After Sunday dinner, while the others cleaned, talked or dealt with children, I sat down in a recliner matching the one Rodney was in. I inhaled deeply and leaned forward, my elbows resting on my knees.
“Rodney, I hate to ask you this.” Clearly I did. It was hard. “I know you’re so busy.”
Sincerely, without knowing the request, he said, “I’m glad when you ask me. It means a lot.”
I hate to ask for help. Not because I’m too proud but because I know in some way, it inconveniences someone at best and, at worst, puts them behind in their own work. As one who has not been caught up since 2009, I have lots of sympathy for people fighting this kind of losing battle. I especially hate to ask Rodney because he has been behind since 1989, at least. Everyone asks him for help. Every day. Everything from helping a fellow farmer to babysitting grandkids to doing something for the church.
Several years ago, I was in a bind. While cutting grass with the riding mower, I hit a piece of wood that jammed firmly, tightly, in the blades. Try as I might, I could not dislodge it. Within minutes of my call, Rodney arrived, laid down on his back on the driveway and worked for 15 minutes before he removed it.
“Well,” he said, “I reckon I’ll get me some lunch.” He looked at his watch. “I ain’t got one thing done today that I planned to do.” Then, he recounted all the people who had called and asked for his help so he laid aside his work to help others.” It was 1:30 p.m. He had started at six.
So, it’s hard to ask for his help but what I needed, I trusted only Rodney. We had recently bought a tractor and Tink was out of town, producing a television series.
“Would you teach me how to bush hog?” I asked. I’m past the point of counting on people to show up and work. Sometimes, they do. Most times, they don’t. And when they don’t, almost without exception, they don’t call. It takes more time to schedule than keep up with who’s not coming than it does just to do the work. It takes a lot of time just being mad about it, too.
Rodney nodded. “Mostly, be careful. You can get killed on a bush hog.”
This advice I got from most, usually accompanied by a gristly story of someone who did. I asked my childhood friend and longtime farmer, Jerry, if he had advice. “Yeah. Be careful. You can get killed on them things.”
My confidence sufficiently buoyed by all this advice, I nervously listened to Rodney’s first lesson. I might have retreated had it not been Kabe Cain who sold us the tractor and is a solid friend who is always honest and honorable. Kabe delivered the tractor and explained things mechanically. I had studied the instruction manual seriously.
Kabe said, “You can do this. I wouldn’t sell you something that I thought you’d get killed on. Just always remember to put your seat belt on.”
Rodney turned out to be the perfect teacher. Even though he didn’t put his seat belt on. He explained and reassured. Carefully, I began to practice his teaching. I called one day with a question.
“Do you think I can cross that pipe in the stream to get to the front pasture?” It was scarily narrow.
“If it’s wide enough.”
“No joke,” I replied wryly.
“Lift the bucket up on the front so it’s higher than the fence, lift the bush hog and just ease along. Don’t do it when it’s wet.”
I took a deep breath, prayed and did exactly what Rodney instructed.
“I did it!” I called, jubilantly.
He chuckled. “Glad I could help you.”
And, really, he was.
Ronda Rich, author of the “What Southern Women Know. . .” series, writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.