Several years ago, a soldier serving in Afghanistan wrote me a fan letter. I believe, though I am not certain, that his admiration came from having read my book “My Life In the Pits.”
This began an email friendship that lasted for the duration of his deployment and even a bit after he returned home to Arkansas. While in Afghanistan, he wrote that they had a hard time getting magazines and reading material so, periodically, I mailed a box of such to him and even included books of mine about Southern women.
After he returned to Arkansas, from time to time, he would email me with questions about women and why we act such a way. One day, he wrote that he had stopped on his way into a building and held the door for a woman behind him. Immediately, she began chewing on him and telling him how she was perfectly capable of opening the door for herself and that she didn’t need his help.
This survivor of a cruel war was wounded. His email practically wept.
“Did I do something wrong? I was only trying to be gentlemanly.”
“That was not a Southern woman, I can promise you that,” I wrote back. “Do not let this discourage you. Many more women than not appreciate a gentlemanly gesture.”
Which brings me to how two men rescued me and my gratitude. In 2019, Penguin Putnam will be releasing a 20th anniversary edition of my first book, “What Southern Women Know (That Every Should).” Since we’re friends, I’ll be honest: It has proven to mean a great deal to me that something I wrote two decades ago is being celebrated with a new edition. The publisher asked for updates to the text. There weren’t many. It turns out that, as the cover proclaims, they really are timeless secrets. Mostly, I had to change the tense that had Mama in the present and put her (sadly) in the past. They also asked for an afterword.
This proved problematic. It was to be a 1500-word essay and though I could rip that off fairly quickly, it was the content that concerned me. What were the most important things to say?
I whipped out one draft. I didn’t like it. I tried a second draft, struggling with it for weeks. I think I’ve begun to struggle because Tink always talks about envying me for how quickly my writing comes. Finally, I took myself down to Mama’s house, spent the night, then got up the next morning and started writing away. The stories and words were exactly what I wanted to say. I was typing fast and furiously when my thumb hit a button that erased the entire document. The page was blank while a feeling of blankness swept over me. I tried to recover what I’d written but couldn’t find it anywhere. I texted Tink. Like a dashing knight in armor, he arrived in moments on the doorstep.
I was speechless. Then, as Tink began to pray, I began to wail. Trust me. My wailing is something you never want to see. It’s not a pretty sight.
“Let me run this down to Ed,” said Tink, who is beginning to use Southern vernacular and has developed a strong trust in the computer sorcery of our dear friend, Ed Ivey. He darted out of the house, computer under arm, and headed off. Meanwhile, I paced the floor, praying. Then I tried to recreate what I had written earlier but no words would come.
In about an hour, Ed called. “Let me read you something and see if I’m onto the right thing.” He began reading the words I had painfully drained out of my soul over the past month.
I profusely thanked Ed. Then Jesus. Then Tink.
Jesus and those two wonderful men rescued me. For the record, I don’t mind being rescued by a man. Or two.
Or having my door opened by one.
Ronda Rich's column appears Tuesdays.