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Coming out even - Ronda Rich

There was a man I knew once, who lived for a good time. Work, he believed and ardently practiced, was only good for providing a means to an end, the end result being that of his vigorous pursuit of wine, women and song.

Of course, in the case of any decent, self-respecting, old-fashioned Southern redneck, for him it was beer, not wine, but as any Puritan will tell you: The Devil's brew is the devil's brew, no matter what it's called.

He was a loveable man, with a heart as big as the battlefields that stretch across the Old Confederacy. Except when he was drinking long and hard. Then, you best not cross him, for a pretty sight it never was. While a lot of head-shaking and tongue-clucking was often done when the more upright and righteous folks discussed him, there was much about him to be admired.

During his spurts of work, he'd apply himself diligently, knowing that a case of cold brews awaited him later. He cried when he witnessed injustice to person or animal, would fist-fight you over a child who was wronged, and his last dollar would be your first dollar, if ever you were in need.

He was handsome, robust, personable, and in the tradition of John Wayne, he was a man's man. He was also a woman's man, for what woman could resist the twinkle in those eyes and that quick, perfect grin? He grabbed an armful of life and held on, riding it out for all it was worth. His philosophy, unencumbered what man or the Bible said, was simple: Money was made to be spent, not saved; life was meant to be lived, not endured.

When death up and called, grabbing him the scruff of the neck and dragging him away, he was, appropriately, in the midst of having a belly-laughing, good time. It is my belief that we learn from all God's creatures – both the righteous and the renegades. From him, I learned much.

Especially when fate deemed that I should be present when his family picked up his jeans and pulled out of the pocket, all the money he had.

Someone fingered the bills and counted them out aloud. "One hundred and eighty-three dollars," was the pronouncement.

I grinned broadly, then commented, "Well, bless his heart. He just about came out even."

The others laughed for they, too, knew well his devotion to living life large. I continued, "But, boy, would he be mad if he knew that he left that money behind, unspent!" More laughter.

As a contractor worked at my house the other day, he stopped for a moment to tell a story. His brother worked for a large law firm, he said, and the senior partner, 70 years old, was on the edge of dying from cancer.

"They've given him two days to live and he's on morphine. But he keeps calling the office, asking what's going on with this or that, and giving instructions for various cases. Can you imagine? He'll be dead soon, but all he cares about is the office?"

Not me. I'm definitely with the former person in this little parable, not the latter. In fact, my people, poor though they were, have always considered it a triumph over life's woes and challenges to have enough coins left at the end to bury them and settle any meager debts they might possess. Nothing more is necessary.

On my deathbed, should I be coherent and right-minded, I will not be making any calls to check on business. My last call will be to a member of my family, I am certain.

And I know just what I'll say.

"Can you bring me a bowl of ice cream? Make it pralines and cream. Buy the most expensive and the most fattening. And hurry, before it's too late."

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.