Several years ago, when Tink and I were still somewhat newly wed, we hosted a relative of his from Los Angeles.
We were excited to share our home, the Rondarosa, but it turned out that what we considered to be a beautiful blessing was not viewed likewise from a city fella.
Driving from the airport in the inky night that was lighted with many stars, we were less than an hour from the airport — and still a good 30 minutes from the farm — when the visitor piped up from the back to ask, “WHY would anyone want to live THIS far out?”
That was the high point of the visit.
Let’s not even discuss the lunch at the yummy Soda Fountain in the corner drug store where our visitor was forced to sit with his back to sterile gauze bandages and Band-Aids. I’m ashamed to say that I sank down in the decades-old chair as he cast a disapproving eye around the leather booths and the counter stools where neighbors greeted each other merrily and talked about prayer meetings and summer gardens.
You and I are friends so I’ll admit that my heart grew heavy as I watched Tink’s joy over his new homeland being punched in the eye and bruised heavily. While my sister chatted brightly, after ordering a pimiento cheese hamburger, I remember thinking, “This is it. Tink will never stay here in the rural South. He’ll go back to the big city.”
Aw, but not only did he stay, he rooted himself so firmly that I now think of him – almost – as one of us. He doesn’t have the history, of course, and that’s mighty important to Southerners. He can’t talk with authority about the Drought of 1986 or the time the nearby little church split in two over a disagreement about fried chicken. From that moment forth, they would be known as No. 1 or No. 2.
“Sooner or later,” Mama used to say, “everything evens out.”
How true that has turned out to be.
One night, not so long after that ill-fated visit, I went looking for Tink. He wasn’t in the house. I meandered outside and, to my surprise, found him laying on his back in the driveway. His arms were folded under his head and one leg was thrown over a bent knee.
“What on earth are you doin’?” I asked, realizing that the crickets and tree frogs were nearly drowning out my voice.
“I’m just enjoying the night,” he replied. It was a half moon, I remember that, and it hung soothingly amidst a sky jammed with glittering stars. It was nothing new for me. I grew up on that red dirt beneath his shoulders and those towering trees had been my friends since I was pulling my little red wagon around. The stream that runs under our driveway and lazily drizzles toward the big creek is where my cousin, Mike, and I used to sit with our fishing poles, homemade from sticks and Mama’s sewing thread, and pretend we’d catch a fish.
The memory of Mike and me sitting by the stream in our little shorts and tee shirts now looks to my memory like the Norman Rockwell calendars that Aunt Ozelle always hung in her kitchen.
I walked over and dropped beside him while the dogs and cats skittered around. “You can’t see the stars in Los Angeles,” he said dreamily, not taking his eyes from the sky.
“What???” I exclaimed. “You’re kiddin’.”
“Too much smog and too much light. It covers the stars.”
I looked up into the litter of stars that I have known always, remembering a similar summer night when I was 4 and knelt, praying that God would drop a chair from heaven because the adults were occupying all the lawn chairs.
“This,” I said quietly, “is why someone would live this far out.”