It’s hard to find a good mud hole these days. Have you noticed that? Too much concrete and asphalt.
When I was a kid, few things brought me greater pleasure than a big, mushy, soft mud hole. I couldn’t resist them. I ran barefooted to such an extent that my little feet ignored the prickling of thorns, sweetgum balls or sticks. Once, when I was four, I cut my foot on a broken glass and did not realize it until my sister asked, “What’s that trail of blood?” It ran a zigzag path through the yard, up the steps, across the porch, through the den and halfway through the living room before it was discovered. I should have had stitches but I was unfazed by it as much as Mama who doctored it and wrapped an old rag around it.
There is both pleasure and power in running barefoot. I’d see a mud hole then jump flatfooted into it. Since I preferred playing in dresses as much as Mama would allow, if I wanted to spare my clothes, I would step gingerly in the mud hole and feel the oozing wonderfulness of the silky clay settling between my toes. It was a country child’s version of a spa treatment.
When time came for garden plowing, I danced with excitement, eager to run through the cool, loose dirt. It was one of the biggest treats of summer. Aunt Kathleen laughs about when I was two and dressed in frills and ruffles from church. We were visiting my grandparents so Mama had taken off my lace-edged white socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. A bit later, they looked out just in time to see me plop into a mud hole created by a chicken who had dug it out. Mama, again, was unfazed.
“Leave her alone. It’s probably the first time she’s ever been dirty.”
I think back to the summer when I was 10 and we were in the midst of a week-long revival. After morning service, Mama let me go home with a friend. Her family had an egg farm so I helped pick up stinky eggs and wash them, we listened to an album by Loretta Lynn called “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” that belonged to her brother, played with her sister’s dime store jewelry and helped her mama kill flies that flew through the open windows in the days before air conditioning.
When time approached for night service, we put on our simple, sleeveless flocks and sandals and decided we would walk the mile and a half to church. They lived near a river so we crossed the little bridge then beneath enormous shade trees, we took the red dirt road that would lead us to church. There was no gravel. Since it had rained hard the previous day, it was deep rutted mud that had been churned up into small walls by cars that had sputtered through it. Unperturbed, we took off our sandals and carried on.
“What in the world!” Mama exclaimed when we walked into the church yard. Mud was oozing from between my toes and I was stained with the richness of stubborn red Georgia clay halfway up my legs. There was no plumbing at the church but someone dug out an old rag from a trunk and we cleaned up as best we could. It took days to wash the stain from my feet.
The day that the grader finished the punishing task of fighting rock and dirt to cut a road into where I would build a house, I took off my shoes and, barefooted, walked it. It was February. Mama stood on the bridge, watching with a smile of sweet satisfaction. I turned to her and, with full heart, said, “I’ve come home.”
She nodded. It’s hard to separate a girl from the red mud that raised her.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author.