Oh, the things a child can learn when she hears a conversation between her parents.
It was early summer, when a misty dew glistened the grass, the cows grazed in the pasture, and the colorful birds flittered around the porch, singing happily like an old Disney movie.
I was seven.
Dressed for a day of romping and reading among the maple trees by the creek, I wore shorts and a homemade shirt, my long hair divided into pigtails and my feet, as always, bare. From May to October, my tiny feet were stained in the stubborn red of the Georgia clay.
Mama, an unflappable mountain woman, didn’t mind. She’d look at my evening bathwater, colored by the day’s dust, shake her head at the sight of my feet, then hand me a bar of Lava soap. “Scrub ‘em as good as you can. It’s a good thing you wear socks on Sundays.”
With a book clutched under my arm, I was started toward the screen door and my day’s adventure, padding through the living room when I heard the hushed serious tones that lifted up and drifted from the kitchen breakfast table.
I stopped to “ease drop.” This is what country kids do – we ease in quietly to listen covertly to conversation. City kids eavesdrop. No one realizes the skill it takes to ease drop.
My parents never fought. They argued or disagreed but there was never any shouting, name calling (except for Daddy calling Mama “stubborn as an old farm mule”), or ugliness. Mama, on rare occasion, would drop a tear or two but mostly she pouted and Daddy stewed. Then, after a day or two, one of ‘em said something kindly to the other and all else was cast into the sea of forgetfulness.
Being frugal mountain people, they saw no sense in arguing over the same thing twice. It was a waste of time and effort that could be put to better use “sommers” else.
The conversation I overhead that morning was different. Daddy used a pondering, wistful voice and Mama listened keenly, asking her usual bright, insightful questions.
“I don’t know what to do,” Daddy said quietly, his arms folded on the kitchen table, a cigarette pinched between two fingers and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar nearby. “It’d be a lot.”
I peeped around the corner in time to see Mama, hands folded, straighten up then speak in the self-assured voice she used when she was certain. The tone that indicated there would be no turning back or defeat. Whatever it took to do whatever was needed, she would rise to the challenge.
“Ralph, if you want that farm, buy it and I’ll cut every corner necessary to make the payments.”
This is what an ease dropping, peeping seven-year-old will never forget: her daddy, who is sliced between “want” and “worry” lifting his head up with watery gratitude filling his eyes and studying, for a moment, his stubborn-as-an-old-farm mule wife. Her dark eyes met his green ones and not one tiny muscle in her face wavered.
He nodded, a slight smile of appreciation glancing his face. “I’ll call the bank today.” He snuffed out his cigarette, took a final gulp of coffee then stood. As he passed Mama’s chair, he placed a work-calloused hand on her shoulder and gripped it tightly – a big show of emotion for Appalachian folks.
The next morning, Mama baked extra biscuits, fried additional sausage, and scrambled eggs. She made sandwiches, wrapped them in napkins and placed them carefully into a loaf bread bag. It would become a lingering snapshot of my childhood – Daddy toting his lunch in a Sunbeam bag.
Together, they bought 100 acres and paid it off by hard work and saving. And, though they never knew it, the “ease dropping” little girl learned a powerful lesson.
If you set your mind to it, you can do it.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]