It so happened that people had been dying at such a rapid pace — they were long past their Biblical lifespan — that our preacher was getting behind in farming and all his goodwill visits. So many funerals, you see.
This also happened to collide with my thinking on the money we sent away to missions in other places and asking myself what were we doing to help our neighbors and the folks closeby. This was worrying me. We were helping strangers but overlooking those right under our noses. This is how I came to offer to take one weekly visit away from the preacher and give him an extra hour or two weekly. He assigned me to a woman in a nearby nursing home. Tink thoughtfully came along.
As time went on and we dropped by fairly regularly, we came to learn that the woman we were sent to see after preferred to sleep rather than visit. And, to be truthful, if I could sleep deep like that with an enormous peaceful snore, I’d, too, rather sleep than talk to us.
However, her roommate, Miss Velma Ruth, quite enjoyed us. Her face lighted up and she’d clap her hands together every time we came in.
“Oh! Y’all are such a joy!” she exclaimed. “Y’all just light up this room when you come.”
Our first conversation had centered around the stack of faith-based fiction that was piled on her nightstand. I noticed a book by bestselling author Beverly Lewis.
“Do you ever read Karen Kingsbury?” I asked.
“Oh my goodness! Yes, I do!” She was sitting on the edge of the bed and turned with alacrity to dig out a book from underneath her pillow. It was an enormously thick compilation of three Karen Kingsbury books. Tink had just finished writing a movie on one of Karen’s books — “Fifteen Minutes” — and had enjoyed meeting and getting to know her. Tink’s face lit up when he saw Karen’s books so our initial friendship was staked on what friendships are usually staked on — a commonality of some kind.
We came to learn a lot about Miss Velma Ruth: she loves Co-Colas; her son gave her a flip phone but she couldn’t figure out the internet; she was in constant pain from a surgery; the nursing home was stingy with pain medicine; through prayer, she had been healed of ‘alkie-holism” twenty-five years ago so she was praying that she’d lose her taste for tobacco as well and, also, that she had once been in love with a Swedish man.
It was on our second visit that she took off telling me about how she had been born into a bunch of outlaws. My ears perked up at this and I edged closer. Tink was out in the hallway, trying to talk to a woman in a wheelchair who turned and rolled away from him as fast as she could.
I am always interested in hearing about people who sprung up from renegades. “What kind of outlaws?” I asked.
She gave me a hard look and shook her head. “Well, my mama used to run white likker.”
My head spun around. Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with many a moonshiner runner but I have never heard tell of a woman running it. That, however, might be the best decoy ever.
“She was a tough ‘un. She taught me to drive when I was ’12 year’ old.” She paused and straightened her shoulders proudly. “I’m from rough people but I got myself outta that bunch. I was bound and determined to make somethin’ of my life so I got gone.”
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Nursing homes are full of people like Miss Velma Ruth with good stories to tell. They just need a good listener or two or three.
What a gift to me this is turning out to be.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Saturdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.