I took a friend to my parents’ home for Thanksgiving this year and as we were driving to Grant County from Louisville I told him who would be there to eat with us. After reciting the list from memory, a list that really doesn’t change that much, he asked, “So how does BJ fit into your family?”
I laughed and tried to figure out some kind of answer.
Truthfully, I had never really given it much thought. In my 50 years, I didn’t remember BJ not being around—He was certainly around when I was young enough to call him J.B. and wonder why everybody laughed.
In my mind, he was just as much a part of the backdrop of the farm on Salem Road as the smokehouse or the milking room or the cattle on the hill.
In the winter, he was in the stripping room.
In the summer, he was sitting in a plastic chair on my grandparents’ porch.
On mother’s day, he was walking up the road with flowers from his yard for Nana.
More often than not, he was at my grandmother’s table with a full plate in front of him. I think she used to pull off some sort of loaves and fishes miracle when BJ showed up for a meal. The way he ate I was never convinced there would be enough for all of us, but somehow there was always plenty.
In recent years, after my grandma died, he became familiar with my mother’s and my uncle’s cooking skills – In fact, in the early fall, BJ told me that my mom was a good cook. When I said “I’m not sure she’s up to my grandma’s level,” he chuckled and said with a wink “You didn’t hear that from me.”
One of my most vivid memories of BJ was when I was little, and, my dog, Snoopy, would sit in front of BJ as he sat close to the heating stove in my grandma’s living room – with his worn out boots, and long hair and straggly beard. Snoopy would just kind of stare at him and growl – all 10 pounds of her. She just wasn’t sure what to make of him. I think most of us here have probably had that same thought at sometime about BJ.
40 + years later, Back in the summer, my current dog, Grace, all 100 pounds of her, tried to wrestle the chewing tobacco out of BJ’s pants pocket, and then she sat with her rear end on his boots, leaning into him, and practically forced him to pet her. She is smarter than Snoopy was. Grace was smart enough to look past the grumpy, disheveled exterior, and recognize BJ for the soul he was. A soul that was worthy of love and affection.
Back to the question: How does BJ fit into your family? The answer is fairly simple. He is family.
Somewhere along the way his journey became entwined with my family’s journey. In fact, he’s been tangled up with Dunn’s for 5 generations – from my great-grandparents down to my own children. His stories won’t be lost as my kids tell stories to the next generation of Dunn’s about this odd guy with long hair and a straggly beard who joined hands with the rest of us as we prayed around the table – after, of course, Eugene told him to take off his hat.
So on behalf of BJ’s family, let me thank you for serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in the gifts you have given him these past few months and weeks. Thank you for the food you brought, for a TV that is special enough to only play Gunsmoke. Thank you for visits and calls and prayers. Thank you for seeing past his gruffness and loving him even when he was hard to love.
Today, BJ is delighting in the presence of a mother he loved and a dad he never knew. I selfishly like to think he’s already eaten with my grandparents, because I know how much joy that would bring them all.
But most importantly, now BJ has found peace in the presence of his Creator. The worries that took up so much space in his mind, but aggravated the hell out of the rest of us, have been relieved. He finally knows and believes what the rest of us knew about him all along, that BJ Chipman was born and lived and died, with the Divine inside him all the time, that he is worthy of love and redemption
So now we release him to our Lord even as we miss him and grieve for him and remember him, because that’s what families do when they’ve lost a treasured member.