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Rich: Southern jewels shine with wisdom
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Not long ago, I found myself in the midst of one of life’s great treasures.

It all came about because Mama had her annual physical that required her to fast.

Mama doesn’t do well when she doesn’t eat — she gets "swimmy headed." So, she had her blood work done and with enough time remaining before her appointment, we headed out for breakfast.

It was there at the restaurant that I found those jewels in the form of several men who were gray with age and deeply wrinkled with time.

They sat at a long table with half-eaten biscuits and steaming cups of coffee in their midst. And they talked. Goodness gracious, how they talked.

Many of their words drifted over to our table so I smiled as I heard what all they had to say.

They talked long of the political world. "Politics will ruin the best man," one opined while the others nodded and grunted in agreement. Then they talked of wives — strong-willed women who rule their husbands apparently with an iron fist; of religion — what the Methodists do as opposed to what the Baptists do — and how the country is in need of a new, better fertilizer.

"Gotta do something," one grumbled. "Erosion and developers are ruinin’ the land."

"If you ain’t got good land, you ain’t got nothin’ worth havin’," another offered. For every problem that we as a nation have, they had a solution.

Now there’s a brain trust, I thought to myself, judging there to be several hundred years of experience sitting at the table.

I looked over at them and smiled in appreciation, noting the deep brown age spots that covered their faces.

I shook my head in wonderment, thinking, "If we could only bottle that wisdom and the common sense that spouts from that table, what a better world we’d have."

Across the South every morning, without fail, men just like those escape the monotony of retirement life and march off to have breakfast together.

They validate each other and appreciate their own insights. Some are veterans of wars that kept America proud and free, some are refugees from corporate and industrial America. Some are farmers who feed our people with their bounty and some are blue collar millionaires who turned the resources of the land into money.

These wise men have been courageous, resourceful and loyal. Their experience equals the finest education bought in the world’s most expensive universities. What they possess and what they know cannot be bought.

But for some reason, society’s tendency is to turn away from their observations, calling them old-fashioned and out-of-touch with a fast moving, technology-driven world. Why goodness, most can’t even turn on a computer.

But what they know is greater than any microchip can ever store. They know life from a raw, practical vantage point. No scientist can invent anything better.

They knew the South when Franklin Roosevelt, a Southern convert who died on Georgia soil, sought to save its poverty-stricken people. They remember when Roosevelt led a war in Europe, in the Pacific and battled in the South against tyrannical leaders like Eugene Talmadge and Huey Long who didn’t hold to the theory that starving Southerners needed public assistance in the form of work.

They saw the South resurrect itself from the ashes of its own proud fires to become one of the world’s largest economic powers and cultural leaders.

They knew the South then. They remember life when. Why don’t we ask their advice now?

Two of the old warriors stood up to leave, one hobbling haltingly with a cane. My eyes followed them out the door and I watched as the one leaning on the cane was helped off the curb by his buddy.

There goes, I thought to myself, two jewels in our national treasury.

My, my, how beautiful they sparkle.

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

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