Posted tagged ‘grandparents’

Hearing My Papaw Helton Again After 30 Years

July 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 27, 2018

                    

I only knew one of my grandfathers. The other, my dad’s dad, died in a mining accident in the southeast corner of Kentucky long before I was even a possibility. 

My Papaw Helton, however, was distinctive in personality, the governor of his family’s domain, and the source of various opinions that were mostly anchored to common sense…mostly!

My sister made me a DVD copy of an interview Papaw Helton had done with my cousin, Matthew Helton, back in 1989. Papaw was 89 at the time of the interview and lived another couple of years. He had been born on the eastern Kentucky farm in 1898 where he lived almost his entire life. In fact, the front sitting room where he was delivered was also the same room where each of his six children were born. Knowing my Mama Helton she went to the chicken coop and killed a chicken for a celebration dinner a few hours after delivering. No epidurals were used in Oil Springs, Kentucky back in those days, although there was probably a bottle of bourbon whiskey somewhere close…for medicinal purposes!

When you haven’t heard your Papaw’s voice for thirty years it’s causes a flood of emotions to rise up from the reservoir of memories. My Papaw was a proud and stoic “feller” (his pronunciation). He was suspicious of any new inventions that were meant to improve the quality of a person’s life. (I think I was ten years old when he and Mamaw decided to finally get indoor plumbing! Until then you battled the spiders in the outhouse, which caused you to “hold your water” a bit longer before seeking relief!) 

I remember the story of a salesman stopping by the farmhouse looking to sell a satellite dish…one of those huge ones that stuck out like a sore thumb! He explained what the dish could do, how many TV channels it could pick up, and all. Back in those days Mamaw and Papaw had a little TV that could pick up two stations, and one of them so fuzzy you weren’t sure if you were watching a baseball game or “The Price Is Right”!

The salesman thought he had a good prospective sale and then my Papaw asked him how much this “deesh” cost? 

“Mr. Helton, it’s only nineteen ninety-five!”

“Nineteen ninety-five?” He relayed that conversation to us with the comment, “Good Lord, son! He made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!” No sale was made and my grandparents continued to receive two television stations. They never ever saw Ed Sullivan with good complexion on TV!

On the DVD Matthew keeps peppering Papaw with questions about politics, life, his siblings, where he worked, who his favorite president was, his only plane ride ever, and the fearlessness of Matthew’s father, my Uncle George, on the trip they all took together by auto to California and back. 

“Your daddy wanted to stop at every place we came to on the way!” Papaw exclaims, not in an affirming way. “And he wanted to go to the top of Pike’s Peak. Lord God, there weren’t any guardrails along that road and I just about put my foot through the floorboard on the way down and wore out my britches! I said, Lord God, if you get me down from here I’ll never go up again!”

The sound of his voice is like eating comfort food. It’s satisfaction for the soul, a return to an earlier time that was uncomplicated and certain. With Papaw life wasn’t gray. Things were mostly black and white. Either you were or you weren’t…there wasn’t any “almost.” A person was either right or wrong, and, of course, what was right depended on my Papaw’s view of things. 

And I realize that who I am today still has his definite imprint upon it, and that’s a very good thing!

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! 

Chumming Around With My Pre-School Granddaughter

March 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2018

          

Corin Grace Hodges turns three on March 24. If there are any two year olds around who are not using their word quota for the day she has snatched them up. She talks so much you’d think she was getting compensated on a “per word basis”!

Last week Granddad (That’s me!) hung around with her for two days to fill in a gap in child care. It was entertaining, amusing, revealing, bonding, and exhausting. Like a fresh-baked apple pie in front of a hungry kid home alone she had me all to herself and she enjoyed all of me. Big brother and sister were at school so Corin felt a responsibility to not let me get bored!

We played with her Barbies! Actually, I think they were mostly her sister’s, but what her sister didn’t know…would never be revealed to her. When I say that we played with Barbies you’ve got to realize that it was a whole storage bin of Barbies…ballerina Barbies, mermaid Barbie, roller skating Barbie, going to a party Barbie, flight attendant Barbie, Dr. Barbie, veterinarian Barbie, modeling Barbie, Barbie in a formal gown…Good Lord! it could have been one of those weird Twilight Zone episodes where Rod Sterling would say the words “This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call…the Twilight Zone.” 

I didn’t think at age 63 that I could play with Barbie dolls for a solid hour and a half, but my “boss” for the day dictated that I was going to! And it was sweetness for my soul, not so much because of the over-populated Barbie basement, but because I was with the one informing me all about them.

The morning coffee got to me and I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. After thirty seconds she came to check on me to make sure I was okay. A minute later when I came out she greeted me with the parental question: “Did you wash your hands?”

A not-quite-three year old making sure her granddad was following the rules of hygiene! In the two days of chumming around with Corin she asked me the same question every time I emerged from the bathroom.

We watched a couple of episodes of P.J. Masks, played the game Monkeys On The Bed, and went to the park where we played church, or as she pronounces it…”chuch!” She guided me to the “cwass” I was to go to, and scolded me when she saw me start to leave my “cwass” without her permission.

We talked about her “bithday” coming up. She informed me what was going to happen at her party, as if she had planned the whole experience herself. In the car on the way to the park she told me to turn up the music! She wanted to rock it with her granddad!

By noon I was counting down the minutes until nap time, scheduled for around one o’clock, not so much for Corin but for me! I needed some rest.

Little kids are amazing. Like just about any other grandfather would comment on their grandchild, I’m pretty sure that Corin Grace Hodges is an almost-three year old genius, but the most satisfying part of the two days with her was to see her emerging personality…and to realize how blessed I am to be called “Granddad!”

Hugging the Leg of Jesus

October 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 20, 2017

                                      

The past two weeks I’ve been battling a cold which turned into bronchitis. After a few days of the medicines and seeing my physician I was feeling better. Carol was scheduled to watch our three grandkids at our daughter’s house so I drove her over there.

“Granddad has a cold so he can’t give you a hug, okay?” They looked at me with a mixture of “How could you do such a thing?” to sympathy.

And then two and a half year old Corin Grace came over to me and hugged one of my legs! It was the best medicine I received that day.

One of the stories in the New Testament that I find confusing and amusing is when the disciples try to keep the children from coming to Jesus. The story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew 19:13 it says, Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.”

Jesus in turn rebukes the disciples and says  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Embarrassed disciples slowly creep off to the side as the children come to Jesus and do some leg hugging. I envision the chuckling of the Savior as little Corin’s and miniature David’s attach themselves to the part of his robe that covered his legs.

Perhaps I’m reading into the situation too much, like a Hollywood movie director adding a bit more to the scene than was really there, but, in my opinion, it is a picture of who Jesus was and is. He gave value to those who were considered to have no value. He raised women, children, and the outcasts up, making the point that everyone is valued and loved by God. To Jesus a small child was no less important than the most powerful king. The scribes and Pharisees were seated at the same table in the Kingdom of God as the toddler who has half of his food plastered to his face. In essence, Jesus had no time for those who had no time for the least of these.

When Corin hugged my leg she held tight for a few seconds. I can see children holding tight to Jesus. Could it be that in those “holding tight” moments Jesus was being ministered to as much as he was blessing the huggers?

It won’t be too long until he will be grabbed hold of by some others who do not love him!

Ground-Daughter

February 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 19, 2017

                                 

It had been one of those weeks! You know the kind…where you go a thousand miles a minute and never seem to get anywhere. It had been a week filled with always getting behind the person driving twenty miles under the speed limit; a week of dealing with a cold, and speaking of that, a week of dealing with snotty-nosed middle school students who seemed to think Valentine’s Day entitled them to hallway intimate embraces; a week of dealing with belligerent basketball coaches and fans; a week of neck pain, backaches, and throbbing knees.

And then our granddaughter got sick Friday night!

Both Carol and I were free on Friday, and I was looking forward to some early morning writing time perched on my Starbucks stool, but our daughter and granddaughter needed us. Admittedly, I agreed to come over early in the morning and sit with Reagan, who just turned six the week before, but I was muttering to myself!

I arrived at 7:40 so our oldest daughter, Kecia, could head to school, where she would face a full day of fourth grade parent-teacher conferences. Reagan was half laying and half sitting on the couch watching TV. We greeted one another and then I sat down at the kitchen table to do an evaluation for a friend. I thought it might take an hour, but, instead, took only about ten minutes. I went over to the couch and sat down by my oldest granddaughter.

On the TV was a kid’s show called Mia and Me. I started watching it with her, not realizing that it was a Netflix season series! After the first episode, seeing that the next episode would start in twenty seconds, I asked a few questions to the recovering sick one.

“So is that lady the bad guy?”

“Yes, she’s trying to get the unicorns.”

“Why does she want the unicorns?”
“To take their horns so that Queen Panthea can stay young.”

To myself. “Huh?”

“Who are the two kids flying around in the air?”

“Those are elves. They are trying to keep the unicorns safe.”

“Oh!”

We sat there for a couple of hours watching six episodes. Reagan leaned into me, like I used to do with my dad in church when I was her age. She settled into my side as Mia faced another riddle to solve in Episode 4.

We journeyed through the land of Centopia together that morning, the old guy asking questions and the young one providing the answers.

It was a morning that we both needed. A morning where a six year old got me grounded again, with some moments of quiet and togetherness. Sitting on the couch with my granddaughter was without a doubt the most meaningful experience I had all week.

Sometimes the inconveniences of life lead us to the moments that God most desires for us. They are moments that won’t make headlines, but are moments that plant the treasure of life within our hearts.

Dad-Sitting

February 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 4, 2017

                                       

My dad has had a January to forget. Two weeks in the hospital…one week home…and then back in the hospital for another week. He loved the nurses, but disliked the meatloaf.

So I had the opportunity to fly in for a few days and be with him. My dad turns 89 in about four months. He’s no spring chicken! In fact, his spring sprung a while ago. The times I’m able to come back to the southern tip of Ohio from the elevation of Colorado are special, deeply personal, and filled with shared stories.

Yesterday I walked with him down to the dining room of his senior adult apartment complex. A slow walk, but a steady walk. When he arrived he made the rounds, giving a hug to each of the women who, I swear, all initiated the embrace. He shook the hands of each man before setting down at a table with two of his peers, Leo and Dale. It was Dad’s first meal taken in the midst of the gathered “white hairs”, and it brought a sense of exhilaration to the 25 or so. He is loved and appreciated, always ready to give a warm word of greeting and an engaging question.

Then it was back to his apartment to sit and talk. Three days earlier I had “grandbaby-sat” for a two year old. Now I was “Dad-sitting” a man who was almost twenty-six when I was born!

We shared stories about teaching, his military service, Kentucky basketball, and all the nice nurses who cared for him at the hospital. Our conversation wound its way through the many rooms of our lives, one door leading towards the next one on the other side of the story.

I told him stories from my recent three-week teaching stint and the one student that I sent to have a chat with the assistant principal, and he told me about the student who he had a difficult  time with when he was student teaching high school agricultural science.

We got on the topic of security guards at schools, banks, and other places, and he recalled the pre-security days at the Social Security Administration office he managed…the times when an irate citizen had to be calmed down simply with words, not a Taser gun!

We have a way in our culture of devaluing our older folks, minimizing their relevance and becoming deaf to their voices. Thankfully I’ve come to the point of seeing how treasured my life is because of the father I have. The occasions of “Dad-sitting” are dwindling, shared moments waning, and I breathe each one of them in as if they are my last sip on water in a long journey.

Tomorrow I’ll watch the Super Bowl with Dad. I can’t remember the last Super Bowl we watched together! It may actually be the first time we’ll share the moment. The game will become secondary to just being together. I’m sure we’ll laugh at some of the commercials and take bathroom breaks while Lady GaGa is being a spectacle. We’ll talk about the Cleveland Browns of the 60’s, the Ironton High School Fighting Tigers, and recall when my big brother came back from an away game that the Williamstown High School football team had played on a Friday night and said to Dad, “Look Dad! Real mud!”

We will simply sit and enjoy the moment. The depth of life is made from moments like these.

Talking Two-ish!

February 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 3, 2017

                                         

    “Juice, pees!”

“You want some juice?”

“Juice, pees!”

“Okay, I’ll get you some apple juice.”

“Pees!”

My youngest granddaughter, Corin…or Rennie, is very, very verbal for someone who doesn’t turn two until the end of March. But she hasn’t perfected the pronunciation part of language yet. Of course, there’s a few adults who are still suspect in that area as well!

One day this past week I had the opportunity…and the challenge…to grand-babysit her. It was just the two of us…and the cat who slept the whole time! When Granddad is the sole translator of the two-ish language some things get lost in the translation.

I was sitting on the couch watching her jabbering to her dolls and then she approached me.

“Gip ‘sha, pees!”

“What, honey?”

“Gip, ‘sha, pees!”

“Gip sha?” I sat there like a 9th grader trying to understand calculus. She stared up at me with a look on her face that spoke, “What is your problem, Granddad? Gip ‘sha!”

Rule Number 1 for two year olds! If you don’t understand what she is saying distract her by offering her a cookie or Goldfish cheese crackers.

Two minutes later with cookie crumbs decorating her cheeks she resumed her conversation with the dolls. Like an American tourist in China I had used the common language of food to get us over the language barrier.

A few minutes later the next challenge surfaced.

“Tain!”

“What, honey?”

“Tain, pees!” She waddled over to the toy train tracks.

“You want to play with the train?”

“Pees!”

She lifted the plastic circular track and carried it to the kitchen. I surmised that I was to follow with the actual cars of the train. We settled on the floor and she started her own conversation with all the parts. I have no idea what the conversation was about, but she wasn’t asking me for help, so I sat and watched with great puzzled interest. A few minutes into the train adventure she decided that all of her dolls should also be involved and brought them one by one from the living room into the kitchen…and then the doll crib, and the doll bottle, and the doll sippy cup! The kitchen was starting to resemble Union Station. Somewhere in the midst of the proceedings her main doll baby got placed inside the circular train tracks. I’m not sure if she was being sacrificed or showcased, but the conversation continued. She even took her doll blanket and covered up the main character.

I simply watched and tried to understand. Two year olds have their own world that we are privileged to watch and enjoy. It’s wonderfully confusing and strangely delightful. They create their own storylines and dream up their own plots. They reflect what has been modeled for them, and yet rewrite the adventure in ways that are comforting.

“Potty! Go potty!”

I understood those words clearly! In fact, she didn’t even have to say “Pees!”