A reader in a small Southern town writes:
On the subject of returning home: I remembered something my dad told me once — they lived close to us and would come over for dinner, etc, a good bit. We had been discussing my brother in NY and how they saw him maybe once or twice a year (always at my parents’ instigation). My dad said: even with everything that you have/will have to deal with, you have the better part. I kind of laughed; he looked at me very seriously and said again: you really have. And he was right. My brother has memories of all the hurts he experienced as a child — I have the memories of knowing my parents as people/as an adult. Of my dad showing up with his weedeater and trimming our yard — of me wishing he would stay in his own yard. And of being with them both when they died — of holding their hands and reading Psalms and calling the coroner. It’s hard, big, real and dirty.
My mother, driving us to the airport this morning: “A little black girl who had been one of Ruthie’s students said to me at the wake: ‘Miss Leming is dead. Who is going to love me now?’ I’ll never forget that.”
Did she ever tell you about the presence in her room? No? It happened one night not long after she got sick. She told me she couldn’t sleep. She was having trouble, and she was scared to death. She was lying in her bed looking out the window, praying, praying, praying. She was asking God to help her not to be scared. She told me that she became aware that there was a presence standing in the doorway of their bedroom, behind her. She could see something out of the corner of her eye, but she wouldn’t turn over and look at it. After it left, she was never afraid again.
(Ruthie’s husband: “That’s true. She told me it felt like a physical weight was lifted off of her that night.”)
A St. Francisville friend:
On the day of Ruthie’s funeral, [N.] walked into the post office. He ran into a black lady he knows. I don’t know her name. She said to him, “Sure are a lot of cars in town today.” N. told her that Ruthie Leming’s funeral was today. She said, ‘Oh, that lady died? I saw her in here just last week. I said to her, ‘Baby, you don’t look like you feel too good.’ She said, ‘No ma’am, I don’t. But I’m gonna be good real soon.’
It’s hard, real, big, and dirty. And it’s a thing of beauty.
(Photo: a digital snapshot of a snapshot of my late sister Ruthie skinning a buck in bare feet:)