The South I’ve Met

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By John Tinker


[Ronda’s husband, Tink, is sitting in for her today.]

Most of the best stories I’ve heard come forth from the South. The most memorable people I have met, by far, are Southerners.

I’m a Yankee and moved here by way of California. My youth seemed normal to me even though my father was a very successful television executive and my stepmother was, aside from Lucille Ball, television’s most successful, awarded comedienne, Mary Tyler Moore.

But here? In the South? I’ve met the most memorable people of my life. I have met the people who impress me most.

If there is an admirable person or a wonderful character, my wife, Ronda Rich, knows them. And through her, I have had the privilege of meeting them, too.

She is close friends with five – FIVE – Southerners who are legends and in various Halls of Fame. College football. Stock car racing. Country music. Southern gospel music.

These aren’t mere acquaintances. These are bone-deep friendships. I’ve heard her call each one and say, “I need a favor,” then, not long after, I’ve heard the answer, “Done!” ring through the air.

These fine people have invited me into their homes and into their hearts. And, oh, the war stories they tell while sitting around supper tables could keep a television writer working for years. I’ve “borrowed” a story here and there, I have to admit.

However, the most incredible people I have met through Ronda are what she might call “common folks” which, of course, is not at all derogatory. The only monuments ever to be erected in their honor will be in a graveyard, facing toward the East. They will only be in a Hall of Fame if they pay admission. Yet, every single one of them deserves to be a Hall of Famer. Here are some that I have inducted into my own “Southern Hall of Fame”:

The plumber who works long, weary hours to raise a family and foster children who need special care. I’ve seen him and Ronda pray over a water heater.

The farmers who rise at dawn, only to find a tractor that worked the afternoon before now won’t start. So, they work all day to repair it. My admiration falls at their feet whenever I see them, shirts soaked in summer sweat, as they labor through the humid July days.

The bi-vocational preachers. I’d never heard that term until I moved to the South. These folks work a job through the week then stand for the Lord, in the pulpit, on Sunday.

Ronda’s jovial friend, who was raised in the middle-of-nowhere-South in overalls and was shoeless in the summer time. He went to Wall Street and made a hundred million. When he bid New York goodbye, to hurry back to his family farm, he was still wearing a rotation of polyester blend suits he bought at JC Penney.

The kindest man I ever met was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge then returned to his small Virginia town and began building a fortune by selling crackers. I learned so much from him about love and humility.

And the women? I can’t even begin to express how many times my heart has been touched by their thoughtfulness and commitment to their neighbors and churches. It’s impressive how they work, shoulder-to-shoulder with the men, but cling furiously to their femininity. It’s remarkable. The Southern women I’ve met take pride in how well they can cook and how fast they can round up stray cattle.

There is the woman who lives in a trailer with cats in every corner. She struggles to pay her rent and her power bill but she is so grateful to have a roof over her head. And, oh, so cheerful.

I could name dozens more.

My father received Lifetime Achievement awards from television’s most prestigious organizations. He worked hard. But he labored in comfortable, air conditioned offices.

The South is filled with Lifetime Achievers who have earned it the hard way.

I’m so appreciative to have met them for they’ve taught me much.

[John Tinker is an Emmy award winning writer who believes he is a much better writer since he moved to the South. Read his wife’s new novel, “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.”]