Posted tagged ‘Eastern Kentucky’

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!

Front Porch With the Uncles

June 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                               June 9, 2018

                             

Dewey Helton was my farming grandfather who lived a few miles outside the sprawling metropolis of Paintsville, Kentucky- population 4,000 and a few! Some of my best childhood memories are from my time spent on the Helton farm, jumping from the hayloft of the barn onto bales of hay, drinking the cool well water, exploring in the woods and fields, and making up games to play all by myself or with the cousins who might be around. 

When my aunts and uncles came for a Sunday afternoon meal I’d sit on the front porch with the men, listening to the stories…both made-up and true…and soak up the time with them. It was back in the day of front porch smoking: Uncle Bernie with his pipe and cigars, Uncle Milliard with his chewing tobacco, and Uncle Junior, Uncle George, and my dad with their cigarettes. Chuckles filled the air as much as the smoke. 

There was a hint of oneupmanship present. The next story needed to be as much of a “knee-slapper” as the previous story, or better. The common sense wisdom of my uncles was inserted into stories that featured doofuses and knuckleheads in order to elevate the appearance of Helton intellect. I still remember some of those stories fifty-five years later…like the story of the boy whose father had not been educated. He brought home his report card filled with “D’s” and “F’s” and told his papa that a D was short for “darn good” and an F meant “fantastic!” 

I’d sit there with the uncles soaking in the cultural education. Uncle Junior had a tendency to pinch me on the leg if I sat next to him so I always hoped for a seat a safe distance away. I’d usually try to sit beside Uncle Bernie because I loved his soft chuckle and the smell of his cigar. 

Stories had to be punctuated with statements to emphasize the tale being told. Phrases like “Lorrddd, have mercy!” and “God is my witness!” were uttered often. Inserting God into the story raised the story’s believability! The narrative might come from past military experience, county politics, or something that happened in the course of a typical afternoon.

“Let me tell you boys something!” my Papaw Helton started in. “There was a man stopped hur (here) the other day and he was selling these things called…ahhh…satellite dishes…big ole’ things! Said they get as many as thirty TV channels! Lord have mercy! And then I asked him how much a dish like that cost and he says “Nineteen-ninety-five!” Good Lord, he made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!”

“Boys, let me tell you! I’ve never worked so hard in my whole life!” my Uncle Millard exclaimed, telling about his career change from town barber to owning a Dairy Queen. Think Floyd from Mayberry and you’d get an accurate picture of him. “One night around dinner time I looked out and there was this long line of people and I just yelled out, “Doesn’t anyone eat at home any more?” Lord, have mercy! I’ve never cooked so many hot dogs!” 

Sit and have a smoke. Sit and laugh. Sit and be together. Sit and be educated about the things of life that you couldn’t learn from a textbook. It was the first men’s group I was a part of…at the age of eight! 

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.

Well…

January 5, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    January 5, 2015

                                                          

I often begin a conversational sentence with one word…”Well.” It’s not a word of depth as much as it is a word of delay. It’s the equivalent of a student raising their hand in a second grade classroom to be recognized.

Now…why do I begin sentences with “well?”

Well…let me tell you!

It goes back to my grandfather, my Papaw, Dewey Helton, born and raised in Johnson County, Kentucky where front porch wisdom is in plentiful supply. Papaw Helton would often initiate his sharing of wisdom with a “well” drawn out to cover a considerable time period.

Many times it was the beginning of a grandfatherly statement that was intended to make you see the error of your ways.

“Well…look a’here! If boys start wearing girdles, are you going to wear one too?”

That wisdom was shared after I grew my hair out to the point that it touched my ears. To my Papaw I was starting to look radical. My rationale about it being the new style didn’t carry water for him. That made as much sense as trying to get eggs from a pig.

Papaw’s voice would also quiver a little bit as he uttered the “well.” He had a little country preacher in his blood. For a moment you got the feeling you were in a revival meeting where he was about to call the glory down, but he would just as quickly come back down to earth and rattle off some more common sense.

“Well…’pon my honor!”

     Those words were usually said in a verbal jousting match with one or more of my uncles. Kentucky politics was a topic ripe for debate. There were always half a dozen viewpoints, but none of them even close to the gospel truth besides Papaw’s.

“Well…Lord have mercy!” Lord was the second word spoken for an eternity. In fact, Papaw lengthened it out even longer than “well” because the Lord needed to be “the most!” His voice would rise and fall as if it was heading for the end times.

“Well…Lord have mercy, son! I’ve never heard of such a thing!” 

       “It’s true, Papaw!”

“Well…look a’here, Billy Dean!”

That was the next level of the conversation. When Papaw thought you were slow to come back to common sense he would address you by your first and middle names just in case you were suffering from foolhardiness!

Well…now you know why I begin so many statement of truth with “well.”

Well?

Fruitcake

June 13, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       June 13, 2014

 

                                            

 

I don’t know which aunt brought it, but it was always there, sitting on the counter in the kitchen just waiting to be sliced into.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of fruitcake, but it was partially good. I didn’t much care for the candied cherries and pineapple pieces that invaded its goodness. The pecans and top side crusts were my favorite parts, but I had to take the good with the bad.

One time I pilfered the exposed inners of the circle of all the pecans I could see. My sin was discovered and atoned for by having to sit in a chair for almost a lifetime before I was paroled.

Fruitcake was always a part of our Christmas. I believed it was one of the Magi gifts brought to the Baby Jesus. I didn’t know what myrrh and frankincense were, so I figure one of them was a foreign name for fruitcake presented on a platter. That’s the only reason I could come up with that it only appeared at Christmas in our house.

It was also the only time during the year that I was allowed to have cake for breakfast, not much of a treat since the pieces of pineapple made my face twitch. A glass of milk and a piece of fruitcake got the day started.

When we weren’t able to go back to my family’s roots in eastern Kentucky at Christmas my mom would whip up a fruitcake at home. I knew when it was coming. The kitchen counter would be layered with the ingredients, all ready to fulfill their purpose. It also was the indication that Christmas wasn’t going to be held in a different state. We wouldn’t be traveling up river past Pomeroy and Gallipolis heading for the crossover into West Virginia and then Kentucky. An absence of pecan bags at home was a sure sign we were going to do some piling in the car.

Fruitcake was a symbol of the mixed blessings of Christmas. It was a gift, good and bad, like opening a box filled with Matchbox cars, and then the next opened gift containg socks and underwear. I never understood why underwear had to be wrapped up…kind of like why fruitcake had to have those pineapple pieces.

I would have been fine with a “fruit-less cake!”

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.