Sometimes lessons learned from others are more about what they don’t say than what they say. For instance, when I was ten, my grandfather, Tommie Smith, taught me a valuable lesson with well-chosen words. It all started when he cut the cornstalks in the field after harvest and stacked about three hundred stalks together. By early November the stalks were dry, really dry. I had been playing in them, making a hideout in the middle, just having fun.
One early November afternoon, just before supper, my grandmother, Susie, asked me to take the trash to the burn barrel and burn it. It was a chore I had successfully completed many times before, I knew how to do it safely. So, I grabbed the can and a book of matches and marched out to the burn barrel. After dumping the trash into the barrel, I struck a match and tossed it inside. The trash began to burn. Then, for some reason, I wondered what would happen if I took fire from the barrel and placed it against a dry cornstalk. Let me tell you, dry corn burst into a fire like gasoline was dripping from the leaves. When you compound the fire with over 300 stalks tied together, you get a raging inferno. The evening darkness became as noonday light!
My Grandmother, flying out the back door, ran screaming my name, running as fast as she could to make sure I was not hurt. When she got to me, she grabbed me, almost with tears she was so happy to see I was not injured. “Are you OK? Did you get burned? What happened?” she inquired breathing shallowly and excitedly. “Oh, MaMaw, a gust of wind blew across the garden and lifted the burning paper from the barrel carrying it to the corn catching it on fire. I tried to stomp it out, but it was too late,” was my empathetic response. While my MaMaw and I were talking, my PaPaw, Tommie Smith, walked up to check on the commotion and my well-being. “Are you OK, son?” was his only question. Quickly my MaMaw told him how the wind flew a piece of burning paper from the barrel to the cornstalks and how I tried to put them out. “Hey, the corn stalks aren’t important, I was going to burn them myself later. The only thing important is that Lynn is not hurt,” PaPaw replied. With that, MaMaw walked back to the house, turning to remind PaPaw and me that supper was ready. Immediately, PaPaw put his hand on my shoulder, and we began to walk together toward the house. “Funny, I don’t feel any wind”, PaPaw mumbled to me. Those were the last words about the “big fire” ever spoken by PaPaw. He knew and I knew that I knew HE knew. I love him for that, PaPaw’s grace changed my life!