Sunday, August 4, 2019

Pride Weekend: Ruth Corker Burks

Oh my God! Tory called at 7:30 yesterday morning. She and Keith were nearby on her father’s yacht and so I went into high gear in order to be at Silva Bay at 9:00 am to pick them up. 
They had only a couple of hours to spend here, so I brought them here and showed them around and then we went into the village so they could do some shopping for the boat—and bonus: The Farmers’ Market was going. So we went there too.
Then I took then on a quick walkabout at Drumbeg and then I took them back to Silva Bay to be picked up and returned to their yacht.
Then it was into the village for four more bags of peat, and then back here again to spread it—and to remove more rocks! I removed another four wheelbarrows full; it’s an endless task. But after a break from landscaping, I had renewed energy today for it.
And oh, the spa felt good. There’s nothing like it when I’ve earned my soak through hard work. (And with a cookie. Okay … Two cookies.)
I can so happy to be able to say to myself today: Steve comes tomorrow! I’ll be saying to all day. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time.
So today I’ll relax. I’ll go on the dog walk, water thoroughly and attend to little things around the yard. Pinecone Park looks pretty great. the backyard is raw unplanted ground, but it’s really tidy.

Because it’s Pride Weekend: Pictured above, when she was twenty-five years old and today, is Ruth Coker Burks. In the late 1970s, she was a young mother living in Arkansas.
While visiting a friend with cancer in hospital, Ruth noticed nurses drawing straws from a red bag hanging on a patient’s door. They were determining a “loser’ who’s job it would become to attend to the patient.  
She asked what was going on and learned that the patient in the room had AIDS. And so, on a repeat visit, she went into the room and met the young man. He was skeleton thin, and thought Ruth was his nurse. He begged her to get his mother to come and visit.
Ruth told the nurses, who told her that the mother would not come in and that they’d been trying to get her to visit during the man’s entire six weeks on the ward. Ruth called the mother anyway and was refused. The woman called her son a “sinner,” and further, she said she would not claim his body when he died.
“I went back in his room and when I walked in, he said, ‘Oh, momma. I knew you’d come.’ Then he lifted his hand…and what was I going to do? So I took his hand. I said, ‘I’m here, honey. I’m here.’” She pulled a chair to his bedside, talked to him and held his hand until he died thirteen hours later.
After finally finding a funeral home that would prepare his body, and paying for the cremation out of her own savings, Ruth buried his ashes on her family’s large plot. And after this first encounter, Ruth cared for other patients. She would take them to appointments, obtain medications, apply for assistance, and even kept supplies of AIDS medications on hand, as some pharmacies would not carry them.
Her work became well known in the city and she received financial assistance from gay bars, "They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night and here’d come the money. That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent. If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done”, Ruth said.
Over the next 30 years, Ruth cared for over 1,000 people and buried more than 40 on her family’s plot, most of them, gay men whose families would not claim their ashes. 
For this, Ruth has been nicknamed the ‘Cemetery Angel’
She’s sixty now, she’s still doing activist and advocacy work, and working on a memoir.

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