According to family lore, Aunt Ruth and I ganged up on the adults in our life from the time I was born when she was eleven years old. Her mother had died the previous year leaving my grandfather with a couple of teenagers, a ten-year-old, and an eight-year-old still at home. He didn’t know his way around a kitchen or a washpot and even if he had, his dawn to dark hours on the farm left him no time for housekeeping. My parents, in the interest of giving Papaw some help with the house and children and themselves some help with food and rent, had moved back out to the home place.
The story goes that this worked out well until I was about a year old. By that time, I needed some correction from time to time. Aunt Ruth reacted by tattling in horror to Mama about Daddy’s corrections. If Papaw saw the need to scold Aunt Ruth, I returned the favor and cried. In the interest of establishing some discipline, Mama and Daddy rented a small place in the village of Sturgis, near enough to help with housework but far enough away to foil our attempts to intervene with discipline.
My memories of Aunt Ruth include many things:
• Readings that were more like performances of “The Elephant’s Child” and “Little Orphant Annie”
• Her beautiful curly hair and wanting to look like her, which was never going to happen since mine was bone straight [It took a while, but now that we are both gray-headed, her brother told someone when I was visiting him in Arizona, “If you want to know what my baby sister looks like, this is it.”]
• Her beauty hint when I was about six that I should keep my cuticles pushed back so I could have good-looking nails when I was her age [You can check if you like. I have nice nails with barely visible cuticles.]
• Her taking me to see Showboat, still one of my favorite movies, when I visited her and Uncle Leo as a young teenager after she married. She swore me to secrecy about the movie, “Don’t tell Virginia” because she thought Mama might not approve. [I don’t think Mama would have cared, but I never told.]
My sisters and I have had many good times with Aunt Ruth as adults. If there has been a sister event to shop, see a museum, or take a trip, she has claimed a spot with the justification that she was closer to our ages than to Mama’s, which made her more like a sister than an aunt. However, when there were hard decisions with Mama’s aging and Alzheimer’s Disease, she said, “Oh, I can’t get into that. I’m only an aunt.” Sister or aunt seems to depend on the one that appeals to her at the time.
Aunt Ruth was at our house when she turned sixteen. She told me several days before that her birthday would be on July 1, but that I would never remember. I did then and I do, today. Happy birthday, Sister/Aunt Ruth.