Reflections and Direction
It’s been an intense week of learning, reflection and decisions . . .
It’s been an intense week of learning, reflection and decisions . . .
As more and more people are “weighing in” about whether I should continue researching and writing about Ruth’s life, my good writer-friend, Lisa Hess, invited me over to her “Porch Swing Chronicles” blog to share a little about how this journey with Ruth’s story began . . .
The quandary over whether to go forward with Ruth’s story continues. Since the article and then the critical letter to the editor appeared in the Sunday news, I have been talking with quite a few other people about whether to proceed with this project . . .
I spent the morning with six women who are all related to Ruth and her mother, Marie . . .
While Sunday’s letter to the editor raised questions about how Ruth would feel about my digging into her past and doubts about the legitimacy of some of the information and theories about Ruth that were shared in the newspaper article, there is NO doubt that Ruth loved being in the garden here at the house . . .
Today’s Sunday paper contained a letter to the editor about last week’s article on Ruth and this house and my project to research and write about Ruth’s life. In part, the letter read, “I believe Ruth would be appalled to know someone acquired her private files not intended for them and likely headed for the Dumpster. Would any one of us want that for ourselves?”
The question brought me up short . . .
It’s been a wild and busy week, so today’s post is something a little bit different . . .
As Ruth was finishing her final year at Ogontz Junior College, back here in Lancaster city, residents were feeling the pain of wartime . . .
All the clues I’ve uncovered so far point to Ruth having been an unconventional young woman, even perhaps a bit of a rebel. Yet, in her final year at Ogontz, it appears she tried to do at least some of what was “expected” of Ogontz girls . . .
Among Ruth’s memorabilia are dozens of theater programs, playbills and ticket stubs from theaters in Philadelphia, New York, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona and other major cities around the world, as well as from F&M’s Green Room Theatre and the Fulton Opera House right here in Lancaster. Ruth clearly enjoyed theater – all kinds of theater from opera to Broadway, from comedy to musicals to drama.
I have a hunch she would have really loved the upcoming production of For We Were Strangers In The Land by Fulton’s Youtheatre . . .
Around 5pm yesterday, eight months to the day since we moved into this old city rowhome, the chorus of hammers, drills, saws, extension ladders, paint scrapers and brushes that has been the accompaniment to our days went silent. The last of the major work we’d set out to have done on this place was completed. There was no grand finale, other than a tired goodbye from the last of the workmen – painters – and the rumble of their utility van as they drove away . . .
Among Ruth’s files is a letter addressed to her at Ogontz Junior College, dated Dec 11, 1944, from a man named Evan L. Synnestvedt, an agent with Standard Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia. He wrote to say that he’d found Ruth’s wallet on a train . . .
In my last blog post about Ruth’s story, set in 1943, Ruth’s father, William, was very ill. Via correspondence, he and Abby Sutherland agreed that Ruth should attend two years at Ogontz Junior College after her graduation from Ogontz High School (in May, 1943), in order to, as Abby wrote, “prepare her for something she wants to do later.” Abby’s opinion was that Ruthie was not a serious student, though Abby told Ruth’s father, “she is trying to the limit of her strength.” In September, 1943, Ruth entered Ogontz Junior College, taking a rigorous course load including psychology, college math, and “Semimicro and Macro Organic Chemistry.”
_Lancaster’s architecture is a significant part of the “feel” of the city and a major contributor to Lancaster city culture. After my recent post about our renovation of the 3rd floor bedroom that used to be Ruth’s, my friend Rose commented that she wondered what kind of view Ruth might have had when she looked out the three large windows in that room. Unlike many city streets, which are lined with rowhomes on both sides, our street (or at least these few blocks of it) has rowhomes on one side, and John F. Reynolds Middle School on the other side . . .
Today’s post is a combo-post – part Ruth’s story, part home renovation story and part story of another adventurous young woman, our Hannah . . .
Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the former Ogontz School campus (now Penn State – Abington), where librarian & archivist, Lil Hansberry, was a tremendous help. I’ve also interviewed Terrie Smith, former archivist at Ogontz/PSU Abington, as well as several neighbors here in Lancaster who knew Ruth. So, here’s another installment in Ruth’s story…
According to the neighbors, Ruth was an avid gardener and she spent hours puttering around in “Mama’s garden.” This spring, we are the lucky beneficiaries of Ruth’s green thumb. So today’s post is a photo tour of Mama’s garden . . . Ruth’s legacy.
The year: 1942
Another round of correspondence between Ogontz School and Ogontz White Mountain Camp staff to Ruth’s father. This time, I’ve included some historical context as well. Ruth is 16 years old. The United States has just declared war on Japan in December 1941 . . .
Sorting through more of Ruth’s memorabilia, I continue to come across fascinating tidbits of information that provide little clues about her life. But every clue also raises a dozen questions about all of the details of her life that AREN’T here. So far, I’ve managed to inventory the contents of about half of the ten huge boxes of photo albums, scrapbooks, letters, diaries and other memorabilia that were given to me. And I have to say, it’s a little overwhelming to figure out how to pull all of this together into a book. So for now, in order to make it somewhat more manageable, I thought I’d occasionally share little bits of what I’m discovering about Ruth’s life and her family, and invite all of you to comment . . .
As I’ve been going through the boxes of Ruth’s memorabilia, doing research for my next book, I made another amazing find: stacks of 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s era recipe booklets – many of them published by companies anxious for homemakers to use their products. Here’s a sampling . . .
Friends have been asking to see and hear more about our “time-capsule” house as we first saw it. A little background for those who haven’t yet heard the story: it’s a city rowhome, built in 1915, that was owned by a woman named Ruth. This had been Ruth’s childhood home (she was born in 1925). Ruth grew up and moved out on her own years ago, but Ruth’s mother continued to live in this house until she died in 1989. Ruth then inherited her mother’s house. Even though Ruth had her own apartment across town, she was unable to part with “Mama’s house” and it appears she left everything intact, just as it had been when her mother was still alive. When we saw the house for the first time, it had been sitting, unoccupied but fully furnished, for over 20 years: a true time-capsule. I’m working on writing a book about Ruth’s life, which I’m discovering little by little from the records and memorabilia left to me when we moved into her childhood home. In the meantime, here are more photos with detailed captions.
It’s been a week of unearthing buried treasure, as I’ve stripped ancient and crumbling wallpaper, removed layers of accumulated renovation debris from our little back yard, and continued the journey of discovery through the memorabilia of Ruth’s life bequeathed to me by the Salvation Army.
Here’s a photo tour of this week’s “discoveries” . . .
I told my daughter that one of my goals when we moved into the city was to revive my Spanish language skills that had lain dormant for three decades. So, for Christmas, she gave me a “Learn to Speak Spanish Phrase-a-Day” calendar. It seems this calendar is clairvoyant. Either that, or there are spirits here, watching me.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the day the calendar declared, “Hay mucho polvo” : “There’s a lot of dust.” Okay, I’ll admit, that declaration would have been true on any given day in this old place. But last weekend, just before we started buffing and restoring the living room floor, I turned to this calendar entry:
“Voy a barrer la sala.” It means: “I’m going to sweep the living room.”
Coincidence? I think not . . .
So many people have asked to see some photos of “Ruth’s house” as we first saw it . . . so here are a few. Note: in the exterior photo, it’s the rowhome on the left of the 4-home building.
“What are you writing these days?” my friend Marty asked me this morning.
“Nothing but big, fat checks to subcontractors!” was my smart-aleck reply.
We laughed and ordered breakfast at the Neptune Diner (one of Lancaster’s little treasures – more about that later) where a group of Etownians and former Etownians had met to catch up with each other. Over coffee, eggs and toast, I told them about this house restoration project that has consumed Bruce and me for three full months now (as of this past Saturday . . . not that I’m counting . . . ) I also shared a little bit about the book I’m hoping to write eventually: about the woman named Ruth who grew up in this house and her extraordinary life . . .