In July of 1987, Carol and I moved to North Carolina so that I could pursue a Master of Theology degree at Duke Divinity School. We found ourselves in the little town of Seagrove, almost "smack-dab" in the middle of the state. I was appointed to serve as the pastor of two small churches (Seagrove and Pisgah) about six miles from each other.
At the Seagrove church we met Jack and Ruth, a couple who had recently retired and were actively involved in many areas of church life and ministry. At the time we were a young couple with no children and far away from home for the first time in our lives. Jack and Ruth took us under their wings seeing to it that we were warmely welcomed and treated like family.
Our first experience with southern hospitality was wonderful and Ruth embodied it perfectly. It was impossible to stop at her house without having something to eat or drink. Whenever we went over to their home for dinner, we were served all the fixin's of a great southern meal; and Ruth was not happy until we had stuffed ourselves full of her superb cooking. We not only ate at their house rather frequently, they would regularly invite us to go out to eat with them; and never once was I allowed to pay the bill; Jack would not hear of it.
After we moved back to Ohio, we kept in touch with Jack and Ruth. When we vacationed to North Carolina, which we did almost yearly, we would stop to visit. Once again, Ruth would make us a meal fit for royalty as we visited, now with our children, whom Jack and Ruth dearly loved. We were planning to visit them next month when we take our daughter, Alyssa, down to High Point University in North Carolina.
Last Saturday, Ruth had a massive stroke. She died early this morning. Carol and I are leaving for North Carolina tomorrow to attend her funeral later this week.
There are moments in life when words fall far short of describing the gratitude we have toward others. The many kindnesses Jack and Ruth showed to a young couple from Ohio, far away from family, have never been forgotten. We have expressed that to them from time to time over the years, but the words never quite measured up to the reality of it all.
If I could wish for one thing today, it would be to sit down at Ruth's table one more time-- to sit down and eat while she continues to fill my plate and pass me more food than I can possibly eat. I wish we could sit there and talk and laugh and fellowship in true Christian fashion.
Of course, this is not to be, but we will be able to sit at Table with Ruth again, when we gather for that Great Feast in God's Kingdom; and if Ruth has any responsibility for the menu, the southern character of the food will be unmistakable.
Thank you, Ruth, for showing two young Yankees from Ohio the kind of hospitality that was not only southern, but also profoundly Christian.