All Eyes

I enjoy taking photos of my grandchildren, especially when they are participating in their various activities.

We recently attended our granddaughter’s middle school concert. Of course, the brass instruments were in the back row. Maren plays a euphonium. Given her seating assignment, I figured I better take some snapshots before the program started.

I especially liked this shot of her peeking over her music stand as the music director gave preliminary instructions. The reflection in the euphonium’s bell added splashes of color. Maren was all eyes!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

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

Past and present meet at the strangest places

By Bruce Stambaugh

The past and present sometimes intersect in the strangest places.

I had lazily let scores of previously read email messages in my inbox pile up for much too long. Never mind how many there were. Let’s just say it was the equivalent of a very messy desk.

rainy day, Shenandoah Valley
Rainy day.
While waiting for the chilly rain to quit in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I took action to remedy the situation born of my procrastination. I spent several hours over parts of two days, but I finally cleared all the old emails away.

What took so long? Well, I had to read some of them of course.

The variety of clutter I discovered I had left shocked me. Messages from sales people, church folks, friends, family, businesses, and people I didn’t even remember tickled my brain cells.

I deleted most of the emails. A few were rather important, and I was surprised that I had just left them hanging there like those infamous Florida chads. Rereading several of the messages reawakened good and bad emotions long.

newborn baby
At the hospital.
When I reached the ones from early October 2009, I was pleasantly transported back in time. Long forgotten electronic correspondence between family members and myself got my old heart racing.

The birth of our granddaughter, Maren, was the main topic. How timely I thought. We were in the midst of preparing for her sixth birthday party. Reading those notes from friends and family brought back fond memories.

I found updates from my wife about how our daughter felt as she approached delivery, and what Nana was doing to entertain the grandsons in Texas, where they lived then. I was still in Ohio.

Now our daughter and her family live in this sprawling valley cradled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghenies to the west. They have settled in nicely. Texas is but a memory, much like my uncovering the orphaned emails.

Occasionally it’s good to look back, to remember, to recollect the past, to resurrect old feelings of joy. The birth of a baby is always a celebration, especially if it’s your granddaughter.

I was glad Nana was there to help with the grandsons, Evan and Davis. They were only five and three at the time. They needed her.

newborn baby
One week old.
I arrived a few days later to hold my newborn granddaughter. Maren was as beautiful as her name, a derivative of Marian, which was my mother’s name.

As I revisited those old emails, Maren’s birth seemed like yesterday. Here we were celebrating her sixth birthday. Where in the world had the time gone?

One day she is swaddled in diapers surrounded by stuffed animals and curious brothers. Today she is an active, self-assured kindergartner learning to speak Spanish.

I chuckle at her impressive English vocabulary alone. Maren rattles off words like “actually,” “random,” “responsibility,” and “unrecognizable” in the proper contexts. The days of cooing are long over.

Next thing you know, she’ll be going out on her first date. But let’s not rush it.

Nana and I enjoyed Maren’s little birthday party. She just reminds us of her mother when she was six, only Maren persists with all things pink.

For now, Nana and I enjoy watching our three grandchildren grow, mature, fight, play ball, do gymnastics, and interact with their peers, parents and friends.

I’ll cherish these moments as best I can. Keeping a clean inbox is a good way to start.

birthday presents
Ready for presents.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Cold weather can’t cool the warmth of a birthday party

Lego Dolphin cruise boat, grandkids
Ready to launch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We wouldn’t have missed this birthday bash for the world. As Maren’s grandparents, we were among the chosen few to attend her fifth birthday party.

Like we needed an excuse to visit. Nana and I would gladly traverse the 350 miles across eight mountain passes between our home and our daughter’s in Virginia’s always-lovely Shenandoah Valley to attend this special event.

Unfortunately, a dubious hitchhiker volunteered to accompany us on our trip. The nice Virginia weather changed to the stuff we had left in Ohio not long after our arrival in the valley.

We weren’t going to let a little discomforting inclemency spoil our celebrative spirits, however. The blue-eyed towhead Maren would turn five regardless of the climatological elements.

The party was just what Maren ordered. You would think a five-year-old girl who loves pink would go glitzy when given the chance to help plan her own party. But no, Maren only wanted family, plus a few close neighbors.

That is exactly what she got. She was the youngest in the cozy crowd.

Surrounded by her parents, her two ornery older brothers, and her MawMaw and Nana and Poppy, a festive evening of fun began with the opening of gifts and cards. What does a preschool girl get for her birthday? Why, jewelry of course, and books, and the one gift Maren hoped to receive, a Lego Dolphin Cruise liner.

The wet weather did postpone the only outside activity planned. The breaking of the piñata had to wait until the next morning.

While the kids went to a room to assemble the multitude of plastic pieces to create the boat, the table was set, and dinner prepared. Dessert was a delicious and preciously decorated cake done by a family friend. Of course, multicolored sprinkles, including pink, speckled the creamy white icing.

A candle in the shape of the number five topped the tiered, sparkly cake. A lone, perfect flame danced atop the crooked candle until one strong puff from the five-year-old snuffed it out.

Maren and her parents posed for a photo, and then it was back to the dry dock for the kids to complete the boat building. With three young engineers, the cruise ship was assembled in record time, encouraged on by teenage neighbors. The youngsters were all smiles when the last piece snapped into place.

birthday party, birthday cake, girl and parents
The Birthday Girl and her parents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
However, there was one remaining meaningful gift for the birthday girl. The graduate school tenant who occupies the apartment in the basement of our daughter’s home brought a rather special surprise. It seems earlier in the year Miss Maren had secretly negotiated a contract with the tenant, who wanted to raise a garden, including watermelons.

Since Maren loves watermelon, she took it upon herself to wrangle a deal that had her receiving a portion of the ripe melons. Being a good sport, the tenant, majoring in peace studies, put her lessons into practice.

As the crops grew, however, nothing more was said about sharing the watermelons. Apparently, Maren was more satisfied with sealing the deal than cashing in on it.

Maren may have forgotten about the compact, but the tenant hadn’t. The last gift presented to Maren was a miniature watermelon saved just for her.

The watermelon gift was a cool idea that warmed the congenial birthday gathering all the more. Unless it was a stowaway, I don’t think the fruity cargo made the maiden voyage of the Dolphin, however.

birthday party, watermelon, gift
Watermelon surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Two beauties

Two beauties. © Bruce Stambaugh

I felt fortunate to capture this moment between our daughter-in-law and our granddaughter. They were reviewing “spy pictures,” as the four-year-old referred to them, of Uncle Nathan, our son. Apparently, Maren convinced her aunt to use her cell phone to photograph our son and her two brothers building a Lego toy. The focused concentration on the polka dotted iPhone, coupled with their relaxed poses, really made this photo pop. The backlit blond hair didn’t hurt either.

“Two beauties” is the Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Miss Maren doesn’t miss a beat in Amish country

Aunt Meena and Miss Maren playing a game of tag.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we headed down the last of eight mountain passes toward her home in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, my three-year old granddaughter, Maren, asked a gem of a question.

We were listening to a child’s musical CD when she picked up on the words “miss you.” Typical of inquisitive three-year olds, Maren asked a profound question. “Does ‘miss you’ mean you will be glad to see him again?” she asked. As I glanced in the rearview mirror, her expressive eyes twinkled the answer. I smiled, and simply replied, “Exactly, Maren!”

That type of interaction had occurred several times in the four days my wife and I had hosted Maren. It was her first time away from her parents and her two older brothers. She passed the separation test with flying colors.

Neva and I had planned several activities that would keep her and her very active mind occupied while away from her familiar surroundings. As it turned out, we need not have worried about filling in the time.

It’s not that Maren didn’t miss her family. It was more like discovering the freedom of being an only child with no one to interrupt her magical control over Nana and Poppy.

From the time she left her home with Nana, Maren knew what she was doing and soaked up every minute of her trip. She was in such a hurry to get to our place that she preferred to snack instead of taking the time to stop for lunch.

When she arrived at our home, Maren insisted on getting her own suitcase out and rolling it into her bedroom. Maren smiled and laughed and played the entire time. There wasn’t a hint of homesickness.

Maren decided to sleep in her little bed with a multitude of stuffed animals. Now this is the same bed and room where Maren refuses to sleep when she visits with her parents. Maren has a reputation for not sleeping through the night. She did at our house, one night for nearly 12 hours.

Besides the various activities we had in mind for her, Maren had her own plans. She enjoyed several swinging sessions on the hammock sans her brothers, and helped Nana make apple sauce.

Maren’s favorite pastime was to feed the goldfish in our little garden pond and to look for the lone green frog. Maren equally relished filling the many birdfeeders I have hanging in the backyard.

While dining on the back porch one evening, Maren said, “You have a lot of bird feeders,” and proceeded to count the five that she saw. I reminded her of the small suet feeder on the other side of the porch. She said matter-of-factly, “Oh yes. That makes six.”

Maren also enjoyed her own private playtime. She did puzzles, rode her scooter and looked at books.

Photo of our garden shed taken by Maren.
Maren was fascinated with my cameras, and asked if she could take some pictures. How could I say no? Most of her shots were spot on.

Like her brothers when they were her age, Maren loved the horse and buggies that clopped by our home. She especially enjoyed the one with the blaring boom box.

Too soon, however, it was time to head home. As much fun as she had had, Maren was glad to see her mommy and daddy, and her brothers again.

The lyrics of the song we had heard coming down that last mountain resonated. We miss you, Maren, very much.

Although she really enjoyed her stay with us, Maren was happy to be home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

In this household, pink is the “in” color

Baby Maren by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Forget what the color coordinating gurus in New York City and Paris have to say. Pink is the in color, at least at our daughter’s house.

Her daughter, Maren, our three-year old granddaughter, has her own fashion priority, especially when it comes to color. There is only one. Pink.

Our daughter doesn’t say much. Then, again, what can she say? Her daughter is as independent as she was at that age, and just as blonde.

As soon as our daughter and son-in-law knew that their third child would be their first girl, I distinctly recall that pink clothing for her daughter was discouraged. I think there was a serendipitous association of pink with prissy.

Well, three years later, guess what? Maren’s favorite color is pink. Pink may have been her first spoken word. Maren just loves everything pinkish.

Pink balloons by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren loves everything pink.
That really shouldn’t be any surprise at all. When she was born three years ago in Austin, Texas, Maren was a pink bundle of squealing joy. Everything about her was pink, her hands, her feet, her tiny toes, her long, skinny fingers, her lips, her nose, and her rosy ears. Her face was pink until it changed to red when she wasn’t real happy or necessitated a diaper change.

I have a picture of Nana holding Maren wrapped in a white baby blanket with blue and pink strips. The sign attached to her hospital nursery crib with her name and birth statistics was printed in black letters on pink paper. A delicate pink rose even adorned her mother’s hospital room.

The sleeper Maren wore home from the hospital was infused with dainty pink flowers. The decorations, wall hangings and fabrics in Maren’s room were brown, silver and, yes, pink. The baby blanket Nana made for her was brown and pink. A pair of pink cowgirl boots sat upon her pink-trimmed dresser. The girl never had a chance.

Second birthday by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren with her pink Razor.
Less than a year later, the pink Texan became a pink Virginian when her family moved to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Maren celebrated her first birthday with a pink barrette atop her towhead.

For her second birthday she wanted a Razor scooter just like her big brothers had. She had conditions of course. The wheels and handlebars had to be pink. What option did Nana and Poppy have other than to gladly comply?

If there was any doubt about Maren’s color preference, it evaporated when Nana recently took her shopping for her third birthday present from us. Maren wanted a CD player, a pink soccer ball, or a pink bicycle helmet. She got all three, plus a pair of pink polka dot shoes.

Pink helmet by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren, ready to roll with her pink “Barbie” safety helmet.
What really got me though was that the pink helmet had “Barbie” scrolled across the front if it. And this from a girly little girl who wears only pants. Maren likes dresses, and they don’t have to be pink. She just doesn’t wear them.

Like most grandfathers, I enjoy teaching the grandchildren their colors. They must tire of me always asking, “What color is this?” Not Maren. For her, everything is pink even if it really is red or green.

If the sunrise in the near future comes up all pink, don’t blame New York or Paris. You’ll know that Maren’s birthday wish came true.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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