Archive for the ‘Death’ category

Signs That Old Age Has Rested Upon You

January 12, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 12, 2020

                            

Last week I was at our local YMCA in the morning to work up a sweat. I climbed the stairs to the balcony track that circles above the gym. Thirteen laps to a mile and I try to do a mile or two. A runner can only do so many laps before he starts leaning towards the inside railing!

As usual, I stretched and watched the half dozen walkers and runners making their circuits. One young man in his twenties was setting a good pace. Another man, looking like he was hovering around 75 and on the edge of death, plodded along. Down below several octogenarians played pickleball at a snoozing pace. When I entered the track the man who looked like he had limited life expectancy was about 20 yards in front of me. 

And then five laps later I realized he was still 20 yards in front of me! It was a “Come to Jesus moment” for me, a slap on both of my cheeks. I WAS GOING THE SAME SPEED, or should I say, lack of speed. The man in front of me, who probably had checked to see where the nearest AED device was located, was running at the same pace as me. No wait! He was actually getting further ahead of me!

I cursed the extra piece of pecan pie I had consumed the night before, thought about the salad I would now eat for lunch…and dinner, and considered if my will was up to date.

Signs that I’m heading towards a rocking chair and a blanket are coming more frequently. Each night when Carol and I sit to watch a TV show I grab a blanket to warm up my freezing hands and feet. Our couch now has more blankets on it than pillows. Actually, it also has more blankets than seating capacity!

When the TV show ends at about 8:30, Carol asks me if I want to watch another show. My answer to that question usually includes a look at the time. If the minute hand has ended its downward journey and is heading back up towards the top of the hour the chances are I’ll pass on watching another TV episode. That’s another sign that age is crowding in with me.

This week I bought a new nose and ear hair trimmer. As the hair on the top of my head decreases the amount of hair protruding out of my nostrils and ears seems to be increasing. It’s like I accidentally put a treatment of Miracle-Gro on them!

On the bright side it seems that people ask what my opinion is more often than they used to. They ask me if I have any suggestions. Sometimes I do and sometimes I admit my lack of wisdom on the situation. 

I read more, become impatient quicker, and eat more yogurt. I think about the things I used to do: jumping and touching the basketball rim back in college, running the Pike’s Peak Ascent race (Otherwise known by my wife as “The Death Race!), and sleeping through the night without having to get up and urinating. I sigh deeply and mutter to myself “Those were the days!”

And yet in my longing to return to “what was” I realize I wouldn’t have what I now have: four grandkids, the same spouse for 40+ years, an abundance of friends and acquaintances. The arrival of Medicare eligibility coincides with the realization of how blessed I have been and still am. 

Just as I keep the shrubs trimmed growing out of my facial areas, I now keep the areas of my interest and involvement trimmed to where I want to focus my time and energies. With that comes the acceptance of the fact that I don’t need to catch the old guy in front of me on the YMCA track, and that it’s okay to throw a blanket on top of me. Old guys don’t have to worry about being called wimps, they simply need to hope that they’re seen as being wise. 

The Tales of Being Last

December 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 31, 2019

                            

I was never picked first, never. Even in the progression of my siblings I was last. I was always afraid to ask if I was an afterthought, since Mom and Dad had my brother and then my sister. The tables seemed balanced…and then Billy Dean Wolfe came into the world. When you’re third in line you always wonder about things like that. Did my parents slip up one night and I was their surprise…or did they think my brother and sister were so cute why not try for another cutie? Did my mom use her infamous line on Dad, “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” and things went from there or I was a part of their master plan?

I was last, the last of the Wolfe’s. And guess what? Wolfe comes at the end of the alphabet, unless there’s a Young or a Zipp behind you. Just about every class I was in the teachers would arrange the students alphabetically. In U.S. History class I was even behind another Wolfe, Betsy Wolfe. “B-i” came after “B-e”!

My fourth grade teacher showed some compassion and had me move to the front of the class, not because she thought its was unfair that I always had to sit in the back, but rather because she noticed my squinting to see the chalkboard up front. I needed glasses. Being vision deficient qualified me for advancement from the end to the beginning.

My mom was obsessed with “the last.” The last little bite of food in the casserole dish. I can’t tell you how many times she hovered the broccoli cheese casserole by my shoulder and  said, “Bill, you want this last little bite?” Telling her that I didn’t was the wrong answer. It led to a series of questions, like a car dealer trying to sell my dad a Ford (Our family drove Chryslers and Buicks!). My dad’s resistance was solid. Not so much though with my holding off the last bit of broccoli cheese casserole that Mom would inch ever closer to my plate as she tilted it. When she went to her patented “Just enough to dirty the dishwater!” line, I surrendered.

I think about last things a lot these days. I’m getting closer to the end of my journey. Carol thinks I’ll live to be 105 and be featured in the local newspaper as I shovel a spoonful of pureed veggies into my mouth, but I don’t know! This past year more of my friends arrived at the end of their lives. For a few death was the last thing on their minds as they started a new day, but accidents and heart attacks put a dent into the daily agendas. 

I think more and more about what are the last words I want to say to people and how I end the journey. What last acts of kindness would I want to make priorities? What are the last things of my life that I need to resolve and be able to let go of? You know, what are the hurts that need healing and the wounds I’ve caused that need forgiveness?

And what if, like the broccoli cheese casserole, I’m life-stuffed and God says to me “Just a little bit left! Can you live a little bit longer for me? I’ve got just enough life here to dirty the dish water!” 

If that happens, my mom would have a big smile on her face and, though theologically I don’t believe it, I wouldn’t be able to get out of my mind the idea that Mom put the Almighty up to convincing me to the last little bite of living longer.

Polishing My Shoes

December 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 25, 2019

                      

It brought tears to my eyes and it was only shoe polish.

As I dressed and got ready to leave for the 4:00 Christmas Eve service I went to the closet and retrieved the shoe shine kit. The black polish rubbed smoothly over the leather of my dress shoes. As I brushed the shoes into a shine I was taken back to the same scene played out again and again about five decades ago. Every Christmas Eve my dad would instruct me to shine my shoes. It was a tradition that I didn’t appreciate as a teenager. After all, my shoes would only be seen for a few moments. Otherwise they’d be planted partially underneath the pew in front of me at First Baptist Church in Ironton, Ohio. It seemed like busy work, just something to keep me from watching TV for a few minutes.

But to my dad it was important. There was always the unspoken idea of looking your best and, at church, giving of your best. Polished shoes were an act of devotion to Jesus. If our family couldn’t bring gold, frankincense, or myrrh we could at least show up with some shine and show the Christ-child that we had put a bit of thought into our preparation for worship. 

To my dad it wasn’t just for looks or to impress anyone. It was part of his faith identity. He’s the one who taught me how to put the proper knot into a necktie…and it was another part of the Sunday church prep. To this day I can’t put on a necktie without looking into a mirror. It’s how he taught me to tie it and I’m sorta’ necktie dislexic!

The memories of those moments washed over me as I moved the brush back and forth over my Oxfords. Christmas is about happy kids, joy-filled moments, and the glad tidings of the season. 

But Christmas is also about remembering the parts and the people that have made up the journey. In the joy of the Bethlehem birth, for me at least, there is the moan for the passing of the past. All I can do is honor its memory by continuing its practice.

And so I slip on my shoes and then stand in front of the mirror and make the loops of my necktie. My dad would be proud. He always figured that if he was proud of me Jesus would think I was all right also! After all, in so many ways he was a reflection of Jesus.

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.

The Scent of Remembering

December 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 4, 2019

                                   

I had a dream the other night that, strange as it sounds, caused me to tear up. In the confusion of the moment perhaps it was as I awoke from the dream that the tears came, but, whatever the progression, it was an emotional moment.

The dream centered on those who have passed on. Some of the saints whose funerals I’ve officiated at— Charles Slusser, Rex Davis, Ralph Kothe, Jim Newsome, Ben Dickerson, Rita Morris, Phyllis Smith, Greg Davis— came back to my mind in the dream. 

And then my mom and dad. In the dream I could not discern whether my parents were still on this side of eternity or had crossed over. They seemed to be speaking to me as I sat in a church parlor talking to Charles Slusser’s son-in-law and daughter, Dieter and Tina. 

This morning I made the connection between the vividness of the dream and why I experienced it. On Thanksgiving Day our oldest daughter, Kecia, opened a container of my mom’s that had been handed down to her after my dad passed away almost two years ago. When she opened it she remarked on how the scent reminded her of my mom. Or, as Kecia refers to her, MaMaw Wolfe. She hovered over the container and inhaled several times.

My mom’s possessions—dishes, linens, clothes closet— had a distinctive scent that I can only describe as smelling like a combination of southern, cared for, and homey. Kecia closed the container after a couple of minutes in order to preserve the memory. MaMaw has been gone five years and the scent still blesses us.

I lingered over the container for a few seconds myself. Visions of family dinners and savory casserole dishes came back to me. The memory of my mom always greeting our kids with the words, “Give me some sugar!”, and then the giggling when Kecia brought her two sugar packets as we arrived on one visit.

The sweetness of those memories triggered the “deep into the night” emotions. I miss my parents, the Sunday night phone conversations with Dad, Mom’s questions that sought to find a five letter word for “fast” to fill in on her crossword puzzle, her pickiness and my dad’s patience. I miss their practices and their peculiarities.

It’s interesting how a scent from a container can bring the blessings of memories, and life back to those who have long since been lowered into the ground. 

The sense of smell comes out as a strong theme in scripture. Some of the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered God are described as being aromas pleasing to God. The Magi brought gifts to the newborn King, Jesus, and two of them had strong scents that communicated something about who Jesus is.

Kecia closed the container back up and put it away until the next time our family gathers at her house for a special event. When that takes place the scent of remembering will descend upon us again and we will experience the blessings of those who have been pleasing aromas in our journeys. 

When Your Older Brother Turns 70!

November 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 13, 2019

 

Today my brother, Charles Dewey Wolfe, turns the big ‘7-0”! I can’t quite get my mind around it! 70 was the age of our aunts and uncles. It seemed really old to us when we were growing up. The thing is…they were only like…50, but we just figured they were 70 like aunts and uncles are suppose to be.

And now Brother Charlie hits the tape as well! My brother is a Vietnam Vet, retired Associated Press news correspondent, former speechwriter for the Governor of Kentucky, and now an entertaining tour guide for the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky.

He’s the opinionated sibling, much like our mom was, and, to his credit, much needed in the career path he chose. 

We only see each other once or twice a year since I’m in Colorado and he in Kentucky. We send each other birthday cards that cause each of us to laugh, and then we add snarky remarks on the inside card cover. When we’re able to get together, his sarcastic humor comes out in a dry and witty way that the slow of mind have a hard time catching up to.

My brother is a storyteller, the family historian in a way. Our aunts and uncles all stay alive in his retelling of the family folklore and saga. Charlie can go to the cemetery where many of the passed on reside and recount conversations and stories as we stare at someone’s grave marker.

I was the recipient of many of his hand-me-downs as I grew up…bicycle, all beaten and lacking shine, suit coats, bow ties, baseball glove, building blocks. His imprint was like a path that I followed. In Williamstown, West Virginia, his friends, who I thought were cool at the time, gave me the nickname “Carlos Pequeno”.

I was in his wedding and he was in mine. His oldest son is a month younger than our only son. He’s a staunch Democrat and I’m a wavering Republican. We both love history, and yet neither of us excelled in school. 

And now he’s…like our uncles! 70, and getting older! My birthday card to him this year suggested that he’s now cranky. I’m sure he will find a suitable come back for me next May when I hit 66!

Happy Birthday, Big Brother! Hope you have an awesome day!

Elvis Singing to a Hearing Aid Crowd

October 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                October 22, 2019

                          

It was an older crowd.

To say that is to really make an understatement. A converted movie theatre turned into a concert venue would be a metaphor for the scene. Those arriving for the concert could be described in the same way: Old folk who still value music. 

After all, it was Elvis they were coming to see! Well, actually it was Donny Edwards, an Elvis impersonator, coming to New Bruefels, Texas.

We sat in the balcony with our friends, Dave and Donna Volitis. Several attendees with canes filed in and plopped down in seats around us. I noticed that hearing aids were a popular accessory for these folk, decorating the backside of their ears like ear rings and piercings. 

“Elvis” appeared on stage and began his first set of his songs from the “Fifties”. The couple to my left sang the words with the King. They knew them by heart, although their bodies didn’t gyrate like the legend in white did on stage.

Every time Elvis moved his hips the woman sitting in front of me, who was cozying up to 80, giggled and slapped her knee in sheer delight.

And then the white hairs and “keenagers” started making their way towards the stage. Elvis would lean over in the midst of his song and receive a kiss on the cheek from each one of them. He did a lot of leaning during the performance and they did a lot of cheek smooching. 

The crowd swayed from time to time…from their sitting positions! 

He sang close to 30 songs during the evening, working up a good sweat and handing out a few scarfs with his perspiration on it. 

And then the crowd hobbled out, assured of feeling joint pain the next day as the adrenalin wore off. 

And it hit me! Most of the attendees had been teenagers when Elvis had burst on the scene. If only for a couple of hours, they were reliving their youth. Memories of “Return to Sender” and “Love Me Tender” still could be heard in their hearts. And, for a night in New Bruefels, the King lived!