Posted tagged ‘memories’

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! 

Revisiting Sizzler

March 31, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 31, 2018

                                    

We were approaching Flagstaff, our destination for the night after a long drive that day from Colorado Springs. As we were getting close to our place of lodging for the night the question bounced back and forth between us: Where shall we eat dinner?

And then there was the sign!

Sizzler!

Sizzler was part of our courtship history. It was the steakhouse where I had taken Carol in Downers Grove, Illinois to make good on a bet we had made on the Oklahoma-Ohio State football game that was played on September 4, 1977. I had Ohio State and she had Oklahoma, and the loser bought the winner a steak dinner.

Uwe Von Schamann kicked a game-winning field goal and Oklahoma won 29-28 in front of a stunned Buckeye home crowd. About fifteen months later I opened the door to Sizzler for Carol Faletti. I don’t remember what either of us ordered that night- probably, steak…you think?- but we dined over laughter and A-1 sauce. After dinner my romantic tendencies continued as I took her to watch a Downers Grove North High School basketball game. I’m sure she was thinking “I’ve got to make sure I don’t lose this guy! He’s a real catch!”

Two months later we were engaged, and less than seven months after that romantic Sizzler evening we said our wedding vows to one another.

And now I see a sign for Sizzler on the southeast side of Flagstaff, and it seems right to reminisce about what was. I’ve got the gleam in my eye as I look across the front seat at Carol. She looks back at me with the other important question broiling in her mind: Does Sizzler have a Senior Menu?

And so we take the correct Sizzler exit and let Siri navigate our vehicle towards dinner. We’re driving a Honda CRV this time around. Back in January of 1979 I pulled into the Sizzler parking lot in a 1966 Chrysler Newport, which got about nine miles to the gallon!

Something must be wrong this time around. It’s 7:00 on a Saturday night and the restaurant parking lot has about a half-dozen vehicles parked in it. The Downers Grove Sizzler was packed back in the day.

My optimism, however, brings the thought to my mind, “Hey! We beat the crowd!” And so we enter, revisiting our memories like two people doing a remake of one of those old black-and-white films.

And it is…not good! We’re a bit sorry that we weren’t vegans before entering the front doors.

I realize that sometimes it is best to let the sweetness of some memories stay wrapped up in a photo album of the past; that to try to recreate them is like trying to replicate Mom’s famous fried chicken recipe. It’s just not the same…doesn’t taste the same, and is missing one important ingredient…either the person, the place, or the same circumstances.

And now we know! We recognize the treasured memory of that Friday night meal back 39 years ago that will not be equaled again.

Three nights later as we vacationed in Tucson we went to another steakhouse, Fleming’s, and created a new memory. I can’t remember the last time we were at a restaurant that has someone come by the table every few minutes and clean any bread crumbs off the tablecloth! It was the first restaurant we had been to where our server gave us a business card at the conclusion of the meal. Usually we’re dining at places where someone is sweeping the floor right by our table as we’re eating!

A new memory in a new time of life for us. We’ll treasure the past, but, at least in this case, not try to relive it.

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018

                                              

It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

Rethinking About The Little Thankings

November 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 18, 2016

                        

As Thanksgiving Day descends upon us it has caused me to think about the little things I’m thankful for. Perhaps you have your own list that resonates within you. Here’s a few things that cause me to stop, ponder, and be continually thankful for:

1) Sitting on the couch with my three grandkids watching TV, especially if one or two of them are leaned up against me. It causes me to remember when I was growing up and sitting beside my mom and dad in church, leaning into their warmth and presence. Now Reagan and Rennie lean into me and warm my soul!

2) Sunday early evening phone conversations with my dad. Since we’re two time zones apart it usually happens right after I’ve eaten dinner and he’s getting ready for bed. My dad is 88! His pleasant Eastern Kentucky accent carries a flood of family memories with it. As I talk with him I’m thinking of many of those things that he has brought to my life. He taught me how to drive, using our ’66’ Chrysler Newport as the guinea pig. In fact, the first time I drove it in the Ironton Junior High School parking lot I was trying to turn it so hard that I broke the power steering. Although he thought about killing me, patience won out!

3) Being married to a woman with a heart for kids who have needs. Carol is sensitive to those who have limitations as she works with special needs students in middle school. Although she retired at the end of the last school year she gets called EVERY SCHOOL DAY…Trust me! EVERY SCHOOL DAY!…to substitute! She comes alongside students who sometimes are ostracized in the midst of the middle school culture. At the end of the school day she is one tired puppy!

4) The ability to reflect and write. God has gifted me with an unusual talent. Most days as I sit on my Starbucks stool and peck out my blog post I have no idea what I’m about to write until I start writing it. Sometimes it comes as I put the Half and Half in my first cup of coffee; sometimes it comes as I sit and stare at Pike’s Peak for a couple of minutes…but it always seems to come! Most of the time it even makes sense!

5) A renewed passion for the church! As I help First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado navigate the future it excites me. My excitement is definitely not based on compensation, but rather on “mission and purpose.” I love this congregation of twenty, who are anxious about their future. Thirty-seven years of pastoring has prepared me to offer advice and lead them to the questions that they need to be asking themselves.

6) The memories that pain me! That probably sounds strange, and yet I’m thankful for the wounds of my soul! In the past two months I’ve presided over the funerals of two dear people- a 95 year old saint named Rex and a 41 year old friend and father named Greg. I cried at both of them, and I am thankful that my life was blessed by them to the point that I was deeply impacted. Even now as I write these words the grief once again is like a wave that rushes over me.

We often think about the big reasons to be thankful, but the lake of thanksgiving is held together by small pebbles of gratitude!

Stories That We Remember

May 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 30, 2016

                              

Yesterday was an amazing day for Carol and me. The second Air Force Academy cadet that we have been a sponsor family for is graduating this week. Justin Katzovitz went to the same high school that Carol did, Hinsdale Central in Hinsdale, Illinois. Justin is Jewish. His parents were a little apprehensive about having Justin being hosted by an American Baptist pastor and his wife, but Justin said he wanted us. We’ve learned a few things about one another the past four years, like when we took him to Walmart on a Sunday night to buy Hanukkah decorations for a meal that next week. He had been assigned that task of decorating the meal table. And we realized that Hanukkah is not high on the list of products being sold at Walmart. Justin settled for a couple of strings of lights. Yesterday we attended the Jewish Baccalaureate service in the lower level of the Academy chapel. It was a warm and inviting gathering of those of the Academy Jewish community and their guests.

The speaker was a man named Joel Grishaver, a Jewish writer, teacher, and storyteller. Joel must be in his seventies and is afflicted with some form of mobility affliction that requires him to use two canes that are braced around his forearms. He told us a wonderful story about a rabbi who had died, and at a gathering for him people told story after story of how he had affected their lives.

Joel then made the point that stories connect us. Keep telling the stories. Stories draw us together in deep relationships. It was a talk that I have continued to ponder ever since I heard it.

Last night a number of young ladies that I coached in basketball at Liberty High School between 2008-2013 came over to our house for a cook-out. One of them is about to enter graduate school. Another takes her LSAT exam next month. One of them graduated college and is now in that anxious period called “job search process.” Two others are entering their final semester, or year of college. Three are about to begin college, and another will be a second-year Cornhusker.

We ate around our patio table on the back deck, laughed, laughed some more, and we told stories. Stories of past events and things that were said that will always be remembered. The story of Katie Cahn getting her two front teeth knocked out in practice, which wasn’t funny at the time it happened, but was described in detail with laughter last night. The huge mouth guards that Katie Upton and Amanda Dix wore in vivid red and blue colors, and especially wore them after Katie Cahn lost her teeth! The picture of the female Goliath that Alex Rivas had on her cell phone that she was suppose to try to tackle in a women’s rugby game at Colorado University. Kayla Childs’ stories from her incredible trip to Cambodia. Kira Comfort’s stories of breaking bones and learning the game of golf… a non-contact sport! Emily Aldrich’s story of a less than friendly verbal exchange with a Palmer Terror player one game.

We sat and shared stories, and laughed, and exaggerated, and laughed, and then told stories of others who weren’t with us last night at the gathering.

Stories connect us and deepen the depth and strength of the roots of the relationships. By the end of the evening people were shivering with a mixture of chills and chuckles. As Joel Grishaver had told the Jewish cadet graduates that morning about the power of stories, I saw it being experienced last night.