When I was growing up in the rural South, things were simple. Life was enjoyable and, though we didn’t know it then, we savored those days.
Mama and Daddy got two bills a month at home and two bills at Daddy’s garage — telephone and power. After I graduated from college, the city ran water lines out to the country and urged folks who used wells to sign on for water. If you signed on while the lines were being laid, there was no charge for hooking up or a deposit. Daddy’s cousin, Gurley Satterfield, ran the water department and urged Daddy to sign on. This was back in the days when well water could be troublesome. If the water froze in the winter, the pump had to be primed. Occasionally, a varmint fell in the well which could be the worst kind of problem.
Daddy took the offer — it’s always been hard for my people to turn down anything that’s free — so the number of their bills increased to three. Yearly bills for insurance and property taxes came and the only other bills that arrived was a veterinarian charge for a cow that got down or a part required to fix the Ford tractor, which was sturdy and rarely required fixing. We grew our vegetables, beef and pork (and dairy, when I was young) so groceries were bought twice monthly — flour, cornmeal, eggs, and milk.
I remember Mama, especially in the days when she grew lonelier after Daddy’s death, going to the mailbox, then sighing with disappointment. “All that come today was a circular.”
In those days, television and radio came free through antennas and people communicated by way of telephone landlines, letters, or (do you remember this?) in person. At his garage, Daddy played host to a regular group of a dozen men who wandered in and out through the day, pouring a cup of coffee and sitting down to fellowship. Sometimes they didn’t even talk. They just sat down and enjoyed the coffee — they shared in the cost — and enjoyed the quietness of being in each other’s presence.
It brings a smile to think of the times I walked in to find five or six men sitting around on the two-step platform in the back that raised that part higher and no one was saying a word.
“What’re y’all doing?” I asked one day, chuckling. “Just sitting there?”
“Yep,” replied Gurley. “We’ve said all we’ve got to say, today.”
More often than not, Daddy was sitting there with the Bible in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
If only this world could go back to those simpler times, I am certain we would all be happier. Our property taxes, owing to the rise in taxes and assessments, have doubled in the past decade. I opened one the other day and was stunned. All I could hear ringing in my ears was a line from a Travis Tritt country song, “They’re billing me for killing me.”
And isn’t that the truth?
One or more bills arrive in the mail daily, along with a stack of catalogs, circulars, and junk mail. We pay for television, internet service that barely works, radio for our cars, cell service that also barely works where we live and an alarm monitoring system. I spend four to five hours a week paying bills and doing our bookkeeping.
Another problem with all these services is that one thing or another is frequently causing a problem that requires 15 minutes of automation to find help. Ironically, it’s the phone company that wants to avoid calls in any way possible. I expect that one day, someone will find a way to charge for the air we breathe and we’ll be given the choice of three levels: extremely fresh, moderately fresh and sustainable.
I miss the good ole days when only a circular came.
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.