Helping Hands in the Country


by Deborah R. Huso, Contributing Writer

Deborah Huso
Deborah R. Huso

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 you.

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. 

Whats Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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