Back in the autumn — just as the leaves began to hint of the enchanting oranges, yellows and reds to come — we took a Monday off and headed to the state fair.
I was astounded to learn that it was my husband’s first fair, other than a couple of rinky-dink fairs in shopping-center parking lots, for to me, nothing announces fall’s arrival more than football season, state fairs and carnivals with hayrides and pumpkin-decorating contests.
We were looking forward to seeing the livestock and horses, so we were disappointed to learn that the animals take Mondays off. Except for four milk cows, the enormous barns were practically empty. Tink was a bit crestfallen. He had been on the fair’s website the night before, planning all the places to see agriculturally.
Thanks to our friends John and Cinda, we had a golf cart, so while Tink was out of the cart buying a hot dog, I called my childhood friend, Jerry Truelove — a well-respected dairy farmer who sits on several dairy-related boards.
When Jerry answered, I explained the disappointment at not seeing all the cows and horses.
“But there are four milk cows here. Could you arrange for Tink to learn how to milk a cow?”
“I can make that happen. Let me make a call.”
A few minutes later, he called back.
“Go over to the red barn and ask for Nicole. She works with the Georgia Commodity Commission for milk. She’s going to teach him to milk a cow.”
Now, you probably think that this story is about my citified husband from California learning to milk a cow. It is not — though I will say he loved the surprise like a child would and learned quickly how to squeeze the milk from the cow’s udders and enjoyed every second of it.
This is about how a Southerner makes an introduction, especially when there’s a connection of some kind.
Rather than just offer my hand and introduce myself by name, I said, as would any typical Southerner, “I’m Ronda Rich, Jerry Truelove’s friend. We grew up together. In fact, I have known him since the day I was born. We were in the hospital nursery together. He was born the day before me. His daddy kept my daddy company in the waiting room while I was being born. We graduated together. And we’re still neighbors after all these years. Friday night, I made chili and cornbread muffins, so I called him to come over and join us for supper.”
All this before poor Nicole had a chance to say a word.
You know it’s true, though. Connections and familiarity are important to the people of the South. When you meet someone, your name isn’t nearly as interesting as who you know. Or, more importantly, who you’re kin to.
“Do you remember the gas station where you used to fill your car and get it washed way back when you were in college?” asked a man who approached me after a speaking engagement. “Well, that was my brother’s station. I’m the youngest. There were four of us. Three boys and a girl.”
Of course I remembered, so we talked for five minutes before I had to ask, “So, what is your name?”
Several years ago, I was at Matthews Printing talking to folks I have known forever.
“Do you know Margie?” I asked. “Oh, of course you do. Her brother, Jim, used to work at the newspaper. Then he went to the radio station. He’s married to Slim Delong’s sister, Evie. The ones who have the big cancer fundraiser at their farm every year.”
Suddenly, I stopped as it dawned on me.
“Oh, no. I have become my mother. I have to give the genealogy of every person I mention.”
Actually, though, I had just bloomed into the quintessential Southerner, because we don’t really know you unless we know who you are.
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