Ruth Ellen, the First


My parents named me after my grandma on a whim. The first day and half I was alive they just called me The Baby because they couldn’t agree on a name. Then my great Grandma Ruth came to meet me in the hospital, and my dad offhandedly suggested they name me after her.

And so I became Ruth Ellen (Junior, to my Grandma Ruth).

At various times throughout my life several people have paid me the high compliment of saying I had a lot of Grandma’s personality. I think that because the name Ruth is unusual for a little girl, adult people often spoke to me like I was an adult and, in a lot of ways, I was expected to act more like an adult too. Because of my name, people expected me to act a certain way- like my grandma. And I did. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Grandma is a badass. I don’t think she would object to me calling her that. I honestly cannot think of another word to describe her. Her antics are family legend at this point. Just in her daily living, she had an air about her. I imagine it’s not all that different than the one the queen of England has. She demanded respect. Feisty doesn’t accurately sum her up, but it comes pretty close. She was stubborn and always got her way, one way or another. If she couldn’t nicely persuade someone, she would try to bully them. If the bullying didn’t work (and it usually did), she would completely disregard whomever it was and physically make her own request a reality. She spoke in absolute certainties. She gave the weirdest advice, which always turned out to be right. She had a way of seeing the simplest solutions to problems.

I think the secret to her long life was that she never really allowed herself to get old. She had four children, twelve grandchildren, twenty-three great-grandchildren and (so far) seven great-great grandchildren. But she was active in all our lives. She drove out to visit us. She talked to all of us and she knew all of us. She went up to her lake cottage. She visited with the friends that were still sucking air. She had this really annoying cat named Cry Baby (you can guess why he was so annoying) that she treated like a dog. (I bought her car when she could no longer drive it, and there was a leash in there for the cat.) She had personality oozing from her.

In 2005, when she was 93 years old, she was shot in a drive by shooting in Youngstown while she sat in her own kitchen. The neighborhood had been going to shit for a long time, and everyone had tried to get her to leave the house. She refused to go. Then she got shot. Then she went right back to that house.

No one was going to talk her out of that house with the bullet holes in it, god dammit. It wasn’t until many years later, when the dementia kicked in, that we were able to extract her. She went to live with my cousin Helen when she could no longer live by herself. She seemed to be doing better at first, and then her mental state took a turn. After a time, it became painfully obvious that she really needed around the clock professional care. She was situated at St. Mary’s, an Alzheimer’s facility.

My Grandma Ruth died this afternoon in a room with people who loved her.

I always get a little angry when people say to me, “They’re in a better place” at funerals of loved ones. I always thought that the best place for a loved one to be would be alive and with me. My grandma left the world today and went to be with her parents, all of her brothers, her husband, all of her children, her granddaughter and her great great-granddaughter. I guess I will stop being selfish and admit that yes, in this instance, Grandma is in a better place.

I am thankful for the all the time I had with her, all the memories and stories and the tall tales that involve her. I am most thankful, though, for the name I inherited. It has been a long-standing honor to have it and to be so closely associated with her. She was fierce, she was loud, she was sure, she was pushy, she was loyal and she was loving. She was a great woman, and I will try to live like she did.