Whew. What a year, right?

A year when we all found ourselves particularly grateful for the helpfulness of neighbors and the kindness of strangers.

In the midst of uncertainty, Tink and I were enormously blessed. Last December, we were traveling I-20 West, toward our treasured Alluvian in Greenwood, Miss., when, somewhere near Birmingham, a text from his manager binged on Tink’s phone.

“Hallmark wants you to run ‘When Calls The Heart.’”

There was not a second’s hesitation from either of us. It’s one of the top-scripted shows on cable, it has a zealous fan base, and it is set in a small, 1918-era town complete with horses and dusty streets. Good, solid family drama.

By the time we headed east, toward home, somewhere around Talladega, Tink’s manager called to say the deal was done and everyone was excited.

No more excited than John Tinker who had spent our entire time in Greenwood watching the previous seven seasons. His creative juices kicked into high gear, and he became obsessed with storylines for Season 8. By the time we arrived in Memphis for Christmas with Elvis and the Peabody, he was churning away at handwritten pages on yellow legal pads and spending hours in discussions with actors.

On Feb. 24, he packed three suitcases – including his favorite coffee mug – and flew off to Vancouver, Canada, where the series shoots.

Three weeks later, we were video chatting when a headline popped up: Due to the coronavirus, Canada had closed its borders. He would remain there for the next eight months.

Though I joked that Tink was ensconced in a luxury high rise while I was bushhogging in the hot sun of a Deep South summer, the truth is he worked as hard as I did and was more equipped for his job than I was at running the Rondarosa.

Floods. Plagues. Pestilence.

Our little river flooded repeatedly, leaving behind a mess each time. Kudzu grew faster than ever. Anthills multiplied daily and, of course, virus-related illness and deaths visited loved ones.

Through it all, my despair – pretty serious at times – would have been dramatically increased if not for the generosity of neighbors. And one stranger.

Brian Miller is a retired Florida attorney. He and his wife, Judy, spend their summers in the mountains. I’ve never met him, but he was faithful. Every three or four days, he texted, “Are you OK? Anything I can do to help?”

My childhood friends and neighbors, Doug Smith and Jerry Truelove, needed no more than to answer their cell phones and hear me say, “Do you have a second to run over here?” Immediately, they jumped in their trucks and came to the rescue.

“Let me tie up a calf, and I’ll be right there,” Doug said when I called on a Saturday afternoon, worried about a limping horse. He pulled a screwdriver from the toolbox in his truck and dug the stone from Charlie’s hoof.

Another time, he and his beautiful blonde daughter took only minutes to pull our farm truck out of a river bottom where I had gotten it “good and stuck.”

One Saturday, I was racing against a setting sun, trying to finish all bushhogging and tractor work in the pastures, when I sheared a bolt off. (To you non-farmers, this is when the blades hit a big rock and it cuts off the bolt to keep from damaging the bush hog.)

“You wouldn’t want to do your old buddy a favor, would you?” I asked Jerry.

“I’m on my way.”

Southerners often say, “If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”

Without generous folks who put their muscles behind these words, I couldn’t have survived those eight months. And Tink couldn’t have placed his undivided attention on “When Calls The Heart” and an upcoming Godwinks movie for Hallmark.

God bless them all this Thanksgiving.

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Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new book, Let Me Tell You Something. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.

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