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Rich: Beauty lies in the heart of beholder
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Sophie Rose was not, in the assessment of other women, what you would call "pretty."

She was not even, as Southern women are fond of saying when the words "pretty" or "beautiful" simply cannot be used, attractive. That is our trademark description when another is not blessed with natural beauty but spiffs herself up with make-up, clothes and perfect hair to look the best she can possibly look.

"Is she pretty?" one will ask another because when a story is being told, it is always important to know such things.

And if she isn't and if she has sought to make the most of the least she has, the other will reply just like this:

"Well, she's," and here there will be a dramatic pause for effect, followed slowly by, "attractive."

Attractive will always be spoken in italics, for it is our secret code for, "you know what I mean."

So, in the assessment of her female counterparts, Sophie Rose was neither pretty, beautiful or even attractive.

She was, as one of the others said, rather plain. Her nose was too big, her eyebrows too thick and she had an ever so slight overbite that wasn't unseemly but it did have the effect of making her mouth seem as though it was always full of food.

But she was always real sweet. There was no denying that.

Though she wasn't ravishing in the eyes of most, she was beautiful in the eyes of Billy Ray, who, by the way, was one of the handsomest guys you could imagine.

"From the moment he seen her at the Dairy Barn, he was a goner," one of his buddies would often say over the years. "Never seen a man go so crazy over a woman in my life. Just one of them things you can't explain."

"Now, that's something you don't see much of," one of the women down at the beauty shop commented as the shampoo-and-set women huddled to discuss the upcoming nuptials of Sophie and Billy Ray.

"What's that?" asked one as she dropped a package of peanuts into her bottle of Coca-Cola.

"A good-looking man with a plain-looking woman. Now, from time to time, you'll see a pretty woman with an ugly man. But you don't ever see it the other way around."

The other ladies solemnly took in her comments then slowly, they all nodded in agreement.

So, Sophie and Billy Ray married, settled down on a small farm and raised three kids, corn, tomatoes and beans.

For more than 45 years, it was a loving, lovely marriage. Time would reveal that Billy Ray had seen Sophie with his heart and loved her for who she was, not how she looked.

She was a good, decent woman with a solid heart who loved her husband and children unconditionally. She ruled the family with an iron fist, too, because her husband trusted completely her unerring instincts.

When Sophie died, she looked no different from those who had judged her as "plain" in her younger years. Time had robbed them all of their youthful beauty so the passage of years had made Sophie just as attractive as any of them.

Funny, but that's what Billy Ray had told his boy many years earlier. "Son, beauty is fleeting but a good woman with a good heart is something that'll stick with you until your dying day. If you have to make a choice, always choose the heart over a pretty face. A lucky man can get both but that don't happen all that much." Then he had chuckled. "Besides, in the end, looks even out. The pretty ones become plainer and the plainer ones become prettier."

Billy Ray was heartbroken when his beloved Sophie departed for her heavenly reward. "Oh my pretty girl," he sighed mournfully as he said good-bye.

Beauty, you see, lies not just in the eye of the beholder, it also lies in his heart.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.