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Mama and the clothesline
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As we all know, any large project will always have glitches. I learned this during my days of sports marketing and, thus, formed one of my enduring philosophies: No matter how well you plan, there is always somebody waiting to jump in and mess it up.
Producing a book about Mama was no exception. Though the columns had been long written, there was much to do in putting it together: New passages to be written, a dozen or so edits and proofing, graphic design, photography, printing production, etc. There was a lot of room for the possibility of snags and each possible snag seized the opportunity to be problematic. One day, the graphic designer, a talented woman named Carroll Moore, informed me that we had four blank pages in the book (this is due to the way that the sheets are printed).
Under pressure to solve the problem quickly, I replied, “Let’s just fill the space with quotes from Mama.”
I’ve been working on tight, media deadlines since I was 17 but it is still stressful. Under duress, I thought of a couple but then my mind went blank. I sent out an urgent text to my sister and niece asking: “What’s your favorite Mama quote?”
There are two pieces of Mama’s advice that always stick with me: “Be careful what you tell your best friend because she may not always be your best friend but she’ll still have your secrets.” This is a piece of advice that Mama should have given to people I see on true crime shows. They commit murder then go straight to their best friends and tell it.
To this day, when the storms of life rage around me, I take a deep breath and calm myself with Mama’s most comforting advice, always shared with an air of complete confidence: “Everything’s gonna be alright. God has it all right in the palm of His hand.” She’d smile and promise it with such assurance that I was uplifted immediately. It still brings me comfort.
A couple of weeks later, my sister, niece, and I were sitting around when they both began to opine about “what I wished I had remembered to tell about what she always said.” We were sitting under shade trees, munching on a picnic of homemade “pimento and cheese” and chicken salad while sipping sweet tea.
It turned out that I only had room for four quotes but one that I used brought great laughter among us and stirred a vibrant conversation.
Mama always said, “You can judge a person pretty good by the kind of laundry they hang on their clothesline.”
In this day and age, when few people have clotheslines, it’s a barometer of decency that has fallen to the wayside. But Mama was firm in her belief. She had a particular, precise way to hang her clothes. Sheets came first, followed by bath towels, dish towels, wash cloths, aprons, dresses, pants, and shirts. On the very back line hung slips, nightgowns, and underwear. These were hung so that people driving past couldn’t see her intimate wear. Only the cows and horses could view them from the pasture and they weren’t much interested.
Almost every time that she finished hanging clothes, she would step back and eye the clothesline carefully. After the assessment, she smiled and said, “Now, that’s a pretty wash.”
The dresses and aprons were homemade, the sheets and towels had seen many washings but, simple as they were, they were spotless and hung in an admiring fashion.
“If you see a raggedy wash hangin’ out or no Sunday clothes, you can tell that’s someone who don’t take care of their things and they don’t go to church,” she’d declare.
We had a good laugh among us as we recalled Mama’s clothesline philosophy then I took a sip of sweet tea and thought, “Here’s to smart ol’ Mama.”

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama. Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.