Posted tagged ‘Eastern Kentucky’

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.


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.”



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.