It was when I was approaching 7 and about to wrap up the first grade, where I reigned as the No. 1 reader of books as well as the No. 1 talker, that Daddy decided it was time to teach me a skill that he determined would be as necessary to me in life as reading and talking.
My parents, as you probably recall, had both grown up in the mountains where their parents focused on teaching them survival skills.
This they took seriously so they put equal focus on teaching their own children. Mama taught me to sew. I spent the ages of 3 to 5 standing behind her in a chair as she labored over her sewing machine, watching every move.
They bought me a miniature sewing machine so by the age of 6 I was designing and sewing clothes for my Barbie doll. When I was 7, I sewed my first dress by myself then I progressed to making my own clothes.
I began cooking, cleaning house and learning to wash clothes by separating colors before I began school. I would stand on tiptoe and put the clothes in the washer then pour in the granules of Tide. Mama would teach me Bible stories then Daddy would listen, smiling, as I stood in the center of the den and presented to him those stories that I had learned.
With Mama having done her right and proper job of teaching, Daddy then moved in to teach what he knew: feeding cows, riding horses, mowing grass and on some Saturdays, I would ride the Ford tractor with him as he pulled the bush hog to cut the pastures.
One morning, midway through my first-grade year, Daddy reached for the brimmed hat he always wore, which hung on a nail near the kitchen door.
As he placed it at a particular angle on his head, he said, “Be ready this afternoon about four. I’ll be by to get you. We’re goin’ up to the farm. I got somethin’ I wanna show you.”
When he arrived in his old, black ’57 Chevy pick-up with the cattle bed on it, the one that always drew me into great embarrassment on the few occasions when he picked me up at school, I crawled up into the cab and off we sputtered and shook toward our farm that was about 30 minutes from our house.
“OK, little ’un,” he said as he pulled up the dirt road into the farm and stopped in a place between the small lake and a field. “Get all those Coke bottles and bleach bottles out of the back of the truck.” He pulled out a small shotgun. “Today, I’m gonna learn you how to shoot a gun.”
He lined up the bottles then walked back to me. Carefully, he explained how to position the gun on my shoulder, target the bottles through the sight, how to aim and how to pull the trigger. “Now, this thing is gonna kick when you shoot it so stand firm and hold on.”
I was tiny. A petite child who didn’t weigh much. I planted my feet, aimed and squeezed the trigger. The kick was so hard that I went flying backwards, my feet jumped out from under me and I hit the ground. Daddy helped me up and said, “Well, little ’un, you did it. You shattered the Coke bottle. Now, let’s go again. Plant your feet.”
By the end of the afternoon, I was still hitting targets and, finally, I was able to take the kick and keep on standing. The bruise on my right shoulder took a week to heal but I learned more than just shooting that afternoon.
I learned to keep getting up no matter how many times you’re knocked down and how to stand your ground.
I can still hit my target, too.
Ronda Rich, author of ‘What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should,’ writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.