Ronda Rich: I miss getting a sore thumb from hard work

In the summers of late, summers where I and not Mama tell myself what to do, it is the sore thumb I miss the most.

Just the other day, I rubbed my pointer finger over the edge of my thumb and I missed the tenderness that attached itself to that appendage and stayed there from July until mid-August.

Oh, I had a couple of pricks and ouches on that thumb. I had picked up a splinter from the boarded fence at the barn when I was feeding the horses. Then, the next day, as I trimmed the rose bushes — with gloves on — I had stuck a thorn in and ripped a bit of flesh away. I’m a farm girl, though, who pays little attention to any such. That’s how I was raised. I’d see Mama with a cut on her hand and ask, “How’d you get that?” She’d shrug and say, “I don’t know how I did that.”

Or I’d see Daddy come in from a day of bush hogging, his forearms scratched and bubbled up with tiny droplets of blood. “Are you OK?” I asked, concerned. He barely glanced at all the damage. “Yeeaaahhh,” he drawled out. “I just got caught up in some briar bushes.”

Now, it’s Tink’s turn to ask me about the bumps, bruises, scratched and torn skin. Like Mama and Daddy, I usually shrug it off and, just like them, I usually say, “I don’t know how I did that.” It seemed odd to me when I was a child and was asked that, but now I realize that you get so caught up in the work that  you don’t feel the pain of the injury. Or, if you do, you brush it off and go back to work.

But that sore thumb of my childhood years? I miss it and it never occurred to me I would. It was so tender. “Like a risin’,” Mama would say about something that was particularly painful on the skin.

I realized I missed it when I was telling a friend about keeping every scrap of paper that Mama had written on. “On the fridge, I put a little piece of paper that I found in some crowder peas that Mama had put up the summer before she died. It says, ‘Wash before cooking.’”

We laughed about it but, in a moment, in the way that a memory has of tagging itself onto another, I remembered the sore thumb. When the field peas came in to our summer garden, Mama would pick them, then hand over the baskets to me to shell. I wish I had a day back with Mama for every hour I shelled peas. We’d still have a lifetime. As you may know, you break the top, pull the string, then use your thumb to clear the pod of the peas. It’s that part that will eventually make the healthiest thumb as sore as a “rising.”

Oh, I’ve spent many a summer evening in the porch glider, pushing through the un-comfortableness to keep a steady supply of peas going to the kitchen where Mama was blanching and piling them into plastic baggies to freeze. Sometimes, she would join me on the porch as the quietness of the summer evening settled around us and the lightning bugs lit the dusk.

The other night, we stopped for dinner in a little rural town. A farmer, evidenced by his boots and clothes, brought in two strapping boys. They sat in the booth across from us. All three pulled out phones and immersed themselves in texting while waiting for their food. No stories were shared, no memories were built. I shook my head and thought about it.

I’d rather have a sore thumb from shelling peas with my Mama on the front porch than texting with my parent in a restaurant.

Here’s a salute to the right kind of sore thumb.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes Tuesdays.

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