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Ronda Rich: The awakening of kin and family ties
ronda rich
Ronda Ronda Rich is the author of "Theres A Better Day A-Comin." - photo by File photo

Ronda Rich

Syndicated Columnist

A significant awakening swept over me recently. When it happened, I was happily stunned at my observation.

Daddy had a close first cousin named Gurley. Tink, a Yankee, had never heard of degrees of cousins until he came South. He did not know what a “first” cousin was or how you became third cousins.

“In my family, we were just cousins,” he replied, puzzled.

Aw, but in the South, cousin degrees are important. I and a friend were discussing once, someone we both knew.

“We’re cousins,” I said.

“Really? How?

“Our daddies were first cousins.” “And that would make you what? Third cousins?”


Of course, there’s always those no-accounts that we don’t like to claim so we’ll often say, when pressed, “We’re distant kin. Not close enough to count.”

Once, as I talked about Gurley being the brother Daddy never had, Tink asked, starting to learn the importance of degrees, “They were first cousins?”

“Double first cousins.”

Surprise sprung into his eyes.

“What’s that?”

“That’s when two brothers marry two sisters so their children are first cousins two times.”

It’s probably not fair to say it was horror that swept across Tink’s face but it was, at least, second cousin kin to horror. “So, that’s really does happen in the mountains.”

I rolled my eyes. “Not that way.

It’s when a set of brothers from one family marries a set of sisters from another family.”

Daddy and Gurley, being so closely kin, both possessed AB negative blood, the rarest blood type. When Gurley was cut up badly in a sawmill accident and bleeding to death, the hospital could not get AB negative. Gurley’s wife, Idell, said, “Call Ralph. He has AB negative.”

Daddy hurried to the hospital and his blood donation saved Gurley, creating an even tighter bond between them.

It was out of the Appalachian foothills, this Satterfield clan of men came, wearing only the clothes on their backs and carrying Bibles in their hands. In the lowlands, they worked hard, eager to escape the poverty in which they had been raised. They settled in the same town, making their ties forever unbreakable. For the first half of their lives, Gurley and Daddy lived next door to each other in tiny houses they built.

Daddy was the first able to afford to build a small brick house then he helped Gurley build a similar house using the same house plan.

The clan had all the good and bad Appalachian qualities. They were mountain “quare,” hard to understand, set in their ways and once they “fell out” with you, they didn’t fall back in. But the good qualities were outstanding: They were devoted to the Lord, wore out several Bibles over a lifetime, possessed strong work ethics deeply embedded in their bones and they took admirable care of their families and any other family that needed help.

Many were the times that I walked into Daddy’s car repair garage and found the two of them, Bibles in hands, discussing the scriptures.

Once, Gurley interrupted a church sermon to stand up and say, “Excuse me, preacher, but that’s not what the Bible says.” Then he explained it to a jot and tittle.

My awakening came on the night, the Satterfield clan gathered at a funeral visitation to observe the homegoing of Gurley’s wife.

I looked around at the room of cousins – all second and third – and realized what a family these mountain folks had “brung up.” All are God-fearing, church-attending and successful citizens: Registered nurses, a pharmacist, a postmaster, military, one retired in management from Wrigley’s and another, after 35 years, who is in management with Johnson and Johnson.

Two have been appointed by governors to sit on state boards.

It reminded me of what my Sunday school teacher used to say, “You can go anywhere from right here in this little country town.”

To quote Daddy, “The truth don’t lie.”

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new novel: “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.”

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