When I was 9 years old, I spent spring break with my grandparents in their humble mountain abode.
During that week, I got a real shiner in a yard game of baseball by being a catcher who stood too close to the batter. I also developed a love for buttermilk biscuits with homemade jelly. And, on Saturday night, I took my only bath of the week in a tin tub, in the middle of the rickety, drafty kitchen.
As I scrubbed away a week’s worth of dirt with homemade soap, my grandmother kept the bath warm by pouring in kettles of hot water.
I also furthered my life’s education by learning how to find the bathroom at night, in the middle of the spooky woods.
Lizzie, my grandmother, was a gentle and kind woman. She was tall and so skinny that when she crossed her legs, one foot always tucked effortlessly behind her ankle. Her silvery, soft hair fell to her waist, but was kept neatly in a bun then released freely at night. She would sit on the scruffy beige couch when the day was finished, and patiently brush her hair before she changed into a long-sleeved, floor-skirting nightgown.
From the moment she dressed in the morning — in a simple, cotton dress, hosiery that stopped at her upper thigh and flat, black shoes — she wore an apron with a pocket that carried a small can of snuff. This was her one true indulgence. In this apron, she also toted eggs from the barn, and if I had a dirty spot or scratch, she licked the corner of it and wiped away my soil.
She loved the newspaper and the King James Bible, both which she read with dedicated regularity. When worries knocked at her door, she did not hesitate to drop to her knees in front of the old iron bed, praying as a breeze lilted gently through the open window and fluttered the voile-weight curtains.
Mawmaw — a word belonging strictly to the Appalachian mountains — loved to knit and crochet, usually employing cast-away rough thread from the nearby carpet mill. It was a treat for her. Somewhere around mid-afternoon when she finished sweeping, dusting and raking the front yard, she settled into a corner of that worn-out, formaldehyde couch. She tucked her foot behind her ankle, pushed her tiny, wire-framed glasses up on her nose and set about fiercely crocheting a blanket or knitting a sweater.
That summer of my spring break in the third grade, Mawmaw placed a bony arm around my shoulders, drew me close to her on the couch and patiently began to teach me how to crochet. As she watched, I awkwardly weaved a chain with the tiny hook and unpleasant thread. By the time I returned home, I was adept enough that I began furiously crocheting headbands (a trend in the 1970s) and making a stockpile.
Mama, who was astounded that I had mastered crocheting and knitting when she (a skilled seamstress) could never learn, could always figure out a way to make money. Cleverly, she began taking my homemade headbands to the sewing plant — where she worked — and sold them for $2 a piece during her 15-minute breaks and 30-minute brown bag lunches.
Whether it was Mama’s stellar salesman pitch, my expert crocheting skills or a bit of both, those headbands sold like hotcakes to her fellow plant workers. Every day, she would come home from work, announce how much I had made, then begin pulling crumpled dollar bills from her purse. I was gloriously happy.
At an early age, I learned that I could make a living by the turn of my hands. This, I learned from my simple Appalachian folks.
That lesson stuck. It has carried me down through the journey of life. I still earn a living by thinking and working creatively.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.