Don’t Forget Who’s Taking You Home

by Andy Wood on July 10, 2013

in Conversations, Following Your Passion, LV Cycle, LV Stories

Dancer posing in ornate gown

(A Truth Story…)

“Why won’t God just let me die!?” she asked in pained exasperation.

“Because He’s still waiting for you to get saved!” I retorted.

There you have it.  Now you know the kind of stuff Aunt Ruth and I used to talk about.

Aunt Ruth was neither my aunt, nor was she named “Ruth.” I named her that, and was the only person to ever use it. But she seemed to love it. And beneath her crusty exterior and sharp tongue she loved me. Except, of course, for the times she was laughing hysterically at me.  Or trying to teach me one of her “mysteries,” as she called them.  Then she was just being cruel.

Aunt Ruth was wise.  I’ve never had a relationship with anybody quite like her. We could talk about just about anything; that was rare for me in those days. I was a young pastor with an image to create and maintain. Aunt Ruth cut through all that like Sherman through Georgia.

The Captain

For many years a widow, one of the few things I couldn’t get her to say much about was her husband.  “The Captain,” she called him.  All I knew about him was that he was an army officer in World War II and came home paralyzed.  They never had children, and The Captain died a few years after his return due to complications from his paralysis.

Whenever I would ask, she’d just snort something about old news. Then she’d always deflect back to me. One of her favorite sayings was, “Just don’t forget who’s taking you home.”

“I’m driving myself home,” I replied the first time she muttered that.

“You know,” she snapped, hands on her hips, “for somebody so smart, you sure are stupid.”

“What?” I spluttered.  “Did I miss something?”

“It’s a mystery,” she said, as her sharp eyes wandered somewhere else.

Fuddy Duddy Christians

“It’s a sin to be boring,” Aunt Ruth used to say often.  She had no use for people who were sticks in the mud in the name of God.  “Fuddy Duddy Christians,” she called them.

“That’s probably what you think I am,” I told her one day.

“That’s probably what you are,” she shot back.  “I sure didn’t see you dancing at the wedding.”

“The wedding” was actually a reception for her niece Tracy and Tracy’s husband Mark. Aunt Ruth had been the hit of the party.  This was back when country line dancing had just gotten popular; when some of the wedding party got up and got moving to “Forever and Ever Amen,” the old lady was right in the thick of it.

Guilty as charged, I watched from the sidelines.

“Yeah, I don’t do that,” I said.

“What? You prefer Saturday Night Fever?” she teased as she stuck her finger in the air like John Travolta. Her eyes were starting to dance now.

“What do you know about Saturday Night Fever?” I asked suspiciously. Inwardly, I was actually impressed.

“More’n you know about having a good time,” she said. She was getting under my skin and knew it.

“I know how to have fun!” I said defensively.

“You know how to read books about having fun,” Aunt Ruth said. “You know how to watch everybody else having fun.”

“I know how to have fun!” I repeated. “I just have two left feet.”

“Yeah, one’s named ‘Fuddy’ and the other’s named ‘Duddy,’” she pressed.

“Anyway,” I continued, “I’ve got convictions.”

“I’ve got conVICtions,” she mocked.  “Yeah, you got convictions that the wags’ll be talkin’ about the preacher down at the beauty shop.”

She was right about that, but I wouldn’t admit it. I turned the subject back to her.

“So how do you reconcile being the Dancing Queen on Saturday night and the Gospel Queen on Sunday morning?”

Aunt Ruth introduced me to a phrase I’ve used a hundred times since, in a different context:  “Just because you dance with them doesn’t mean you have to marry them.  Anyway, you didn’t see me leaving with one of those groomsmen, now did ya’?”

“No, I don’t guess I did.”

“I did give my phone number to a couple of ‘em,” she said behind those dancing eyes.

“Stop it!”

“But,” she added, “I never forget Who’s taking me home.”

The Call

Years passed and I moved on. One Sunday morning the phone rang in my office.

“Pastor Andy? This is Tracy Wills. Sorry to bother you, but I’m calling about my aunt Virginia Heller.”

Aunt Ruth.

“Is she OK?” I asked like a prodigal son who should have known the answer already.

“Well, she asked me to call you and tell you to ‘get your butt down here to do her funeral.’”

“You tell her I’ll come down there to dance on her grave!” I joked.

“Well, you may get the chance,” Tracy said. “Aunt Ginny passed away yesterday.”

My face turned white and a chill swept up my spine as I dropped into my chair.

“Why didn’t somebody call me sooner?” I asked, shocked. “I didn’t even know she was sick.”

People like Aunt Ruth were supposed to live forever.

“When she asked me to call you, she specifically said not to bother you on Saturday night. Said you’d probably be at a dance or something.”

“I don’t… oh, never mind. I’ll get there as quick as I can.”

The Gift

Aunt Ruth’s house was just as I had remembered it. Same furniture. Same pictures on the wall. Same kitchen table where we’d shared many a cup of coffee and argument.

I mean, discussion.

“She had something she wanted me to give you,” Tracy said, as she handed me an old 8×10 photo of Aunt Ruth and The Captain on their wedding day. The Captain was in his wheelchair, dressed in his Army Blue finest.  Aunt Ruth, a stunning bride, was barefoot in her wedding gown.

And they were dancing.

Well, sort of.  Aunt Ruth was holding The Captain off to the side by one hand, and holding her dress with the other.  And they both were laughing as if there were no tomorrow.

In the corner of the photo was a line from a popular song back in the day:

But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be.

So Darlin’, save the last dance for me.

“My uncle gave this to her on their fifteenth wedding anniversary,” Tracy explained.  “It wasn’t long after that, he died.  And it wasn’t long after that that she really got involved in the church.”

“Really?” I replied. “I never could get her to talk much about those days.”

“Aunt Ginny was a fun-loving, beautiful girl and an incredible dancer when she was young,” Tracy said.  “My mama used to tell me stories about how all the boys would line up to dance with her in high school. But when she met my uncle, no one else would do. She waited for him to come back from the war. And the fact that he couldn’t walk or have children didn’t change a thing.”

“So did they play the song at their wedding?” I asked.

“No, it didn’t come out until the early 60s,” Tracy said.  “Mama said The Captain told her he’d found the perfect anniversary gift for Aunt Ginny.  And you’re holding it.”

“This is priceless,” I said. “But why did she want me to have it?”

“She said you would know or figure it out… if you weren’t having an attack of the stupids.”

“Good grief… she’s gone and still kickin’ my rear.”

“I think she wanted you to know she wasn’t living in the past, and that her faith really was in the Lord,” Tracy said.

“She knew Who was taking her home,” I said.

“That she did,” Tracy agreed.

“But she saved her last dance for me. And I don’t even dance.”

“That’s not what she said. She called you ‘her dance partner in the Lord,’ whatever that means.”

“I think I understand,” I said, still gazing at the picture.  “She taught me to lighten up and not to take myself so seriously. I gave her a voice somewhere other than the church house.”

And without my even knowing it, she taught me to dance.

The Return

It was a stunning fall day, about six months later, when I was back in town for a wedding. On the way home, I decided to swing by the cemetery and visit Aunt Ruth one last time.  There, lying side-by-side, were The Captain and his bride, Virginia “Ruth” Heller.

“Virginia Ruth Hellion if you ask me,” I muttered.  To a gravestone.

Below the names, dates and dashes, The Captain’s headstone had those familiar words… “Don’t forget…”

And below Aunt Ruth’s name: “…who’s taking you home.”

Rumor has it down at the beauty shop that somebody saw somebody at the cemetery the other day that looked a lot like a former pastor in this town.  And – gasp! – he was dancing.

Ridiculous.  Absolutely ridiculous.

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Martha Orlando July 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm

What a beautiful, touching story this is, Andy. It so made my day!
Blessings to you!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Standing in the Gap

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