Being a father brings lots of lessons

biking, Holmes Co. OH trail
A family bike ride.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago a small army of children caused a raucous in a restaurant. My only son leaned in, and half in jest asked, “Why do couples bother to have kids?”

I saw my chance and took it. “I’ve wondered that a few times myself,” I retorted. A wry smile was the only evidence that my adult son got my point.

My wife and I felt fortunate to raise two beautiful children, a girl, and a boy. Like any other kids, they caused us grief and moments of angst of course. But in the bigger and better picture, they were both great kids. I’ll relinquish bragging rights to simply say I have immensely enjoyed being their father.

As young adults in our late 20s, Neva and I were raw at parenting. We didn’t have the infinite resources parents do today. We did have a strong support team. Besides our parents, siblings and friends who were also raising children helped steer us in the right direction.

be nice to people
Like the sign says.
Our own parents served as our most positive role models. They taught us to be polite, respectful, truthful, and fair. We tried to do the same with Carrie and Nathan. Not that what we did or said was perfect or absolutist in approach. We just believed in letting our children explore the world, allowing them to make mistakes as long as their actions didn’t endanger themselves or others.

We loved and love our daughter and son. We wanted the best for them. But we were realistic, too. Living on teacher salaries, we weren’t rich. But we weren’t poor either. Our wealth came not in dollars and cents or stocks and bonds but in enjoying as many life experiences together as we could. Often that meant relating to other human beings and to nature. We traveled, worked, worshiped, and played together.

We tried to teach our son and daughter the essential elements required for a successful life. We emphasized the formula of our parents. Develop a strong work ethic, be actively engaged in the community, participate in a faith family, and embrace the family circle no matter how crazy. To that end, we stressed being kind, generous, considerate, curious, questioning, creative, helpful, compassionate, mindful, and honest.

That being said, I’m pretty sure my own children have taught me more than I actually taught them, however. As adults, both son and daughter now offer unsolicited advice for personal improvement. I weigh their opinions seriously. Do I have any other choice?

infant, grandfather, grandchild
Holding a grandchild for the first time was just as rewarding as cuddling your own child.
Fatherhood has taught me to be patient with others and myself. It has taught me to laugh at the silliest mistakes and move on. It has taught me to always part with an “I love you.”

Fatherhood has taught me to celebrate both the joys and disappointments that life brings. The good Lord knows there are plenty of both. The pleasures of parenthood go far beyond the first time holding your newborn baby. The sorrows speak for themselves.

I know I wasn’t the perfect father. Neither was my dad or any father for that matter. But mistakes and all, I just tried to do my very best to guide my children from birth into adulthood.

That is the purpose of being a parent. Raise your children to be interdependent adults who productively contribute to society. Isn’t that all a father should really expect as a measure of parental success?

muskie fishing
I never caught a fish this big. My son was one happy camper.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Reflections on life and death

braided stream
Capon Run.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have a lot of time to think as I drive between our Ohio home and Harrisonburg, Virginia where our daughter and her family live. This trip was no different.

Thanks to superhighways, the folded, old age mountain ridges and their accompanying deep gorges and valleys flipped by like shuffled decks of cards. The leaves of their mixed hardwoods already blushed tinges of autumn’s arrival.

I thought about the lone, purple cottonwood leaf our six-year-old granddaughter plucked from a quiet mountain brook just a couple of days previous. She and I had spent an hour or more exploring, talking, questioning, and enjoying each other’s company in the shallow of a peaceful braided stream.

girl in stream
Pointing the way.
I found Maren’s inquisitiveness as inspiring as our rural, mystical surroundings. Our interactive discussion included but was not limited to geology, theology, erosion, evolution, earthquakes, gravity, rock formations, and bird migration.

I don’t know who was more perplexed, me with Maren’s significant, thoughtful questions or Maren with my confounding answers. Trooper that she is, Maren didn’t seem deterred. In fact, one response only led to another question, and another and another.

I had the time of my life, sitting on these ancient limestone outcroppings, their striations complementing their angular positioning. Maren graciously accepted my academic explanation of how they came to be standing on edge after having once been the bottom of oceans eons ago.

She’d continue her inquiry while simultaneously balancing along the exposed rock layers like a ballerina on a precipice. Patches of the early evening sky filtered through the broken canopy of the maples, oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods that lined the rocky banks of Capon Run. Despite the string of scorching days, the stream’s clear, quiet waters were cold.

We watched water striders break the stillness of the mirrored surface as the spider-like insects foraged. Then came the leaf, a rich, royal burgundy that caught the quick girl’s eye.

Maren snatched it from its slow journey downstream, held it up, and asked what kind of leaf it was. I found its parent tree upstream and pointed it out to her. She nodded and released the leaf back to the placid water.

braided stream, West Virigina
Where we sat.
I remember remarking to Maren how different that lone leaf was in color compared to the thousands of green ones that still quaked on the massive branches in the afternoon’s warm breeze.

Maren liked that leaf, and so did I. I thought she’d keep it for its rarity. Instead, she let it go, enchanted with its slow twirling atop the crystal water, its impressive ability to avoid the creek bed’s rocks and sticks.

I thought about that leaf, those moments with Maren again as I joined a congregate of others to celebrate and mourn the death of my wife’s cousin. As loving words poured out for Pam, it hit me that she had a lot in common with that glorious leaf.

She, too, had lived a royal, purposeful life for her family, friends, and those whom she served as teacher, principal, and play director. For all who knew and loved her, Pam had fallen much too soon from the tree of life.

My wife and I are grateful for the creativity and joy our grandchildren bring to life. We are equally appreciative, like so many others, of Pam’s leadership and devotion to family, faith, and community.

Just like Maren’s mauve leaf, we had to let Pam go, too. Joyfully her journey ended more blissfully than that serene mountain stream setting.

potted flowers
For Pam.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living core values is just good business

rural view, farmstead, Holmes Co. OH
A rural view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late friend, Perry Reese, Jr., knew a good thing when he saw it. Perry could read people like a newspaper. Best known as Coach, Perry scrutinized his surroundings similarly.

That fact was one of the main reasons the talented and demanding teacher and coach loved living here. It was not easy for a single, black, Catholic man to reside and work amid the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite population. But he did for several successful years until his untimely death in 2000.

Coach Reese
Perry Reese, Jr.
Perry thrived here as a winning coach and as an asset to the entire area. Why? He embraced the same core values as those revered by local folks. Work ethic, faith, community, and family together formed his life foundation.

Paramount to making Perry’s basketball team, players had to demonstrate a strong work ethic. The same characteristic holds for area businesses, too. Honing that esteemed value keeps the local economy healthy and stable, better than state and national averages.

Perry was a very private person, including practicing his faith. But there was no question as to where Perry stood, and he impressed that on his players.

St. Genevieve parish, Holmes Co. OH
St. Genevieve Cemetery and Parish.
It’s fair to say that local businesses attempt to model that approach with their products, services, employees and customers. The goal: actions match beliefs.

Perry loved the community, and for the most part, the community charitably returned the affection. He knew the importance of positive interactions and interpersonal relationships.

It takes determined effort to work together for the common good in a close-knit community. Though not perfect, this area shines in this regard.

Individuals, groups, clubs, churches and foundations regularly join forces with businesses to assist in time of need. Share-A-Christmas and the new county fairgrounds are two examples that come to mind. Add in the multitude of benefit auctions for individuals and service organizations, the commitment to community speaks for itself.

Despite his singleness, Perry placed enormous significance on the importance of family. In fact, he considered his players his family, and many considered him a father figure.

The fact that so many local businesses are family-owned and operated mirrors that concept. Family is everything here. Any and every good excuse is used to gather the family together any time of year.

Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, even solemn holy days like Old Christmas and Ascension Day, families assemble to share and commune. That’s not to say some good old-fashioned ribbing and recreation won’t also ensue.

family, friends, gathering
Gathering of family and friends.
In that same vein, businesses also reward their employees with family days like picnics, destination trips for the entire family, and financial bonuses. After all, a son or daughter might just be part of the next generation of employees.

All that said, it doesn’t mean that businesses and owners set themselves on a higher plane than elsewhere. Nor does it mean mistakes don’t happen. They do. But incorporating these four essential core values creates productive consistency in both corporate and individual lives.

Another admirable quality, humility, ties these four values together for individuals and businesses alike. Perry Reese, Jr. successfully used that important attribute to bind his teams together as one, just as businesses strive to keep their faithful employees.

These four fundamental principles have been time-honored traditions in Holmes Co., Ohio. In truth, they are revered universal values that transcend any and all geographical, social, political, gender, religious or cultural boundaries.

Friend to many, Perry Reese, Jr. was a gem of a guy, who humbly modeled the community’s core values. To do so was simply smart business.

Amish church gathering, Amish buggies
Church gathering.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field
Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead
Amish homestead.
Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall
Relocating the wall.
My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework
Homework help.
While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage
Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Painting stirs fond memories

autumn in Virginia, landscape
Virginia in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.

The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.

My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.

I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.

Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.

My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.

I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.

Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.

The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.

As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.

Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.

The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.

Virginia family farm. watercolor
My mother’s watercolor of the Virginia family farm.
Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.

Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.

The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.

Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.

I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.

My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

A recipe that ensures lasting memories: good food, gracious friends

birthday meal, birthday celebration
Birthday celebration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.

Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.

The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.

Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.

food and friends
Brunch with friends © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.

The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.

My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.

Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.

Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.

We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.

old friends
Marvin and Mary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.

I recall other smorgasbords as well.

I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.

Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.

family and food
Family. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.

I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.

I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.

In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.

relaxing before the meal
Relaxing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In words and deeds, a President humbly true to his faith

Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter
With Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Humility, service, love, family and faith are vital pillars of any stable community. My wife and I enthusiastically witnessed these highest of human qualities at a little Baptist church in Plains, Georgia.

We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones who would want to hear Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school. When the former president is scheduled to teach, the tiny congregation of 30 swells to 10 times that amount, sometimes more.

The good folks at Maranatha Baptist Church know what to do. They are ready for the ensuing onslaught. So are the authorities.

When we arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the modest church that damp, gray Sunday morning, a police dog checked every vehicle entering the property for bombs. Though we were plenty early, a line of people already stretched from the front door, down the cement sidewalk to the parking lot.

By now, former President Carter has developed quite the reputation as a teacher, humanitarian, and world-renowned peacemaker. At age 90, he and his equally gracious wife, Rosalynn, are still putting their faith into action.

Noble Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize medal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My wife and I joined the queue to enter the red brick building. A stern looking woman popped onto the church’s front porch to announce the procedures for entering. She spoke loudly and resolutely so everyone could plainly hear the specific instructions to make everything go as smoothly as possible.

Secret Service agents greeted us inside the door. We emptied our pockets onto a table and removed our coats. Another officer checked everyone with a wand for any suspicious objects.

We sat in a pew about two-thirds of the way back from the pulpit. Promptly at 9 a.m., the same drill sergeant like lady walked to the front of the church and introduced herself as “Miss Jan.”

Miss Jan spent the next 45 minutes kindly but firmly going over all the rules of conduct. Included were not standing or clapping for the president and no photography during the class or worship. We could take pictures during Jimmy’s brief introduction.

Miss Jan continued, “If you want your picture taken with the President and First Lady you must stay for both the Sunday school and the worship.”

After a brief break, Miss Jan, who had taught the Carter’s daughter, Amy, in elementary school, had us all bow our heads for a prayer. When she said, “Amen,” Jimmy Carter surprised the congregation when he rose and began addressing the crowd. He and his Secret Service guards had quietly sneaked in during the prayer. We hung on his every word.

Miss Jan kept watch over the assembled. She occasionally hugged or bent down to shake the hand of a Secret Service agent, as if she were welcoming them back to a family gathering. The affection they shared was for more than themselves. Their common assignment of protecting the president they loved and admired expressed their uniform devotion.

Jimmy Carter, Sunday school
Jimmy Carter was making a point during the introduction section of the class. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The topic was loving God and your neighbor. Jimmy humbly shared how organizations he supports, like the Lions Club, Habitat for Humanity, and The Carter Center in Atlanta, help him put this charitable concept into global deeds for peace and human rights.

Jimmy used the word “humble” several times, pronouncing it the old-fashioned way, without the beginning “H” sound. It modeled his southern, gentlemanly hospitable manner.

After the service, Miss Jan resumed command, dismissing us by rows to have our pictures taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn. When she came to our row, I told her she must have been an excellent teacher. Miss Jan winked, smiled, and quietly thanked me.

Miss Jan had instructed us not to either shake hands with the Carters or to talk to them so that everyone could get through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible. When the lady taking the photo with my camera clicked the shutter, Rosalynn whispered to Neva that the flash hadn’t gone off.

That was so thoughtful of her. The picture was fine, just like Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, and Miss Jan, too.

The communion cup of love, faith, family, humility, and service generously overflowed in Plains, Georgia. We were grateful to have been partaken.

Jimmy Carter quote, Bruce Stambaugh
A quote from Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015