October is the nostalgic month

A typical fall scene in eastern Holmes Co., Ohio.

If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.

As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.

We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.

Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.

If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.

During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.

We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.

When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.

Our Ohio October view.

The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.

But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.

It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.

On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.

The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.

We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.

I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A different approach to Easter

Maybe after all of these years, I’m finally getting the point of Easter.

The holiest of holy days in the Christian tradition, Easter’s resurrection coincides with spring’s rejuvenating renewal. That I always understood, even as a child.

Of course, as a youngster, that spiritual message became overshadowed by other Easter traditions. Hunting for our Easter baskets loaded with chocolaty treats and boiled eggs we had previously colored was a priority.

After all the baskets and colored eggs were found, we enjoyed a breakfast with hot crossed buns. That, too, was always an Easter treat obtained from the neighborhood bakery where our grandmother worked.

Buying an Easter lily for our loving mother was also deemed a must. Of course, we all gussied up in our Sunday best and headed off to church with scores of other baby boomer families.

My wife and I continued some of those traditions as we, too, had children of our own. Helen, our children’s adopted Killbuck, Ohio grandmother, often hosted us after church. I would hide the eggs outside while Helen and Neva prepared their typical delicious meal.

We have continued that tradition with our grandchildren, although that varies according to their busy schedules. We’ll hold our own egg and Easter basket hunt, all the while recording the unfolding events with my camera. Nana usually fixes a scrumptious dinner to complete the secular celebrating.

Church, of course, is still a central element in our Easter celebration. It has to be. Without Easter, there would be no church, as we now know it. Perhaps therein lies my senior moment with this holiday.

As much as I enjoy the candy and the children’s excitement, I can’t shake loose the days that led up to this most consecrated day. In retrospect, they occur in logical succession that actually creates Easter’s real significance.

Triumphant Palm Sunday followed by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, and the stark realization of Good Friday mirror my own ambivalence of the season. I am too much aware of personal grieving, death of loved ones and friends, injuries and unexpected illnesses of innocent little ones, the bigoted injustices of society toward the least, the last, and the lost.

Altogether, it seems too much to tolerate, too much to absorb, too much to accept amid the social and global daily inequities by those in power who twist the truth to their advantage. Bullies become victims and victims made the bullies, no matter the facts.

I struggle to reconcile a glorious day like Easter with the reality of the daily dynamics of a troubled world, of people in pain and mourning.

It is then that I remember that is the way of the world and the very reason for Easter itself. Christians are to model that self-sacrifice in their daily lives, not take advantage of those who have less or nothing at all.

Easter isn’t only a holiday. For those who believe, renewal is to be a daily way of life. That is a tall measure to live up to, but it is the only measure that matters.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the greatest commandment to follow, and the hardest.

That precept, that lifestyle can only be achieved if we acknowledge our own imperfections, our Creator, and our responsibility to help others moment by moment, breath by breath.

That Easter hunt doesn’t come in colored eggs or decorated baskets. It must be resurrected daily, individually, unselfishly, and unconditionally. If not, there is no Easter morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Thanks for the memories Edgefield School

old school, Plain Local School District, Canton OH
Edgefield School. (Photo courtesy of Dave Findley.)

Given its age, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the news, but I was. The old elementary school where I attended for the first six years of my formal education will be torn down soon.

The building more than outlived its usefulness. Built in 1915, Edgefield served as an educational institution long after students quit attending several years ago. The county office of education took over the empty building for offices. The Stark County Educational Service Center provided a variety of educational services for multiple local school districts throughout the county and beyond.

Hundreds of baby boomer scholars traipsed through the halls and up and down the three stories of steps at Edgefield, and hundreds more before and after that. I can’t speak for them, but my Edgefield experiences provided lots of fond memories.

The storied school’s staff supplied me with a solid foundation for life. Not that I was ever the best student. But Edgefield instilled in me a love of learning, a respect for teaching, and a joy of being with others.

I began my stint at the old brick building as a first grader at age five. My school district didn’t offer kindergarten back then.

I can remember the name of every teacher that I had in all six grades. I even recall the principal and the affable custodian, Bill Meola. I feared the former and worshiped the latter.

Stonework over the front door.
Bill was an excellent custodian and a great human being. All the kids loved him for his kindness and his skill at keeping the building clean. Somehow he ensured Edgefield avoided the usual institutional smell.

His was not an easy job either with the school overflowing with runny-nosed children. The school had a kitchen but no cafeteria. At the appointed time, we lined up, trudged quietly down the steps to the first floor, and filed through a buffet-style line. Only, it wasn’t a buffet by any stretch of the imagination. I haven’t eaten a stewed tomato since.

We just took what was placed onto our compartmentalized light green plastic trays. We retreated back up the steps to eat at our classroom desks. Occasionally someone slipped and spilled their tray. Mr. Meola was right there to clean up the mess.

I don’t want to sentimentalize my experiences at Edgefield. Still, the interconnectedness of the school’s atmosphere, the reliable teachers, the instructional routines we developed, the rules we followed, the games we played at recess, the sense of personal worth that helped formulate who I became, what I appreciated in life, and instilled in me the value of a good education.

All of that must have had a subliminal influence on me. Despite having graduated from college with a journalism degree, I became a public school educator for 30 years. I taught how I was taught.

The ball field we played on had long since been paved over for a parking lot.
Classes were large by today’s standards. It wasn’t unusual for 35 to 40 students to pack each self-contained classroom.

In every class, we sat in straight, long rows of wooden desks with steel frames. The teachers taught, and the students obeyed. Those who didn’t felt the sting of the paddle that hung at the front of Mr. Bartley’s sixth-grade classroom.

To this day I can smell those mimeographed worksheets the teachers handed out. Chills still run down my spine at the thought of white chalk screeching on the slate blackboard worn smooth from years of erasing assignments.

In the winter, students would place their wet gloves on the old silver radiators to dry after building snowmen at recess. Throwing snowballs was a no-no of course.

My friend and former Edgefield classmate feigning depression over the demolition news.
At Edgefield School, students were taught the three Rs and much more. Being polite and using proper manners were also priorities. In today’s terms, the instruction at this grammar school was basic but holistic. Being a good citizen was paramount.

Nostalgia can interfere with reality. Regardless, old Edgefield can be torn down, but no wrecking crew can ever destroy my cherished school memories.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

How a pair of leaky boots sent me back in time

flooding, river in my bakcyard
A river ran through it.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memories often materialize in the most unusual of circumstances.

It was early June, and we had endured rainstorm after rainstorm. At times, the rain pelted down at the rate of two inches an hour.

When you live between two mountain ranges and groundwater has already saturated the sticky, red-clay soil, that much precipitation spells trouble. And trouble found lots of folks throughout the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

High water flooded roadways, keeping fire departments and rescue squads busy with multiple water rescues. It was still pouring when a river of muddy water rushed through our backyard.

I decided to check the five-foot crawl space beneath our ranch home. I slipped on my old black gumboots and jumped into eight inches of water. Instantly, cold, yucky water surrounded my right foot. The combination of old age and wear and tear had finally taken their toll on my versatile rubber boots.

I was grateful a local plumber was gracious enough to bail us out despite being swamped with other calls. Everything beneath our home seemed to have weathered the storm except my precious boots.

rubber boots, gumboots
My old friends.
Gumboots are knee-high footwear made of rubber and fabric designed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Those boots and I went way back. They had served me well in a variety of conditions over several years.

I remember where I bought them nearly three decades ago at a now-defunct shoe store in Mt. Hope, Ohio. I wore the boots often in many different situations. I had depended on them time and again, often in dire instances.

When a storm hit, I put them on to check my roads as a township trustee. I can’t tell you how many flooded streets and ditches I waded through wearing those boots. I traipsed through many snowstorms with them, too.

Once after a big snow, I spied a grizzled old opossum munching birdseed from a feeder that sat atop a picnic table in our backyard. On went my coveralls and those gumboots. I intended to shoo off the unwanted mammal. As I opened the door, our pet rat terrier Bill shot out the door ahead of me.

Charm OH, Ohio in winter, ice cycles
Scene of the rescue.
Bill’s fearless instincts immediately kicked in when he spotted the opossum. The little dog circled the unimpressed marsupial once, and on his second pass, Bill leaped for the much larger animal’s tail. The opossum hit the ground with a thud, dead on arrival.

Those boots even helped me as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. On one run, I found myself standing in the shallows of a stream holding up an elderly victim who had fallen into the rushing creek. I still remember the fire chief’s surprised expression when he saw me in the water with those black boots.

Another time, on an early subzero February morning, I spotted our Amish neighbor heading across frozen farm fields toward our house. Levi was delivering the promised fertilizer for our garden. Steam shimmered in the morning light as it rose from the hardworking draft horses and the load of manure they were pulling in the spreader.

By the time I dressed and pulled on my gumboots, I was too late. Levi and his pitchfork had already deposited a still-steaming pile of manure onto the garden plot. Standing in that frigid, fragrant morning air, I asked him how much I owed for the delivery. Levi just smiled and said wryly, “Nothing. I don’t have anything in it.”

Like I said, sometimes the strangest circumstances stir the fondest memories.

Ohio's Amish country, winter, Holmes Co. OH
Our Ohio backyard winter scene.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Why I always dreaded August’s return

August, sunset, Virginia
An early August sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is upon us once again.

As I look back on it, I always dreaded the return of the eighth month. Through my not-so-nostalgic reflections, I realized that my reasons evolved across the decades.

As an elementary school student, I knew all too well what August’s arrival meant. We were down to one month of summer vacation.

Those were the days when agrarian mentality ruled the school year. All scholarly studies were squeezed between Labor Day and Memorial Day. When the county fair gates closed, the school doors opened.

Now, of course, no such luxury exists for students. Back to school shopping has already begun. With August at hand, many students start the daily countdown until the dreaded day arrives.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked school, well, the elementary version at least. However, I enjoyed playing much more so. Summer vacation generated much less stress for youngsters then. Our screen time meant going to the drive-in movie theater on Friday nights. Our phones stayed at home firmly affixed to the wall.

butterfly, wildflowers, Virginia
Male Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on Cardinal flower.
So when the calendar flipped to August, the neighborhood gang of hooligans started planning our next sleep-out under the stars or our next daytime adventure at the creek down-over-the-hill. Time was a wasting.

In high school and college, it wasn’t playtime but work that got shortened by the start of school. At $2.06 an hour, I needed to work all I could to deter my own educational expenses. With younger siblings and a stay-at-home mother, it was the least I could do to help the family financially. My older brother set that model.

When I started my career in public education, I began to more fully understand the importance of August. It meant readying for another school year, only this time as the teacher and eventually principal.

The late summer days of August always meant sweating it out decorating my classroom before the students arrived. Those old schools didn’t have air conditioning. I could hear the busyness of protégés down the hallways also preparing for the coming school year. We came in early morning and early evening to avoid the afternoon heat.

August, Ohio's Amish country
Come August, summer winds down.
When I joined the administrative ranks, August meant meetings, which I loathed unless they were held on the local golf course. That venue seldom happened, however, despite the chatter around the window table at the locals’ favorite eatery.

I heard samplings of student whining from our son and daughter, who knew too well that the coming of August meant school band camps and fall sports practices. Our son chose wisely. He joined the golf team and scored much better than his father ever could.

Just like their parents’ childhood schedules, once the county fair ended, the school year began for our children, too. By then, however, Labor Day became the first school holiday, not the summer’s last.

Somehow, though, we all survived those August perils. As a retiree, August has lost it sting. I don’t have the self-imposed barriers to hurdle anymore. I can relax in air conditioning as the thermometer hits 90.

Like all the previous years, I anticipate golden sunsets sinking beyond the horizon. I’ll watch for the Perseid meteor shower, hoping that the August haze has faded in the cool of the night.

The fraternal twins of retirement and maturity have a mellowing effect on sour attitudes. Instead of dread, this August I’ll breathe in a deep breath, say a prayer of gratitude for another new month, and enjoy the moments at hand.

Ohio's Amish country, Amish
Back to school.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

A lesson learned from packing to move

springtime in Ohio's Amish country
A lovely and familiar Holmes Co. scene.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The time has nearly arrived. My wife and I have worked diligently for a year and a half to prepare for this moment.

After spending our entire adult lives in one of the most beautiful, friendly places in Ohio, Neva and I are preparing to move to Virginia’s picturesque and historic Shenandoah Valley.

I’m glad it has taken us that long to transition from one place to the other. We deliberately took our time. We didn’t want to merely cut and run from the people and place we love.

grandchildren
With the grandkids.
That interlude gave us the opportunity and space we needed to adjust to this major, life-changing decision. We’ve spent much effort sorting and packing clothing, furniture, and household goods. We’ve also met with close friends and family before we exit, often over meals.

We’re moving for the very best reason. We want to be closer to our grandchildren to watch them grow and assist their busy household. Ironically, my older brother and his wife are doing the same thing for the same reason only in reverse. They’re moving from Virginia to Ohio, Holmes Co. in fact.

I jokingly tell people that we have to move because decades ago the county commissioners passed a resolution ensuring only one Stambaugh family at a time could live in Holmes Co. Therefore I have to yield to my big brother.

Silliness aside, Neva and I have learned first-hand that we don’t need as much as we have. Being snowbirds taught us that by living in much smaller quarters with limited storage space. It was a valuable lesson to learn. Since we are downsizing to a smaller ranch home with no basement or attic, we’ve been busy deciding what to take and what to give away or sell.

In sorting through drawers, closets, and shelves, and prioritizing furniture, we uncovered many fond memories. It was easy to decide I didn’t need two-dozen dress shirts. It was much harder jettisoning personal items that served only to remind us of many precious days gone by.

Amish farmers
Neighbors making hay.
We had no other choice. Our new house can only hold so much, so we identified the essentials we’d need and what we didn’t. Our current home is filled with antiques, mostly from all sides of both families, which added to our conundrum.

Our son and daughter took certain items to keep them in the family. We reached out to extended family and close friends, too. But most of them are our peers. They don’t want to add to their lifetime collections either.

What do I do with my grandfather’s first-grade reader? Can I bring myself to sell an old garden tool a friend long-deceased gave to us? Practicality had to override nostalgia.

We met with the local mover that we hired. A sincere young man, he clearly knew his business. We found the combination of his expertise and experience immensely helpful in deciding what to take and what to leave.

As we rapidly approach the moving date, Neva and I reflected on what we have learned from all of this sorting, cleaning, and packing, this drastic rearranging of our lives. The most important lesson was evident. But having lived in the same house for 38 years, we never had to confront it before.

Our most valuable possessions don’t fit in boxes. Rather, family, friends, our little church, neighbors, relationships, and memories are lovingly stored in our hearts.

blooming dogwood
In our memories of Holmes Co., it will always be springtime.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017