Posted tagged ‘memories’

Life and Death, And Life In Death

April 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 14, 2019

                   

Yesterday I participated in a memorial service for a gentleman and a gentle man named Jim Newsome. I had been his pastor for the last three years or so of my final pastorate. Back in November I posted a writing about the last visit Carol and I had with him and his wife, Pat. He knew he only had a few days to live and in the only time I ever saw him exhibit impatience he said to his wife, “Okay! I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” Five days after we sat by his bed he passed on into Glory.

The gathering to remember him was punctuated with stories and laughter, a book of tales and experiences. During the service someone made the statement, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I have found the truth and the meaning in those words in recent years. Each  morning I brush my hair with my dad’s hairbrush and I think of him, a year now since he passed on. Every time I fire up our grill to cook some hamburgers I can smell the sizzling aroma of the burgers he would cook. They were the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted! Mine are tasteless in comparison, and I’m okay with that! Dad was the grill master. I’m simply a guy who stands by a grill.

My mom has been gone for five years now, but every time I see the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper I think about her. My dad, brother, and I could be having an in-depth discussion about present-day terrorism and the role of a democracy in fighting it and my mom would suddenly break into the conversation with…”Laurence, what’s a three letter word for fish-and-chips fish?” 

Both of my parents are gone, but they’re still alive each day.

Each of us lives and each of us dies. The sweetness of this world is the relationship we still experience with the one who has passed away. Death ends a life, not a relationship. 

At Jim’s reception following the service a 10 minute video was showed of his portrayal of The Lone Ranger, an act he did for various groups and gatherings for 19 years. Suddenly, he was back with us, back when he had more hair, but still it was him! Each time I see The Lone Ranger I think of him.

We often see death as the final brushstroke, finishing the work. It’s suspicious looking, mysterious, and characterized as cold and somber. And yet it’s communicated as gloriously better, awe-inspiring, and pain-free. 

The memories of the departed stay with us. They continue to live and bless us. 

And the person of faith lives on even if he dies. The last words I spoke to Jim were, “If I don’t see you again, Jim, I’ll see you on the other side!” 

And he looked at me, gave me half a wink, and said, “Plan on it!”

Well, Hi Son!

February 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2019

                                            

One year ago I hopped on a  few planes heading from Denver to Houston to Charlotte to Charleston, West Virginia. It was Valentine’s Day, but bittersweet in many ways. I had talked to my sister on Monday night, February 12, and she told me that Dad was probably in his final hours. I went online and bought a plane ticket that left very early on the 14th.

About five o’clock in the afternoon I entered his hospital room and stood by his bed. My sister said, “Dad, there’s someone special here to see you!”, and he opened his eyes and looked at me.

The words came out as a whisper, and yet they were the words he would always say to me when I would call him on Sunday evenings.

“Well, hi son!”

“Hi, Pops!”

Nothing else was said. His dinner tray was in front of him, but he had no appetite. My sister coaxed him into eating some of the butterscotch pudding and maybe a couple of bites of mashed potatoes, but he was in his final hours of a long steady life. He held my hand in those moments when my sister, Rena, slowly urged each spoonful into his mouth. 

My dad was 89, four months short of hitting the 9-0 mark! I was thankful that I had a few hours with him before he crossed over. Rena and I sat there and talked about this, that, and the other as he drifted in and out. 

St. Mary’s Hospital had become like a second home for him, kind of like a time share! His heart episodes and cancer treatments- mostly for skin cancers- had made him a “frequent flyer” of St. Mary’s. His grandson was now the supervisor of the floor Dad was a patient on. Dad knew doctors, nurses and radiation technicians and assistants. There was a sense of loss filtering through the hospital as word spread that he was close to passing on.

When you sit by your dad’s bed and realize his time is short a flood of thoughts and memories race through your mind. There’s the thoughts of when the funeral gathering will be…even though he hasn’t passed yet. There’s the “listing” in your  mind of who needs to be informed about it.

But then there’s the memories and pictures. For some reason the picture of Dad having his hand on the back of my bicycle as I learned how to ride it came to the front of my mind. I was the baby of the three kids. He already had taught two others to ride bikes…and they had survived the experience. I was in good hands, or would I say, my bike was held upright by a good hand!

Then there’s the memory of Dad teaching me how to drive our 1966 Chrysler Newport in the back parking lot of Ironton Junior High School. He was standing outside the car giving me directions. 

“Turn! Turn!”

And I did! I turned the steering wheel with such power and effort that the power steering fluid burst! I can still see his expression of frustration. He didn’t voice any expletives, but I’m sure he thought of a few!

And in the last year of his life while I was back visiting I had driven him to the eye specialist, and while we were there Rena called me to tell me that Dad was suppose to have gone to the Emergency Room the day before but he hadn’t told anyone. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday and didn’t want to spoil the festivities for the others…not, mind you, for himself! He knew a cake was coming to Wyngate, his senior adult apartment complex, and wanted it to happen for the residents.

As I’m driving him to St. Mary’s he says to me, “Bill, let’s stop at Wendy’s and get something to eat!” And so we pull into the Wendy’s about a mile from St. Mary’s and have a cheeseburger and fries before I deliver him to the ER. The next day he had surgery!

A year ago, as I held his hand, I realized that the strong hand on the back of bicycle was now too weak to hold a spoon and the man who modeled what being a father means was drawing near to his heavenly Father.

I think back to those few closing hours of his life and know that I have been very, very blessed!

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.

The Large Changed To Small

July 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 24, 2018

                       

It’s happened numerous times it seems! I’ve revisited towns and places of my childhood and someone has found a way to shrink therm in size in the 55 years or so since I last was there.

I noticed it first back in Williamstown, West Virginia. The streets had been narrowed since I was a kid in fifth grade living there. I remember the main street that ran through town being like a four lane highway. It ran between the community park and the grocery. I’d find a couple of pop bottles to turn into the store. The store would give me three cents a bottle, which I would use to buy a PayDay or similar sugared-up product. I’d sprint across that street, heart racing, since I knew it was against my parent’s rules. 

In my revisit, however, the highway (in my mind) had been narrowed to where now it is barely wide enough for two compact cars to pass one another going in opposite directions.

And then my brother and I visited Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky- the church my family attended from the time I was an infant to the age of eight. We were in that sanctuary three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening- but someone had shrunk it. A new sanctuary has been built that must seat a thousand or so. We navigated our way through the building that has been added onto a few times until we found the old sanctuary. It’s been repurposed and abused into a youth gathering room. (There’s something weird about that, by the way! Maybe because what once was has long since been changed into what now is!) I remember the old sanctuary being huge, but when we entered it what was once a large gathering place of God’s place on Sunday morning now seems more like a worship closet. 

After church we journeyed around town and stopped at the first two houses I remember living in. Back in the day they were mansions, huge homes where a good game of hide and seek could be played involving small people. BUT once again someone had zapped each one of them with a reducer gun and turned them into Polly Pockets residences!

The perspective of our youth often gets a vision test in our adult years. Our view has been changed. The far-sighted imagination of our childhood gets replaced by the near-sighted skepticism of our aged eyes. What was larger than life becomes the small reality.

There’s a sadness in this change. Perhaps it’s the discovery that what was our “world” as kids, and the specialness of those times, now looks insignificant in the present. When we take our kids and grandkids back to those sacred places there’s yawns and indifference. The mansion we remember now simply looks like a small two bedroom house on a street populated with other small two bedroom homes. 

In another generation they will experience the same thing with their kids!

However, whatever the reality now is the imprint of those times will remain massive upon us. Who I am today is a direct result of how large those days will always be!

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!