Posted tagged ‘family history’

Polishing My Shoes

December 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 25, 2019

                      

It brought tears to my eyes and it was only shoe polish.

As I dressed and got ready to leave for the 4:00 Christmas Eve service I went to the closet and retrieved the shoe shine kit. The black polish rubbed smoothly over the leather of my dress shoes. As I brushed the shoes into a shine I was taken back to the same scene played out again and again about five decades ago. Every Christmas Eve my dad would instruct me to shine my shoes. It was a tradition that I didn’t appreciate as a teenager. After all, my shoes would only be seen for a few moments. Otherwise they’d be planted partially underneath the pew in front of me at First Baptist Church in Ironton, Ohio. It seemed like busy work, just something to keep me from watching TV for a few minutes.

But to my dad it was important. There was always the unspoken idea of looking your best and, at church, giving of your best. Polished shoes were an act of devotion to Jesus. If our family couldn’t bring gold, frankincense, or myrrh we could at least show up with some shine and show the Christ-child that we had put a bit of thought into our preparation for worship. 

To my dad it wasn’t just for looks or to impress anyone. It was part of his faith identity. He’s the one who taught me how to put the proper knot into a necktie…and it was another part of the Sunday church prep. To this day I can’t put on a necktie without looking into a mirror. It’s how he taught me to tie it and I’m sorta’ necktie dislexic!

The memories of those moments washed over me as I moved the brush back and forth over my Oxfords. Christmas is about happy kids, joy-filled moments, and the glad tidings of the season. 

But Christmas is also about remembering the parts and the people that have made up the journey. In the joy of the Bethlehem birth, for me at least, there is the moan for the passing of the past. All I can do is honor its memory by continuing its practice.

And so I slip on my shoes and then stand in front of the mirror and make the loops of my necktie. My dad would be proud. He always figured that if he was proud of me Jesus would think I was all right also! After all, in so many ways he was a reflection of Jesus.

When Your Older Brother Turns 70!

November 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 13, 2019

 

Today my brother, Charles Dewey Wolfe, turns the big ‘7-0”! I can’t quite get my mind around it! 70 was the age of our aunts and uncles. It seemed really old to us when we were growing up. The thing is…they were only like…50, but we just figured they were 70 like aunts and uncles are suppose to be.

And now Brother Charlie hits the tape as well! My brother is a Vietnam Vet, retired Associated Press news correspondent, former speechwriter for the Governor of Kentucky, and now an entertaining tour guide for the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky.

He’s the opinionated sibling, much like our mom was, and, to his credit, much needed in the career path he chose. 

We only see each other once or twice a year since I’m in Colorado and he in Kentucky. We send each other birthday cards that cause each of us to laugh, and then we add snarky remarks on the inside card cover. When we’re able to get together, his sarcastic humor comes out in a dry and witty way that the slow of mind have a hard time catching up to.

My brother is a storyteller, the family historian in a way. Our aunts and uncles all stay alive in his retelling of the family folklore and saga. Charlie can go to the cemetery where many of the passed on reside and recount conversations and stories as we stare at someone’s grave marker.

I was the recipient of many of his hand-me-downs as I grew up…bicycle, all beaten and lacking shine, suit coats, bow ties, baseball glove, building blocks. His imprint was like a path that I followed. In Williamstown, West Virginia, his friends, who I thought were cool at the time, gave me the nickname “Carlos Pequeno”.

I was in his wedding and he was in mine. His oldest son is a month younger than our only son. He’s a staunch Democrat and I’m a wavering Republican. We both love history, and yet neither of us excelled in school. 

And now he’s…like our uncles! 70, and getting older! My birthday card to him this year suggested that he’s now cranky. I’m sure he will find a suitable come back for me next May when I hit 66!

Happy Birthday, Big Brother! Hope you have an awesome day!

Hide and Scare

October 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 12, 2019

                                      

There are certain events and traditions that each of our families practice that stand out in our minds. We remember them years later and long to return to those moments. They aren’t necessarily Grand Canyon pictures, but rather shared experiences that still reach down and touch our hearts.

Simplicity may define them. I remember family Monopoly games in my growing up years. I remember my sister hiding some of her play money under her legs to make her brothers believe she was a Monopoly welfare recipient.

I remember riding in the family car to Paintsville, Kentucky. The road was almost as curvy as Hawaii’s “Road to Hana”, so Mom would make each of the kids take a Dramamine before we left Winchester. 

For Carol and me, we’ll always remember hiding the Christmas presents in the freezer in the garage. The freezer no longer worked, but it worked as the depository for toys bought at summer garage sales. 

We’ll remember February and March spring break trips to her parents, Richard and Barbara Faletti, living in the Phoenix area; and we’ll remember my mom always greeting the kids with the statement “Give me some sugar!” Our oldest daughter, Kecia, got into the tradition of bringing her a sugar packet in response.

We’ll remember Christmas Eve Candlelight services at church and countless soccer games for all three kids. We’ll remember all of our cats, all named by the kids: Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Katie Katie CoCo Puffs, Duke. and Princess Malibu (Boo). I have no idea how the name “Duke” appeared in the midst of the rest. It must have been David’s choice. He was prone to being short and to the point. 

We’ll always remember Lizi having a piece of pizza sausage stuck to her cheek, totally unaware of its attachment.

And NOW, new traditions are being formed. One of them involves the three older grandkids (Older, because #4 made his debut on September 19…yes, 9/19/19! A palindrome!). We now play a game at their mom’s house that they’ve call “Hide and Scare.” 

Here are the simple rules. Granddad (That’s me!) goes and finds a hiding place while the grandkids count to fifty in the main level bathroom. On the mention of “fifty” they come searching. Grandad is expected to hide in a different place each time…closets, behind shower curtains, around corners, in the pantry…and he is also expected to do things that make it scarier, like closing all the doors to all the upstairs bedrooms and placing decoys under blankets to fool the searchers. 

“Hide and Scare” went on for an hour yesterday. I got my steps in going up and down the stairway. Each hiding moment was culminated with “the scare”, jumping out of the closet with a scary yell that sent the searchers squealing and then laughing back to the main level restroom where the whole sequence would begin again. Granddad is expected to give a monster-like cry at the least likely moment. 

It’s something that they will remember, and years from now they will think back to those moments and have a moment of inner giggling. 

You see, we have a habit of not remembering, and it’s the remembrances that get lost in the busyness of life that bring a sweetness to it. Sometimes our approach in the present has a soured feel to it, blind to the blessings in our past. Perhaps we need someone to request that we “give them some sugar”, or, better yet, we need the sweet memory of a granddad standing in a closet waiting for the anxious moment of giggling grandkids to discover his hiding place.

The 40 Year Hitch

July 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 28, 2019

                                          

It’s been 40 years since we exchanged vows. Crazy! Doesn’t seem that long! It occurred to Carol and me last night that several of our aunts and uncles attended that wedding ceremony, conducted at Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, Illinois on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We thought they were old! We figured out last night that we’re now OLDER than they were when they listened to a couple of 25 year olds covenant to love one another. Yikes!

We were two different people in many ways. I had deep roots in eastern Kentucky. Think J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy! Carol was “big city suburban”. Both of our fathers had served in the military in very different ways, my dad as a cook in the Navy and her dad as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. Her family was a bit more affluent than mine, but both of our families had a closeness that stays rich in our minds.

Carol had been raised in the Catholic church. I had always been a Baptist, first Southern Baptist and then American Baptist. Growing up Catholic, she had heard about a Baptist seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and she assumed that the students there walked around dressed like Franciscan monks, wearing robes, sandals, and sporting shaved heads. I assumed she liked fried fish since it seemed like all Catholic churches had Friday night fish fries. 

We quickly learned that our assumptions were wrong, and discovered what was right about each of us that seemed to mesh us together in a comfortable relationship of laughter and shared life.

In our first year of marriage we learned about grace and forgiveness. We were like two rookies heading into our first season together. Carol knew that I loved pecan pie and she made one for me, an expression of her love for her new husband. I ate a piece of pie and expressed my gratitude to her. It was very good! Let me emphasize that! It was very good! But then the next day went by and the next day after that. Late meetings and softball doubleheaders kept me from eating the second piece of the pie. About five days later when I finally thought about having another piece, Carol stopped me. Some green stuff has started growing on the pie crust! She was crushed and I experienced what it means to “eat humble pie”. Forgiveness was extended. Forty years later if I have a desire for pecan pie she points me in the direction of the local Village Inn and suggests that I go there and have a piece.

She learned the privileges of being the spouse of a pastor, but, more often than not, she experienced the unjustified expectations of it. People blessed us in so many ways and people brought heartache and frustration to us. She listened to me on numerous occasions as I came home from a church meeting that had been frustrating and left me questioning my calling as a pastor. On the other side, I listened to her deep sighs after being with the three kids all day. I was her chance to talk to an actual adult, her opportunity to tell someone the funny stories of the day and the new sayings our kids would spring on her.

We supported one another as we went through the deaths of each of our parents, never an easy journey. We cried tears of joy as each of our daughters walked down the aisle with their new husbands. We experienced the joy of grandparenthood together. 

When you walk with someone for 40 years you realize that it’s difficult to remember when you weren’t walking together. Roughly two-thirds of our lives have now been spent eating meals at the same table, taking walks around the neighborhood together, and being in love.

In the midst of our journey it occurs to us that the improbableness of our relationship has flowed into the inconceivable thought of not being married to one another.

As I’ve said before, sometimes we don’t think about being blessed when we are in the midst of the blessing. I have been, I am, and, God willing, I will be for a long, long time!

The Grandparents’ Farm

July 19, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       July 19, 2019

 

I have great memories of spending summer weeks at my Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm In Staffordsville, Kentucky. Staffordsville was not a town, but more like a post office with a store next to it. Since no one knows where Staffordsville is I’ll say that it’s close to Oil Springs. 

I’m sure that clears things up for you.

The Helton farm had front porch swings, another back porch swing, a smoke house, coal house, chicken coop, pig pen…and a creek that ran between them, a barn with a hay loft, well water that we’d lower a bucket down into for a drink that was cold and sweet-tasting, trails up into the woods, countless barn cats, gardens and pastures, and fresh air and farm smells.

It was a kid’s playground. There was no need to have anything that had the sole purpose of entertaining children. We made our own entertainment, mimicking the livestock and pretending the porch swing was an airplane about to take off. 

Mamaw Helton cooked a breakfast every morning that Cracker Barrel tries to recreate: fried eggs, bacon, sausage, homemade biscuits right out of the oven, potatoes, and fried apples. My Papaw would drink buttermilk…yuck!

But things change!

            Mamaw passed away first and Papaw remarried “the widow lady from down the road.” Several years later he and the “widow lady” passed as well and the farm was sold to someone who didn’t have the same appreciation for its memories, traditions, and importance in our lives. 

Last week my sister, brother-in-law, and I were traveling back from having lunch with my brother and his family in Frankfort, Kentucky. Our plan was to travel back to southern Ohio by a route that would allow us to stop at the cemetery where my parents have been laid to rest. My Mamaw and Papaw are buried there, also, as are several other relatives. The cemetery is close to the Helton farm, so our plan was to do a drive-by. 

However, we missed the turn that would take us past the Staffordsville post office and then the farm. My sister looked at me and asked if we should backtrack to find it and I said no.

It was a sad “no”, filled with disappointment and lost laughter of the past. I had driven by it a year before and she had seen it several times. Each of us knew of its reverse renovation. That is, whoever lives there now isn’t concerned about curb appeal and cleanliness. It has slid down the slope towards trashed. The front porch swings are long gone. In fact, the yard and porch are so cluttered it’s hard to tell where the front wall of the house begins. Weeds have been welcomed and have taken over the chicken coop and pig pen. 

No longer does it give an appearance of being inviting. It resembles more a scene out of a Halloween horror movie.

And so we did not feel the need, dare I say, or have any desire to drive past what was significant in our past and see what it has transformed into being.

It’s one of the downsides of growing older that often gets forgotten. We focus on aging joints and more prescription bottles in the cabinet, what gives us constipation and heartburn. We have discussions on taxes and Social Security, doctor appointments and AARP. To see the deterioration of our childhood places wounds us deeply. There’s the grief of losing someone close to us, but there is also a different flavor of grief where we lose what we’ve known, the place that has helped shape who we have become.

Things change, often for the better, but sometimes they change in ways that couldn’t possibly be any worse.

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! 

Laurence Hubert: A story of redemption and grace

November 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 9, 2015

                                   

I never knew my dad’s dad. He was killed in a mining accident when my dad was in his early teen years. When you don’t know someone you miss out on part of the family story. You forget that there was family history before you ever were!

A little more of the family past was revealed to me by my dad when I was visiting him back in Ohio about a month ago. I hadn’t really thought about why my dad had been named “Laurence Hubert Wolfe”. He just was…that’s all! I never knew him by any other name and didn’t question it. It’s like breathing…we don’t think about it just is. For all I knew,

But there is a wonderful story of redemption and grace behind my dad’s first and middle names. His father, Silas Dean Wolfe, had a tendency to drink too much. Alcohol was destroying his life one shot at a time. He was losing his grip on things. My dad never said that my grandfather was an alcoholic, but he had one foot stepping into that problem.

When it seemed that he was a lost cause two Baptist ministers came into his life and walked with him through the struggles. They stayed beside him in the midst of the temptations, and lifted him out of the depths. The names of the two Baptist ministers were “Laurence” and “Hubert.” The impact of their tough love and restorative grace was so profound that my father bears their names as his names.

For many of us, our names are passed down from one generation to the next. My two names comes from a great uncle and my Uncle Dean. Some of us are “Juniors” or “the third!” But my dad’s name…Oh, my! His name is a constant reminder that the depths of a person’s life can still be ascended from. His name reminds him of where his dad had fallen and how he had risen again. His name reminds him of people who come into our loves as messengers of redemption, stand beside the broken, and never leave us!