Oh, the things a child can learn when he overhears a conversation between his parents.
It was early summer, when a misty dew glistened on the grass, cows grazed in the pasture, and colorful birds flitted around the porch, singing happily like an old Disney movie.
Dressed for a day of frolicking and reading among the maple trees by the creek, I wore shorts and a homemade shirt, my long hair parted in pigtails and my feet, as always, bare. From May to October, my little feet were stained with the tenacious red of Georgia clay.
Mom, an imperturbable mountaineer, didn’t care. She looked at my evening bath water, colored by the dust of the day, shook her head at the sight of my feet, then handed me a bar of Lava soap. “Rub them as well as you can. It’s a good thing you wear socks on Sunday.
With a book tucked under my arm, I was launched toward the screen door and my day’s adventure, crossing the living room when I heard the low, muffled tones rising and drifting from the breakfast table. kitchen lunch.
I stopped to “ease the fall”. That’s what country kids do – we sit quietly to quietly listen to the conversation. The children of the city listen. Nobody realizes the skill it takes to make the fall easier.
My parents never fought. They argued or disagreed, but there was never any yelling, name calling (except for dad calling mom “stubborn as an old farm mule”) or ugliness. Mom, on rare occasions, would drop a tear or two, but most of the time she was pouting and dad was simmering. Then, after a day or two, one of them said something nice to the other and everything else was thrown into the sea of oblivion.
Being thrifty mountaineers, they saw no sense in arguing twice over the same thing. It was a waste of time and effort that could be better spent “sommers” otherwise. The conversation I had that morning was different. Dad used a brooding, melancholic voice and Mom listened intently, asking her usual bright and insightful questions.
“I don’t know what to do,” Dad said softly, his arms crossed on the kitchen table, a cigarette pinched between two fingers and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar nearby. “That would be a lot.”
I glanced around the corner in time to see Mom, her hands clasped, straighten up and then speak in the confident voice she used when she was sure. The tone that indicated there would be no turning back and no defeat. Whatever it took to do what was necessary, she would rise to the challenge.
“Ralph, if you want this farm, buy it, and I’ll cut all the corners necessary to make the payments.”
It’s what a drop-out, ogling 7-year-old will never forget: his dad, who is torn between “wanting” and “caring,” lifting his head with watery gratitude filling his eyes and studying, for a while, his stubborn mule wife like an old farm. His dark eyes met his green eyes and not a small muscle in his face wavered.
He nodded, a faint smile of appreciation lighting his face. “I’ll call the bank today.” He stubbed out his cigarette, drank a last sip of coffee, then stood up. As he walked past Mom’s chair, he placed a calloused hand on her shoulder and gripped her tightly – a great show of emotion for people in Appalachia.
The next morning Mom baked extra cookies, extra fried sausages and scrambled eggs. She made sandwiches, wrapped them in napkins, and placed them neatly in a bread bag. It would become a lingering snapshot of my childhood – dad packing his lunch in a Sunbeam bag.
Together they bought 100 acres and paid for it by working hard and saving. And, even if they never knew it, the little girl’s ease in letting go taught a powerful lesson.
If you stick with it, you can do it.
Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of the new book, Let Me Tell You Something. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for their free weekly newsletter.