There’s no disputing it. No doubting it. No denying it.
The man, who was our family’s North Star, was raised in an isolated backwoods shack where hope rarely appeared. When it did, it dissipated quickly, like dew on a hot summer’s morning.
I am determined to never forget the loins from which I spring, for to forget that would be a travesty. A word that Daddy liked to use. “Reckon,” “dreckly,” “umption” and “learn you” are a few of the other Appalachian words that stuck to him like burrs from an untamed field.
Daily, I pass a photo in our hallway. Sometimes as I sit on the second step of our stairwell and have phone conversations, my eye falls to rest on the sepia-toned photo. I don’t look long, for I simply can’t bear it. Without fail, I tear up and sometimes, if I don’t escape the image quick enough, I start the shuddering heave of a child trying bravely not to sob.
He is about 13. Dressed in overalls. His feet are bare. He sits in a homemade, straight ladder chair leaned against the “rottenin’” (another of his words) gray, piney wood shack. My heart sniffles when I study on the sizeable hole where a plank met the ragged porch. It was one of several holes that they stuffed with newspaper to keep the frigid winter’s air at bay.
A black and white dog, what he loved most in the world, is beside him, peering sadly into that camera. What happened to that dog was horrific. I have rarely been able to utter the words to tell the story.
He never was one for schooling. By the sixth grade, he had escaped the confines of a pitiful one-room schoolhouse and set about a lifetime of hard work that calloused his hands, bronzed his skin and “brung” him up in the world.
He fought a World War in a distant land, on an endless sea. Came home to buy a little gas station then built a garage where he could mechanic. In betwixt all that, he yielded — quite begrudgingly — to the call of the Lord.
“I make a livin’ for my family through the week, then I stand for the Lord on Sunday and preach His word.”
The mountain people like to say, “He made a preacher.”
Though his formal learning wasn’t much, his wisdom was plenty. He quietly observed life, studied on the habits of people then harvested a basket of truths.
“A man who’ll lie to you, will steal from you,” he opined, sometimes adding, “there ain’t nothin’ worse than a coward, but a liar’s right up there with him.”
“Put your trust in God, not man. Man will let you down, but God never will.”
“Never buy land without water on it. It’s the water that makes it worth somethin’, because you can water your cattle and tote water for your family.”
“The saddest thing you’ll ever do is stand over the casket of a man that you know died without a hope in God.” That he always said with tears pooling in his green eyes.
It is a remarkable thing about this man I called Daddy — though his outer body was scarred, toughened and constantly bruised from work, his heart was soft. He often picked up the phone to check on widow women and offer money or a load of firewood.
“Give,” he instructed, “until it hurts so much that it starts to feel good.”
From this man came forth a host of well-educated, well-accomplished, Holy Ghost-anointed children and grandchildren. Rare is a week when I don’t pick up a newspaper to see how one of our little mountain clan has been recognized for academic achievement, community commitment or church involvement.
We each own land on which creeks, streams and babbling brooks gurgle with the promise of quenching our thirst.
His wisdom, though simple, became our guiding truths.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.