It is a Gift to be Called Ruth

Aunt Ruth, my great aunt, lived down the street from my grandma and grandpa in a town I used to describe as, “I mean, like, totally SMALLER than Mayberry.”

For most of my life — and most of my mom’s, too — she lived in this house.

She lived there with my Uncle Burke until he died in 1982. I was reminded of the date in her obituary last night.

This picture is from their wedding — which, according to that obit, was in 1949.

Obituaries are funny things. Even the best ones are stingingly inadequate. Attempts to use words to describe a person’s presence, for the most part, fail. But when someone has died, those words seem to be all we have.

Unless you believe in spirits. I don’t know if I do anymore.

Last night, I heard an animal in the building next door call out just as I was falling asleep. I couldn’t tell if it was a cat or a dog. In my half-awake state, I thought, what if that’s what I’ve been waiting for? What if that’s one of my ghosts calling out to me? What if that’s as good as it gets — any contact from the other side — just a muffled sound, so you can’t tell if it’s a cat or a dog or an aunt or a lover?

So you read the obituaries until you have them practically memorized. And you write your own. And you hold on to the memories, and you find anyone — almost anyone — who will listen to them and tell you their own.

At least that’s what I’ve done.

Aunt Ruth was stronger — she remained stoic in her times of loss.

She embodied complete dignity, always.

Here’s something not covered in Aunt Ruth’s obituary.

Back in the 70’s, when I was a girl, one day she let me come to work with her. I loved playing office. There was a big machine there — something I had never seen before — that could make copies instantly. A Xerox! Aunt Ruth had the best idea of placing my hand on the glass, and turning my face away, and making a copy of my palm. I’ve always remembered how much fun that day was.

Safe. That’s the word I keep coming up with for what it felt like to be with Aunt Ruth. That seems like an odd thing to say. But it’s wonderful, really. She was never unkind, never imposing, never unpredictable.

She smiled a lot.

Here’s another thing her obit doesn’t say in so many words. After Uncle Burke died, Aunt Ruth lived independently for thirty years. My grandmother, Mary, had a similar path. Both women were so strong, so self-sufficient, so wise, practical, active, generous — it amazes me to think about the example they’ve set.

I am very lucky. And very grateful.

And I will always be just one of two Ruths.


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