Starhill, Louisiana

Starhill, Louisiana

This afternoon, we went to the Leming home in Starhill for a late Christmas lunch. The weather was nice outside, so Ruthie and Mike’s girls moved the family dining table out onto the front porch, so we could eat al fresco. As we were gathering at the table, Hannah put a Spotify or Pandora channel on. There was a Tracy Chapman song, then a song I didn’t recognize. It was not a set playlist, but one of those random mix channels.

I’m not making this up: the moment, the very moment that all of us sat down to say grace, the Van Morrison song “Brown-Eyed Girl” began to play over the speakers.

Here’s a passage from The Little Way of Ruthie Leming:


At lunch today, when the first notes struck our ears, we all looked at each other with big eyes. Mam fought back tears. “She’s here with us now,” Mam said. And none of us doubted it a bit.

Just to emphasize the significance of this song in Ruthie’s life, here’s a clip from Leming Aid, the 2010 fundraiser Ruthie’s friends in St. Francisville threw to help with her medical bills after she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. You’ll see below Ruthie dancing with Mike, as well as our parents, Mam and Paw (who died in 2015) doing a turn around the dance floor. The singer is our cousin Emily Branton:

Here’s how I described this scene in Little Way:

By the time the sun went down a crowd of five hundred people milled around under the barn. Suddenly a few people at the far side began to cheer. Everyone turned to see Ruthie and Mike slowly making their way into the arena. Then an enormous whoop broke over the crowd like a thunderclap. Everyone stood, yelled, applauded. Ruthie, her bald head hidden under a baseball cap, brought her hands to her swollen face and stopped, overcome by emotion. Mike, beaming, steadied her and walked toward the front row of chairs. Ruthie sat with her head down for a few minutes, crying and gathering herself before beginning to receive a long line of well-wishers.

Our folksinger cousin Emily Branton opened the show. After several number Emily struck some familiar chords, then sang:

Hey, where did we go,

Days when the rains came…

Mike helped Ruthie to her feet, and led his girl to the dance floor. They couldn’t do much, given her shortness of breath, but they held each other close, Ruthie staring up at her husband with her chestnut eyes, smiling broadly through her pain.

“We love you so much, Brown Eyed Girl!” Emily called from the stage. Ruthie grinned and waved with both hands.

Had “Brown-Eyed Girl” played at some point during the dinner, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised. It’s a golden oldie. But at the very moment we all fell silent to say grace for Christmas lunch on Ruthie’s front porch, with Mike, the Leming girls, and Mam gathered round?

What a wonderful Christmas gift for us all. Hey author of this terrific column, what do you think of that?