A recipe that ensures lasting memories: good food, gracious friends

birthday meal, birthday celebration
Birthday celebration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.

Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.

The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.

Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.

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Brunch with friends © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.

The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.

My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.

Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.

Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.

We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.

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Marvin and Mary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.

I recall other smorgasbords as well.

I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.

Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.

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Family. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.

I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.

I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.

In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.

relaxing before the meal
Relaxing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Christmas: Where dreams and memories meet

Christmas morning, Christmas gifts
I found this black and white photo of Christmas morning 1956 at the Stambaughs. Apparently I wanted a guitar. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Growing up in Canton, Ohio after World War II, Christmas was the holiday of holidays for our family. Christmas related activities ran the gamut of the Advent season. My earthly father saw to that, and Mom chimed in, as if she had a choice.

Our wonderful parents modeled the joy of the season for us. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t seem to derail any of their holiday plans or enthusiasm. Given my father’s meager income, I don’t know how they pulled off the Christmas they did for us year after year.

Like most families, we had our Yuletide traditions. Shopping was one of them, and extravagance was not on the list. Consequently, shopping took a back seat to preparing the home place inside and out for Christmas. Dad led the charge.

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This is the corner pine tree Dad decorated with lots of colorful lights every Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
We lived on a corner of a very busy intersection in our mixed blue and white-collar neighborhood. Dad had planted a pine tree right on the corner to provide some privacy and help block the noise.

At Christmas, Dad filled that tree with multiple strings of lights, the nightlight-sized bulbs so popular then that glowed in all the primary colors. As the tree grew, so did the string of lights. Year after year, Dad wanted those Christmas lights to shine for all who happened by.

Then there was the family Christmas tree. Dad would round up as many of his five children as possible, and off we would go, sometimes tromping through deep snow, to select just the right tree for our household.

The tree always went up in front of the large plate glass window in the living room. Again, Dad wanted the world to know that his family had the Christmas spirit.

On went the ropes of garland, the fascinating bubbling light bulbs, and strings of regular Christmas lights. On went the fragile decorative ornaments, including colorful antiques from previous generations, and the simplistic arts and crafts ones we had made at school.

Next came real candy canes that somehow seemed to have totally disappeared by Christmas morning. Finally, we slathered the tree’s tender limbs with tons of silvery tinsel. There wasn’t an empty space on the tree.

The plastic church that illuminated centered the wooden fireplace mantel. A pair of red candles affixed in Mom’s cherished cut glass candlesticks adorned the mantel’s ends.

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My wife continues the tradition of making Christmas cookies with our grandchildren. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Mom and her cherubs rolled, baked, iced and sprinkled sugar cookies in shapes of stars, Christmas trees, bells, and ornaments. Dad bought chocolates at the neighborhood candy shop.

My brothers, sisters and I were so excited we could hardly sleep the night before Christmas. All the while, Mom and Dad stayed up late assembling and wrapping gifts. We weren’t allowed up before six on Christmas morning. But younger brother Jim always started the countdown well before then.

Because of his hardscrabble childhood, Dad always wanted us kids to have the Christmas he never did. If Dad’s goal was to turn his dreams into a lifetime of memories for us, he more than succeeded. I think he wanted that for Mom and himself, too.

When Dad died five years ago just before Christmas, my brothers, sisters and I mourned his passing. We marveled, though, at the timing of Dad’s death, Christmas, his favorite time of year.

Christmas is for children. It brings out the youngster in all of us no matter what age we happen to be. That’s only appropriate, since the holiday started with the birth of a long-anticipated child.

May your Christmas dreams also be fulfilled, and may loving Christmas memories last a lifetime.

Christmas tree, Christmas, Christmas presents, Christmas decorations
Christmas at the Stambaughs. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Goodbye clubs, hello goofy golf memories

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Long putt. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago our son temporarily left an assortment of golf equipment with us. Clubs, bags, shoes, tees, and golf balls sat in a corner of the garage gathering dust and cobwebs. Some of the clutter was mine.

Nathan recently came to retrieve his stash, or at least what he wanted. As we cleaned and sorted the gear, long dormant memories of wonderful, frustrating flashes of golf awakened within me. I wished a few had remained sleeping.

Other than miniature golf, I took a mulligan on golfing long ago. It’s even a stretch to say I had golfed. Hacked is a better descriptor.

Golf spans generations in my family. I have my grandmother’s old golf clubs. The set includes real wood drivers and oak shafted irons with pitted heads and rich patina. I’m keeping them just the way they are, stored in their original canvas bag.

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I remember having to hit from behind trees too many times. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I remember seeing old black and white photos of my mother golfing, too. But I also recalled my outdoor sportsman father scoffing at men and women wasting time “chasing a little white ball around on grass.”

That didn’t stop me from trying. Occasionally in the summer, my neighborhood buddies and I would head to the nearest golf course, rent clubs and smack our way around the links.

I piddled with the sport in college, and continued doing so after I married. I think my wife only went once with me. That shows just how smart she is.

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My son’s drives, and form for that matter, were always much better than my own. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
My playing increased considerably when I became a principal. I quickly discovered that many school administrative meetings were held under the guise of golf outings. A lot of important school related decisions were made between shots.

My play was erratic at best. I only ever had one golf lesson in my life, and that person would likely deny she ever taught me. I was that bad.

Every time I was ready to give it up, I would hit the occasional fantastic shot. Those kept a dim hope alive. I once holed a long, undulating putt that earned me a milkshake. That was about the extent of my golfing rewards.

When our young son showed an early interest in the game, we gathered garage sale clubs for him to practice. And practice he did, hitting the ball around our property using trees for holes.

I both marveled and cringed when balls sailed much too close to the house. When Nathan beat me when he was nine, I decided to invest my golf time and money in him, not myself.

He played four years of varsity golf both in high school and college. He even participated in college national championship matches.

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If this would have been me instead of my son, the ball would have been wet after this chip. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I half-heartedly continued to slash my way around courses. I swatted some mighty poor shots, too. I accidentally killed a robin that bounded onto the fairway just as I hit a low screamer off the tee. It was my only birdie of the day.

At a prestigious country club, I hooked a ball far out of bounds onto a main highway during evening rush hour. I prayed no one would get hurt. The bumper-to-bumper traffic miraculously cleared just as the ball hit the double yellow centerline. In one giant bounce, the ball landed harmlessly in a yard, and I offered up a silent prayer of thanks.

I blinked, and continued sorting what to give to our grandchildren, items Nathan wanted, and which equipment went to the local thrift store. The golfing memories, good, bad, and hilarious, are mine to keep.

Fore!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Remembering Dad in the very best ways

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Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I was certain I could hear Dad, and see him, too.

My wife and I were making marvelous memories with our daughter and her family in Shenandoah National Park. We drove a section of the Skyline Drive, and stopped to hike a couple of trails.

As we motored along the twisting scenic highway that runs the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia’s mesmerizing Shenandoah Valley, I remembered I had been there before. I said out loud to no one in particular, “I haven’t been here since I was a kid.”

Indeed, it was the same stretch of road that I had ridden along with my parents and siblings nearly 60 years ago. On that trip, we were on our way to visit some of Mom’s relatives in southern Virginia. Dad, always up for an adventure, insisted we detour to experience the vistas, floral and fauna that the famous Skyline Drive offered. I think we stopped at every turn out to embrace the views.

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The excursion with our grandkids was a diversion from the hectic schedule of finishing the school year and rushing from soccer matches to baseball games. I couldn’t have anticipated the emotions it would evoke in me remembering that long ago family vacation.

I could hear my late father in the rustle of the leaves of the forest canopy, the call of the Eastern Towhees, the fragrance of wild blossoms. I could see him point, index finger to lips, at the grazing white tailed deer that casually ignored us. I heard him shout, “There’s a bear,” as a young black bear scampered across the road in front of our van.

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Family photo.
It seemed Dad was everywhere we went, in the woods, on the spiny rocks on which we climbed and rested, in the beauty of the Big Meadow where Tiger Swallowtails fluttered free from bloom to bloom, and the field sparrows called from thickets of scrawny locusts and carpets of heather.

I certainly felt Dad’s presence as the grandchildren hoofed it up the trails, scampered steep, craggy rocks, and posed for pictures atop ancient outcroppings with more wavy mountains as the backdrops. I saw Dad’s smile in the grandkids’ smiles.

Once we scrambled to a place where we had a 360-degree view, I corralled the grandkids and their parents to stand for a family photo. Dad carried his camera wherever he went, too, documenting family outings.

The grandkids energy and enthusiasm for exploits carried them past their Poppy onto the heels of their own father while their mother and I lingered to absorb the views and catch our breath. Echoes of the past mingled with those of the present from forested ridge to forested ridge.

When we all assembled on the next precipice, my daughter used my camera to capture me with her trio of trouble and orneriness. The shot joyfully reminded me of my father surrounded by his own youngsters.

I don’t remember stopping at Big Meadows south of Luray on the trip with my family so long ago. As I lovingly watched the grandkids romp along narrow trails that snaked through lush carpets of knee-high grasses and plants, their excitement hit home.

A cool mountain top breeze hurried white fluffy clouds through bluebird egg sky. Emerald forests perfectly framed the sentimental scene. Amid the children’s giddy laughter, I thought I heard my father say, “You were here when you were young, too.”

“I know,” I replied silently with a smile and a tear.

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© Bruce Stambaugh

Living a dream in a dreamy, productive countryside

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A recent setting sun highlighted dandelions gone to seed.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Most times, when I look out the windows of our home or silently gaze across the landscape from our back porch, it seems like a dream come true.

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A typical Amish buggy seen in Holmes County, Ohio.
When I was a child, my father occasionally would pile his family into the car and head to Holmes County. He loved the rolling hills, the tidy farms, the stands of hardwoods interspersed with patches of multi-hued green and golden crops. The winding, hilly roads stitched together these living quilt blocks.

We wound our way on two lane highways through towns like Navarre, Wilmot, Winesburg, Berlin and on into Millersburg. For us impatient kids, the drive from our blue-collar suburb 40 miles away seemed an eternity.

Dad made the day trip even longer. We stopped to buy eatable souvenirs at the cheese houses, built with shiny, glazed tile blocks that mimicked the yellow chunks of Swiss. We couldn’t wait to unwrap the brown, waxed paper parcels secured with sturdy, white string. They perfectly represented the productivity of the land and its practical people.

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Workhorses.
Dad loved the slower pace of life in Holmes County, best modeled by the buggies drawn by satiny chestnut horses, and the afternoon sun highlighting the blond manes of giant workhorses pulling hay wagons through waves of emerald alfalfa. Neat white clapboard farmhouses, sometimes two abreast, and carmine bank barns brought focus to this dreamy world.

Dad would also stop along the way to photograph colorful landscapes, or just to enjoy the view. Sometime later, Mom would produce a watercolor that vividly depicted the same scene.

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I often ponder those excursions with Dad, noting how ironic it is that my wife and I settled in Holmes County. We made it our home, raised our children here, began and ended our careers here.

In the summer, I sit on the back porch eating heirloom tomatoes and drinking fresh mint iced tea while our neighbor and his circle of family and friends gather wheat shocks on a hot, sticky afternoon. Undeterred by my presence, hummingbirds zoom over my head to the feeder.

In the winter, American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds and White-crowned Sparrows consume the seeds provided for them. A whoosh of wings announces a sneak attack by the resident Cooper’s Hawk, attempting to snag a snack, too.

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Ground fog.

In the spring, I watch with wonder as maple leaves unfurl ever so slowly. Yet it seems one week the trees are bare, and the next I’m under their shade.

I’ve never been to New Hampshire or Vermont to behold their fine fall colors of picture postcard scenes where hardwoods surround pristine, quaint villages. I intend to go someday. This fall, however, I’ll enjoy the equally colorful pallets around Charm, Beck’s Mills, Killbuck, Glenmont, Trail and Beechvale.

As pretty as our area is, its hardy people, though humanly and humbly imperfect, make it even more attractive. My wife and I are grateful for friends and neighbors who reside and work in and about our bucolic habitat. It’s a privilege to be among them.

Holmes County wasn’t the only enticing rural area our family visited on those trips long ago. But it was a favorite. I never dreamed I would end up living all of my adult life here, rooted to its rich, productive soils, and intertwined with its industrious, ardent inhabitants.

I tell people that I was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, but I grew up in Holmes County. Now you know why.

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Communion church.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

What a few nice words can do for you and others

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By Bruce Stambaugh

You would be surprised what a few nice words can do for a person.

I recently received a hand-written letter in the mail from a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. I had taught some of her children in school, and she reminisced about incidents that I had long forgotten.

I enjoyed her well-written, personal historical commentary that reflected on the rapid changes that occurred in the 1970s when her children were my students. Those were rough and tumble times with lots of social change occurring.

My friend reflected on how outspoken I was on some of those social issues, and how she had challenged me about sharing my opinions in class. I had no recollection of that.

When I came to the words in the letter, “You did well,” I was both honored and humbled. Here was a wonderful lady who had disagreed with my viewpoints (imagine that) and still took the time to thank me for my teaching.

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The 1960 and 1970 eras were tumultuous times in our country to be sure. The Civil Right movement, the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Watergate, skyrocketing oil prices, high inflation rates, and a presidential resignation were just some of the headlines of those days.

I hardly knew how to respond to my friend. After much thought, I sent a few lines of appreciation in a note card. I know they were inadequate. But I’m hoping we will have a chance to meet in the future to continue our “conversation.”

Her letter had a profound effect on me. I acknowledged in my note that I likely was too opinionated in the classroom, especially for elementary children. But the positive tone of her letter was beyond encouraging. It stirred me.

Those three words, “You did well,” charged me, urged me on. I knew I needed to share them in some equally positive way. Then I saw my chance. A teacher I had hired years ago was retiring. Given my schedule and the fact that school was about to end, I knew what I needed to do.

Since I was in the vicinity, I visited where he taught, knocked on the classroom door and strolled in. I wish you could have seen his smile. He was surprised and happy to see me. While his students worked on group projects, we chatted about old times and how much the education profession had changed since I had retired 14 years ago to begin my second career.

Between receiving the one friend’s letter and my visit with my retiring friend, I thought long and hard about the people who had positively influenced me in my life and careers. Just mentally listing their names brought back happy memories, some even during difficult times.

A hand-written letter from one friend and a visit with another served as bookends for volumes of memories, each one a special chapter in my life. Who has influenced you for the good? Who has inspired you? Have you told them how much you appreciated them and what they did for you?

The convergence of Memorial Day and the end of another school year for many across the country provides a unique opportunity. Besides placing flowers on the graves of lost loved ones, connect with someone who positively influenced you.

Whether by letter, phone call or over coffee, tell them, “You did well.” Just be ready for what happens next.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Memorial Day is for remembering

Dad and Mom by Bruce Stambaugh
Our parents, the late Richard H. and Marian Stambaugh, at their 65th wedding anniversary celebration.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This Memorial Day will hold special significance for my four siblings and me. It will be the first that we will decorate both our father’s and mother’s gravesite.

Mom died April 23 at age 90. Dad passed away Dec. 21, 2009. He was 89.

The simple act of placing flowers at their graves will make it memorable. No matter their age, losing your parents is never easy, especially when they were parents that you loved a lifetime. Not everyone has that precious opportunity.

My brothers, sisters and I were very fortunate. Both Mom and Dad lived long, full and fulfilling lives. Through both their graciousness and their imperfections, they gave us many marvelous memories.

At the pinnacle of his professional engineering career, Dad’s life took an unexpected turn when my younger brother brought home an arrowhead that he had found on the school playground. Dad grew inquisitive. His desire to learn, something he instilled in all five of his children, grew intense.

Arrowheads by Bruce Stambaugh
Just one of the many mounts of artifacts that Dad collected over the years. Most of these are rare triangular points. Dad labeled where and when each was found.

From that initial find, Dad went on to develop an extensive artifact collection. He read, went to lectures, lead an archeology club, surface hunted, and dug his way to being a well-renowned amateur specialist on Native American culture. Of course, he dragged along several of his children to many of these events, especially walking field after field looking for the flinty points and stone tools.

Along with hunting and fishing, Dad’s archeological adventures consumed much of his retirement years. He gave lectures and was always a hit with school children.

Presentation by Bruce Stambaugh
Our father, Dick Stambaugh, continued sharing about Native American culture as long as he was able and as long as he had an audience. Here he gave a talk at Walnut Hills Retirement Home in Walnut Creek, Ohio, where he and our mother lived until their deaths.

Mom would often accompany Dad on his excursions. She would hunt for artifacts. Mostly though Mom would take along her easel, paints and brushes, find a nice scenic spot and sketch out the basics for what would become a vibrant watercolor.

Now and then, it would be the other way around. Dad would accompany Mom to an artists’ workshop, even to other states. While the instructor led his troupe in an all day art class, Dad would wander the countryside looking for likely spots to hunt arrowheads.

One time near Burnsville, N.C., Dad stopped at a farmhouse and asked permission to walk the farmer’s fields. Being the affable guy that he was, Dad quickly made friends. Before he could even set foot in the cornfield, the farmer brought out a box of artifacts he had collected over the years. Dad identified and classified each of the items for the grateful farmer.

In return, Dad was permitted to keep whatever he found. That evening, as the artists gathered to share what they had painted, the leader asked Dad to show what he had found. Though neither was certified, Mom and Dad were model teachers simply by how they lived their unpretentious, generous lives.

Laughing by Bruce Stambaugh
Our mother, Marian Stambaugh, shared a laugh with one of her nieces at the retirement home.

Typical for their generation, Mom and Dad were careful about showing affection to one another, especially when us kids were around. I never quite understood that. Yet, despite their differences and occasional arguments, I knew deep down that Mom and Dad loved one another.

Accordingly, their black granite headstone is engraved with symbols that most appropriately represented their lives. A pheasant and an arrowhead show Dad’s commitment to conservation and archeology. An artist’s paint palette symbolizes Mom’s talent for sharing the beauty she saw.

Gravestone by Bruce StambaughMom and Dad were wonderful parents. It’s only appropriate to honor them on Memorial Day to show our continued affection and appreciation for the charitable, instructive lives they lived as a couple and as individuals.

Memorial Day is for remembering.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012