Tag Archives: nostalgia

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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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

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Painting stirs fond memories

autumn in Virginia, landscape

Virginia in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.

The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.

My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.

I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.

Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.

My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.

I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.

Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.

The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.

As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.

Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.

The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.

Virginia family farm. watercolor

My mother’s watercolor of the Virginia family farm.

Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.

Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.

The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.

Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.

I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.

My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Writing the dreaded annual Christmas letter, then and now

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I gave up sending Christmas cards en masse several years ago. To keep up with the times, we transitioned into doing an annual Christmas letter instead.

We thought a personal synopsis more appropriate to keep friends apprized of what was happening in our family, and those of our adult children. Plus we saved the expense of the store-bought cards.

marianstambaughbybrucestambaugh

The late Marian Stambaugh.

With electronic communication now socially acceptable, most of our letters are sent via email to the chagrin of the U.S. Postal Service. Whenever I begin our annual letter, nostalgia appears like Marley’s ghost. Advent days long-passed flash before me.

I have fond memories of the Christmas cards our family received from friends and relatives, some near, some far. After she had opened the cards and read them, our kind mother would allow us kids to tape them to the inside of the wooden front door of the home where I grew up in suburban Canton, Ohio.

Some years Mom would cover the door with colorful paper wrapping, creating a festive background to the many season’s greetings we had posted. Mom taught us to apply the various sized and beautifully illustrated cards in an attractive, creative pattern.
Both hand-written and typed letters of greetings from friends and relatives who lived hundreds, even thousands of miles away were tucked into some of the cards. It was the way to communicate back then.

I think Mom had a higher purpose for the festooned door beyond being a welcoming holiday decoration. For our modest middle-class family, the patchwork of cards served as a symbol of how rich we really were, not in monetary wealth, but in valued, enduring relationships.

adventcandlesbybrucestambaugh

Advent candles.

Typical of many post-World War II families, Dad worked, first a blue-collar job, then a white-collar one. Mom efficiently ran the household on Dad’s meager income, and nurtured her five energetic darlings.

Our family sent out a host of our own Christmas cards. Our ever-thrifty mother would purchase the greeting cards during the post-Christmas sales of the previous year.

Mom addressed the envelopes with her easy, flowing handwriting while some of us kids helped seal and stamp the cards. I sweet-talked my younger siblings into licking that horrible tasting glue on the back of the postage stamps. I hope they’ve forgotten that.

That was a long time ago. Technology and progress, always a subjective word, have changed our lives forever.

Each year I enjoy authoring the one-page summary of the year’s top family happenings, though a couple of years ago I forgot to mention our 40th wedding anniversary. My wife is the letter’s chief editor, so all was forgiven.

I try to make the annual accounting as lighthearted and informative as possible. In recent years, when the aged bodies of parents, aunts and uncles have breathed their last, the letters tended to be more subdued.

I used to simply sit down and write the highlights from memory. Afterwards, I would double-check the calendar that chronicled

christmaswreathbybrucestambaugh

Christmas wreath.

all of our appointments, meetings, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and other notable events.

Given my previous major omission, I now scour the calendar before I begin to write. Only instead of the daily ledger with scenic pictures, I click on my laptop’s calendar icon to scroll through the year month by month.

It’s time to write our family’s annual letter. It might make people laugh. It might make them cry. But I sincerely doubt it will end up on anyone’s front door.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Heading down Route 66

grandcanyonbybrucestambaugh

The Grand Canyon, one of the many destinations made more accessible by U.S. Route 66.

By Bruce Stambaugh

U.S. Route 66 is legendary. Built in 1926, the highway that connected Chicago with Los Angeles helped to open up the western United States, especially after World War II.

Officially tabbed “The Will Rogers Highway,” the concreted, two-lane road became so popular that it quickly took on another moniker, “the Mother Road.” The highway enabled many Americans to access locales they had only heard of or dreamed about.

Many took to the famous road to visit historic sites, national parks, or tickle their toes in the southern California surf. Hundreds of service oriented businesses, restaurants, gas stations, motels and the like, grew once sleepy towns into expanding cities.

After Bobby Troup took a trip from Pennsylvania to the west coast on the road, he penned a now iconic song about his experience. “Route 66” is still a familiar song.

Today tourists from around the world travel as much of the original route that remains, too. They want to relive what life was like before the road was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985. The establishment of the Interstate Highway System spelled doom for the romanticized route and the cities and businesses through which U.S. 66 traversed. Radiator Springs, the fictional town in the movie “Cars,” is used as an example of how the Interstate Highway System affected so many small towns across the southwest.

I have traveled on only a few sections of the famous route. My late father, however, had a very personal and memorable connection to U.S. 66. It was the road he and two other sailors drove home following their discharge from the Navy at the close of World War II.

I remember Dad telling me about a restaurant owner in Texas who helped them out. As they drove east along U.S. 66, Dad and his traveling companions kept seeing billboards for a restaurant that advertised serving “the largest steak in Texas.”

Of course the trio decided to check out the claim. Still dressed in their Navy whites, they had little money. Glad for their service to country, business owners often gave them discounts or even free food at places where they stopped.

This restaurateur was no exception. Never one to be bashful, my father approached the restaurant’s owner, and told him they had seen his many billboards along the road. Dad point blank asked him if his largest steak claim was true.

Impressed with their enthusiasm and their military service, the owner gave all three men a free steak dinner. Dad said it was indeed the largest steak he had ever eaten.

So why am I telling you all this about a road that doesn’t exist anymore? I blatantly used this nostalgia to make a simple, metaphoric point. I’m beginning my own journey on 66. I’ll soon be that age. Our birthdays are important after all. We only have them once a year.

Since I was a kid, I have wistfully declared that I would live to be 100. I had no way of knowing that of course. It was just my way of saying I enjoy life, and want to live it as vibrantly, as long, as well, and as purposefully as possible.

I feel very fortunate indeed to have completed nearly two-thirds of the way to that century mark along life’s bumpy highway. I don’t know if I’ll reach that lofty milestone or not, but I am going to give it my all trying. I still have a lot of living to do.

This year I’ll travel down my own personal Route 66. For in the masterful words of the beloved American poet Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.”

cathedralrockbybrucestambaugh

Cathedral Rock from Oak Creek Crossing, Sedona, AZ.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Back to the 60s, if only for an evening

60s nostalgia by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife, Neva, and I had been asked to host the dessert portion of a progressive supper for our church’s small youth group. Given her gift of hospitality, Neva quickly accepted the offer.

The group had been to two other homes before arriving at our place for the 1960s themed desserts. Neva made finger Jell-O, Rice Krispies bars and pistachio cake baked in an authentic bunt pan. We added some 60s era candies that I found in a local store, and had Kool Aid to drink.
1960s Desserts by Bruce Stambaugh
We wanted to get the kids in the 60s tempo as best we could by making the house look cool, you know. Neva loves to decorate, and she did a groovy job this time. In fact, I don’t know where she came up with all the 60s stuff she displayed.

Peace signs drawn on paper plates dangled from the dining room light fixture. Party balloons, secured in a paper bag festooned with smiley faces, and a smiley face Pez dispenser adorned the dining room table.

Memorabilia by Bruce StambaughI found a magazine completely dedicated to Bobby Kennedy that I had sequestered. I also brought out an old black and white 8 x 10 photo that my late father had framed for me. It was a shot of a fellow Plain Dealer intern and myself dressed as hippies. That’s a 1969 story for another time.

Neva hung a few clothes we had saved from the 60s, including a lacy dress and a checkered sports jacket. I also resurrected my senior year high school letter jacket. It still looked like new, while I don’t. But I can still fit into it.

Neva also exhibited a variety of purses she had from the 60s along with a few pieces of china. She also found an old dress pattern in its original package.
Beatles albums by Bruce Stambaugh
The center of attention in the living room was a treasure trove timeline of 60s items. Included were some Archie and the Gang comic books, popular children’s books from the era, a Winnie the Pooh bear, and of course a small collection of Beatles record albums. It was a shame we no longer had a record player on which to play them.

The real treat came when the 10 teenagers arrived. Most were dressed in cool clothing from the 60s obtained at thrift stores. Psychedelic T-shirts and paisley dresses and shirts were suddenly back in vogue, if only for the evening. One savvy dude somehow found a brown checked suit that perfectly fit him.

We briefly explained the reason for the dessert offerings, and the food was quickly consumed. Other Baby Boomer adults also attended to help share their growing up experiences.
Mic by Bruce Stambaugh
It was during that time that the real spirit of the turbulent 60s was revealed. The kids seemed spellbound by the personal stories. And well they should. The 1960s were a tumultuous, passionate time of change, drama and societal conflict. Reliving those long forgotten moments seemed to energize everyone in attendance.

Of course, one of the adults, no names mentioned, went a little long. Nevertheless, the kids courteously listened to what was said, and their attire certainly helped everyone feel in the mood.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention my skinny knit tie, white shirt, white socks, mohair sweater, and rolled up blue jeans that I wore. Other than the hippie outfit, it may have been the only other time in my life that I was considered cool. Or were they just being kind?

Peace, baby!

High school jackets by Bruce Stambaugh

My high school letter jacket and my late father's state championship baseball jacket. Dad coached the team.

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