that they live in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, I seem to find myself saying that to them and about them each time we see them. And compared to Texas, that’s been a lot more frequent.

Since they moved from Pflugerville to Harrisonburg in mid-June, we have been together with Evan, Davis and Maren several times already. They have been in Ohio twice, and we have driven the 350 miles southeast four times.

The visits included a couple of celebrations since two of those trips marked birthdays. In July, we finally got to party with Davis on his fourth birthday. The Texas heat always discouraged us from mid-July visits, other than when he was born of course. We wouldn’t have missed that no matter how hot it got.

On our most recent trip, we celebrated Maren’s first birthday with a host of family and friends. It was quite the party. They may be living in Virginia, but their Texas roots run deep. Maren’s daddy couldn’t forget the good things about Texas. He bought a smoker and we had ourselves some swell tasting Texas brisket with homemade barbecue sauce.

Texas Blue Bonnets by Bruce Stambaugh
A field of Texas Blue Bonnets in full bloom.

Joining in on Evan’s special day was never a problem. Flying to Texas in mid-April, when the gorgeous blue bonnets were often in full bloom, was always a pleasure.

Evan by Bruce Stambaugh
Grandson Evan on the move in a soccer game.

Now all of that has changed. Evan is enjoying first grade and is growing like a weed. He is athletic, inquisitive, assertive, and definitely knows he is the oldest of the three. In other words, he is a typical six-year old.

Davis by Bruce Stambaugh
Grandson Davis was all concentration in his soccer match.

Davis enjoys his pre-school three days a week. On our last visit, his bouncy, blonde curls had been trimmed back to manageable standards. That didn’t seem to deter getting the attention of the girls at his soccer match.

A true lefty, no lines can confine his creativity. That included drawing with red permanent marker on the new tan bedroom rug. He can be a bit moody like his Nana. Nevertheless, it is a joy to be the brunt of his silly jokes. Playing along is all a part of being a grandparent.

My favorite moment with the boys came when they spent time with us here in early August. Nana and I took them to an Indians game, where Slider, the Tribe’s fuzzy mascot, jumped the boys, much to their delight.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Granddaughter Maren was all dressed for the Eagles' game in her skinny jeans and jersey.

Maren is the happiest baby I have even seen, unless of course she wants her mommy and her mommy is unavailable. Modeling might be in her future. She already poses for the camera.

By definition, Maren is really a toddler now that she has passed her first birthday. Close to walking, Maren stands by herself and never tires of pushing around the toy cart Nana bought her.

With those sparkling baby blue eyes, that constant smile and gregarious demeanor, Maren is already a knock out. At the rate she is growing up, I may be called into Virginia guard duty sooner than I think.

Maren and cupcake by Bruce Stambaugh
Since it was her first birthday, Maren wasn't too sure what to do with her first cupcake.

Maren figured it out by Bruce Stambaugh
In the end, Maren figured out what partying was all about.

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