In talking about localism—how to properly live in a neighborly and conservative fashion—it’s easy to get lost in the abstract. It’s easy to talk about rooting oneself in a local community, “getting involved” and building “civic friendships.” But what do these things mean? How do we live them out, practically?
This is why Rod Dreher’s book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is so powerful. It illustrates the ways in which a love-filled life, completely invested in local community, can have a dramatic impact on one’s neighbors. Ruthie didn’t just bless her husband and daughters: her life was a testimony to her students, her neighbors, everyone who saw her live with joy and purpose.
In a world that enshrines the glamorous, the breathless pace and infamous renown of movie stars and celebrities, we need these stories. These are the stories of small vocations and deep loves that inspire us to true living. These quiet stars are more powerful and potent than any Marilyn Monroe or Van Gogh, Nietzsche or Babe Ruth.
Here is another story of rooted love, life lived well amongst neighbors.
Elaine Howard grew up in small-town Idaho. She married her high school sweetheart before she turned 20, raised five children. She and her husband served the church everywhere they lived: in youth leadership, missionary programs, church board positions. At one time, Elaine held the position of Jayceettes President while her husband was President of the Jaycees.
Elaine was a banker: Executive Vice President of Treasure Valley Bank, Vice President of Renaissance Holding Company, President of Orchard Bank, and Senior Vice President of Panhandle State Bank before she retired in 2011. But her busy work schedule didn’t keep her from demonstrating love and hospitality to the people around her. One of her friends told me a story about her a few weeks ago: “I had been sick, unable to come into work,” she said. “After a full work day, Elaine showed up at my house with a homemade casserole, made from scratch. I still don’t know how she did it.”
She was a voracious reader: she read over 120 books in 2013 (over 60 books between January and May of this year). All throughout my childhood, I remember her reading in the evenings, after everyone else had gone to bed: she would sit up until the wee hours of the morning, deep in a good story.
She believed in a well-set dinner table (no plastic forks or ketchup bottles allowed). She wrote down every birthday and anniversary, every phone number and email. She sent her grandkids Valentines and “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” cards. She took her all her daughters and granddaughters to The Nutcracker ballet every year. She handed down countless recipes—great-grandma’s brown bread, cranberry steamed pudding, chowder, soups, pies.
Perhaps the best words to summarize her devotion, to family and to place, come from my cousin, Cortney. She shared these words at my grandmother’s funeral, three weeks ago:
I was baffled by the fact that she didn’t want to travel the world and see all the wonders beyond Idaho; we know she had a great imagination and loved exploring through her books. However, she was a woman of contentment. Family was everything to her, being surrounded always by those she loved meant more than any new adventure could.
Elaine could have travelled, ventured beyond the borders of her land and family. But she chose limits: she chose place. And because of this choice, she was able to love, deeply and strongly. She became a matriarch of godly womanhood and hospitality.
We live in a world where Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson serve as the role models to countless young women: beacons of feminism and glamorous fame, rootless celebrities without a concrete home or commitment to any local community. I don’t want to denigrate the work they do; their involvement in various human rights causes is definitely laudable. But in the midst of such glamor, we often miss the quiet stars: sweet and simple lives, consistently invested, slip away unnoticed. And yet it’s the Ruthie Lemings and Elaine Howards of this world that make it sweet, that make life good. Thankfully, their testimony and love leave marks that do not fade easily: they have sown seeds that will bear fruit long into the future, calling each of us to love, to serve, and to choose place.