By Ron Huff •
I just returned from the funeral of a lifelong friend. Ruth Calloway Wilkerson has been a member of the Ashley Heights Community since before I was born. She was born a Calloway, the family for which Calloway Road in western Hoke is named. Their beautiful farm at Five Points became the Carolina Horse Park. My mother’s sister Verna married Ruth’s brother Warren, so our families are connected by marriage. Our main personal connection was through Shiloh Church where she was a faithful member. Her children, though older, were a part of that extended family as we grew up. I remember when her sister Shirley married Al Potts, who was an outsider to the community. Al joined the church and became family as well. Al is now retired from Burlington Industries but was there when I worked there during the ‘70s. As with many small communities, the connections run deep.
I considered Ruth to be one of a group of women that I refer to as the Shiloh mothers. I treated her much like a mother and she treated me like a son. Even though as years passed, I became somewhat estranged from Shiloh, each time I would walk into the church it was as if I were there every Sunday. She would always smile warmly and brightly and brace for the hug that she was about to receive. She was a hard worker and church leader and you knew if Ruth was involved, things would be just fine.
Ruth’s health had failed in the last few years though her vim and vigor lasted well into her 90s. She always seemed at least 20 years younger than she was until age finally would not be denied. As such, it did not come as a great surprise when she passed away in late March. Because of the virus social distancing, the service was held at the graveside in the cemetery at Shiloh where each gravestone marks the site of people I have known.
Brother Rusty told me about Ruth’s passing and reported that he would sing at the graveside. It was not that, however, that enticed me to go. It was the years of our friendship and the irony that the homecoming of this faithful woman of God would be impacted by the cruel virus. I did not know what to expect, but felt compelled to be there for the family.
As I neared the church, having no idea what to expect, I was happy to see that there was a nice crowd of folks to show their respects. I usually love to see old friends on such an occasion, but the caution of the times illuminated things with a different light. Rusty was there to be accompanied on guitar by Shiloh mainstay Steve Creed, who is a wonderful bluegrass musician. Steve is also a surgical nurse and I could not help but wonder if he had been exposed to Covid-19. We bumped fists as he surely had the same question about me. Seeing lots of people I knew, I passed closer to them than recommended, swapped short pleasantries and found a spot standing alone at least 10 feet from anyone else. I had quickly bypassed the table with the mementoes of her life, not wanting to crowd those who were there.
Reverend McLean delivered a nice tribute and Rusty sang beautifully. I was behind the family, most of whom I knew but had not seen much in recent years. Al and Shirley Potts were sitting on the back row of chairs distanced about five feet from each other though they live together. Strange times!
After the final prayer I signed the guest book, highly aware that the pen had been touched by almost everyone there. Having no sanitizer, I vowed to be careful not to touch my face until I got home. While speaking to Rusty and Steve, I was surprised to hear that because of delayed elective surgeries, he was working less, not more, than normal. Of course, neither of us are doing any musical gigs.
I wanted to speak to Al and Shirley and other family members, but decided it was just too selfish a notion and knew they would understand. As I was making my way to the car, I was drawn into close contact with another life long friend who grabbed my hand. At some point you just have to take a risk, so we talked! Strange times indeed!