Home on the Range - A mighty oak has fallen

by Karen Hamilton

One of my clearest and most consistent memories of Grandpa Kuehl would be him coming home from work. In from the cold, pulling heavy boots off, gloves and coat hung to dry near the stove in the porch, thermos and lunch pail on the steps.
Up to the kitchen to take his place at the head of the dining room table. Gram would feed him and then off to his chair in the living room to read the Duluth paper, or if it was Saturday, the Ely Echo. Larry King blaring on the TV…
Grandpa was a picture of a hard worker. He didn’t know how to not work! As a kid, driving out to see him at his latest logging site was a frequent outing. I’d bet there are photos of each of the grandkids climbing a woodpile Grandpa had cut … maybe even a few of the Great Grandkids too!
The summer of 2001 I attended Army Basic Training in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. After graduation, visiting at my parents’ and Grandpa was there. Sharing with him my yearbook from Basic, I learned that he had done basic at Ft. Jackson as well. Even though we were generations apart from serving together, he became my brother that day, we had a new connection.
I don’t recall a lot of hugs from Grandpa growing up, I hope I made up for it as an adult. But treasured more than the hugs I received are those I witnessed him give my children. They are pretty little, their memories might not be that clear later on, but I’ll be sure they know who he was. Seeing him reach for Frankie, calling her “sweetie”, which sounded a lot like “Swede-y” made me smile every time.
Grandpa loved to ask me about my horses… at first I thought it was just general interest in horses, I knew he had them growing up and had even logged using them.
One evening over dinner this past winter he told me the story of him and his brother actually racing a horse they had against a model T Ford! The smile on his face when he said that horse did over 40 miles an hour was rather brilliant.
Our home was Grandma and Grandpa’s home. It still says Kuehl on the mailbox, I am in no hurry to change that any time soon. Maybe when the box rusts right off the pole, I’ll hang one with our name on it.
As much as Grandpa liked to work, he also liked to drive. My favorite trip he took? To Montana for our wedding. He had Tom drive him around the ranch, showing him the cattle and asking about how many acres the place was… “Wow… wowww…” He’d say. He even wore a cowboy hat. Made my day!
As a kid I was frustrated that I wasn’t recognized as a Kuehl. I was convinced that the last name would have had some weight in social circles as a teen. The funny thing is, now around here, when I explain who I am, who my mom is, who my grandparents are and where I live, they all say, “Oh yeah, you are a Kuehl.” Yes, yes, I am.
The words, “I love you” were not easily said by Grandpa, his phrasing was a little different… during one visit I was filling him in on the recent challenges with the well and pressure tank at the house, and the work I had to jump in and do to fix some leaks. He listened intently and said, “Boy, there’s not much you can’t handle, is there, Karen?” I can’t recall my reply, so struck by words that said Grandpa was proud of me…
Stopping in to visit a few days before he passed, Grandpa was for the most part, uncommunicative... I sat and visited with Jess, and soon I had to leave. “Do you think he even knows I’m here?” I asked Jess… she encouraged me to say goodbye. I leaned in close and all but hollered in his ear, “Well, Grandpa, I gotta go. I’ll see you later! I love you.”
“Jessie?” he asked. “No, Karen…” “Oh, Karen….” He paused, and asked “How’s Tom?” “He’s doctoring still, but will be coming home…”
His last words to me were to ask about Tom, he knew what we had been going through, and wanted to know. He didn’t have to say it, I know he loves me and my family.

A mighty oak has fallen…