From the beginning, I’ve been grateful for those who showed me a kindness or encouragement. Particularly during my most impressionable years.
I never thought I was anything special or particularly good at anything. I finished second in the fourth-grade spelling bee, second in the state 4-H dressmaking competition, and second in a jingle-writing contest about eggs when I was in college.
I finished first once when the generous guys of FFA voted me as their sweetheart. I also won an old-fashioned dress contest during Gold Rush Days but since Mama sewed my long, yellow gingham, puff-sleeved dress with a white organdy apron that featured a heart-shaped pocket cut from the gingham, I consider that to be her victory. She was very sweet, though, and let me keep the trophy.
It was, I believe, the good Lord who put people in my path early on who did not hesitate to pat me on the back or offer an opportunity. I could name dozens though I am certain there are some who would not remember me.
There was a home economist who worked with our electricity cooperative. That term has fallen out of favor but I think it’s a powerful description. Wall Street boasts of economists for soybeans, wheat, and pork so why shouldn’t every home have an economist who oversees its wealth and health? When I was in junior high, she always made over me and delighted in my minor accomplishments in cooking, decorating, or sewing.
Years ago, when I was building a new house, I went by the power company to ask about energy efficiency. She was the one who talked to me. I was excited to see her and gushed unabashedly about how much she had meant to me when I was 13. She looked at me blankly and shook her head slowly.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice trailed off.
I was disappointed but shrugged. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember me because I remember you and what a difference you made in my self-esteem. Thank you.”
These are the ones I call my “balcony people” — those who stood, either momentarily or at length, in the balcony of my life and cheered me on. Some said I was pretty when I wasn’t. Others claimed I was talented when there was barely anything to notice. A few bragged on me for being smart but I came from a home where being “smart” meant being a hard worker and making a go of whatever I took on.
Mama and Daddy were always in my balcony but there were times when people, who knew different stuff than they knew, stuff like journalism and car racing, stepped in front of them for a moment to whisper a word of instruction or praise. It all combined to take me down through the journey of life.
A few months ago, I sat in the theater balcony of the college I attended. I admired and applauded while teenagers practiced shape note singing. When I was introduced, I stood in the balcony and spoke for a minute or two.
As I was leaving, someone called, pleading for me to wait. I stopped as a young girl hurried up.
“You don’t know what it means for you to be here today,” she said breathlessly. “I want to be a writer, too.”
Small in stature, she had reddish brown hair tumbling down long, big brown eyes, thick brows and braces. She was the spitting image of me at 16. It was so surreal that, for a moment, I felt swimmy-headed and couldn’t speak.
Finally, I gathered myself to ask questions which she answered admirably and earnestly. She, too, had questions. I dug in my purse and pulled out a card.
“Please stay in touch. I’m happy to help you in any way.”
I hope that one day she’ll think back on me as one of her balcony people.
[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.]