Posted tagged ‘family’

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.

Surrounded By Aunts, Uncles, and Parents

July 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 23, 2018

                               

Yesterday was a bit sobering. After attending my nephew’s wedding on Saturday in Frankfort, Kentucky I altered my route back to my sister’s house in southern Ohio to visit the cemetery where many of my relatives lie in slumbered peace.

This was my first visit to the well-maintained grounds a few miles outside of Paintsville, Kentucky since my dad was laid to rest there last February. It was the first time I had seen the grave marker with both of my parents’ names on it. 

I stood there in silence taking in the depth of their deaths. It reached down and caused an aching in my soul. I let it hurt for a few minutes, tearing up in the reality of what lay before me.

And then I spent some time in the midst of my aunts and uncles who reside, so to speak, in the same area. 

-My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Cynthia at the feet of my parents. My mom and Aunt Cynthia were always trying to outdo one another. It was sisterly competition that took in pie-baking, casserole-making, house decorating, hairstyling, child raising, and opinion-giving. They were like competitors in a game of “life checkers”. To have my mom laying with Aunt Cynthia under her feet would be considered, by my mom, as the final word on the situation. Uncle Bernie and my dad lay beside their wives once again not able to get a word in edgewise! When I think of cigars and pipes I think of my Uncle Bernie. As I stood there looking at his resting place I could hear his laugh which was unique and delightful. And I could almost taste my Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, the best there ever was…no matter what my mom said!

-Uncle Junior (Dewey, Jr.) and Aunt Grethel are just a bit to my mom’s left. Aunt Grethel has been there for a while now, succumbing to illness before any of the other aunts and uncles. Uncle Junior didn’t join her until he had pinched my leg a few hundred more times, usually as I sat on my Papaw Helton’s front porch with the men of the family. Uncle Junior made me squirm. My leg even twitched as I now viewed his permanent residence! Now when I see his daughter Annette she intentionally tries to pinch my leg. I’m not sure if it’s to honor her dad’s memory or she just likes to see me squirm again…maybe both!

-Uncle Millard and Aunt Irene (“Rene”) are just a bit to my dad’s right. Millard was a barber. In fact, he kind of resembled Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”. I remember he chewed tobacco for a while and kept a spittoon beside his recliner to the chagrin of Aunt Rene. They never had any children, but were guardian parents for my cousin Johnny Carroll for a couple of years or so when he was a toddler. Uncle Doc’s first wife had died and he needed help raising his young son. He couldn’t be a physician and a single parent at the same time. Aunt Rene became Johnny Carroll’s mom. I’ll always remember all the pictures she had throughout the house of the little boy who she mothered. Compassion defined her. Before she passed in 1996 to cancer she gave a check to each of her nieces and nephews and asked us to use the money to do something that we would enjoy. She wanted to be able to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. My family planned a trip to Disney World- air fare, park tickets, staying at The Beach and Yacht Club on the property- with the funds. Aunt Rene was as happy as we were. To this day my kids still remember how awesome that vacation was!

Overseeing this horizontal family gathering are my Papaw and Mamaw Helton. Mamaw was the first to find her place in this cemetery, passing away forty years ago in 1978. She’d be 119 if she was still alive! She could cook up a storm and fry up a chicken fresh, mainly because she had just killed it and plucked the feathers out by their barn. Papaw governed the gathered wisdom and opinions of the front porch uncles. Without a doubt he was the family patriarch in every since of the term. 

And now all of their daughters and one of their three sons are gathered around them. It is a family reunion of a different kind, and yet I can still hear their voices, complete with accents and emotions. 

Emotions define this moment for me, also. It’s okay though, because I’m standing in the midst of lives that were well lived, well thought of, and now eternally well.

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! 

Feeling Blessed

January 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 10, 2016

                                         

It’s January 10, nineteen degrees outside, but I’m sitting inside a warm Starbucks sipping my Pike Place.

It’s a day when I’m feeling blessed!

Understand that I’m not feeling blessed because I feel good. My neck and shoulders have been tight and “feeling old” since last night, my nose is as congested as LA morning traffic, and my knees are feeling the effects of officiating a Friday night college game and four 5th grade instructional league games Saturday morning.

In essence, my body says go back to bed with three heating pads.

But I am feeling blessed because of the realization of what really is important and the understanding of what isn’t.

Family is important. This past week I got to hang out with my nine month old granddaughter. You know…read some books, played with a plastic piggy bank that makes music and swine noises, shared some food and bottles…normal stuff! I got to take my wife out for dinner last night, sit across from one another and talk about our days. She had been to a funeral for a seventeen year old, and I had coached fifteen year olds. We sat sharing the pain and the laughter.

Faith is important. I’m not listing it after family because it is less vital. It’s almost one of those things that doesn’t even need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. Faith is important. Faith that God has this crazy life under control. That he doesn’t need a million Facebook “likes” to proceed with his plan, and be about his ways. I’m blessed because he is faithful regardless of how I’m feeling, and for many of us our faith fluctuates according to how emotionally up or down we are. In recent weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have been on faith journeys for long periods of time. My soul has been blessed by the words and experiences of their faith journeys.

I’m blessed because of the relationships I have with so many people. I know that if I had a need for a listening ear, a heartache to share, or a celebration to toast that there are numerous folk I can dial up and they would be there. I’m blessed because I see that same quality of being present in my wife. The funeral she attended was for a son of a lady she has worked with. The empathy for her friend was obvious. Relationships bless us!

I’m blessed because, simply said, I’m the recipient of so many blessings. So often we fail to consider that.

So I sit in Starbucks #1 (my primary Starbucks hangout place), sipping on my second cup, staring at Pike’s Peak, and understanding the depth of my blessings.

Dedicating the Granddaughter

June 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 June 22, 2015

                                       

I’m an emotional wreck this morning! I’m drowning my tears in my first cup of Pike Place.

Why are the tears backing up in my soul? I just saw the pictures my daughter, Kecia, posted on her Facebook page of her three-month old daughter’s, and my granddaughter’s, baby dedication yesterday in our morning worship service. I’m standing there with my fingers holding one of Corin Grace Hodges’ shoes, praying for God’s blessing upon her and her family, Corin is wide-eyed and brightly beautifully dressed, Mom and Dad have bowed heads and smiling faces, as does big brother Jesse. Big sister Reagan is standing closest to the camera with her eyes open in a way that, if you know Reagan, communicates “I wanted to be the one that said the prayer, Granddad!” (She did say it at our lunch together afterwards!)

What an incredible privilege to be able to dedicate this new gift from God!

Kecia didn’t stop with just pictures of the baby dedication, however; she also posted pictures of the “dads” of her life, including grandfathers, me, “Uncle David”, and husband Kevin. Her honoring of the guys was what put me over the falls!

How often do we stop and consider how blessed we are? Sometimes we move unconsciously through life…and then we see a picture on Facebook that hits our eyes and heart at the same time…and we sense the tears welling up inside us at the blessed place we are in.

We breathe in his blessings with deep satisfaction and contemplate the awesomeness of the One who loves us.

Corin Grace has the names of our grandmothers, her great-great grandmothers, that have long since strolled into Glory. And yet when I think of her middle name I will be reminded of the grace of God upon our lives…and here come the tears again!

Losing Special People

June 7, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 6, 2015

                                                 

A few weeks ago (April 22), I wrote a blog post about a special lady, Ruth Kennedy, who was celebrating her 96th birthday. That post was entitled “The Saints Who Go Before Us”. Ruth Kennedy passed away yesterday.

One granddaughter posted a few pictures on Facebook of some of Ruth’s final days with family. I got somewhat emotional looking at them as I remembered what a great lady she had been during my growing up years.

My life recently has been crocheted with loss. My Aunt Cynthia passed away about three of weeks ago. She would have been 93 on May 22. “Aunt Cynthy” always made me smile, especially as she handed me a rolled-up five dollar bill and told me not to tell anyone. She had a down-home wit and humor about her that I will always remember. Visits to her house were punctuated by eating! A few years ago she looked at me and said, “Billy Dean, you’re looking (pause)…a little manly!” That was Aunt Cynthia’s way of saying I had put some weight on. I think she offered me a piece of apple pie and ice cream right after that!

This past week my dad has been in the hospital back in Huntington, West Virginia. Being in Colorado is hard during these times. Writing about Dad, Aunt Cynthy, and Ruth Kennedy are a way that I cope with loss and absence.

It’s how I deal with having to say goodbye to some good friends over the years as well. Most are still on this side of glory, but separated from me by distance and schedules.

We lose people in different ways throughout the journey. Hopefully it causes us to value each relationship…each conversation…each piece of pie lovingly cut…each moment shared even more.

Aunt Cynthy and Ruth Kennedy have passed on to their eternal rewards, experiences of a precision choir of hallelujah praises. My Dad, closing in on 87, isn’t far behind. I’ve been blessed by all. May I be a blessing to just as many!

Fruitcake

June 13, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       June 13, 2014

 

                                            

 

I don’t know which aunt brought it, but it was always there, sitting on the counter in the kitchen just waiting to be sliced into.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of fruitcake, but it was partially good. I didn’t much care for the candied cherries and pineapple pieces that invaded its goodness. The pecans and top side crusts were my favorite parts, but I had to take the good with the bad.

One time I pilfered the exposed inners of the circle of all the pecans I could see. My sin was discovered and atoned for by having to sit in a chair for almost a lifetime before I was paroled.

Fruitcake was always a part of our Christmas. I believed it was one of the Magi gifts brought to the Baby Jesus. I didn’t know what myrrh and frankincense were, so I figure one of them was a foreign name for fruitcake presented on a platter. That’s the only reason I could come up with that it only appeared at Christmas in our house.

It was also the only time during the year that I was allowed to have cake for breakfast, not much of a treat since the pieces of pineapple made my face twitch. A glass of milk and a piece of fruitcake got the day started.

When we weren’t able to go back to my family’s roots in eastern Kentucky at Christmas my mom would whip up a fruitcake at home. I knew when it was coming. The kitchen counter would be layered with the ingredients, all ready to fulfill their purpose. It also was the indication that Christmas wasn’t going to be held in a different state. We wouldn’t be traveling up river past Pomeroy and Gallipolis heading for the crossover into West Virginia and then Kentucky. An absence of pecan bags at home was a sure sign we were going to do some piling in the car.

Fruitcake was a symbol of the mixed blessings of Christmas. It was a gift, good and bad, like opening a box filled with Matchbox cars, and then the next opened gift containg socks and underwear. I never understood why underwear had to be wrapped up…kind of like why fruitcake had to have those pineapple pieces.

I would have been fine with a “fruit-less cake!”