THE MAN WHO TAUGHT ME GRACE

My grandfather was a  man of of strength and strong will. Born in Kentucky to a Baptist circuit rider and his wife, Thomas Henry Arvin Dunn, came to northeast Indiana where he married a dark-eyed farmer’s daughter named Mary Ruth Pritchard. Factory and dairy work, hard work in general, was how he made his living until he turned to a successful career as a house painter, (where he still worked hard).  Passionate and masculine, T.A. Dunn won a battle with alcohol and moved on to raise a family and become an elder in his church. One son and two grandchildren entered the ministry.

The three culprits, back two rows  from the left STEVE, KERRY DEAN, DENNY and THOMAS HENRY ARVIN DUNN

My grandfather loved his God, his church, his wife and his family.  And my grandfather loved his garden.  He had turned the side yard at his home on Swihart Street in Columbia City, Indiana into a beautiful display of flowers and landscaping.  He spent many hours there caring for his plants and enjoying quiet time with the Lord.  After a long day of painting, my grandfather would come home and park his panel truck along the street, walk directly into his garden and savor ten minutes before turning towards the house and becoming the family patriarch.

My grandmother frequently babysat for her grandchildren. One day all three of her older grandsons – my older cousin Denny, my younger cousin Kerry Dean, and I were her only charges.  By the time she had raised her family and settled into the grandmother role, my Grandma had a pretty easy life (which was one of my Grandpa’s desires for her).  After breakfast and a little light house work she would often settle in for the morning game shows, make lunch, and then settle in for her “shows.” (That’s what she called those soap operas like As the World Turns, The Edge of Night, and some other things that I can’t remember.) Her grandchildren were expected to entertain themselves and behave themselves. We knew the rules and we also knew that Grandpa’s razor strap still hung on the bathroom wall. (He had never to our knowledge used it on a grandchild, but his kids had had an encounter or two with its justice.)

On this fateful day, we had been breakfasted by nine and were sent to the yard to play while Grandma finished the laundry before Queen for a Day aired.  We went out front of the house, a football in hand.  Soon we were running, tackling, rolling, kicking and passing the ball.

“Go out for a pass!” ordered Denny and pointed towards the side yard (any other route would have carried us into the street).  Without thinking we took off.  Denny’s throw was a little long but one of us dashed forward, eyes upward and turned behind us to see the pass. That person (Kerry Dean said it was me) caught the ball but not before running right through one of Grandpa’s preciously perfect flower beds – although it wasn’t perfect anymore.

After a gulp of embarrassment we began to laugh and then return to our pass patterns.  It was not long before we sent some more flowers home to be with Jesus. In fact, it looked a little bit like we had carpet-bombed the flower garden before Grandma appeared at the door.  Her abrupt arrival brought us immediately back to a troubling reality.

“Just wait til your grandfather gets home,” were her ominous words. (Grandma never disciplined a grandchild in her life.)  She returned to the house and her television. We sat down on the front porch to await our fate. It was about 9:30 in the morning, but we pretty much stayed there until 4:30 when Grandpa’s car pulled up out front.  We were doomed.

Grandpa paused just a moment to eye the curiosity of his three young hellions sitting like rocks on his front step, eyes averted from his stare. Then he stepped into his garden and our eyes followed him.  He stood there for about a minute. He did not really move. He did not say a word. Then he turned and walked purposefully towards the front porch and three guilty parties awaiting their punishment.

He looked us over, watching us squirm and then he said, “Did you have fun?” We were thunderstruck, But then, the boy in us came out and we admitted sheepishly, “Yes.”

Without changing expression, he said “Don’t do it again” and then walked past us into the house to ponder what had just happened.

We had surely sinned and fallen short of the glory of Grandpa. We were miserable sinners, deserving of our fate and praying we wouldn’t be the first grandchildren to meet the razor strap.  But Thomas Henry Arvin Dunn, out of the goodness of his love extended us a most precious gift – the gift of grace.

And trust me, we never disappointed him again.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn

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