Finding a treasure while sequested

Our infant daughter sitting on a 105-pound pumpkin was just one of the old photos we found while sorting.
Whether by hook or by crook, our dynamic daughter models many of her mother’s positive qualities. Keeping things tidy and organized through sorting is just one of them.

Our daughter has been cleaning, discarding, donating, organizing, selling, and otherwise giving away items from her home during the pandemic. I suspect you all have to some extent as well.

My wife and I have followed that trend, too, since we have the time during this health crisis sequestering. So far, we have sorted old slides and photos, books, clothes, and files.

My wife and I chuckled at long-forgotten moments captured on slides and photos stuck in boxes buried deep in a closet. The feelings they evoked ran the gamut of emotions.

All of this reordering has stirred memories and even uncovered a mystery. Our daughter found a children’s book published 55 years ago. The author had even signed it.

Carrie couldn’t remember where the book came from but suspected we had given it to her as she began her elementary teaching. Of course, Carrie passed it on to us to contemplate. The book didn’t register with either my wife or me.

“Deneki: An Alaskan Moose” by William D. Berry had a nicely illustrated jacket cover, which was torn at the binding. I examined the skinny book for clues of its origin. The hardback cover and pages were well-preserved.

I read the enlightening story and enjoyed the many illustrations, also done by the author. The storyline revolved around the encounters of a yearling bull moose near Denali National Park.


It was a first edition book, and I found that Berry had autographed the book twice. One signature was on a card with a moose he had drawn and pasted on the inside right-hand cover. He also signed by his name on the author page.

Neither Neva nor I could remember the book, where we got it, or when. Carrie was sure we had given it to her. Since Neva and I were both educators, there were plenty of options. We just all drew blanks.

Berry’s writing was crisp, the story factual and informative, and his illustrations superb. A signed, first edition book was a treasure. The question was, whose prize was it?

I was intrigued. The setting was near one of the areas where Neva and I had visited last August on our tour of Alaska. I easily imagined the geography and topography the young moose and its mother traversed.

I Googled the author and found he had a studio in Alaska. I clicked on the website and discovered that William D. Berry had died in 1979. Berry’s son, Mark, and his wife Diane now ran the studio, located in Gustavus, Alaska.

I emailed them from their webpage, telling of the book’s discovery, and offered to donate it to them. By morning, I already had a reply.

Mark was thrilled to learn about the book. He said that the studio ironically never had a signed copy of “Deneki.” They had to buy one off of eBay for more than the book had earned in royalties in its initial year of publication.

Mark said he would donate the book to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, once it reopens from the COVID-19 emergency closures. The university houses an archive of his father’s field sketches and other items.

The book arrived safely in Alaska by U.S. mail. It’s a treasure that might have remained hidden without the methodical house cleaning of our daughter and the foggy memories of her parents.

I reckon “Deneki” will be glad to be home, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Sorting files and memories

Killbuck Elementary School, Bruce Stambaugh
My fifth-grade class in 1978.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter in Ohio usually means snow and blowing snow, and snow days, and power outages, and quick trips to the grocery store, and laughter in the wintery elements, and the stunning beauty of a Northern Cardinal’s crimson red against the season’s fluffy whiteness.

When all this happens, it’s a sign from Heaven above to my loving wife that it’s time for her favorite indoors sport, sorting. So we sort.

I am not critical here. Neva is a master organizer. I’m a left-brain thinker, dreamer, and doer of all things distracting from the task at hand. When we’re stuck inside unwilling to brave winter’s sharp teeth, we bind our already long marriage by going through “stuff” one drawer, one box, one file at a time.

northern cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal.
I know it sounds boring, but it’s not.

Neva is also a multi-tasker. She sorts, reads, does jigsaw puzzles and watches college basketball on TV simultaneously. Me? I just watch the game, and, oh, usually munch on some snacks, too.

But when Neva plops a pile of long-forgotten “treasures” determined to be mine in front of me, I know it’s time to put down the chips and get busy. So like any good husband, I do. That’s what I said nearly 45 years ago, and I still mean it. So I dig into the pile.

We went through such a scenario the other night. However, all reorganizing came to a halt when I found a photo of the last fifth-grade class I had taught before I moved on to being an elementary principal.

My attention went to the gaggle of youngsters standing on risers loathing this photo op, as 11-year-olds are wont to do. I examined every face in the three rows of 27 kids, and to my amazement, I could only name a handful of them.

I quickly abandoned the basketball and scanned the photo to my computer. I innocently posted the slightly faded color photo on my social media Facebook page to see if others could help awaken my sleeping brain. I depended on a few of my former students who are in my Facebook circles.

classmates, student ID
Sailing into the past.
Boy did they come through. One of my students in the very first class I taught asked to post the photo on a Facebook page appropriately titled “The Killbuck Gang.” I taught at Killbuck Elementary School in Killbuck, Ohio.

To my surprise, lots of former Killbuck School folks began commenting on the photo. A lengthy online discussion ensued. The student identification process would have made the FBI proud.

Several former classmates, now all adults, joined in the “name that student” game. In a matter of hours, every student was identified, and everyone seemed very pleased to have taken the stroll back in time together. I know I was.

It did this old heart good to see the enthusiasm and interaction of former students and friends as they recollected and reconnected. They filled us in on who was currently doing what in life. Sadly, a few students pictured had passed away, and I was sad to hear that news.

Still, this simple idea of posting the photo went viral in its special way. It refreshed many good memories that had been filed deep in my cranial vault.

I was glad to have all of the students appropriately identified. My wife was equally pleased to have me back in my easy chair once again sorting away.

buggies in snowstorm
Winter in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016