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Arts & CultureJohn Dunn's StoriesA Passion for Words: A John Dunn Story

A Passion for Words: A John Dunn Story

About John Dunn

One time Father Arthur Venedam came to speak to our class in school, the senior second. He’d come, Sister told us, to say good-bye because he was leaving on a long journey to go off to China as one of Father Fraser’s missionaries. Sister invited him to speak to us, and because China was so far away on the other side of the world, we knew that we might never see him again. We sat up straight and paid close attention.

“I suppose, Sister,” he began “That the boys and girls in this class must have learned something about Bible history?”

Sister didn’t answer for us: she smiled secretly, but a flurry of head-nodding from the girls answered the question about Bible history in the affirmative.

“Then, let me ask the class a question about Bible History.”

A kind of further flurry of getting ready to handle the upcoming question occupied ten seconds. Thus readied, we waited for the pitch.

“All right,” said Fr. Venedam, “Here’s the question: who was the father of the Sons of Zebedee?”

Oh what a strange question. We all knew about Moses and Aaron and Adam and Methusalem, the oldest man in the history of the Bible, but who on earth was Zebedee? I struggled. So did all those in my row.

Father showed no uneasiness at our slow response. He repeated the question, slowly and deliberately. “Who was the father of the Sons of Zebedee?”

Some answers began to crackle out. “Was it Moses?” asked one of the girls, only to be rewarded with a “No, not Moses.”

“Abraham?” another of the girls toyed with a possibility as she thought, though admittedly her possibility had sprung out of guesswork.

“Not Abraham either,” the priest remarked, and we wondered if she’d come closer than the other girl had been with Moses. No way to tell.

Father repeated the question to fill the vacuum where answers should have been, but weren’t. “The Father of the Sons of Zebedee.” he intoned.

One of the boys put forward the name of Adam.

“Not Adam either,” came his reward.

“Zebedee?” came a small offering from one of the girls, her voice rising at the end of the word, as if she were asking another question, such as “Could it be Zebedee?”

How could that be? Surely the name Zebedee was part of the question. You’d hardly think it could also be in the answer. I scorned the very possibility. But Father didn’t dismiss it at all. Besides Sister had her hand over her mouth as if she were trying to conceal a wish to laugh out loud.

“How many think Zebedee the right answer?” asked the priest.

All the girls put their hands up. Sister came close to choking.

“How about you boys? Who says Zebedee?”

Two of my row put their hands up, joining the girls who, by this time had even started to snicker. How they could think Zebedee would be right made me a little cross underneath, even though I couldn’t for the world think of any other person from Bible history who would be right. Finally, in desperation to escape this conundrum, and ready to agree with any old answer that would permit escape, I put my hand up too. Let it be Zebedee, if that’s the only way to escape this puzzle, but only let me out of this maze this time and I’ll never return.

“Would you say a small prayer for the students before you leave?” Sister asked, knowing full well that some needed the power of prayer more than others in the senior second.

“Certainly, sister,” said Father. “Suppose I say the ‘Hail Mary’ for these youngsters, but I’ll say it in Chinese.”

Which he did, out loud, in a sing-song tone, which must have been heard on the other side of the world. Then he turned to leave.

“What did you learn from Father Venedam’s question?” Sister asked.

“It was a trick question,” one of my chums answered.





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