A Natural Combination

My old friend and Halloween

Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.

Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.

Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.

Paul Sauerbrey

Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.

Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.

He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.

He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.

His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.

I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.

A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.

John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.

Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.

The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.

The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.

Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.

Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.

Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.

To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

October is for the grandchildren

At least in our family, it is.

Trick or Treating in Texas.

I recently browsed through the myriad of old photos on my computer and made a startling but joyous discovery. October and our grandchildren go hand-in-hand.

I didn’t realize how much time we had spent with our grandchildren in October. That may not seem odd, but we lived in Ohio when they were born in Austin, Texas.

That’s where the October and grandkids began. We traveled to Texas multiple times in the decade that our daughter and son-in-law lived in the Austin area.

As I scrolled through the October photos, the grandkids just popped out at me. Being their grandfather, I know I am prejudiced. But a neutral person perusing the images also would have noticed the excessive number of grandkids’ photos.

That discovery made sense for our granddaughter, the youngest of the three. She was born in October, and of course, Nana had to be there for her birth and days after. I joined them as I could since I was still working some.

There are happy shots of all of us taking turns holding Maren like a precious commodity. That’s because she was. All newborns are. So, yes, there are a lot of baby pictures of Maren. She’s still very photogenic.

The boys played soccer, and their sister soon became a real fan. Maren attended her first soccer game a week after she was born. Despite the persistent Texas wind, Maren barely made a peep, wrapped in warm coverings and coddling of her loving mother.

Near the end of that October, Maren was dedicated at the little church the family attended. You know I was there to record it all, meaning we flew to Texas twice in the same month. It was one of the perks of semi-retirement.

While in Texas, I captured their Halloween adventures. Maren’s first foray as plump baby pumpkin took the honors. Her brothers stood guard, ensuring she wouldn’t roll away. We also shot a family photo with varying results.

In subsequent years, scarecrows, spidermen, and other noted characters made their late October appearances in later photos. Who doesn’t want their pictures taken while all dressed up?

Once our daughter’s family moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, our connections became frequent and not always in October. We seldom missed celebrating Maren’s birthday in person, however. Her first birthday was a real bash.

Photos of doing October homework, playing video games, and Evan, Davis, and Maren watching their mother coach her women’s college volleyball teams. The three became regular gym rats.

Some of the funniest photos weren’t Halloween costumes. Capturing a mechanical bull bucking the boys to the ground ranked high on the list.

Once we also moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, photographing the grandkids became much more accessible. Still, October seemed a photographic month.

There’s Maren in her great-grandmother’s wedding dress, enjoying treats after browsing a bookstore, and of course, more volleyball. At age nine, Maren preferred pumpkin pie to a birthday cake. To avoid craters in the filling, she blew out a single candle.

Shots of the grandkids run the gamut of their lives. Concentrating on Lego assemblies, playing with the family dog, cookouts, chopping firewood, participating in a relative’s wedding, playing in the spirit band, and baking with Nana were just a few of the grandchildren memories recalled thanks to the photos.

I also have a shot of two of the grandchildren sitting at a bar. There was no room in the restaurant, but the food was just as tasty seated on a stool.

That’s how much I love my grandchildren, especially in October.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Make October a Month to Remember

While still remembering those of the past

Fall comes to an Amish farmstead in Ohio’s Amish country.

By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.

Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.

I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.

I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.

Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.

I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.

I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.

Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.

When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.

Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.

Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.

Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.

October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.

Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.

October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.

Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.

October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.

Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.

October’s blue and orange.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Entering the October of my life

October in Ohio’s Amish country.

October offers up some of the year’s best weather. It often claims ownership of the year’s first killing frost, too, and the first snow. Sometimes it’s both.

October and I have a lot in common.

Weather is one of my favorite hobbies. I have satisfied that itch as a volunteer severe weather spotter for half a century for the National Weather Service. However, October is usually one of the quieter weather months unless a tropical storm plays havoc across the eastern U.S. Evidence 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

The western edge of Superstorm Sandy exits Holmes Co., Ohio.

October tends to be the calendar’s buffer between fairer weather and the more barren, colder months that follow. In other words, the tenth month foretells the winding down of every year. There can be no better year than the present to draw to a close. I doubt that I need to elaborate or provide the gory details.

Enough of the quixotic shenanigans. October and I have much more in common than climatological conditions.

I’ve entered the October of my life. I stay as active as I can, but it’s pitiful to watch me throw a tennis ball for our granddog to fetch. Millie is so unimpressed that she often refuses to give up the retrieved ball I’ve thrown.

Millie.

Millie knows that my toss can’t compare to that of our oldest grandchild, the 16-year-old with a pitcher’s arm. Millie gets to run far beyond one of my feeble efforts.

Before and since my knee replacement a year ago, I have maintained a regular exercise routine. I also do yoga twice a week. I try to walk a mile every day. I ride my bike around and up and down our inclined neighborhood. To look at me, you wouldn’t know that I do any of that.

I have never been a muscular guy. But I usually could hold my own in most physical activities. Not anymore.

I am not ashamed to admit it. I’ve accepted where I am in life. I also kindly relent to any assistance from passersby when I’m toting multiple bags of mulch or birdseed, or anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I’m old, and I want to get older. So I quash my male ego and accept offers to help.

A few years ago, Walter C. Wright wrote a book, “The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future.” It’s a workbook to help you ready for retirement and beyond. It’s an easy, practical read. The hardest part is accepting the fact that you are in that senior citizen-stage of life. For some, it comes sooner than it does for others.

When I was young, I’d spouted off that I would live until I was 100. I have longevity on both sides of the family to back that up. But I also have ancestors who never reached retirement age.

Like leaves on deciduous trees, I want to keep on hanging on as long as I can. However, the leaves, of course, eventually color, fade, and fall.

I also understand that that is where October and I differ. After the foliage tumbles, buds protrude for next year’s crop to unfurl, and once again nurture the growing tree with a thriving canopy.

Humans don’t have that option. We get one shot at life unless you believe in reincarnation. For the record, I don’t. But if I did, I would return either as a chiropractor or a meteorologist.

October is a fine month of the year. I have fond memories of her from childhood to the present. Here’s to many more nostalgic Octobers for everyone.

October on the line.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

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

Is October the best month?

Maryland Mountain, fall color
Changing leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Everybody has favorites. From favorite ice cream to a favorite sports team, we humans tend to quantify and qualify most everything.

Months of the year are no different. I’m as guilty as the next person in this category. October is far and away my favored month.

I’m likely not alone in stating the primary reason for liking October so much. The ever-changing color schemes fascinate me. Living all of my life in areas where mixed hardwoods warm the landscape with vivid, fiery colors makes that choice easy.

I hope I never take that annual beautification for granted. That’s because no two autumns are alike. So many factors go into just how colorful the trees will be. Half the fun is anticipating the intensity of the leafy rainbows.

We wonder what effect the persistent wet weather of the summer will have on the colors. Will they be bright or will they be dull? Will the leaves even last long enough to fully color, or will they succumb to gravity’s inevitable tug and prematurely tumble to the ground?

I know that may sound like a silly question. But my wife and I have already noticed that the leaves of the red maples in our yard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley began falling days ago. Last year they hung on red and green until well after Halloween.

Holmes Co. OH, autumn leaves, sugar maple
Changing colors.
If we pay close attention, nature sometimes offers us a sneak preview. Certain sections of particular trees begin to turn long before the rest of their foliage. Sugar maples are especially prone to this phenomenon. Could it be the compounding effect of the day after day absorption of the sun’s intense first rays during September and October mornings?

Trees aren’t the only canvas on which nature paints though. Fall also displays her colors among the agricultural harvest in the waning days and weeks of the growing season. The warm hues of gourd and squash varieties rule produce stands and supermarkets everywhere.

Those yellows, oranges, and crimsons contrast nicely with their hosts’ rich greens. Mums and sunflowers testify to the validity of these facts, too. The array of fruits and vegetables available also join the splashy seasonal show.

Restaurant menus highlight the food of fall with autumn entrees and beverage offerings alike. However, I’ve not joined the pumpkin-spice-flavored-everything club. I’m happy with my wife’s homemade gluten-free apple crisp washed down with a glass of delicious and locally produced apple cider.

Milder and less humid air is a welcome change from the steady heat and humidity that filled summer and early autumn days, especially here in Virginia. As I have unfortunately discovered in my first year of living in the Commonwealth, invisible pollen particles fill the air awakening allergies I didn’t know I had. So for selfish reasons, I look forward to the first killing frost.

I realize that the end to the growing season means we are closer to the cold and dark of winter days. But the earth still turns on its axis and rotates around the sun. Without winter there can be no spring.

Perhaps I am too taken with the overall aura of October itself. Our North American society has made October a festive month with one community celebration after the other. Consequently, food truck operators work overtime to meet all the demands for their tasty treats.

All in all, October is fall’s time to shine. With the harvest in full swing, October is a celebratory time. For me, that is excuse enough to elevate the tenth month above its jealous siblings.

Corn shocks at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Embracing October’s sensory qualities

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH
Autumn’s glory.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always loved October. The month never seems to fail in its sensory-sensitive offerings that surprise, frustrate, and elate you. October in Ohio has that much variety. Halfway through the tenth month, I’ve learned that’s even true in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where we now live.

Fall’s first frost ushered in the new month on October’s very first morning. Light as it was, the chill still stung the tomato and pepper plants in our daughter’s garden. Overall, the days have been balmy and very dry. I haven’t mowed the lawn in a month. No worries. I’ve found other ways to spend my time.

I chauffeured our granddaughter to 5 p.m. soccer practice on her eighth birthday. She took along a sweet treat to share with her teammates, which the college-student coaches wisely kept until after practice. A refreshing breeze blew through a crystal clear, early October sky while the youngsters jostled back and forth on emerald grass bordered by stands of patient trees waiting for the signal to paint their leaves.

sugar maple, Shenandoah Valley
Sugar Maple.
After an afternoon of volunteering at a local thrift store, my wife shared a touching story with me. A customer came in from Florida. She and her husband had evacuated to a relative’s home in Harrisonburg to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma. The lady’s husband was gravely ill with cancer. She was gathering clothes for their return trip home. The man wanted to die in his own bed. The store manager and Neva donated the clothing to the grieving woman. As she was leaving, the lady turned at the door and said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Loyalist that I am, I wear my Cleveland Indians gear wherever I go. As I walked across the campus of Eastern Mennonite University to the school’s library, a student stopped me. “I noticed your Indians shirt,” he explained. Turned out, he had graduated from the same small, rural Ohio high school as our son and daughter. I had a brief chat with Aaron Weaver, now a college senior. The connection brought me as much joy as an Indians postseason win.

harvest moon
Harvest Moon.
Soon after that encounter, October’s Harvest Moon bathed the earth in creamy nocturnal colors, enabling the skunks to waddle their way around with ease. You could follow their trails with your nose.

Of course, this October brought more human-induced and unnecessary horror that just cannot be understood. Innocents in Las Vegas fell dead or injured faster than autumn’s leaves. I shudder at such horrid, incomprehensible, and inexplicable violence.

Even with that sad news, if you asked me to pick one month out of the year as my absolute favorite, it would be October. My October memory bank is overflowing.

One particular Ohio scene is indelibly etched in my mind as if it were yesterday. In reality, my regular morning walk on my favorite township road was actually four years ago.

Typical for an Ohio October morning, the air was crisp, embroidered with lacy fog that snaked across the landscape indiscriminately, propelled by the rising sun that warmed the country air. My stroll was nearly half completed when a young boy quietly passed me on his bicycle near an Amish parochial school. The sun’s defused rays colored everything a luminous, eerie monochrome on the hazy landscape canvas.

That’s an October memory I’ll always recall for its vividness, its sensory invigoration, and its blessed setting. It’s helped me to continually be alert for unfolding comparable moments. They are everywhere for everyone, especially in October.

Amish boy on bike, foggy morning
Into the fog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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