Mama’s favorite phrase when I was growing up — particularly during the defiant teenage years, especially when I sassed her — was “you’re gonna pay for your raising one day, little lady. Let me assure you of that. You just wait until you have children and see how they behave.”
She repeated it so often that it became ingrained in my subconscience, and I began to worry over that. Life is full of enough problems without volunteering to bring more upon yourself. So I decided to outsmart Mama and the powers of fate by not having children. After all, if you don’t have children, how can you possibly pay for your previously childish ways?
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I’ve outsmarted myself. Perhaps I’ve missed a good opportunity to leave behind wisdom and lessons of experience that my children could have passed on to their children and they to their children. Perhaps something that I’ve learned down this journey of life would have helped someone two generations from now.
All this started playing in my mind when I wrote my latest book, “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Those words were the mantra of my parents, passed down to them from their folks, those hard-working, barely-getting-by people of the Appalachian foothills. For generations, the only way my people could make it when the skies refused to rain and crops were dying was to assure one another, “There’s a better day a-comin’. Just wait and see.”
Mama and Daddy lived by that promise, and I learned — finally — that better days do come again. They always do. No matter how hard or sad times are, better days always return. And sometimes, a better day arrives when you least expect it.
As I wrote this book, with its stories of promise and people who refused to give up when adversity rolled with the weight of a dump truck over them, I found that I repeatedly quoted Mama and Daddy. I shared their wisdom, so pure, so true and so simple.
“Be careful what you tell your best friend,” Mama opined. “She may not always be your best friend. And when she’s not, she’ll tell your secrets.”
“A man who lies to you will steal from you,” Daddy said adamantly.
“The best a man will ever treat you is before he marries you,” Mama often counseled to any young woman seeking her counsel. “If you don’t like it now, you’re sure not gonna like it later.”
“When you pray about something, put it in the Lord’s hands and walk away from it,” Daddy lectured. “Don’t keep pestering him with it. Pray about it, release it, then stand on your faith.”
This barely scratches the surface of their wisdom. They were thinkers who watched life, studied on the human behavior of others and assimilated observations from it all. Repeatedly, I quoted them because often there was the moral to a story that could be summed up in a quote from them.
Equally, though, I quoted myself taking away from experiences — both personally and those of others — bits and pieces of wisdom. From Mama and Daddy, I learned that every situation has a “takeaway,” some things to be remembered and learned from, including some actions never to be repeated.
“It only takes one yes to wipe out a thousand no’s,” is a self-penned mantra that I developed when first trying to capture the attention of publishers.
“Courage comes by choice and not by chance,” was learned while observing heroes up close and personal. It inspired a chapter about the ones who taught me. As I proofed the book, I realized that I had outsmarted myself.
Sure, I don’t have to pay for my raising, but I’ve also missed the opportunity to pay it forward.
Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.”