Monday, July 17, 2017


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                                          


  1. Well, durn it all, here's Part 6, out of place after I planned so diligently to have every post appear in exact chronological order. It doesn't much matter: Ruth was Ruth in every encounter with my poor long suffering mother.

    1. June 20, 2016
      For some reason, I remember finding it difficult to make comments as myself but could do so as Anonymous.

  2. I take it back. The chronology is correct. Easy to do if one uses the Post Options function.

    It's strange, but I never tire of reading Mom's funny letters. I wish my father had saved the ones she wrote to him, during the year they were engaged but both working on their careers.