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Column: Reader’s Digest, my old friend
Ronda Rich
Ronda Rich

Standing in the grocery line, 6 feet back from the person ahead, my eye landed on something at the register rack.

“Surely not,” I thought to myself, then walked over and pulled out the small magazine. 

My heart warmed, and I smiled with a glow of nostalgia.

Reader’s Digest, my old friend and a recurring character in my life’s story. Where do I begin?

Mama loved Reader’s Digest, so she subscribed. I remember many a night, walking by her bedroom, where she was propped up on pillows next to the lamp that sat on the cabinet of her oldest Singer sewing machine cabinet, reading the short stories and informative pieces.

While I’m not one for recalling jokes, I have never forgotten one from their “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.” 

It went something like this, “Oh, how I wish it were Friday instead of Wednesday,” said the desk clerk with a sigh to the woman who sat beside her.

“Don’t wish your life away,” chided her fellow employee.

“Then, I wish it were last Friday.”

It still brings me laughter.

Then there were the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.” Annually, volumes arrived and there were usually four popular books, destined for the bestseller’s list, condensed in each volume. The Turner Classic Movies channel plays throughout the day in our bedroom. I walked by just as “Captain Newman, M.D.,” starring Gregory Peck, was coming on. I read that story in a “Reader’s Digest Condensed” volume.

In fact, that book, along with many other “Reader’s Digest Condensed” volumes of my childhood, are aligned neatly in the bookcases at Mama’s house. They are old with dust pounded into the cloth covers and bindings that are starting to shred, though they have been well-loved and cherished.

In the years of my writing career, there have been happy moments: A four-day auction over the outline of my first book by major New York publishers, a review in the New York Times, another in People magazine and the day my agent tracked me down at Sea Palms on St. Simons Island, Georgia, where I was to speak the next day.

There was no preamble. She’s a natural born New Yorker, so she goes right to the message. 

“I got a call from Reader’s Digest today. They want to buy your novel and condense it in their next volume.”

That was newsworthy of throwing the phone down, but I hung on long enough to hear her, in a matter of fact way, announce the price they had offered. 

I pulled it away from my ear and pounded on the speaker. I was certain there was static interference between the Georgia islands and New York City.

“Excuse me. How much did you say?”

Nonchalantly, she named the figure that was more than what I made in an entire year in the days that I worked at JCPenney.

She had little time for my whooping, hollering and praising the Lord. She had one question and the deal hinged on the answer.

“They want to make sure that they have the rights to use your mama in their marketing and advertising campaigns. Will she sign an agreement to allow her image to be used?”

At that point, I was certain that the phone was malfunctioning.

“Oh, she’ll jump at the chance,” I replied. “Trust me.”

And she did, which made everyone merry and jolly.

That “Reader’s Digest Condensed Book” which includes my book, “The Town That Came A-Courtin’,”sits on my childhood antique, white slant top desk. I pass it many times a day, always casting a grateful look in its direction.

Standing in the grocery line, flipping through the magazine, I thought it had met its demise. I realize I owed a debt I needed to pay. I pulled out the subscription card and took it home.

My first issue arrived this week.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.

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