At a café in Biloxi, Miss., friends and I were chatting over coffee when we were joined by a man who is a business associate of one of my friends sitting at the table.
He pulled up a chair, plopped down and launched fast-paced into conversation. He was straight-forward, minced no words and softened no opinion.
He is a Yankee.
“Damn Yankee,” he corrected me. “That’s what I am.” His blue eyes locked mine with a steely look that bored deeply. “Do you know the difference between a plain Yankee and a damn Yankee?”
I nodded and smiled. “You’ve come South to stay.”
He returned the nod. “You’re right. I’m here and I’m never going back.” He is a newspaper consultant, specializing in the layout redesign of newspapers. He’s very good at what he does. When he learned that I write a syndicated newspaper column about the South and the stories of its people, he pressed hard.
“Where do you get your stories? Do you go out and interview people?”
“I just find them,” I shrugged. It’s always hard to explain to others how these stories find me and that I have little to do with it, other than I write them.
“But how do you get these stories?”
“I wait for them to come to me.” He was perplexed and too analytical to accept a simple, seemingly evasive answer. He pushed harder but I could not satisfy his curiosity. However, before the table conversation ended, I was able to make him understand because, in the course of our chitchat, he gave me three column ideas.
He was talking about the importance of the obituary page to a newspaper. Being Southern, I well understand the importance of death and how it sells newspapers.
“I always tell newspapers to never jump the obituaries from one page to another and not to wrap an obituary from one column to another.” He shrugged. “If they do that, the family has to tape the obituary together when they cut it out.”
I grinned. “So, they can put it in the family Bible.”
He tossed a finger in my direction. “Right. Exactly right.” The Yankee knows his stuff.
And, from that exchange, a column was born. You see, in the South, the family Bible is the keeper of all things important: obituaries, a cherished photo or two, a special greeting card, newspaper clippings or a note or two.
When Mama died, we found one of her Bibles filled with things important to her: a few photos, a homemade birthday card from one of the grandkids, a wedding invitation, two get-well cards from friends and a newspaper clipping from a historian who had traced Mama’s family. My sister gave that Bible to her son, complete with all of Mama’s cherished items. When he opened the Bible and her treasures spilled out, he wiped away a tear.
One morning in church, an older woman was sitting in front of me. She turned around, opened her Bible and pulled out one of my columns that she had clipped and stored where she was likely to see it most. I was honored. It’s always a high compliment when something I have written is stuck on the refrigerator or placed in the Bible.
I just picked up the Bible that I always tote to church and in it, I found my Sunday School book, a hand-written note from a friend, a clipping of a Billy Graham column, a check for my sister that someone had given to me to pass to her (oops), a book marker with special scriptures on it and a family photo.
I smiled. As long as it’s in my Bible, I’ll always find it. If there comes a time when I think that I have misplaced it, then that’ll mean I’ve been too long gone from the pages of the good book.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at her Web site.