Ready for the election to be over

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for this election to be over. Even if I were a hermit, I think I would have gotten robo phone calls and unsolicited political mail and email this year.

These elections, especially the ones with national implications, seem to be getting worse each round. The rhetoric, promises and character assassinations get sharper and sharper. As much as I love democracy, I am more than ready for this nonsensical noisiness to end. All the nasty, negative political ads, especially the ones on TV, make you yearn for the days of the Veg-O-Matic commercials.

It didn’t used to be that way. Back in the days of smoke filled rooms and paper ballots politics were politics. Elections were elections. We weren’t blasted at every turn with extreme commentary of distorted and misapplied sound bites or publically aired criticisms that border on slander.

I remember when my father took me along when he voted in the gym of the elementary school where my brothers and sisters and I attended. It was a simple ordeal. Dad signed in, was given a paper ballot, walked to a vacant voting booth draped with red and white striped curtains, and marked his ballot. After doing so, he folded it and placed it in a box or can at the exit.

The precinct workers didn’t blink at allowing me to tag along with Dad. That wouldn’t happen today. They understood his desire to show me first hand how the process worked, how to properly exercise his citizen’s right and duty to vote. His modeling worked. I have voted in every election I could since I registered at age 21, the legal Ohio voting age then.

Mom and Dad by Bruce Stambaugh
My late parents, Marian and Richard Stambaugh, both modeled what it meant to be an active citizen.

My parents also did their civic duty by working as precinct workers. Dad was a precinct committeeman. My wife’s parents also served as poll workers.

Dad actively campaigned for particular people he wanted in office. I even volunteered to post campaign signs for him. In recent years, both my wife and I have served as poll workers. In fact, my wife will be a precinct judge in the Nov. 6 election here in the world’s largest Amish population. And yes, many of the Amish vote, even for president.

As a teenager, a metropolitan newspaper hired me each election to check particular precinct tallies, which were simply posted on the door of the polling place. Long before the computer and Internet age, hand-tabulated results were phoned in from a phone booth to gauge trends and declare winners and losers.

Today, things are so much different and sometimes difficult.

Concerted efforts have been made to insure that voters are who they say they are, despite little evidence of past voter deception or fraud. Fortunately in most cases, those attempts have been overturned by the courts. Professional political pollsters churn out poll after poll, week after week to tell the public what they are thinking. Politicians and their teams of advisors live or die with every revelation. News media lead with the poll results.

Kettle of vultures by Bruce Stambaugh
I couldn’t help thinking about the negative politics being conducted in the current presidential campaign when I recently saw this kettle of Black and Turkey Vultures circling overhead.

Being inundated with constant slanted political rancor has its ugly consequences. Heated discussions transpire on social media, and the “conversations” can get ugly and are not very social at all.

That said I realize there is no going back in time. Heaven forbid we return to those days of smoke filled room decision-making. Instead of paper ballots and canvas curtains, we now have programed cards and touch screen voting. But still we vote.

I am extremely thankful for the exemplary lessons my folks provided in what it means to be a citizen in this great country. Each of us simply needs to do our part in making this convoluted world a better place. To do that, we must keep moving forward.

I hope that means in part that the mailed partisan circulars will greatly decrease and the annoying phone calls will soon cease.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

The real reason to celebrate July 4th

D.O.G. Street by Bruce Stambaugh
Many of the tenets of our democratic republic were formed in Williamsburg, VA along D.O.G. Street.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Watching starbursts of fireworks from five miles above the earth was an unexpected treat.

My family and I were flying back from vacation late on July 3, 1988. Our hour-long flight path took us along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Shortly after we were airborne, the sky began to pop with burst after colorful burst of fireworks.

Parade by Bruce Stambaugh
Parades are just part of the annual Fourth of July celebrations in the United States.
All along the route towns large and small expressed their jubilation for America’s Independence Day holiday with pyrotechnic displays. From high above I imagined the various sparkling bursts reflecting the broad diversity of folks that comprise this great country. Necks craned skyward, people from many cultures, races and religions in urban parks, county fairgrounds or on their own back porches had to also be admiring their local kaleidoscope of explosions.

As the last sparks flickered, I had to wonder then, as I wonder now, if the real meaning behind the celebratory fireworks is fully understood. As they picked up their chairs and folded their blankets to return home, what were they thinking? Was it just another fireworks display or did they truly comprehend the meaning of the day?

Those are questions that needed to be asked then just as they need to be asked today. Remembering our historic roots helps us to focus on where we are now and where it is we need to be going tomorrow.

Fourth of July decorations by Bruce Stambaugh
Homes like this one in Lakeside, OH will be decorated for the Fourth of July all across the U.S.

As we celebrate another Independence Day in the United States, here are a few historical facts that cannot be changed, though some have tried to distort the truth. The Continental Congress actually declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The revolutionary document, penned by Thomas Jefferson, was signed July 4, 1776, making the radical pronouncement official.

At great risk to their fame, fortune and reputations, these bold men, and they were all men, set down the groundwork of a new nation. That foundation was based on one essential notion, freedom.

A few years later that central idea wove its way into the heart of the U.S. Constitution in the form of the first 10 amendments commonly called the Bill of Rights. They itemized specific freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to gather, among others.

British flag by Bruce StambaughThe people of the American colonies wanted to shake the hold of Great Britain’s rule and run their own lives. This great document announced a new form of government for all peoples. Without it, anarchy would have ruled.

Since its initial adoption the Constitution of the United States has been amended to appropriately represent rights and freedoms for all of the country’s peoples, regardless of gender, race or creed as the population and society’s mores have evolved. To be sure, that evolution has had its civil rough spots to say the least.

From our present perspective, it can be easy to think that some things always were. “In God We Trust,” for example, was added to our coins and currency in 1864 at the end of the Civil War. The phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954 during the McCarthy communism scare era.

The altitude at which we enjoy the July 4th fireworks isn’t terribly important. The attitude of appreciation and a clear understanding and application of how and why our basic freedoms exist, however, are essential for appropriate social discourse.

As the fireworks explode in honor of this July 4th, what will you revere about Independence Day?

Amber waves of grain by Bruce Stambaugh
Religious freedom was the primary moving force for Amish immigrating to the United States, where their amber waves of grain still roll today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Giving praise where praise is due

Marigolds by Bruce Stambaugh
Marigolds highlight an Amish homestead.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been a difficult day.

As the silvery sunset melted into the horizon, I reflected on the last few days and the people and events that had occurred. In reviewing the various situations, it hit me that like it or not I was entering the October of my own life, and that got my attention.

Days earlier I had met my friend Steve in a Mexican restaurant in the city where I was born and raised. Steve is a long-time buddy connected to my school principal days. Steve and I have a lot in common. First and foremost is that we both like to talk, at least according to our spouses.

If for no other reason than that alone, Steve and I have agreed to meet periodically without the wives. We get more talking done that way.

Steve is the kind of friend every guy should have. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. He is a self-appointed critic of my writing, and is unabashed about finding any mistakes that somehow make it through to publication. Well, at least he thinks they are mistakes, but he usually is mistaken.

Bright Angel Canyon by Bruce Stambaugh
Bright Angel Canyon at the Grand Canyon, AZ is a favorite spot for hikers, painters and photographers alike.

That’s the kind of friends we are. He has the same theology about technology that I do. He loves to frequent the western United States and does so annually, months at a time, mostly hunting for arrowheads. Archeology and travel are other mutual interests.

At bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball is my favorite sport.

Another thing we have in common is baseball. He hates it. I love it. Also, we enjoy discussing politics, until the conversation gets too political, then we switch to a more congenial topic, like baseball.

We talk about our late fathers and how our mothers are doing. And of course, we extol our wives, and try not to roll our eyes too much. Did I mention we laugh a lot?

A few days later, I took my mother on a short drive around the colorful countryside near the retirement home where she lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Mom always enjoys getting out when one of us “kids” can take her.

Mud Valley by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country, this one near Walnut Creek, Ohio.

This day was exceptional. The sky was pure blue, allowing the sun to heighten the already vivid colors. Since Mom was an avid and prolific watercolor painter, I always hope these short rides spark a memory of those days gone by when she and her friends would find a spot to paint, set up their easels and spend the day communing with nature and one another, beautifully interpreting what they saw.

Besides the warm hues of the leaves, a stunning red-tailed hawk flew right across our path. Around the curve, Mom spied some flashy marigolds. All in all, it was an invigorating jaunt. Seeing that Mom enjoyed the little excursion, I chose to tell her a comment that Steve had shared with me at the Mexican restaurant.

Marian Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh, 89, taught me to see and share in creative ways.

Knowing my mother was an accomplished landscape artist, Steve said, “You have your mother’s eye.” I non-verbally asked for clarification. “Instead of a brush, you paint with words and through the lens of your camera.” I don’t know if Steve noticed or not, but tears welled in my eyes. I was honored with the keen compliment. When I shared the kind words with Mom, tears welled up in her eyes, too. Despite her advanced dementia, knowing that Mom had understood at least a little of the depth and breadth of Steve’s insight made the compliment all the more meaningful.

The circle of blessing was now complete. It had returned to its rightful owner, the creative and artful woman who had taught me to see and share Creation’s beauty.

Suddenly, this difficult October day didn’t seem so difficult after all.

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