Remembering My Wolfe and Helton Christmas Traditions

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              December 4, 2016

     For me Christmas is more about the comfort of traditions, customs our family have practiced for years and years.

Growing up as a son of two Kentucky parents there were certain things we did that still bring a warmth to my spirit. Christmas Day was always spent at our grandparents. My Granny Wolfe and Great Aunt Lizzie lived in a two-story home outside of Paintsville. They always had a batch of sugar cookies available, even though they were both diabetics. We’d share gifts with them in their living room, and at least one of them would look at her gift-wrapped present and say “It’s too pretty to open!” My dad’s two siblings lived in Alabama and the D.C. area, so our visit was usually all the family that Granny and Aunt Lizzie had for Christmas. They were two wonderful women! Every Christmas I look at least one of my gifts and say “It’s too pretty to open!”

Towards noon we would pile into the car and drive to the farm in Oil Springs, about twenty minutes away, and converge with the Helton Clan. It was a much different atmosphere than at Granny Wolfe’s, because usually five of the six Helton offspring were there with their kids. Only my Uncle Doc (John) would be missing. He lived in California.

The Helton Christmas had certain traditions that no one messed with. One of them was that the men and boys gathered around the large dining room table and ate their meal first. The women served them! After the men were done, they retired to the front porch to smoke their pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, and the women and girls then sat down and ate their Christmas dinner. This tradition has not continued in my family!

After the meal there would be conversation and laughter. I’d roam around the back of the house sneaking peppermint stick candies and chocolate-covered cream drops. They were much more preferable to a young boy than the fruitcake that was another Christmas tradition. After a while the family would gather in the living room to open presents. My Mamaw and Papaw Helton were always the center of attention for these gatherings. They occupied two seats on the couch with twenty people as their audience. Almost every gift each of them received had some kind of garment within it, but also cash or a check. Every Christmas they would discreetly pocket the money into either a shirt or apron pocket and pretend that there had not been anything in the gift but a shirt or sweater. My Papaw kept a calculator in his head that was doing a running tally. He knew when he had enough for a new steer or hog…or both! When a new livestock purchase had been achieved we all knew it because he would look up and smile without saying a word!

Around 6:00 we’d pack into the car and head back home to either Winchester, Kentucky, Williamstown, West Virginia, or Ironton, Ohio. The car would be loaded with my Aunt Cynthia’s peanut butter fudge and my Aunt Irene’s Chex Mix. Unfortunately, there would also be a fruitcake somewhere in the trunk! Mom would fall asleep in the front seat on the way home and delight all three of us in the back with her bobblehead-flopping from side to side as the car turned in different directions.

Our own family had opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember many of those presents besides an Erector Set, a Dennis the Menace doll, and a Matchbox carrying case filled with cars, but what each of us kids knew without question was that one of our gifts would contain underwear and socks. To be more specific, Towncraft underwear and socks from J.C. Penny’s! Since joining the ranks of grown-ups I’ve felt the freedom to buy my underwear in different brands and at different business establishments, but…I still buy my black dress socks at Penny’s.

Those were good days! The memories of them still sing in my mind. Uncles telling stories…my Papaw saying “Lord…..have mercy!”, aunts chuckling in the kitchen, and cousins scooting between adults like hyper ants on a mission.

Good days…great days! My wife Carol and I have meshed some of her traditions and some of my traditions into “our traditions.” We’d also added a few, like socks in empty cereal boxes and Christmas Eve services at church.

But besides the tradition of men eating first, one other tradition that has not carried forward is…the fruitcake!

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

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