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"Cover the Ground" by Charles E. Rice

A selection from The View from My Ridge by Charles E. Rice

Grandma (Annie Vaughn) Billings, circa 1945

Growing up in a mill town teaches one violence—and survival tactics. Pietistic religion can add confusion to the expectations. "Turn the other cheek," etc., were taught on Sunday. Those who were not sensitive to logic didn't let this contradiction bother them. I was born with a sometimes painful sense of logic. Also, I was born to be smaller than most of the kids I grew up with.

Very early, I had to adjust my logic, or develop skills of self-defense, or discover survival by sheer wit. And I had to find ways to adopt either choice to some philosophy of the content of life. Again Grandma Billings proved the philosopher. When I asked her about how to deal with a "fight" situation, she answered, "Cover the ground where you stand." That sounded reasonable, and gave me a sense of resolve.

Then I learned from the rest of my life thus far that the trick is deciding which "ground" to cover. Deciding what's worth defending, and when to retreat, and when to simply out-smart a would-be attack—that's the essence of deciding.

But Grandma, again, was wise. Even that tough orbit of decisions is more profound than the habitual questions of "How can I win?" The question instead is, "What is my ground?" I have not out-grown that basic question.

Since childhood, I have fought here and there, I have run here and there, and I have even "won" here and there ... and lost. All these episodes, in childhood or middle age, add up to making me ask once more, "which ground is worth covering?" ... and, pray, stand there.


The View from My Ridge is a collection of finely crafted micro-essays offering a unique perspective on the spirit and personality of the mid-twentieth century American South—an era marked by the Great Depression, World War II and Korea, the “innocent” fifties and the turbulent sixties. The voice is that of an author in the midst of his own evolution from naïve mill-town boy to highly educated Episcopal priest and ever-questioning theologian.

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