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.


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