Tag Archives: humor

Remembering the goodness of my mother

mother and children

This photo of my our mother and my siblings and me was taken at Christmas 2011.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My four siblings and I were spoiled. We were very fortunate to have a loving, devoted mother. Unfortunately, not everyone can say that.

Growing up, Mom cared for us in every way imaginable. She fed us, clothed us, nurtured us, played with us, corrected us, loved us, and so much more. Those were the roles and expectations of a post-World War II wife and mother.

In those days, careers for females were pretty much limited to secretary, nurse, or teacher. Mothers were expected to be at home to care for their children. It’s just the way it was.

Marion Stambaugh

Marian Stambaugh.

My brothers and sisters and I were the beneficiaries of Mom’s time, effort, skills, and wisdom. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Life couldn’t have been easy for her. We weren’t wealthy by anyone’s standards, but we weren’t poor either. We grew up in the suburbs of a blue-collar town in northeast Ohio’s mid-20th-century industrialization.

Mom reassured us when we were scared, nursed us when we were sick, and encouraged us in our schoolwork. How she did all that and kept her sanity, I have no idea. We were five active kids, all with different needs, wants, and interests.

Somehow Mom made time for each one of us, though I remember plenty of times when we wore her patience thin. “Wait until your father gets home” was a familiar tune in our household. Usually, that comment was directed at one of my siblings, not me.

Children of every age filled our close-knit neighborhood. Many times the number of youngsters in our household doubled in number as friends came and went. If we got too loud or rowdy, however, Mom lowered the boom. She not only modeled justice, but she also instilled it in us.

Most likely I am romanticizing those fond memories. Not everything always went smoothly of course. We had personal, relational problems just like every other family.

As much as we admired our father, he wasn’t the most helpful or responsible husband when it came to household chores or repairs. Later in her life, I told my mother that she had raised six children, not five. With no explanation needed, her hardy laugh affirmed my comment.

Mom was a string bean of a woman. She cooked us nourishing meals but seldom ate much herself.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.

Mom could speak her mind, however. She let Dad have it in no uncertain terms when he arrived home from a fishing trip without my older brother, a cousin, and me. Having been left in a raging thunderstorm frightened us. Dad had to weather a storm of his own with Mom.

Mom was a multi-talented person. Besides her homemaking skills, she was an accomplished artist, loved to play cards, bowl, and shop for antiques. In their retirement years, she and Dad relaxed at the cottage they had built on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio.

Not only was our mother talented, but she was also a looker. Some folks actually wondered what Mom saw in Dad. Their 68 years of marriage answered that question.

I don’t mean to paint her as a saint. Mom wouldn’t want that, and she would be the first to say that she made mistakes in her motherhood. I just remember feeling really safe around her. That was no small matter.

In my youthful naiveté, I thought everyone had a mother like the late Marian Stambaugh. My lifetime experiences unfortunately proved otherwise. I wished for their sake that they had. Now, I am forever grateful for my loving mother.

One of Mom’s many watercolors.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, family, human interest, Ohio, photography, writing

Patience and a warm coat required

spring, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley

What spring should look like in VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been a long winter. That’s true whether you live in Minnesota, where winter seems eternal, or here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where consistent spring weather should have arrived long ago.

When it comes to weather here, there are no guarantees. Put another way, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. It will change.

I’ve heard people say that about the weather in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Florida to name a few locations. Regardless of the state of residence, they are all correct. Apparently “here” is a relative place. Weather in many areas is even more fickle than politicians or used car salesmen.

That seems especially apt now when winter seems determined to hold her icy grip on the good folks in many states. Just when we think spring has arrived with a lovely warm day, the next day brings cold and wind and too often more unwanted snow.

snowstorm, Virginia

An early spring snowstorm blanketed Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

People mumble about the unseasonable cold, impatient to get outside in shorts and t-shirts and work or play in decent weather. Excavators, contractors, and landscapers make promises they can’t keep to customers, and then justifiably blame the lousy weather for the delays.

Temperatures far and wide are 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more below average for April. It isn’t the first time, however, that the weather has played havoc with people’s springtime schedules. Record lows are in the teens from bygone years long forgotten.

I can remember a frost on June 2. My wife recalls snow on her birthday, May 27. Our young son once endured a nine-mile ride home in a four-wheel drive fire truck from a friend’s house during an April snowstorm that dumped 20 heavy, wet inches on Holmes County.

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Of course, two days later, the only remaining evidence of the storm was the snow piles from parking lots being plowed. The weather did warm up. It will warm up again, eventually.

After all, haven’t the daffodils bloomed? Aren’t the tulips ready to show their bright colors? Aren’t the tree buds swollen or even already unfurling? Has your lawn been mowed? Aren’t the robins calling out their territorial cacophonies? I bet the answers are mostly in the affirmative to that little springtime quiz.

Yes, it’s been a long, cold, wet winter, but nothing that we haven’t seen before and will likely see again. It’s just that we are so anxious for warming sunshine and frolic outside that we often lose our perspective. No matter what state of residence, we forget that all of this has happened before, not in the same order perhaps, but with the same frustrating results.

white-throated sparrow, Virginia

A handsome male White-throated Sparrow.

The other day I observed a brief, hopeful moment in my backyard that exactly proves my point of this year’s overlap of winter and spring. Side-by-side, a white-throated sparrow jumped and scratched for seed on the ground while a chipping sparrow pecked at the same offerings like a couple on a dinner date. The latter may stay, while I’ll soon miss the former’s magical song.

Seeing those two species together served a not so subtle reminder. Life goes on, just not at the pace or with the climatological conditions we humans desire. But eventually spring will indeed out-muscle winter, the weather will warm, and we’ll soon be complaining about having to mow the lawn twice a week.

Humans, you see, can be as capricious as the weather. In truth, the annual transition of hibernation to rebirth will find closure. Just be patient and keep a warm coat handy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birds, column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

At this age, I appreciate every step I take

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL, beach walking, beach bike

The beach where we walked.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Aging can be a pain.

By the time my wife and I had returned from our winter’s stay in northern Florida, we both had unintentionally joined the ranks of the walking wounded. It was as uncomfortable as it was annoying.

I love to walk. It’s one of the few times I can actually multitask. I can walk and talk, walk and listen, walk and learn, walk and think, walk and snap pictures. Walking is an easy exercise for young and old alike.

There’s only one catch. If you are physically ailing, walking isn’t so much fun. Towards the end of our two-month Florida stay, my wife and I both began having problems getting around.

In my wife’s case, walking has long been a chore for her. Arthritis in your feet tends to do that to you. Since Neva’s left foot was particularly touchy, our walks on the beach together were shorter and less frequent than in previous years.

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Soon, I began to feel discomfort, only in my right foot. I thought it was the hiking boots that I had brought along. They weren’t new, but I actually hadn’t worn them regularly until we got to the Sunshine State. I figured they would be useful to tromp around Egans Creek Greenway where I love to bird, hike, and take too many photos of birds, landscapes, people, alligators, and any other critters I encountered.

I also wore those clunkers on the beach when we first arrived. The weather was chilly and often foggy. The high-topped boots steadied me in the soft sand and kept my feet dry when the tide suddenly surged further onshore than anticipated. The longer I wore them, the more my right foot hurt. So I switched to my gym shoes, which seemed to lessen the pain.

That didn’t last long. The pain in my right foot increased substantially no matter what I wore. As we packed the van to return home, I noticeably limped.

When you live on an island that’s only 13 miles long and two miles wide, vehicular trips are usually of short duration and caused me no discomfort. As we headed north on the interstate, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much pain I was in. By the time we reached Charleston, South Carolina, my foot was numb and pain shot up my right leg.

Fortunately, an urgent care facility was just up the road from our hotel. When I described my symptoms, the kind physician’s assistant said, “You don’t have a foot problem. You have a pinched nerve in your back.” Lab tests affirmed the diagnosis.

evening on the beach

Smiling through the pain.

I had already made an appointment with my podiatrist in Virginia. Neva took that spot while I visited my family doctor. Neva had reason to complain. She had a hairline fracture in her foot and exited the doctor’s office with a walking boot. She had no recollection of when she might have incurred the injury.

My doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and sent me to physical therapists. For a month now, expert therapists have worked their magic, and my pain has subsided.

Neva got the all-clear after wearing the walking boot only three weeks. She still wears it if the pain returns. We’re just thankful she is finally finding some relief.

With the limp and pain eliminated, I’ve begun short walks to get back into shape. Given our age and these experiences, we more than appreciate every step we take.

shorebirds, beach

Worth the pain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Repurposed?

lost hat, fire hydrant, repurpose

Repurposed?

Much of the United States is in the throes of a massive cold spell brought on by a polar vortex courtesy of our neighbors to the north and a truncated jetstream. At first glance, it might seem that a good Samaritan wanted to repurpose this child’s stocking cap by helping to keep this fire hydrant from freezing. However, a more accurate guess would be that a youngster lost the hat and the finder merely placed it atop the fireplug in the hopes that its owner would find it.

When I walked past the hydrant a couple of days later, the hat was gone. I hope its actual owner retrieved the headwear.

“Repurposed” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, weather

Read all the news that wasn’t in 2017

windmills, WV, MD

Giant windmills line the crests of many mountain ridges in WV and MD.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Stories that flew under the radar notably proved that maxim. Here are just a few factoids that escaped the 2017 headlines.

January 10 – Crested Butte Mountain ski resort in Colorado was forced to close because of too much snow.

January 13 – A report from the U.S. Dept. of Energy showed that solar energy employed more people than all of the gas, oil, and coal companies combined in 2016.

February 3 – March Tian Boedihardjo, an 18-year-old math prodigy, completed his Ph. D. and was hired as an associate professor at UCLA.

outdoor wedding, Blue Ridge Parkway

A lakeside wedding.

February 4 – A survey of 13,000 newlyweds who married in 2016 revealed the average cost of their wedding was $35,329.

March 9 – A report covering the years 1992 – 2012 showed that 84 percent of wildfires in the U.S. were human-caused.

March 21 – The rusty-patched bumblebee became the first bee species to be placed on the endangered species list.

April 6 – Scientists in Boston said in a study that the area’s cod population was at a historic low, 80 percent less than a decade ago.

April 9 – An eight-year-old East Palestine, Ohio boy drove his four-year-old sister to McDonald’s in their father’s work van because they both craved a cheeseburger.

April 22 – Police near the Australian mining town of Broken Hill stopped a sports utility vehicle driven by a 12-year-old boy who had been driving alone for 800 miles.

April 26 – Gift Ngoepe became the first player from Africa to play in a Major League Baseball game, and he singled in his first at-bat.

baby alligators,

“Did somebody say beer?”

May 28 – After posting photos on the social media Snapchat, two men in Ridgeland, South Carolina were arrested for forcing a baby alligator to drink a can of beer.

May 30 – Though ranked 12th in U.S. population, Virginia drivers claim 10 percent of the nation’s vanity license plates with more than 1.2 million personalized tags.

June 14 – A Eureka, California man was arrested after he used a flare gun to shoot another man with a shotgun shell stuffed with Rice Krispies.

June 25 – Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. C.O. Smith halted a 10-mile chase of a driverless runaway Amish buggy by running alongside the horse and grabbing and pulling the dangling reins.

July 7 – Ray and Wilma Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, cut the ribbon of the new Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Lavonia, Georgia, giving them only one more location to visit of the chain’s 645 restaurants.

July 12 – A contractor working on an ATM machine in Corpus Christi, Texas became stuck in the device and was rescued after he passed a handwritten note through the receipt slot to a customer.

August 29 – Akron, Ohio’s Emily Mueller, who was due with her fourth child and is known as the Bee Whisperer, posed for photos with 20,000 honey bees swarming on her abdomen.

No Stupid People sign

No caption needed.

August 30 – A 24-year old Kenosha County, Wisconsin man was critically injured when he fell 25 feet onto an interstate highway after he had fled his crashed car in an attempt to elude police.

September 12 – The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the medium U.S. income reached a record $59,039 in 2016.

September 12 – A copperhead snake bit a woman customer in the foot as she sat down to eat dinner in a Longhorn Steakhouse in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

September 13 – A homeless man in Nashville, Tennessee was shot twice after he asked the driver of a Porsche SUV to move the vehicle so he could sleep on the sidewalk.

September 19 – Topless ladies from a Yuba County, California strip club raised $2,560 at a carwash for two sheriff’s deputies who were injured in a shooting at a marijuana farm.

October 23 – A Portsmouth, New Hampshire Salvation Army thrift store received a bronze urn donation that contained cremated remains.

October 25 – The City of Honolulu, Hawaii instituted a new law that banned texting while walking.

November 3 – A seven-month-old border collie in training herded nine sheep into its farmer’s home in Devon, England.

November 7 – As they left, robbers of a Houston, Texas donut shop handed out stolen donuts to terrified customers.

November 11 – To raise money for wounded veterans, Rob Jones, a 32-year-old Marine Corp vet who lost both legs in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan, completed his 31st marathon in 31 days in 31 different cities.

December 6 – A service dog belonging to an audience member attending the Broadway play, “Cats,” in New York City chased one of the actors dressed as a cat off stage during the opening musical number.

December 10 – A California cannabis grower teamed with a Los Angles-based florist to offer a Christmas wreath made with an ounce of sun-grown, artisanal marijuana.

December 17 – While watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” five-year-old TyLon Pittman of Byram, Mississippi, called 911 to alert police to be on the lookout for “that little Grinch.”

Despite the 2017 shenanigans and light-hearted news notes, let’s hope 2018 is a better year for everyone. Happy New Year!

Despite the Grinch, Santa made it to town.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, column, history, human interest, news, writing

The Enforcer

Belted Kingfisher, Silver Lake Dayton VA,

The Enforcer.

I love birding. You just never know what you’re going to find or see. When I came upon this Belted Kingfisher sitting on this sign, I both chuckled and snapped a picture.

I think the content of the photo speaks for itself. “The Enforcer” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Relearning the rules of the road

long and winding road, Shenandoah Valley

A long and winding road, typical for the Shenandoah Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve had my driver’s license since I was 16 years old. I’ve loved driving ever since. City, suburban or rural, it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy being behind the wheel of a vehicle.

I consider myself a decent driver, too. Please don’t ask my wife to confirm that opinion. However, she’s more than happy to have me do the majority of the driving on any trip, whether of short or long duration. I once was even certified to teach driver education.

Other than vacations and business trips, all of my driving experience occurred in Ohio. Imagine my surprise then as we settled into living life in the Shenandoah Valley. I have learned Virginia’s driving styles radically differ from those of Ohio, not that drivers in the Buckeye state model exemplary highway etiquette.

Here’s what I’ve discovered so far about driving in the Commonwealth:

1. Using your turn signals is optional. Since you already know where you want to go, why bother to turn them on?
2. When traffic lights turn yellow, accelerate through them. If you stop, you run the risk of being rear-ended.
3. Only use your headlights when absolutely necessary, even well after the sun has set. Apparently, Virginians use this technique to conserve the vehicle’s battery.
4. Pull out in front of approaching emergency vehicles even though you can easily hear the blaring sirens and clearly note the flashing emergency lights. Having previously driven both ambulances and fire trucks, I ignore this rule.
5. Speed limit signs are posted to let you know that you are traveling too slowly. In other words, go faster than it says.
6. Double-yellow lines that separate opposite flow lanes and delineate no passing zones are really used to guide your vehicle down the center of roadways.
7. Pedestrian crosswalks on public highways are the equivalent of middle school dodgeball games. If you hit someone, they most definitely are out.
8. Bicyclists are an illusion. They are not really there, so just keep driving.
9. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving is expected. Those who don’t do so make those who do look bad.
10. If your license plates have expired, just paint the words “Farm Use” on them, and you’re good to go. However, it helps to have some old corn shocks sticking out of your trunk.
11. Stop is southern slang for “slow.” This is especially true when making a right-hand turn at a stop sign or red traffic signal.
12. Cutting the corner at intersections is mandatory. It obviously helps you save significant time getting where you want to go.

Though I’ve tried my best to adjust my driving habits to the local travel traits, I still get the evil eye in certain situations. Like when I go to turn left on a green light, I pull into the center of the intersection until traffic traveling in the opposite direction clears. Then I make my turn. Apparently, only ex-Ohioans do that. The proper procedure in Virginia is to stay at the painted line ahead of the light and go left when the signal turns red. Note that several other vehicles may follow you.

I have also learned that on country roads it is entirely kosher to just stop in the roadway and talk with someone you know. The others will eventually go around you. Just make sure that when you do pass that you follow another local custom. Please wave and smile, too.

horse and buggies, Dayton VA

Down the center line.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, human interest, news, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Waiting on rain and suffering the personal consequences

picket fence, black-eyed susans

Is it the flowers?

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the patio reading a marvelous book my best friend had given me before we hightailed it out of Holmes County, Ohio for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I didn’t read long, however.

A good case of what I’ll call the Shenandoah Sneeze forced me to retreat to the safety of our air-conditioned home. I had no choice. I was sneezing more than reading. I used more tissues than I turned pages.

Reading was only the secondary reason I had escaped to our outdoor sanctuary. I thought if I went outside the thick promising clouds would finally let loose a downpour. It didn’t happen. Apparently, I was under the spell of not only the Shenandoah Sneeze but also the Harrisonburg Hole. I’ll gladly clarify this localized lingo.

When my wife and I had our first appointments with our new doctor, one of the first questions she asked was if we had contracted any allergies yet. Apparently, newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley acquire hypersensitivities they didn’t have previously. Harrisonburg is The Valley’s notorious epicenter for such physical reactions.

home, Harrisonburg VA

Home sweet home, as long as the windows are closed.

I never had allergies my entire life of living in northeast Ohio. Now, every now and then when I step outdoors, or our home’s windows are open, I suddenly begin a succession of rapid-fire sneezes. I have no idea why or what is causing it. I’ve tried both over-the-counter and prescription medication. Nothing seems to help, so I just endure it. When an attack occurs, I retreat to a private space so as not to spoil a perfectly good autumn afternoon for others.

After the sneezing episode ends, my eyes itch and water and I have to breathe through my mouth due to nasal congestion. In relating this all too personal information, I am not asking for pity, only understanding.

As for the Harrisonburg Hole, that’s the real reason I went outside in the first place. The official forecast was a 90 percent chance of rain. It had been more than a month without rain. Not. One. Drop. I figured if I ventured outdoors the sky would inevitably open up. It didn’t.

backyard, Harrisonburg VA

Where I’d like to relax without sneezing.

Besides the parched yard, I had a selfish reason for desiring a good soaking. I had fertilized the lawn the previous morning when the dew wetted the browning grass. The moisture-laden blades of grass made the tiny granules of fertilizer stick. To make the fertilizer effective, I needed the promised precipitation. Otherwise, the lawn could burn out more than it already was.

You see the Harrisonburg Hole is a fabled meteorological phenomenon that affects our fair city and its immediate surrounding areas. Nine times out of 10, when the weather forecast calls for a high chance of rain, it doesn’t. It does rain, north, south, east, and west of “The Friendly City.” But it doesn’t rain in and around Harrisonburg.

So far I haven’t found one person who can explain why this occurrence happens so frequently. I just discovered a bevy of believers in the myth that apparently has more than a grain of truth to it. I can attest that I’ve checked the radar on more than one supposed-to-rain occasion only to find steady rain everywhere but over “Rocktown.”

I was hoping that in addition to rinsing the specks of fertilizer into the ground that a steady rain would also clear out whatever was in the air that was causing me to make the Kleenex brand rich. No such luck.

Please excuse me now. I have to sneeze again.

still life

Wishing my life would be still.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Similarities abound

Shenandoah Valley, fog, farm scene

Fog in The Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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.

former home, Holmes Co. OH

The old place.

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.

retirement home, Rockingham Co. VA

Our new place.

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.

Massanutten range, Rockingham Co. VA

Massanutten Mountain.

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.

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Allegheny sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Simple writing prompt mentally sends me back in time to the classroom

By Bruce Stambaugh

The assignment was to write about an object of our choosing located in this sterile college classroom. Typical for a writing workshop, the prompt was designed to get the participants to use sensory descriptors to illustrate the object.

I chose the pencil sharpener affixed to the wall by the only doorway in this institutional setting. The sharpener stood out for me because it seemed so out of place in this 21st century technologically driven global society of ours.

manual pencil sharpener

An old pencil sharpener.

I wondered what in the world an old-fashioned pencil sharpener was doing in this classroom in 2017? Did anyone even use pencils anymore? I thought college students recorded everything on smartphones, iPads and laptop computers.

The answer to my silent wondering became evident as I scanned this bland environment. Everything in this classroom screamed 1977.

Boring blue-gray paint covered the cement block walls on three sides. Strange, random circular insets pockmarked the poured cement west wall. Front and back white boards with telltale scribbling from previous lessons served as classroom bookends. Parallel rows of the old-style fluorescent lights emitted a familiar faint buzzing sound. The textured tile of the suspended ceiling held the lights captive. The well-worn Formica tabletops told their age. I wiggled in the uncomfortable hard plastic molded seats riveted to shiny steel supports that were the student chairs.

My eyes kept returning to the pencil sharpener. It engaged my mind, generating pleasant, personal flashbacks to my teaching days now long past. Nostalgia washed over me as I studied the sharpener and rapidly scrawled my notes. I pictured my classroom setting.

Keen, evocative thoughts flooded my brain bringing a smile to my face. This pencil sharpener was situated exactly where all of the others in my elementary classrooms had been, right by the door and hung conveniently above a wastebasket.

The sights, sounds, smell, and textures associated with sharpening a pencil mentally filled my senses. I fixated on the circular dial with holes on the sharpener’s face. It accommodated various pencil sizes, the bulbous container that held the shavings, and the crank handle. The sharpener possessed me.

elementary school

Where I was principal for 21 years.

To keep the custodian happy, I often emptied the pencil sharpeners of their spent contents myself. Students occasionally managed to somehow miss the wastebasket, spilling the shredded pencil shavings and pulverized lead and graphite residue onto the floor.

The pencil sharpener was the office water cooler of the elementary classroom. If a line formed, I instinctively knew students had more than pencil sharpening in mind.

Some students made a game out of it. They would stand quietly and crank the sharpener’s handle, grinding the poor pencil to a pulp.

Despite my obsession, the sharpener’s reservoir often overflowed its ground up contents. The intermingled woody, metallic scent of the shavings invigorated my senses. That pungent freshness helped compromise the curious blend of 30 human body odors. I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

black and white photo of students

Some of my first students.

With the students studying at their desks, I quietly emptied the sharpener’s mutilated remains into the wastebasket with several quick shakes back-and-forth to ensure all the grindings found their mark. I replaced the sharpener’s rounded case with a metal-against-metal clink and returned to my instructional duties.

I was both surprised and elated by how this unique, unsophisticated classroom mechanism had spawned such poignant recollections for me. This writing assignment triggered treasures long forgotten, aromas and delightful textures resurrected from my 30-year career as a public school educator.

I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even an electric pencil sharpener.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, Ohio, photography, writing