December 29th, 2010

For perhaps obvious reasons, I have titled my meditation today, “101 ½ Reasons Why Alice Ruth Was Special.”  If it seems like that might take a long time, my answer is, “She lived a long time.  She deserves it.”


1.      Long Life:  As Pastor Bill said, “From horse and buggy to moon flights.  Wow!”

2.      Whistling Jim: Her father earned his nickname and passed on his whimsical love for music to Alice Ruth.

3.      Early Adulthood:  Alice Ruth’s own mother died when she was nine years old.  She learned early about grief, survival, and responsibility.

4.      Seamstress:  She learned how to sew as a girl on a machine with a foot pedal.  By the time she took home economics in high school, she already knew everything they had planned to teach her.

5.      Hard Work:  She went to work at age 16, and worked more than forty years at Elliott Knitting Mill, only taking time off to have two children.  By “time off,” I don’t mean years – more like a few weeks for each daughter.

6.      Responsibility:  Although she started out doing transferring (branding the socks), she became a “floor lady” (a supervisor) and an “order clerk” through the years.

7.      Single Mother: Long before this phrase became popular in the 1970s, Alice Ruth lived it.  Her first husband died when Peggy and JoAnn were under 5 years old. 

8.      Contentment:  In spite of the economic challenges of raising daughters alone during the depression, she chose not to seek or accept courtship and remarry.  “I’m afraid someone wouldn’t be good to my girls.”

9.      Humility:  The ability to receive as well as give is a grace.  She accepted her brother’s hospitality and then her father’s, living with them after her husband died.

10.   Compassion:  Again ahead of her time, she learned how to accept and compensate for another’s disability when Aunt Daisy, who was also deaf, lived with her father at the same time she did.

11.   Frugality:  She and Aunt May Fleming used to do each other’s hair.  She grew her own food.  She made all her children’s clothes except coats and shoes.

12.   Head Start:  She knew her children needed to appreciate books.  Peggy had a favorite one, “Polly in a Crystal,” that she would bring to her mother when JoAnn was a baby.  Alice Ruth read it so much there was finally nothing left but the cover.

13.   Simplicity:  Peggy said they never had a car growing up.  They lived downtown and walked where they needed to go – school, church, grocery store, even to get coal.  They would only buy as much coal or as many groceries as they could carry.

14.   Faithfulness:  Even when the family moved a little further from the center of town, where Corinth used to sit, Alice Ruth and her girls would walk 30 minutes one way to church – twice on Sunday and also on Wednesday night.  She never sent the girls to church.  She went with them.

15.   Mentor:  She not only passed her skills and values on to her children; she did so for her grandchildren.  She took care of Karan as a little girl, and when Karan heard the mixer start up, she’d unglue herself from Captain Kangaroo and come running.  Karan learned that serving was a privilege, and begged her grandmother to let her mop the floor, even bribing her grandmother:  “I’ll give you a penny.”  Karan learned to sew from Alice Ruth.

16.   Granny:  She sat with her granddaughter in church while JoAnn sang in the choir, keeping Karan quite in typical grandparent fashion by giving her lifesavers.

17.   Multitasking.  Here is another way she lived the term before it became popular.  She would never just sit and watch TV.  She’d be peeling apples or doing something else productive.

18.   Gatlinburg:  Her second husband, Earl, thought Gatlinburg was “heaven on earth.”  While the two of them were watching Karan, he would tell Alice Ruth they needed to take the day and travel west because “the kid wants to go.”

19.   Creativity:  This is one of many ways she reflected the image of God.  Karan said, “She could make something out of nothing.”

20.   Gardening:  She loved to work in the soil and watch things grow.

21.   Mental fitness:  She was quoted in the newspaper, “Gardening helps your mind as well as your body.”

22.   Canning:  Preserving her garden’s produce was not only necessity; it was joy.  She canned 43 jars of pickles and 30 jars of green beans in her 90th year.

23.   Cooking:  “She was the best cook” was one of her family’s epitaphs. 

24.   Senior Forum:  When I first came to Corinth she was one of a faithful group of seniors, now mostly gone, who gathered once a month to share home-cooked dishes mostly prepared from home grown produce.

25.   Pickles.  Larry said the best meals were out of her own garden, and she was especially famous for her “sweet cucumber pickles.”

26.   Sandwich:  Larry never heard of a cucumber sandwich until he met his grandmother-in-law:  White cucumbers with Duke mayonnaise.  I never heard of a cucumber sandwich until Larry told me about it Sunday night.

27.   Patience:  JoAnn said took everything “smooth” – content and joyful whatever the situation. 

28.   No Complaints:  The flip side of patience is grumbling, which you never heard from Alice Ruth.  In her family’s words, “never any fussing.”

29.   Admiration:  When your daughter says at the end of your life, “Mother was so good at everything she did,” you know you’re worthy of respect.

30.   Integrity:  When your granddaughter says, “I never heard her say a harsh word” and her husband adds, “Never,” you know that she was in private what she was in public.

31.   Activity:  How do you live to be over 100?  Alice Ruth didn’t quit moving when she got older.  She was given a three-wheeled bicycle when she retired, and took water aerobics in her 80s at Lenoir Rhyne.

32.   Dulcimer:  She was well known in her later years for playing the dulcimer.

33.   Church Music: She never thought of herself as a singer or a musician, even in church.  But she has played her dulcimer at Corinth several times, including our public celebration of her 100th birthday.  She played “Amazing Grace” that Sunday for the prelude.

34.   Good Nature:  When asked about how she started playing the dulcimer, she would point at Peggy and say, “It’s her fault.”

35.   Adventure:  In the late 1990s, Peggy decided on her own retirement to take a course at the community college on making a dulcimer.  She didn’t want to do it alone, so she invited her mother, then in her late 80s.  Alice Ruth resisted at first and then said, “If you can’t find anyone else.”  The rest is history.

36.   Head of the Class:  She finished her dulcimer before anyone else in the class and was very proud of it.

37.   What’s Next:  Not content simply to make a dulcimer, Alice Ruth’s next comment was, “I made it, now I have to learn to play it.”  She taught herself by humming a familiar tune and then finding the note on the dulcimer.

38.   Quartet:  At one time, all four women in the family played the dulcimer together.

39.   TV Star:  Peggy and her mother were invited to play the dulcimer for a church in Blowing Rock, and were invited back.  “Come play for us next week – we’re on TV.”

40.   Volunteer:  Even before she played the dulcimer, she was the first volunteer at Adult Life Programs, an adult day care that had its start here at Corinth.  In fact, I wrote this meditation about Alice Ruth sitting at my desk in what was not long ago the office for Adult Life Programs.  I found myself imagining Alice Ruth often being in that part of our building, helping disabled seniors keep walking or learn to walk again.

41.   Performer:  It was the volunteering and the dulcimer that kept her going after her second husband Earl died.  She would play for schools, churches, nursing homes – anyone who would invite her.

42.   Mobility:  She passed her driving test at age 90, continuing to pilot her old gray Mercury.  She never wanted to depend on others if she didn’t have to.

43.   Playing her Age:  Golfers try to score lower than their age.  According to a 1999 tribute in the Hickory News, Alice Ruth had already at that time played the dulcimer at more than 80 places.

44.   Recognition:  In 2001 she was named Volunteer of the Year for Catawba County.

45.   Still Charming:  In later years her gentleman caller was Everett Allran.  She always dressed to the hilt for this “old-time movie star”-like character.

46.   Plain Charming:  Once Everett caught her unawares, just coming out of the garden.  He was still complimentary:  “Oh, you look so homey.”

47.   Young at Heart:  Already in her nineties, when she would play for Adult Life or a nursing home, she would quip, “I’m going to play for the old people.”

48.   Never Say Die:  Up until the very end, she was playing the dulcimer every week for the residents at Sterling House.

49.   No Rust:  She said of playing the dulcimer, “It does me as much good as it does them.  If I just sat here at home all the time, I’d just go to pot.  Someday I will wear out but I don’t intend to rust out.”

50.   Daytimer:  She said in that 1999 Hickory News interview, “I’m not gone all day every day but some people say they have to get an appointment to talk to me on the phone.”

51.   Lovable:  A 2004 newspaper feature on Alice Ruth’s 95th birthday showed her still playing the dulcimer at Adult Life with a sign behind her reading, “We love you.”

52.   Best Dressed:  The 13th Annual Cancer Survivors’ Celebration at Catawba Valley Community College in 2005 gave Alice Ruth the honor of “best dressed female” in the country and western fashion contest.

53.   Loyalty:  A note to me that same year said simply, “I do not want Corinth to leave the UCC.”

54.   Faith:  She credited God in a 1996 note to me “for my ability to still do for myself and for others.  That is a blessing to me.”


(The next ten items are titled “Ten Commandments to Worship.”  Alice Ruth gave me this from her scrapbook.  It shows both her faith and her humor.)

55.   #1:  Thou shalt not come to service late, nor for the “Amen” fail to wait.

56.   #2:  When speaks the organ’s sweet refrain, thy noisy tongue thou shalt restrain.

57.   #3:  But when the hymns are sounded out, thou shalt lift up thy voice and shout.

58.   #4:  And when the anthem thou shalt hear, thy sticky throat thou shalt not clear.

59.   #5:  The endmost seat thou shalt leave free, for more must share the pew with thee.

60.   #6:  The offering plate thou shalt not fear, but give thine utmost with cheer.

61.   #7:  Thou shalt the minister give heed, nor blame him when thou art disagreed.

62.   #8:  Unto thy neighbor thou shalt lend, and if a stranger, make a friend.

63.   #9:  Thou shalt in every way be kind, compassionate and of tender mind.

64.   #10:  And so, by all thy spirit’s grace, thou shalt show God within this place.


(Yet another scrapbook item.  She clipped this one from Bethel Church’s newsletter and shared it with me.  It’s titled, “What Makes a Church Great?”)

65.   NOT  soft seats and subdued lights, BUT strong, courageous leadership.

66.   NOT soft tones of an organ, BUT sweet personalities that reflect Jesus.

67.   NOT tall towers with chimes and bells, BUT a lofty vision of its people.

68.   NOT a big budget, BUT big hearts in the people who love and serve.

69.   NOT alone in the amount of receipts, BUT in the service rendered.

70.   NOT a big membership, BUT God’s presence, direction and power.

71.   NOT what has been done in the past, BUT what is being done now and will be done in the future.


(I also found in my Alice Ruth file the “Value of a Smile.”  I’ve listed all the reasons to smile separately in my list of 101 ½ reasons Alice Ruth was special.  I think you’ll see that all of them were reflected in her life.)

72.   A smile costs nothing but creates much.

73.   A smile enriches those who receive it without impoverishing those who give it.

74.   A smile happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.

75.   None are so rich that they can get along without it, and none are so poor that they are not richer for a smile.

76.   A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in a business, and it is the countersign of friends.

77.   A smile is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble.

78.   A smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of now earthly good to anyone until it is given away.

79.   If it ever happens that some people should be too tired to give you a smile, why not leave one of yours, for nobody needs a smile as much as one who has no smile to give.

(In honor of Alice Ruth, would you take a moment, turn to your neighbor, and smile?)


(One final item from her scrapbook:  three paragraphs from a piece simply titled “hugging.”)

80.   Hugging is healthy:  It helps our body’s immune system, it keeps you healthier, it cures depression, it reduces stress, it induces sleep, it’s invigorating, it’s rejuvenating, it has no unpleasant side effects.  Hugging is nothing less than a miracle drug.

81.   Hugging is all natural:  It is organic, naturally sweet, no pesticides, to preservatives, no artificial ingredients and 100 percent wholesome.

82.   Hugging is practically perfect:  There are no movable parts, no batteries to wear out, no periodic checkups, low energy consumption, high energy yield, inflation-proof, non-fattening, no monthly payments, no insurance requirements, theft-proof, non-taxable, non-polluting and, of course, fully returnable.


83.   Devotions:  She read Our Daily Bread or the Upper Room every day to center her life on the Lord.

84.   Caroling:  A group of us from Corinth went Christmas caroling at Sterling House the Monday before Christmas.  I’m so glad we went.  She sang every song with us, including a spontaneous rendition of “Dwell In Me.”

85.   Gratitude:  After our visit, Alice Ruth told her daughter, “I want to write them a thank you note.”

86.   Treasure:  That was Nurse Betty McGee’s one-word description of Alice Ruth.  “She has given so many inspiration to embrace life’s gifts.”

87.   Memorials: Even in death, she continues to give.  Her family felt the best way to honor her would be memorials to Adult Life Programs and Corinth’s Good Samaritan Fund.

88.   Longest Member:  Since she was born into this church more than a century ago and never lived anywhere but here, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say she had the longest membership in this church of anyone who’s ever been a part of it.

89.   Most Attendance:  I’m also giving her the award for coming the most times in her lifetime.  She was so faithful for so long – how could anyone have ever darkened the door more than she?

90.   Example:  If I were to give second place for lifetime attendance, I believe it would be to Alice Ruth’s daughter, Joann Detter.

91.   Greatest Joy:  She said in 1996 that her greatest joy is “being able to do something for others.”

92.   God’s Promise:  I read this Scripture yesterday, the morning after Alice Ruth died:  Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

93.   Biggest fear:  At the same dinner she said her biggest fear was “getting disabled.”  She was, indeed, remarkably healthy of body and mind to the end of her 101 ½ years.

94.   Toots:  That was Alice Ruth’s nickname from the Sigmon side of the family.  Nobody seems to know why.  Apparently Alice Ruth’s dear sister, Mabel Sherrill, of a similarly sweet disposition, who died in 2003, gave her the name.  Two of the hymns Alice Ruth’s family asked us to sing today were the same as the hymns we sang at Mabel’s service.

95.   In the Garden:  This is a hymn about Mary Magdalene in the morning of Jesus’ resurrection – walking and talking with the Master.  It reflects Alice Ruth’s personal relationship with Jesus.

96.   Amazing Grace:  Also one of Mabel’s favorites, this well-known John Newton hymn brings us back to who we really are – wretches only saved by God’s initiative and favor through Christ’s death for our sins.

97.   Dwell In Me: Throughout my years here, I would receive hymn requests from Alice Ruth from time to time for the worship service.  They were always the same two hymns.  One of them was “Dwell In Me O Blessed Spirit.”  This hymn was written by Fanny Crosby under a pseudonym, just about 10 years before Alice Ruth was born.  It was apparently only published in hymnals of the Reformed faith.

98.   Humility:  You would think a hymn about the Holy Spirit would be based on the New Testament, but it’s actually based on David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51, which we read earlier.  The Scripture and the song reflect humility before God.  “How I need Thy help divine!”  “Keep, oh keep, this heart of mine.”  “Come, oh come, and dwell in me.”

99.   I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say: The other hymn Alice Ruth always wanted us to sing is about Jesus turning our lives around.  “I came to Jesus as I was, weary, and worn and sad; I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.”

100.     Rest:  The words of Jesus in Matthew 11 inspired this hymn.  “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  Alice Ruth never complained, but you have to believe that she was at times worn out – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  She just knew how to take her burdens to the Lord and find her rest in him so she could show the rest of us her smile.  It was a smile imprinted permanently on her face by trusting in Jesus.

101.     Eternal rest:  So now we say farewell to her now, in the confidence that she has found her eternal rest in the arms of the Jesus she knew and loved and served.

101 ½. The Half.  I had to add this one in, because Alice Ruth’s doctor recently remarked on how well she was doing for being 101 years old.  She corrected him:  “101 ½.”  I didn’t want to quit at 101 since Alice Ruth didn’t.



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