Posted tagged ‘Oil Springs’

Enjoying Dad

June 18, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         June 18, 2017

                                        

Today is my dad’s 89th birthday! Extraordinary, considering he had a heart attack when he was 62! 62…that’s one year younger than my age right now!

He is sharing his birthday with Father’s Day, a double star on the family calendar! So today Carol and I will celebrate with him, probably take him out for dinner tonight, and talk about what was, what is, and what is to come.

I’m a bit surprised that his 89th has even come to be. Last year we were back for an Ohio visit on his 88th. When he blew out the candles (Two candles of the number “8”, not 88 candles!) someone asked him what he wished for and he cleverly replied, “89!”

I’ve reached the enjoyment stage with Pops. It’s a place that many sons and daughters don’t arrive at. Fathers often regress in their children’s minds from being strict to irrelevant to crotchety! The next generation moves out and moves on, living their own lives with just a hint of their fathers’ influence and presence.

Sad, but true! We become so self-absorbed with careers, our own kids, and our own routines that our parents become people in the rearview mirror.

I’m increasingly thankful that I’ve reached the point of “enjoying Pops!” Last night as we broke bread together at a local restaurant I peppered him with some questions about his courtship with Mom. How that came to be? How long had they known each other? What drew him to her, and vice-versa?

Our conversation was punctuated by amazement and laughter, as family stories were shared and details discovered. My dad had lost his dad when he was 14 in a mining accident. He shared the events of that story, the loss and the ripple effect of that loss. Losing his dad meant that my grandmother had to move him and his two siblings to Wittensville, Kentucky to live with his Uncle Sam, thus setting in motion a series of events that brought him together with my mom at Oil Springs High School.

My generation, and any generation once removed from their parents, tends to forget the stories of our past that have brought us to where we are in the present. We minimize the importance of pre-history, that is… the stories of our parents that precede our existence.

And so we talked and laughed. When my dad laughs his whole body shakes, especially his shoulders and head. He often slaps his knee with his right hand in extended appreciation of the humorous episode that was just shared.

I’ve noticed a few other things that stand out about him and his life. He has several University of Kentucky hats, fashion displays of his college alma mater. The other day he asked me to get him a Kentucky hat from the closet to wear. Expecting for there to be one UK hat when I opened the closet door I was a bit taken back to see “the collection” on the the top shelf.

I’ve enjoyed watching him converse with his “neighbors”, the other thirty people or so who live at Wyngate, a senior living complex in Proctorville, Ohio. Meal time at Wyngate is more about telling stories, and other stories as a result of the stories, than it is about the food. What can you say about egg salad? Not much, but you can tell a number of stories from when your family had chickens back in the day…that cause other stories very loosely connected to chicken to spring up!

Enjoying Dad has a warmth to it that is comfortable and satisfying. Watching the many Wyngate Widows smiling at him is a little hard to get used to, but also causes me to smile. Yesterday I joined him for lunch and we sat with two Wyngate ladies. I could tell that they find him charming and…enjoyable!

So today I’m going to seek to be showered with his laughter and bathed in his tales of what has been. I’m simply going to enjoy Pops!

Mamaw’s Cough Remedy

November 20, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   November 20, 2016

                                    

The cashier put the bottle in a skinny brown bag that shouted “Booze!” I walked at a brisk pace out of the store like a CIA operative stealing a hard drive from a foreign power. I felt more guilt than a Baptist sitting in Starbucks on a Sunday morning!

The bag held a bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon. Somewhere in my memory this purchase destined me for the Lake of Fire. I had never…ever…ever bought a bottle of hard liquor before in my lifetime. Back in Ironton, Ohio, the state liquor store on Third Street was one place you didn’t get close to, lest you become tainted.

But the cough had lingered! My night time sleep was like a horizontal relay team passing the imaginary baton from one coughing episode to the next. And then my dad reminded me of Mamaw Helton’s cough remedy: One part honey and at least one part bourbon!

He told me of the time my Mama and Papaw Helton had come to visit them in Ironton from their farm in Oil Springs, Kentucky. My Papaw asked my dad to go to the liquor store and buy him a bottle of bourbon, to which my dad replied, “Dewey, why can’t you go and buy it?” Mamaw Helton piped in, “He can’t because of the church!” They were proud members of a United Baptist church, known for being a church of teetotalers and a few backwoods moonshiners.

My dad said, “Well, this is where I live and I’m a deacon in the church.” I asked him how the story played out and he told me he went and bought my Papaw Helton a bottle. Evidently my Papaw was okay with the drinking part, but committed to never entering the store that sold the drink.

So, as I coughed, like an old Chevy trying to start its engine, I went to the liquor store!

I had also rationalized that my brother, Charles Dewey, now works as a tour guide at the Woodford Reserve Distillery outside of Frankfort. If I bought a bottle, in some weird way, it would promote job security for him. When I looked at the price difference between his brand and the others I considered that he needed to be responsible for his own job security. But then I thought that perhaps…just perhaps…the price difference was because Woodford Reserve went down smoother and tasted as sweet as a piece of rock candy. If I bought that cheap Jim Beam it might be like drinking one of those generic cans of cola compared to drinking a Pepsi. It might completely distort my impression of what Kentucky bourbon tasted like.

So I bought it! At the counter I informed the lady that my brother was a tour guide at the distillery of my chosen bottle. She looked at me and with a face completely void of expression replied, “Ah-huh!” End of sales transaction!

That night I anxiously opened the bottle of the miracle potion. I was a bourbon virgin about to have my first sip experience. “Would it taste like Pepsi?” I asked myself, “Or more like Vernor’s?”

I poured about an ounce into a cup and mixed in the honey. This was the big moment…the moment of healing, the exorcism of my coughing demon! I tipped the cup up and took my first swig.

“Good Lord!” I stammered. My fear of being cast into the Lake of Fire was being preceded by a burning flow of lava down my throat. I could feel some of the hair on my chest shriveling up and falling off. Kentucky bourbon is the twin brother of castor oil!

“Lord, help me!” I stared at the other half of the dosage I still needed to force down. I pinched my nose and once again let the fire enter in. Then I stared at the bottle of bourbon that still contained about 97% of its contents.

“How do people drink this? Better yet, how did my Papaw Helton drink this?” I could feel the fire in my throat dripping down into my stomach.

That night, however, I slept soundly! Seven hours of sleep is worth one moment of torture!

Family Picture Boxes

April 24, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 24, 2014

 

                                      

 

My dad is moving. He’s under a month now. The house sold in less than two weeks after he listed it with a realtor…a happening that caught him a little off-guard…kind of like when a young lady I went to college with said yes to a date proposal!

“You will?”

The quickness of the house selling suddenly changed the game plan. It’s the difference between reading War and Peace versus reading the Cliff Notes of War and Peace.

Yesterday we were going through boxes of family photos. It was entertaining and amusing. To see my dad as a curly red-haired two year old (Although his red hair doesn’t really stand out in the black-and-white photo. You rarely think of your parents as kids, especially when they are just shy of 86!

And then there was the picture of my mom in a swimsuit when she was about twenty. That’s another picture I’m not sure about. Mom looked great in a swimsuit…is that okay? A son kind of wants his mom just to look okay for some reason. Call it generational unrest.

Another box had old Christmas card pictures. My parents would put a picture of the three kids on a Christmas postcard each year. You can see the progression each year as we grew and became less cute. The growing attitudes of “This is no longer cool!” can be slightly seen as each year passed by.

There was a few pictures of my Helton grandparents- Mamaw and Papaw Helton. Papaw was a stoic-type Eastern Kentucky farmer, who measured success on the basis on crops, chickens, and good-looking hogs. Seeing the pictures brought back the echo of his voice.

“Loooorrrdddd, have mercy!”

It look him longer to say “Lord” than it did for Jesus to say “holy, holy, holy!”

There was pictures of Feds Creek School where my dad went to school, and Oil Springs High School where both he and my mom attended. It made me realize that I failed to take pictures of the schools I attended, most that no longer are standing! Years from now my kids will think I was home-schooled since there will be an absence of brick and mortar shots to tell stories about.

Pictures of my aunts and uncles through the years were revealing. Each of them shows the ticking of time on their faces, the sagging of their jaws, and gray in, or loss of, their hair. For some of my uncles age was not kind. Most of my aunts, however, had “good skin.”

There was a picture of our Siamese cat “Caesar.” He ruled the roost until he started urinating in the entryway of our house. Mom did not take kindly to a cat who got confused. “Cat dementia” led to an absence of cat.

Finally, there were pictures of former pastors, all with stories attached to the film. Pastor Zachary at Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky…a great pastor and, I’m assuming, preacher…although I was too young to know what a good preacher was. That was during the period when I was a little envious of the Methodist children. Baptists had Sunday night church, but the Methodist took care of all the spiritual hunger on Sunday morning. Bottom line! They got to watch Walt Disney on Sunday night while we were going at it for a second time at Central Baptist.

There was Pastor Gale Baldridge who was a great pastor with a servant’s heart. He wore brightly colored suits that someday will come back into style…shortly after leisure suits arrive again.

The boxes are full of memories and history. Since cell phones are now cameras I;m not sure how things will be years from now. Will the history be evident? Will there be a richness in that time when our kids help us pack up for the move?

I don’t know. No one talks about “Kodak Moments” much any more.

Walking Amongst The Relatives

October 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 26, 2013

      Yesterday I returned for the first time to the cemetery where my mom was buried this past September 6. The day was grey and cool as we drove the hour and a half into the hills of eastern Kentucky. The conversation between my dad, sister Rena, and I was warm and reminiscent. We talked of past events and family practices, and the miles passed quicker than the coal trucks.

At the cemetery Dad guided us towards my mom’s grave site. The last time I was there a tent canopy told us where to head. Our family pallbearers carried my mom the final sixty feet in honor of how she had carried many of our burdens through the years. It would have been appropriate for a squash casserole to have been passed through the grieving at that moment. Problems often got soothed with food in our family.

This time, however, there was not a canopy, just Dad to shepherd us towards the place of rest. Though filled in you could tell that the sod had been recently positioned to blanket the departed. There she was…still below me, as I kneeled by her marker.

Virginia Helton Wolfe

               1927-2013

Someday my dad will lay down to her right, just as he stood on her right when they were married at the United Methodist Church in Paintsville, Kentucky on August 13, 1948.

Let me tell you…being in that cemetery was like being back at the dinner table of my Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm house in Oil Springs, a few miles further down the curvy road; for my mom has been laid to rest in the midst of family.

Mamaw and Papaw were to the left, gone for years but not from memory. I asked Dad on the way back home how they had first met. A grandson seldom knows how romances of previous generations begin…or even cares to know, in case some family scandal get forced to the surface, but I was curious. How did people meet before Facebook or text messaging? Dad told me the story. In the company of a couple of his friends, Papaw had come by the house where Mamaw lived. She had expressed her interest in him by throwing green apples…not at the whole group, mind you. Her aim was squarely focused on him. Romance followed shortly after the apples. Family history that is not written down is often more interesting than anything else.

Right next to Mom is my Uncle Bernie. Her sister Cynthia, Uncle Bernie’s wife, is the only one Helton sibling still living. Uncle Bernie almost made me a smoker. He used a pipe and smoked cigars. As a young boy the smoke from both were always a satisfying aroma, like a pleasing Levitical sacrifice to God.

I walked a little further and greeted Uncle Milliard and Aunt Rene. Milliard had been a barber, and for a short time had operated a Dairy Queen. Barbering was much easier. As a barber he could have conversations with people. At DQ people were only interested in getting their hands on sundaes and properly-dipped cones. Aunt Irene was a saint. She had taken in our one year old cousin, Johnny Caroll Helton, when my mom’s brother, Uncle Doc (John) had lost his first wife and needed to get a grasp on his life again. Aunt Rene and Uncle Milliard never had any children of their own, and so we were all their children. When Aunt Rene was diagnosed with cancer she gave a sum of money to each of her nieces and nephews and told all of us that she wanted to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. We went to Disney World. It’s a family vacation we still measure others by.

Uncle Junior (Dewey Helton, Jr.) and his first wife, Grethel, are buried close by as well. Uncle Junior was a good man who liked to give me a little pinch on the leg to make kids squirm. I kind of wonder if they taped his fingers together in the casket just in case when his body rises in the last days he will come out seeking the backside of some unsuspecting saint’s leg? It’s a question I am not willing to find a quick answer to.

My Papaw’s Uncle Ernie is laid there…in a lonesome place with no one beside him. Ernie had been estranged from the family for a while and still looks somewhat isolated where he rests.

Across the narrow road where hearses pull in is my dad’s part of the family. My Granny Wolfe, whose husband passed away in a mining accident when my dad was young, is there. She was a school teacher back in times when women who got married had to give up teaching and be at home. Granny had a calming voice. I remember staying at her house in Wittensville, Kentucky and she would let me stay up and watch a movie on NBC on Saturday night. That was the first time I became familiar with Bride of Frankenstein. Sleep did not come easily that night.

My Granny Wolfe would always be taken back by the beauty of a wrapped Christmas present. Each Christmas we would fully expect that the opening of her new sweater or blouse would be preceded by the words “This is too pretty to open!” My mom was skilled as a gift wrapper…a talent that has not been passed on to me.

And then there is my Aunt Lizzie, a Kentucky Colonel, who lived to be 99! She was a delight, soft-spoken with a definite strength in her voice. Aunt Lizzie had a determination that ran deep. In fact, it has run deeply into our own children. She took art classes at the community college when she was 96, and painted pictures of the log cabin she was born in.

Flanking those two great ladies are my Uncle Dean and Aunt Della and their spouses. Great Uncle Sam is laid there as well, as are several other relatives that I don’t recall, but all who have histories.

We walked and pondered. Most of the markers had recently-mowed grass on them, which I gently brushed off in respect and honor to their continuing presence in my life.

We walked and talked, laughed and spent moments in quiet reverence.

Walking amongst the relatives was what I needed to experience. To see that Mom is in good company, even though she has moved on to eternity. There was something deeply fulfilling for me to be there…with Dad and Sis…stepping between generations…remembering and being blessed by it.