Remembering Ruthie

While driving down Folly Quarter Road to substitute teach, my heart was filled with a sweet memory.  The last time I drove down this road, a dear 89 year old woman sat in the passenger seat.

The sun was halfway to it’s post as Ruthie and I headed to her midmorning appointment.  I was still new to the “job” of being Ruthie’s companion two to three days a week, so I resisted the urge to turn on my GPS. “Oh we don’t need that, I know where I’m going. Take a left right up here at the next light.”  I did know enough to know that any opportunity to use her memory was important, and gave her dignity.  We had plenty of time, so dignity trumped my GPS mentality of finding the exact fasted route to the minute.

As we wove through the edges of town, Ruthie pointed out a golf course and told me she’d like to take me to lunch some time at the little restaurant.  She described it in detail.  We continued past neighborhoods and eventually turned on to Folly Quarter Road, where the houses thinned and the fields thickened.  Perfectly spaced out trees lined the road, and between them the sun shone on brown dead fields waiting for Spring.  These glimpses always fill me with a sense of home, taking me back to the Alabama cotton fields that still hold my heart.

Ruthie began, “I remember taking mother out for Sunday drives on these roads…” and she continued to recount how she cared for her own aging mother years ago.  I wondered how she was now feeling to be the one who needed so much help.  At 89, her body was weakening.  She walked with a walker, had fallen a few times (hence needing a companion), and was beginning to grow confused at times.  We would soon enough find out that most of this was due to her failing heart, but nonetheless, Ruthie was bothered by the changes. 

At the same time, her mind was sharp and so was her temperament! I was quickly discovering that this sweet Christian lady had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and spoke her mind!  We would banter playfully back and forth when I knew she needed to move around, eat regardless of her appetite, or drink in order to not become dehydrated.  When she accused me of being too good at the puzzles we were working together, I would quip, “I know you hate this one so I’m trying to save you from having to finish it!” She would eye me suspiciously and try to hide her grin.

Most days, when I arrived around 10am, she had a full report of the political state of the Union.  Fox News was on and she would catch me up on all the latest Trump goings-on.   This woman was clearly not faltering in her intelligence. When I sensed she was growing more depressed about her physical state, I would ask her to recount stories of how she met her husband, what her work had been like, and news of kids and grandkids.  In many ways, Ruthie was a woman before her own time.  She worked in a business office 50 years ago and told me stories of how she confidently put men in their place if they acted inappropriately toward her.  I was quickly growing to adore this strong, smart, opinionated, loving … and sometimes, ornery woman.

At some point, Ruthie realized we had gone too far and missed our turn.  As a result we drove seven minutes out of the way to connect with Frederick Road.  She was so upset with herself and apologized the rest of the day.  Though I may have been slightly annoyed that she didn’t let me use my GPS, it really wasn’t a big deal and we arrived at the doctor’s office with plenty of time to spare.  More than anything, I hated that she was losing clarity in her thinking.  At times, she was growing more confused.  None of us live life thinking of the time we’ll lose our bodies and our faculties…. and then somehow, it just happens.  I was glad Ruthie didn’t have to be alone for this transition.   I was thankful that her loving family recognized she needed company during the day while they took care of their own responsibilities.

I only cared for Ruthie a couple of short months.  Her health declined rapidly.  She passed away just a few months before her 90th birthday.  Though our time together was brief, she left a lasting imprint on my heart.  Her life was not perfect.  She was strong-willed and I’m sure she stepped on people’s toes at times… yet she loved her family and friends with abandon… she loved her God with devotion. Her love is what we will remember most… and perhaps her love of hymns as well.

Perhaps she left such a lasting impression on me because I am so much like her. My strength is often my weakness and gets me in trouble, but like Ruthie, I’m a work in progress.  God’s grace is sufficient for me today.  This life is not all there is and one day I’ll be home… not my cotton fields in Alabama, but my eternal home in the consuming love of Christ. 

Thank you, Ruthie.

This was one of her favorites and one that she wanted to be sung at her funeral.  Sadly, she lacked the strength to play the piano much while I was with her, but she spoke of her love of playing hymns often.

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