Ruthless Ruth—Talking to the Elders
I walked out to of the local market on my home with a small bag of miscellaneous stuff, when I caught up with an elderly woman shuffling to her car. She had a torn down cardboard box that she seemed to be struggling to balance on top of her cart. Her white hair looked newly coiffed and I thought of grandmother who never missed her weekly hair appointments; I am sure she is a regular at the Heavenly salon. Why not ask if you could help, I thought to myself. The resulting conversation inspired me to blog.
“Excuse me would you like some help with that box?” I asked with my sincerest smile.
“What?” The woman said spinning around to face me.
“Do you need help with the box?” I said a bit louder.
“You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf.” She barked back
“Do I look like I need help?” She stood as proud as a soldier guarding his post.
“No, I just…”
“I manage just fine.” A deep defiance filled her words.
“Okay.” I smiled inwardly thinking of my stubborn Italian mother—she would be the same way at that age I thought.
“If you’re going that way well that is another thing.” The woman said as if talking to the air.
“Well I am going that way as a matter of fact.” I noticed she had stopped to study me. I was sure she didn’t trust my neon orange blouse.
“Okay then, take that box for me will you?”
“My name is Ruth—ruthless Ruth that is.” The woman said with a smirk.
As she resumed her shuffling we ambled our way to her car while Ruth complained about the store not having the yogurt she likes and that too many people were texting now a days. I was secretly impressed that she knew the world “texting” but said nothing. She asked me, “Do you think we’ll ever learn to speak to one another again?” I told her I sure hope so. She continued spewing about the English language being desecrated and complaining about the yogurt. I began to worry about time as this was supposed to be a short trip to the store—a quick diversion from my computer. By the time we got to her car, I could have walked home, made a cup of tea, done a short yoga practice and resumed my writing.
But fate interceded, Ruthless Ruth was now warmed up and ready to chat. As I put the folded cardboard in the car she began her story from the beginning. Born into a family of eleven in Iowa, she went to a one room school house with first through twelfth grade students mixed in together. “Everyone learned to read and write.” Ruth told me. “But when the harvest came; we all had to stay home and help our families.” She drove me through the eras of her youth conjuring images of the past, which seemed uncomplicated, simple.
When I asked how she got to California, the conversation took a turn for the worse and the magic memories became nightmarish as she recalled her “stupid father” and his hasty high minded decisions. She explained that her father was too young for WWI and too old for WWII but his blood boiled for battle. He dragged the family out to California where he could work for the shipyards that supplied the Navy. After the war, he went back to Iowa, sold the farm and the family never heard from him again. Ruth spoke of the strength of her mother during those times raising eleven kids without a husband.
“Like hell women are weaker.” She spouted. “Imagine if a man had to bear and then raise eleven children on his own.”
“He would never survive.” I chimed in.
“Well, I'm keeping you now. Say what was your name?”
“Karen—and I won’t forget yours—Ruthless Ruth.”
She chuckled and gave me a soft slap on the shoulder. She told me she shopped everyday around this time if I wanted to talk again. We bid our goodbyes and I walked home thinking about how much history I just heard. Life seems to have gotten too busy for mere talk now a days, I thought. For those past twenty minutes or so I was transported back in time. Ruth went on her on her yogurt quest and I back to my house happy to have had this detour; it reminded me of times spent listneing to my grandmother—I somehow felt her presence with me.
So if your walking down a street some time and run across an elder strike up a conversation—they are our history and we owe them. The elders have something to say and prefer to speak face to face then waste time on a text.
Please share any similar stories with me—I would love to read them.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.