Grateful I Heeded the Warning Signs

It was good to be back in Holmes County, Ohio.

I had been struggling with high blood pressure for weeks. A prescription for pain set off a chain of events that has taken weeks to rectify.

The orthopedic surgeon prescribed pain medication for the discomfort in my hip, but only if my family physician approved. She did, but on the condition that I take my blood pressure morning and evening. The prescription tended to elevate people’s bp, she said.

It didn’t take long to prove my primary care doctor was correct. In a short time, my bp was sky-high. The physical symptoms I had foretold that it would be: a constant headache, lightheadedness, and my balance was off. Even though I was approaching age 75, I had always been steady on my feet. I wasn’t now.

The symptoms didn’t stop there. I was waking in the middle of the night and, occasionally, had pressure on my chest. Having served on the local volunteer rescue squad for 27 years, I knew that was a red flag. I stopped taking the pain med and returned to the doctor’s office.

Much to my chagrin, I was prescribed two more medications to help bring down my blood pressure. However, the symptoms and my elevated bp persisted.

Of course, all of this happened around the holidays. We had planned on attending a gathering of my siblings for the first time since the pandemic hit. Despite my uneasiness, we decided to go and drove the 350 miles from Virginia to Ohio. Fortunately, all went well, and we had an enjoyable time together.

The Stambaaugh Five.

That evening, good friends invited us to a soup supper at their church in Holmes County, Ohio, where we had spent most of our lives and each completed 30-year education careers. We enjoyed more fellowship with other friends and acquaintances there. The soup was delicious, too.

As we were about to leave the church, however, I felt the heaviness in my chest again. My family doctor told me to head to the emergency room if that returned. The pressure had a habit of coming and going, so I just lived with it. However, the chest discomfort felt more intense this time. And it wasn’t the soup.

We had intended to return to Virginia the next day. Driving all those miles through primarily rural, mountainous terrain, with limited cellphone service, seemed risky. I didn’t want to put that burden on my loving wife. Our lifelong friends, who knew I was uncomfortable, encouraged us to go to the local small-town hospital instead. They reasoned I would get quick attention for my issue and receive excellent care. We took their advice, and headed to the little hospital’s emergency room. As soon as I mentioned pressure on my chest, I was ushered into a room and immediately examined.

I doubt the response would have been the same at a big city hospital, especially on a Saturday night. While the nurse and an EMT doing clinical time as part of his training got me settled, my wife checked me in. Later, she told me they already had our Virginia address, health insurance, and other information in their system.

Having lived in that rural community for 46 years, this was not my first visit to this facility. I had previously been treated there for assorted ailments over the years. Our daughter and son were both born there. I had also served on the hospital board for six years, almost two decades ago. So, yes, I had a particular affinity for this medical facility.

My blood tests and EKG came back normal, but with the chest pressure and my medical history, the caring ER doctor decided to admit me. She ordered a stress test and an echocardiogram. Unfortunately, those would have to wait until Monday morning.

Sunday passed surprisingly quickly. My wife sat by my side late morning into the evening. In between, nurses, aides, and a doctor came and went. The local social grapevine went into overdrive. Relatives and close friends helped the day zoom by with brief visits. My blood pressure lessened each time it was taken.

I was awakened early Monday by a cheery lab tech for the ordered tests. I passed the stress test with ease, and the echocardiogram revealed no blockage in the arteries to my heart. I was greatly relieved.

By early afternoon, the doctor on duty added a relaxing medication and sent us on our way. She also ensured we had all the documented results of every test I had taken. My family doctor was impressed when I saw her a couple of days later.

A Holmes County sunset.

I was so glad we had decided to let this small, rural hospital’s professional staff care for me. I am most grateful to my friends who encouraged us to vist Pomerene Memorial Hospital, and for its caring and professional personnel.

I was equally happy that I had heeded the warning signs. My blood pressure is back to normal, and so is my life.

So, if you have symptoms that don’t seem right, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room, no matter its size. Common sense always eclipses ego, no matter one’s age.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

How Amish Celebrate the Holidays

An Amish farm on Christmas Day in Holmes County, Ohio.

The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.

Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.

There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.

The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.

Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.

The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.

Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.

Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.

Christmas

From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.

Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.

The Amish appreciate natural holiday “decorations,” like this sundog, while a red-tailed hawk roosts on a distant tree.

Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.

After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.

Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.

Family and friends gather for a Christmas program at an Amish school near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Old Christmas

Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.

Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.

No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.

An Amish school sits empty on a snow hillside during a brief Christmas break.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Make October a Month to Remember

While still remembering those of the past

Fall comes to an Amish farmstead in Ohio’s Amish country.

By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.

Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.

I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.

I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.

Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.

I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.

I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.

Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.

When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.

Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.

Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.

Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.

October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.

Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.

October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.

Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.

October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.

Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.

October’s blue and orange.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Signs of Fall

How many can you see?

Signs of fall are everywhere in this photo of an Amish farmstead that I took five years ago while living in Ohio’s Amish country. The standing corn still waiting to be picked, either by hand or horse-drawn corn picker, is the most obvious. In the background, the tops of the deciduous trees had started to turn red and orange. In the center of the photo, the purple martin house has been lowered for the season, the birds long-parted for Central and South America.

Can you find other signs of fall in this photo?

“Signs of Fall” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Billboard House

Somethings in life don’t need describing. Despite the conflicting messages on the side of this house, I’ll just let the photo speak for itself. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

“The Billboard House” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Sunrises deserve our attention and praise

sunrise, Amish farm
A winter sunrise in Holmes Co., OH.

I’m a sunrise junkie. Spending most of my life in bucolic Holmes County, Ohio hooked me.

Sunsets can be gorgeous, too, but there is just something special about watching the blackness of night slowly transform into an explosion of shimmering radiance.

Sunrises usher in a new day, every day. No two are alike. Sunrises paint the horizon in majesty, no artificial coloring, chemicals, or preservatives added. Mornings can be brilliant, sometimes dull, and often obscured by clouds or our personal negligence. Nevertheless, sunrises persist.

Sunrises are free. They literally edify people, whether they realize it or not.

I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the power and gift of a peaceful, awe-inspiring sunrise. Living in pastoral Holmes County quickly instilled a resounding admiration for the daily occurrence. The rural settings east and west accounted for that.

Sunrises, however, enhanced those inspiring countryside scenes. I thrilled at watching a winter’s dawn filter through the little woods behind our Killbuck home. Yesterday’s snow morphed from white to pink to purple and back to fields of sparkling diamonds in a matter of minutes.

rural sunrise
Rural sunrise.

That silent, reverent beauty astounded me, readied me for the day ahead, and fortified me to proceed with whatever I encountered. Naturally, some days were better than others. If I remembered the sunrise, my burden often lightened enough to sustain me.

That existentialism increased along with my responsibilities when I became an administrator, and we moved to East Holmes. Our home was built on an Amish farm with incredible views east, north, and west. Spectacular sunrises made them more so.

I rose each day to arrive at school by 7 a.m. More often than not, a sunrise greeted me on my way. In the winter, the sun appeared as the young scholars arrived. The already rosy-cheeked faces became even more so.

Likely, I am romanticizing those long ago moments. No matter. Like the rising sun’s universal effect, the memories whitewash the darker times of anyone’s career that involves daily interacting with people of various ages, traditions, and beliefs. That doesn’t negate nor diminish the recollections.

For something so brief, sunrises serve as powerful reminders of what was, is, and can be. It’s up to the eye of the beholder to discern and employ the light’s soothing warmth with all those we encounter through justice, mercy, and humility. That’s the potential of a single sunrise.

I found it ironic then that all these ardent thoughts tumbled through my mind like crashing waves as dazzling daylight washed over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the mysterious point of life’s cosmic magic, isn’t it?

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At first, a hint of paleness divided the dark sky from the sea as billions of celestial jewels sparkled in the heavens above. Soon a thin orange line stretched clear across the distant horizon. Cottony clouds sprinkled high and low caught invisible rays and turned them into a surreal light show that out shown any Disney artificial production.

Black skimmers winged by, flying silhouettes scooping their fishy breakfast from the salt water surface. Forster’s terns hovered, dived, and plopped into the sea for theirs, briefly breaking the glassy waters.

Everything, the sand, the water, the sky turned some shade of purple, lavender, and then pink, orange, and red. I stood frozen and silent on the shore. Awed, I observed, appreciated, absorbed, and offered unspoken words of praise.

My school days have long since passed. Yet, another day was at hand. With each sunrise, I aspire to share the light with anyone anytime I can.

I hope sunrises do the same for you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A real road trip down history’s highway

Port Washington Rd., historical trail
Following the trail.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If ever there was a road trip, our day outing down history’s lane was it.

We knew we would encounter historical remnants as we drove the length of Port Washington Road, Ohio’s first state highway. We didn’t anticipate the surprises we found.

Port Washington Road was created to connect Millersburg, Ohio with Port Washington, Ohio. That seems logical enough. Nearly 180 years ago, an accessible route was critical to local farmers who wanted to get their goods to market.

Back then travel was tough. The dirt roads that existed were rutted, dusty, and dangerous. Carrying your product to market was extremely problematic.

The opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal to Port Washington in southern Tuscarawas Co. was designed to improve that process. The canal system, hand dug in the 1820s and 1830s, speeded Ohio’s development. In turn, goods were shipped to New Orleans and New York City, enhancing the local economy.

Another couple joined my wife and me on the excursion. I had driven parts of the road many times, but never the full length. With directions secured from literature about the road, we began our trek across from Millersburg Elementary School on a diagonal street, Port Washington Road.

Signs marked the way we should go. It was a good thing, too, because there were more twists and turns, curves and hills than on any of Cedar Point’s many roller coasters.

Our air-conditioned van took us up, down, and around steep grades. I gasped at the thought of driving a team of horses pulling a fully loaded wagon with a season’s harvest aboard. It was hard enough for me to maneuver.

How in the world did they negotiate those hills safely? No wonder it was a two-day trip from Millersburg to the canal. The halfway mark was a layover in Baltic. That’s where we had lunch, in more comfortable accommodations than those early travelers.

We traversed village, township, county, and state highways. We visited curious crossroads romantically named Saltillo, Becks Mills, Meadow Valley, and Fiat.

Most of the roads were hard-surfaced in Holmes Co. But once we headed southeast out of Baltic, gravel roads became the norm.

Not long after leaving Baltic, we came upon a bald eagle foraging on a carcass in freshly cut oats stubble. I imagined sitting on a hard bench seat glad for the beautiful distraction from the dusty, bumpy road. The magnificent bird flew in sweeping loops over the field until we left.

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The scenery alone was worth the trip. Other than the open areas on high ridges, the landscape likely compared to what those wagon masters must have encountered. We passed through tree tunnels, and by old homesteads long abandoned, well-weathered clapboard siding showing more patina than paint.

We found several cemeteries along the route, too. We couldn’t help but wonder if some of the hopeful farmers didn’t end up deathly disappointed from the ruggedness, and maybe even being waylaid by bandits.

In the middle of nowhere, we discovered a church with a golden dome. The names on cemetery’s tombstones revealed former parishioners. Farther down the road, a sign marked another church cemetery. The structure was long gone.

In the meandering 37 miles we trekked, we had to have traveled in every direction of the compass. The roads were that convoluted. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination, now a sleepy, residential hamlet.

With the actual canal filled in long ago, the only hint of the waterway was a slight depression that paralleled Canal St. Between there, and the Tuscarawas River laid the railroad tracks, the steel trail of the invention that killed the canal.

The steel tracks left the canal to history and the curious to rediscover.

Amish children, pony cart
Pony cart fun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Guarding the oats

wildflowers, oat shocks
Guarding the oats.

Oats shocks standing at attention in a field during the dog days of summer is a familiar scene in Holmes Co., Ohio. When the border between them and the road holds a row of summer’s wildflowers like chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace, the landscape is all the prettier.

“Guarding the oats” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Where everybody knows your name

poorly addressed letter
The way it began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are some definite benefits to living the rural life. The perks will make your life rich, but you won’t necessarily become wealthy.

I recently had a week’s worth of devotions published in a church periodical, Rejoice!. I received an honorarium for my efforts, but that wasn’t the real motivator. I just enjoyed sharing personal and pertinent stories.

What happened after the devotions published became the real reward. A few folks who know me expressed their appreciation for my daily commentaries. An elderly man from Bern, Indiana even sent a nice handwritten note.

He thanked me for my writing and then spent the rest of the letter telling me about his car dealership, now in its fifth generation. That was fun. But it was amazing I received the letter at all.

mail carrier, U.S. mail
The mail cometh.

The kind man simply mailed the envelope with only my full name and Millersburg, Ohio written on the front. No street address. No zip code. And I got it.

The truth is, I wasn’t surprised at all that the letter arrived in our mailbox. It’s not that I’m famous. The fact that my wife and I happen to be the only Stambaughs in the county had to help. However, this was the United States Postal Service, a federal government institution that has had its share of lumps and negative publicity.

That reputation of bigness doesn’t necessarily hold true in Holmes County, Ohio. This isn’t the first time we’ve received a skimpily addressed letter.

Once we had a card from a friend with our name, town and zip on the envelope accompanied by a note scribbled on the envelope that said, “The same road as the restaurant.” When you don’t know the road number, improvise. It worked.

It gets better. Years ago when we lived in the southwest section of the county my ornery older brother sent a letter addressed with only the first names of my wife and me and 44637. That’s the zip code for Killbuck, Ohio. Once again, we got it. My brother couldn’t believe it.

rural life, Ohio's Amish country
Rural defined.

It was a perk of personally knowing the postmaster. A lot of people in the area could say that. In fact, when we moved east to our current location our mail was forwarded far beyond the required time. It stopped the day Bob House retired as Killbuck postmaster.

Bob went above and beyond the call of duty. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to do so. He exemplified the personal consideration and dedication of many folks we have met over our lifetime in this marvelous rural county.

Folks welcomed us into the Amish culture, too, when we relocated to the eastern end of the county. Neighbors invited us to picnics and Amish weddings.

We especially appreciated the invitations to Amish church services. Though we didn’t understand most of what was said, we got the message in the spirit of being treated with kindness and respect.

As educators in the local public schools, my wife and I were shown the highest regard of reverence for our responsibilities with the children of Amish and English alike. Families invited us for meals and visits. We felt more than welcome in both East Holmes and West Holmes.

It’s not always easy living in a county with a population that is less than that of a small city. But as you can see, there are distinct advantages to residing in a locale where everybody knows your name, including the mail carrier.

rural sunset, Holmes County Ohio
Rural sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Good Friday gathering

Good Friday, Amish
Good Friday gathering.

Good Friday is a sacred day in the life of Amish. Most Amish church districts hold a long church service, usually for adults only. The focus is to remember Christ dying on the cross for humankind.

“Good Friday gathering” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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