I pushed my way through the corn stalks; curiosity leading the way. From my Uncle Elsie’s farm, I could see another house with barns and a silo. My cousin Vera told me it belonged to her Aunt Ruth. Ruth was my uncle’s spinster sister. My Aunt Gladys was my dad’s only sister and my parents visited them almost every summer. I had never met this aunt and decided in my seven years of maturity that it was about time we met. So in my Sunday best dress, I marched myself over to introduce myself. The sun was warm that July afternoon and I was full of spunk after spending a morning in church and visiting my ninety plus years grandfather. I was always the adventurous tomboy. Dirt and woods were always calling to me; just a mystery to be explored. So with pink frills and white patent leather shoes, I trekked through the rows of green and gold to find the treasure at the other end.
When I arrived at her gate, I was delighted to see, that her front yard was filled with geese, both big and small. I loved visiting the farms that belonged to both sides of our family, being from the outer suburbs of Detroit. I proceeded into the yard and went straight to her pen to visit with the ducklings. Reaching down, I picked up the nearest one and held it to my chest. Imagine the shock I received when my aunt’s boxer “Queenie” came charging around the side of the house barking at the intruder. I squeezed the duckling a little too hard, not that she wasn’t already traumatized, and she proceeded to excrete her dinner all over my pink frilly front all the way down into my shoes! The hens and ganders were squawking, the baby bit my thumb hard, the dog was digging dirt and barking, and here I was balling my eyes out, when the strangest woman I ever laid eyes on came around the corner.
Ruth was wearing a long brown dress and a dingy white apron with a bib. She had on a brown bonnet tied under her chin and was carrying a basket full of eggs. In her other hand she had a thick walking stick and used it quite effectively to come to my rescue. Taking me by the hand she escorted me into her home through the back door. At the big kitchen sink she pumped water from a hand pump and filled the sink with water and soap. I removed my soiled dress and she gave me a shirt to wear. She used an old wooden washboard to clean my dress and socks then took those out back to dry on the long rope line secured between two trees. When she came back in, she made us some tea and we sat at her kitchen table to complete our introduction. Everywhere I looked there were things I had never seen before. She had homemade bread cooling on the counter, onions and potato’s hanging in baskets beside wire baskets filled with all kinds of eggs. There were brown ones and white ones, speckled ones, big and small ones. There was a big wooden churn, which I soon learned was for making butter and cream. There were dollies and trivets and hand made fly swatters. She had an overhead wooden blade fan rotating slowly, churning smells that my young nose couldn’t begin to identify. She had jars of pickles and a variety of jellies. Her linoleum was in a checkerboard pattern and she had the prettiest lace curtains over her sink. We sat and talked for awhile and then she went to call my aunt and uncle to let them know where I was. That was the beginning of a most memorable friendship that over years never wavered.
Ruth had worked in the post office until she retired. She raised her own chickens and guineas and made her own breads. She traded these with other ladies for jellies and fruits and it gave her a chance to visit when the mood stuck her. She had a large barn and a corn silo in the back. She stuffed pillows and quilts with goose down and she crocheted the dollies that adorned her tables. The only modern contraptions she finally allowed in her house were an indoor privy and the telephone, both non-negotiable items that my uncle had installed.
Over the years I would sit in her kitchen and tell her stories about the city. I would talk to her about boy problems, drugs in the schools, deaths of friends, and she would just sit and listen to me. She would ask me how those things made me feel and she would hold my hand if I cried. During the summer visit’s she taught me how to gather eggs without the hens leaving peck marks on my hands, how to skin and peel the hair off the corn, to churn the butter and how to have a good time without the aid of a television. Most of all she taught me how to find peace in a very hectic world. She knew when I needed to talk and when I needed time up at the top of the silo looking out on miles of corn.
When I grew up and had my own farm and children I would send her pictures and letters. She was such an inspiration in my life. One day my Aunt Gladys called to tell me that Aunt Ruth had passed. She told me that when she was cleaning out Aunt Ruth’s house, she found all of my letters and pictures I had sent her tied up in a ribbon in an old shoe box.
I will miss her always but she is still my rock in a crazy world. When it becomes too rough, I close my eyes and picture the woman in the brown dress and bonnet who was my mentor, my analyst and my best friend.