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Welcome to the Center of the Universe

Center of the Universe, Wallace ID

Looking east on Bank St., Wallace, ID.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never met Ron Garitone, the late mayor of Wallace, Idaho. I’m sure I would have liked him if only based on one creative decision he made for his small mining and timber town located in Idaho’s panhandle.

Pushed on an environmental issue by the EPA in 2004, the mayor was told, “If a thing cannot be disproven, it is thereby proven.” The incredulous but affable mayor called the government’s bluff. He proclaimed his beloved Wallace the Center of the Universe because his claim could not be disproven, he said. His proclamation gained international attention. Wise town leaders seized on the idea and installed a fancy manhole cover that doubles as a marker in the middle of the main intersection declaring Wallace as the center of the universe. Blue and white tourist signs mark the spot.

Wallace ID, humor

The proof is in the manhole cover.

As I stood there admiring the designation with no fear of the typically light traffic, I flashed back to my early Holmes County, Ohio days. Impressed with its rural location and horse and buggy prominence, people who visited us, including several of my family members, asked me why we lived there. I had a ready answer for them.

“We live here because Holmes County is the center of the universe.” That usually brought puzzling, blank looks. So I’d clarify. “If I want to see anything else in the world, I have to leave here.”

I was joking of course, much like the good-humored mayor. However, there was a grain of truth to the statement. Rural counties universally can’t offer all that their citizens need. Folks travel to more urban areas for entertainment, sporting events, doctors, shopping, and fine dining to name just a few.

Sometimes everyday items can’t even be bought in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. Specifically, it’s a fact that neither gasoline or alcohol can be purchased in either Saltcreek, Holmes County or Salt Creek, Wayne County. That point carries far beyond those two commodities.

colorful leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn in Ohio’s Amish Country.

Nevertheless, the faithful residences of the greater Holmes County area still love where they live. In my nearly seven decades of living, I’ve found that most folks feel the same way about where they reside no matter where they call home. Home is home. It’s all they need, sometimes all they know. As far as they are concerned, it is indeed the center of their universe.

If we all feel that way, we can’t all be right. The truth is we all have bragging rights to that claim. Each of us is entitled to make that statement. But that does not diminish the other towns or peoples.

I know that is true from having lived all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio, where I spent my most precious and productive years. To me, it was the center of the universe. It must have been. It attracted three to four million visitors a year.

Now my view has changed, right along with my life’s purpose and priorities. I have a new center of the universe from which to operate. I can see it every time I walk to the mailbox, every time I travel down Pin Oak Dr. Mole Hill greets me, calls me, as it does so many others.

Mole Hill is an ancient volcano now covered with dense woodlots, lovely homes, and fertile farm fields. Mole Hill is simply unmistakable and is the landmark by which all folks within its eyeshot navigate. In western Rockingham County, Virginia, Mole Hill is the center of the universe. I dare you to prove otherwise.

center of the universe, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co., VA.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

A Thanksgiving tradition comes to an end

Home by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, the extended Stambaugh family gathered as one at Thanksgiving. Not this year.

When I was a youngster, we had a rip roaring good time on Thanksgiving Day. Usually we celebrated with our cousins, the offspring of my mother and her two sisters. We would assemble at the old farmhouse of Uncle Kenny and Aunt Vivian, who we affectionately called Auntie Bibbles.

It was like Christmas before Christmas. With 17 cousins ranging from teenagers to toddlers, we relished the day together. We would play games inside and out, if the weather cooperated. I’m sure the adults privately prayed that it would.

Marvelous fragrances filled the old farmhouse from the array of good food cooking. The adults chatted while they prepared the savory meal. The family matriarch, Grandma Frith, oversaw all the action in her reserved but proud southern hospitable manner.

We occasionally had to wait on my father to arrive before we ate. Much to my mothers chagrin, Dad loved to hunt rabbits and pheasants on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t the hunting so much as being habitually late that drew Mom’s ire. Of course Dad has his tales to tell.

Once the meal was over and the kitchen and dishes cleaned, the adults joined in the merriment. If I remember correctly, they often raised more clamor than the kids. That’s because they were all good sports and lovingly embraced each other’s company.

Maren and Daryl by Bruce StambaughAs the families grew, the Thanksgiving tradition underwent a logical metamorphosis. Each of the three families began to celebrate the blessed day on their own. Most of the cousins were no longer children, but adults with spouses or significant others of their own. The rambunctious cousins were beginning to bear rambunctious children of their own, too.

My family would gather at the home where we were raised. Somehow we all managed to squeeze in the little brick bungalow. Realizing their place was a bit tight for the growing family, Mom and Dad added on to make more space for holiday gatherings.

Each family chipped in with their specialty dishes to make the feast complete. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie filled the table of plenty.

After the meal, Dad always had to turn on the Thanksgiving Day football game on the TV. No matter what else the assembled masses wanted to do, the game was part of the ritual.

Family gathering by Bruce Stambaugh

Over the years the grandchildren, as they tend to do, grew into teenagers themselves. Today, they are all mature adults, productively contributing to society, using their various skills. Some with children of their own, they are scattered geographically from New York City to Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. to Wooster, Ohio and places in between.

For our family, for the first time for as long as I can remember, there will be no collective Thanksgiving gathering for the Stambaugh side. Our mother died last April, and Dad has been gone since Christmas 2009. I think we all made every effort to meet for them as much as for the meal. Now that need is gone.

Thanksgiving 09 by Bruce Stambaugh

This Thanksgiving the families of my four siblings and mine will each do their own things. We are all right with that. We will embrace this new transition in our lives and be thankful for the day, the memories of the past and those to come.

It just may be our new Thanksgiving tradition.

This column was published in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Filed under family, holidays, Ohio, photography, writing