Sorting files and memories

Killbuck Elementary School, Bruce Stambaugh
My fifth-grade class in 1978.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter in Ohio usually means snow and blowing snow, and snow days, and power outages, and quick trips to the grocery store, and laughter in the wintery elements, and the stunning beauty of a Northern Cardinal’s crimson red against the season’s fluffy whiteness.

When all this happens, it’s a sign from Heaven above to my loving wife that it’s time for her favorite indoors sport, sorting. So we sort.

I am not critical here. Neva is a master organizer. I’m a left-brain thinker, dreamer, and doer of all things distracting from the task at hand. When we’re stuck inside unwilling to brave winter’s sharp teeth, we bind our already long marriage by going through “stuff” one drawer, one box, one file at a time.

northern cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal.
I know it sounds boring, but it’s not.

Neva is also a multi-tasker. She sorts, reads, does jigsaw puzzles and watches college basketball on TV simultaneously. Me? I just watch the game, and, oh, usually munch on some snacks, too.

But when Neva plops a pile of long-forgotten “treasures” determined to be mine in front of me, I know it’s time to put down the chips and get busy. So like any good husband, I do. That’s what I said nearly 45 years ago, and I still mean it. So I dig into the pile.

We went through such a scenario the other night. However, all reorganizing came to a halt when I found a photo of the last fifth-grade class I had taught before I moved on to being an elementary principal.

My attention went to the gaggle of youngsters standing on risers loathing this photo op, as 11-year-olds are wont to do. I examined every face in the three rows of 27 kids, and to my amazement, I could only name a handful of them.

I quickly abandoned the basketball and scanned the photo to my computer. I innocently posted the slightly faded color photo on my social media Facebook page to see if others could help awaken my sleeping brain. I depended on a few of my former students who are in my Facebook circles.

classmates, student ID
Sailing into the past.
Boy did they come through. One of my students in the very first class I taught asked to post the photo on a Facebook page appropriately titled “The Killbuck Gang.” I taught at Killbuck Elementary School in Killbuck, Ohio.

To my surprise, lots of former Killbuck School folks began commenting on the photo. A lengthy online discussion ensued. The student identification process would have made the FBI proud.

Several former classmates, now all adults, joined in the “name that student” game. In a matter of hours, every student was identified, and everyone seemed very pleased to have taken the stroll back in time together. I know I was.

It did this old heart good to see the enthusiasm and interaction of former students and friends as they recollected and reconnected. They filled us in on who was currently doing what in life. Sadly, a few students pictured had passed away, and I was sad to hear that news.

Still, this simple idea of posting the photo went viral in its special way. It refreshed many good memories that had been filed deep in my cranial vault.

I was glad to have all of the students appropriately identified. My wife was equally pleased to have me back in my easy chair once again sorting away.

buggies in snowstorm
Winter in Ohio’s Amish country.

© 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

In honor of two very friendly fathers

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father and late father-in-law were clearly different men. But they had a lot in common, too.

Both my father and my father-in-law, Wayne, were genuinely friendly to everyone they met. They each set an example on how to interact and connect with others.

Stambaughs, Millers
Marian and Dick Stambaugh (L) and Wayne and Esther Miller. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad was lanky and gregarious. Though skinny as well, Wayne was of average height. Dad was a Type A talker. Wayne was more laid back, but could easily carry his own in any conversation.

That was especially true when it came to sports. Both men were like little kids if baseball, football or basketball were the topics of conversation. They had a love-hate relationship with all teams Cleveland.

They didn’t just talk athletics either. Dad played three sports in high school and perused his enthusiasm for games well into adulthood. Wayne bowled and played church league softball.

Both found those activities as a means to an end. They got to play, and they thrived on the conversational interplay before, during and after the games.

Of all their commonalities, friendliness was at the top of the list for both Dad and Wayne. In fact, they became good friends, in part because they knew many of the same people.

farm tractor
Where my late father-in-law felt most comfortable. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Wayne was a farmer, and Dad loved farms, but for different reasons. Farming was Wayne’s livelihood. Dad made friends with farmers near and far because he liked to hunt and fish. He also found their various stories fascinating.

Wayne and Dad got along famously. In fact, once Neva and I set our wedding date, both men started to invite folks to the ceremony that knew both families. Unfortunately, some of those people weren’t on our invitation list. Is it any wonder we had 400 guests?

I learned early on that Dad liked to meet new people. He’d take us kids along on his excursions exploring farms all over eastern Ohio.

Wayne Miller
Wayne Miller at our daughters wedding in 1998. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
After he retired and stumbled onto the hobby of Indian artifact collecting, Dad’s interests in farms had a new twist. Again, Dad’s high-spirited enthusiasm carried over to his children and grandchildren, who he coaxed into accompanying him on his relic gleaning excursions. It was his version of hands on lessons in history, geography, and conversation.

I knew Wayne liked me right away. On my first visit to the Miller farm, he took me straight to the barn to see the pigs. My wife said it normally took other guys two or three visits. I was honored, and our relationship blossomed from there. He treated his other son-in-law with equal love and respect.

family
Dad and Mom with our daughter, her son, and me. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad would use the arrowhead hunting excuse to visit Wayne and Esther’s farm, along with neighboring fields. Their real friendship was just part of the formula that successfully melded our two families together.

Even in death, Wayne and Dad connected. Wayne died on Dec. 22, 2001. Dad died on Dec. 21 eight years later.

It is no wonder that even today people that knew Dad and Wayne describe them both with the same fondness. They use similar complimentary terms to reflect on each man. Both were sociable people, easy to like and admire, they say.

Of course, both Wayne and Dad were human. They each expressed themselves in less than articulate ways at times. But to those who knew them, or maybe only once met either of them, the conclusion was the same.

People remember the genuine congeniality of both Dad and Wayne. That’s a legacy we’d all like to leave.

© 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

Introducing a few of the people I’ve met along life’s path

gathering of friends, Fernandina Beach FL
We recently gathered with friends in Fernandina Beach, FL. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

There can be no mistake about it. I enjoy meeting new people. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the guys and gals I already know. I like them, too, and the stories and friendships we share.

Of course, I love my family. They mean the world to me. I hope they think likewise.

I find there is just something personally memorable about meeting strangers who so willing and so easily engage in conversation. It might be the only one we have, and then we all move on. Then again, happenstance encounters might lead to endearing bonds. You never know unless you take a risk.

I’m glad for folks who feel the same way. Otherwise, life wouldn’t nearly be as sunny. To be sure, traveling takes away the home field advantage for everyone. We’re all standing on neutral ground.

Dick Stambaugh, Marian Stambaugh, Bruce Stambaugh, parents
My late parents, Dick and Marian Stambaugh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I attribute my willingness to smile and greet others to two factors. One was my gregarious father, who knew no strangers. He enjoyed exploring nature and history, and the fear of asking was never a fault. Tact, however, didn’t seem to be in his repertoire. People liked him anyhow.

The other is my intense yearning for learning. And the only way to satisfy that is to listen, look, read, ask and explore. Hopefully, I mind my manners in the process.

Travel enhances the desire to gain new understandings. It also has afforded plenty of opportunities to meet and know many fine folks. A few of them come to mind.

While visiting San Antonio’s world famous River Walk, I casually asked a local police officer where the best place to eat lunch was. He deferred, saying he wasn’t permitted to make recommendations.

sunrise, Grand Canyon
Sunrise at Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, AZ. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.
I reworded my question. “Where are you going to eat lunch?” I asked. He told me, and we waved to each other as he walked in.

We found a young ranger equally helpful at Grand Canyon National Park. When he finished his talk, I asked him where the best place was to view the sunrise.

The wise young man looked around, leaned in and whispered, “Shoshone Point.” We weren’t disappointed the next morning.

When vacationing in Fernandina Beach, Florida, I kept seeing the same woman evening after evening taking photos of the sunset over the town’s harbor on the Intercostal waterway. We talked, shared about photography, and the next thing I knew Lea had invited me to her home for a camera club meeting.

photography, Fernandina Beach FL
My friend Lea being Lea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I can tell we’re going to be photographic comrades for a long time.

More than 30 years ago, Neva and I attended a church conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We stayed in an old brick farmhouse of a very gracious guest. We hit it off right away, despite my lame attempts at humor. I especially loved Mary’s tasty and colorful meals. We’ve been friends ever since, even attending her wedding. Now we love her saint of a husband just as much as Mary.

photography, friends
Impromptu photo situations are my favorite with friends. © Bruce Stamaugh 2015
Several years ago, Neva and I met Sharon, a nationally syndicated columnist, at a book signing in Toledo of all places. We hit it off right away and have been communicating and encouraging one another’s writing ever since.

These are but a few examples of the many, many kind people we have met along life’s meandering path. I’d run out of ink if I mentioned everyone.

Besides, you know who you are. Thanks so much for being our friends.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Being grateful extends far beyond a Thanksgiving meal

prostate cancer support group, Bluemen
The Bluemen’s Group and spouses. © Martha Stutzman

By Bruce Stambaugh

The five of us men sat around the breakfast table enjoying the tasty food and each other’s company. As much as I cherished knowing these friends, and the nutritious breakfast, it was the conversation that captured my attention.

Half way through the hour-long gathering, I realized I was smiling, grateful to be included in this forthright discussion about what really matters in life. The hard, direct questions about life and death enthralled me. The frank, honest, heartfelt answers fueled the no-frills banter.

fall sunset, landscape photography, Bruce Stambaugh
November sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
This was a Thursday morning, the usual bi-weekly get-together of our cancer support group, affectionately known as the Bluemen. Blue is the color for prostate cancer, and that was a common denominator of the group, save for one member.

Our host, normally a reserved, contemplative man, was passionately engaged in the meaningful discussion. By early Monday morning, he had died.

When I learned of his death, I wasn’t shocked. Deeply saddened yes, but not surprised given that intense interaction I had witnessed regarding life and preparing to die.

That precious morning, I sat and listened mostly, participating only when absolutely necessary. I was too absorbed to interrupt the flow of the dialogue’s stream.

Our friend, Bill, had joined our cancer support group for just that kind of interaction. This diminutive but gentile giant of a man wanted our companionship in his journey with prostate cancer. We gladly welcomed him.

fall colors, red tree, Bruce Stambaugh
Red tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Bill immediately felt at home with us. One of the most humble individuals I had ever met, Bill easily joined in the group’s chitchat. He, like the rest of us, shared intimate details that only those with prostate cancer unashamedly reveal, even over breakfast.

At times, this quiet, simple man talked our ears off. Once he even tried to introduce politics, a violation of our unwritten protocol. We all laughed.

Though not a prostate cancer victim, Kurt joined our group because there are no living members to offer comfort for his kind of cancer. Just like Bill, Kurt held nothing back either.

Our table talk revolved around what it’s like to die, are we afraid to die, what will we miss, what will we look forward to in the afterlife? And so it went, at first monthly, then every other week when Bill had a set back a few months ago.

Bill wanted to continue to meet, so this affable man and his amazing wife invited us into their home. We ate, talked, and laughed some more. Sometimes we even shed a few tears.

barn in snow, Holmes County Ohio, Bruce Stambaugh, landscape photography
Barn in snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Besides cancer, the group members were bound as one by two other mutual traits. Our common faith, and our gratitude for the life opportunities we had had, and would have made us brothers.

We had no idea of what was about to play out with Bill following that marvelous Thursday morning gathering. I was glad for the multitude of thanks expressed then for all that had come our way in life. The good far outweighed the bad, even including cancer.

Each in our close-knit group was appreciative of life, to live, to love, to be loved. That was enough, more than any of us could ever have desired.

The turkey and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are nice. Our group’s regular sharing affirmed that being grateful means so much more than a holiday spread. The Bluemen were most thankful for the immeasurable joy, love and fellowship of devoted families and friends.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about?

snow, black and white photo, snowy woods
Snowy woods. © Bruce Stambaaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

An international rendezvous

sailboatbybrucestambaugh
Salient scene. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

When a friend learned that I was traveling across the border to the Niagara Falls region in Canada, she lightheartedly instructed me not to create any international incidents. She need not have worried.

My wife and I traversed a bridge over the churning Niagara River for peaceful purposes only. We had scheduled a reunion with some Ontario friends. The historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake served as the point of rendezvous.

As it turned out, it was the ideal spot for our gathering, especially given the historical implications of the town and our connections with our acquaintances. We had known one couple, Ken and Ruth, for years. The other friends, neighbors to Ken and Ruth, we had met only last winter in Fernandina Beach, Florida of all places.

historictownbybrucestambaugh
A typical scene in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Ken and Ruth’s neighbors just happened to winter on Amelia Island, Florida. Knowing that we spent part of the winter there as well, Ruth suggested we meet up with Don and Gail. What a blessed suggestion it was, too.

Neva and I immediately hit it off with them. Just like we did with Ken and Ruth, we shared common interests, and enjoyed each other’s company and conversation.

After touring the historic Niagara town and enjoying a lovely lunch, we sat on two benches, men on one, women on the other, just like three old couples would in a park. That’s probably because we were three old couples, and we were in a park.

Old, of course, is a relative term. We were all grandparents, but to hear us cackling on that glorious day, we more likely resembled teenagers. Life has those golden moments you know. When it does, you want to harvest their nurturing bounty.

Sitting under those giant shade trees, we laughed, inquired, listened, observed, and pondered what life had brought us, and would bring us still. It’s what good friends do no matter what nationality.

friendlystrangersbybrucestambaugh
Friendly strangers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
The setting, Queen’s Royal Park, seemed more than appropriate. Located along the town’s waterfront where the mouth of the Niagara River opened into Lake Ontario, sailboats, fishing boats and speedboats glided by.

On the opposite shore stood historic Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York. This particular location had been the scene of many battles since the 18th century. We had a clear view of the impressive fort, and heard muskets fired during a battle reenactment.

Multi-nationalities had claimed these lands and waterways over the centuries. Native Americans, French, English, and Americans had all fought for this once strategic military position.

circleoffriendsbybrucestambaugh
This circle of colorful chairs in a side yard near the park symbolized our gathering. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Though our little group represented several countries, our meeting was more than congenial. Among the six of us, one was born in England, one Bermuda, two in Ontario, and my wife and I in Ohio.

Our weapon of choice was sarcasm. I blamed the cool, wet summer weather on imaginary Ontario icebergs. My friends returned volleys of witticisms of their own. No injuries resulted from the friendly bantering.

During any visit to the Niagara Falls region, the global attraction to this magnetic place is obvious. We encountered cultural dress, various native languages, and many ethnicities wherever we went.

When we asked a stranger with a Caribbean accent to take photographs of our group, he gladly obliged. I wasn’t surprised. He and his companions were enjoying the same fair weather, agreeable setting and pleasing vistas as us. It was the perfect recipe for an amicable afternoon reunion of international friends all around.

The only significant shots we fired were with our cameras.

oldfriendsbybrucestambaugh
The rendezvous. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.