When we were growing up, my cousin, Lynn, and I were weekend and summertime warriors, fighting side-by-side through childhood journeys and teenage wonders.
We fought each other, once in a while, both of us getting mad and sulking until, finally, one said something nice to end it. Then, just that quick, we were off on an adventure through the back woods or plotting how we were going to get some boy to like us.
In the summers, we picked blackberries, strung beans and went swimming. In the fall, it was high school football games, pumpkin carving and fall festivals. At Christmas, we stomped through the mountains, picking out cedar Christmas trees, overseeing the cutting of those trees and dragging them back to the truck. We decorated them together and, every year, almost without fail, she played Elizabeth to my Mary in the church pageant.
We are third cousins. In the South, degrees matter. We are very close third cousins because my daddy and her grandmother were double first cousins. We both had brownish red hair and freckles scattered generously on our faces so you could tell from whence we cometh.
I remember the first time I saw Lynn. I was seven and she was eight. We went to a tiny country church where there were only a handful of children. I was the only girl. One Sunday morning, we were settling down to begin service when suddenly the door opened and in walked a cute girl with shoulder length hair. All by herself. I was riveted. Another girl. Impressively, this little girl, all by herself, walked down the aisle, her Bible tucked in the bent of her arm and held her head high. There was a look of bold assurance in her eye.
Our church was so small that our children’s Sunday School class was held on the back bench. Our teacher stood in the row in front and taught. On the day our Sunday School attendance went from six to seven, Lynn sat beside me. It was the beginning of many perfect attendance awards for the both of us.
This I will always remember: She came to church for months without her parents because she insisted on coming. They would drop her off but after a while, her mama started to attend. Then her daddy came. Once that happened, the doors of that church never opened without all three of them being there.
This always calls to mind the scripture: A child shall lead them. She certainly did.
On a Saturday morning during July revival, Lynn and I were saved at the ages of 11 and 12 then baptized by my daddy in the chilly waters of an early September Sunday morning. The framed Kodak photo of that is one of my favorites.
Our Friday and Saturday nights were spent in sleepovers and going to the movies. Once, we stood in a line that stretched two blocks to see the movie “Jaws.” I guess that’s why big earning movies are called “blockbusters.”
We remain close. We’ve worked hard in our careers — she is a scientist-turned-executive — and we’ve helped to keep each other grounded in the values that grew us. Interestingly, neither of us had children, which was never a consideration in our teenage years.
She called the other day. “I got you on my mind. I wanted to see how your new project is going.”
I sighed. “Haven’t heard anything.”
“You will,” she said reassuringly. “The Lord just told me to call you and give you a word of encouragement.”
About two hours after our call ended, good news came on the project. I texted her. “You’re not gonna believe this …”
“I knew it was coming,” she said confidently. “You just needed to be encouraged.”
All those years gone and yet she’s still as bold and assured as the day she first walked in church and began blessing my life.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.