In those days, the ones of my cherished youth, my cousin Ronnie, a year older than I, worked for my daddy. Ronnie had cotton-colored hair and a face that, like mine, was smattered with freckles.
He had what the lucky ones on Daddy’s side of the family inherit: a quick-thinking sense of humor that is succinct, clever and smart.
While I remember many good things about my sweet-spirited cousin, the thing I remember most (and admire beyond explanation) is how he trailed around behind Daddy, hanging on to his every word and carefully processing his advice.
I guess he was around 14 when he started working parttime for Daddy, helping him around his garage after school during the week and spending all day on Saturday doing farm work.
Ronnie was then and still is a hard worker who gives a good day’s work for a wage and then considers carefully how he spends each dollar. Daddy taught him how to change a carburetor, repair a transmission, fix a contrary tractor, bush hog through a yellow jackets’ nest, doctor an ailing cow and do business on a handshake alone.
Aside from that, he learned what Daddy taught best: Life and the wisdom that its lessons deliver.
In my mind, I clearly recall how Ronnie would listen intently to anything that Daddy said. Sometimes I’d stop by the shop and find them hanging out with Daddy sitting at his desk and Ronnie leaned back in a chair in front of the Coke machine with his long legs stretched to full extension. Daddy would be extolling on this or that and Ronnie would be nodding, his eyes squinted slightly, as he absorbed fully whatever was said. Daddy enjoyed teaching. Ronnie enjoyed learning.
“Now, let me tell you one thing,” Daddy would be saying about someone who had just walked out. “Don’t you ever do business with that sorry son-of-gun. He’ll set your little field on fire. Lemme tell you what he tried to pull on ol’ Ralph one time.”
Or on a Saturday, they’d be herding cows from the pasture at home to take to our bigger farm when Ronnie, smart but youthfully naïve, would make a mistake of some kind.
“Boy, I’m gonna learn you a thing or two,” Daddy’s voice would boom. “You can’t do that around a bull. He’ll clean your plow for you.”
Whatever Daddy said was both law and gospel to Ronnie, for he had an unerring sense to be drawn to a man of hard-earned wisdom, listen to it and learn from it.
I remember that in those days, I was proud of both the young man and the old one. Then I didn’t realize exactly why, but now I know: Each one innately knew and accepted a responsibility. Daddy wanted to pass his teachings along and Ronnie wanted to accept them. It is hard to say who was wiser.
When Daddy was dying, Ronnie came to the hospital. Sorrow covered him like an ill-fitting cloak. He sat in the corner of the waiting room and sadly gazed out the window, pensive in thought over losing a hero.
Brandon came to work for me several years ago when he was 17 and reminded me much of my cousin in both looks — sans freckles — and attitude. He was earnest, smart and willing to work hard, so I invested in him as Daddy had invested in Ronnie.
Once when he didn’t keep his word to me and I gave him a strong life’s teaching about honor, Brandon said humbly, “Yes ma’am. Miss Ronda, I’m young and I’m still learning but I won’t do that again.”
And, he didn’t.
The future belongs to both those in age and those in youth. May we all be wise enough to know when to teach and when to learn, for to each there is a season.