Daddy used to say that when most people ask, "How're you doin'?" they don't really care. It's just something they say to make conversation.
The same undoubtedly goes for the most famous lines delivered when sad times hit. "If there's anything you need, just let me know," or, "If there's anything I can do, just give me a call."
After my niece Nicole encountered a challenging pregnancy that would put her on complete bed rest for months, she drew her own conclusions. "I have learned that the people who truly mean it don't just say it. They say it and then they do it without asking. They show up on your doorstep with food or to announce they're taking the children on a play date."
My favorite example of Nicole's helpers was her friend, Stephanie, who showed up one day and asked, "What can I do to help?" Nicole promptly put her to work cleaning out her pantry. The ailing mama-to-be sat at the kitchen table, put her feet up and directed Stephanie as to what should be thrown out and what could stay.
"You had her clean out your pantry?" I asked with a shake of my head and a chuckle. "Boy, you've got this down to a science."
Nicole shrugged. "She wanted to help and that mess in the pantry was driving me crazy. She didn't mind at all. She sincerely wanted to help."
Of course, I am certainly not one to be making ill judgments. I have done the same. When Mama died, the outpouring of love and support was enormous. For two nights of visitation, 1,000 people filed through the funeral home to offer their condolences. After the typical expression of sympathy, inevitably would come the words, "If there's anything I can do to help, just let me know."
I would always reply, "Do you bush hog?"
The sincere need for bush hogging is a constant in my life. I am always worried about getting the land around my house properly mowed and cut down. So, I figured I would take the time when everyone was feeling sympathetic toward me to ask for what troubled me most. See, you have to move while the sympathy factor is high. If you wait a day or two too long, you'll be slap out of luck and goodwill.
My brother-in-law, Rodney, after overhearing this question several times, came over, squeezed my elbow tightly and grinned. "Stop asking everybody to bush hog for you."
"Well, they all say if there's anything I need to let 'em know."
"They don't mean bush hogging, dummy."
"But bush hogging is what I need. I don't need any casseroles. I've got plenty of casseroles."
He rolled his eyes comically, shrugged and gave up. The next person who came through the line was my childhood friend, Jerry, who helps to run his family's big dairy farm a couple of miles from my place. Our friendship goes back so far that we were in the hospital nursery together. He was born the day before I was and his dad kept my daddy company in the waiting room while Mama labored with me. It is an old and fine friendship.
I hugged Jerry and he looked at me sadly. He knows the pain of losing both parents. Solemnly, he said, "If there's anything you need ..." Before he could finish, I jumped in.
"You have a bush hog, don't you?" I grinned. I knew I had found the one to help me.
He looked puzzled. "Yeah."
"Well, I need some bush hogging done."
He shook his head. "I, uh, I don't know about that."
"Jerry." I looked pitiful and sad.
He chuckled. "Call me."
So I did and he did.
Obviously, he was one of the people who really meant it when he said, "If there's anything you need, just call."Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter.