Big Ellis, a young farmer in Wendell Berry’s short story, “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows,” literally struggles to keep his pants up, due to his awkwardly proportioned body. His social graces are a little off as well, and this complicates his romantic exploits in the town of Port William.

He did all right in his socializing until he got his eye set on a girl, and then he would get shy and awkward and tongue-tied. He would figure then that he needed to get her cornered in some clever and mannerly way that would be beyond his abilities. And he would come up with some of the damnedest, longest-way-around schemes such as nobody ever thought of before and were always well worth knowing about.

One of these schemes included offering a girl a live catfish (“like it was gold-plated”).

But the young woman that Big really fell for was Annie May Cordle. His unique courtship plan was to parade by her house, leading a “well-matched, high-spirited team of mules,” while “holding the lines, calm as George Washington, everything under control.” Big’s friend Burley Coulter was riding with him that day, perched on an upside-down bucket. When the two men rode past Annie May’s house, the timing was perfect, as Annie May was sitting out on the front porch churning butter, looking as “sweet as a rose.” But when the mules didn’t seem spirited enough, Burley pelted one of them with a rock. That particular mule “lost no time in taking offense,” and both mules lurched forward, causing Burley to lose his balance and grab “a double handful of Big’s pants, and down they came.”

Big Ellis stayed calm though, steadying the team in front of Annie May, while his trousers gathered down around his ankles. As Burley glanced over at Annie May, “so help me Jesus, she was smiling and waving — a good-hearted, patient, forgiving, well-fleshed girl, just right for Big.”

Now here’s my favorite part of the story — the closing lines:

When [Big Ellis] saw Annie May in town next time, he said, “Come here. I want to talk to you.” She followed him out of earshot of the other people, and he said, “Well, you’ve done had a look at my private life. Don’t you reckon me and you ought to get married?” She looked straight back at him and laughed. She laughed right into his face like the good old gal she was. She said, “I would like to know why not!”

What if you weren’t really fit to marry someone until you knew the back story? Until you’d seen them at their most humiliated, their big schemes falling apart at the seams? What if grace loves more, not less, when it ultimately discovers the bare truth about us?