It was exactly five years ago today that I took this photo of our Amish neighbor planting corn in the late-April sunshine. Add in the faithful dog, and it’s an iconic spring scene in Ohio’s Amish country. A majority of the three to four million tourists who visit Holmes Co., Ohio, every year come for such nostalgic vistas as this. Horsedrawn plows and planters bring back fond memories for our most senior folks. It’s a way of life that is rapidly disappearing, even in the largest Amish population in the world. Today, fewer than 10 percent of Amish still farm.
“Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.
If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.
As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.
We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.
Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.
If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.
During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.
We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.
When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.
The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.
But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.
It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.
On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.
The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.
We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.
I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.
Last year at this time we were still settling into new surroundings, situations, and holiday opportunities as our relocation process to Virginia’s magical Shenandoah Valley continued. We had moved there to be close to our grandchildren. Celebrating the joyous season with them was paramount.
But this year was different. With Thanksgiving as early as it could be, we found an opening in our busy retirement schedules to return to our Ohio homeland.
An early winter snowstorm surprised us as we traversed roads in the higher elevations of West Virginia and Maryland. That couldn’t deter us, however. We arrived safely in the Buckeye State to celebrate personally with a few family members and friends, people we love and cherish. Some gatherings were planned while others were serendipitous.
The frivolity began before we could even unpack our suitcases. That’s the kind of company we keep, and that is willing to host us. Our first evening meal and lively conversation with lots of laughter set the tone for our all too brief visit. We had so much fun we could have turned around and gone straight back to Virginia and been pleased with the trip. Of course, we didn’t.
The next morning we met old friends at a busy locally-owned bistro for breakfast. We discovered other friends there, too. We stayed so long it would have been more profitable if the proprietor had charged us per hour rather than per meal.
As we left for old haunts near Holmes County’s Mt. Hope, the van mysteriously pulled into the parking lot of a favorite chocolate shop. Affabile store owner Jason must sweeten his candy with his hospitality.
We made a beeline to the furniture store where I served as its chief marketer for 11 years in Mt. Hope to say hello to former fellow staff members. Fond hellos, fun memories, and new looks for the store inside and out greeted us. Their ability to create the latest styles in beautiful furniture boggles my mind.
After that enlightening encounter, we took a break at the charming Red Mug Coffee shop, an apt name if there ever was one. Of course, I drank my delicious brew from a red mug.
We hadn’t even ordered when a former student entered. Lonnie and our family go way back. He was born two hours before our daughter. Their cribs were side by side in the nursery at the hospital in Millersburg.
Then a high school friend of our son spied us and years of catching up ensued. Marlin proudly shared photos of his adopted children. Those kids couldn’t be in a more loving situation.
Laundry on the washline told us that Martha was home. After warm, welcoming hugs, we visited with her and her youngest child until we just had to leave. Our timing couldn’t have been better. I stopped to visit briefly with my friend Dan, who mows the roadsides in the township where I served as a trustee for 20 years.
We found our former across-the-road neighbors Paul and Mary as gracious and hospitable as ever. The time ticked away here much too quickly as well.
The visiting continued at Killbuck with the doctor who brought our daughter and son into this world. As always, his spry wife considered us family. We checked in with a couple of their children and spouses, too. Of course, “children” is a relative term since they all are grandparents.
The pace of our last day in Ohio was just the opposite. Neva went shopping with her sister, and sure enough, met even more friends. I ran some necessary errands before going birding. I was thankful for the exercise, the wildlife I encountered, and many photo opportunities. The sun finally burned through the haze by late afternoon. Still, the air’s temperature couldn’t come close to matching the warmth of fellowship we had experienced.
Holidays are for gathering, reminiscing, sharing. Through both our planned and spontaneous encounters, it was indeed a joy to be home for the holidays.
1. I am not a professional movie reviewer. In fact, this is my first ever written movie review. I didn’t read any of the reviews, professional or otherwise, about “The Post” before or after I saw it. I didn’t talk with anyone who had seen the movie before I saw it either. I went to “The Post” with only faint recollections of those days and the events that occurred decades ago in my formative years.
2. I have always had ink in my veins. Growing up in suburban blue-collar Canton, Ohio, a neighbor lady called me “The Beacon Journal” in honor of the respected Akron, Ohio daily. I took her title as a compliment. As a youngster, I was always the first to know what was going on in our busy neighborhood bursting with post-war children. When the siren at the volunteer fire station three blocks away sounded, I often was the first one to arrive, wanting to know what was burning. Careful to stay clear of the trucks, I’d follow them on my bike if I could or sneak a peek at the chalkboard inside the door to the firehouse where the info about the call was scribbled.
3. I majored in journalism at Kent State University, graduating a year before the infamous shooting. While there, I was both the campus stringer for The Plain Dealer, once the premier newspaper in Cleveland. I also was a student reporter for the Daily Kent Stater, a requirement for journalism majors. Kent State was a magnet for political activism in the tumultuous 1960s. It all swirled around me, a naïve, young student taking it all in one event at a time. I reported what I observed about student war protests and couriered photos and copy from Kent to Cleveland.
4. My first career spanned 30-years in public education in Holmes County, Ohio, filled with a dynamic mix of Appalachian and Amish/Mennonite cultures and their historical quirks. Still, I kept the ink in my veins flowing by serving as the information officer for local volunteer fire departments. I also continued to write feature stories for The Plain Dealer and local newspapers. I served as co-editor for 12 years for the magazine of the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church.
5. After retiring as a school administrator, I began using my journalism background full-time by serving as public relations/marketing coordinator for a local retirement community and as a marketing consultant for an Amish-owned furniture business. And I have been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1999.
All this is to say that I had a personal and professional vested interest in “The Post.”
Whether Steven Spielberg, the movie’s director, used creative license in the storyline of “The Post” is insignificant. I can’t know if Ben Bradlee schmoozed with Jack Kennedy or not, or whether Kay Graham and Robert McNamara really were good friends. I didn’t research it. I didn’t even Google it. All I know is this: With marvelous performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, “The Post” put the importance of our first amendment rights of a free press front and center. What was critical then is even more so today, especially given today’s tense political situation and a president who seems incapable of understanding or separating the roles and responsibilities of each branch of government and a free press to report to the citizenry.
Given my background, I know personally how important that Supreme Court ruling was. Justice Black’s words, speaking for the majority, reaffirmed my beliefs, my life as a tiny, trivial citizen in this fantastic country of ours. No president from Truman to Trump, no person or organization from Bannon to Breitbart, can silence the truth. If they do, our democracy is doomed. It’s that simple. To me, that was THE point. As the credits rolled at movie’s end, the memories were vivid, the emotions raw and real, and tears flowed.
After the movie, I sent a text to my son saying that “The Post” was the best movie I had ever seen. He thought that strong praise indeed. I explained by saying that it connected the dots of where we are today politically back to the Civil Rights/Vietnam era, the time that most formulated the person I am today. Watching those scenes, hearing those secret Nixon tapes, having all of those names come tumbling off the screen and into this 70-year-old brain somehow finally made it all make sense to me, brought me peace amid the chaos of where we are today. I felt fulfilled, closure, and hope all in one emotional release.
I have another disclaimer.
6. I was once mistaken for Spielberg in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona. The person refused to believe my denial, and my companions couldn’t stop laughing.
Regardless of your politics, go see “The Post.” I hope it will set you free as it did me.
We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.
When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.
Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.
The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.
But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.
We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.
Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.
Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.
Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.
Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.
All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.
Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.
Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.
As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t too happy when Holmes County, Ohio decided to number their highways instead of using names. That occurred when the house numbering system was employed decades ago.
I maintained then and now that people remember names much better than numbers. Plus, local residents already referred to many of the rural roads by using a name. If you said French Ridge Road, Weaver Ridge Road, Cherry Ridge Road, Number Ten Road, Goose Bottom Road or the Charm Road, most folks knew where you were talking about. Even today when you throw out a number, you often get blank looks.
My logic fell on deaf ears of county officials. Instead of those practical and appropriate names, the good folks and businesses of Holmes County got stuck with numbered roadways. But if a stranger asked a local for directions to see the cabin built on a rock, they’d probably be told to turn off of Dundee Road onto Trail Bottom Road.
I was delighted to see that names triumphed over numbers in our new home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roads are also numbered, but their names prevail. Only numbers identify the main routes like I – 81, US 33, and State Route 42. The rest use the beautifully colloquial names that make perfect sense.
Wonderful names you couldn’t invent don street corner signposts. They’re practical and memorable, which is what a road name should be. Keezletown Road leads to Keezletown. Silver Lake Road begins at Silver Lake near Dayton. Sparkling Springs Road dead ends into Sparkling Springs. See what I mean?
I feel like I’ve landed in Utopia. Even if you’ve never been to Rockingham County, Virginia, you probably can figure out what business is on Harness Shop Road. Singers Glen Road runs right through Singers Glen. And the village got its name because of people singing in a glen. That’s about as practical as it gets.
Mole Hill Road only takes you to one place, Mole Hill. It’s a well-known landmark that predates human history. Whether going east or traveling west on Mt. Clinton Pike, you are sure to drive through the quaint village of Mt. Clinton.
Even the parks say what they mean. Natural Chimneys State Park is home to an ancient sedimentary rock formation that highly resembles chimneys. Many even have an opening like a hearth at their base. And the road that leads you to the park? Why Natural Chimney Lane of course.
There’s also Whitmore Shop Road, Muddy Creek Road that parallels Muddy Creek, and Fog Hollow Road. No guessing where that goes. There used to be a mill on Wengers Mill Road. And yes, the view on Majestic View Road is majestic.
Now some places are intriguing but leave me wondering just how they got their names. Briery Branch, Ottobine, Clover Hill, Penn Laird, and Cross Keys are some examples. In time, I’ll likely find the answers.
It’s just that having lived in Holmes County all of my adult life, I know towns and valleys and ridges are similarly named. Killbuck, Glenmont, Nashville, Beck’s Mills, Farmerstown, and Limpytown would be a start. Spook Hollow, Panther Hollow, Shrimplin Run, and Calmoutier each have their own particular piece of Holmes County folklore.
Roads and towns with names that recall historical times are both fun and fascinating. In a way, they help solidify a sense of community. People can identify with them. Names like that connect the past with the present. That’s something a number simply can’t do.
It’s been a little more than a month since we moved from our beloved home in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio to our new place of residence in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. We knew there would be similarities. We just didn’t know they would abound.
We learned to know the area long before we moved. Our daughter attended college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. She met her husband there. Now the school employs both of them, Carrie as a coach and Daryl as part of the administrative team.
In the few weeks that we’ve lived here, we have learned first-hand just how similar Holmes County is to Rockingham County. Those likenesses transcend the beauty of each locale.
Both have wooded rolling hills. Numerous creeks snake through luscious, productive farmland. Not surprisingly, the same staple crops are grown here, which makes sense since we are in the same growing zone. Field corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and soybeans create a patchwork of verdant colors. Produce stands dot the countryside here, too.
Livestock includes dairy cows and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Long, silver poultry houses can be found high and low across the rural areas of Rockingham County. In Holmes County, they’re mostly white. My guess is that turkeys far outnumber humans in The Valley given the number of those barns I’ve seen. Agriculture is a major economic force for both locations.
Consequently, every now and then when the wind is right we get an acrid whiff that reminds us of home. However, we don’t need a breeze to inform us when the barns have been cleaned.
Just like in Ohio, our house is built on what was once farmland. Only instead of a few neighbors, we have many. We are one of nearly 500 households in our development. Mature trees and manicured lawns predominate around well-maintained homes. People take pride in their property here with equal zest.
In Ohio, airliners sailed regularly over our home on final approach to Akron-Canton Regional Airport. In Harrisonburg, we have the same effect only more frequently. Jets fly overhead, only higher, on approach to Dulles International Airport.
Unlike our old home, all of the utilities in our housing development are buried underground. There are no streetlights, though. On a clear night, we can actually see the stars better here than we could at our former home.
There are other obvious differences of course. Rockingham County is twice the size of Holmes County in both square miles and population. The boundaries of Rockingham County boast the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
The Massanutten range runs north to south through the center of the county, stopping east of Harrisonburg. It should be noted that the hills of Holmes County are actually the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. So we are literally geologically connected.
Once outside the city, the roads of Rockingham County are as narrow, windy, and hilly as those of Holmes County. With Old Order Mennonites thriving in the fertile valley, horse and buggies are nearly as common as in Holmes County.
The culture, local mores, and values are similar as well. Our neighbors exemplify that daily with their friendliness.
Purchasing our home here foretold the familiarity. At the bank, we got our house loan from Julie Yoder. Emily Miller led the house closing. Jayne Schlabach was our realtor. There’s even a Joe Bowman car dealership. In Holmes County, he’d likely be selling buggies.
Just like home, we have the same cell phone carrier with the same quality reception. I have to go to the front porch so you can “hear me now.”
No need to feel sorry for us. We feel right at home in Virginia.
By the time you read this, my wife and I will be settling into our new old home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We’re excited about the change as we enter the autumn of our lives.
We’ll do our best to keep in touch with our friends and relatives in Ohio and elsewhere. They have been the fibers that helped stitch our lives together.
Of course, we will miss our old home, too. It served us well for 38 years. That’s a long time by today’s standards where Americans move on average of 11 times.
When we bought our home in eastern Holmes County, it was as young in housing as we were in parenting. The house was unfinished and budding, like our two and four-year-olds. Neva and I had been married eight years.
That old house helped us raise our daughter and our son from toddlers into productive young adults. It served as ground zero for my amazing wife to hone her effusive hospitality skills.
Our former home holds more memories good and bad than I can recall. But it knows. The house’s walls harbor nearly four decades of our personal saga.
The house has a beautiful setting that we so enjoyed. We had excellent views of our Amish country surroundings. We could see five miles north to Wayne County. To the east, explosive sunrises stirred our bodies and our souls into another day. To the west, sunsets often thrilled us far beyond their beauty. To the south, our road still looked like an Olympic ski slope as it curved up, then flattened out, and then quickly back down past our house.
The property itself was a sanctuary. People often complimented Neva on her annuals and perennials that kept the old place bathed in colors spring to late fall.
The many trees and shrubs I planted matured, providing habitats for wildlife I never could have imagined. The skunks and raccoons could have found other homes though. The many birds, however, were always welcome.
The old house endured many storms over all the seasons and years as Nature used her full arsenal. Deep snows, large hail, six different lightning strikes, damaging winds, earthquakes, and the severe ice storm of late December 2004 pounded away. They all altered the property but could not subdue it.
The most memorable events though weren’t earth shattering at all. They were the everyday, common occurrences. Crackling fires in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night; sleepovers; the productive, magical hum of Neva’s sewing machine; both planned and impromptu visits from friends, neighbors, and church youth groups, and the whoosh of chimney swifts that rattled the glass fireplace doors only begin the recollections.
None of those, however, can hold a candle to the memories of the grandkids. They were mesmerized by the clop, clop, clop of horse and buggies trotting by, rosy-cheeked from snowball fights and sled rides, giddy with wonder and excitement on Christmas morning.
After all, the grandchildren are the main reason we uprooted ourselves from all that we have been. They are the reason we will settle into new routines, new roles, and our new home in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.
Time is short. Neva and I have chosen to fill our elder days with the activities, joys, and disappointments, competitions and achievements of our progeny’s children.
Those will be the sights and sounds, fragrances and satisfactions of all our days ahead, however many or few they may be. Perhaps those memories will be just as sweet, if not sweeter than those generated by that old Holmes County house we called home.
They will not, they cannot replace them.
We wish the new owners well and hope their memories are as fruitful, meaningful, and lasting as ours.
The time has nearly arrived. My wife and I have worked diligently for a year and a half to prepare for this moment.
After spending our entire adult lives in one of the most beautiful, friendly places in Ohio, Neva and I are preparing to move to Virginia’s picturesque and historic Shenandoah Valley.
I’m glad it has taken us that long to transition from one place to the other. We deliberately took our time. We didn’t want to merely cut and run from the people and place we love.
That interlude gave us the opportunity and space we needed to adjust to this major, life-changing decision. We’ve spent much effort sorting and packing clothing, furniture, and household goods. We’ve also met with close friends and family before we exit, often over meals.
We’re moving for the very best reason. We want to be closer to our grandchildren to watch them grow and assist their busy household. Ironically, my older brother and his wife are doing the same thing for the same reason only in reverse. They’re moving from Virginia to Ohio, Holmes Co. in fact.
I jokingly tell people that we have to move because decades ago the county commissioners passed a resolution ensuring only one Stambaugh family at a time could live in Holmes Co. Therefore I have to yield to my big brother.
Silliness aside, Neva and I have learned first-hand that we don’t need as much as we have. Being snowbirds taught us that by living in much smaller quarters with limited storage space. It was a valuable lesson to learn. Since we are downsizing to a smaller ranch home with no basement or attic, we’ve been busy deciding what to take and what to give away or sell.
In sorting through drawers, closets, and shelves, and prioritizing furniture, we uncovered many fond memories. It was easy to decide I didn’t need two-dozen dress shirts. It was much harder jettisoning personal items that served only to remind us of many precious days gone by.
We had no other choice. Our new house can only hold so much, so we identified the essentials we’d need and what we didn’t. Our current home is filled with antiques, mostly from all sides of both families, which added to our conundrum.
Our son and daughter took certain items to keep them in the family. We reached out to extended family and close friends, too. But most of them are our peers. They don’t want to add to their lifetime collections either.
What do I do with my grandfather’s first-grade reader? Can I bring myself to sell an old garden tool a friend long-deceased gave to us? Practicality had to override nostalgia.
We met with the local mover that we hired. A sincere young man, he clearly knew his business. We found the combination of his expertise and experience immensely helpful in deciding what to take and what to leave.
As we rapidly approach the moving date, Neva and I reflected on what we have learned from all of this sorting, cleaning, and packing, this drastic rearranging of our lives. The most important lesson was evident. But having lived in the same house for 38 years, we never had to confront it before.
Our most valuable possessions don’t fit in boxes. Rather, family, friends, our little church, neighbors, relationships, and memories are lovingly stored in our hearts.