The great Bill Kauffman, who left DC to return to his small-town New York home (and wrote about it in this book), delivers a good review of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming in the Wall Street Journal. Thank you, Bill! Excerpts:
Mr. Dreher’s recounting of Ruthie’s illness is quite moving, though it can cut unbearably close to the bone, as when we encounter their father crying to God, “Just take me, make me sick, make me go, not my little girl.”
Although Rod was in Philadelphia when Ruthie died, his journalistic talents enable him to describe the day in painful detail. It is a harrowing scene, superabundant with grief, and yet a “bright sadness” lighted Ruthie’s home in the days after her death. Friends and family gathered amid jambalaya and beer, laughing and crying and telling stories.
That required a lot of painstaking reporting. I started the day in Philadelphia, and ended it in Ruthie’s kitchen, late at night. Almost everything in that chapter is recreated from extensive interviews with people who had been part of the drama. It was excruciating for them, reliving that day. I have those remembrances digitally recorded, if Ruthie’s children or grandchildren ever want them. But the events of the day are now on the record. More:
The testimony from Ruthie’s largely African-American students is compelling. “Sweet baby, what can I do to help you?” she would ask even the troublemakers, and to the bright kids she was a godsend. A little girl named Lyric asked at Ruthie’s wake, “Mrs. Leming is dead. Who is going to love me now?”
Not 10 minutes ago, I signed a book for Lyric Haynes. She told her teachers that she wanted a copy of Mrs. Leming’s book, so they bought one for her. Abby’s husband Doug just came by with it for me to sign. I told Lyric in the inscription that Mrs. Leming loves her still.
Swept away by the freshet of love that St. Francisville had shown Ruthie, Rod and his family moved back. The act, impulsive on its face, was long in coming. In his exile Rod had dined out on the gothic exoticism of Louisiana, but Ruthie’s 19 months on the cross had taught her brother not only about suffering but about St. Francisville. The “purity of love these people showed to our family was so intensely beautiful,” he writes, that it made the rootless life of the upwardly mobile professional seem spiritually exiguous. Rod Dreher needed solidity. He wanted a place—and a people—to which to belong.
His motivation for repatriation was as much external (inspired by Ruthie’s serenity in the enveloping arms of St. Francisville) as internal, so the reader is left to wonder if this prodigal’s homecoming will be a brief sojourn or a long haul.
The readers should know that the author fully expects to be here for the long haul, and deeply desires to be. The only thing that would keep us from that is if we had to move so writer daddy could support his family. The sad reality of this kind of story is so many people who would like to have a homecoming can’t because of economic reality; there are no jobs back home. I think, though, there are a number of people who could find something good enough to do back home, and for whom settling on a good-enough job would be more than compensated by the gift of being home. For at least some of these people, may Little Way serve as an inspiration for what is possible.