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Monday, September 26, 2016

(1) OF ALL THE NERVY PEOPLE, SHE IS THE NERVIEST.

RELATIVE PAIN

      "When I was walking home from school," my cousin Florence told me, "there was a place where I could look through several yards and see whether Mother's car was in the driveway.  If it was, my heart would sink.  I knew I would have the usual interrogation to face, probing into my every action, even my every thought.  And then I would be told what I should have done, should have thought."
     "Mother" was my father's sister Ruth.  In 1911, at the age of forty, she had married Norman Storer, a widower with four children.  This good Christian busybody set about engineering every aspect of her new family's lives, to the despair of Florence, her siblings, and at times, I expect, her husband.   In appearance, she was considered handsome.   She had naturally wavy hair in a military cut, a bust like a battleship's prow, and another singularly prominent feature, her nose.  Its aquiline shape seemed designed for prying into the affairs of others, sometimes quite literally.
     When Ruth visited my family, the nose would first inspect the contents of our Frigidaire, sniffing out evidence of lax house-keeping.  Anything green that was not supposed to be green was called to my mother's attention and relegated to the garbage pail.  Sprouted potatoes?  Disgraceful.  Milk on the turn?  Such a waste.  More than one maid packed her bag and departed ahead of Aunt Ruth.  The rest of us had to stay because we lived there: my mother, father, a brother six years older than I, and a sister three years younger.
      When I got to the diary keeping age, Aunt Ruth was the subject of frequent complaints.  Had I known in 1935 of Thomas Brown's quatrain rejecting Dr. Fell, I could have written a parody:
    I do not love thee, Auntie Ruth.
    The reason I know not, forsooth,
    But this I know to be the truth:
    I do not love thee, Auntie Ruth.
Saturday, August 3, 1935
     After supper we went to the movies to see Shirley Temple in "Curly‑Top."  Aunt Ruth liked it, thank‑goodness.  We got home awfully late, and I was ready to drop off to sleep when she called Janeth and I into her room.  She read us a letter that she had written in 1921.  I almost yawned in her face.
Sunday, August 4, 1935
     Aunt Ruth wanted us to get up at 8:00 even though it's Sunday.  She doesn't like to sleep much I guess, because she talks until mid‑night and then gets up at 7:00. She caged Dicky in the sun‑ parlor and talked to him all morning.  I sure pitied him..                               
Friday, August 9, 1935
     This morning we decided to go horse‑back riding.  We were in the car and ready to go, when Aunt Ruth spoke up and said she wanted to come along and see us off.  We waited for her and then went to the riding place.  We had to wait about 2 hours before any horses were ready.  Finally Mother, Janeth, and I and the guide were on our horses and ready to go when Aunt Ruth said, "I think I'll come, too.  I wonder if someone will loan me some riding clothes."  The man told her there weren't any more horses unless she rode the guides horse.  So that's what she did.  The man's wife loaned her some slacks, and she came along.  Of all the nervy people, she is the nerviest.  I could tell Mother was mad, and I felt ready to explode any minute.  She was always kicking up her horse in the wrong places and trying to get in front of my horse, who was the leader.
Tuesday, August 13, 1935
     All the way to Vermont and all the way back, Janeth was always wanting maple‑sugar. Aunt Ruth said that when we got home she'd show her how to make some out of maple syrup.  So this morning I was sitting in the living‑room reading Uncle Tom's Cabin when Aunt Ruth asked me to come in and watch the maple syrup to see that it didn't boil over.  She wanted to write a letter, and Janeth was going to the store for some cream. 
     I had to put down my book and watch the maple‑syrup, which didn't  boil over.  When Janeth came home I went back to my book.  Aunt  Ruth and Janeth were stirring the maple‑syrup and cream in little  dishes, and Aunt Ruth asked me to help.  I was getting mad because she never lets me alone.  I said, "Oh, alright.  I wonder when I'll get this book finished."  She said, "Oh, this is much more important, you can read any time!"
      "Well, Janeth will probably get sick over it anyway," I said. 
     She was very indignant about that remark and wanted to know if I could think of anything worse to say.  I said I could, but I didn't think I'd better. Then she said she'd always thought I was such a sweet, loving little girl, and a lot of bunk like that. 
     "I guess I'm not, then," I said.  I'm not going to be a dear little angel in front of her even if she is daddy's sister.  He winks at me when she says something silly.  I can get along with people as long as they don't preach, but if Aunt Ruth had been a man, I bet she'd be a minister.  She's always telling me what I know perfectly well.  That I should let my elders go in front of me, that I shouldn’t argue, that I won't get along in life because I have a bad disposition, etc. etc. ETC!  I know I'm no angel without her telling me.  This afternoon she asked me what I was thinking about.  I was thinking, I wish you'd go home!                      
 

(2) AUNT RUTH SAID SHE ATE TO LIVE, NOT VICE VERSA.

     Twenty four years later, it's possible I had acquired a tad more patience and tolerance, but Ruth was still Ruth, her talent for dispersing such qualities undiminished.  On April 15, 1959, while vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, I wrote to Kathie about one of my aunt's visits when Ed was back in Boston:

AUNT RUTH WITH TIMMY SANDY COVE 1947
     Before Mother and Aunt Ruth arrived from Winter Park, I hid all Dad's paperback mysteries, emptied an ashtray (filled by one of our friends), and put a liquor bottle under cover.  The one thing I couldn't do much about was my tan.  I do believe Aunt Ruth considers a tan pretty much on the sinful side—slothful, at any rate.  Sure enough, the first thing she said in a tone of dismay was:  `Oh, Barbara, what makes you so brown!'
     I said I couldn't help it. If one plays tennis and swims under the Florida sun, a certain chemical reaction takes place that darkens the skin.  Aunt Ruth is vain about two things:  her wavy snow-white hair and her snow-white skin.   Do you know what her skin looks like to me?  The underside of a snake.   Excuse me, but it really does. We had a reasonably pleasant dinner, since Aunt Ruth was on her best behavior and voiced few direct criticisms.  We dined at Creighton's, and Mother and I enjoyed our imported lobsters, although Aunt Ruth let it be known that she, for one, ate to live and not vice versa.
     On the trip back to Winter Park, Aunt Ruth began proposing all sorts of plans for me, such as having lunch with her the next day and looking over some things she wanted to show me.  I knew what “things” meant:  bushels of old letters from long dead friends and relatives, pictures, mementos like the picture made with her dead sister's hair, the family Bible, its pages saliva stained by generations of pious finger-wetting page turners. She's pushing 90 (doesn't look a day over 75), so I guess she’s anxious to find a home for her treasures before she dies.
     Mother said firmly that she had plans for me, too.  Ruth had had a chance to visit with me for several hours now, and “remember you wanted to have your Wyman all to yourself; I understood that, Ruth, even though I would have loved to see more of him than I did.”
     “But you see Barbara every summer.  I hadn't seen Wyman for two or three years.”
      Well, they argued back and forth until I broke in to say I felt like a worm being stretched between two hungry birds.  Aunt Ruth subsided, and thereafter anything she had to say was uttered in a heart‑broken quaver, accompanied by a tremulous sigh.   Mother, still trying to spare me the Family History ordeal, suggested we might meet at some place like Howard Johnson's for lunch.
     Yesterday afternoon Mother's friend Mrs. Kirk called to remind her that she and I were to have lunch at her house today.  Five minutes later Aunt Ruth called and said she'd definitely like to meet us at Howard Johnson's.  Mother explained about her forgotten date with Mrs. Kirk.
     Ever since, Aunt Ruth has bombarded me with woeful telephone calls, attempts to pin me down (now I feel like an anesthetized butterfly), and sad little allusions to the fact that Mabel Kirk is Ruth's oldest and dearest friend.  Why, Ernestine wouldn't even know Mabel Kirk if it weren't for Aunt Ruth.
     Mother pointed out again that Aunt Ruth had budgeted her time with Wyman, and Aunt Ruth broke in to say that no one could understand how close she felt to me, I was her own flesh-and-blood niece, Mother couldn't possibly feel the same way about Wyman.
     Oh well . . . perhaps I'll give her some time tomorrow.  Mother warns that I will have to listen to her read to me eight- and ten-page letters from defunct friends—boring and poorly written letters at that.
     This last paragraph makes me feel uncomfortable.  I think I'll sign off right now. . .

(3) "FOOD IS NOT IMPORTANT TO ME," SAID RUTH.

March 20, 1960
     Harken, Babs, to the latest Ruth episode.
     I took her to church and there I heard one of the finest sermons I’ve heard for many a long Sunday.  I suggested we have lunch at a steak house not far off.
     “Food is not important to me,” said Ruth.  “I will go home and get something, myself.”
     On the way to her place she asked to stop to see the Websters for a few minutes.  I took her there and after she had told them what was on her mind, we were about to leave when Bess said: “I suppose you’re going to lunch somewhere together.”
     “No, I said.  “I’m taking Ruth home and then I’ll go somewhere.”
     “You’re not taking me home!” said Ruth.  “I want to go with you.”  So we got into the car and started off.  Ruth began to dissect the sermon.  I would have liked to ponder it quietly but she wanted to talk about it.  Talk, talk, talk.  She took it apart and put it together again as a child might take an intricate, delicate clock apart.  She ruined that sermon for me.  John’s carefully worded talk fell apart at the seams.  She masticated it and fed it to me as a robin stuffs predigested food into her fledgling’s beak.  I got so weary of the sound of her voice that I suddenly decided I could not sit with her through luncheon.  She would fiddle with her fork and talk while I ate.  Then I’d have to sit at least an hour while she tried to finish her dinner, her teeth being poor.
     “I’ll drop you at the cafeteria,” I said, as it was near enough to her apartment so she could walk home.  “I’m not hungry, and anyway, I’m going out to dinner tonight.  I’ll have a glass of buttermilk at home.”
     Ruth got out and I drove on.  As soon as I turned the corner I headed for the steak house and there I sat in blessed peace and silence.  When I got home the phone rang.
     “I’ve been calling and calling,” said Ruth.  “Where were you?  I finally phoned your landlady and asked her if your car was in the driveway.  She said it wasn’t so of course I knew you had gone somewhere.”
     “I said: “I changed my mind after I left you and decided I could think about a story I’m incubating at the moment, and eat at the same time.”
     “Well, I wouldn’t have gone home without eating, myself, if I’d not thought we could have dinner tonight together instead of having lunch.”
     “I told you I had a dinner engagement,” I said.  “I thought you would dine at the cafeteria where I dropped you.”
     “So you went to lunch by yourself.  You told me you were going home.  It’s obvious I can’t believe what you say.”
     I said: “I have a right to change my mind.  And I wish you would not call my landlady. I don’t like having you check up on me.  It’s infuriating!”
     Cooed Ruth with a sob in her voice: “I did it because I’m interested in you.  I was worried.  I thought something must have happened to you when your phone rang and you didn’t answer.”
     “Well, don’t be interested in me, Ruth.  I don’t check up on you, so why should you do it to me?  After all I’m sixty-six years old.  If anything happens to me, you’ll be informed of it by the police, you may be sure.  Just let me alone.”
     “In other words you want me to let you think only of yourself and never consider me.”
     I have finally decided that next year when I come back I shall attend another church.  Then I wouldn’t be in the position of having to drive Ruth to church and inevitably have my Sunday ruined.  She riles me and makes a scene almost every time we are together.  She derides television and everyone who watches it, no matter with what discrimination, condemns wholesale every religion except Unitarianism, and sees the whole world through ugly dark glasses.  I fight her pessimism constantly.  If she sees a butterfly, she ignores the wings and stares at the worm.
        Why should she think she has possession of me just because she happens to be the sister of my husband . . . .

(4) "THE BEYER TRAIN IS LEAVING, WITH OR WITHOUT RUTH."

In November of 1959, Mother let off steam in another long letter:

      Now for the latest Aunt Ruth saga.  It is really comical although irritating.  Ruth asked me if I’d take her to Gainesboro so she could talk over a business matter with Morris.  I agreed to go, this past Friday.  I said I would arrange to pick up my mail instead of having it delivered, and we could leave at 9:30 A.M. 
        Well, Thursday night she phoned me at 11 P.M.  Waking me from a sound sleep even though I have told her many times that if I am wakened, I never go to sleep again.  She said she had phoned Morris, and he had arranged to meet us at the Tower House in Gainesboro at 12:30.  She had accepted for us his invitation to lunch there.  This she said would necessitate our leaving at 7:00 A.M.  I protested that this would not give me time to collect my mail, and that since tomorrow was Saturday, the children released from school would be around.  I would worry about my mail being left in my mailbox, since there was a rumor that sometimes they mischievously robbed the boxes.  I was expecting checks, I said, which I sorely needed.  What’s more, I had only three cents in my purse.  I had expected to cash a check before starting.
     “I have $25.00, Ruth said, “and surely you can risk your mail just this once.  I don’t want to phone Morris again at this hour.”
     So I finally agreed to start at 7:00.  Then I went back to bed and lay awake until 1:00, at which time I took a sleeping pill.  At 6 A.M. I awoke, got up, packed, had a hasty breakfast and hurried to Ruth’s.  She came to the door, looked at me in great surprise and said: “Goodness!  You’re early!”  I said, “I’m here on the dot of seven, as you asked me to be.”          She said: “I said eight!”
     She was not dressed or packed, and had not had her breakfast.  So I waited.  Do you think she hurried?  Not she.  She typed an envelope or two, went to the mailbox and mailed some letters which she had obviously been writing instead of packing, talked to her tenant, got her breakfast, and was ready at 8 A.M.
     We started along and got to the Tower House 45 minutes too early.  I would have had plenty of time to pick up my mail!  From then on I had a lovely time, for Gretchen, her mother and aunt and dear Morris and his two wonderful boys are awfully good company.  Having discovered that it took only three hours to make the trip in daylight, I told Ruth that I wanted to leave the next day, Saturday, at 1:30 if possible, and no later than 3 PM under any circumstances.  I explained that I did not like to drive in the dark as lights bothered me, and further said that I wanted very much to keep my engagement with the Websters in Orlando to watch The Big Surprise as it had reached a most exciting stage.
     She agreed to be ready.
     Well, all Saturday morning she watched the children water-ski, etc, talked to Gretchen and her mother, and finally started off on a trip with Morris to see his hen houses.  I imagined that during some of this time she was talking over the matter which had brought her there—some financial problem.  We had a wonderful lunch and then sat around talking—Gretchen, her mother and aunt, Ruth and I, for an hour.  Morris had disappeared. Exactly at 3 PM I got up and said we must be going.
     It was then that Ruth arose hastily, and left us saying: “I’ve got to talk over a business problem with Morris,” and with my mouth dropped open, I watched her hasten off in the direction of Morris’s bedroom.
     At 4 PM I told Tommy to take her this message: “The Beyer train is leaving for Winter Park with or without Ruth!”
     A little after four (a full hour late!) we were on the road.  At six I turned my lights on and drove for an hour and a half in the dark, which I had explained so troubled me.  I arrived at Winter Park just as The Big Surprise was ending.  So I took her home, but as I did so, I said: “I cannot understand why you left the matter for which you took the whole trip until the minute it was time to start home.”
     She said: “It isn’t my fault.  I didn’t do anything.  It’s Morris’s fault!  He wouldn’t talk things over—there was always something else to do.  Blame Morris, not me!”
     I said: “You could have gone to him in his bedroom an hour before you did instead of talking with the folks and me.  But no.  You wait until it’s time to leave, making me drive after dark and miss my favorite program.”
     Everyone is sick of her, everyone has had experiences similar to mine.  She is making me embarrassed to own any relationship with her . . . Much love, Mother     
                                                                                 
     Twenty-four years later, it's possible I had acquired a tad more patience and tolerance, but Ruth was still Ruth, her talent for straining such qualities undiminished.  On April 15, 1959, while vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, I was faced with one of her visits when my husband---luckily for him---was back in Boston:
     Before Mother and Aunt Ruth arrived from Winter Park, I hid all Ed's paperback mysteries, emptied an ashtray (filled by one of our friends), and put a liquor bottle under cover.  The one thing I couldn't do much about was my tan.  I do believe Aunt Ruth considers a tan pretty much on the sinful side—slothful, at any rate.  Sure enough, the first thing she said in a tone of dismay was:  `Oh, Barbara, what makes you so brown?'
     I said I couldn't help it. If one plays tennis and swims under the Florida sun, a chemical reaction takes place that darkens the skin.  Aunt Ruth is vain about two things:  her wavy snow-white hair and her snow-white skin.   In my younger days I had privately likened her skin to the underside of a snake.  
     We three had a reasonably pleasant dinner at Creighton's, since Aunt Ruth was on her best behavior and voiced few direct criticisms.   Mother and I enjoyed our imported lobsters, although Aunt Ruth let it be known that she, for one, ate to live and not vice versa.
     Over dessert, from which my aunt abstained, she began proposing her plans for me, such as having lunch at her house the next day and looking over some things she wanted to show me.  I knew what “things” meant:  old letters from long dead friends and relatives, pictures, mementos like the picture frame made from her dead sister's hair, the family Bible, its pages saliva stained by generations of pious finger-wetting page turners. She was pushing 90 (didn't look a day over 75), so I supposed she was anxious to find a home for her treasures.
     Mother said firmly that she had plans for me, too.  Ruth had had a chance to visit with me for several hours now, and "Remember, Ruth, you wanted to have your Wyman all to yourself.  I understood that even though I would have loved to see more of him than I did.”
     “But you see Barbara every summer.  I hadn't seen Wyman for two or three years.”
      Well, they argued back and forth until I broke in to say I felt like a worm being stretched between two hungry birds.  Aunt Ruth subsided, and thereafter anything she had to say was uttered in a heart‑broken quaver, accompanied by a tremulous sigh.   Mother, still trying to spare me the Family History ordeal, suggested we might meet at some place like Johnson's for lunch.
     The next afternoon Mother's friend Mrs. Kirk called to remind her that she and I were to have lunch at her house.   Five minutes later Aunt Ruth called and said she'd definitely like to meet us at Johnson's.  Mother explained about her forgotten date with Mrs. Kirk.
     Aunt Ruth then bombarded us with woeful telephone calls, attempts to pin me down (now I felt like an anesthetized butterfly), and sad little allusions to the fact that Mabel Kirk was Ruth's oldest and dearest friend.  Ernestine wouldn't even know Mabel Kirk if it weren't for her.
     Mother pointed out again that Ruth had budgeted her time with Wyman, whereupon Ruth broke in to say that no one could understand how close she felt to me, I was her own flesh-and-blood niece, Ernestine couldn't possibly feel the same way about Wyman.
     Mother's letters about Aunt Ruth amused me so much that I saved them; it was doubtless her influence that led me to use my own letters as a form of therapy.  In February of 1959, Mom wrote from Winter Park:
Dear Babs,
     Every day I thank my stars I'm not living with Ruth.  She is more "sot in her ways" than she's ever been.  And she tries earnestly to keep tabs on me.  It is really ludicrous.  Imagine!   One morning when I came home from breakfast—I’d gone out for once, though I usually just make coffee from the tap—Mrs. Chubb said:  "I have a message from Mrs. Storer.  She wants you to call her every day and tell her what you're going to do, and when you'll be back."  I could scarcely believe she had gotten it straight, but when I phoned Ruth, sure enough, that's just what she wanted of me. 
     "Call me every day before you go out, and let me know where you're going and when you'll get home."  "Why?" I asked.  "Because sometimes when I phone you, you aren't in," she said.  Of course, I’ll do nothing of the sort.  She'll just have to phone again, as she does with all her friends.  Alice told me that when she took a room, this year, for the short while preceding the buying of her house, she made an agreement, hard and fast with Ruth,  that she was not to check up on her or be worried if she didn't come in early, nights, etc.  She was with Ruth twenty‑two days.  Every single morning Ruth suggested to her that she try and use her egg‑coddler.  Every day for twenty‑two mornings, Alice said agreeably:  "I'm glad you like it and get so much pleasure from your coddler.  But I like to do my egg this way."
     "I never saw anyone with such an iron determination to make people do  things her way," Alice told me.  "If she doesn't put it over the first time, she will try again and again, perhaps changing her method of approach just a little—but never giving up."
     It seems that Ruth likes to read to people.  This drives everyone distracted, myself included, for I so dislike her voice.   She wanted to read an article aloud, but Alice told her she couldn't follow the material unless she read it to herself.   Ruth told me with a long sour face that she couldn't understand why Alice didn't like to be read to.   "I like to be read to," she said, as if she were the criterion for all.  I told her how I had offered just once to read a paragraph to you, and how you had said you wouldn't follow it, and didn't enjoy being read aloud to. 
     "I wasn't offended," I told Ruth.  "Why should I have been?  Some people hear better  with their eyes.  We are all different."  Passing the house of a friend, Ruth made the remark:  "Miss Geddess always has her blinds drawn.  I don't like to live in a cave. I never have."  I told her some people liked sunlight and others did not.  It's funny how she uses herself as a measuring stick, and anyone that isn’t like her is peculiar.  Alice, the gentlest of people and the least critical, said yesterday:  "Ruth would like a world full of Ruths . . . and she, managing every one of them."
     I got going on this early today, because Ruth phoned me at 7:30 a. m. I was so sound asleep that I had to be called several times.  I staggered to the phone, and Ruth asked me if I had been up.  When I said no, she said:  "Well, I had to call you early because the other day when I phoned you, you were out."   The courtesy rule is not to phone before 9:00, but to save herself trouble, she risked waking me, which she did.  She had phoned to tell me to be sure to stop in and pick up some fruit for Dick and Dixie as I'm going to St. Pete tomorrow.  It was a kindly idea, ill carried out, poor thing.
     Alice's house is a dream and I shall love living there for a little while.  We are together as much as possible.  I sold long ago my Civic Concert tickets, but an acquaintance gave me one for the remaining of the series.  I went the other night with Peggy Cone and several others in Peg's car.  Peg told me that Ruth had made arrangements to go with her best friend, Mabel, and that she and Mabel had yearly tickets on the bus which takes them to the concert hall door.  I met Ruth during the concert intermission, and she seemed surprised to see me.  The next day she questioned me sharply about it. 
     "You told me you had sold your tickets," she said.  "Why didn't you tell me you were going last night?"   "I didn't know it before that time," I replied.  "I was given the tickets shortly before the concert."
     "How did you get to the hall?" she asked.
     "Peg took me in her car."
     There was a long silence.  Then: "Peg was my friend long before she became yours.  I think she owes me something.  Why didn't she ask me to go with her?"
     "Why," I answered in honest amazement, "she told me you always went with Mabel and that you both had season tickets on the bus."
     "The reason I go on the bus is because I've been advised not to drive at night," she said coldly.  "I think it is time that people began to think of me, and see that I get places.  I am going to the Florida Orchestra concert tonight, and I suppose I'll have to taxi there."
     That put me in a box.  She knew I was going, so of course I had to offer to take her with Alice and Letty and a Miss Ferguson, all of us being so happy and congenial.  I shall have to take Ruth from now on...There is no getting out of it.  Well, I took her—but I seated her at the end of the row, myself next to her.  Mercifully Alice and Miss Ferguson and Letty had me between Ruth and them.  I talked to Ruth so that the others could enjoy themselves, and Ruth would not feel neglected.  She certainly does commandeer things in a high‑handed way, though.
     Coming home in the dark, Alice sat beside me and the rest were in the rear of the car.  I asked Ruth for directions, and she said:  "Why, you ought to know your way around."
     Alice spoke up in my defense.  "She hasn't been here for two years—and Winter Park is greatly built up and changed."
     "If she just goes in the right direction she will eventually come out on Mill St," said Ruth.  "She ought to know that."
     All this wasn't helpful to my driving.  When we came to a red light Ruth sang out, "A red light, Ernestine.  Better stop."   Alice became so still that I knew she was praying!  The next morning, when we met for Chapel, she said:  "You were an angel, last night.  I should have thought Ruth would have driven you crazy.  I would have pulled up at the curb and said: `What I want is directions that I can follow.  Who can give them to me?’”
     I told her Ruth's behavior had had a slow motion reaction.  I couldn't go to sleep, getting madder and madder as I lay waiting for Morpheus.  I recalled that Ruth, taking me to Alice's house in daylight, had gotten confused, and had wandered all over, getting more and more mixed up and making us late for tea.  "Don't tell Alice I didn't find her house easily," she begged as we finally got there.  And I had not done so.  But as we entered the Chapel, I told her at last, because that was what had been the last straw—recalling that incident at midnight, I had to get up and take a hot bath in order to calm down.  Fancy Ruth, who got lost in daylight when she has lived in W.P. for twenty years, getting impatient with me for not finding my way downtown in heavy traffic, at night—when I had never driven there before.  I'd always been taken!
     This letter sputters like an ailing motor‑boat.  But now it's off my chest and I can see the funny side of it.  Only it isn't funny enough to make me want to spend much time with Ruth, laughing.  Loads of love to all, Mother                                          

(5) RUTH SANG OUT, "A RED LIGHT, ERNESTINE. BETTER STOP."

     The letters Mother wrote me about Aunt Ruth amused me so much that I kept them. It was undoubtedly her influence that led me to use my own letters as a form of therapy.  In February of 1959, Mom wrote from Winter Park:
Dear Babs,
     Every day I thank my stars I'm not living with Ruth.  She is more "sot in her ways" than ever.  And she tries earnestly to keep tabs on me.  It is really ludicrous.  Imagine!   One morning when I came home from breakfast—I’d gone out for once, though I usually just make coffee from the tap—Mrs. Chubb said:  "I have a message from Mrs. Storer.  She wants you to call her every day and tell her what you're going to do, and when you'll be back."  I could scarcely believe she had gotten it straight, but when I phoned Ruth, sure enough, that's just what she wanted of me. 
     "Call me every day before you go out, and let me know where you're going and when you'll get home."  "Why?" I asked.  "Because sometimes when I phone you, you aren't in," she said.  Of course, I’ll do nothing of the sort.  She'll just have to phone again, as she does with all her friends.  Alice told me that when she took a room with Ruth, this year, for the short while preceding the buying of her house, she made an agreement, hard and fast, that she was not to check up on her or be worried if she didn't come in early nights, etc.  She was with Ruth twenty‑two days.  Every single morning Ruth suggested to her that she try her  egg‑ coddler.  Every day for twenty‑two mornings, Alice said agreeably:  "I'm glad you like it and get so much pleasure from your coddler.  But I like to do my egg this way."
     "I never saw anyone with such an iron determination to make people do  things her way," Alice told me.  "If she doesn't put it over the first time, she will try again and again, perhaps changing her method of approach just a little—but never giving up."
     It seems that Ruth likes to read to people.  This drives everyone distracted, myself included, for I so dislike her voice.   She wanted to read aloud, but Alice told her she didn't enjoy it, and couldn't follow the material unless she read it to herself.   Yet many times Ruth tried it.  Ruth told me with a long sour face that she couldn't understand why Alice didn't like to be read to.   "I like to be read to," she said, as if she were the criterion for all.  I told her how I had offered just once to read a paragraph to you, and how you had said you wouldn't follow it, and didn't enjoy being read aloud to. 
     "I wasn't offended," I told Ruth.  "Why should I have been?  Some people hear better  with their eyes.  We are all different."  Passing the house of a friend, Ruth made the remark:  "Miss Geddess always has her blinds drawn.  I don't like to live in a cave. I never have."  I told her there had been cave dwellers in the past, and that some people liked sunlight and others did not.  It's funny how she uses herself as a measuring stick, and anyone that isn’t like her is peculiar.  Alice, the gentlest of people and the least critical, said yesterday:  "Ruth would like a world full of Ruths . . . and she, managing every one of them."
     I got started on this letter early today, because Ruth phoned me at 7:30 a. m.  I was so sound asleep that I had to be called several times.  I staggered to the phone, and Ruth asked me if I had been up.  When I said no, she said:  "Well, I had to call you early because the other day when I phoned you, you were out."   The courtesy rule is not to phone before 9:00,  but to save herself trouble, she risked waking me, which she did.  She had phoned to tell me to be sure to stop in and pick up some fruit for Dick and Dixie as I'm going to St. Pete to see them tomorrow.  It was a kindly idea, ill carried out, poor thing.
     Alice's house is a dream and I shall love living there for a little while.  We are together as much as possible.  I sold long ago my Civic Concert tickets, but an acquaintance gave me one for the remainder of the series.  I went the other night with Peggy Cone and several others in Peg's car.  Peg told me that Ruth had made arrangements to go with her best friend, Mabel, and that she and Mabel had yearly tickets on the bus which takes them to the concert hall door.  I met Ruth during the concert intermission, and she seemed surprised to see me.  The next day she questioned me sharply about it. 
     "You told me you had sold your tickets!" she said.  "Why didn't you tell me you were going last night?"   "I didn't know it before that time," I replied.  "I was given the tickets shortly before the concert."
     "How did you get to the hall?" she asked.
     "Peg took me in her car."
     There was a long silence.  Then: "Peg was my friend long before she became yours.  I think she owes me something.  Why didn't she ask me to go with her?"
     "Why," I answered in honest amazement, "she told me you always went with Mabel and that you both had season tickets on the bus."
     "The reason I go on the bus is because I've been advised not to drive at night," she said coldly.  "I think it is time that people began to think of me, and see that I get places.  I am going to the Florida Orchestra concert tonight, and I suppose I'll have to taxi there."
     That put me in a box.  She knew I was going, so of course I had to offer to take her with Alice and Letty and a Miss Ferguson, all of us being so happy and congenial.  I shall have to take Ruth from now on...There is no getting out of it.  Well, I took her—but I seated her at the end of the row, myself next to her.  Mercifully Alice and Miss Ferguson and Letty had me between Ruth and them.  I talked to Ruth so that the others could enjoy themselves, and Ruth would not feel neglected.  She certainly does commandeer things in a highhanded way, though.
     Coming home in the dark, Alice sat beside me and the rest were in the rear of the car.  I asked Ruth for directions, and she said:  "Why, you ought to know your way around."
     Alice spoke up in my defense.  "She hasn't been here for two years—and Winter Park is greatly built up and changed."
     "If she just goes in the right direction she will eventually come out on Mill St," said Ruth.  "She ought to know that."
     All this wasn't helpful to my driving.  When we came to a red light Ruth sang out, "A red light, Ernestine.  Better stop."   Alice became so still that I knew she was praying!  The next morning, when we met for Chapel, she said:  "You were an angel, last night.  I should have thought Ruth would have driven you crazy.  I would have pulled up at the curb and said: `What I want is directions I can follow.  Who can give them to me?’”
       I told her that Ruth's behavior had had a slow motion reaction.  I couldn't go to sleep, getting madder and madder as I lay waiting for Morpheus.  I recalled that Ruth, taking me to Alice's house in daylight, had gotten confused, and had wandered all over, getting more and more mixed up and making us late for tea.  "Don't tell Alice I didn't find her house easily," she begged as we finally got there.  And I had not done so.  But as we entered the Chapel, I told her at last, because that was what had been the last straw—recalling that incident at midnight, I had to get up and take a hot bath in order to calm down.  Fancy Ruth, who got lost in daylight when she has lived in Winter Park for twenty years, getting impatient with me for not finding my way downtown in heavy traffic, at night—when I had never driven there before.  I'd always been taken!
     This letter sputters like an ailing motor‑boat.  But now it's off my chest and I can see the funny side of it.  Only it isn't funny enough to make me want to spend much time with Ruth, laughing!
                                                           Loads of love to all, Mother                 

(6) SHE PLUNKED HERSELF DOWN IN FRONT OF THE TELEVISION.

December 1959
Dear Babs,
     Hark to the latest Ruthish saga!   My friend, Alice Fisher, ten days ago asked me and several other friends including Ruth to dinner at her house, New Year's day.  We all accepted, Alice bought the chicken and other things for a grand dinner.  Then two days ago, Ruth called Alice and told her that Wyman was coming.  Alice promptly invited her to bring him.  A few hours later, Ruth phoned again, asking Alice if she would have dinner at 1:30 instead of 1 p.m. as she felt she couldn't make it from church by 1 p.m.  Alice phoned everyone, telling them of the change.  A couple of hours later, Ruth phoned again, saying she was going to have an oyster party at six p.m., asking all the people that Alice had invited—so would she please call off her dinner, as Ruth thought no one would want to go out twice in one day.  "But," Alice protested, "I made my arrangements for dinner long before you planned your supper party!" 
     Believe it or not, Alice called off her party.  When she told me this, I was angry.  I said: "Why didn't you tell her not to come if she didn't want to—but go on with the dinner for the rest of us!"
     "I don't know!" she said sort of helplessly.
     "Well, I'm not going to give up a nice New Year's dinner for an oyster stew!" I declared.  "I'll find someone who will go out to dinner with me—if I don't, I'll go alone!" 
     Later, Alice phoned me and said she had decided to have the dinner after all, leaving out Ruth and Wyman.  That evening, Alice and I went with Ruth to a movie; she acted very grumpy and looked like a thundercloud.  Alice had told her she was having the dinner, of course—and Ruth, I guess, was mad tho why she should have been I don't know.  Alice declares she will never again let Ruth arrange her social life for her.
     Oh I forgot to tell you one funny thing.  When Ruth phoned Alice saying she wanted to bring Wyman to dinner, she said:  "You can leave Ernestine out of the party so as to keep the number even.   You see Ernestine so often!"   Alice answered: "You can bring Wyman—but Ernestine is coming."    
    I do hope you and Ed are having a lovely time in Fort Lauderdale.  Ruth doesn't know you are there or she'd be inviting herself for a visit.
     An undated letter that I deduced was December 1959, described a visit to my brother's house.
Dear Babs,
     I have just returned from visiting Dick accompanied by Ruth.  I guess you'd call it a visitation not a visit.  Dixie phoned just before we started, saying she was leaving immediately to see her father who was ill.  I asked her if it would be a convenience for us to be there to help Dick with the meals, children etc and she said it would be.  I believe we were really needed and for a while I felt truly grateful to Ruth, for she had thought to bring along a meat loaf, a chicken stew and gingerbread.  I brought cookies and ice cream, and we were thus prepared for a few meals at least.  The children were pleased with the food.  Brucie kept rubbing his stomach and saying: This is good food, it surely is good food.  I wish you always cooked for us.  You're a better cook than our sitters." 
     My heart warmed to Ruth, and I thought we might really have a perfect time and  manage to evade unpleasant episodes.  Alas, how brief were these optimistic musings, and how erroneous!  Ruth saw Dick at dinner, after dinner and until bedtime on Saturday.  Then on Sunday she accompanied him to church, heard him preach three different times, had breakfast, lunch and dinner with them all.  Wouldn't you have thought this would satisfy her?  No.  Not Aunt Ruth.  
      Sunday night at 9 P M, Dick turned on the television.  We'd missed Ed Sullivan but there was time to hear the G. E. hour and Hitchcock.  We were both eager to see these programs, for both of us were weary.  He was "pooped," as Aunt  Alma used to say, and so was I.  I had stayed home while Ruth went to the first sermon and during this hour or two, had done the breakfast dishes, swept the entire lower floor (the children track in that horrid dark Florida dust), the back and front porch, had wiped noses, taken children potty, made beds and started lunch.  I thought I'd done my girl-scout deed for the day.  Well, to go back to Ruth . . . as soon as Dick turned on the television Ruth said:  "You're not going to listen to television, are you?"
     "Oh yes," I told her, "there are some good programs on now.   Why don't you listen for once, Ruth—really listen?"
     The play was going on, of course, and Dick and I were trying to listen even while I was attempting to persuade Ruth to listen, too.  She rose, plunked herself down on a chair she pulled in front of the television, and leaning toward Dick, she shook her finger at him.  "Do you mean, Richard Beyer, that you would rather listen to that confounded thing than talk to me?"
     "Yes," I said distinctly, answering for Dick who made no reply, but patiently craned his neck trying to see around Ruth.
     "Please," I said, "relax and enjoy the program."
     She sat up straight in her chair, staring at the screen.  "Is that supposed to be funny?" she asked sarcastically.  "Is that sad?"
     "Be quiet, Ruth!" I said.
     "I didn't come to watch television!" said Ruth.  "I came to see Dick.  This program is not of a caliber to interest me."
     "Will you be quiet!  Dick and I find it interesting."
     Meanwhile, Dixie had returned from her visit to her father.  "I don't care if I miss this program," she said.  "If you want to talk, come with me."  The two went away, and Dick and I contentedly watched Hitchcock's play, and after that, Loretta Young's.  Then we all went to bed.  To my surprise, instead of lying awake mulling this over, I fell asleep.  Guess I was exhausted.
     This morning (Monday) I overheard Ruth criticizing Dick for preaching about evil.  His answer was very patient.  Actually he doesn't preach about evil.  She says he accents the negative but she is the one who does that.  All the way home she talked about the children and Dick and Dixie so critically that finally I burst out:  "I can't take it, Ruth.  I think Dick is so marvelous, his faith so extraordinary . . . he deserves nothing but praise and that's all he's going to get from me.  He has given up smoking and drinking, he accepts the confusion and poverty uncomplainingly, and he is helping people so genuinely.  If he continues to improve in coming years at this rate he may have a big church someday."
     Whether or not this happens, I feel he will be a happy man in his own way.  And Dixie is the perfect helper.  Their children are truly sweet though the poor little dears look like ragamuffins.  The girls are so lovely, so very pretty.  I'd love to be able to fix up the whole house for them.  But neither cares very much about worldly goods, and how fortunate this is!  I'll bet the girls will be so beautiful that they will either go on the stage or make good in some way
     I was deeply touched by Dick's preaching, I can honestly tell you that.
     Well, cheerio, Sweetie‑pie.  Pass this on to Janeth, will you?   I seldom write such a long letter.  (Love to you, precious Jan)

(7) IT WOULD RUIN VAUGHAN'S PLEASURE AND MINE.

A few weeks later, Mother wrote of new trials with my aunt:
     I went on an Audubon bird trip a few days ago.  Ruth accompanied me, and we enjoyed motor boating through the lakes and canals, watching the bird life—at least I did until Ruth gave me a sudden shock that almost paralyzed my poor brain.  Someone asked me when I was going north. 
     "I usually go about now," I said, "but this year I'm waiting to take a friend of mine.  We'll leave about the end of the month, I think."  Ruth immediately spoke up. "I think I'd like to go north with you."  I gasped. "My car will be full!" I said.  "I hardly see how I can squeeze Vaughan in."  "Oh, you can mail most of your things.  I'll pay for that," said Ruth—then turned to someone, leaving the matter closed—and decided to her satisfaction, but not to mine!  I was flabbergasted. 
     I didn't want to argue about it in front of strangers, and I haven't had an opportunity to continue the conversation.  I have been hoping Ruth will change her mind, so I won't have to have a scene.  But if she persists in planning to go with us, I not only will tell her that my clothes hang loose in the back of the car (I have brought no trunk) and the rest of the car will be jammed with typewriter, suitcases, boxes of manuscripts, an electric fan, and Vaughan and  me!  But I shall also remind her of last year when she prevented me from going to the theater when Letty offered to take her and me.  She said at that time, after Letty had left the house, rebuffed, that she "didn't like threesomes."  Well, if she couldn't stand a threesome for even two hours when both Letty and I begged her to go, I can't stand a threesome for four days and nights!  It would simply ruin Vaughan's pleasure and mine.  I'd arrive a wreck--don't you think so?
     You were right in guessing that Ruth was "in a pet" and wouldn't go with Letty and me to Ft. Lauderdale.  She is jealous of Letty and can't hide it.  Doggone.  I've been on threesomes with her when she and her friend Mabel Kirk talked around me, ignoring me completely, so taken up in their own affairs they were.  I didn't mind.  But Ruth won't put herself into the position where she is not king of the roost.  If I let her go with Vaughan and me, to follow our own desires (if we could manage it at all) would be a constant struggle. 
     Ruth doesn't like to eat in nice places.  She invariably takes dozens of horrid little boxes full of food, cold and unpalatable.  Mabel Kirk told me that she hates to travel with Ruth.  She, Mabel, enjoys a nice restaurant.  She and the others in the group will go to a lovely place, leaving Ruth with her boxes.  It makes them uncomfortable, Mabel told me, to come back after a pleasant lunch and find Ruth impatiently waiting, her attitude expressing silent criticism of the waste of time and money.  I remember I asked her to stop at Johnson's, once, for ice cream.  She hustled by, saying:  "I can't remember more than one or two times in my entire life when I've spent money on myself just to put something sweet in my stomach that I'd be better off without."  Can you imagine spending four days with a person like that?
     I've written Vaughan, asking her if she could leave sooner.   If she can arrange to go a week earlier that we planned, Ruth would not be able to get ready in time, and I'd have a good reason for going along without her, without having to have any sort of argument or scene.
     I’ve told Ruth not to call me before nine or ten in the morning.  All my friends know this, and never call me until noon.  But Ruth continues to call me at seven or eight.  This morning she roused me at eight to ask if I'd left a red sweater in her car.  "I called you now," she said, "because the people on this line are apt to be using it later.  This keeps me waiting, and I've got too much to do to hang around, trying to telephone."  To save herself inconvenience, she ignores my request not to be called—and evidently thinks that's perfectly all right.  It is largely because of Ruth that I'm eager to leave here and go elsewhere.   If she gives a party she expects me to do the dishes, come early, move back the furniture, etc.  When I spoke of going to Mexico she immediately offered to go along.   Gosh!  I am now writing to Sandie to see if she knows anyone in Pasadena who could rent me a room, next winter, a room for approximately what I pay here.  I hope she can.
                                                                                                  Lots of love,  Mother