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Mack Williams: An anniversary

This week marks the third anniversary of the passing of my old friend, Esther Rufty-Hodgin. The Feb. 18 Okey Dokey fire made me think of Esther, but it takes much less than the prodding of a three-alarm fire to cause me to remember her.

What follows is my very last memory of Esther, not from life but from her funeral and graveside service. In a sense, she was still present, having planned the service at Saint John’s Lutheran, as well as the City Memorial Park graveside. Esther picked the scriptures, congregational hymns, my singing of “Amazing Grace,” and probably Mr. Durocher’s organ prelude and postlude as well.

Esther also planned a beforehand barbecue lunch, catered by College Barbecue (Esther’s favorite) in the Saint John’s fellowship hall for family and friends. One of Esther’s cousins called me some days earlier to tell me of the plans for the service. At the end of our conversation, she said: “I’ve got to run some errands for Esther” (maybe checking with College Barbecue was one).

During the luncheon, the cousin told me College Barbecue’s staff had said: “Whatever Esther wants, we will do it for Esther!”

In the Saint John’s library, the Rufty family received friends among two tables holding pictures from different stages of Esther’s life (probably also hand-picked by her).

In one, Esther was a toddler in a wheat field, in others, with family and husband Richard.

One photograph, according to a family member, was an art project while Esther was at Appalachian.

That photograph seems to place Esther outside a shop window (a shop’s involvement not being a novel thing for a Rufty). I don’t know for sure, but the scene’s setting reminds me of the former Glass Barn store on Highway 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock. In addition to selling figurines and other glass artworks, several of its walls consisted of great glass windows.

The outward-looking photograph shows Esther on the outside, looking in, her eyes seemingly directed between the shelved “knick-knacks” to meet the eyes of the picture’s onlooker. The scene is quite hypnotic, and of course, beautiful.

Saint John’s Rev. Nelson read Esther’s chosen scriptures, dealing with how to treat others in this life, instead of being concerned with rewards in the next.

While singing “Amazing Grace,” I saw a white-cloth covered “something” sitting on a table to my left. Knowing this must be Esther’s urn, I dared not look, for fear of choking up and throwing a wrench into Esther’s plans for the day.

When Esther’s urn was uncovered at the graveside, I realized there had been nothing to fear. Instead of being one of those brass, scary, “howitzer-shell” sort of containers, it was gracefully oblate, and seemingly made from light blue porcelain. There were criss-crossing blue lines, giving a “mosaic” look.

Its lid had a scene reminding me of mountains, blue sky and clouds, reminiscent of the view of Boone’s “Howard’s Knob” when Esther and I were students at Appalachian. I feel sure that view hasn’t changed.

The small green price sticker attached to one side told the story: Esther had purchased her own “urn” at Goodwill. This type of urn, not death-oriented, could have been used just as well to keep “Starlight Mints!”

One of Esther’s cousins posed for a picture with the urn, propping chin upon hand, with her elbow on the wooden table next to where the urn rested. Another cousin advised her to move a bit to the side, saying it appeared as if she were rising out of Esther’s urn. Having always regarded Esther as “cool,” upon seeing and hearing this, I then knew that a good many members of the Rufty family are cool too!

Esther’s dear friend Rusty Clinard was standing not far away, and there were some young people exercising on a nearby walking trail. Seeing them, I remembered when Esther, Rusty and I were similarly young at Appalachian, forty-something years ago.

Esther planned everything about that day in order to make the memory of her funeral a pleasant, not tragic thing.

The “tearing of the eyes” usually brings forth “sniffles of the nose,” an anatomical path which was thoroughly mapped years ago.

But in this case, my recollection of Esther’s green-sticker priced “Goodwill urn” also leads to my voice box, where a light-hearted sound comes forth. The same probably goes for others present that day, honoring her one-of-a-kind views.

This light-hearted, warm, pleasant laugh leaving my throat this very moment is surely Esther’s plan.

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