As a child of the gothic Southern Appalachian mountains, the screeching echoes of hard times and the bristling sound of the departure of loved ones have been constant bellows in my ear.
I am no stranger to sorrows that settle deep in the bones’ marrow or tears that flow from deep hidden places in my heart.
In the past year, Death’s Angel has visited too many times. Church after church, grave after grave, scripture after scripture, our tears have left a trail that turned the hard dirt into a puddle of soft earth that threatened to give way under the weight of our being.
We are not alone. Many have suffered similarly. We often saw the same faces as the organ music played mournfully and we took our seats among the bereaved.
Through the struggles, the heartaches, the downturns – and even the joys and triumphs – it has often occurred to me, the urgent need for increased kindness, understanding and patience.
It is not a resolution. It is a determination. I have already begun. I take a moment to talk to strangers in grocery stores about football teams that win. And those that lose.
When the phone company sends a bill that is five dollars too much, I ask, “is it worth the aggravation? The strain of my voice?” And since it has been years of one problem after another with the same company, the word “thieves” often, unbecomingly, slips into my complaints.
I am increasingly kinder with my judgments. I have made enormous progress in not holding folks accountable if they lack Daddy’s forthrightness; Mama’s common sense; Pawpaw’s unyielding faith; or my nephew’s unerring work ethic and keen eye for managing a dollar bill.
To the best of my ability, I will not score today’s libraries against those of my youth or librarians against the literary geniuses who so skillfully guided me through the Dewy system.
Myra Taylor, Ann Dayton and “Miss Jean” Gilreath were platinum standards, each invested in, not only in the good of library visitors, especially youth, but in the world itself. They spoiled me, for I never asked a question that she could not answer.
The bestseller lists? They could quote the Top Ten. Where to read about horses? In minutes, they returned with stacks of magazines. Their minds were filled with book suggestions, both classic and modern.
Our high school was modern. Back then. The library sat at the end of the hall and had no doors to close it off from those who wanted or needed it. It was wide open and welcoming. The center was a two-step sunken area with round tables that were used for studying or club meetings after school.
With its bright orange and green decor, it was my favorite place. I can still smell all those books and see the bright smiles of Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Dayton as they greeted me warmly.
One day, I was in the back row of books. I always checked out several at a time. Petite Mrs. Taylor, with her strawberry red hair and more freckles than even I had, swirled around the corner.
“What are you reading?” She pulled the book from my hand then cast a disapproving frown. It was a Victorian romance mystery by Victoria Holt. She shook her head. “You can do better than this. You’re smart and you should feed your mind. Come with me.”
In ten minutes, she had pulled four books from the shelves and explained why I should read each. I took them all. And the Victoria Holt book which, with a sigh, she agreed to because I promised to read the others.
These are trying times. As trying, in a different way, as the desperation of the 1930s’ mountains. Yet, we should strive toward exceptional kindness, forbearance and empathy.
I think Mrs. Dayton gave me a book to read on that, once.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]