Sometimes in the twilight of a fading day, I sit for a spell on the back porch. Occasionally, I read but often times I just watch and listen.
I am entertained by the cats, full of complex personalities, that dart around while the dogs lounge on a red gingham pillow and survey all that over which they are masters.
It is the spring, the summer and the autumn I enjoy most as the birds sing in different melodies and squirrels scamper up trees that are colored in varying shades of green. Have you ever noticed how many shades of green the trees and shrubs are? And how they blend together in perfect harmony?
Sometimes from the pasture of the Rondarosa, I will hear our miniature donkey, Sweet Tea, as she bays out a greeting. She is a Jerusalem donkey, a breed said to be descended from the one that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Her gray shoulder blades and back are marked with a delicate black cross.
The horses munch quietly on patches of sweet grass and will, occasionally, take off in a loud gallop toward the creek where they plunge into the cool water and enjoy the shade of the towering maples and oaks.
Tink named one of the horses, Rondy. Not after me but after a horse said to have been one of General U.S. Grant’s favorite horses. Though I did say when he pulled that stunt, “You can’t name a horse born in Corinth, MS after one of Grant’s horses.”
Sometimes when I see the horses lounging in the creek under the trees, I think of General Grant then I think of Stonewall Jackson and what were supposedly his last words, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
As the dusk of day moves gently into the gloaming, I listen to the stillness as the wildlife settles down and tucks in while the fireflies prepare to emerge and join the stars to light the night.
It is then I think back to similar nights of my childhood when I came racing out of the house, the screen door banging shut behind me and one of Mama’s glass mason jars clutched in my hand. Barefooted — I was always without shoes in the summertime — I danced through the yard, gathering lightning bugs in a jar as my dog ran with me.
Then, I think of the stories. All the stories told from the porch swing and rockers and how I’d sit on the steps, examining my treasure trove of lightning bugs, while the grownups told stories. Sometimes simple. Sometimes complex. Sometimes Southern Gothic, a phrase that I didn’t know existed when I was five. Southern Gothic would become one of the defining colors of my childhood. It was the painted trim work of my growing up.
But always I listened and always I remembered.
“I stopped by Ransom’s store today.”
“Yeah? How’s Mr. Ransom doin’?”
“Fairly well. His son’s home. ‘cha know that?”
“You don’t say? Home from the chain gang?”
A head would nod in a silent bob. “Workin’ behind the counter. Just as pleasant a person as you’d ever know.”
In Southern Gothic stories like the ones of my childhood, there is often a pause in the thick, honeysuckle-smothered air. My Appalachian folks always know how to stretch out a story and give it heavier meaning.
“I remember her as such a pretty girl,” someone offered. “Didn’t she win a beauty contest once?”
“They buried her with the crown in her casket.”
Another long pause. Always in these stories, there is a moral. A line of wisdom that sums it up.
“A hot temper can be the ruination of a good man.”
In the gloaming, I remember these tales. And, I am grateful that I was a child with big ears who liked to listen.
I still like to listen as the twilight falls.
[Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]