When Daddy and Mama died, there was no great wealth left behind – though what they were able to leave was truly remarkable for two refugees from mountain poverty: a few pieces of property, including a small farm, some money in the bank, and not one penny of debt. Neither had ever possessed a credit card.
More than the material possessions were two behaviors they instilled in us. They had raised us up on a strong, unyielding foundation of faith, saying repeatedly, “No matter what comes in this life, hold to the hand of God. Faith will see you through.”
Secondly, Daddy would “lay down the law” as he liked to call it by commanding, “Whenever you see someone in need, give ‘em what you have and you do without.” He would pause with a leveling of his serious green eyes and say, “Ya’ hear me?” Those words “Ya’ hear me?” were akin to the words written in red in the Bible. We knew to obey.
When my second-grade teacher, the kind Mrs. Rudeseal, called Mama to tell her that for two weeks I had been giving my lunch money to a new girl – one who was raggedy with tangled hair and frightened eyes – Mama hung up the phone and asked simply, “Why didn’t you tell us?”
I shrugged. Daddy said to “do without” so I had done without lunch for someone in need. It never occurred to me to tell them. The part I admire most about my parents in this story is that neither bragged on me or congratulated me. I had done as I was taught, as was expected in our family. It was not extraordinary. The next morning, Daddy handed me enough money for two lunches and said, “Here’s enough money for you and that little girl. And you buy her an ice cream at recess, too. Ya’ hear me?”
This arrangement went on for a few months until one day, all a sudden, the little girl did not answer the roll call. After a few days, Mrs. Rudeseal explained that she and her family had moved on. Now, I know what I didn’t know then: They were kicked out of their little shack for not paying its meager rent.
As I grew up, I watched my parents live faithfully by the rule of putting others before themselves. It bred in me and my siblings a way of thinking that became natural and a way of life. Too many kids are being raised to be self-centered and self-entitled. This will bring the world down quicker than anything else we face in these dire times. Trophies given to every kid on a team breeds a false sense of self-importance and accomplishment.
On the Rondarosa, we have a young man named Dexter who helps us. He is remarkable in that, without being told, he remembers to visit the elderly or to invest in mentoring kids. One day, he arrived to work and said, “I wanted to come earlier but I needed to go to the nursing home and visit my great-uncle.”
I went over and hugged him. “I am so proud of you. There aren’t many young people who think like you do.”
“Your family is amazing,” Tink says often when he hears that Louise is cooking for two funerals in one day or Nicole is spending time with a retired professor in the nursing home who has no family, or that Rodney just laid down his work to go help someone.
My sister is at the funeral home so much that she has her own VIP parking space. “It’s respectful,” she says. On that, I fall way short.
A preacher named Les recently said to me, “Your mama and daddy were good, kind, faithful people. They taught you girls that and that’s why you’ve turned out as you have.”
He’s right. We were raised that way. It didn’t just happen.
[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.]