In the summers of my childhood, I spent most days running barefooted. I wore shoes only for church on Sundays and the rare occasions that we left the farm.
Otherwise, I was traipsing, shoeless, through the pasture on small adventures, wading in the creek, dashing through freshly plowed garden dirt, or picking blackberries on the distant hill. As a result, my little feet spent three months of the year stained a light copper red while, in-between my toes, despite a diligent nightly scrubbing, it deepened to a cinnamon.
The screen saver on my husband’s phone is my three-year-old self in homemade navy shorts and a plaid shirt that Mama sewed from leftover dress scraps. I am barefooted, with dusty red stains stretching from my feet to my knees, with my arm thrown across my collie dog. I am perfectly pleased with myself and quite happy.
“I love that little girl,” Tink will say with a broad smile. “See that dirt on her legs and her bare feet?”
In those days as I grew, a common refrain of Mama’s, particularly during my high school and college years, was, “Don’t get above your raisin’, little girl.” Though I heard this most of my life, she really amped it up when, at 17, I landed a radio show on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. She was bound and determined that I would stay true to the poor rural South of my upbringing.
These days, if you should drop by the Rondarosa on a summer’s day, you will find me much the same: barefooted more often than not, red dirt smeared on my face, hands, feet — or all of the aforementioned places and, as embarrassing as this is to admit, under my nails.
“Why don’t you wear gloves?” Tink will ask as he watches me scrubbing.
“I do,” I reply. “Most of the time.”
The truth is that it’s just so inconvenient to pick up a pair of gloves every time I fiddle with the horses, clean the barn, bush hog or (this is particularly hard) pull random weeds of grass hither and yonder. Just as in the evening baths of my childhood, the water is often varying shades of red.
Late last summer, Tink and I were in Los Angeles for a meeting between the studio which is our producing partner on a possible series with two of the four big networks. We had spent a month refining our pitch until every sentence was succinct and each verb was vivid. Pardon the pun when I say, “it was pitch perfect.”
We had just finished a final pitch rehearsal in our hotel room when I looked down and realized that the nail polish I was wearing was too light to hid the dirt under my nails. I had scrubbed and scraped relentlessly but the long, hard summer had bore its scars and the stains refused to leave.
“Let’s go to the drugstore. I’ve got to get polish dark enough to hide this dirt.”
Tink laughed and picked up the car keys. “I told you that you should wear gloves. All the time.”
Later, in a corporate boardroom on a studio lot, we took our pitch to six high-level network executives. Our work and practice paid off. As a shuffle of papers and notepads scattered enthusiastically they cheered and applauded while the top executive declared, “That’s one of the best pitches I’ve ever heard.”
It was a delicious moment. Delighted, I clasped my hands under my chin, a mannerism I picked up from Mama. As I lowered my hands, I saw the coral polish that camouflaged the dirt I had carried from the South. The evidence of who I really am.
“Don’t get above your raisin’, little girl,” I heard Mama whisper.
The delight in myself vanished and I grounded myself back in the dirt that raised me.
Just as it should be.
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 Saturdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.