On a recent morning before dawn, my grandson Jack Kuehl, a fourth grader and track enthusiast, ran alongside U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke from a park in Lubbock, Texas, to the statue of cowboy humorist Will Rogers on the campus of Texas Tech University. The congressman knew Jack and his family from previous visits to Lubbock, and Jack knew that Beto might become the next U.S. Senator from Texas.
You can imagine how proud I was to be Jack’s grandfather. And after Beto spoke and the other runners dispersed, I drove Jack and his mother, my daughter Ashley Covington Kuehl, back to her van. They hardly seemed winded from the mile run.
The important moment for me, though, occurred when Jack got out of my truck and headed for the van. He turned, waved at me, and said, “Love you!” His words reminded me that I had never told my own grandfathers that I loved them, neither had they said as much to me. They had barely even spoken to me, as far as I can recall.
Both of my grandfathers were poor. My mother’s father, Grandfather Russell, was a large and menacing-looking man. He called himself a railroad detective, but he was actually a strike buster for the coal company.
One morning my mother and her sister had to hide under their beds while striking miners broke out all the windows in the house with bats. The next morning, when they walked outside, they found two dead men in the front yard. Grandfather Russell never gave them an explanation for what had happened.
I also never spoke to my father’s father, Grandfather Covington, a railroad postal clerk who’d fathered 12 children and, later in life, stayed at our house as he was dying of cancer. One of his cancerous eyes had been removed. Normally, a portion of that side of his face was covered by a black patch. But sometimes, when I’d come into the living room, I’d see him walking around without it on. He’d be wearing pajama bottoms and a “wife-beater” undershirt. On one side of his face would be an enormous black hole.
I don’t know why my grandfathers never told me they loved me, but perhaps they would have if only I had done for them what my grandson Jack did for me on that Friday morning. Perhaps they would have spoken to me if only I had spoken to them and told them that I loved them.
I’m a lucky man. Jack and my other grandchildren have taught me how to love by telling me that they love me. So, I intend to tell them I love them as often as I can. Like my grandfathers, I am poor, but at least I can leave words to my grandchildren, which in the end might be the most valuable thing of all.
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