Currently viewing the tag: "Returing Home"

by dave ammenheuser

The call came in the middle of a night in January 1991.

The familiar male voice on the other line told me that I wouldn’t be hearing from him for a while. It was a special code that I had with my brother, Sgt. Robert Ammenheuser of the United States Army.

I knew it meant within the next 24 hours that the Gulf War was about to begin. As a chemical detection specialist, he would be on the front line. Soon, thereafter, the war began in Iraq. There were several tough, sleepless nights until I heard from him again and knew that he was safe and that he’d be returning to Thurmont soon. 

Robert “Bob” Ammenheuser is my hero. Not only for his heroic duty during that war but also for his actions during the past year.

Although we’ve spent much of our adult lives in different states, often separated by hundreds and hundreds of miles, we always knew we could count on each other when the other needed help.

That was never more apparent than in the last year. When my father died in September 2020, my first call was to Bob. He had a much closer relationship with Dad than I did. It was a very difficult conversation.

When our mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and she didn’t want to spend another minute in a rehabilitation home last fall, Bob and his wife Emily quickly volunteered to care for Mom in her final months. She died in December.

Over the past year, Bob’s been at my side as we cleared our parents’ Creagerstown home. It’s our childhood home, built in 1969 when Bob was 1 and I was 7. The same home that still has the residue from the NERF basketball hoop that hung on the family room closet, where as a young teen I’d play on my knees against my younger brother; the same backyard where I taught my younger brother to play baseball, forcing him to bat right-handed and throw right-handed and ignoring the fact that he was naturally left-handed.

The same home where we spent countless nights over the past year sorting through our parents’ collections and belongings, repairing vintage cars, and catching up on our lives.

It hasn’t been easy. Bob had the uncanny timing to always show when Mother Nature was at her worst: temperatures plummeting below freezing, blinding rainstorms. Those were not exactly ideal times to be outside repairing a 1963 Thunderbird.

Since returning from the war, Bob has lived in Maryland, Alabama, and now in Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Maryland, South Carolina, Connecticut, California, Tennessee, Virginia, and now Delaware.

Our parents’ deaths brought us together again. Face to face. Side by side.

As we close this chapter of our lives, it’s a good bet that we spent more time together in the past year than we will together the rest of our lives.

That’s tough to digest.

But I know he’s only a phone call—or these days, a text—away, and we’ll always be there for each other. And our brotherly love no longer needs coded messages.

Dave and Bob Ammenheuser with their mother, Liz, in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1991.

Bob Ammenheuser as an infant.

Bob Ammenheuser working on his father’s 1963 Thunderbird earlier this year.

by dave ammenheuser

Clearing a loved one’s estate is never easy. Over the past eight months, I’ve been methodically clearing my late parents’ possessions after their deaths in the last half of 2020.

Many items were sold on Facebook Marketplace, a couple on Ebay, and many more during a spring yard sale. All of those items stayed close to our family’s roots in Thurmont.

Not so for my father’s vintage cars. A Thunderbird fanatic, his cars are headed to Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania…and Australia.

Yep, Australia.

Each of my father’s cars had its own story, from how they each arrived along Creagerstown Road over the past several decades to how each has been sold to other Thunderbird enthusiasts.

A car enthusiast in Victoria, Australia, recently purchased my father’s beloved 1956 Thunderbird coupe. It’s a beautiful car, with just 15,000 original miles. My father bought it from a Hollywood producer in the 1980s. When it came time to sell it, we had a difficult choice.

A week before his death last September, my father had asked me to take the car to my home in Ocean View, Delaware. Although I loved the idea of a classic car sitting in my driveway and the idea of riding along Coastal Highway, I knew that I did not know how to take care of the vintage automobile. And, that it needed to go to the home of someone who would cherish it as much as my father.

I was surprised when I got a call from Joe, some 14 time zones away.

“Hello, mate,” he said, his thick Australian accent vibrating over my mobile phone. Joe’s in his 60s and collects Thunderbirds, too. He must really like purchasing American cars. Buying it was the easy part.  He also needed to arrange to have it shipped via a truck from Thurmont to California, where it will be unloaded. A mechanic will change out the brakes, so they meet Australia’s strict vehicle guidelines. It will then be sent via ship for a month’s ride across the Pacific Ocean. Joe hopes to have it at his home by October.

While I was surprised the ’56 headed overseas, it’s only one of the memorable stories of selling my father’s cars.

Brian, who lives in Pennsylvania, bought my father’s 1966 Thunderbird. He arrived in Thurmont to examine the car. After he and my brother, Bob, took it for a test drive, he agreed to buy it. He loaded it up and took it on its two-hour journey to the Keystone State.

The next morning, I received an email from Brian.

Oh, no, I thought. What could the problem be?

Brian included a video in the email. The video showed a very large black snake coming out from under the motor! Imagine his surprise.

I told Brian that if he had trouble with the car, I’d take it back, but he could keep the snake who decided to hitchhike from Creagerstown to his new Pennsylvania home.

It’s been a difficult year parting with my parents’ possessions. I am grateful that they are going to new homeowners who will appreciate them as much as my parents did.

That said, it’s a tad sad to see them go. A little piece of me hurts every time a treasure (albeit a small porcelain piggy bank or a classic car) leaves the house.

Next up is selling the house. My heart will ache more than a little when that is done.

Dave Ammenheuser is writing a monthly column for The Catoctin Banner in 2021. He can be reached at

Dave Ammenheuser and his brother, Bob, stand next to their father’s 1956 Thunderbird, headed to its new owners in Australia.

John Ammenheuser’s 1956 Thunderbird, getting loaded and prepared to ship to Australia.

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

A year ago, in the January issue of The Catoctin Banner, Blair Garrett wrote a nice profile of me and of how my journalism career took me from Thurmont to across the world’s sports stage.

I was flattered. Thurmont will always be my home. I was proud that my local newspaper cared enough to write about my career.

My mother was thrilled. My father’s friends got him extra copies. My father-in-law, who lived in Delaware, asked for a copy, too. I also coordinated a 40-year reunion of Catoctin High School basketball friends and teammates, while I started planning to take my USA TODAY sports staff to Japan for the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

The rest of 2020 wasn’t so great.

COVID-19 impacted the world and our family. There was the difficult day in March when I had 24 hours to get my son out of Ecuador, where he was spending a college semester studying abroad. It was a crazy day. Luckily, he got on the final American plane out before the country closed its airport because of the pandemic. 

But that was only the start of a terrible year. A nasty tornado ripped through the Tennessee town (Mt. Juliet) where we lived. Our home was spared, but hundreds of neighbors lost their homes. Two schools were destroyed. The community remains in recovery mode.

We also learned that my father-in-law, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, also had melanoma on his brain. The double-whammy cut his life short. He died in July.

My own parents, who have lived near Creagerstown for 50 years, also battled health issues. My father, John, died in September when his heart finally gave out.

Cancer struck my mother, Liz. First, the cancer was located in her breasts, then in her spine. Combine that with dementia, and you have a very unfair battle for a wonderful person in her senior years. She died a few days before Christmas.

I finally decided that it was all too much to handle from afar. Thus, two months ago, I returned home. My wife, Maura, and I sold our home near Nashville and moved back East.

I gave up my amazing career as a sports journalist to care for my father-in-law’s estate in Delaware and to care for my parents’ home in Thurmont and their estate.

It’s been almost 25 years since I left Frederick County. My journalism career took me to the Carolinas, Connecticut, California, and Nashville. Two years ago, I was named the sports director of the USA TODAY Network, overseeing more than 700 sports journalists across the nation.

All of those 700 are important to me. But my family and my mom’s needs were more important.

So, instead of working for a paycheck for USA TODAY in 2021, I’ve volunteered to write a free monthly column for Deb Abraham Spalding and The Catoctin Banner this year. I’ll write about what it is like to return home after being away for 25 years. I’ll recount stories of growing up in Creagerstown and of matriculating through the local school system. I’ll tell what it was like being an Eagle Scout in this community and about being the worst baseball player in the history of the Thurmont Little League.

Without a doubt, 2020 simply stunk for all of us. I’m looking forward to 2021 and hopefully seeing many friends I have not seen in a few decades.

Liz and John Ammenheuser visiting Bethany Beach in 2018.