Posted tagged ‘aunts and uncles’

Surrounded By Aunts, Uncles, and Parents

July 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 23, 2018

                               

Yesterday was a bit sobering. After attending my nephew’s wedding on Saturday in Frankfort, Kentucky I altered my route back to my sister’s house in southern Ohio to visit the cemetery where many of my relatives lie in slumbered peace.

This was my first visit to the well-maintained grounds a few miles outside of Paintsville, Kentucky since my dad was laid to rest there last February. It was the first time I had seen the grave marker with both of my parents’ names on it. 

I stood there in silence taking in the depth of their deaths. It reached down and caused an aching in my soul. I let it hurt for a few minutes, tearing up in the reality of what lay before me.

And then I spent some time in the midst of my aunts and uncles who reside, so to speak, in the same area. 

-My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Cynthia at the feet of my parents. My mom and Aunt Cynthia were always trying to outdo one another. It was sisterly competition that took in pie-baking, casserole-making, house decorating, hairstyling, child raising, and opinion-giving. They were like competitors in a game of “life checkers”. To have my mom laying with Aunt Cynthia under her feet would be considered, by my mom, as the final word on the situation. Uncle Bernie and my dad lay beside their wives once again not able to get a word in edgewise! When I think of cigars and pipes I think of my Uncle Bernie. As I stood there looking at his resting place I could hear his laugh which was unique and delightful. And I could almost taste my Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, the best there ever was…no matter what my mom said!

-Uncle Junior (Dewey, Jr.) and Aunt Grethel are just a bit to my mom’s left. Aunt Grethel has been there for a while now, succumbing to illness before any of the other aunts and uncles. Uncle Junior didn’t join her until he had pinched my leg a few hundred more times, usually as I sat on my Papaw Helton’s front porch with the men of the family. Uncle Junior made me squirm. My leg even twitched as I now viewed his permanent residence! Now when I see his daughter Annette she intentionally tries to pinch my leg. I’m not sure if it’s to honor her dad’s memory or she just likes to see me squirm again…maybe both!

-Uncle Millard and Aunt Irene (“Rene”) are just a bit to my dad’s right. Millard was a barber. In fact, he kind of resembled Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”. I remember he chewed tobacco for a while and kept a spittoon beside his recliner to the chagrin of Aunt Rene. They never had any children, but were guardian parents for my cousin Johnny Carroll for a couple of years or so when he was a toddler. Uncle Doc’s first wife had died and he needed help raising his young son. He couldn’t be a physician and a single parent at the same time. Aunt Rene became Johnny Carroll’s mom. I’ll always remember all the pictures she had throughout the house of the little boy who she mothered. Compassion defined her. Before she passed in 1996 to cancer she gave a check to each of her nieces and nephews and asked us to use the money to do something that we would enjoy. She wanted to be able to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. My family planned a trip to Disney World- air fare, park tickets, staying at The Beach and Yacht Club on the property- with the funds. Aunt Rene was as happy as we were. To this day my kids still remember how awesome that vacation was!

Overseeing this horizontal family gathering are my Papaw and Mamaw Helton. Mamaw was the first to find her place in this cemetery, passing away forty years ago in 1978. She’d be 119 if she was still alive! She could cook up a storm and fry up a chicken fresh, mainly because she had just killed it and plucked the feathers out by their barn. Papaw governed the gathered wisdom and opinions of the front porch uncles. Without a doubt he was the family patriarch in every since of the term. 

And now all of their daughters and one of their three sons are gathered around them. It is a family reunion of a different kind, and yet I can still hear their voices, complete with accents and emotions. 

Emotions define this moment for me, also. It’s okay though, because I’m standing in the midst of lives that were well lived, well thought of, and now eternally well.

Weddings and Funerals

July 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 22, 2018

                                     

 

I traveled back to Frankfort, Kentucky for our nephew’s wedding this weekend. Other than his crazed belief that God created Ohio State football, and all others are poor attempted copies of God’s perfect gift, Thomas Wolfe is a great young man. Thank God he married a woman who is a University of Kentucky follower. It had to be true love! Jessica was even able to get him to go to a Kentucky football game!

Gathering for their wedding celebration also allowed me to see a couple of my cousins. John, a retired surgeon, who I’ve always known as John Jerry, taught me how to play chess. His mom, my Aunt Cynthia, was the aunt who would always try to sugar me up with candy, pie, ice cream, and then inconspicuously place a folded up dollar bill in my hand before I left. My first understanding of the concept of inflation was related to Aunt Cynthia when the dollar bill suddenly changed to a folded up five dollar bill. Years later she was putting “Jackson’s” in my kids hands. 

Seeing John Jerry and his wife Debbie is a step back to a time in my life when the roots of family were going deeper into a soil rich in stories and traditions. How I view life now has the imprint of those days upon it. 

Matthew Helton was one of the few cousins I had who were younger than me. Since I was the tail end of our family there weren’t many afterthoughts following along behind me. Now a high school teacher, he’s a guy I wish I could be a student of. With a great voice and a depth of information, he is fascinating to be around, much like his father, my Uncle George. I missed his sister, Kelly (always Michelle to me!), who could not be at the wedding. She, also, is a fascinating person!

Weddings and funerals. The last time I saw John and Matthew (and Kelly and Annette!) was at my dad’s funeral back in February. The time before that may have been my mom’s funeral a few years before that. Living in Colorado, I didn’t make it back for the funerals of Uncle George, Aunt Cynthia, Uncle Bernie, Uncle Doc, or Uncle Junior. I know, however, that my brother and sister were there, often filling the role as chauffeur for my mom and dad. 

We come to a point in life when our own family way- our spouse, kids, and grandkids-  trails off from the old highway of our roots. It’s like what I’ll do this afternoon after I leave Frankfort. I’ll be traveling back to Paintsville, Kentucky to visit the cemetery where my parents have been laid to rest, as well as most of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. BUT I won’t take the road that we would travel back in the 50’s and early 60’s from my birthplace city, Winchester, to Paintsville. That road would require an afternoon and Dramamine. There’s a new way that does not resemble my three-year old granddaughter’s attempt at drawing a camel. 

OR maybe I will go the old way! Why not? It will give me a lot of time to remember the old days! Although there is now a faster way to get there, it isn’t necessarily a BETTER way! 

Seeing The Cousins

February 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 26, 2018

                                     

Cousins are cool!

I grew up living two to three hours away from most of my cousins. Most of them lived in the Paintsville area of eastern Kentucky. My grandparents on my mom’s side had a farm a few miles outside of town. It was on that farm that cousins got together to run around the yard, explore what was on the other side of the creek, and jump from the barn loft onto bales of hay.

We chased the barn cats, made noises at the hogs, and swung in the front porch swings as if they were their own playground.

John Jerry Whitt taught me how to play chess. About five years after he taught me the game I was runner-up in our high school’s tournament as a freshman.

Matthew Helton and his sister Kelly Michelle were three or four years younger, but fun to play with. I remember that they had cool toys, toys that I longed for but never received!

Judith Annette Helton was the feisty one. She was just as willing to kick you in the shins as to look at you. I was scared of her, but I was faster than she was. I idolized her brother, Danny Michael, because he played high school basketball. I never actually saw him play, so I’m not sure if he could walk and chew gum at the same time…but he played high school basketball.

There were Uncle Doc’s kids who all lived in California. They got back to Kentucky once every five years or so. I thought they were celebrities, being from California and all! Johnny Carroll, Barbara Gale, Suzanne, and Scott, they were the ones people craved to see. My first love crush was a cousin crush on Barbara Gale, but it was not meant to be. A cousin with a shaved head and freckles was not who she had in mind to hang around with. Three days later she was back in California anyway.

These were my cousins on the Helton side, and I have great memories of the occasions we were able to be together.

A week ago I saw a few of them again at my dad’s funeral and the visitation time the night before. In the midst of the grieving there was the reconnecting with one another.

Now, years later, we have shed our middle names. I’m no longer Billy Dean, but simply Bill. The others had abbreviated their cousin names and are now John, Judy, Matthew, and Kelly. Part of the maturing process in eastern Kentucky is to no longer be referred to by your first and middle names. Billy Ray Cyrus is the exception!

Seeing the cousins was like being back on the farm, and yet it was also a bit sad. I wished we could be together more, play John in another game of chess, get into a conversation with Matthew about American History (he being a high school teacher in that area), have Annette try to pinch me again, and be delighted by the warm personality and conversation with Kelly.

We’ve moved to different parts of the country, but the mental video of swinging in those front porch swings is still vivid in my mind.

Remembering My Wolfe and Helton Christmas Traditions

December 4, 2016

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!

Losing Special People

June 7, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 6, 2015

                                                 

A few weeks ago (April 22), I wrote a blog post about a special lady, Ruth Kennedy, who was celebrating her 96th birthday. That post was entitled “The Saints Who Go Before Us”. Ruth Kennedy passed away yesterday.

One granddaughter posted a few pictures on Facebook of some of Ruth’s final days with family. I got somewhat emotional looking at them as I remembered what a great lady she had been during my growing up years.

My life recently has been crocheted with loss. My Aunt Cynthia passed away about three of weeks ago. She would have been 93 on May 22. “Aunt Cynthy” always made me smile, especially as she handed me a rolled-up five dollar bill and told me not to tell anyone. She had a down-home wit and humor about her that I will always remember. Visits to her house were punctuated by eating! A few years ago she looked at me and said, “Billy Dean, you’re looking (pause)…a little manly!” That was Aunt Cynthia’s way of saying I had put some weight on. I think she offered me a piece of apple pie and ice cream right after that!

This past week my dad has been in the hospital back in Huntington, West Virginia. Being in Colorado is hard during these times. Writing about Dad, Aunt Cynthy, and Ruth Kennedy are a way that I cope with loss and absence.

It’s how I deal with having to say goodbye to some good friends over the years as well. Most are still on this side of glory, but separated from me by distance and schedules.

We lose people in different ways throughout the journey. Hopefully it causes us to value each relationship…each conversation…each piece of pie lovingly cut…each moment shared even more.

Aunt Cynthy and Ruth Kennedy have passed on to their eternal rewards, experiences of a precision choir of hallelujah praises. My Dad, closing in on 87, isn’t far behind. I’ve been blessed by all. May I be a blessing to just as many!

The Unsettledness of Settling

December 29, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    December 29, 2014

                                           

Growing up in a southern family living in the Appalachia I was “wised up” by many aunts and uncles about things I was not aware of. Many of those things became suspect in their truth years later. For instance, anything that one of my aunts felt I was not yet old enough for they would attach a Surgeon General’s warning to it: It will stunt your growth! I’m sorry that I did not make a list of all the things that had “growth stunt hormones” as part of their chemical make-up.

My mom was big on “settling.” That meant I needed to let dinner “settle a little bit” before I ran like a wild six year old around the backyard. Settling was like a punishment for a young boy…worse than having to do homework! I would rather have read about Dick, Jane, Sally, and Puff than settle. It never occurred to us in those days that reading and settling could be done at the same time. I could have been multi-tasking before we even knew what it was!

“Settling” was a brief time period where we evidently needed to let the mashed potatoes head to one part of our stomach, green beans to another, and the meat loaf to another. It was like a time of “sorting out” for the food creatures in my tum-tum, like they were in a logjam at one of the intestinal curves. Knowing how much Velveeta Cheese we were consuming in our Kentucky-recipe casseroles there was a better than even chance of that happening!

I’ve never been a good settler. My Aunt Irene would look at my fidgeting body and ask me, “Well…Billy Dean, do you have ants in your pants?” And then she would chuckle, and her chuckle in some odd way had a calming effect on “the ants.”

I remember those days like they were yesterday. They were good days…days when a kid felt fully alive and carefree, when an afternoon was going to be punctuated at some point with a sugar cookie that was carefully “lifted” from the cookie jar when no adults were in the room.

As I age a little less gracefully than fine wine I find myself thinking about the past perhaps even more than the future. I suppose it is an aged form of settling. I sit and remember and am thankful. I sip coffee and think of the aroma of Maxwell House that was always percolating in my parent’s kitchen in the morning.

I settle into a time of writing and get pictures of my dad, sitting at the kitchen table, preparing the Sunday School lesson he was to teach, the carefulness of detail, the importance of imparting scriptural truth to a class of moms and dads that needed some insights to help them travel through another week.

Settling has new meaning for me!

My six year old grandson is a the reincarnation of his granddad. He often has ants in his pants…and the ants have mutated into a more hyper form since I was six. I find myself starting to say to him, “Jesse, let’s settle down a little bit!”

And then I bite my lip, and here the chuckle in my head of my Aunt Irene!

 

Family Picture Boxes

April 24, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 24, 2014

 

                                      

 

My dad is moving. He’s under a month now. The house sold in less than two weeks after he listed it with a realtor…a happening that caught him a little off-guard…kind of like when a young lady I went to college with said yes to a date proposal!

“You will?”

The quickness of the house selling suddenly changed the game plan. It’s the difference between reading War and Peace versus reading the Cliff Notes of War and Peace.

Yesterday we were going through boxes of family photos. It was entertaining and amusing. To see my dad as a curly red-haired two year old (Although his red hair doesn’t really stand out in the black-and-white photo. You rarely think of your parents as kids, especially when they are just shy of 86!

And then there was the picture of my mom in a swimsuit when she was about twenty. That’s another picture I’m not sure about. Mom looked great in a swimsuit…is that okay? A son kind of wants his mom just to look okay for some reason. Call it generational unrest.

Another box had old Christmas card pictures. My parents would put a picture of the three kids on a Christmas postcard each year. You can see the progression each year as we grew and became less cute. The growing attitudes of “This is no longer cool!” can be slightly seen as each year passed by.

There was a few pictures of my Helton grandparents- Mamaw and Papaw Helton. Papaw was a stoic-type Eastern Kentucky farmer, who measured success on the basis on crops, chickens, and good-looking hogs. Seeing the pictures brought back the echo of his voice.

“Loooorrrdddd, have mercy!”

It look him longer to say “Lord” than it did for Jesus to say “holy, holy, holy!”

There was pictures of Feds Creek School where my dad went to school, and Oil Springs High School where both he and my mom attended. It made me realize that I failed to take pictures of the schools I attended, most that no longer are standing! Years from now my kids will think I was home-schooled since there will be an absence of brick and mortar shots to tell stories about.

Pictures of my aunts and uncles through the years were revealing. Each of them shows the ticking of time on their faces, the sagging of their jaws, and gray in, or loss of, their hair. For some of my uncles age was not kind. Most of my aunts, however, had “good skin.”

There was a picture of our Siamese cat “Caesar.” He ruled the roost until he started urinating in the entryway of our house. Mom did not take kindly to a cat who got confused. “Cat dementia” led to an absence of cat.

Finally, there were pictures of former pastors, all with stories attached to the film. Pastor Zachary at Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky…a great pastor and, I’m assuming, preacher…although I was too young to know what a good preacher was. That was during the period when I was a little envious of the Methodist children. Baptists had Sunday night church, but the Methodist took care of all the spiritual hunger on Sunday morning. Bottom line! They got to watch Walt Disney on Sunday night while we were going at it for a second time at Central Baptist.

There was Pastor Gale Baldridge who was a great pastor with a servant’s heart. He wore brightly colored suits that someday will come back into style…shortly after leisure suits arrive again.

The boxes are full of memories and history. Since cell phones are now cameras I;m not sure how things will be years from now. Will the history be evident? Will there be a richness in that time when our kids help us pack up for the move?

I don’t know. No one talks about “Kodak Moments” much any more.