Posted tagged ‘memories’

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!

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.