Posted tagged ‘common sense’

Hearing My Papaw Helton Again After 30 Years

July 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 27, 2018

                    

I only knew one of my grandfathers. The other, my dad’s dad, died in a mining accident in the southeast corner of Kentucky long before I was even a possibility. 

My Papaw Helton, however, was distinctive in personality, the governor of his family’s domain, and the source of various opinions that were mostly anchored to common sense…mostly!

My sister made me a DVD copy of an interview Papaw Helton had done with my cousin, Matthew Helton, back in 1989. Papaw was 89 at the time of the interview and lived another couple of years. He had been born on the eastern Kentucky farm in 1898 where he lived almost his entire life. In fact, the front sitting room where he was delivered was also the same room where each of his six children were born. Knowing my Mama Helton she went to the chicken coop and killed a chicken for a celebration dinner a few hours after delivering. No epidurals were used in Oil Springs, Kentucky back in those days, although there was probably a bottle of bourbon whiskey somewhere close…for medicinal purposes!

When you haven’t heard your Papaw’s voice for thirty years it’s causes a flood of emotions to rise up from the reservoir of memories. My Papaw was a proud and stoic “feller” (his pronunciation). He was suspicious of any new inventions that were meant to improve the quality of a person’s life. (I think I was ten years old when he and Mamaw decided to finally get indoor plumbing! Until then you battled the spiders in the outhouse, which caused you to “hold your water” a bit longer before seeking relief!) 

I remember the story of a salesman stopping by the farmhouse looking to sell a satellite dish…one of those huge ones that stuck out like a sore thumb! He explained what the dish could do, how many TV channels it could pick up, and all. Back in those days Mamaw and Papaw had a little TV that could pick up two stations, and one of them so fuzzy you weren’t sure if you were watching a baseball game or “The Price Is Right”!

The salesman thought he had a good prospective sale and then my Papaw asked him how much this “deesh” cost? 

“Mr. Helton, it’s only nineteen ninety-five!”

“Nineteen ninety-five?” He relayed that conversation to us with the comment, “Good Lord, son! He made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!” No sale was made and my grandparents continued to receive two television stations. They never ever saw Ed Sullivan with good complexion on TV!

On the DVD Matthew keeps peppering Papaw with questions about politics, life, his siblings, where he worked, who his favorite president was, his only plane ride ever, and the fearlessness of Matthew’s father, my Uncle George, on the trip they all took together by auto to California and back. 

“Your daddy wanted to stop at every place we came to on the way!” Papaw exclaims, not in an affirming way. “And he wanted to go to the top of Pike’s Peak. Lord God, there weren’t any guardrails along that road and I just about put my foot through the floorboard on the way down and wore out my britches! I said, Lord God, if you get me down from here I’ll never go up again!”

The sound of his voice is like eating comfort food. It’s satisfaction for the soul, a return to an earlier time that was uncomplicated and certain. With Papaw life wasn’t gray. Things were mostly black and white. Either you were or you weren’t…there wasn’t any “almost.” A person was either right or wrong, and, of course, what was right depended on my Papaw’s view of things. 

And I realize that who I am today still has his definite imprint upon it, and that’s a very good thing!

A 3 Year Old and 8th Grade Girls

May 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 25, 2018

                              

She met me in the driveway. Her mom (our daughter) was heading to her next to last day of school, teaching fourth graders, and her brother and sister were heading to the same school for their education. 

But she was staying!

“Hi, Granddad!” 

Corin, our three year old granddaughter, was ready. We blew and chased bubbles for thirty minutes and then pursued an imaginary creature she referred to as the beast. I made the mistake of calling the beast “her”, and was quickly corrected on the gender! A few minutes later I had to share an imaginary Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets with the beast. 

We took a walk…a long walk!

Not once did she have to look at her cell phone. Her imagination and grandfather were enough to occupy her time and keep her attention.

The day before I had substitute taught 8th Grade Science for a third straight day. Thus, 8th Grade girls! The differences between the three year old and the girls in my Wednesday classroom are more than just eleven years of life and size. They are also worlds apart.

A three year old’s life is uncomplicated. 8th Grade girls are complicated! Corin’s decisions included what kind of juice she wanted to drink and whether we should play inside or outside. 8th Grade girls make decisions on which path to go down. Many of them choose the path of wisdom and common sense. Some choose the narrow path of uncertainty, where a wind or a sudden stumble can send them falling in one direction or the other. But there are others who have chosen the path that leads to destruction. It is a way that often features defiance and drama, a deafness to reason and a blindness to consequences. 

Before cell phones and social media it seems that deciding which path an adolescent would take came a couple of years later, but life has sped up to a scary pace of change. 

The girls in my science classes this week, that I had also taught last year in an awesome long-term substitute teaching experience of 7th Grade Social Studies, listened to me, talked to me, and remembered the January journey we had walked together. Many of the ones that didn’t know me blew me off as irrelevant and, since I’m “old”, uncool!

The paths are as different as east is from west. The distance between them results in a lack of hearing or, more accurately, an unwillingness to hear someone who is going in the other direction. 

And I had a growing yearning for my three year old “play buddy” to stay that age! I longed for her to stay at that point of deciding on what kind of juice she was going to drink and what imaginary creature Granddad was going to share a Happy meal with.

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

The Wisdom of Ray Lutz

December 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 3, 2017

                                    

As I drive through Calhan, heading to Simla, this morning out of habit I’ll look to my right as I pass a certain street two blocks this side of the county fairgrounds. Down this street on the right Ray Lutz has lived. It’s a nondescript home that has seen its share of pie consumed by numerous visitors. The number address, in fact, should be 3.14!

Ray passed away on Friday, December 1. He had been a sports official for so long people were prone to call him Methuselah.

Ray would greet me with “Reverend” or “Reverend Wolfe”. Always a kind word or gentle jab. He told me he was Methodist. I told him I’d pray for him. The more I got to know him the more he didn’t resemble a Methodist. Method was secondary to common sense for Ray. The rulebook might say one thing, but sometimes basketball game situations required that common sense trump the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong! He knew the rules, but if everybody on the interstate is driving 85 when the speed limit is 65 you sometimes have to inch that speedometer up a bit more to not get rear-ended. Common sense driving!

The first time I met Ray was at a class he taught for brand new basketball officials. Twenty or so of us were seated at desks in the classroom and listened to Mr. Lutz explain how a person officiates a basketball game. He was interesting to listen to then, and I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. At the end of our six weeks of sessions we took a test to see if we would be able to actually blow whistles at basketball games that season. As I sat there mulling over possible answers he came by and told me that I should probably think about what I had answered for a certain question. It was his way of getting me past the cut-off. For sixteen years, until the end of last season, I proceeded to blow my whistle and wear the stripes. He was my officiating shepherd, and I was one of his striped lambs.

One year he encouraged me to run for one of the elected positions of our basketball officials organization. I did, and I lost! My first reaction was disbelief, not because I had been beaten, but rather because Ray had been the one to get me to do it in the first place. I thought it meant victory.

For several summers I went to a basketball camp for officials that Dave Hall conducted. Dave Hall has done NCAA championship and tournament games for a number of years. Ray was always one of the clinicians for Mr. Hall. It was where I was able to talk to him the most, sitting beside him by a court and taking in some of the wisdom that would naturally ooze from his personality. It was also at those courtside chats that he encouraged me with flattering remarks on how good I was doing, that he expected big things from me that coming season, and other remarks that made me think I was all that. Of course, I think Ray, the encourager, made those remarks to most officials at the camps he was a part of, but either way it caused me to want to be the best I could be.

A few years ago he was in the hospital for a serious medical condition, so I went and paid him a visit. I walked in the room and he looked at me.

“Reverend!” he greeted me, and we talked about life, basketball, health, and blessings.

Some of us are privileged enough to make a mark in the world in some way. The most effective people are those who influence others in their craft or passion. They are the folks who people can look behind and, like the waves behind a motorboat, see the number of people who are following faithfully in the wake of the same pursuit.

Ray Lutz will always be that. A wise mentor, a professor of common sense basketball officiating philosophy, and perhaps…even a Methodist!

Scolding Pops

June 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      June 21, 2017

                                          

I was sitting next to Dad in the waiting room of the eye specialist he was scheduled to see. The day before he had experienced some blurred vision in his right eye and I had taken him to see an ophthalmologist. He couldn’t see anything such as a cataract, thus the referral to the specialist.

Before the ophthalmologist appointment I had taken him to the hospital for a CT scan of his lower abdomen area. He had been experiencing some discomfort there, and had dealt with a bout of bladder cancer a couple of years earlier.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my sister calling. When I answered she asked me the question: “Did Dad tell you that he was suppose to go to the Emergency Room?”

I glanced at the 89 year old gentlemen sitting on my left side. “No, he didn’t say anything about that!”

“The hospital called yesterday afternoon and told him that he needed to go to the ER because he has a bowel obstruction.”

“He didn’t say anything about that to me.” I stared at him like he had stared at me when I was 12, and he had received a phone call about my misdeeds. “We’ll finish this appointment and head to the hospital.”

I said goodbye and turned to the offending senior, who had a sheepish look on his face. “So…you were suppose to go to the ER yesterday?”

He looked at me . “Yes!”

I thought of possible responses, such as the ones he had said to me when I had violated family behavior guidelines. This would have been when he said to me, “You’re grounded!” Or, “No TV for a week!” But those punishments seemed a little excessive for an 89 year old! So I took the easy out, yielding to my belief in his wisdom and common sense.

“So why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I wanted to wait until after lunch today!” Dad had turned 89 on Father’s Day and we had ordered a cake that would be enjoyed by him and the other thirty residents of Wyngate, the senior complex he lives in, at lunch. “But it backfired on me!”

“How so?”

“I was going to tell both you and your sister after lunch, but since the sign in the office here says to mute or turn off your cell phone they must have called your sister when I didn’t answer.” He was unrepentant, and yet a rule follower, a contradiction in human form!

“I wanted to enjoy our dinner last night and then lunch at Wyngate today, and then I was going to tell you.”

I did not have my “I can’t believe you would do that” speech rehearsed. He seemed a little old for the tirade that begins with the words, “When are you going to learn?” or “When are you going to get some common sense?”

I couldn’t fault him. He was actually thinking of others. He knew that my wife Carol was fixing dinner the night before, and he knew the Wyngate residents would be disappointed if the birthday cake was delayed. In fact, my brother-in-law delivered the cake and the residents took care of most of it. By the time they stopped eating it the wording on the top of it simply read “89th Dad!”

That’s my dad! Putting a higher importance on the taste buds of senior folk than his physician’s urgent plea to get to the Emergency Room. I faked a look of disappointment and then we finished our eye exam.

I helped him to the car, and as we drove towards the hospital he said, “Bill, let’s stop and get a sandwich on the way!”

That didn’t seem like a good idea to me. After all, he had a bowel obstruction. Logic told me that I should say no and proceed to the medical center, so I looked at him and responded, “McDonald’s, Arby’s, or Wendy’s?”

 

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Keeping Control the Last Day of School

May 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 25, 2017

       

Today is the last day of another school year. Well, actually…most of the eighth graders’ last day was a couple of weeks ago! They checked out about the time “May” appeared on the calendar.

Today I’m substituting in the afternoon for a teacher friend of mine who is attending her daughter’s fifth grade graduation ceremony. So…what would be practical bits of wisdom to have written on my hand for the last day of school. Here’s what I’ve come up with!

1) Don’t let anyone get killed! Keep an eye on the school roof. Don’t let anyone jump from there just because they wore their Superman t-shirt. Also, if someone has been noticeably uncoordinated the whole school year playing “Frogger” across the street in front of the school most likely will end up badly!

2) Use your common sense. If something that is being done may very well end up with a police report being filed…that’s probably not good! Remember! “Common Sense” is a middle school elective that most students choose not to take. They prefer woodworking with sharp objects and piercing tools instead.

3) Stay with at least two other teachers during the last hour when most of the school is outside. Like packs of wolves, students will look for “lone teachers” to pick on. It’s their nature! In case you as a teacher get separated make sure you have plenty of candy in your pockets. Throw the candy away from you while shouting “Candy!”…and run in the opposite direction!

4) When the final bell sounds…get to the side of the hallway or into a classroom. The running of the bulls is about to happen. If you feel brave run in front of them, but just remember…another stampede is coming from the opposite direction and you most likely will be the meat in the bun!

5) Expect the emotional! There will be the students who will say that they will miss you greatly…wish that you could come to high school with them…want to visit you this summer…tell you that you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had…that you have inspired them to become teachers…and all kinds of other nice comments. Simply nod your head in acknowledgement and give high fives. The students you truthfully inspired have been known to you for a long time. They are the ones who never have to look at their cell phones the whole class period.

6) Understand that some of these students will be sitting across the table from you in less than twenty years as the parents at parent-teacher conferences! As your body shudders uncontrollably…remember the same thing was true for you…back in the day! Miracles still happen, just as they did long ago with you!

7) When you get in your car immediately lock the doors! Students like to pretend they are zombies!

Being Wise and Doing Dumb

July 6, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 6, 2016

                                           

Dumb and Dumber was a dumb movie, which is what made it hilarious. Sometimes dumb is funny! Sometimes dumb is just plain dumb! One of my favorite baseball players of all time is John Smoltz. “Smoltzy” had a good head on his shoulders. He was well-grounded. But even Smoltz had a dumb moment. It happened one season when he decided to iron his shirt. The problem was that he was wearing the shirt when he tried to iron it. Not a bright moment in his career, but one that people will remind him of for a long, long time.

Speaking of dumb, the news has featured several examples of dumb things people do with fireworks. Dumb works overtime around the Fourth of July. The fifteen year old in Texas who was using two hundred sparklers will have to live with his “What was I thinking!!!” moment for the rest of his life. I saw a guy who decided to light an explosive that was halfway between a firecracker and a stick of dynamite…and put it in his Speedo! What??? Of course, someone was filming it, and I cringed when the little flame flared out of his front side! What was he thinking?

Wisdom and dumbness seem to be in two different camps, but they are camps whose residents have dual citizenship. I was reading about Solomon the other day, you know…the guy known for his wisdom! People would come from far and wide to be amazed by his wisdom and judgments. 1 Kings 3 tells the story of the two women who had infant sons, but one of the mothers rolled on top of her baby and smothered him in the middle of the night. She then took the baby from the other lady and put her deceased son beside her. The two women come before Solomon with their dispute. The mother of the child who was still living claimed that the baby was hers. The other mom said he wasn’t. Solomon decided to take the living child and slice him in half and give half to each mother. The real mother screamed not to do that, to let the other mother have her child. That sign of motherly love made it clear to Solomon who the real mother was. People were taken back by how he could figure out things.

We have a book of proverbs for further proof of his profoundness. He gives advice on parenting, wealth, work ethic, relationships, and old age. Dr. Phil can’t hold a stick compared to the wisdom of Solomon.

But Solomon decided to do a summer home in “Dumb!” For a guy who could solve problems he also created his own chaos, his own disaster! He was obsessed with women. I mean, it’s okay to be attracted to women, but when women were around Solomon he did stupid! Notice I didn’t say that he was stupid. Stupidity is a decision, and he decided to do stupid! God had told him, in essence, “Be smart!” Here’s what 1 Kings 11 says about it:

   “God had clearly warned Israel, “You must not marry them; they’ll seduce you into infatuations with their gods.” Solomon fell in love with them (women) anyway, refusing to give them up. He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines—a thousand women in all! And they did seduce him away from God. As Solomon grew older, his wives beguiled him with their alien gods and he became unfaithful—he didn’t stay true to his God as his father David had done.” 

The wisest guy on the planet and he couldn’t figure out the fact that living with a thousand women was not a good situation. I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, but I think I could have given Solomon some simple wise counsel about that one!

In a weird way Solomon’s dumbness gives me some hope. It is a bit reassuring. My residence is probably more in the subdivision of Dumbness rather than the rural-ness of wisdom. Dumbness is not a gated community. It is accepting of all. There is not a membership fee to get into it. Some people arrive there on a moment’s notice, while others plan for it. I remember my friend Steve Wamberg and I taking a few high school kids from the church we were youth ministers at to a concert one night. Two of the students were the daughters of the senior pastor. After the concert we decided to go out for pizza to a place in our Chicago suburb called Connie’s. We didn’t get the pastor’s daughters home until 1:30 A.M.

Dumb, dumb, dumb!

“Yes, I’d like a medium pizza with cluelessness, denseness, and ignorance on top.”

Each one of us can recall our visits to Dumbness. We’ve all been there. We can just hope that wisdom is where we spend most of our time.

Here’s the thing! Social media trumpets the happenings of Dumb! Wisdom doesn’t film well. Deciding to have a few beers and then leap from a roof on a skateboard films well on iPhones. Think about it! There was a hit TV show for years entitled Jackass. The people on the show made millions off their stupidity! Wisdom does not make good Youtube videos.

Wisdom is proactive. It steers people away from doing dumb. Wisdom is the coach, the one who understands the situation before trouble arrives.

Solomon was wise, but his dumbness affected his family and kingdom for generations to come. How often have I, and I’m sure also you, said “I wish I would have thought about it more before I did it?”