Posted tagged ‘family traditions’

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 My Wolfe and Helton Christmas Traditions

December 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              December 4, 2016

     For me Christmas is more about the comfort of traditions, customs our family have practiced for years and years.

Growing up as a son of two Kentucky parents there were certain things we did that still bring a warmth to my spirit. Christmas Day was always spent at our grandparents. My Granny Wolfe and Great Aunt Lizzie lived in a two-story home outside of Paintsville. They always had a batch of sugar cookies available, even though they were both diabetics. We’d share gifts with them in their living room, and at least one of them would look at her gift-wrapped present and say “It’s too pretty to open!” My dad’s two siblings lived in Alabama and the D.C. area, so our visit was usually all the family that Granny and Aunt Lizzie had for Christmas. They were two wonderful women! Every Christmas I look at least one of my gifts and say “It’s too pretty to open!”

Towards noon we would pile into the car and drive to the farm in Oil Springs, about twenty minutes away, and converge with the Helton Clan. It was a much different atmosphere than at Granny Wolfe’s, because usually five of the six Helton offspring were there with their kids. Only my Uncle Doc (John) would be missing. He lived in California.

The Helton Christmas had certain traditions that no one messed with. One of them was that the men and boys gathered around the large dining room table and ate their meal first. The women served them! After the men were done, they retired to the front porch to smoke their pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, and the women and girls then sat down and ate their Christmas dinner. This tradition has not continued in my family!

After the meal there would be conversation and laughter. I’d roam around the back of the house sneaking peppermint stick candies and chocolate-covered cream drops. They were much more preferable to a young boy than the fruitcake that was another Christmas tradition. After a while the family would gather in the living room to open presents. My Mamaw and Papaw Helton were always the center of attention for these gatherings. They occupied two seats on the couch with twenty people as their audience. Almost every gift each of them received had some kind of garment within it, but also cash or a check. Every Christmas they would discreetly pocket the money into either a shirt or apron pocket and pretend that there had not been anything in the gift but a shirt or sweater. My Papaw kept a calculator in his head that was doing a running tally. He knew when he had enough for a new steer or hog…or both! When a new livestock purchase had been achieved we all knew it because he would look up and smile without saying a word!

Around 6:00 we’d pack into the car and head back home to either Winchester, Kentucky, Williamstown, West Virginia, or Ironton, Ohio. The car would be loaded with my Aunt Cynthia’s peanut butter fudge and my Aunt Irene’s Chex Mix. Unfortunately, there would also be a fruitcake somewhere in the trunk! Mom would fall asleep in the front seat on the way home and delight all three of us in the back with her bobblehead-flopping from side to side as the car turned in different directions.

Our own family had opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember many of those presents besides an Erector Set, a Dennis the Menace doll, and a Matchbox carrying case filled with cars, but what each of us kids knew without question was that one of our gifts would contain underwear and socks. To be more specific, Towncraft underwear and socks from J.C. Penny’s! Since joining the ranks of grown-ups I’ve felt the freedom to buy my underwear in different brands and at different business establishments, but…I still buy my black dress socks at Penny’s.

Those were good days! The memories of them still sing in my mind. Uncles telling stories…my Papaw saying “Lord…..have mercy!”, aunts chuckling in the kitchen, and cousins scooting between adults like hyper ants on a mission.

Good days…great days! My wife Carol and I have meshed some of her traditions and some of my traditions into “our traditions.” We’d also added a few, like socks in empty cereal boxes and Christmas Eve services at church.

But besides the tradition of men eating first, one other tradition that has not carried forward is…the fruitcake!