One day during lunch, a friend and I were talking about the murderous felons we know as Tink quietly listened.
We talked of one on death row for two heinous murders. We weren’t surprised with that one. Everyone had long known that vicious impulses were deeply inbred in him.
Then, we talked of another that still puzzles us after many years.
“When he first went away, we used to get calls from him,” she said.
“Collect from jail?” I asked.
“Yeah, you know how your friends’ll do you,” she said.
“I’ve gotten a few of those, too,” I admitted.
“We haven’t heard from him in years, though,” she replied.
“I have,” I said. “When he went up for parole, I got a letter asking for a character recommendation.”
A sweet guy from a nice, decent family. Tink, taken aback, shook his head. I grinned.
“Do you know anyone who committed murder?” I asked.
In the rural South, it’s a reasonable question. Most of us do.
“No!” he exclaimed, somewhat righteously.
“That’s because,” I retorted quickly, “your people hire our people to do it for them.”
My friend and I laughed.
My husband comes from a family of gentility and civility — neither of which have ever been ascribed to my Appalachian kinfolk. Probably somewhere, way back in history, one of his refined ancestors challenged another of equal refinement to a duel for the sake of honor. Then, they walked off the paces, turned and deliberately fired over each other’s head. Honor saved, duel settled.
Not my people. They shot it out with intent any time there was a falling out among them. My grandmother answered her door with shotgun loaded and aimed. She drank coffee or ate at her rough-hewn kitchen table with the shotgun within easy reach. Same at night when she slept. She was quick on the trigger with perfect aim. Thank goodness no one pushed her that far.
That wasn’t the case with Daddy’s uncle who served time in a federal prison for gunning down and killing a revenuer — a former friend and moonshine partner — in front of another federal agent.
“I told’cha if you ever told where my still was, I’d kill you,” he said.
He calmly raised his shotgun to his shoulder.
“And I aim to keep my word.”
Now, over the years, our family has managed to overcome such rude disregard for the law, but we’re still prone to stand our ground in less destructive ways.
Daddy, a man of the cloth and as godly of a man as you would ever hope to meet, had his moments. He once sent a shattering right-hand blow to the jaw of an in-law who had drunkenly beaten his wife. The man, his jaw dislocated, raised himself from the ground on one elbow.
“If you ever lay a hand on her again, I’ll beat you to a pulp,” Daddy promised.
The man tucked tail, ran and never raised as much as a pinky to her again.
A couple of years ago, a preacher pal of Daddy’s told a story about him from the pulpit, one that none of us knew. The preacher, a diminutive man, found himself on the wrong end of unrighteous anger from a sinner who took exception to something in the preacher’s sermon on the rare occasion his wife had nagged him into attending service. At the back of the church, with no one around, the big man cornered the small preacher and threatened him.
“I was shaking, scared to death,” the preacher said.
As fate and God would have it, Daddy, big, sturdy and strong, came around the corner. He grabbed the man.
“You’re not gonna lay a hand on a man of the Lord’s,” he said. “I’ll promise ya that. I’ll lay my religion aside long enough to wipe up this ground with ya.”
Tink and I are a good example of the righteous marrying into the renegades.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.