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Rich: Fortunes aren’t always made from money, fame and prestige

POSTED: March 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.

If you met my cousin, Melissa, you’d like her immediately.

You’d be captivated by her porcelain-perfect complexion and straight, even teeth.

She possesses an enviable lithe, slender body, which is standard loveliness on that side of my family but somehow chose to orphan me.

"Aunt Cindy," one of the family members will say with complete authority. "That’s where you got your’n from. She was short and rounded, too."

We are the same age, descended directly from the same Scotch-Irish man who ended his long travels by plopping himself down in a little place called Suches, Ga., and setting up homestead in the foothills of the Appalachians.

Our forebears owned the land that encompasses where the Appalachian Trail begins and until the end of his time on earth, Melissa’s daddy, my beloved Uncle Tom Berry, grumbled mightily about a "thieving" government that would, from time to time, decide to lay claim to more of his land that borders the famous trail.

"Just help themselves to it! That’s what they do," he’d rail. "Bunch of heathens."

Melissa grew up in the shadow of those majestic mountains, playing freely among the flowering laurel and rivers in a hamlet so small that her graduating class at Woody’s Gap had only seven students, but big enough to support no less than three churches.

To reach Suches, you must crawl achingly slow up 12 miles of hairpin, snaking turns while fighting to keep your breath from the beauty of the trees, rivers and mountains.

While we share the same bloodline and core beliefs, the textures of our lives are as different as spun cotton is from raw silk.

We come from people where worth is not measured in dollars but rather in the strength of our word and the compassion of our spirits for those in need. Both of us practice that philosophy. Yet, no two lives could be more different.

Mine is filled with airports and deadlines while Melissa’s time is spent in blue jeans and T-shirts, shelling Crowder peas and cutting up okra for the little diner — the only one for miles around — that she owns with her husband.

"All I’ve ever knowed is being married and raisin’ kids," she says, her gray eyes clouding with a vision of a life she wish she could touch if only for a day. A long, graceful finger trickles across the end of her perfectly sculpted nose and then up to her brow, which she rubs absentmindedly.

"Oh, if I could just live your life for a few days." She sighs deeply. "If I could see what it’s like. You’re so lucky. I wish ... " Her soft voice trails off.

I smile wistfully, thinking of the life she has that I don’t. Handsome husband. Beautiful children. A serene lifestyle set amidst some of the most gorgeous land that God Almighty ever created.

For I have seen the magical mist fall across those mountains, covering it like a delicate lace shawl, the ghostly fog faintly reminiscent of the Scottish land of our ancestors.

I have watched breathlessly on an autumn afternoon as a fire-colored sun slipped between those mountains, blazing with such intensity and boldness as to adamantly declare God’s existence to one and all.

I have eaten barbecue and homegrown watermelons there under towering oaks on the Fourth of July and wished again that I had remembered to bring a sweater to warm me in the evening chill.

While I chase maddening schedules, always one step behind, Melissa awakes each morning to a quiet, peaceful calm with birds greeting each other cheerfully and neighbors just one "howdy" away from another’s front porch.

And to think she calls me lucky.

 

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Her e-mail is southswomen@bellsouth.net.



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