Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Unsung Hero (12/07/06)
TITLE: Acquainted With Grace
By Sharlyn Guthrie
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We turned off the highway onto Main Street passing a post office, a bank, a thrift shop, a grocery store, and a barber shop. As our car and moving van crept through town, an old man sitting outside the barber shop pulled his pipe from his mouth and leaned forward, following our progression with interest. Another rose and removed his hat as though we were royalty. In those parts, a new principal was probably pretty close.
We pulled up to a small, sagging house kitty-corner to the Presbyterian Church. “Here we are,” declared my dad, the only one to have seen the house prior to our move. My wide eyes surveyed the barn, the huge tree with broad sturdy limbs, and the patches of flowers sprinkled here and there. I bolted from the car, eager to explore. My mother and sisters were less enthusiastic. They sensed that this was yet another temporary home. Getting excited or attached would make moving away more difficult. At the age of five, I had yet to learn those lessons.
The townspeople with children lived on the other end of Main Street, nearer the school. Our neighbors were elderly, and most of them grumpy. Aunt Grace was the exception to the grumpy rule. She wasn’t really my aunt, and she was closer in age to my seventy-something grandmother. She was a spry old maid who lived across the street and owned the Thrift Shop, a second-hand store. I loved Aunt Grace from the moment we met. Unlike our other neighbors and all the adults I knew, she encouraged my company and never seemed to tire of my chatter.
Aunt Grace’s one-bedroom house was equipped with ramps to accommodate her boarder. Fern was younger than Grace and wheelchair-bound, though I wondered if her heart was more crippled than her body. Grace devoted herself to making Fern comfortable, while Fern preferred to sit in the shadows mumbling and grunting to herself. Aunt Grace always invited her to join our picnics by the pump and our games of “Hide the Thimble” and “Pleased or Displeased,” but she refused every invitation. Only occasionally would she let us push her around the block in her wheelchair.
Working with Aunt Grace was delightful. Unlike other adults, she actually made me feel helpful. In her shop she trusted me to hold delicate figurines while she dusted the shelves they normally occupied. At her home I pumped and carried sloshing buckets of water half my weight; then cranked funny-looking underwear through the wringer on her old-fashioned washing machine. She taught me to make and serve tea, and then to act lady-like and proper as we sipped it from dainty china teacups.
Aunt Grace’s laughter, the sound of pure joy, still plays in my ears. I heard it for the first time when she caught me riding her propane tank, pretending to be a princess on a white horse. It rang out again after she had endured all nine verses of “Honey, You Can’t Love Two” sung from atop the mound that was her cellar. Applauding wildly, she laughed until she cried. I was certain from her response that I was destined to be a star.
Two years after my family moved to that idyllic village set amongst wheat fields and sunflowers, we moved again, leaving Kansas and Aunt Grace behind forever. Naively, I anticipated new neighbors just like her. But there would never be another person in my life like Aunt Grace. I had already met the woman who would have the greatest impact on my life, a true servant of Jesus who proclaimed, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…” (Mark 9:37 NIV) I vowed to follow her wonderful example to the best of my ability. As a result, teaching, shaping and nurturing young lives has become my life’s work.
Aunt Grace is my unsung heroine. She measured worth differently than most, turning others’ junk into treasure and valuing every human being, regardless of age or ability. She was never formally honored or acclaimed. Only a handful of people attended her funeral. But she remains forever my greatest inspiration, a truly wonderful example of love, joy, patience, humility, and yes –grace.
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