Friday, December 15, 2023

Goodbye to Ruthie

This week I received the sad news that someone who was once very close to me has passed away just three weeks shy of her 59th birthday. Ruth has not been in my life for many years now but she’s never been far from my thoughts and always has a place in my heart.

The summer of 1967 I was living in Hallstadt, Germany, with my husband, Mike, who had been drafted into the Army about nine months after we were married. Against all recommendations I joined Mike in Bamberg in March of 1967 where we lived “on the economy” because Mike’s low rank did not qualify him for military housing on the base at Bamberg.

At church one Sunday on base the priest announced there were three young children, siblings, who needed permanent homes. Their father was an American soldier and their mother a German national. At the present time they were in a German orphanage but could not stay there long. Mike was not at church with me that day as his unit was out on maneuvers in the field so I acted on my own when I met with the priest after Mass and told him I was interested in these children. They were twin girls, about two years old, and their baby brother. A young, newly married couple joined me there and because the young woman had suffered a ruptured appendix which necessitated the removal of her ovaries the priest offered them first choice. They chose the baby boy, Curtis. I said that I was interested in the twin girls. Within a short time the priest arranged for the three of us to travel to the orphanage to meet these children.

I remember that day when we sat in a small room and met for the first time, the timid little girls taking turns sitting on my lap. The nuns did not speak English and my German was limited to the names of my favorite pastries so communication was spare, and a serious mistake occurred. I was told the children’s names were Ruth and Carolyn but somehow I left there believing Ruth was Carolyn and Carolyn was Ruth. It wasn’t until ten months later when I was out shopping in Bamberg with the girls and a woman came running up to them, hugging them and speaking rapidly in German that I learned that mistake. She was their birth mother. We never corrected their names; too much time had passed.



There is a lot more to this story and someday I want to tell it all but now there are too many people who might be hurt by the details. This story is about saying goodbye to Ruthie.

Mike and I returned to the States the summer of 1968, proud parents of a baby boy we named Patrick John after President John Kennedy’s two sons, and temporary parents of Ruth and Carolyn. We planned to finalize the adoption in Illinois but when our marriage started to fail the judge refused to participate in any adoption. Within a few short, troubled months the girls went to live with a minister and his wife in Aroma Park, Illinois. At their request we agreed to step back out of their lives and not play any role. Then we moved to Colorado in 1970 and tried to make our marriage work.


Fast forward to 1999, almost 30 years since I had seen Ruth and Carolyn or had any updates on how they were doing. I saved many photographs of them which I hoped to share, and if they didn’t know about their early beginnings in Germany I wanted to tell about that, too. Having kept the handwritten letters from their paternal grandmother in Indiana and using the Internet, I called that kind lady and she agreed to contact the girls and give them my phone number. Within hours I received a phone call from Ruth in Florida, and it began with “Ma?”


Soon Carolyn called from Michigan and with my husband Bob’s encouragement we put together a plan for the girls to both fly in to Denver and spend some time with us. We planned a big party to introduce them to our friends and family, an outdoor affair at the A-B sports and picnic grounds adjacent to the brewery. But the morning of the party it snowed! Bill West rescued us by sponsoring our last-minute use of the Moose Lodge where a much smaller party was held. Ruth, Carolyn, and I took long drives up Poudre Canyon and out onto the prairie lands while we talked and talked about our lives over the past 30 years. The girls met Patrick and kinda fought over who got to sit closest to him, hold his attention. And they asked me to try to locate their other baby brother, Curtis, whom they only vaguely remembered but had never forgotten. That took years but I did find Christopher, nee Curtis, in Pennsylvania and they reunited with him, too.

Ruth and Carolyn were my daughters for only 21 months in the sixties but they had a profound impact on me and probably taught me much more than I taught them. I was not happy with the way I was parented and thought I could read books and follow instructions on how to be a really good parent to them. But it is not that simple. No matter how many books I read I often lost my temper and reverted to yelling at the kids and spanking them, full well knowing that was not helpful, not the mother I wanted to be. That’s what led me to seek psychiatric treatment and I believe it saved my life.

In March of 2021 Ruth lost her only son Carlos, age 31, to a motorcycle accident. When Carlos was a young boy Ruth described him in emails we exchanged as an outdoorsman who loved to go barefoot and preferred time in the swamps to school. Her pride was obvious. His death broke her heart and probably led to Ruth’s own early death. She leaves two daughters, Ashley and Sarah, several grandchildren, and her twin sister, Carolyn, along with many friends, family and co-workers I never knew.



Goodbye, Ruthie. You were a cute, intelligent, and loving little girl. You didn’t talk much when you came into my life but you did call your sister “Woodie” and I wish I had understood you were saying “Ruthie”. We could have straightened out that name mixup early on. I hope you forgave me, too, for not being your forever mom like I intended. My heart hurts for you now, and for those you left behind.


Thursday, November 30, 2023


I was born in 1951, the third of four children born to Joe and Mildred. Pam was first, next was Mike, then me, and last of all was Kate. My dad was a coal miner in Southern Illinois. Times were tough and jobs scarce in that area in 1954, so shortly before Kate was born my dad drove out west in search of work, adventure, and most likely, to have a break from the growing family. I wasn’t quite four at that time so most of what I “remember” are the family memories that were not documented, other than with some pictures from our camera. My dad drove to Colorado and to Washington State looking for jobs as a miner.

For a few months my mother lived on her own with me and my siblings. She gave birth to their fourth child while Dad was out west working as a miner. A few months after Kate was born Dad drove back to Illinois to gather his wife and kids and make the return trip out west. Mike was six years old at the time and asked Dad “when are we going down west?” From that moment on we all referred to the trip out west as “down west”. I remember some of the presents he brought us when he came back from “down west”: Pam got a Terri Lee babydoll, Mike got a beaded Indian belt, and he brought me a parakeet named Pretty Boy. 

It wasn’t long before we had packed all our belongings in the old Kaiser car and left Tuscola for “down west”. After a brief stop to leave Pretty Boy with relatives in Oak Lawn, a Chicago suburb, we headed west.

On our trip west Dad told us fascinating stories about the adventures he had. One of my favorites, possibly because I played a role in it, was of the time when he first arrived out west. Exhausted from the long drive he pulled the car over to the side of a remote mountain road, in the middle of the day, to take a quick nap. After falling asleep in the back seat he was startled awake. He said he didn’t actually see anyone or anything that day as he climbed over the seat into the driver’s seat and hastily drove away. But he was convinced his safety had been at risk. His nerves had been rattled before he ever left Illinois, when, as he was saying goodbye to his wife and children, he overheard his four-year-old daughter, namely me, ask my mom “is Daddy gonna die?” He had taken it as a premonition. Apparently, when he was startled awake that day in the car, he worried my premonition was about to come true.
When we arrived in the state of Washington, my dad found work at a new uranium mine, the Midnite Mine near Wellpinit, Washington. It was located along Burma Road a couple of miles west of Turtle Lake in the Blue Creek vicinity. We lived in a 15 foot trailer in a small camping area across the road from the mine. We shared the camp with a couple of other families near a little creek, our water source. Pam and Mike were of school age and rode the school bus to the grade school in Wellpinit. I stayed at the campsite with my mom and Kate, the baby. There was no television in those days, at least it was not available to us, but our lives were rich with fun and the excitement of playing in the woods. 

My days were spent picking wildflowers and climbing trees. Many times I was warned by my mother not to climb the trees. On one particular day my mom found me high in a tree, so high it was beyond her reach. She stood at the bottom with Kate in her arms and gently tried to coax me down with promises of candy. When I finally was on the ground she put Kate down and came after me. I still have a vision of my mom chasing me through the camp and me knowing I was going to get my butt whipped. 

In the evenings we all looked forward to hearing my dad’s stories of a wicked old witch that lived in the woods. She was a danger to the children who wandered in the woods looking for beeble berries. We were all characters in his stories and each night we sat around him eager to hear the next chapter in the beeble berry picking adventure. (Dad drew his inspiration and name "beeble berry" from a Little Lulu comic book of that time.)
I have mostly fragmented memories of this period in my life; the dog we named Collie because that was his breed; the neighbor dog who tangled with a porcupine and had quills removed from his mouth using a pair of pliers; the times we were allowed to play near the creek; and a family trip to a nearby indoor hot springs. We lived on the Indian Reservation for one summer and then moved to Cobalt, Idaho. The Midnite Mine was operated from 1955, the year we moved there, until 1965. It reopened in 1968 and was permanently closed in 1981. It is now a Superfund Site undergoing environmental cleanup. Fran

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Argentina Trip 2008

Fifteen years ago this month, in November 2008, my sister Fran and I flew from Portland and Denver to Dallas where we boarded a long flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the adventure of a lifetime for us. We were meeting up with my daughter-in-law, Alejandra, and her two little ones, Lucas, 5, and Isabella, 3, who had been there in Buenos Aires for several weeks visiting Alejandra's family. Our son, Patrick, had to fly back to the States for work so Fran and I planned to stay a couple of weeks and help Alejandra with the kids, then fly home together. The next two weeks were a whirlwind of activity and excitement, not much us helping with the kids, more a personal tour of the city that Alejandra loves so much.


We were on the go every day, traveled by boat, plane, bus, and taxi. We visited a magnificent cemetery in the middle of the city, attended a Tango dance at a late night theater, shopped in a bookstore whose architecture was awe inspiring, ate delicious pastries, amazing beef dishes at outdoor restaurants, and took the kids to indoor play areas like I had never seen. Oh, and so much more.


Alejandra's brother Eduardo treated us to an authentic asado dinner in his back yard where he cooked the meat on his outdoor grille, and served it with many side dishes and excellent wine. He invited all his siblings and their families too, a heartwarming experience for us all. Fran and I fell in love with Alejandra's family that day. We also visited her mother's home and Ana took us for a walk through her neighborhood, introduced us to her neighbors and friends.





For the last part of our visit we traveled outside the city to a ranch where we stayed in a beautiful set of sunlit rooms with cool stone floors, centered around a jeweler's studio. It was situated in a rural area with horses, artwork, dancing, and several informal restaurants. There was even a museum that featured the art of Molina Campos, an Argentine artist that Bob has admired all his life.


Fran passed away this fall so there will be no more memory making for us together as sisters. I will always be thankful to Alejandra and Patrick and Bob for encouraging this 2008 adventure in Argentina that Fran and I enjoyed so much. And a huge thank you to Alejandra's family for making Fran feel welcome, a part of their family, loved.







Between the three of us we took hundreds of photos. I have chosen a few of my favorites. 

































































Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Dad's Worrying Box

By the time I entered high school in 1961 my family and I had lived in 15 different houses, nomads of a sort. Nineteen sixty-one was the year Dad finally bought his first home and we settled down in our two-story brick home on Blaine Avenue in Bradley, Illinois. Dad drove each day the hour long trip to Ford Motor Company Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights where he worked as a welder repairman. Up until that year Dad had often moved us from place to place as he found better paying jobs, or a new job after the old one had run out. 


He was a good provider for our family of six and mostly worked as a miner, mining coal, uranium, cobalt, and copper, low paying jobs requiring hard physical labor. Always renters, when we packed up and moved from place to place we only took with us our clothes and a few treasured items, no furniture, no pets, only what would fit into our automobile, for Dad never rented a U-haul.

After six years in the Navy during WWII, Dad came back home to southern Illinois and married Mom in 1946. He soon came up with a way to organize and store his important papers such as birth certificates, and car titles. He used an empty cardboard shoe box and dubbed it his “worrying box”, kept it close at hand. He felt strongly about paying bills on time so stored those papers in that box and when it came time to pay them he got the box out and that is when us kids saw it, became aware of its importance to him. I’m sure it was those debts that made him give it the name he did.

 Mike was two years old when his first memory of Dad’s worrying box was indelibly printed on his brain. As Mike recalls, “I was holding a glass of milk that I'd been drinking. Dad was on the bed going through the worrying box, when he picked up the little red ball from the jacks game and threw it at me, playfully, I suppose. I dropped the glass and it broke, I fell on the broken glass, cut my artery, ran to Mom in the kitchen, sat on the floor against a wall as blood spurted onto the wall. Mom said, you'd better take him to the country doctor. They tied a tourniquet around my arm and took me to the doctor for stitches.” Mike still has a noticeable scar on that wrist, and a vivid memory of Dad’s worrying box.

Fran remembers how Dad would bring the box out from where he hid it, place it on his bed, and thumb through it, commenting on what he found in there. We have tried to remember if there were photographs, too, maybe his Navy bracelet, a pack of cigarettes, pens and pencils. What we do recall is how personal it was, much like a woman’s purse is to her, not something us kids were allowed access to. Mom had a round metal can with tight fitting lid where she stored treasured family photographs. Often she opened up that can and showed the pictures to us, even let us rifle through them ourselves. But Dad’s worrying box was his and his alone.

All these years later, I have my own worrying box, perched on my shoulders, residing in my head. If only I could remove it from there, place it on a shelf in my closet like Dad did, and bring it out when needed.

Our Dad is gone now since his death in 1995, but when the three of us get together, Fran, Mike, and Pam, he is there, no doubt about it. His impact on us, in shaping our morals and influencing our lifestyles is obvious. This memory of his worrying box was one that Fran wanted saved and shared.