Walking Amongst The Relatives

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 26, 2013

      Yesterday I returned for the first time to the cemetery where my mom was buried this past September 6. The day was grey and cool as we drove the hour and a half into the hills of eastern Kentucky. The conversation between my dad, sister Rena, and I was warm and reminiscent. We talked of past events and family practices, and the miles passed quicker than the coal trucks.

At the cemetery Dad guided us towards my mom’s grave site. The last time I was there a tent canopy told us where to head. Our family pallbearers carried my mom the final sixty feet in honor of how she had carried many of our burdens through the years. It would have been appropriate for a squash casserole to have been passed through the grieving at that moment. Problems often got soothed with food in our family.

This time, however, there was not a canopy, just Dad to shepherd us towards the place of rest. Though filled in you could tell that the sod had been recently positioned to blanket the departed. There she was…still below me, as I kneeled by her marker.

Virginia Helton Wolfe

               1927-2013

Someday my dad will lay down to her right, just as he stood on her right when they were married at the United Methodist Church in Paintsville, Kentucky on August 13, 1948.

Let me tell you…being in that cemetery was like being back at the dinner table of my Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm house in Oil Springs, a few miles further down the curvy road; for my mom has been laid to rest in the midst of family.

Mamaw and Papaw were to the left, gone for years but not from memory. I asked Dad on the way back home how they had first met. A grandson seldom knows how romances of previous generations begin…or even cares to know, in case some family scandal get forced to the surface, but I was curious. How did people meet before Facebook or text messaging? Dad told me the story. In the company of a couple of his friends, Papaw had come by the house where Mamaw lived. She had expressed her interest in him by throwing green apples…not at the whole group, mind you. Her aim was squarely focused on him. Romance followed shortly after the apples. Family history that is not written down is often more interesting than anything else.

Right next to Mom is my Uncle Bernie. Her sister Cynthia, Uncle Bernie’s wife, is the only one Helton sibling still living. Uncle Bernie almost made me a smoker. He used a pipe and smoked cigars. As a young boy the smoke from both were always a satisfying aroma, like a pleasing Levitical sacrifice to God.

I walked a little further and greeted Uncle Milliard and Aunt Rene. Milliard had been a barber, and for a short time had operated a Dairy Queen. Barbering was much easier. As a barber he could have conversations with people. At DQ people were only interested in getting their hands on sundaes and properly-dipped cones. Aunt Irene was a saint. She had taken in our one year old cousin, Johnny Caroll Helton, when my mom’s brother, Uncle Doc (John) had lost his first wife and needed to get a grasp on his life again. Aunt Rene and Uncle Milliard never had any children of their own, and so we were all their children. When Aunt Rene was diagnosed with cancer she gave a sum of money to each of her nieces and nephews and told all of us that she wanted to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. We went to Disney World. It’s a family vacation we still measure others by.

Uncle Junior (Dewey Helton, Jr.) and his first wife, Grethel, are buried close by as well. Uncle Junior was a good man who liked to give me a little pinch on the leg to make kids squirm. I kind of wonder if they taped his fingers together in the casket just in case when his body rises in the last days he will come out seeking the backside of some unsuspecting saint’s leg? It’s a question I am not willing to find a quick answer to.

My Papaw’s Uncle Ernie is laid there…in a lonesome place with no one beside him. Ernie had been estranged from the family for a while and still looks somewhat isolated where he rests.

Across the narrow road where hearses pull in is my dad’s part of the family. My Granny Wolfe, whose husband passed away in a mining accident when my dad was young, is there. She was a school teacher back in times when women who got married had to give up teaching and be at home. Granny had a calming voice. I remember staying at her house in Wittensville, Kentucky and she would let me stay up and watch a movie on NBC on Saturday night. That was the first time I became familiar with Bride of Frankenstein. Sleep did not come easily that night.

My Granny Wolfe would always be taken back by the beauty of a wrapped Christmas present. Each Christmas we would fully expect that the opening of her new sweater or blouse would be preceded by the words “This is too pretty to open!” My mom was skilled as a gift wrapper…a talent that has not been passed on to me.

And then there is my Aunt Lizzie, a Kentucky Colonel, who lived to be 99! She was a delight, soft-spoken with a definite strength in her voice. Aunt Lizzie had a determination that ran deep. In fact, it has run deeply into our own children. She took art classes at the community college when she was 96, and painted pictures of the log cabin she was born in.

Flanking those two great ladies are my Uncle Dean and Aunt Della and their spouses. Great Uncle Sam is laid there as well, as are several other relatives that I don’t recall, but all who have histories.

We walked and pondered. Most of the markers had recently-mowed grass on them, which I gently brushed off in respect and honor to their continuing presence in my life.

We walked and talked, laughed and spent moments in quiet reverence.

Walking amongst the relatives was what I needed to experience. To see that Mom is in good company, even though she has moved on to eternity. There was something deeply fulfilling for me to be there…with Dad and Sis…stepping between generations…remembering and being blessed by it.

Explore posts in the same categories: children, Community, Death, Humor, love, marriage, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized

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