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Catching a Spy – And Keeping Our Relationships Strong

john trent the blessing words Jul 01, 2020

By: Dr. John Trent

The year was 1944 and World War II was raging on two fronts. At the Allison engine factory in Indianapolis, hundreds of Allison V-1710 engines were being assembled. This mighty power-plant was the only liquid-cooled engine used in the war and powered the fearsome P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft. This deadly, double-tailed fighter was a crucial part of the Battle for the Pacific. (The same engine was also used in the P-51A Mustang in Europe as well).

At this plant, over 200 “Rosie the Riveters” worked double shifts, assembling these engines. With so many men having been shipped overseas during the war, it was women like my 5 ft. Aunt Dovie, who jumped in to build the needed materials for the war effort at factories like hers all across the country.

            Only my Aunt wasn’t just someone on the assembly line. She was also a Nazi spy-catcher.

Here’s what happened...

One day, the FBI showed up – in force – at her Allison engine plant. All work halted. Everyone in the plant was assembled outside. They were told by loud-speaker, they the FBI was convinced there was a Nazi spy at work in the plant! (At least one). Not just someone trying to smuggle out the blueprints for this engine or a specific part. Rather, they knew someone on the assembly line was doing something to ruin the engines themselves!

In short, part of the engine assembly – in fact, the very place in the line where my Aunt was stationed - involved placing the beautiful, silver-covered pistons that drove the massive power plant for these fighters. Only there was a major problem. Both inside the engines being assembled – and with the spare pistons that were being shipped out as well – they all looked beautiful and perfect when they were carefully packed and crated in Indianapolis.

However, by the time these pistons arrived at the front-line bases in Europe or the Pacific, the pistons were ruined when they were uncrated! They were convinced that someone, somehow, in the assembly line process was getting acid onto those pistons!

Fast-forward to when my Aunt sprang into action. Of course, everyone was looking around, wondering and worrying about who the “spy” or spies could be. And then one day, several weeks after that first announcement, my Aunt Dovie saw the spy!         

It happened when she was taking her short break and heading to the lunchroom. FBI agents and extra supervisors had been watching them constantly as they handled the pistons. Yet no one had seen anything out of the ordinary.

But then Aunt Dovie saw the spy!

She stood still for a long time, watching. Making sure of what she saw. And indeed, there were two of them.

She spun on her heels and walked up to the main supervisor’s office. He was in. After telling his secretary that she’d found the spy, she was quickly ushered into his office. Soon, there were several “G-Men” in the office as well.

That’s when she led all of them down to the lunchroom – and pointed to the spies… the two penny peanut machines on either side of the door! The breaks and lunchtimes were so quick, many of the ladies would just put in a penny, twist the metal handle, and get a handful of peanuts for lunch or a snack. It was just a snack. So very few would go wash their hands after just eating peanuts. Instead, they would go back to the assembly line and begin picking up the silver sleeves on the pistons. Not realizing that the salt on their hands was transferring from the peanuts, to their hands, to the pistons!

You couldn’t see the salt on the peanuts after they picked them up. But by the time they were crated and then shipped overseas via slow-moving transport ships, the pock-marks were all over the pistons were everywhere!  Ruining the parts and engine performance!

What’s this “family” story about my “hero” Aunt got to do with caring for others in our homes?

So many times, I’ve sat and watched a couple in my office use cutting words or a dishonoring tone of voice with each other. For many, they’ve been doing it so long, and at such a constant state of anger and dishonor, that harsh words have become their normal way of relating. After a few sessions, if such blatant dishonoring of each other continues, I’ve stepped in with an intervention. I’ll stop them, often in the middle of a dishonoring back and forth. Then I tell them my “Aunt Dovie” story.

How no one could see the physical damage being done by those salted hands transferring salt onto something beautiful – right then. But how real that damage was over time. Just like the damage they have been doing with each other, as they poured dishonoring words on each other. Like cutting off each other or using dripping sarcasm or unhealthy tones of voice. Acid words and tones that had become “just the way they speak to each other.” Without consequence to their relationship or soul.

Then, after sharing the story, I do something else you might want to try with your spouse or your kids as well. I ask them to go with me on something for a few moments – and I ask them to hold out their hands. Then I take out a salt shaker from a drawer in my desk and shake some salt onto their hands. While the salt is there, I share with them Proverbs 16:24, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb; sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Confirming that there are emotional, spiritual and physical benefits to positive, honoring, uplifting words (which clinical studies reinforce now as well). And tell them how the opposite is true as well. How dishonoring, hurtful, mean-spirited, words can ruin relationships – like salt ruins a piston.

Then I give them a “wet-wipe” to wipe off the salt on their hands. (Because not doing so could cause the durma on their hands to burn off if left long enough). And yes, I use the wet-wipe as a teaching tool as well. (A great picture of forgiveness).

On the same day that Aunt Dovie found the two Nazi spies - they stopped work at the engine plant and had a short ceremony. In front of everyone, they smashed the two peanut machines, encouraged people to wash their hands before going back to work – and cheered Aunt Dovie.

I’ve had a number of couples over the years who told me that the “gift” I gave them of a salt shaker has become a powerful physical reminder of the power of their words. (I buy them by the dozen at the Dollar store near our house). A story, and a reminder, to replace corrosive words with uplifting words, with a loved one. (Eph. 4:29).


Dr. John Trent is a best-selling, award-winning author and speaker, of books like The Two Sides of Love, the Language of Love, and The Blessing (which has sold over 2 million copies). He is the President and Founder of StrongFamilies, a 501c3 he runs with his oldest daughter. StrongFamilies is dedicated to helping others end loneliness and create genuine attachment through The Blessing.

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