Last summer, when Tink was stranded in a foreign country during a television series production, I was blessed to have family teenagers pop in to help now and again.
The Rondarosa is a big job. There are pastures to bush hog, barn stalls to muck, grass to cut, and tree limbs to pick up, constantly.
The three grand-nephews who traded off between themselves to help “Aunt Ronda” — Jon, Tripp, and Nix — were 14, 17 and 20. Honestly, I didn’t expect them to be an abundance of help. Though they’re country kids, they’re more of what I’d call “country elite.”
They’re not kids who HAVE to live in the country like I did and scrape by on the Lord’s grace. They are ones who are privileged to live on miles of rolling hills with creeks and stunning views of the Appalachian foothills. Too, their parents are all white-collared, well-educated professionals.
My expectations were not high.
What a pleasant surprise unfolded for me as the gentle Spring turned into the brutal steam of a deep South Summer. The work was hard and the heat was bitter and mean like an old mountain woman who has seen too many hateful Winters. Most hours, I worked beside them in an effort to do the easier things that would have only slowed their progress.
One day, Jon and Nix were shoveling tree shavings — from fallen trees by the creek — into our old farm truck. The boys began a conversation on some finer points of the Old Testament, quoting scriptures from the New International Version while I replied with the King James.
For two hours, they shoveled shavings and talked the Bible. Seventeen and 20 years-old. I stopped and took a moment to savor the solid raising of these two “country elite.” My eyes misted as I thought about how proud Daddy would be that the remnants of old hardwood trees, that he had once owned, were being handled by young descendants who knew already the value of bowed heads and calloused hands.
Nix, blonde-haired, blue-eyed handsome and a star athlete, was the one who returned the most regular of the three. He listened to true country music in Tink’s truck and talked level-headedly about his high school graduation ceremony that had been cancelled.
“Some kids are really upset.” He shrugged as he steered the old truck up the graveled road. “But I figure everything happens for a reason. It’s okay. It’s a special memory because it’s different from other graduations.”
I stared at him for a moment then turned my head to look out the window at a long strand of kudzu hanging from the bough of an oak tree. Finally, I turned and spoke.
“I wish I had been as wise at 17 as you are.”
One afternoon, Nix asked, “Aunt Ronda, would you mind reading my senior essay? I got an A+ but I’d appreciate seein’ what you think.”
The essay arrived that night by email, along with the grade and the teacher’s remarks. Stunned, I read the almost scholarly piece that Nix had written, debating if Jesus Christ had lived as man and if He was truly the Son of God.
At the end of several pages of footnotes, scriptures, and narrative, Nix declared that “Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Son of God.”
He goes to a public high school. Not a private school or Christian academy.
“We were allowed to pick our subject,” he explained. “I didn’t know how my teacher might receive it but I felt in my heart that’s what I should write.”
It’s intriguing how the red dirt soil of my raising — earth that is centuries old — continues to teach me as the years fall away from my meager grasp.
Courage, faith, and an unyielding work ethic continues to run strong in my family’s bloodlines. Gratefully, the red clay still covers our hands and prayer covers our lives.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]