Posted tagged ‘family memories’

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.

What To Give To Someone Who Doesn’t Want Anything”

December 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 23, 2018

                   

My wife is an amazing woman, great mom, blessed grandmother, who agreed to journey with me almost 40 years ago.

She is also frugal in her spending habits, including the multiple fake wedding rings she lays by the kitchen sink, none costing more than ten bucks, but all looking like the real deal from Helzberg Diamonds.

Carol is a challenge to buy a Christmas present for. She has already waved a spatula in my face several times and said, “Don’t buy me anything for Christmas!!!” 

“Yes, dear!”

“I mean it, Bill Wolfe!” When she uses my first and last names it’s like I’m standing in front of the judge, receiving conditions of my probation. 

She’s like her mom, who when asked what she would like for Christmas would reply, “Well…ahhh…I could always use a new spatula!” Spatulas seem to be a big thing in Carol’s family…for cooking and warning!

So I’m in a quandary! Do I risk a spatula spanking and buy something, or adhere to her demands and not buy her a gift? Is there a third option, like buying a gift but pretending it’s from a mystery person? It could come from Amazon Prime, with no name attached!

Carol’s birthday occurred just two weeks ago. It creates another challenge. She accepted the new John Grisham novel as a birthday present, but Grisham has not written another book in the last two weeks to fill the Christmas void. 

So what are my other options? 

I could invite her to watch Hallmark Christmas movies all day…and actually watch one with her. But should my personal pain be a part of the gift-giving? And I’m not sure I could watch the movie and not make sarcastic comments!

I could take her out for dinner, but we usually go out for dinner once or twice a week as it is. It’s not a gift, but rather our routine.

So what could I give her that she would appreciate and enjoy?

A hug and a kiss would be a start. A hug with meaning and commitment, not too tight because of our increasingly fragile bodies, but an embrace that says “I am blessed to be your spouse!” And a kiss, preceded by a Tic-Tac to cancel out my coffee breath! She would see that as a gift!

A walk around the block, punctuated by conversation about things that interest her and thoughts that keep filtering through her mind. 

Help in the kitchen preparing for the family to gather on Christmas afternoon. That would be seen as an appreciated gift, as long as I take directions from her and don’t free lance too much! 

And maybe the best gift would be to sit back in the midst of the family and just be with them, watching the three grandkids discover the hidden treasures in Uncle David’s cellophane-wrapped ball (Now a Wolfe tradition each Christmas!), enjoying dinner together, and seeing surprised looks on young children’s faces as they open a pile of presents one by one.

Those are the things that will be gifts to Carol, moments and pictures that don’t take up space in the house, but space in her heart!

Maybe I can sneak a spatula in there somewhere!

Dad’s Hairbrush

September 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                       September 2, 2018

                                     

When my dad passed away last February it was the end of a generation. It was also the end of a gathering place for family keepsakes. Dad’s apartment in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex needed to be packed up and moved out. That task fell upon my sister and brother-in-law to complete after my family flew back to Colorado, and my brother drove back to Frankfort, Kentucky.

A few weeks later a box arrived at our house packed with family pictures, an iron skillet, and various other items that had meaning to the Wolfe clan.

And in the box, stuffed down in a corner by a tube of Brylcreem, was Dad’s hairbrush. The bronze-colored handle fit my hand easily. When I picked it up out of the box a flash flood of emotions surprised me. I recognized that this hairbrush had stroked the hair on Pop’s head for years. In his last few years it would be accurate to say that it didn’t have that many hairs to brush…kind of like a cornfield during drought conditions!

Each morning since I opened that box I’ve used Dad’s hairbrush on my own head of hair…well, with the exception of the few weeks when I shaved my head because of a lost bet with one of my basketball players (See “WordsfromWW.com” 3/4/2018 blog post “My Last Day With Hair For a While”). 

I’ve moved my part over to the left slightly to allow the brush to take a longer stroke. Having a part in my hair isn’t as easy with a hairbrush as it was with a comb, so I’ve just relocated it closer to my left ear. Darla, my barber, shows me a path that I simply trace over each morning.

And each day I pick up that hairbrush and hold it in my hand I think of Dad. It’s a simple thing, a moment of reflection and connection. 

There are some people that you miss about as much as a hemorrhoid…and there are other people you miss like your heart has been cut from your chest cavity. Dad was our heart, our wisdom, the groomer of our civility. 

As I ponder the words I write this morning my emotions rise up from within. It is the way things should be; that our parents reappear in the moments of ordinary routines. 

For my mom, who passed away five years ago today, she comes back to life every time I see a crossword puzzle, or see a pair of those fuzzy looking house slippers, or eat a ham and cheese omelette. (I ate one last night!)

For Dad, he shows up anytime a Kentucky basketball game is on TV, I put hamburgers on the grill, and…brush my hair!

A lot of people think of flashy events and extravagance when they remember people from their lives. Flashy would not have been a word that anyone would have used in describing my dad. The motorized wheelchair that he used for the last year or so of his life was about as flashy as he got! His life was more like a consistent steady walk with strides of patience and humor. 

It was more like a stroke from a hairbrush, long and loving, the same day after day.

The Large Changed To Small

July 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 24, 2018

                       

It’s happened numerous times it seems! I’ve revisited towns and places of my childhood and someone has found a way to shrink therm in size in the 55 years or so since I last was there.

I noticed it first back in Williamstown, West Virginia. The streets had been narrowed since I was a kid in fifth grade living there. I remember the main street that ran through town being like a four lane highway. It ran between the community park and the grocery. I’d find a couple of pop bottles to turn into the store. The store would give me three cents a bottle, which I would use to buy a PayDay or similar sugared-up product. I’d sprint across that street, heart racing, since I knew it was against my parent’s rules. 

In my revisit, however, the highway (in my mind) had been narrowed to where now it is barely wide enough for two compact cars to pass one another going in opposite directions.

And then my brother and I visited Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky- the church my family attended from the time I was an infant to the age of eight. We were in that sanctuary three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening- but someone had shrunk it. A new sanctuary has been built that must seat a thousand or so. We navigated our way through the building that has been added onto a few times until we found the old sanctuary. It’s been repurposed and abused into a youth gathering room. (There’s something weird about that, by the way! Maybe because what once was has long since been changed into what now is!) I remember the old sanctuary being huge, but when we entered it what was once a large gathering place of God’s place on Sunday morning now seems more like a worship closet. 

After church we journeyed around town and stopped at the first two houses I remember living in. Back in the day they were mansions, huge homes where a good game of hide and seek could be played involving small people. BUT once again someone had zapped each one of them with a reducer gun and turned them into Polly Pockets residences!

The perspective of our youth often gets a vision test in our adult years. Our view has been changed. The far-sighted imagination of our childhood gets replaced by the near-sighted skepticism of our aged eyes. What was larger than life becomes the small reality.

There’s a sadness in this change. Perhaps it’s the discovery that what was our “world” as kids, and the specialness of those times, now looks insignificant in the present. When we take our kids and grandkids back to those sacred places there’s yawns and indifference. The mansion we remember now simply looks like a small two bedroom house on a street populated with other small two bedroom homes. 

In another generation they will experience the same thing with their kids!

However, whatever the reality now is the imprint of those times will remain massive upon us. Who I am today is a direct result of how large those days will always be!

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! 

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!