One night back in the summer, Louise, Rodney and I stopped to see Russell and Neva, whom we have all known in one way or the other for decades. Yet, we go ages without seeing each other. It's a crying shame, as Mama would say.
We piled out of the car, exchanged hugs and hellos, then climbed two short steps and settled down on the lovely porch of the 100-year-old house that faces a neatly manicured pasture and is shaded by trees much older than any of us. Rodney and Neva took the swing and the rest of us plopped down in wicker chairs and rockers.
As crickets sang, mosquitoes aggravated and cars passed, all filled with drivers who threw up their hands and waved, we did nothing more than just visit.
Back in the days of my childhood, those days when I was learning how to behave as an adult, my parents spent every Sunday afternoon "visiting."
Daddy always seemed to have it set in his mind as to who we should visit following church and Sunday dinner. Sometimes as we dressed for church, he would say to Mama, "We need to go see Miz Miller today," talking about my maternal grandmother whom he loved and respected enormously. He made sure that not too much time expired between Sunday afternoon visits to her.
On the Sundays when we didn't visit Maw-maw, we visited those that were either our Christian duty or neighborly responsibility to drop by and spend some time with over coffee and cake.
The elderly were always paid the greatest respect. We spent many afternoons in houses I recall as musty and old with dust scattered hither and yon. Those who lived in those houses, some with old tin roofs and most all with front porches and rocking chairs, were crinkled, grayed and bespectacled. The sound of their voices were weakened by the years that had passed and they moved slowly, sometimes using a cane to steady their steps.
They always offered coffee, which Mama and Daddy accepted, and there was inevitably something sweet like cake, pie or tea cakes and a glass of milk for me. Sometimes, there was even the jewel of an ice-cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle.
My parents engaged them in conversation and expertly led them around to telling stories of days when their skin was dewy with youth. I remember how their eyes twinkled and their smiles broadened as we, unhurried, listened leisurely and gave them something more precious than gold — an hour or two of our time.
We usually made two or three stops in an afternoon, visiting, too, with the sick, the ailing and those who grieved. When a woman lost her husband, she was always placed in the rotation of our visiting list. Daddy explaining that it was our duty to look after the widows.
"Why is it our duty?" I would ask.
"Because the Bible says so," Daddy replied. "Take care of widows."
As a typical youngster, I would have much preferred to have shed my Sunday clothes in favor of play clothes and spent the afternoon entertaining myself, not others. I complained from time to time but not much. Somehow, I sensed the importance of these visits. To both them and to us.
Whatever happened to Sunday afternoon visiting? Has it been lost in a maze of technology that offers instant communication between people or lost in a population that seeks to serve self not others?
Still, my childhood lessons were committed to heart. I don't visit on Sunday afternoons, but I do keep a rotating list of people that I drop in on and just sit a spell with them. Now, just as then, I see the gratitude on their faces when I drop by unexpectedly.
I guess some childhood lessons do stick. Just like grits to an empty stomach.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville author of What Southern Women Know About Faith.
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