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June 22, 1999

Hope you're in the mood for something on the lighter side. Just so you'll know, the following yarn was passed along to me via e-mail by Vince Flynn, husband of my niece Sydney. For the last couple of years, they have been teaching at an American school in China. They'll be visiting here again this summer, and we look forward to hearing more such stories then.

An old man lived with his hound dog, Mace, in a run-down shack on the outskirts of town. He had no family and only a few meager possessions: A table and chair, a bed, a bag of hand tools, and his dog. He used the tools to do odd jobs in town, for which he usually would be paid enough to get food for the next day. Mace and his master lived from one day to the next, on what little these jobs would bring in. The dog was just a normal hound, with one exception: While most dogs like to chew on grass occasionally, Mace loved it. When the old man was in town, Mace would spend the day in the yard in front of the house, chewing away on the lawn.

One bright, sunny day the old man said goodbye to his dog and headed into town to work. He had a plumbing repair job in one of the homes there that would take him most of the day and would probably pay enough for food for the remainder of the week, if he managed the money carefully. He headed for town with a spring in his step and a whistle on his lips. Inside the house and ready to start, the old man reached in the bag for his, wrench. To his surprise, he didn't feel it. He dug around again, but there did not seem to be any wrench. He looked in the bag, then dumped its contents on the floor, but still no wrench. Reality set in. Without a wrench he could not finish the job, and without the pay he could not even buy food for that night's supper, let alone for tomorrow.

When he finally came to grips with reality, he told the lady who hired him what the situation was. While she sympathized with him, the job needed to be done. If the old man could not do it, she would have to hire someone else. The old man picked up his tools and started for home, head bowed and shoulders stooped. The whistle was gone and no longer was there a spring in his step. A walk that normally took 15 minutes seemed to last forever.

But finally the old shack came into view, and there was Mace in the distance, munching away as usual on the lawn. When the dog saw his master, he came running, tail wagging, telling the old man how glad he was to see him. Kneeling beside the hound the man began to pet him, and through tear-filled eyes told the dog there would be no supper tonight and no food for tomorrow. What's more, without money to buy a new wrench, he had no idea what the future held. It was the loneliest, most helpless feeling he ever had.

Then he caught a glimpse of something shining in the grass. As the old man went over to see what this piece of shining material was, his despair turned in an instant to joy! It was the wrench! The old man had dropped it on his way out that morning, and it would have been lost forever had Mace not been eating further away from the house than he usually did. The old man grabbed the dog, gave him a hug that almost suffocated him, and ran into the house. Reaching for a stub of pencil and the only piece of paper he had, he wrote a moving tribute to his canine companion. Few people have heard these words, until now, that is.

One man who did happen to read them changed them a bit and has his name recorded in music history. The old man never did get the credit he deserved. But now you are privileged to read the beginning line of his original poem, which went:

"A grazing Mace, how sweet the hound that saved a wrench for me."

And now you know the rest of the story.