Embedded within even the smallest conversation around here are certain customs which are expected to be upheld.
Any inquiry as to your own well-being must be met with “I’m doin’ good,” even if you are not. Especially if you are not. This rule does not apply to your kin, however. If your momma is ill, you can say and should, as likely this will result in some promise of prayer on your momma’s behalf. But if you’re the one sick, that is for someone else to say. You might be coughing up a lung and seeing visions of the dead, but anything other than “I’m doin’ good” will risk word getting out that you’ve turned rude. Lies are part of every interaction. That’s how it’s done.
Complicated, I know.
Chief among these unwritten rules of talk is the salutation one gives upon parting company. Most times, this includes no more than a variation of “goodbye.” (Please, though: if you’re in the Virginia Blue Ridge, don’t ever say “goodbye.” It’s bad enough here to be known as rude, but very much worse to be known as fancy.) “I’ll see ya” is the standard. “Holler at me” also works. “You take care, now” seems a relic of times long past, though we in the mountains are all about relics and so will use this phrase often.
Sometimes a salutation will arise en masse according to some current and dire situation. A system of low pressure stuck over the valley will bring the sage advice to “Stay dry, now.” And there is the always apt “Be careful,” which is not only suitable for any circumstance but also adds a welcome friendly concern. You’ll hear that often, whether at the Food Lion or the Ace or the Dairy Queen. “Be careful” makes you feel good whether you’re the one speaking it or being told.
The past week has given rise to an oldie but a goodie, especially for this time of year. We’ve been below zero for days. Pipes freezing and homes lost to careless fires, extra blankets on the bed and all the dogs inside. So what you’ll hear now is the same for both stranger and friend when ways are parted—“You keep warm.”
Those three words have stuck with me in a way that not even “Be careful” has managed. It’s part plea and part warning with a healthy dose of regard thrown in. Call it a wish for wintertime, January’s version of “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
I’ve read and heard of people who forgo New Year’s resolutions in favor of some word or phrase to base their lives upon for the next twelve months. Hope. Faith. Love. Community. Focus. It can be anything, I guess. I kind of like that idea. My problem is that I’ve never been able to settle on a single thing that could sum up all I wish for others and myself. But I think that’s all been settled now.
You keep warm.
I like it.
That is my prayer for you this year. To keep warm in body but in soul most of all, in heart. To keep loving and hoping and seeing this old world as a beautiful thing worth saving. And I think it’s a fine thing to say to others, because it’s cold out there. All you need is to turn on the news or sit in some coffee shop to know we’re all at each other’s throats. Too much anger and too much hate, too much of those few things about us that are different rather than the many things that are the same.
There’s job stuff to worry about, and all those ills. Kids who grow up overnight. The ones you love most getting sick, getting old. That lump you feel—is that cancer? And what if this Christmas really is the last you’ll spend with your mom, your dad, your husband or wife?
Living is a hard thing. You keep warm.
Pull the ones you love close. Don’t be afraid to say “I love you.” Help a stranger. Take a walk in the woods. Keep warm.
Read a book that will change your life. Seek out beauty. Be good. Turn the other cheek. Always forgive. Sit and be quiet. Don’t be as concerned for present-you as you are for future-you.
Pray. Hope. Believe.