Ruth arrived at Wheaton College in 1937. Three years later, she
met the man everyone was talking about. He captured her heart and
they married in 1943 in Montreat. The honeymoon in Blowing Rock
was short and sweet before the couple began a 750 mile trek to their
new home in Hinsdale, Illinois. He answered a call from a small
congregation at a salary of fifty-five dollars a week.
Early in 1945, lonely and often alone while her new husband traveled
the country with ever increasing invitations to say the words, Ruth
was thrilled when he agreed that she should be close to her parents
while he traveled. Home became an upstairs bedroom at the Bells
house. He traveled to virtually ever large city in the country.
She stayed right there in Montreat.
In September that year, the first child was born, and in the fall
of 1947, another baby was on the way. They bought a two story summer
house across the street from the Bells; the monthly payments, forty-five
dollars. A third daughter was born in 1950, and though the girls
demanded much of the young mothers time, the first son was
born in 1952.
By 1954, there was little privacy on Assembly Drive. He was famous
for speaking the words and she struggled to live through the unexpected
and unwanted notoriety. Ive tacked Private, No Admittance
over my life, and it wont work. I belong to God and He placed
me here, and He will undertake for me and give me poise, grace,
love, wisdom all I need to bring Him honor in the life He has appointed.
Then she began a search.
She worried about the children having a normal childhood. She heard
people talk. There they go, those are his children. They must be
perfect. Its an odd kind of cross to bear, yet those who have
not been through it would consider it some kind of glory.
That year, Ruth stumbled upon a beautiful 150 acre cove just two
miles from their house on Assembly Drive, and, although he had seen
and surveyed the property on one of his brief stints at home, he
was nonetheless shocked to discover on his return from a trip to
the West Coast that he owned Little Piney Cove, Ruth having borrowed
the $4300 purchase price from a local bank. I arrived in Asheville
at 1 AM on a Friday. I stretched out to sleep but thoughts raced
through my mind, thinking about the next morning; would he be on
the mountain. I trusted her, but she was nearly eighty. Maybe she
forgot, or simply didnt tell him. I had made it clear over
the phone that I would be there Saturday morning. But if he knew
some stranger was coming to measure his nose, he might just conveniently
disappear for a walk on the mountain. You tried to do a portrait
In the morning, I felt drained yet stimulated to forge ahead. I
looked in the motel mirror. Tired face. But the bust made the trip
fine, no sign of road weariness or wear. The angles were still bold,
the eyes intense.
We made it over to Black Mountain in about thirty minutes. I drove
and he rode with Eudora in the back seat, both clay heads sitting
on a flat platform rigged up for the trip. Andys bronze head
was in the trunk. I turned left at Black Mountain and drove on up
to Montreat. The stone entry arch was unchanged from the time that
the newlyweds left for Blowing Rock five decades earlier. After
a year long journey, I had arrived on the mountain. What were you
When I passed the Montreat Presbyterian Church, I called her from
my cell phone.
Hello, I heard the familiar voice.
Good morning, Miz Ruth. Could she have forgotten about
my arrival? I had spoken to her two days before.
Well, good morning.
Im here in Montreat with the bust and I thought Id
check and see what your schedule is.
Youre here on the mountain? she sounded almost
surprised. We will pray for you.
Thats right. Its beautiful.
Oh, isnt it lovely? Do you know how to get to the gate?
I didnt even know there was a gate, much less where it was.
No maam, Ive never been up here. Uncharted waters.
Negative thoughts seeped in. What if he didnt like it? Now
who is this supposed to be? Apparently she became know over much
of western North Carolina in the mid 1950s, not as his wife,
but as the little woman buying run down, often uninhabitable log
cabins, parts of other old buildings, and, more often than not,
inspecting the materials and doing the deal herself.
Ruth was building her dream house, secluded comfort and stimulation
for the whole family while waiting for him to return from some other
place. For her it would be the epitome of fine living, the older
the material the better, an architectural and building philosophy
way before its time. As a matter of fact, some of the finish carpenters
quit the job because they wouldnt build a house where the
new lumber was used for framing.
I cant build no house where you use that hunerd year old stuff
on the outside where everbody cin see it. Could rern a mans
reputation, Miz Ruth.
Her visiting husband, gone as much as he was home, had other ideas
about luxury, something along the lines of hotel living. But he
eventually compromised by asking and getting a comfortable chair
and good lighting.
So there I was navigating the same mountain and arriving at the
gate, honking my horn twice, and watching the barrier part. I was
going to the mountaintop.
The last quarter of a mile before reaching the house was steep,
so steep Im not sure I could have ridden a bike to the top.
Its a rather strenuous trek up to the house but the walk down
can be tricky too. They had made the walk more than a few times
over the years.
I rounded the last turn and above me I could see the cabin, rustic
yet elegant, sitting on the site just like she had seen it in her
mind. I eased on up the hill imagining a thirty-four year old Ruth,
with an inward beauty she would deny possessing and that stunning
outward beauty that she spent a lifetime trying to ignore, hiking
up the same hill and finding her refuge from a rapidly growing family
There was something special about the place. I could sense that
with no effort. Little Piney Cove. I told her I would be there on
Saturday morning. I was. Surely she had told him. Is this
OK? I spoke through the car window to a man, fiftyish, solid
build, but not really big. He quietly appeared from behind a small
garden house when I pulled into the drive by the house. How
you doin? I reached out to shake his hand.
Welcome to Little Piney Cove. Im Bill, he smiled
and I felt a strong grip. Shes expecting you.
There was a pleasant business tone about him. What had she told
him? Probably nothing I wanted to hear.
Bill and I walked over towards the door and the stone step platform.
I wondered how they got all the huge logs up that steep slope. The
door opened and there she stood, petite, white hair, sharp features
covered with aging skin, and wearing a floor length house coat and
house slippers. Seventy-eight years old. The beauty was hard to