Around the corner, out in the country where we live, is a hardware store owned by a guy I have known since the day I was born. Our bassinets were next to each other in the hospital nursery.
Down the road a piece is a dairy co-owned by a guy whose bassinet was on the other side of mine in the nursery. When I need a helping hand with a lawn mower stuck in the thicket or a pasture that needs bush hogging, I call that guy and he is Jerry-on-the-spot to help.
Tink is somewhat amazed by small-town living and the perks that come with it. He came in from the hardware store one day, a place he has come to love because we simply sign for what we buy then pay for it at the first of the month. He shook his head. “When I checked out, she laughed and said, ‘She’s writing about your family now!’”
He likes this kind of friendliness and familiarity.
Of course, she knows that because every Tuesday when the newspaper arrives, the ladies at the hardware store pass around my column and discuss it. Then, they never fail to comment when I drag in, my hair in a messy ponytail and my face smudged with dirt from some garden project.
At the Farmers Exchange where we were purchasing horse feed and other farm needs, the manager said, “Why don’t we just open an account for you?”
There was no credit check, no extensive form to fill out, just a paper signed that said we would pay. The manager said, “I know you will anyway. I know you and I know your family.” Then he grinned and winked. “But if you don’t, we’ll just charge it over to Rodney.”
In big cities, they tend not to trust on a handshake and your family name.
Living in the small town where I was born, raised, educated and, Lord willing, will die and be lowered beneath six feet of my beloved soil, is an archive of my life. It is a collection of the people and places that have taken me to other places and other people. No one, I believe, is self-made. We are all made by the efforts of many and, without question, I am a creation of those who believed in me, prayed for me and, on occasion, made me answer for my failings and shortcomings.
“Right there,” I will point out, “is where the radio station was where I had my first job. I had a radio show called ‘Rendezvous with Ronda’ on weekends.”
There are many landmarks throughout the town that chronicle my life in periods that are divided between before I left to find myself and the time I returned home to reclaim my heart. But it isn’t the buildings or the pieces of ground that mean the most. It is the people, the ones who have loved me through the ups and downs and turnarounds.
There’s Erin at the bank, across the street from the hardware store, the sight of whom I shall never forget on that hot summer’s night. Our beloved Charlie Horse was stricken with colic and as the vet and I battled against it while Tink was out of town, she showed up in her business clothes and said, “I can’t let you go through this by yourself.” When we had to cross the creek to take him to the barn, she pulled up the legs of her dress pants and waded across.
And that woman at the hardware store who teased Tink about his family? That’s Miss Hazel. While her son and I shared the nursery, she and Mama shared a hospital room.
You can’t buy history like this. You can’t earn it, either. You just have to thank the good Lord for giving you the gift of a small-town family.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.