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Ronda Rich: Looking back on hard times, hard work
Ronda Rich
Ronda Rich

With nary a question, my work life is much easier than that of my parents and grandparents, who all worked by the sweat of their brows and the calluses of their hands.

I work by the click of my fingers with the thoughts that flicker both frivolously and seriously through my mind.

Sometime last summer, I was struggling mightily with the weeds in a flower garden. They had grown deep and wide and proved quite stubborn in being removed. The sun was unbearably hot. I was determined not to suffer defeat so I fought them until, at last, I was triumphant.

After several hours, my back and hands ached and the sun had been my bitter adversary. I sat down on a stone wall nearby and thought of my granddaddy, Ance Miller.

Except for Sundays, he always wore overalls and smelled slightly of the snuff he loved to tuck in his lower lip. He had a farmers’ slump, something that has all but disappeared these days but back when he was a young man fighting the unyielding land and hopelessness of the Great Depression, most men had that rounded slump of shoulders. It was brought forth by throwing the leather straps over their shoulders from behind the plow and trying to coax a stubborn mule to take one more step in the blinding sun.

That mule and plow molded their upper bodies into a permanent hunch.

I sipped water and reflected on how his easiest day had probably been much harder than my day of battling the sun and the weeds. I thought of Daddy and the time taxes were due as a serious bout of the “runs” swept through his herd of cattle. For days, exhausted, he and the veterinarian worked to save them, but two died anyway. It was a loss he could ill afford. Just like the time that his only bull got pulled down in the pond’s deep mud and was dead by the time Daddy found him.

I remember those times. Daddy would come in the door, his clothes covered in dirt and mud and his skin leather tanned from the unkind sun. Even as a child, I recognized the worry that etched his brow and how his green eyes were sometimes sorrowed to the edge of tears.

Recalling the weariness of that man kicked down by setbacks that only a farmer can understand conjures up tears of my own. I was too young to understand how hard these worries were.

It’s vital that I remember my kin and how hard they struggled, for then I can be undergirded by that reality when I’m driven to my wit’s end by my craft. I’m a disciplined writer, two words that don’t often go together.

I’m disciplined because I’m not abundantly talented. There are folks out there with more creative talent in one little finger than I have in my entire body. But many of those people just “think” about writing. They fantasize about the words they’ll one day put down on paper.

But I’m fierce in scheduling my time and sitting down to do it. When I wrote my first book — one that sold in New York, based on an outline — I still had a regular job. I labored through the week, then on weekends I wrote my book, finishing it two weeks before the deadline.

These days, though, my best laid plans go awry; like the day the alarm technician was coming at 11 a.m. but arrived at 8. Or the following day, when an entire morning’s worth of solid writing — that was due on deadline to my publisher — disappeared when I accidentally hit a button. I wailed in grief.

Then I thought of Daddy and Pawpaw, of the cruel sun, of the cows that died and the mules that wouldn’t budge.

I felt so ashamed.

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.

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