I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.
Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.
I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.
My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.
My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.
Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.
It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.
Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.
As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.
Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.
When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.
The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.
Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.
However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.
I had given up on this sunset. In fact, I was already heading back to my car from the dock when the sky suddenly changed. I hustled back onto the dock to get a few shots before the sky called it a night. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when an older man with a barking dog cruised into view in a dingy. Their presence added a human element to this painting-like scene.
Rather than wax poetic about all of the aspects and details of the photo, I’ll simply let you enjoy it from your own perspective.
It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.
It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.
I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.
I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.
I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.
I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.
Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.
To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.
I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.
I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.
For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.
I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.
I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.
It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.
I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.
A friend, an expert photographer, led a photo shoot to St. Augustine, FL for the last evening of the Night of Lights. Each year the city adorns itself with white lights for the holiday season through January.
Though the rest of the town was beautiful, I was particularly taken by the lighted Francis and Mary Usina Bridge over the Tolomato River that fronts the historic city. My friend loaned me his tripod, enabling me to shoot this photo. It was my first serious attempt at nighttime photography.
The blue hour is the time after sunset that the sky remains blue before it suddenly turns to all black. Even with a layer of clouds, the blue showed through.
When shooting photographs, I usually try to exclude anything that might be distractive to the main subject of the photo. However, I do make exceptions from time to time. This sunset scene on the Amelia River in northeast Florida fit that bill.
The glowing lights of the active paper mill accentuated the warm and cool colors of the clouded sunset. The gray clouds matched the venting steam of the mill’s smokestack. The orange reflection of the security lights balanced that of the setting sun’s on the river’s quiet waters.
I couldn’t resist. I had plenty of inside chores to complete, but the golden brightness of the glorious fall day drew me outside. With the sun dazzling in the clear blue sky, it would have been sinful not to soak it in. So I did.
Sunny days in late fall in northeast Ohio are rare. November and December are historically our cloudiest months. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty. I soon discovered that I wasn’t alone.
Of course, preparations for the holidays ahead already had people out and about. Folks seemed to double down on this beauty of a day. Traffic of all types kept the byways busy.
It was a day of contradictions. I passed an Amish man eating an ice cream cone while cruising along in his black buggy. It wasn’t even 10 a.m. It was 47 degrees Fahrenheit, proving once again that temperature is not a prerequisite for enjoying yummy ice cream.
Congestion reigned at the square in Mt. Hope, not an uncommon sight on sale day at the livestock auction. The sun spotlighted a farmer on a tractor chatting on his smartphone. The conversation must have been agreeable. He grinned like a Cheshire cat.
Up the road a piece, a flock of sheep grazed in the hollow of a broad, bowl-shaped field. The wooly coats glistened against the straggly spent vegetation that still stood above the close-cropped grass of the pasture.
Amish farmsteads turned uncharacteristically patriotic. A curtain of Navy blue sky served as the backdrop for the starched white clapboard houses and coffin-red barns.
The sun bathed everything everywhere. Even long-neglected faded siding begging for a proper coat of paint stood out. Rusty windmill blades glinted in the brightness.
A pair of Red-tailed Hawks circled and soared low over a woodlot and disappeared. Pigeons claimed barn roof ridges, white and gray backs to the radiant warmth.
By afternoon, sunbeams streamed in on a factory office desk. The busy boss himself beamed in the glory of the day’s beauty.
A pair of Amish preschoolers, probably brother and sister, fearlessly coasted their wooden wagon down the gently sloping township road. It may have been late November, but their joy said summer.
An Amish worker skillfully wrapped a finished piece of machinery in clear plastic to protect its fresh coat of paint during shipping. He was more than glad it wasn’t snowing.
Windows on a passing school bus were all down where the students sat. I doubt the jolly driver cared.
Near dusk, a stand of hilltop trees filtered the southwestern glow. Nevertheless, the sun’s strength still outlined a downy woodpecker’s fine feathers like an angel’s halo. The usually nervous bird seemed to relish the moment unless it simply wanted to pose for a cameo photo.
The sun set too soon and unspectacularly. On the opposite horizon, November’s frosty moon rose full. Its soft illumination stunningly highlighted thin wispy clouds, a pale but dramatic imitation of sunrise.
By day, the sun radiated more than welcomed warmth. It energized humans, Holsteins and wallowing hogs. By night, the recycled solar rays washed the earth in a rich beauty not often seen without a sparkling snow cover. I hated to do it, but I had no choice. I pulled the bedroom drapes.
I wasn’t shutting out the light so much as keeping the bright beauty of the day internal. Its brilliance still burned within me, an immeasurable, lustrous love that lulled me to sleep.
I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I was on my way to a meeting when I passed through Walnut Creek, one of the oldest settlements in Holmes County, Ohio. The morning sun was straining to filter through on-rushing clouds, part of a cold front bringing in some welcomed rain.
When I stopped to take a photo of one scene, I saw this one, the mirror reflection of this nicely kept farm, known as the Jonas Stutzman farm. An official historical marker notes that Stutzman was the first white settler in the eastern section of the county, arriving from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 1809.
The details in this photo, coupled with the farmstead’s history, made “Morning reflections” my Photo of the Week.