Waiting on rain and suffering the personal consequences

picket fence, black-eyed susans
Is it the flowers?

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the patio reading a marvelous book my best friend had given me before we hightailed it out of Holmes County, Ohio for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I didn’t read long, however.

A good case of what I’ll call the Shenandoah Sneeze forced me to retreat to the safety of our air-conditioned home. I had no choice. I was sneezing more than reading. I used more tissues than I turned pages.

Reading was only the secondary reason I had escaped to our outdoor sanctuary. I thought if I went outside the thick promising clouds would finally let loose a downpour. It didn’t happen. Apparently, I was under the spell of not only the Shenandoah Sneeze but also the Harrisonburg Hole. I’ll gladly clarify this localized lingo.

When my wife and I had our first appointments with our new doctor, one of the first questions she asked was if we had contracted any allergies yet. Apparently, newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley acquire hypersensitivities they didn’t have previously. Harrisonburg is The Valley’s notorious epicenter for such physical reactions.

home, Harrisonburg VA
Home sweet home, as long as the windows are closed.
I never had allergies my entire life of living in northeast Ohio. Now, every now and then when I step outdoors, or our home’s windows are open, I suddenly begin a succession of rapid-fire sneezes. I have no idea why or what is causing it. I’ve tried both over-the-counter and prescription medication. Nothing seems to help, so I just endure it. When an attack occurs, I retreat to a private space so as not to spoil a perfectly good autumn afternoon for others.

After the sneezing episode ends, my eyes itch and water and I have to breathe through my mouth due to nasal congestion. In relating this all too personal information, I am not asking for pity, only understanding.

As for the Harrisonburg Hole, that’s the real reason I went outside in the first place. The official forecast was a 90 percent chance of rain. It had been more than a month without rain. Not. One. Drop. I figured if I ventured outdoors the sky would inevitably open up. It didn’t.

backyard, Harrisonburg VA
Where I’d like to relax without sneezing.
Besides the parched yard, I had a selfish reason for desiring a good soaking. I had fertilized the lawn the previous morning when the dew wetted the browning grass. The moisture-laden blades of grass made the tiny granules of fertilizer stick. To make the fertilizer effective, I needed the promised precipitation. Otherwise, the lawn could burn out more than it already was.

You see the Harrisonburg Hole is a fabled meteorological phenomenon that affects our fair city and its immediate surrounding areas. Nine times out of 10, when the weather forecast calls for a high chance of rain, it doesn’t. It does rain, north, south, east, and west of “The Friendly City.” But it doesn’t rain in and around Harrisonburg.

So far I haven’t found one person who can explain why this occurrence happens so frequently. I just discovered a bevy of believers in the myth that apparently has more than a grain of truth to it. I can attest that I’ve checked the radar on more than one supposed-to-rain occasion only to find steady rain everywhere but over “Rocktown.”

I was hoping that in addition to rinsing the specks of fertilizer into the ground that a steady rain would also clear out whatever was in the air that was causing me to make the Kleenex brand rich. No such luck.

Please excuse me now. I have to sneeze again.

still life
Wishing my life would be still.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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