Ruth: compassionate friend, companion, sorrow for another’s misery(noun), friend of beauty.
Ah, my sister was well-named. Today is her birthday.
The uncontested darling among parents and siblings in my family; none of us begrudge Ruth’s favorite status because she is simply so wonderful.
My brother’s and I are virtually the same age and were raised as a pack. Ruth is just enough younger that she was rarely involved in our antics and spent much of her childhood as an observer; standing just outside of the fray. Once the chaos of our teen years subsided and my brothers and I moved out, Ruth enjoyed a few golden, blissful years as an only child.
But rather than being spoiled and self-centered, Ruth has used her unique position to be a peacemaker, to unify the family.
A decade ago, when I was expecting Xander, my relationship with Ruth was strained because of complicated(aren’t they always complicated?) family issues. We spoke to each other, we were cordial, but we weren’t feeling the love.
My pregnancies are ugly. I throw up for 9 months, have nearly constant contractions and throbbing, painful varicose veins. I am lucky that I never needed IVs or bedrest; but I felt pretty lousy the whole time.
Ruth began calling me. She offered to babysit my 3 little boys while I visited the doctor. Anyone with several small children knows how stressful doctor visits can be. The appointments often have a long wait and can stretch for hours. My doctor’s office was far from home and I felt awkward asking a friend or neighbor to watch my 3 wild little boys for an indeterminate length of time.
Knowing I wouldn’t ask for help, Ruth simply called, insisted on watching the boys and told me when to drop them off at her house. I gratefully complied. The doctor’s visit did indeed stretch for hours and I raced to her house worried about my wild monkeys and the wreckage they had surely created.
Instead, I found a happy household of children– the boys had made little hand puppets, Ruth read them stories and they played hide and go seek in the basement with Ruth’s baby girl. Out of the oven came a roasted lemon sage chicken, roasted potatoes and little strawberry shortcakes. Ruth packed it all on a tray and insisted I take it home. She pulled my appointment card out of my hand and wrote the date on her calendar.
So we came back the next month, and the next– always with the same royal treatment of games, stories, crafts and a fabulous dinner to take home. By this time we had learned that I was having another boy. I was happy about it(Xander knows this!) but the news generated little excitement among my acquaintances. The most usual reaction was, “So are you going to try again?”
Determined to celebrate this baby with me, Ruth decided to make him a blessing dress. I’m a romantic and have always adored the long old-fashioned gowns seen in museums and old photos. Ruth took me on a field trip to her friend’s house to admire her handmade gowns, then to the fabric store and another fancier fabric store for the organza overlay. We planned every detail with excitement: tiny mother-of-pearl buttons, embroidered initials on the sleeves, a long cotton underslip and satin ties in the back.
I don’t know how many hours Ruth spent on the dress. Because of the delicate material most of it had to be stitched by hand. I know she had several setbacks but didn’t admit them to me. While naturally artistic and unafraid to try new things, Ruth is certainly no seamstress. It was truly a labor of love.
The result was spectacular– Xander’s dress is truly the most beautiful “thing” I’ve ever beheld. The collar lies perfectly flat, the pleats are delicate but masculine, every stitch is perfectly placed.
As my pregnancy progressed, Xander developed an irregular heart beat that meant weekly and twice weekly appointments and ultrasounds. Neighbors began to step in and help but Ruth still offered her services day or night.
Finally, sweet Xander entered the world on a snowy February day. His heart settled into a regular rhythm and my heart, my heart was healed.