March 1, 1961
Ruth was in the hospital and since she would be there for six days, she invited my new friend Grace and me to use her house. This we gratefully did. When she later phoned me to ask if I would drive her to Melrose the next day, so she could see her grandson, I said I’d be glad to. It seemed like a good way to reciprocate. Grace and I went to visit her a few hours after this phone call.
Five minutes after Ruth had said “hello” to me after a year’s separation, she was telling me the most awful things about Dick—right in front of Grace, whom she had just met. I had told Grace that Dick was living a rather heroic life . . . that he was like a missionary who decides to go into darkest Africa. He had the “call” of service, and seemed to have no desire for fame or riches. I told her he was fulfilled and happy and that he owed much of this to his wife.
Ruth saw a different picture, and despite my grimaces, which must have made her think I had St. Vitus dance (with the side of my face away from Grace, I was trying to make Ruth catch on that she shouldn’t say evil things to a total stranger), she said that Dick’s children were being brought up by a “nigger,” that they didn’t know anything, and that when she said to Dixie (and I can imagine her tearful tone of voice and her crocodile tears), “Dixie, are you happy?” Dixie replied in the negative.
That night I was so full of repressed anger that I had a slight heart attack, the first I’ve had since the original one two years ago. I took for the first time two of the nitroglycerin pills I carry with me in case of an emergency.
You may imagine how desperately I wished I did not have to take Ruth to Melrose. I tried to get her doctor to discourage her from going but he was “chicken.” He merely told her he wouldn’t advise it so soon after being hospitalized. A lot of good that did. Well, I told Ruth her talk about Dick had made me ill and that I would take her on the promised trip only if she would give me her solemn word that she would criticize no one nor indulge in dark prophecies. I explained that stress was dangerous and was the one thing I had to avoid. She promised.
Three times on the way to Melrose she would start to vilify someone and I would say: “I’m going to turn back, Ruth. I mean it!”
“I’ll stop,” she’d say hastily. “I won’t do it again!”
We arrived at Melrose, and precious Gretchen gave us a marvelous dinner and we had a lovely visit. Then in the evening we all went to Gainesville to see the play in which Tommy was starring. He covered himself with glory and we returned to Melrose where Gretchen set about getting a late supper.
Afterwards. Ruth asked Morris to sing and he did, just to please her. Tommy accompanied him, blunderingly because he does not read well at sight. Meanwhile, Gretchen was doing the dishes by herself so that we might have a good time.
On the way home the next day, Ruth at once began panning Gretchen for not accompanying Morris. “But she was doing the dishes!” I pointed out, adding, “Don’t criticize her, Ruth. You promised you wouldn’t.”
“I remember telling Morris before he got married,” said Ruth,“that he should marry a musical girl or he would not be happy.”
“And he did,” I said. “The piano is seldom silent. Gretchen encourages music in her home.”
“She makes Morris miserable,” said Ruth calmly. “He would have divorced her long ago but for me. I pled with him not to desert the children. I kept the marriage going.”
“I won’t listen to this!” I exclaimed and my heart was thumping, needless to say. “I don’t believe a word you’re saying!”
“Thank you for calling me a liar,” said Ruth.
“I’m not calling you a liar,” I replied, “but if there are two sides of a picture, you see the black side.”
We stopped for lunch and when she was preoccupied with the menu, I ordered a drink. She noticed it and asked what it was. “I’ve ordered something for me, something you wouldn’t like,” I said, “so I didn’t order the same for you.”
“If you had, and if I adored the drink I wouldn’t touch it,” she said. “I would be thinking of the thousands of drinkers I would be encouraging.”
I said: “There are sins far worse than the taking of one cocktail. Despoiling a reputation is one . . . and you are guilty of this.”
“Thank you!” said Ruth with huge sarcasm.
I told Mabel Kirk all this and she advises me never to see Ruth alone again. Other people are trying this strategy. Alice Fisher, for example, never has Ruth in her presence without Mabel being there, too. Mabel can sit on Ruth hard enough to shut her up. Mabel says Ruth hasn’t a friend in all Winter Park. She fills up her mind with salacious reading.
“For years,” Mabel said, “she has tried to get me to read horrible sex perversion stuff.”
Which reminds me that one day Ruth found me reading. Despite this, she handed me a magazine, saying, “I want you to read this. It’s about venereal disease.” I said, “Since I can’t do a single thing about it I refuse to read it” and handed it back to her.
“I want you to read every single word of it,” said Ruth, pressing it on me again. “And get Barbara and all the children to read it.”
One thing I’ve discovered. Ruth does not just tell me disgraceful and harmful things about Richard. She had told Alice Fisher and goodness knows who else. She expects to visit Dick at Easter, told me Dick had urged her to come. She goes to spy and report. He should never see her. I think she could truly do him harm. She told me that he was not liked in his first parish and was ousted. I said I could not believe this. I was present on his last Sunday and people told me they liked him and his sermons. They did not need to seek me out to say such things. I said as much to Ruth and she replied (with such satisfaction), “The vote against him was unanimous.” If this is so, why in heaven would Dick take her into his confidence? I still don’t believe it. . . .