We were enjoying one of those days where our friends loan us their kids, when a disaster of unimaginable consequences occurred.
Little Josey took a tumble as she was chasing her older sister across the playground, and for just a moment, I was faced with the thing that frightens even the hairiest, burliest men—a crying child.
Josey’s brimming blue eyes peered up at me from the playground. Defying the logic exercised by other kids her age, she raised her arms to me, tiny little hands outstretched.
“Want Miss Rhonda,” she said. I dutifully turned her over to my wife; Rhonda smiled, and the scraped knee was suddenly no longer a big deal.
My wife has always had such a healing touch; whilst I doubt my own skills as a father, Miss Rhonda would have made a wonderful mother. She has the tone of voice, the touch, the compassion I’ve seen in both her own mom and my own. It’s one reason Rhonda is who she is.
I was hurting, for a variety of reasons, when we met; none of those matter now, but she had a way of healing those hurts as well. My wife has always had that skill.
This is not to say she hasn’t had her defeats amongst her victories. Her tears have flowed and her voice cracked when we’ve lost young kittens and old dogs, or young wild things and tired old horses, or young friends and old family. Whether they were hopeless cases or those which inexplicably turn bad, she has always been the one to stay up all night, feeding and cleaning sick critters every two hours, or putting up with the confused anger and rancor that come with cognitive disorders, or the plain lack of justice that is sometimes a part of life.
When we said goodbye to her old gelding Fella, she was there beside me, wielding a shovel through the heat of the day and into the evening; she did the same when we buried beloved dogs and cats. When we buried my parents, Rhonda attended every detail that didn’t need my particular attention.
Rare has been the time when someone called her and asked for help—with an elderly parent, a young child, an orphaned critter or the runt of the litter—when Rhonda has not stepped up to the plate to help.
I remember distinctly one evening when she had gone to town for just a quick grocery store run and to get something I needed to fix my truck. Several hours after she left, as I was beginning to worry, she called, apologizing. She had come up on a wreck, and noticed a little kid beside the road, bawling his eyes out. There was no question what she had to do—stranger or no, she approached the child, who was awash in fear and chaos in a world of red and blue lights, strangers and loud voices—and Rhonda made friends. She stayed with him at the hospital until other members of the family arrived; one of them had a phone that she could use. The hospital staff had been a bit too busy to keep their promise to call me.
I know men who love their wives, but are not necessarily in love with their wives. I am blessed that I can say both. Her smile calmed me that miserably hot day 22 years ago, when even the June corn cried out for mercy, when her dad tried to give her one last chance to flee the church, when the wedding director had hurt my father’s feelings and the cake never showed up and my oldest sister got in the photographer’s way. My best man was intentionally picking at me, I was worried that the job I had been promised wouldn’t come to fruition (it didn’t) and I was worried she would come through the doors of that old country church, take one look and change her mind.
Instead, she smiled at me.
I’ve seen that smile a million times since then, I guess, usually when it was most needed—when one misadventure or another made life more exciting than it needed to be, or when there was steel in the eyes behind that smile as she recalled admonitions from her mother and mine to be a lady, even when she wanted to, as she puts it, “crawl up somebody’s head” to defend her husband.
She takes delight in the things I love—the outdoors, critters, God, old movies, hunting, trapping, fishing, old cars and trucks, long country roads, rambling old houses, little children and old people. I have stretched her patience more times than any woman deserves, yet for some reason, she still loves me, and has, so she says since we first met, nigh onto 23 years ago, sealing that bond in her daddy’s church less than a year later.
I have often said that little children have more sense than grownups, and Josey (along with the other members of Rhonda’s Sunday school class) are perfect examples of that.
“Want Miss Rhonda,” Josey said. Indeed—so would anyone with half a grain of sense.
Happy anniversary, Dolly. I love you, and thank you.