It was one of our annual trips to Rogersville. I must have been four or five. Pappaw had a Massey-Ferguson tractor, red, which he used for most of the major work around the farm and in his business of plowing back yard gardens in Morrison City. There may have been other dealers around, but the Romoco Farm Store behind the courthouse in downtown Rogersville was the place where he went for service, parts, and repairs. We went down Carter’s Valley from Morrison City, winding through the bridges at Frisco Yard, going past Grange Hall and Lebanon Churches, quaint country chapels. There’s a certain spot down the valley where there was an expansive farm on one side of the road and woods on the other side. A couple roads cut off to serve little sparse neighborhoods on either side of the valley.
This particular day was bright and sunny, but a cool nip was in the air, one that made your nostrils stick together when you inhaled, but you could see your breath in the sunlight as you blew it back out, vapors curling every direction from the warmth of newly awakened lungs. I was too young to know the purpose of our trip, other than that we were going to buy something for the tractor or some piece of its equipment, perhaps teeth for the hay rake. But we were turning down a road I had never been on before. My curiosity perked, I asked “Where are we going?” The answer was vague, something about needing to see someone about some calves. Pappaw let it be known he wasn’t sure where this place was exactly, but thought this was the right road.
I can’t even remember if we found what we were looking for or not. We made several such excursions. Sometimes I think Pappaw was just exploring, seeing what was there. But on one particular section of this unfamiliar road there was a bend with a wide spot where people had been dumping trash. This was not unusual in those days. It was how people got rid of things. They went out in the country and threw it away in open air dumps that were wherever they decided to put them. That’s the origin of the “No Dumping” signs of the present times. People got tired of having their land filled with other people’s trash, and as the state had decided it was illegal to have these free-range landfills, folks eventually stopped dumping things out like that, but this day was not under that rule. Today the trash was present by the roadside. And on top, as we slowly made our way around the bend, I saw what looked like a large, brown stuffed bear. His face sad from having lost his warm home. His bear presence tugged on my childish heart, and I told my Pappaw what I had seen and asked if we couldn’t stop and get it.
My Pappaw loved me. I never doubted that. This day, my plea was answered as it had been many times before. He promised to stop on the way back. I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of that side trip. All I could see in my mind’s eye was that sad face atop that pile of rubbish. He looked cold and lonely.
There was a song we sang at Morrison Chapel. Miss Lawhorn played it on the Baldwin organ with full vibrato after a good sermon. “Rescue the Perishing, Care for the Dying.” I could hear it ringing in my head as we made our way on down to our destination. “Plead for them earnestly . . .” I thought as I wondered how anyone could toss away something that was made only to love and cherish. “Snatch them with pity from sin and the grave.” Surely this trash pile would lead to a grave for this lovely unwanted object.
Children have a hard time waiting through most adult conversations. That’s why they squirm, butt in to the conversations, and generally become nuisances. I still don’t remember what we did after that, just that when it was finally over, we returned to the scene. The bear was still there, I was sure I saw a tear in its button eyes. “Rescue the perishing, duty demands it,” I thought, as we stopped. Pappaw told me to stay in the vehicle. After all it looked muddy outside, and he didn’t want me making a mess of my shoes. So I waited. He looked this thing over and looked at me, then grabbed it gently, and brought it to the truck. It was missing a button on its chest, but otherwise was in fine condition, a little soiled, but he said it could be cleaned. He was the master of cleaning things that others had thrown aside. So, with bear in tow, we headed onward.
A washing and sewing to repair some tiny tears, and the bear was good as new. I placed it among my treasured things and let it know with firm assurance that it was safe now. “Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
I learned healing and restoration from my Pappaw. He knew personally of the power of a God who rescues the perishing, cares for the dying. He knew that “Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.” I kept that bear for many years, yet I have no idea whatever happened to it. But the example I was given of rescuing something others found no value in has remained. It is how I was taught about grace.