Unpacking boxes and memories

The kind of field my father hunted for artifacts.

After three years, my wife and I have finally unpacked all of the boxes since we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. It’s another coronavirus sequestering accomplishment that we can check off our “to-do” list.

We weren’t negligent or procrastinating. We knew what those heavy cardboard boxes contained. We just didn’t have a place to display or properly store them. Now that they are unpacked, we still don’t.

My late father divided his extensive Native American artifact collection among his offspring and the grandchildren. He designated who got what primarily based on geography.

Dad marked where he found each artifact he considered “good.” Consequently, Neva and I ended up with the majority of the ones discovered in Holmes County, Ohio, and those from near my wife’s home farm east of Louisville, Ohio.

How Dad marked his finds.

I can’t tell you how many plowed fields Dad and those of us who joined him walked. With heads down and separated six-feet apart, we ambled one end of the field to the other. Yes, we socially distanced before it was even a thing. Doing so allowed us to cover an area more efficiently.

Dad delved deep into historic Native American cultures. His love for history and the near half-century he spent collecting made him a noted amateur archeologist.

As his knowledge and collection grew, Dad began to share what he learned and what he had found. He joined archeology groups. Professional archeologists even invited Dad to join digs to save Indian encampments that would be destroyed for various construction projects or by strip mining.

Dad even spent his lunchtimes on lovely days looking for surface finds near his workplace in Akron, Ohio. When his job required travel, Dad scoured fields in Arizona, California, and many other states.

Dad accompanied our mother on artists retreats to North Carolina. While the artists painted, Dad visited local farmers to inquire about hunting their fields.

The landowners often showed him what they had already found, and Dad would gladly identify and date the points and pottery shards for the farmers. For that, he gained access to their land, made new friends, and expanded his collection.

Our artist mother would occasionally return the favor by accompanying Dad on a dig. One of her paintings graced the book cover that documented one significant excavation.

Dad lecturing at the retirement home.

Dad lectured at schools, church meetings, service organizations, presented at historical society gatherings, and at the retirement home where he died. He even won a few awards for his displays at archeology shows.

I found one of Dad’s notecards that he used in his presentations. It was an impressive list of how indigenous peoples used natural renewable resources. Dad shared how the Indians used the entire animal that they had killed. They ate the meat, fashioned clothing and shelter from hides, and used bones for tools.

Ironically, Dad privately questioned why Native Americans, as intuitive and ingenious as they were, didn’t develop the country the way European immigrants did. With his Germanic linage, I sensed it was a rhetorical question.

I found it curious, even disconcerting that Dad admired and taught about a people and their cultures, and yet he didn’t comprehend their devotion to preserving the environment they so cherished. Nor did he address the horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples that even continues today. In retrospect, I should have pressed my father on those issues.

Marian and Dick Stambaugh. One of my mother’s paintings is on the wall behind her.
I loved my father, and I love that he bequeathed so many of his artifacts to the family. For me, they serve as tangible reminders to universally respect all peoples, no matter their color or creeds, then and now.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

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