Posted tagged ‘uncles’

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! 

Losing Special People

June 7, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 6, 2015

                                                 

A few weeks ago (April 22), I wrote a blog post about a special lady, Ruth Kennedy, who was celebrating her 96th birthday. That post was entitled “The Saints Who Go Before Us”. Ruth Kennedy passed away yesterday.

One granddaughter posted a few pictures on Facebook of some of Ruth’s final days with family. I got somewhat emotional looking at them as I remembered what a great lady she had been during my growing up years.

My life recently has been crocheted with loss. My Aunt Cynthia passed away about three of weeks ago. She would have been 93 on May 22. “Aunt Cynthy” always made me smile, especially as she handed me a rolled-up five dollar bill and told me not to tell anyone. She had a down-home wit and humor about her that I will always remember. Visits to her house were punctuated by eating! A few years ago she looked at me and said, “Billy Dean, you’re looking (pause)…a little manly!” That was Aunt Cynthia’s way of saying I had put some weight on. I think she offered me a piece of apple pie and ice cream right after that!

This past week my dad has been in the hospital back in Huntington, West Virginia. Being in Colorado is hard during these times. Writing about Dad, Aunt Cynthy, and Ruth Kennedy are a way that I cope with loss and absence.

It’s how I deal with having to say goodbye to some good friends over the years as well. Most are still on this side of glory, but separated from me by distance and schedules.

We lose people in different ways throughout the journey. Hopefully it causes us to value each relationship…each conversation…each piece of pie lovingly cut…each moment shared even more.

Aunt Cynthy and Ruth Kennedy have passed on to their eternal rewards, experiences of a precision choir of hallelujah praises. My Dad, closing in on 87, isn’t far behind. I’ve been blessed by all. May I be a blessing to just as many!

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.