Friday, August 28, 2009

Acquainted With Grace

It has been too long since I last joined Friday Fiction. Today I am sharing a non-fiction story I wrote for Faithwriter's "unsung hero" challenge. It is especially appropriate this time of year, because the story begins on a long ago August day. You will soon see why it is a story very near and dear to my heart. I have edited this piece a bit since I am not limited here by word count.

Acquainted With Grace
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Tall sunflowers waved from both sides of the narrow highway leading to the tiny Kansas town that would be our new home. My father pointed to the low building on the edge of town, just past the sunflowers. He would be the school’s new principal.

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 if receiving royalty. In those parts, a new principal might have come 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 only 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, who was not actually my aunt, and who, in fact, was closer in age to my seventy-something grandmother, was the exception to the grumpy rule. She was a spry old maid who lived across the street and owned the town’s 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. She occupied the largest room on the front of the house, the one lined with windows. I often wondered if Fern’s heart and soul were more crippled than her body. Despite Grace’s sunny disposition and obvious devotion to her, Fern kept the blinds on her windows closed, preferring 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 each invitation was declined. Only occasionally would she let us take her around the block in her wheelchair.

Work was important to Aunt Grace, and working alongside her was delightful. Unlike other adults, she actually made me feel as though my contributions were 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, a princess on a white horse, riding her propane tank. 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. I want every child I meet to feel important and loved, because each is wonderfully made -painstakingly formed in their mother’s womb by a loving creator. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Aunt Grace is my unsung heroine. She measured worth differently than most, turning others’ junk into treasure; from outmoded nick-nacks, to disabled, disgruntled old women, to curious, meddling children. Each of us, regardless of age or ability, was better off for having been in her care. She never left that small Kansas village, and was never formally honored or acclaimed. I learned of her death after her funeral, and cried as I rocked my own two year old son, clutching the announcement to my heart. A half century after our first meeting Aunt Grace is still my greatest inspiration, a beautiful example of love, joy, patience, humility, and yes –grace.

For more great Friday Fiction, please visit Julie at her blog, THE SURRENDERED SCRIBE.


  1. ahhh... everyone needs an Aunt Grace in their life. Thanks for sharing this special memory.

  2. Sharlyn,

    Here is hoping that some day you and "Aunt Grace" will be reunited in a field of sunflowers in our heavenly home.

    What a moving and well written story of someone who had a huge impact in your life.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  3. Sharlyn,
    What an absolutely beautiful story! So when is the book coming?? <3

  4. Through your own writing, Aunt Grace inspires still! Very moving and well-written!

  5. That's a wonderful legacy, to have such a beautiful story. It's easy to see the impact she had on your life.

  6. What a heart-warming story! Your have inspired me to write down experiences of my childhood similar to this.

    Thanks for sharing your talent and life lessons with us:)

    Linda C

  7. Sharlyn what a beautiful story. It is wonderful that you never forgot her and the impact she made still fresh as ever.
    thanks for sharing your story.


  8. Just beautiful and poignant. Lovely. Love that it's true.

  9. Oh Sharlyn, this was so BEAUTIFUL! Well-written, touched my heart.

  10. How wonderful that you had your Aunt Grace in your life! Thank you for sharing this sweet story, Sharlyn.


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