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Ronda Rich: Connecting to my Southern community
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Editor’s note: Penning this week’s column is Ronda Rich’s husband, John “Tink” Tinker

I dropped by the barbershop the other day, Weaver’s Cut & Trim.

With my hair “in short supply,” I’m not much of a challenge for my affable barber, Brad, who needs only to zip his razor over my head a few times like I’m a Marine recruit and I’m done.

An elderly gentleman was already in the chair while another two men sat, visiting. They were in the middle of an unhurried and kindly conversation. There was an exchange of jokes, a comment about the unusually foggy night we’d just had and a good-natured but brief debate about the town center, such as it is with just two storefronts.

Now, I need to take a moment to explain that. A few years ago, I (Tink as you know me) married the author of this column. From the beginning, I knew I would make her home my home. I wasn’t about to ask an 11th-generation Southerner to uproot herself from the red Georgia clay she so dearly loves. But I must admit, I had my trepidation about moving here, to the South.

You see, I am a Northerner. Born and raised in Connecticut, I spent the past 30 years living and working in California where it’s absolutely fair to say, over time I developed “ideas” about the South. These were ignorant,

uniformed, thoughtless notions and beliefs for which, now that I have traveled a good bit throughout the region with Ronda, I sincerely apologize. 

However, at the risk of backsliding into generalizations or stereotyping, I do wish to make one observation about the people here. It is something I have come to admire and respect, a characteristic I’d never before encountered.

My wife had warned me early on, saying, “Be careful what you say since you never know who’s related to who.”

At the time of this admonishment, coming from such a politically correct place as Los Angeles, I assumed it to be a heads-up with regard to my self-preservation. However, I’ve discovered different.

So, it’s back to the barbershop where one of the men waiting mentioned a young man by name to which Brad offered, “That’s Miss Watson’s grandson, isn’t it?”

The elderly man in the chair nodded while the other man confirmed, “Miss Watson’s grandson, Bobbie Smithgill’s cousin. The one who lives up in Suches, not the one there in Lula.”

On and on it went until what most folks in L.A. refer to as the “six degrees of separation” was established. Yet in the South, it’s done not just to determine how people are related. Rather, it’s more importantly the way folks here make connections and establish the friendships that usually follow.

Here, you don’t reference anyone for what they can do for you — the method and motive I was so used to in Los Angeles. Instead, it’s so you can find common ground: most typically in another person’s good (or bad) name. What’s more, it isn’t a job that gives a person likability or even credibility here and it’s not their net worth that establishes their true worth. It’s who they’ve proven themselves to be and what kind of family they’re from. Plain and simple.

I like that being the measure of a man or a woman. It is, I believe, why I hear around the South, when a deal is struck or a promise is made, “Your word’s good enough for me.”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’ve been teased in good fun and even eyed warily for being a Yankee, but I’ve never encountered rudeness or unfairness. You’ve shaken my hand, often hugged me and warmly received me into your homes and places of gathering.

That’s why, at the barbershop the other day, I realized I don’t go there so much for a haircut as for the company. Because, I know, if someone’s there I haven’t met, Brad will introduce me, saying, “This is Ronda Rich’s husband.”

Then, I can now proudly add, “My wife is Ralph and Bonelle Satterfield’s little girl. Rodney and Louise Nix are my brother- and sister-in-law.”

As Brad remarks to anyone stepping down from his chair, “Don’t rush off, now. Set a spell and visit. We’re all friends here.”

Yep, I like it here down South. I know I’m finally home. Thanks for makin’ me feel welcome ... y’all.

John Tinker is an Emmy award-winning television writer who is married to Ronda Rich and lives happily in the South.

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