Self-reliance is a hallmark of rural life. Growing up on a
small farm east of the Blue Ridge, raised by hard-working
parents who were themselves the children of generations of
stern, tight-lipped Midwestern farmers, I learned at an early age to be
independent. My parents’ firmest lesson was that I should rely on no one if
I could help it. They urged me to learn to do as many things as I could
possibly learn to do, from plowing a garden and painting a house to doing my
own taxes and fighting my own battles with the bullies of the world.
It was and is a lifestyle many other country residents
will readily recognize. Rightly or wrongly, those of us who have been raised
close to the land and have learned to contend with the vagaries of isolation
and weather tend to look askance at people who ask for too much help. I
remember a couple of years ago when a family member suggested I hire someone
to help around the farm while my husband was overseas and my daughter was
still a tiny newborn, I replied brusquely that if I needed help, then I had
no business living in Highland County.
Sometimes we country folks can be a little too proud.
With October being Cooperative Month, it might be worth
remembering that good things often result when rural people come together
and help one another. We may know this deep down because we’ve watched
neighbors come to the rescue when tragedy strikes or when a major need
arises. But what about everyday needs? Before you do as I have done on more
than one occasion and cross your arms and declare yourself entirely
self-reliant, recall the times when neighbors have gone out of their way for
I remember several years ago, when I was building my new
house, how essential the little country store in Blue Grass became. On the
surface, it seems little more than a grocery store, but over the course of
my house-building project, I managed to find everything from stovepipes to
surgical gloves on the shelves. One day when my father went down there
looking for a circuit breaker, hoping on a long shot they might sell such a
thing, he was disappointed to learn they didn’t. Never fear, however. One of
the store’s owners ran across the street to his own private workshop, pulled
one out of a box, blew off the dust, and gave it to my dad.
It may seem a small thing, but how many times have you
walked into a major home-improvement store or a grocery store in the city
and found the staff to be all but indifferent to you? How many, do you
think, would share with you a portion of their own personal stock of tools
just to ensure you good customer service? If you want someone in the service
industry to care about your happiness, chances are good you won’t find that
person in the city.
Nor are you likely to find yourself rescued by the first
person who drives by you on a highway when you have a flat tire. Not long
ago, a VDOT snowplow drove me into the ditch about a mile from my house. The
driver, believe it or not, declined to assist me. But the very next person
to drive along didn’t. As it happened, he was missing an arm. A few minutes
later, my elderly neighbor drove up. Ironically, he had recently suffered an
accident and had one of his usually good arms in a sling. No matter. Within
10 minutes, the one-armed stranger and the broken-armed neighbor had wrapped
a chain around the front axle of my car and pulled me out of the snowy ditch
with a pick-up truck. I’m pretty certain had I been waylaid this way along
I-64, I would have had to call for roadside assistance from my insurance
company while dozens of automobiles whizzed by.
So often, kindness in the country is accidental. This
leads us to continue along in the belief that we are self-reliant, needing
no one. But the fact is, we do need each other, and sometimes there’s
nothing wrong with saying so. Two years ago when my newborn daughter was ill
and had been crying nonstop for almost three days, I found myself one
evening about 9 p.m. on the verge of collapse from lack of sleep and lack of
relief from child care. I called my parents, my close girlfriends — no one
was home, and I was wondering how I would make it through another exhausting
night. I remembered how one of my neighbors had earlier advised me to call
on her for help with the baby if I ever needed it. I thought, at the time,
it was one of those careless statements people make, thinking you’ll likely
never follow through and ask.
I made a leap of faith, dialed her number, and got the
answering machine. Bravely, I left a message, telling her how exhausted I
was and asking if she could come watch my daughter for just a couple hours
so I could sleep. The phone rang five minutes later. “I’m sorry. I was in
the barn,” she said quickly. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” And sure
enough, she came, not just with the rescue of companionship, but with a hot
meal of her own farm-raised lamb, rice, and homemade oatmeal muffins —
enough, I might add, to save me from cooking for a good three days.
Blessed are good neighbors. Are they really that few and
far between? Probably not. We just have to be brave enough to ask for help
... and to give it.
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