What a few nice words can do for you and others


By Bruce Stambaugh

You would be surprised what a few nice words can do for a person.

I recently received a hand-written letter in the mail from a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. I had taught some of her children in school, and she reminisced about incidents that I had long forgotten.

I enjoyed her well-written, personal historical commentary that reflected on the rapid changes that occurred in the 1970s when her children were my students. Those were rough and tumble times with lots of social change occurring.

My friend reflected on how outspoken I was on some of those social issues, and how she had challenged me about sharing my opinions in class. I had no recollection of that.

When I came to the words in the letter, “You did well,” I was both honored and humbled. Here was a wonderful lady who had disagreed with my viewpoints (imagine that) and still took the time to thank me for my teaching.


The 1960 and 1970 eras were tumultuous times in our country to be sure. The Civil Right movement, the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Watergate, skyrocketing oil prices, high inflation rates, and a presidential resignation were just some of the headlines of those days.

I hardly knew how to respond to my friend. After much thought, I sent a few lines of appreciation in a note card. I know they were inadequate. But I’m hoping we will have a chance to meet in the future to continue our “conversation.”

Her letter had a profound effect on me. I acknowledged in my note that I likely was too opinionated in the classroom, especially for elementary children. But the positive tone of her letter was beyond encouraging. It stirred me.

Those three words, “You did well,” charged me, urged me on. I knew I needed to share them in some equally positive way. Then I saw my chance. A teacher I had hired years ago was retiring. Given my schedule and the fact that school was about to end, I knew what I needed to do.

Since I was in the vicinity, I visited where he taught, knocked on the classroom door and strolled in. I wish you could have seen his smile. He was surprised and happy to see me. While his students worked on group projects, we chatted about old times and how much the education profession had changed since I had retired 14 years ago to begin my second career.

Between receiving the one friend’s letter and my visit with my retiring friend, I thought long and hard about the people who had positively influenced me in my life and careers. Just mentally listing their names brought back happy memories, some even during difficult times.

A hand-written letter from one friend and a visit with another served as bookends for volumes of memories, each one a special chapter in my life. Who has influenced you for the good? Who has inspired you? Have you told them how much you appreciated them and what they did for you?

The convergence of Memorial Day and the end of another school year for many across the country provides a unique opportunity. Besides placing flowers on the graves of lost loved ones, connect with someone who positively influenced you.

Whether by letter, phone call or over coffee, tell them, “You did well.” Just be ready for what happens next.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Words I always wanted to use

Amish clothesline by Bruce Stambaugh
Perhaps this post, like this clothesline, is just a lot of literary laundry flapping in the wind.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have loved words for as long as I can remember. That’s a good thing for a writer.

Following the instruction of a highly regarded journalism professor, I never tried to use highfalutin words in my written endeavors. To be absolutely clear, it was best to write with everyday, run-of-the-mill words.

I have tried to stick to that advice ever since, earnestly desiring to avoid platitudes. Over the years though, I endeavored to expand my vocabulary. I noted catchy words that I either liked or sent me to the dictionary. I gradually created a latent lexis cache for future use.

Procrastinator that I am, I never got around to incorporating most of those exotic words in my dissertations. Consequently my verbose hoard burgeoned.

I figured a quick way to rectify that error would be to incorporate a multitude of those expressive descriptors in one fell swoop. My writer’s itch would then be scratched.

If and when I did such a deed, I pontificated that I had better generate a productive manuscript that actually resonated with the readers. I didn’t want to simply create a haberdashery of verbiage. I saw no need to hemorrhage words just for the sake of typographical splaying.

No matter how many syllables they contained or how obscure, the use of the words had to make sense. I wanted such exhortation to be both sanguine and seminal. That amalgamation would be a challenge. I emphatically didn’t want my text to be blowviating.

It would be inscrutable of me if the sentences were disparate. Therein lay the quandary. There could be no dissonance to what I wrote. I had to maintain my own aplomb. I certainly didn’t want my writing to be disingenuous. The content had to be sublime and easily assimilated.

I had to be succinct, too. A sheer plethora of words would not be acceptable. I couldn’t fathom allowing hubris to interfere with my communiqué. By my own volition, my certitude had to temper my cognition to avoid a panacea of a wanton wordy warren.

I could not permeate my writing with supercilious words that meant zilch to the readers. This discourse had to have evocative consonance. I certainly didn’t want the piece to be an Archipelago of disassociated declarations.

Intuition told me that the document had to be symbiotic. Being glib would never do. Creating a cacophony of jibber would not suffice either.

I knew I had to approach this sensitive assignment with both timidity and temerity. It would be a narrow literary line to walk. I would simply have to conjure up the pluck to pull it off.

Simultaneously, I understood that this nuance of style could not be maniacal in any way, shape or form. There was no room for duplicity.

To be true to both my readers and myself, I absolutely had to use discretion. Otherwise, the entire peripatetic piece would culminate into nothing more than an oxymoron. Such a paroxysm would be extremely unfortunate.

Whether you are agog, aglow or have a sense of animus after reading this, I just hope that this quixotic, idiosyncratic reverie of mine hasn’t dissuaded you. Otherwise I will have orchestrated my own demise with this effusive enigma, this pretentious prattle, this demonstrative claptrap.

Ergo, I would have to plead for impunity. Wait. I better go look up that one.