Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sifting Through the Shavings


My Uncle Raymond McWhorter lived to the ripe old age of ninety-five. Actually he was my great-uncle being married to my grandfather’s younger sister Ann. Together Raymond and Ann raised five children, all of whom went on to live successful, productive, and honest lives. Uncle Raymond did a lot of things in his life. He was deputy sheriff for a while and made an unsuccessful bid to become sheriff. He drove a school bus and ran a gas station for brief periods of time. Mostly he was a farmer and he always had a truck that enabled him to pick up a few extra dollars hauling for neighbors and others who did not have a truck. Uncle Raymond lived slow and easy never getting overly excited about much. That is probably what made him a good trader and such a good at handling cattle (and maybe what helped him to live so long). When I knew Uncle Raymond he would go to the stockyards two or three times a week. I guess he practiced what we called “pinhooking”. Meaning that he would go to the sale barn, buy a animal or two from those bringing cattle to market, in the hopes of reselling them at a small profit perhaps even that same day. Or maybe he just went to the stock yards because it was a good place to loaf and catch up on the news. I knew Uncle Raymond as a kind and gracious man who was always willing to help a family member or neighbor. He took an interest in people, even if you were a great nephew who was just a boy. Now Uncle Raymond had his vices. He smoked a lot of Lucky Strikes. He was known to have sampled his share of Kentucky Whiskey (though I have to say I never detected any evidence of that). For leisure he loved to fox hunt and would stay out all night with his dogs and buddies enjoying the sport. Sometimes he would have to spend the daylight hours rounding up his dogs. He would sooner sleep in a lawn chair in the yard, day or night, than he would sleep in the house. But if that is the most harmful thing you can say about a person you really don’t have much to say. That is particularly so when these habits are accompanied with a persona of kindness and charm.

Uncle Raymond was not a churchman. But that changed one Sunday afternoon when he was in his mid 60’s. Upon testimony and encouragement given by a family member he gave his heart to the Lord and that very day was baptized into Christ and joined the fellowship of the Mt. Carmel Christian Church. To the surprise of a lot of folks he became a faithful worshipper of the Lord Jesus. As Aunt Ann aged she developed Alzheimer’s. When this occurred Uncle Raymond blossomed into a gentle and compassionate caregiver. For two years he barely left her side tending to her every need. When it finally became necessary to transition her to a nursing home he still made the trip every day to see her.

After Aunt Ann passed away Uncle Raymond re-married. Stories get a little twisted sometimes but here is the way I heard it: One of Uncle Raymond’s old fox hunting buddies had died. Uncle Raymond called his widow one day and said “I am looking for a wife.  Do you want to get married”? She said “I don’t know I’ll have to think about it”. Two hours later he calls her back and said “Well did you think about it”. The details are probably a little different than that but he and Mary did get married and enjoyed several years together before she passed away. Sometime before she passed he had also buried one of his sons.
I stopped to visit Uncle Raymond one day not to long after Mary had died. His eyesight was failing him. But I found him sitting under a shade tree whittling. He did a lot of that because there were enough shavings under that tree to fill a garbage bag. I enjoyed visiting with him. I asked him a few questions and then waited and listened to his careful drawn out responses. It took time to listen to Uncle Raymond. He was not going to give you much quick. He was not going to give you any information he did not want to tell you. That is the way he always was and that part of him had not changed with age. He said something to me that day that I have reflected upon quite a bit. He said “I don’t know why I whittle, I don’t make anything. I just whittle. It is just something to do”.  I guess if you live to be ninety-five and all your friends are dead and gone, you have buried two wives and one son, and your eyesight has failed and you are not able to do much and you are limited in where you can go, finding a shade tree and whittling is an ok thing to do. But I think he did make something. He made shavings. And as he whittled he looked down into those shavings and remembered and relived and reflected on his life. Each shaving he whittled from those sticks of wood was part of his life story. In that pile of shavings were his memories of joys and sorrows, people and places, events and ideas. In that pile of shavings were his thoughts of who he was and who he had become and who he would become in that glorious place he would go when his life on earth was over. Uncle Raymond kept most of his thoughts close to his vest. But if I had the opportunity to sift through that pile of shavings I think I might have his whole story.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hey Cous, You and I's Kin


Carl Wells grew up and lived in the vicinity of East Bernstadt and Hazel Green in Laurel County, KY. I doubt if he ever traveled very far from that vicinity in his life. Carl was what most people in the area would call “simple”. Or they might say he was “a little off” or that he was “not right”. By those expressions they were not being unkind. Rather they were trying to describe his mental and social capabilities in a polite way. I am sure there were many who expressed their thoughts about him with less kind words.

I guess Carl lived with family members and I think he did a few odd jobs for people in order to get a little money to sustain him. When I was growing up I would see Carl on the streets of East Bernstadt but mostly I would see him at visitation services at the funeral home. If Carl knew the deceased or was the least bit related to you he would be at the funeral home to pay his respects. When Carl saw me he would greet me with “Hey Cous – you and I’s kin”. He would get this goofy grin on his face that revealed his pride that he had done his research and knew our family connection and was able to educate me about it. Carl was right. We were related. His mother and my great-grandmother were sisters. I think that made us third cousins. My great-grandmother’s name was Sally and his mother’s name was Laura. There maiden name was Dees. If you lived in Laurel County, KY and had Dees in your family lineage that meant you had a lot of kinfolks. Carl knew the family tree and all the branches. He was proud of his knowledge and he was proud of his kin. Problem was most of his kin were not nearly as proud to claim him as he was to claim them. We were a little embarrassed by Carl’s eccentric behavior. When he reminded us of our shared bloodlines we would acknowledge his greeting with a nod and a grunt and move on hoping that he would not spread the news of our kinship very far. We should have been ashamed ourselves. I honestly hope that Carl did not recognize and internalize our indifference. But he was pretty intuitive and I suspect he did.

I have not seen Carl Wells in nearly forty years. I guess he has long since passed. But I have thought about him a lot over the past decades. In reflecting upon him, Carl Wells has taught me a valuable lesson. He taught me to be proud of my kin. I mean, think about it. Here was a man who had observed and asked questions and kept a record in his head of who he was kin to. When he saw you he wanted to acknowledge it to you and advertise it to others. I think if someone is that proud of me then I should be proud of them! So I have decided to be proud of my kin, the good ones and the bad ones.

I hope I meet up with Carl one day on the streets of glory. If I can get to him before he gets to me I am going to say “Hey Cous- you and I’s kin”.

 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

She Loved Her Country


Teresa Romans and I used to bicker a lot in high school. We bickered mostly about things political. Of course that was about the only thing we ever talked about. We were not enemies but when it came to the rights and roles of government we were foes rather than friends. She was an incessant liberal. I was an ardent conservative. I used to shake my head in dismay that anyone could hold the views she did. I know she thought I was wrong. But I knew she was wrong. She probably felt the same way about me. After high school I had to find someone else to discuss politics with. But I never came across anyone as delightfully ready to argue with me as she was.

A little over three years ago I bumped into her on facebook. She had a different last name but after clicking on a post or two I knew it was her. I sent her a friend request. I wondered if my old foe would accept it but she did. We picked up our bickering where we had left off. I thought maybe life had taught her a thing or two. But she was more confident in her philosophy than ever and her arguments were more honed.  She probably thought I had not changed much either.  Though I am certain my views were somewhat tempered and I was more careful in the way I expressed them. The 2012 election season was upon us and we had fun. Most people do not like politics but Teresa and I loved it. You never won many arguments with Teresa. She rarely (if ever) would concede anything. I tried to straighten her out but she was badly bent. She tried to correct me but I was hopelessly warped. No doubt about it we had opposing political persuasions. Facebook is not a good public forum for political debate. So I tried to express my thoughts in private messages. But sometimes I just could not help myself. She would post something and with a few strokes of the keys I would poke her and prod her with some comment just to see what she would say. I knew full well that she would say something.

I discovered something in the process. Teresa and I had different world views. We had different ideas about what our nation should be involved in. Yet we both had tremendous pride and love for our country. Every now and then we would agree on something.  We would agree on a desired outcome even if we could not agree on the avenue to make it happen. And I think maybe on a different level than politics we became a little closer to friends than foes.

After the 2014 mid-term elections I got a little more interested in basketball than politics. Maybe I was just tired but I started ignoring political debate, especially on facebook. Then a month or so ago I thought to myself “I have not seen any posts by Teresa in the news feeds”. Then I discovered she had died. She had a brain tumor and she went fast. I was saddened. But here is what I know about Teresa. She loved the United States of America. She took advantage of the liberty our nation offers to fully and freely express one’s views. She worked hard to shape our nation and make it a better place. She never missed an opportunity to vote. Teresa and I may not have had much in common. But we were both glad to be citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Success,, Failure, Praise, and Criticism


So much of life we have control over and so much of life we have no control over. Sometimes those most likely to succeed don’t or maybe they could not. Sometimes the least gifted hit upon a good idea or make the right connections and experience success beyond anyone’s dreams. Sometimes we make mistakes that place a damper on all we do for the rest of our lives. Yet some folks can overcome the greatest of mistakes. Sometimes there are accidents and illnesses that limit lives or end lives much too soon. And sometimes the sickest among us manage to live long past the expected three score and ten. Some people are equipped with the best of tools. But sometimes the people who have the best tools are unable to use them. Sometimes they refuse to use them. Sometimes people pick up broken tools and remnants and manage to build something great. Some people can hear hateful words and it rolls of them like water off a ducks back. Other people can hear the same words and they sting the soul and act as a curse forever. Some people can take charge of their lives and some people cannot. I do not understand all of that but such is life. And since that is the way it is we probably need to be a little more reserved in both our praise and in our criticism.

My grandfather Williams was a country preacher. I remember him but I was four years old when he died so obviously I did not him well. Most of what I know about him comes from the stories my mother told me. My mother often quoted an old saying that she had heard from him. “There is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us”. Sounds like a wise word to me.

Robert Lonnie Suffoletta


I met Robert Lonnie Suffoletta in the summer of 1968. We got on a bus together in the parking lot behind the police station in Georgetown, KY early one Monday morning.  The bus took us to Monticello, KY where we spent the week at conservation camp. We went swimming and boating and shot bow and arrows. We learned about hunting and fishing and gun safety and ate together in the mess hall. We were in the same cabin. I slept on a bottom bunk. Robert had the top bunk next to me. We were to be 6th grade classmates that fall. It would be a new experience for both of us. The school system had built a new school named Southern Elementary and they had done some redistricting to prevent overcrowding in the other elementary schools. I would be coming in from Eastern Elementary. I think Robert would have come from Great Crossing Elementary. We gathered with excitement for the first day of school in Miss Edward’s classroom. But Robert was not there the second day. He had doctor’s appointments. The word quickly came back that he had Leukemia. No one had to tell me how serious that was. I had already known people who died from that disease. I had seen the grief in their loved one’s eyes. The Leukemia took Robert quickly. He died within the week. Our principle Jack Wise came to our class to give us the official word. Mr. Wise cried. I don’t think you christen new school buildings. But after only being open one week the new Southern Elementary School had received a baptism by fire.

The community saw to it that Robert was remembered. They named the new city park and swimming pool after him. I remembered him as a friend I never really got to know. The sign said Robert Lonnie Suffoletta Memorial Pool. I suppose, particularly after the passage of time, that people read the sign and wonder who Robert Lonnie Suffoletta was. But I know who he was. I wonder who he might have become. It is a blessing to be granted the opportunity to become. Being granted that blessing I hope to become all that I was meant to be.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quinton Rutledge


Quinton Rutledge was in my 5th grade class at Eastern Elementary School in Scott County, KY. Miss Carpenter was our teacher. I recollect that Quinton was slender and had brown wavy hair. He sat parallel to me in the row to my left. I remember him as being a quite person. I don’t recall him complaining about not feeling well. But one day he went home from school and had an appendicitis attack. They took him to the hospital but his appendix had ruptured and he died. He left school one day and the next morning we got the news that he was dead. You don’t get much school work accomplished after giving or receiving that kind of news. Quinton’s mother was the secretary at our school. So she had to come to work at the school where her son was supposed to be and watch the activity of other children and then go home without her son. Quinton’s father was a farmer. He had to work the fields around their farmstead with the constant reminder of the emptiness left by his absence. The school bus I rode went by the white two-story weather boarded house where Quinton lived.  Every day I would look at that house and sense the sadness and pain that surely dwelled within those walls. I listened to my own mother express sorrow for the family. Mother always shuddered when a family lost a child the same age as one of her own. That has been 48 years ago. But that is the kind of thing one does not easily forget.

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world. I have been right in the middle of a lot of it. The longer I live and the more I see and the longer I reflect the more I am determined not to be involved in fussing about small things. There are too many important things and hurtful things that need my attention and emotion. I cannot solve all or even most of the problems I encounter. But I can soothe them. I can share the truth of God and exercise the love of God and pray for the power of God. And my feeble lips can deliver a word from God in the hope and belief that it will bring hope and comfort to tortured souls. Life is too short and often too tragic to do otherwise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Forty Year Reunion

In the spring of 1975 I graduated from Scott County High School in Georgetown, KY. That was 40 years ago. They held a big reunion this past week end but I did not go. I have not been to any other of my reunions either so I am certain my absence was not a surprise to anyone. With the exception of one person I have not really kept any contacts with my high school friends. It has been much too long to make any real connectivity now. Besides I work every weekend and I live a lon...g way away. So the time and expense would be much too great for a rendezvous with people I barely know. Besides I am not that good at parties. I had lots of good excuses. So I ignored the invitations and pleas to come to the reunion and decided to let high school remain a distant experience from the past. In recent years however I have re-connected with a few of my classmates via facebook and somehow I got added to a group called Scott County High School Class 1975. The morning after the reunion people started posting pictures and I got curious. I did not recognize some of them. Of the ones I did recognize I was a bit relieved to discover that I had survived the 40 years as well as most of them had. There were 152 of us in that graduating class. I was saddened to discover that 16 of those have died. Surely in this age of modern medicine that is way too many. I mean I am only 58. That is not old is it?


That got me to thinking about the brevity of life. Indeed I have way more years behind me than I can expect to have in front of me. When this life is over there will be a glad reunion in heaven and I plan to attend that one. Indeed God has put eternity in the hearts of mankind. But since life is brief I want to live well and do something of significance while I am here. The British missionary C. T. Studd wrote a famous oft quoted two line poem: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last”.

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