From The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, this scene from Leming-Aid, an April 2011 fundraising concert St. Francisville folks threw for Ruthie. Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was Ruthie and Mike’s song:
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, Brown Eyed Girl!” Emily called from the stage. Ruthie grinned and waved with both hands.
Watch this scene above. The older couple dancing next to Ruthie and Mike are Mam and Paw, Ruthie’s and my parents. It was a beautiful night. Here’s Ruthie’s message that night to all the readers of my blog who were praying for her:
Thankful that Mama’s lessons will be shared with the world today. Thankful that my uncle has written such a raw, emotional and true book about her and this town. I never would have imagined something so good coming out of something so painful. Although this story is so close to home, I believe that it is a story that will extend across countries, backgrounds and cultures.
This is a great day for my family and a great day for my town. I am still in awe.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate reading this from her. One thing you’ll see if you read the book, and should know if you don’t, is that this book wouldn’t have been possible without Hannah. She laid herself emotionally bare for the book, and talked about her own struggles with her mom. Toward the end of the book, when she and I are in Paris, we get into an argument about whether or not it’s okay to hide from the painful and ugly truth for the sake of preserving your own happiness. A few weeks back, in an event in St. Francisville, Hannah sat on stage and said that she now regrets having run away from her mother’s pain, because in so doing, she cheated herself out of her mama’s last year and a half of life. She said that she hopes others will learn from her mistake. I was astonished to hear this, and so, so gratified. It was a very brave admission. Not only does it show that Hannah is moving toward acceptance of her own pain over her mom’s death, but it shows that she wants to help others, especially other teenagers, struggling with the terminal illness of a loved one.
If you know a teenager who is trying to grapple with a parent’s sickness, consider getting them a copy of Little Way.
Anyway, I am PROUD of my niece Hannah!
That beautiful map of Starhill appears in the endpapers of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming (see below). It was created for the book by the English artist Alice Tait, who is amazing. Frame-sized prints of this map will be available exclusively at Grandmother’s Buttons, 9807 Royal Street, in St. Francisville. I’ll be having my first book-signing there on Saturday April 6 from 2 to 5:30. This is the only place in the country that Little Way will be available prior to April 9 publication. Come pick up your copy of the book, and buy one of the Starhill maps. There are only a limited number of both the book and the maps available at the store, so please come early. The maps will retail for $25, with half the proceeds going into a special Ruthie Leming Scholarship Fund for West Feliciana students.
CR: Some of the most powerful images you capture describe the outpouring of support from the local community during Ruthie’s illness. You relate not only the extraordinary acts of kindness, but also the joy and laughter that were there, even in the heart of a tragedy. Do you think that is a Louisiana thing? Or a community thing? Or a Ruthie thing?
RD: All three. Seriously. Like I said, we really are different in Louisiana, at least in south Louisiana, and part of that difference is an attitude towards life that brings to mind the words of the poet W.H. Auden: “Stagger onward rejoicing.” It’s a basic stance of gratitude towards life, and pleasure in its gifts. You grow up here and you think everybody’s like that, but then you leave Louisiana and realize no, there really is an art to living that we do better than most.
But it’s also a community thing. One of the great things about living in West Feliciana is that we have a special knack for eccentricity. My late uncle, Murphy Dreher, was the master of this kind of thing. He launched the Bopotamus Festival, a community party for an animal that doesn’t exist. People around here just love to get together and have a good time, even through the tears.
It’s true, though, that this was a Ruthie thing. She inspired so much love and loyalty in her friends. Abby Temple Cochran, her closest friend, told me that she had never seen anything like the outpouring after Ruthie’s death. People wanted to be together to eat, drink, and celebrate Ruthie’s life, in a way that Abby had never before witnessed. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever heard in our day of people spending the night with a friend’s body in a church, keeping the dead friend company all through the night with song, prayer, and laughter. They even brought lawn chairs and sand from the Starhill Riviera, at Thompson Creek, where Ruthie spent so much time having fun. Ruthie would have loved every minute of it.
Isn’t that map above beautiful? That’s the endpaper from The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, drawn by the wonderful English illustrator Alice Tait. The St. Francisville shop Grandmother’s Buttons has reached an exclusive deal to sell prints of Alice’s map, with half the proceeds going to a scholarship fund in Ruthie’s name. They’ll be available at the shop starting April 6, when I’ll do a signing of Little Way there (the only place anywhere you can buy a copy in advance of the April 9 publication date.
We let Lucas stay with his grandfather during Saturday’s reading from The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming. Of my children, he was the one closest to Aunt Ruthie. We knew he couldn’t handle the emotion of the event any more than my father could. They made good companions while the rest of us were at the event.
Afterward, I drove out to Starhill to pick up Lucas. On the way back, we stopped at the post office to let him run in to get the mail. He came back to the car waving the current issue of Time magazine. Here’s the cover:
Know what that little boy said, so sweetly, and so sadly? “Why couldn’t they have published this a couple of years ago?”
That’s the dedication page from The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming. From the acknowledgements:
The people of Starhill, and of West Feliciana, have my profound thanks, first for what they gave to my family in our time of need; second, for sitting with me for hours, talking about Ruthie; third, for welcoming [Julie, the kids, and me] so warmly. “I hope you know how special that place is,” said a Washington journalist friend. “You come from one of the last real places in America.” I do, and I do. I hope they will read this book as a tribute to their own capacity for love and generosity. Ruthie’s story is their story too. It is my honor to be able to tell the rest of the world about these fine people.
It is also my honor to do the first public reading from Little Way in the presence of Ruthie’s people. On Saturday, from 2pm to 4pm, at the West Feliciana High School Auditorium (8604 Highway 61, just north of St. Francisville), I’ll be reading from the book and then interviewing Ruthie’s oldest daughter, Hannah, her physician Tim Lindsey, and her best friend Abby Temple Cochran, all of whom played key roles not only in the last two years of Ruthie’s life, but in the writing of Ruthie’s story. The event is a benefit for the Friends Of The Library. $10 adults, $5 students.
I hope to see some of you readers there. It’ll be a special time.
Want a signed, personalized copy of the book? Please send a tax-deductible donation to TAC, and we’ll hook you up
The UPS man just arrived with a delivery.
It’s real now.
It’s out everywhere else on April 9. But it’s in my house right now. Woo! Hard to express what it’s like to hold in your hands for the first time a book that you wrote. Not somebody else. You.
Give a $50 donation to TAC here, and we’ll send you a signed copy. Give $100, and I’ll write whatever you want me to write in it.
For the last 19 months of her life, my sister’s family physician was Dr. Tim Lindsey of St. Francisville. Here’s what I wrote about him right after Ruthie died; excerpt:
My mother recounted for me the events of the morning Ruthie died at home. Mom got a call from Mike, who had been doing CPR on Ruthie until the paramedics got there, and she rushed home from the store. She said she arrived and saw Mike sitting on his front steps, his head in his hands; Ruthie’s body had just been taken away by ambulance, Mom said.
“And then” — she started to sob — “and then that wonderful, wonderful Lindsey man came … .” She couldn’t finish her sentence. There were no words. But I knew what she wanted to say.
Not all doctors are healers. This one is. When you see what can be done by physicians who approach their vocation as a work of love, it can change the way you see the world, and your place in it.
Tim and his wife Laura (pictured above with one of their children) were a huge part of the support team for Ruthie and her family throughout her illness. Still are. They’re a big part of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, too. Here’s an excerpt from the book interview I did with Tim:
I feel selfish saying I did anything for [the Leming family], because of what they did for me. To be able to witness her gracious handling of this disease. To live for each day. To love her children the way she did. To love Mike they way she did, and not to take on a self-pitying attitude, through the entire process — that was life-changing for me. Because of my dad’s death, I like to say that I live for the day, because you know, anything can change. But I looked at it as an honor and a privilege to spend time with them, because of what I got. It was too easy to serve them. It was something you looked forward to. You wanted, you hoped, you wished you could make it better. You saw how sick she was, and how she handled it with such grace, because of those babies. You thought: what can I do to get her better? Knowing at the diagnosis that I didn’t think she’d be with us six months. But it’s just — the way she responded just empowered you to say what do you need? I’m not going to tell you every patient’s easy. It’s not. I’m a human, and there are tough patients. This, with Ruthie, was not work. You could ask me to do anything for them, and I would jump through a wall for this family. And that didn’t come from Tim Lindsey.
I’ll be on stage this Saturday talking to Tim about his walk with Ruthie and her family through cancer. If you’re in the St. Francisville area, please come join us. It’s a fundraiser for Friends Of The Library, from 2 to 4 pm, at the West Feliciana High School auditorium, on Highway 61, just north of town. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. It’ll be a special time, and as far as I know the only time we’ll do something like this. A physician once said to me that Tim makes him proud to be a fellow doctor. Come to St. Francisville this weekend and meet him.
The sequel to this book ought to be The Little Way Of Tim Lindsey. Ruthie couldn’t have found a better doctor or friend.
Did you see that TAC is offering signed copies of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming to readers who make a tax-deductible donation to the magazine’s foundation? Please consider the offer. I believe it’s a good book, and you’ll be donating to a good cause.
In other Little Way news, I’m told that my April 9 New York City appearance at Socrates In The City is on its way to being a sellout. Thanks, New York! Follow that link for ticket information, and to reserve your seat for the event, in which Eric Metaxas and I will have a conversation about faith, hope, family, and the life of Ruthie Leming. Note that ticket prices will go up next week. Books will be available there, and I will be signing them if you like.
If your city is not on the tour, consider pre-ordering your Little Way copy on Amazon.