Words and photos by Ken Billett
At the bottom of a plastic bowl, Winnie the Pooh smiles up at Tigger who has bounded atop the silly old bear. On a nearby plate, Poor Bear holds onto Piglet while Tigger extols the virtues of his bouncy bountiful world—at least that’s what my imagine tells me. The plastic plate is a little faded and scratched, much like our other children’s dinnerware, now more than a quarter-century old and still in use today.
Countless meals, desserts, and snacks have been served on these plastic plates and bowls, along with countless childhood memories of laughter and joy, now ingrained in our hearts. Joy that resonates on the smiling faces of those three lovable characters from the famed children’s series.
Later that morning, Emily, our daughter and in-house Latin scholar, informed me that there were no articles (a, an, the) in ancient Latin. The closest Latin word for identifying a person or a thing was the Latin word “ille” (pronounced ee-lay), meaning that. Therefore, in Latin, Winnie the Pooh becomes Winnie that Pooh.
Why is this important? Well, when you are in your early 60s eating an English muffin from a plastic plate bearing—yes, pun intended—the likeness of one of the world’s most beloved bears, you tend to become a little philosophical or, perhaps, wistful, about growing older and watching your children grow older as well.
Growing older while weathering yet another year of challenges and triumphs makes you appreciate your family’s strong ties and close bonds built on love and trust—and one another. Bonds that will carry us through the coming year, whether there are storm clouds on the horizon or clear skies.
Bonds That’ll Never Break
Family bonds stem not only from blood relations or marriage but also from relationships and interactions within a family. Positive relationships typically strengthen those bonds, while challenges or tragedies may weaken a family’s bonds.
For my family, the good times and the bad have not only strengthened our bonds, but have made them seemingly indestructible. There’s no secret formula, or anything special, about our family’s bonds. We’ve endured enough together that we simply know what to do when a crisis hits and how to respond.
Our bonds are firmly rooted in those traditions and practices formed from our collective past and, now, carried forward into the present and the future. Bonds so secure that I’m confident they will never break.
Putting 2022 in the Rearview Mirror
Last year was filled with innumerable challenges and several happy moments, but ended on a truly sad note. Our family’s bonds were tested and stressed, but I think—and I certainly hope—that we’ll continue being there for each other regardless of physical distance.
As I wrote in the first installment of Family Ties (see The Last Supper), in spite of rituals and routines, like eating meals together, changes may significantly impact a family dynamic and, sometimes, be difficult to handle. When Alisa, Vicki’s sister, moved back to Texas last July, we knew our family dynamic would never be the same. Our deep roots would be stretched, once again, and the strength of our bonds tested.
Change occurs, so you do what you can and move forward. Yet, change can be positive as well.
In October, my cancer journey (read Happy Birthday, Spider-Man) took a significant change for the better—a new chapter, if you will. Although I’m not through with cancer (metastatic melanoma), I am finished with treatments (read Just Another Day), for now. Time, and my body, will dictate the next chapter of my journey.
Thanksgiving brought a little melancholy to our home (read Our Roots Run Deep) on an otherwise pretty day. In addition to Alisa no longer living here in Memphis (she now lives in Austin, Texas), Zach, our son would also not be home for the holiday for the first time since he was born.
That empty feeling I had on Thanksgiving was not from a lack of turkey.
December rolled along and we looked forward to spending time with Zach, who would be with us for Christmas Week. With cold, icy weather forecasted for later that week, I was glad all four of us would be safe and warm in our home.
Together. A nice way to end another year. So I thought.
My dad, Ken, Sr., died the afternoon of December 18th. He lived in a nursing home in Tampa, Florida, suffering through the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. My sister Kim, who also lives in Tampa, our hometown, called me on the 15thto let me know Dad wasn’t doing well. The weekend before Christmas was touch-and-go, but all indications were that our father wouldn’t be with us much longer.
When Kim called me on the 18th, I wasn’t shocked by the news, and, initially, not sad, as much as feeling numb. Simply not feeling a thing. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel, or how to react, or even what to say to others, including my own family, my extended family, and my close friends.
Even now, several weeks after his death, I’m not sure what I’m feeling.
Family ties…family roots…family bonds.
All of these are important…all of them matter. But, now, an important part of my world was gone…testing the strength of our bonds and our ties to one another. To continue with a prior metaphor, our family lost a key part of its root system.
Once a parent is gone, is it possible to regain what has been lost?
Maybe time will tell.
Gathering up our plastic dinnerware—now dishwasher clean—to place back in the kitchen cabinets, I continued to think about death and growing older. I gazed into the cartoon faces of Pooh and Tigger, remembering not only my past but all the childhood memories those two have witnessed from the bottom of a bowl.
Emily and Zach are grown now, and they want to remember their grandfather as he was—burning their grilled cheese sandwiches, playing with our first border collie, Nixie, when he came to Memphis for a visit, and being there when they graduated from college.
That’s how I want to remember him, too.
Our resident Latin expert tells me that father in Latin is pater (pronounced pah-ter, with the ter sounding like bear, interestingly enough). Emily then reminds me that pater is the root word for paternal.
From or through the father…or pertaining to the father’s side of the family. Those familial roots and bonds developed and nurtured through love and relationships.
Emily’s grandfather was quite proud of his first grandchild and the wonderful young woman she has become.
I’m grateful that he was a part of all of our lives.
“Winnie Ille Pooh” is the third and final installment of Family Ties, Ken’s three-part reflection on his family and 2022. Read the rest of the series here: Part I, “Our Roots Run Deep,” and Part II, “The Last Supper.”
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.