When I was approaching 7 years old and about to wrap up the first grade, I reigned as the No. 1 reader of books as well as the No. 1 talker. At that time, Daddy decided it was time to teach me a skill he determined would be as necessary to me in life as reading and talking.
My parents, as you probably recall, had grown up in the mountains where parents focused on teaching children survival skills. And they took this seriously.
Mama taught me to sew. I spent the ages of 3 to 5 standing behind her in a chair as she labored over her sewing machine, watching every move.
They bought me a miniature sewing machine, so by age 6 I was designing and sewing clothes for my Barbie doll. When I was 7, I sewed my first dress by myself. Then I progressed to making my own clothes.
I began cooking, cleaning house and learning to wash clothes by separating colors before I began school. I stood on tiptoe to put the clothes in the washer and pour in the granules of Tide.
Mama also taught me Bible stories. Daddy listened and smiled as I stood in the center of the den and presented to him the stories I learned.
With Mama having done her right and proper job of teaching, Daddy moved in to teach his lessons: feeding cows, riding horses and mowing grass.
On some Saturdays, I rode the Ford tractor with him as he pulled the bush hog to cut the pastures.
One morning, midway through my first-grade year, Daddy reached for the brimmed hat he always wore, which hung on a nail near the kitchen door.
As he placed it at a particular angle on his head, he said, “Be ready this afternoon about four. I’ll be by to get you. We’re goin’ up to the farm. I got somethin’ I wanna show you.”
When he arrived, he was in his old, black 1957 Chevy pick-up with the cattle bed on it, the one that always drew me into great embarrassment on the few occasions when he picked me up at school. I crawled up into the cab and off we sputtered and shook toward the farm, which was about 30 minutes from our house.
“OK, little ’un,” he said as he pulled up the dirt road into the farm and stopped in a place between the small lake and a field. “Get all those Coke bottles and bleach bottles out of the back of the truck.”
Then he pulled out a small shotgun.
“Today, I’m gonna learn you how to shoot a gun,” he said.
He lined up the bottles and walked back to me. Carefully, he explained how to position the gun on my shoulder, target the bottles through the sight, how to aim and how to pull the trigger.
“Now, this thing is gonna kick when you shoot it, so stand firm and hold on,” he said.
I was tiny. A petite child who didn’t weigh much. I planted my feet, aimed and squeezed the trigger. The kick was so hard I went flying backward. My feet jumped out from under me and I hit the ground.
Daddy helped me up and said, “Well, little ’un, you did it. You shattered the Coke bottle. Now, let’s go again. Plant your feet.”
By the end of the afternoon, I was still hitting targets. And finally, I was able to take the kick and keep on standing. The bruise on my right shoulder took a week to heal, but I learned more than just shooting that afternoon. I learned to keep getting up no matter how many times you’re knocked down and how to stand your ground.
I can still hit my target, too.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.