Posted tagged ‘family stories’

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! 

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

Telling Stories and Telling The Story

April 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              April 10, 2015

                                   

Yesterday my dad, my sister, and I went to the cemetery where my mom is buried. As we drove the hour and a half our conversation was story-filled. Dad told stories about my Uncle Milliard that had us laughing our heads off. Stories about my grandfather, Papaw Helton, were leg-slappers!

I could hear my aunts and uncles voices, saying things with their eastern Kentucky accents that are hard to imitate, although we continue to try.

Telling the stories…of my Papaw going to the chiropractor…of the very short time period my Uncle Milliard owned a Dairy Queen and knowing he was at the end of his rope when one evening he hollered out at the long line of people waiting “Doesn’t anybody eat at home any more?”…of my Uncle junior pinching my leg as we sat on the front porch swing…of my Mamaw Helton going out and just as natural as honey on a biscuit wringing the neck of a chicken, the first step in dinner preparation.

Telling the stories. We told stories to the cemetery and from the cemetery, and even at the cemetery as we paused at each grave marker of family members buried there. I was amazed to realize that my Mamaw Helton has been gone to glory for 37 years now. I was reminded of my Great Aunt Lizzie who lived to be 99 and took art classes at the local community college when she was 96. I gazed upon the military marker of my Uncle Dean and discovered that Dean was his middle name and Silas was his first name. My parents almost named me Silas, but they went for the “Dean” instead, inserted in between “William” and “Wolfe.”

Story-telling in the days of social media is a forgotten art.

It made me think about telling the story, the story of God, the story of people’s faith journeys. I hate to say it, but so often the story of God gets robbed of its impact. As I sit here and think about the stories of the Bible I’m awed.

Think of it! Jonah getting swallowed by a big fish…Paul having a viper wrapped around his arm, but charming it like a Barnum and Bailey Circus performer…the big fish stories of Jesus…Moses bringing a plague of frogs on the Egyptians.

The story of God is a totally amazing journey of faith that never gets old. My dad tells us some stories over and over again, but they never get old.

Same with the story in the Word. I read them over and over again and they never get old. Elijah’s foot speed…the Israelites walking around Jericho and blowing trumpets…Doubting Thomas…Fleecing Judas…Compulsive Peter.

As I look at my preaching on Sunday mornings I will try to keep the sacredness of the Story in mind, the specialness of the Story in my telling, and the source of the Story in my spirit.