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

Sweetness found in more than maple syrup

sugarshackbybrucestambaugh
Elmer’s sugar shack.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I left a voicemail message for Elmer, a former elementary student of mine. I told him that I would arrive at his sugar shack between 9 and 10 on Saturday morning.

No longer the fourth grader I fondly remembered, Elmer was now a husband, father, grandfather and entrepreneur. I considered it a privilege to be invited into this unpretentious but productive workplace.

The process of making maple syrup has to be done in a timely fashion. When the sap’s running, it’s time to get busy.

Above the sugar shack, a billowy blend of steam and smoke filtered through barren branches and into the morning’s overcast, and signaled that Elmer and his crew were already hard at work. The smoke meant the wood-fired boiler was stoked. The steam said the sap was boiling.

Strands of thin blue tubing zigzagged downhill from maple tree to maple tree, converging at the weathered wood building. Lid-covered buckets marked the taps on the trees and served as junctions for the plastic tubing.

A lazy, little stream split the handsome, steep hillside farm fields on either side of the hollow. Even after all of the moisture we had had, the creek just trickled softly as if it didn’t want to disturb the bucolic setting. Near the entrance a small sign welcomed one and all to the Yoder’s sugar camp.

The annual effort clearly was a family affair, too. With my arrival, the close quarters of Elmer’s operation soon filled with curious family members. Some were there to work and visit, others, mainly to scope me out.

When he’s not making maple syrup, Elmer has his fingers in several other operations. He makes wooden slats for the interiors of utility trucks as well as nylon pockets for tools and electronic parts.

In addition, Elmer makes wood clocks in the shape of Ohio with each of the state’s 88 counties a different wood. Elmer has developed his own variety of sweet, tart apple. I can attest that they are delicious. Elmer is a multi-talented man.

As Elmer showed me the various aspects of his sugaring operation, I marveled at his ingenuity, and his acute knowledge. He talked while he worked, once using the hydrometer to check the percentage of brix in the bubbling solution.

Outside large stainless steel tanks captured the sweet liquid until it was pumped into the reverse osmosis system that made his sugaring operation so efficient and kept the finished product consistent.

All the while young sons and pretty daughters scurried about their tasks, too. They stoked the fire frequently to maintain the proper temperature to keep the boiling sap boiling.

Elmer demonstrated how syrup is graded by both flavor and color. Apparently, lovers of maple syrup have their preferences.

Soon more family members entered, including two that I should have recognized but did not. Sister Fannie, and younger brother, Harry, arrived just minutes apart. Like Elmer, I had taught them, too. I had no idea they were coming.

That’s when the stories really started to flow faster than the maple sap. They reminded me of events and interactions I had long forgotten. Their smiles told me they had waited a long time for this opportunity.

Teachers live for moments like this. To have former students chatter on and on in heart-felt contentment overwhelmed me with abundant joy.

The apples and syrup each had their own special sweetness. No instrument, however, has yet been made to gauge the sweetness of the hospitality shown to me.

maplesyrupbybrucestambaugh
The signs said it all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014