A letter came the other day. Just like an old-fashioned epistle from the past, a time when people sat down, took pen in hand, used stationery, put it in an envelope and send it through the mail.
It is a tremendous stack of mail that arrives daily at the Rondarosa and takes quite a while to sort through and handle. I picked up the envelope, opened it and pulled out a three page letter written in cursive with ink. Though time was anything from plentiful, I dragged out a chair, sat down at the kitchen table and started to read this personal form of communication. I eyed it with interest and did not hurry. I savored its words.
Just like people once did.
She explained who she was and the connection we share. This she did not have to do. Though I haven’t seen her since my pre-teenage years, I remember her clearly.
Dinah Cantrell was a beauty of a young woman. She was in her mid to late teens when I was four and quite taken by her average height, slender figure, short, dark hair with curl that twisted beautifully at the ends, a pretty smile and a face and spirit of pure kindness. She resembled the actress, Elinor Donahue, who played Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. I thought she was simply beautiful.
Dinah and her family — the Cantrells and Wheelers — attended a tiny church that Daddy pastored, Antioch Baptist, in the Kellam Valley of the North Georgia Mountains. In those days, preachers were treated much differently than they are today. They were revered always and mocked never. And, each Sunday, a member of the congregation invited the preacher and his family home for a home-cooked, large meal. Feeding the preacher was a big part of his compensation since the rest was a modest love offering and vegetables from summer gardens.
Those same folks shared whatever they had, meager though it might be. Green beans, tomatoes, peas, corn, peppers and squash from their summer gardens as well as corn meal they ground at the mill, jam they made or a pig from a new litter. And, always without fail, when we left someone’s house, they rummaged around the cabinets and root cellars until they could find a jar of something to send home with us.
Alma Calhoun, of Nimblewill’s beloved Calhoun family, sent many things home with us over the years but nothing ever more loved that a gallon of sweet milk from their cow that she milked a couple of times a day as well as an extraordinary gallon of buttermilk that she churned. To this day, hers is my favorite buttermilk which had little pieces of light yellow butter floating in the creamy soft white milk.
Dinah’s family was much the same. We visited on Sundays to see the ailing and elderly. Her grandparents Wheeler who lived in a plain, two story white clapboard farm house with a weathered porch and hand-hewn rocking chairs were part of our visiting rotation.
“What I will always remember,” she wrote, “is how your daddy and my granddaddy would sit on the porch, Bibles in hand and discuss the Word of God.”
I teared at the memory as I recalled that two men, in dark Sunday clothes, huddled close together as they rocked gently and read aloud scriptures that led to deep conversation, meant nothing to me then. Still in my pretty dress but my lace-trimmed socks and shoes tossed in Mama’s lap, I ran through the thick, deep green grass and examined closely bright yellow sunflowers that I had never touched before. Those are the things I remember most.
Her thoughtful letter brought back what once was before but, sadly, is no more. I wish I had paid closer attention to things other than green grass and sunflowers.
For those things have wilted away but the words those two men spoke, live on today.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.