Two Passings: Ruth Mabe, Gene Miller

Published 10:31 am Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two obituaries jumped out at me from the paper this week: Ruth Mabe of Mocksville and Gene Miller of Farmington.

Ruth Mabe, 80, was my long-time friend although I may have actually met her only once. We were telephone acquaintances. She called me when something was on her mind or when something in the newspaper upset her.

She had lots of opinions, usually the opposite of mine.

After a couple calls, she never had to identify herself again. Her voice was unmistakable. I always knew it was Ruth on the other end of the line. Truth is, sometimes I dodged her calls, but she always found me — if not at work, at home.

She called three months ago to tell me she was dying. She had “The Cancer,” and it was getting the upper hand. That call, she predicted, would no doubt be our last.

It was.

That last conversation was gentle and philosophical. She harbored no resentments, no unfulfilled wish list. She called me her friend, and I was deeply honored. We talked about God a little, about our friendship that spanned more than two decades, and we talked very matter-of-factly about dying.

Out of town for a couple days last week, I didn’t see her obituary until Monday.

This job puts me in contact with all kinds of people. Wealthy and poor. Liberal and conservative. Christian and heretic. Young and old.

Ruth and I could disagree without being disagreeable. We never slammed the phone down on the other. She could overlook my wrong-headed ideas, and I could forgive hers. We always parted friends. Especially on that last very touching telephone call.

• • • • •

From my childhood, I have always known about Gene Miller, the dairyman on the west side of Farmington. Tall, hard-working and devout, he had a herd of Holsteins similar to my father’s cows on the east side. He was a pillar of the community — well respected.

He died Sunday at age 93. He was still driving his John Deere and farming until a few years ago.

One of his sons married one of my sisters. His wife, a nurse, gave me shots at the Farmington medical clinic when I was a boy.

I knew Gene Miller’s choice of tractors, his sons’ names, how tall his corn grew, where he went to church, his membership in the Grange and the color of his car. I had seen his easy smile and gentle demeanor.

What I didn’t know until reading his obituary was that Gene Miller was a machine gunner in World War II who joined the fight with the U.S. Army’s 44th Division as the soldiers marched across France and into Germany through the muddiest and bloodiest part of the war for the American forces. He saw action at the Battle of the Bulge and more, earning three Bronze Stars.

I had no clue. A machine gunner.

Certainly, his family knew. But there was no fuss about it. That was the past for him. He came home from the war and resumed farming, building a house across N.C. 801 from his father. Far from the French hedgerows with German Panzers prowling about, his life returned to normal as he planted corn, milked cows and searched the skies for rain to make the crops grow.

For a couple of years in his youth, this mild-mannered, quiet man rained a torrent of bullets upon the Nazis war machine.

My sympathy to both families.

— Dwight Sparks