There's a moment frozen in my memory of a time on the porch of my grandparents' home in Paducah.
I was 14. Jimmy was 9.
It was the only time I was with my Granddaddy after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and before he died.
I had spent a good bit of time that fall staying with school and church friends in Malesus while my folks were travelling up to Paducah to attend to him.
Like most kids who idolize their grandparents...I was pretty sure there was nothing he could not do, or would not do...for me.
Time, distance and back story confirm what is true for all of us. He wasn't perfect. Far from it.
But he was a good man.
I don't think any of us knew that this would be my last visit. He died so quickly after being diagnosed.
But there we were. On the porch of my Grandparents' house on Farley Place in the working class, blue collar part of Paducah. It is on that street that my branch of the Jeffords' family tree takes root. Four generations of us have lived and died there. My dad was born there.
My Granddaddy and father were on the gliding porch swing. Jimmy was running around the front yard being who he was. I was sitting on the porch taking it all in.
Grandaddy was noticeably weaker than the last time I had seen him. He had started radiation. He had the marks on his chest, like little tattoos, marking the spots where radiated energy was focused.
His voice had a different timbre. It wasn't brusk, self-confident and self-assured (his favorite line to launch any conversation was, with index finger pointing at the subject at hand, "Well, I'll tell you one thing...." and then proceed to tell five or six things before he was done). It was hushed, a little raspy, and pitched higher...
Friends, neighbors and fellow church members came by to check on Cecil Lee (that middle name is on ongoing legacy I share with both my Grandfather and father) . The church, Trinity United Methodist Church, where my father grew up and answered the call to ministry, and where I was born and baptized, used to meet in a beautiful stone structure just a half block around the corner from my Grandparents' house.
Each visit of passersby ended with words of prayer and love, and he repeated them with a gentleness that seemed out of place from who I had understood him to be. It's not that he wasn't a caring man. It's the way he talked that day that didn't fit the image of the man I had grown up to see as invincible.
My memory of that day is framed in many singular observations, and what in retrospect they came to mean. The next time I would see my Grandfather, it was in his casket, and on the occasion of his funeral I cried more deeply than I ever had before or have since - except for one other time far more recent.
But that day...among the things I recall...and the stuff that gives spark to this memory, was the interaction between my Grandfather and my own father. The men in my life who shaped who I am carry particular character. Granddaddy and my dad are the men who influenced me most in those formative years. No question about it.
And there they were...not my Grandfather and father...rather, my Granddaddy and his boy. I've often wondered what they saw in each other that day...were they looking ahead at what was coming...or was it a reflection of where their life together had taken them?
There was a look of pride in Granddaddy's eyes as he looked at and talked to his boy...I remember that look. I've seen it since...in the ways my own father looks at me...and tells me what he sees in me that I don't and sometimes can hardly believe.
It's the look I find is mine now when I look at my own boys....all of them.
And when I look at this photo taken of my oldest, standing in the pulpit...taking part in Youth Sunday...I remember that look.
It's one that any who watched me watch him noticed. It's one I had for my middle child who also offer leadership in the same service. It's the look of gladness and awe of my youngest who offered leadership the week before.
We all have pride in our kids...as we should. They inspire us and infuriate us. They command more energy than we think we have, and we give it anyway. They run our lives and ruin our schedules. They give love and joy and there's nothing we wouldn't do for them...even to the end.
My life is so topsy turvy right now I'm meeting myself coming and going. And yet, I have to remind myself that I asked for this. And in the end, I want it. And I want my boys to know how much they matter.
"They're going to follow in your footsteps," I hear very often.
I don't know...that's really not up to me. But if any of them do, I hope they find the value of the trail blazed before them as I came to know in my pastoral journey.
"That boy is just like you."
Oh my dear Lord, I hope not...and God help them if they are. Except that if they come to know the pride of their children that I have in mine...that'll be fine with me.