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.


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