A more personal March Madness

Amelia Island FL, sunsets
One of my favorite photos, a sunset in northern Florida.

My wife and I love to watch college basketball. It’s how we often spend many quiet winter evenings together at home.

We’ll watch a college hoops game at 7 p.m. and even switch back and forth to other collegiate games that are simultaneously broadcast on TV. At 9, we start the process all over again, usually until half time when it’s lights out for this tired and retired couple.

When its tournament time, more commonly known as March Madness, we are in basketball heaven. Neva claims the love seat while I relax in the recliner. Now, it’s not like all we do is watch talented athletes run up and down the court making incredible plays and acrobatic shots.

In our 48 years of marriage, Neva has taught me to multi-task. With the game going full blast on TV, she reads or works on her iPad while I often write or edit photos to post on my online blog or social media. Of course, the game gets our full attention if it is close, especially as the game clock ticks down.

The happy couple.

Basketball isn’t the only kind of madness happening in March for us. We just celebrated our wedding anniversary. How and where we met and when we married is the rest of the remarkable story.

It was one of those “meant to be” situations. In June 1970 before we ever knew one another, Neva and I separately agreed to supervise a group of 10 energetic youth from the church I attended. It was a weeklong work-study project deep into eastern Kentucky’s coalmine region. The first time I saw her was when the group assembled to leave.

Our work involved hoeing three acres of cucumbers in the morning’s coolness. We studied and visited local sites in the afternoon when the temperatures and humidity were both off the charts.

To further learn about the Appalachian culture, we visited local homes far up those infamous hollows. We also did home repairs. Short on tools, we used large rocks to pound roofing nails into tarpaper.

It was an inspiring experience. What impressed me most, however, was Neva. Love interfered with logic. We were married the following March at the height of both college and Ohio high school basketball tournaments.

Our fathers had to wonder about our timing. They both loved basketball. We thought for sure that Neva’s father would walk her down the aisle holding a transistor radio to one ear listening to a game.

Somehow we survived that day and all the days that have followed. We haven’t lived a charmed life together, and it certainly hasn’t been perfect. But we have thrived as both a couple and as individuals. Mutual forgiveness, love, and trust will do that.

birds
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Our skills and interests have nicely balanced our life together. Neva is a marvelous cook and I am a grateful, hungry husband. Neva prefers reading. I write. She sews. I bird. She quilts. I take photos. You get the picture, no pun intended.

As March plays out into April, Neva and I will be watching how the college basketball playoffs turn out. Of course we each fill out a bracket, making our best guesses as to which teams will be in the final four. The chances of our winning are low. Our marriage, however, has beaten the odds.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep holding hands, and doing what we can to make this world a better place. We have celebrated another personal March Madness milestone and look forward to many more together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A different kind of March Madness

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the first time in our 45 years of marriage, our anniversary falls on Easter. I couldn’t be happier.

bride and groom
Wedding day.
To be honest, I have no idea why we set our wedding date for the end of March. We had to be crazy to marry at the height of high school and college basketball tournaments. I guess it was a different kind of March Madness.

Both our fathers were big sports fans. They watched baseball, football and basketball games on TV and listened to them on the radio, too, sometimes simultaneously. We wouldn’t have been surprised if Neva’s dad had walked her down the aisle with a transistor radio held to his ear. He didn’t of course.

There was another thing about our wedding date. Neva and I were both teachers. What kind of a honeymoon could we take in the middle of a school year? The answer was a very short one.

The years have flown by. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs. Through thick or thin, one little gesture has helped keep us together. We hold hands a lot.

Our handholding started on our real honeymoon the summer after we were married. We ran a church camp located at 10,200 ft. on the eastern slope of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Barr Camp, Pikes Peak
When we were young.
We cooked on a wood stove or over an open fire, drank water from an ice-cold mountain stream, and greeted mountain hikers who needed a rest stop. We met a lot of nice people that summer, plus a hungry black bear that came calling early one evening.

A lot of water has run down life’s stream since then. We are fortunate to have family, friends, neighbors and church members who lifted us up when we needed it the most. We have tried to return the favors whenever possible.

Serving and being served in and by the community has strengthened if not defined our marriage and our shared purpose. But it’s the everyday interactions with one another, with strangers and friends that have helped see us through.

No matter the situation, Neva and I automatically reach for each other’s hand. That purposefully keeps us together.

I have read Neva’s heart and mind simply by touch. Cold and firm or warm and gentle, good times or bad, we still cling to one another. It’s a constant reminder that neither of us is ever alone in any situation. I thrive in that reassurance.

I remember the joy of playing horse as our two youngsters rode on my back around the house until I collapsed. They long ago became responsible, productive adults with careers and lives of their own. Our three growing grandchildren are wonderful blessings to us now, too.

happy couple
The happy couple today.
We recently visited the pastor who married us. We thanked him for all that he did to prepare us for our wedding day and life beyond. Hand in hand, he set this young, naïve couple on a long, meandering, incredible journey together.

I’m hoping the Easter weather will be beautiful, as lovely as my bride. It’s been a while since I’ve called her that. It will be great to share this holy day with folks who have lifted us up all these years.

I’m overjoyed that Easter and our anniversary coincide this year. It’s the perfect day of hope and joy for us to celebrate our reckless, uncalculated love together.

In the evening, we’ll sit and watch basketball games on TV. I’m pretty confident we’ll be holding hands.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Over the river and through the woods to a basketball game

Youth basketball by Bruce Stambaugh
Youth basketball in Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s time for March Madness again. As much as my wife and I enjoy watching the college games on television, we had other basketball priorities. That’s the way it is with grandparents.

Our seven-year-old grandson’s basketball season was winding down, and we hadn’t seen him play yet. We used that as an excuse, as if we needed one, to drive the 350 miles south and east to Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley to see him play. Across the Ohio River and through forested West Virginia mountain passes we went to cheer him on.

mountainpassbybrucestambaugh
One of the mountain passess in West Virginia we cross each time we travel from Ohio to Harrisonburg, VA.

Unfortunately, Evan was ill when we arrived. His 103-plus fever kept him home from school for a couple of days. But sports nut that he is, Evan’s fever subsided and he was ready to roll by game time Saturday morning.

We all piled into our daughter’s van and headed a few miles down the road to an elementary school where the basketball games are held. Other parents and grandparents filled the meager bleachers, too, as you might expect.

Huddle up by Bruce Stambaugh
The coach gives instructions to the young players.

I was impressed with how the operation was run. After all, seven is a young age to be playing a contact sport. After the usual warm-ups were completed, the coaches gathered the players for instructions.

The main referee, a lanky teenager, also helped the players. He talked to them before each jump ball and as the game progressed. In fact, once the whistle had blown, he often demonstratively showed the players the correct way to guard or shoot.

Helping referee by Bruce Stambaugh
The young referee took time to instruct the young players, too.
Of course, as soon as play resumed, it was like nothing had been said. The kids were pretty young to grasp the full aspects of the game. They were mostly out to have fun, and win, even though no score was kept.

Another plus was that the baskets had been lowered to make it easier for the boys to shoot. In addition, they used a smaller sized ball, one that was much easier for their small hands to handle.

This game was a lot of fun to watch. A few parents and grandparents, who shall all remain nameless, hollered out instructions to their favorite player. But just like they did the coaches, the kids seemed to ignore the advice and played on, dismissed rules and guidance in favor of trying to make a bucket anyway they could.

Playing on by Bruce Stambaugh
The youngsters emulated NBA players with their style of play.
In fact, the play of the youngsters, combined with the loose officiating, reminded me of an NBA game. Dribbling seemed to be an option, and shooting was far more common than passing the ball.

Back home, Evan practiced his skills with his younger brother, Davis, by playing an electronic game on the TV with the Wii. Davis tried his best to teach me, but I guess I was just too old to jump properly to make a basket. I seemed to be showing my age in both the virtual and real world.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Our granddaughter, Maren.
Their baby sister, Maren, had tolerated Evan’s game just fine. She took along her baby doll for real entertainment. She didn’t have much interest in the Wii game either.

Maren was much too preoccupied with more important things, like playing quietly by herself until her brothers interrupted her privacy. Then another game began, which their lovely mother refereed, no whistle required.

Admittedly it was a long way to go to watch a basketball game, but well worth the time and effort. This grandfather can’t wait for youth baseball to begin.