Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ruth Inez Baker By Sue Kinsella

Most of the time, ancestors influence the generations that follow them because of things they accomplish. Whether they came over on the Mayflower or fought in the Civil War or started a business or made glorious quilts, their stories echo down the years and even down the centuries.

But I am fascinated by a 13-year-old girl who has had dramatic influence down the generations of our family not because of her achievements but because of her haunting absence. She died more than 100 years ago and none of us knew her, and yet we carry her with us still.

I grew up with my mother’s stories about her mother’s sister, Ruth, who was born a blue-baby with heart defects. I heard about my Grandma Taylor educating her little sister because Ruth was too sickly to go to school. In Aunt Lil’s audiotape on the blog, she says it was mostly she and Ruth who played together because Ethel was so much older, although it was actually only a three or four year difference.

Especially it would bring tears to my eyes to hear again about how my grandmother held her sister as Ruth lay dying just a month before her 14th birthday. It was just a few days after Christmas and my grandmother was only 17. Maybe I identified so closely because my own little sister, Pat, inherited some, but thankfully not all, of those heart defects, too.

Then my mother would describe the dramatic moment when Ruth suddenly cried, “Can you hear it? Can you hear those beautiful bells?!” before she slipped away. I may have embellished that over the years, because I remember the story as her suddenly sitting up and crying out something like, “Ethel, do you hear the music? It’s so beautiful!” and maybe even adding colors, as well.

Nevertheless, every time I heard this story, my heart would break again. I couldn’t imagine how my grandmother, the tender, smiling woman I knew, had ever managed to carry on after that.

When I fell down the stairs last summer, I didn’t yet know that I had shattered my ankle but instinctively I protected my foot. I knew I shouldn’t stand on it or put any weight on it. So Alex ran to get a neighbor to drive us to the emergency room and I scooted out to her car on my butt, pushing with my good foot. When we got to the hospital, Alex got me into a wheelchair and brought me in to the admitting desk. Then I passed out for the first of several times.

Alex says I went into little convulsions and threw up all over, although that wasn’t what freaked him out. Rather, it was that as I slowly woke up, I grabbed his hand and said, “Alex, did you hear the music?!” He had heard his grandmother’s stories about Aunt Ruth, too, and my question sent chills of fear through him.

I remember that I was hearing a young woman singing rap music. I’m not fond of rap music in general, but this was more pleasant than most. Still, it wasn’t great. What did it mean? Some neurologists say that near-death experiences like white light and music are the result of the body’s organs starting to shut down. But I don’t think that I was near death, although my body was probably in shock at the accident that had just happened. I don’t suppose it could have been Ruth herself, trying out rap, do you think?

I consider how some people say Asians frequently hear music differently from Westerners, valuing the absence of sound between the notes almost more than the notes themselves. Is there a connection between music and the girl whose absence has had so much presence in our family? I just hope that the music she heard before she died was a whole lot better than what I heard!

Ruth Inez Baker’s 117th birthday is coming up on January 21st. I didn’t realize until Pat put the Baker birthday list up that she was born the same day as my brother Jim. Grandma Taylor named her oldest daughter after her, and my mother brought her into the next generation by giving her name to my youngest sister, Beth (Elizabeth Ruth). Are there others in our family who carry Ruth’s name, too?

Ruth never got to live much of life at all, and yet still she lives three generations on. She’ll keep on living as long as we tell her story.


Pat Kinsella said...

For me also, Aunt Ruth's story resonates.

Being practically a blue baby myself, I was secretly counting when I made it to age 14.

I remember too that Aunt Ruth loved winters like these with so much snow that she could be bundled up and taken on horse drawn sleigh rides.

Other than that, there was not much she was allowed to do, so I was glad to hear that she and Aunt Lil did play often.

It sounds like paper dolls were a favorite pastime with them. When Ali was young, Mom gave me magnets of girls with magnet clothes and dresses. We played 'paper dolls' with them on the back of our front door and occasionally, I would think of Aunt Ruth, so young and never able to grow older and have children of her own.

Yes, I am lucky. And yes, we keep those memories alive. I have told Sue that I hope to hear music other than rap, but I do know that Aunt Ruth, and all the others, will be there with music (perhaps NOT sung by them?!) when it is my time.

So, let's keep any and all stories coming.

I love you cousins!

Anonymous said...

My youngest granddaughter is named Allena Ruth Smerchansky. She is Beth's daughter. Beth is my oldest. Lena's Daddy's birthday is January 21. Lena turned 5 on December 1. She is a pack of cute energy. Blue eyes, blond hair, big grin. She has magnetic paper dolls too. Funny how some things repeat themselves.
I love you cousins more than I can say.

Sue Kinsella said...

Beautiful mountain flowers in the picture at the top of the blog today!

Tom Kinsella said...

I just called Ma and asked her whether she knew why Aunt Ruth's middle name was Inez. She didn't. Anyone know?

Anonymous said...

I think that Ruth occasionally could go to school, when she was well and Granpa cpuld take the time to get her down there. Not often tho, so Mom taught her what she herself learned in school. I have a letter that she wrote to Mom-[ Ethel] when she was in her first semester at Cortland . It is mispelled but carries the message that Ruth missed Ethel !! That Christmas when Mom came home was Ruth's last. Every time Mom told us of Ruth she cried and we cried along with her!! Aunt CB

Tim Kinsella said...

Wonderful story Sue, thanks for sharing it with us