I have written quite a bit in the past about my past. I didn't have a great upbringing but as I look back on my growing up I know there were times that God placed people, often times, family, who were there for a specific reason. I could mention all kinds of folks, but this time I want to specifically mention and share a story about my Aunt Ruth.
I always called Aunt Ruth, Aunt Ruth. She was one of my fathers' sisters. My father was killed when I was child so many of my Aunts and Uncles became special to me. Aunt Ruth was one that was older not like a brother and or sister, she was like a, well like an Aunt.
I had always lived in the city, Johnson City Tennessee to be exact, a part of the tri-cities in Tennessee. Aunt Ruth lived in Washington DC and my grandfather did a lot of construction work in DC. In fact it was DC that my dad was working while he was separated from my mother. It was on his return home from DC wanting to make things right that he was killed in a car wreck. Ruth had lived in DC for some years and was doing quite well financially. She actually was neighbors for a while with Don Adams of the television show Get Smart.
It was while on one trip at Ruth's that she decided to take me and my cousin Joann to see the movie Night of the Living Dead. The movie had just come out and at the time it was making all kinds of news because of the graphic nature of the movie, including nudity, zombies and cannibalism. It was a film by George Romero that was and has since been credited as possibly the best and most horrific horror film ever made.
Our family was not immune to horror even though my grandparents, and many within the family were from strong religious backgrounds. I was never really religious growing up so none of the religion stuff appealed to me, but, I do recall the family, sitting around the table telling wonderful ghost stories. I even recall my Uncle Tim, who is more like a brother, coming into the basement of our dark house where the bedroom was on Virginia Street with glow in the dark makeup on. He had this horrible mask which was bad enough, but the makeup would scare the bejesus out of me. Between the stories, the hauntings, the mountain lore around us, horror was more than an art form, it was a part of life.
Ruth was a part of that, she loved to scare people, make them scream and even get so afraid they might shed a few tears. Joann, her daughter had one of the original Volkswagen Beetles and Ruth had decided to take Joann and I to the movies in that little car. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the movie was, Night of the Living Dead.
I don't recall ever being so scared in a movie. You have to remember, that while some of those scenes are mild in comparison to today’s horror, for the day, there was nothing like it. The black and white images didn't help things, and in fact, seemed to cause an even scarier surreal experience.
Coming out of the theater in the day was bad enough with all of the lights, but on the way to Ruth's house, in Silver Spring Maryland, we had to go through the suburbs. Ruth lived near a cemetery. If going directly through the cemetery, via foot, one could cut off a good portion of walking. Of course you couldn't drive through the cemetery. It was as we approached the cemetery that Ruth had Joann and I get out of the car to check on the tires or something, I don't really recall what. As we got out of the car, got on the curb next to the cemetery, Ruth took off. At the very least Joann and I would have to walk a long distance to Ruth's house on the edge of the cemetery. As it was, we decided to walk through the cemetery.
Now it wasn't long before we realized the mistake we had made. What made matters even worse, is if you have seen the movie Night of the Living Dead, you know that there is a significant scene at the start of the movie which takes place in a cemetery. That didn't make things any better for Joann and me. It really got bad as we got closer to home we began to get more and more afraid. It wasn't long before we were running through that cemetery. As we got closer we could hear the sounds of, "They're coming to get you Michael." Or "They're coming to get you Joann." That only made things worse and in the background it was as if we heard the cackling laugh of an old witch. Of course at the time we couldn't put two and two together, but Ruth always had this wonderful cackle as she laughed.
It was some years later that I had moved to a farm in Middle Tennessee which my Aunt Ruth owned with a brother Sonny. It was while there I thought I was older and more "mature." It is amazing at how grown up a 13 or 14 year old will think they are. I was dumb enough to have not figured out things in life, and dumb enough to think I was tough. I found this out when Aunt Ruth again decided to take me to the drive inn to see once again, Night of the Living Dead.
The movie was just as scary the second time around as it was the first. This time, maybe even a little worse as we left the drive inn and there was no lights to brighten the surroundings.
We lived on a farm in a small town called Gordonville. Gordonsville is in Smith County, about 40 miles East of Nashville. The most popular town there is Carthage, the home of the Gore family, specifically Al Gore. It is still a small farming community though. Gordonsville and Carthage are several miles apart with nothing but small winding roads so we had a lot to think about on the trip home. Ruth would point out Zombies, scaring again, the bejesus out of me.
Gordonsville was, still is, a very small farming community off of interstate 40. We only lived about 4 miles from the interstate as the crow flies. Unfortunately the roads didn't travel the way the crow flies, it was about a 10 mile journey.
The farm as we called it was back about 2 miles on a small gravel road that had to be grated every time we had a hard rain. Thankfully some of the farmers had their own grating tractors and would do the job themselves. Our nearest neighbor was approximately 1 mile away from the farm.
The farm, as is many farms, is bordered by either fence or cattle guards. This farm was no exception. We had to cross over a closed fence, and cattle guard to get onto the driveway that was ½ - ¾ a mile long. Along that driveway there was nothing except cattle, trees, and open field. As we approached the gate at the initial cattle guard, Ruth had me get out to open the gate. I should have known better, but you can imagine my horror when Ruth crossed the cattle guard beyond the fence and kept on driving. To say the least, I knew I was once again, after seeing Night of the Living Dead, going to be doing some walking.
I actually started off walking down the gravel driveway. Now while the driveway was somewhat long, the farm house sat down in a little valley, I couldn't see it, nor the lights from the house. Only the stars in the sky and the sliver from the moon would provide any light. It wasn't long before I began to hear the moans of what sounded like Zombies in the background. I began to hear the grass shuffle next to me, and the trees and little valley to my left move back and forth with limbs russeling and cracking. The groans would get louder and louder. I never knew until that night how much the groaning of a cow sounded like the moans of a zombie.
I began to run home for the reminder of the distance to the farm house. It was further than anticipated, especially on gravel where I didn't have sure footing. As I began to run down the last stretch towards the farm house, I once again heard a strange cackle. A cackle that as I got closer I realized was simply put, the laughter of my Aunt Ruth. She would laugh with that cackle for years as she retold the story of me running into the house with eyes as big as saucers.
It was a number of years later, and something I spend some time on in my book The Keystone Kid. It was later in life when I had the chance to thank Ruth for all she did for me while I was growing up. She really did show me love. Our coming into contact with her unexpectidly, while I lived in Oklahoma was something special. She unexpectedly stopped by while I was setting up for a concert I was getting ready to do. Ruth had never heard my band and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed that time with her. We even made plans to go to Florida during Christmas to spend Christmas together. She had a shit-zu puppy that was going to have puppies and she was going to give us one of them for Christmas. It would be a great way to spend Christmas together as well.
That Christmas, some months later was a horrible time for us. It was horrible at first because of an experience with my daughter. It was the summer of the release of Titanic. My daughter who plays soccer was in a game and had her leg taken out. As a result she had to have her ACL repaired and the injury would prevent her from traveling by car to Florida as we had anticipated. Instead, we would pick her up from the hospital, put her on her crutches and take her to see the movie Titanic as she had so much wanted to see. At the time we were feeling good despite the fact we didn’t get to go to Florida.
Upon our arrival home that night I had several phone calls telling me to call some of the family immediately. From my mother to my uncle Tim, we knew something was wrong.
We made the call right away and was shocked at the message we received. Ruth, who was separated with her husband, had been murdered. Ruth had a new boy friend and Bob, the former husband had broken into the home and killed Ruth, her boyfriend, and tried to kill a cousin of mine, Brian. We were shocked and confused. This was supposed to be the home we were supposed to be at. In fact, it was the home we would have been at if my daughter hadn’t torn her ACL during the soccer game.
Things were tough, they were really tough when I attended the murder trial. There was a no contest plea and Bob was given two consecutive life sentences, and additional convictions, one for attempted murder, another for robbery, and another for breaking an entry. He will never see the light of day.
What made it so tough though was Joann and I went to see Bob in jail after the trial. While there the jailer stated he would not let us see Bob because we were members of the victims family. We stated that we were also his step-daughter and nephew. I stated I had driven down for the trial, taken two weeks off of work, and could he at least ask Bob if he would see us. He reluctantly agreed to ask, and came out after asking with a surprised look on his face telling us that Bob wanted to see the both of us.
That meeting was hard, I have been told by others how hard it must have been. During the meeting I told Bob that I still loved him that I could call him my brother in Christ if he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. I told him I could provide this love despite the fact he had killed someone I loved deeply. People have often told me how hard that must have been. I have responded with something that has proven to me God exists. My response was, that yes it was hard, but it was even harder to love him, especially after he said what he said regarding my aunt when I told him that I loved her. His response was, “It is about time someone killed that bitch. She deserved what she got.” Loving Bob, after saying that, was what was hard. I have to admit, it is still hard, but not nearly as hard all of these years later.
I still recall the cackling laugh of an aunt I loved who went out of her way to love me. I still think of her every time I think of that old horror story, Night of the Living Dead. I still think of her every Christmas when I realize I could have, should have, had planned on, being at her house when all of this went down. I still think of why God does the things he does, why some things happen the way they do. But beyond all of that, is the love, the love Ruth showed her family, and especially me. I have to admit, while I have found that having the bejesus scared out of me is something that isn’t fun, trying to Be Jesus to those who need the love of a Savior has had its own rewards. While I realize I am not Jesus, I realize that the love I show others may be the only Jesus some people may ever see. To that Be Jesus to others as best as you can if you know him.
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