Posted tagged ‘aunts and uncles’

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.