Posted tagged ‘family memories’

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.

The Scent of Remembering

December 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 4, 2019

                                   

I had a dream the other night that, strange as it sounds, caused me to tear up. In the confusion of the moment perhaps it was as I awoke from the dream that the tears came, but, whatever the progression, it was an emotional moment.

The dream centered on those who have passed on. Some of the saints whose funerals I’ve officiated at— Charles Slusser, Rex Davis, Ralph Kothe, Jim Newsome, Ben Dickerson, Rita Morris, Phyllis Smith, Greg Davis— came back to my mind in the dream. 

And then my mom and dad. In the dream I could not discern whether my parents were still on this side of eternity or had crossed over. They seemed to be speaking to me as I sat in a church parlor talking to Charles Slusser’s son-in-law and daughter, Dieter and Tina. 

This morning I made the connection between the vividness of the dream and why I experienced it. On Thanksgiving Day our oldest daughter, Kecia, opened a container of my mom’s that had been handed down to her after my dad passed away almost two years ago. When she opened it she remarked on how the scent reminded her of my mom. Or, as Kecia refers to her, MaMaw Wolfe. She hovered over the container and inhaled several times.

My mom’s possessions—dishes, linens, clothes closet— had a distinctive scent that I can only describe as smelling like a combination of southern, cared for, and homey. Kecia closed the container after a couple of minutes in order to preserve the memory. MaMaw has been gone five years and the scent still blesses us.

I lingered over the container for a few seconds myself. Visions of family dinners and savory casserole dishes came back to me. The memory of my mom always greeting our kids with the words, “Give me some sugar!”, and then the giggling when Kecia brought her two sugar packets as we arrived on one visit.

The sweetness of those memories triggered the “deep into the night” emotions. I miss my parents, the Sunday night phone conversations with Dad, Mom’s questions that sought to find a five letter word for “fast” to fill in on her crossword puzzle, her pickiness and my dad’s patience. I miss their practices and their peculiarities.

It’s interesting how a scent from a container can bring the blessings of memories, and life back to those who have long since been lowered into the ground. 

The sense of smell comes out as a strong theme in scripture. Some of the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered God are described as being aromas pleasing to God. The Magi brought gifts to the newborn King, Jesus, and two of them had strong scents that communicated something about who Jesus is.

Kecia closed the container back up and put it away until the next time our family gathers at her house for a special event. When that takes place the scent of remembering will descend upon us again and we will experience the blessings of those who have been pleasing aromas in our journeys. 

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.

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.