There are some stories in life I wish were not true. This is one of those stories.
In my book, The Keystone Kid, I write some about my Aunt Ruth, I have written about her here some, especially so in the article The Night of the Living Dead. In The Keystone Kid I give her the name Sarah, but it is all about my Aunt Ruth. It is as I am discussing some of my past with a therapists that I write in the book:
Anthony continued, now speaking about his Aunt Sarah. "Sarah was great, too. She gave me money for doing chores and stuff around the house and farm. I really appreciated that for a variety of reasons. The chores were fun; they were things like feeding the horses, taking the tractor out and pitching hay to the cattle when it was cold and they needed food, stuff like that. Sarah treated me great. I'll never forget what she did for me. If I ever needed anything she was always there. It was the first time anyone had really treated me like a good kid. It was like a real family. I hope I responded to it well. I don't know. I've often thought about it. I guess I need to get back in touch with her and thank her for all she did.”
“Why don't you know if you responded to the situation well or not?" George asked. “Well, we just don't see each other much any more. We don't talk like we should either. I know I haven't thanked her like I should. She treated me as close to a son as anyone I know except for maybe my Mamaw Beechup at the very least she was like a loving big sister. She was great."
Anthony went on and tried to explain his feelings further to George. "I lived with Sarah and Mark through the year, but I ended up going back to Erwin before the start of school the following year. In some ways I am glad I moved back to Erwin, but in others I wish I would have made my mind up and stayed at one school instead of moving around so much." Anthony responded to George's question realizing the need for him to try and get back in touch with his Aunt Sarah all of these years later to thank her for what she had done for him.
“So all and all it sounds like living in Gordonsville was something you enjoyed. Is that right, Anthony?" George asked seeming as if he knew the answer.
Anthony answered without hesitation, knowing he had always thought that living in Gordonsville was one of the most enjoyable times of his life. "Yes, without a doubt this was one of the best times of my life. It's strange though, it wasn't from friends or anything like that. It was from living on this farm with my Aunt Sarah and her husband Mark. I was working and doing things I really enjoyed on the farm. I don't think I'll ever forget what my Aunt Sarah did for me. She was great. It was the first and one of the few times others had ever really treated me like I was a part of the family. I enjoyed the time in Gordonsville, living with them, immensely.”
In The Keystone Kid I write more about my Aunt Ruth (Sarah) but the time with her was among the positive highlights of my life. Towards the conclusion of the book, I write more stating that one of the things I knew I needed to do was to get in touch with her, thanking her for all she had done for me.
It was some years later while living in Tulsa Oklahoma I would have that opportunity.
My Aunt Ruth had been on a North American Recreational Trip in her new RV. She, one of her nieces, and a dear friend had gone north and across Canada to Washington State where they had visited with my Uncle Larry. On their way back, they decided to cut through the heartland of America. I hadn’t heard from Ruth in some time but I had recently finished one of the edits of my book and knew I had not contacted her. It was strange how God provided that opportunity whiles it was fresh on my mind.
It was in September and my band Route 66 was doing a block party for the community near my house. We were setting up on the flat bed of a truck trailer and as was typical I was getting frustrated. It really sucked being one of the only ones in the band that knew how to set up a sound system. As we were setting up, a new RV pulled up and started beeping its horn. I couldn’t see who was in the RV because of tinted windows, but they kept on beeping their horn, and I kept on getting madder and madder. One of the guys in the band brought to my attention, “Mike, I think that is some one who knows you, they just keep beeping.” “Nah, that’s just our neighbors, they must have a new RV” I replied back in a short, quick to the point, angry tone.
The beeping kept on. One of the guys asked, “Are you sure you don’t know that person Mike?” Again, with a touch of anger I glanced back, “Nah! It looks kind of like my Aunt Ruth but there is no way.”
Finally after a few more moments of this, the horn still beeping; I got madder and madder. I had finally had enough, I jumped off the trailer where we were setting up and headed over, stomping, towards the RV. “I don’t know what you want or what is going on but…” I then stopped in my tracks as the door to the RV opened up. “Good Lord, it is my Aunt Ruth!” I responded as she climbed down with that cackling laugh she had. It wasn’t but seconds later and we were embracing each other in a wonderful, long, hug.
My Aunt Ruth stayed with us for several days before heading out on the road. We had a wonderful time together, and I finally got to share through tears what she had meant to me while growing up. I will forever be grateful for this time.
It was during this visit we decided my family would go to Titusville Florida for Christmas to spend with Aunt Ruth. She had two Shit-zu dogs and one would have puppies ready to go home for Christmas. Ruth was going to give us one and we were excited as we made plans to visit Florida during Christmas.
Time went on and we got more and more excited. It was in early December and our daughter was playing competitive soccer. During one of the games she had her knee taken out from under her and as a result ended up having to have ACL knee surgery. She would be in the early stages of Rehab and the doctor told us the trip to Florida was out of the question. We were disappointed, but I knew that we would make the trip in the future because my Aunt Ruth and I had reconnected.
After a few days of my daughter getting out of the hospital she really wanted to see the movie Titanic. It was a Friday afternoon and we went to see the movie. It was on December 23, a day I will never forget.
Once we arrived home I noticed several messages on the answering machine. All of the calls were telling me to make contact with the caller right away. I could tell from the urgency and the tone of the voice that something was wrong. I made the calls, and was shocked to hear, in such a strange sort of way, that my Aunt Ruth had been murdered.
The next days and in fact weeks were kind of like walking around in a trance. My Aunt Ruth and her former husband had been separated. Things were going well, and no one expected anything. Ruth had a boy friend and the legal separation had gone its course and final plans were being made for the upcoming divorce. Ruth and her ex husband Bob had just had a good meeting regarding finalizing the divorce and Ruth had gone home. It was a couple of days before Christmas and My Aunt Ruth had my Cousin Brian at home, her boyfriend Tony, and my Uncle Aaron who had schizophrenia and was blind.
Late on the night of December 23, Bob broke into her house, went into the bedroom and shot and killed Tony, and my Aunt Ruth. My Aunt Ruth was shot several times as she tried to get away from Bob. He had a 44 Magnum with hollow point bullets. Tony was shot once in the head, and died instantly. My Aunt Ruth fought. She was shot several times in the back while running away, and then once in the arm as she tried to deflect a shot to the head, and finally in the face. Bob wasn’t done though.
Brian had been on the back patio smoking a cigarette. He heard the noise and commotion in the house. He went in to see what was going on and as he did so realized what was happening. He then started running up the stairs of the house. Bob went after Brian, and shot him in the mid section in the back as he was going up the stairs. He left Brian for dead, and for all practical purposes, he should have been.
As I got word of this, I couldn’t help but reflect that I was supposed to be at Ruth’s. My family was supposed to be there. What would have happened if we had been? How was I to look at my daughters’ knee injury? Was it a God send or what?
Later that year I went to the trial in Titusville. The District Attorney wanted to go after Bob with the Death Penalty. The family decided, that with his age, consecutive life sentences without parole plus a breaking and entering and an attempted murder, he would never see the light of day. The Defense Attorney agreed this would be a good plea bargain and a deal was set.
I’ll never forget sitting in the court room and Bob coming out. When he saw me, he just nodded and said; “Hey Mike, You’ve come a long way from Oklahoma to be here.” What was I to say? How was I supposed to respond? This was the man who had just killed my Aunt, her boyfriend, and had tried to kill my cousin. I wondered, what would have happened if my family was at the house that night on December 23?
The night after the trial, my cousin, Jo Ann, Ruth’s daughter was at the house, talking that night, and the next day. We had always gotten along great. We knew Ruth was close to us, and we wanted answers. The day after the trial, we wanted to go and see Bob before he was shipped off to prison. We didn’t know what the chances were of this happening, but we had to try.
Jo Ann and I had the chance to talk on the way to the jail that day. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew in some kind of way, I needed to be strong in my faith, and in return, let my faith shine.
When at the jail, we made it known to an officer sitting at the front desk that we wanted to speak with Bob, if possible. He seemed to indicate he thought it would be. It was then another officer came in and stated there is no way because we were relatives of the “victim.” I always had issue with that, no name, no Aunt, just, “the victim.”
Jo Ann indicated she was also the step daughter of Bob, I stated, “Sir, If you would just ask. I have driven here from Oklahoma and have to return, can’t you just ask if he will meet with us?” The officer indicated, while shaking his head no that he would ask but we shouldn’t expect anything.
It was a short time later that the officer came out of the back of the jail. “I can’t believe it, but he wants to see the both of you.”
The time sitting across from the man who had killed my Aunt is something I will never forget. I won’t forget it for a variety of reasons. It was a time I became convinced of my faith, I also became convinced I really believed some hard aspects of my faith that I felt called to practice.
As we sat there across from Bob, I shared with him how he had hurt me; I shared with him how much my Aunt meant to me. During the conversation, he more or less didn’t respond other than shaking his head back and forth. I shared this and in the process shared with him my faith and how I could forgive him. Not only did I share of my willingness to give forgiveness, but how I knew God could also provide forgiveness through Jesus Christ. I told him, “Bob, I loved my Aunt Ruth, more than you will ever know, but Bob, I also love you.”
Over the years as I have told this story, I have people tell me how hard this must have been for me. I agree, it was hard, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as what occurred after I told him these things.
I had just finished sharing these things with Bob when he uttered his first words to me, words that still ring in my ears. “That bitch deserved what she got!”
How was I to respond? What was I to say? How was I supposed to feel? Instinctively, and I don’t know where it came from, I replied; “Bob I loved Ruth, and I love you.”
Jo Ann and I carried on the conversation for another 10 – 15 minutes. We would have spoken longer but the power went out and at that time the jailer removed us knowing that Bob couldn’t hear us, and we couldn’t hear him. I sometimes wonder if God knew we had done what we needed to do and there was nothing else to be said.
Have you ever had someone do you wrong? Ever had someone hurt one you love? Believe me; I know how hard it is to love those many consider unlovable. I have never regretted the meeting with Bob, neither have I regretted offering my love. Even to a man who would murder a woman I loved as dear as any female on the planet outside of a few, a woman who had given me so much when I needed so much.
Was it easy? No, it still isn’t easy, but believe me, it wasn’t just for Bob, the willingness to forgive, even the most heinous of crimes, the willingness to love, the most unlovable of men, was as much for me, as it was him. I can now live knowing I made an offer of love that only comes from God the father. I don’t know how many times Bob has thought of that conversation. He is still alive in a Florida Prison, but I can assure you, because I know the Spirit of God, he has indeed thought of that conversation. I only pray that he has gone to the maker of the universe and asked for forgiveness and asked for salvation. If so, not only could I share with him my love, I could share with him the reality that we are now brothers.
Maybe your need to offer forgiveness isn’t for something this drastic, maybe it is for something far less, but it hurts none the less. I will tell you from experience, offer it. Offer it because that forgiveness is as liberating to you, as it is the person you offer it to. In many ways, it may be even more liberating.
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