A few years before my birth, Mama and Daddy, stringing a lot of pennies together, managed to build a brand-new but tiny brick ranch house.
This was the end result of a journey that started in a one-room apartment in an antebellum home to a house with no indoor plumbing to one with a bathroom and, finally, to a nice little cottage on a piece of land they bought. It was several acres of shade trees and a meandering, large creek that curved its way through what would become pastures.
When Mama died, ten years after Daddy made his way to the Lord, I bought that little house in which I had grown up. When words won’t find me elsewhere — not by the sea, or on the back porch or in the barn where I placed a comfortable, cushiony rocking chair — they will find me in the little home built by the workings of their hands and the prayers that fell from their lips.
It is there, I see Mama step out the back door and onto the porch where she calls, “Ronda! Supper’s ready!” And I remember how I closed the book I was reading, stood up under that awkward maple tree, dusted off my shorts and headed, bare-footed back to the house.
I can also hear Mama saying, “Quick! Run grab the wash off the clothes line. It’s comin’ up a cloud.” With the screen door banging behind me, I was down the steps before the period had settled on her last sentence.
Daddy’s strong, quiet presence is felt and how he came in every night, covered in dirt and grease from his garage, hung his short-brimmed hat on a nail in the wall between the living room and kitchen. Usually there, too, hung a calendar from a local funeral home that had all the signs of the moon. By this calendar, we planned garden plantings, tooth pullings and hair cuttings. Daddy even used it to predict the future labor efforts of newborns.
“That’s the laziest child there’ll ever be,” he pronounced authoritatively. “He was born on the wrong signs of the moon.”
About that one, in particular, Daddy was dead wrong. He started working when he was 8 and never quit. He lays aside his work only long enough for Sunday school and church then his labors begin again. In a family of hard workers, he may be the hardest working or, at least, in the top two or three. It’s hard to outwork us.
“I’ve never seen a family that works as hard as you all do,” Tink says.
We’re just trying to put some distance between us and the poorhouse, I guess. It’s a family tradition.
It was only owing to a plumbing leak that I ever changed anything about the house. I’m much too sentimental to do otherwise. But when it was required to dig through the watery mess, I made a few changes. I took out two walls that opened up the tiny abode then re-did the kitchen, outfitting it with new cabinets. Because of the way the new cabinets were laid out, it made sense to move the dinner plates, bowls and cups down the counter and across the sink to another cabinet.
That was 10 years ago. And, still, daily when I work in what is now my office and writing retreat, I walk to the cabinet where Mama kept her dishes and open it to find the glassware. Not the dishes.
It has finally now come to me that this is the power of a memory that still works work without thinking about it. In my mind everything is still the same as when I was 8 and dragged a chair over to climb up and get a bowl.
I am grateful to recollect it all. Even if it means I keep opening the wrong cabinet door.
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 publishes Tuesdays.