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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Ruth

My daughter’s mother-in-law was seventy nine last December. She has been a widow for several years. “I am a Kraut;” she told me. “We’re tough.”

Before she was a Kraut, Ruth was Lithuanian. The country was invaded by Germany; she, with many other women and children, set out on a forced march to the German countryside, to work on farms. Many did not survive; her grandmother was left along the road to die. I believe that’s when she quit being Lithuanian; their guards on the march included young countrymen conscripted into the German army. Cousins, she said, selected her grandmother to fall out.

Ruth says her childhood on the farm was very hard work, but not unkind. Her father had been swept away by the war, but she remained with her mother until she was twelve. A cousin a bit older than she was in her life, too, and the two of them were involved in adventures of any farm children.

Her mother was very strict; Ruth very rebellious. She knew her cousin intended to go into the village one day and probably get a sweet treat from the little shop. She knew even if he brought something back for her it would be gone before he arrived, so she determined to go with him. If she kept him moving and on task, they would be home before lunch, before her mother knew she was gone.

She had them briskly returning home when he lagged. She turned; he was holding a grenade and had pulled the pin. Even a little seven year old girl knew a problem. “Throw it,” she yelled. He threw it straight at her. Her left leg shattered.

She recalled people coming, being lifted from the road. When she woke again she was in a hospital; her mother was there. It was a Russian field hospital; her mother spoke fluent Russian, and was not about to let her daughter die. Ruth was a long time recovering, her mother returned her several times to the Russian doctors. She rolled up her trouser leg to show me how fortunate she had been, and I wonder how such wounds were able to fill in. She still carries shrapnel.

Ruth’s mother died when Ruth was twelve. She was an orphan, passed among several German families until about the age of sixteen, when she was in the home of a German barrister who helped her with schooling, secretarial training and finding a job. She walked everywhere, arriving hot and dusty or cold and muddy. It was her life; she knew nothing else.

Eventually she moved with a friend to the big city, Berlin. They worked in the same legal office, shared a flat, and read the writing on the not yet erected Berlin wall. One summer they took holiday together, to West Berlin, and simply did not go back. She met a young American, married him and came here. That was many years ago; her son has been married to my daughter since 2000. We think we did an excellent job of selecting ourselves as mothers-in-law to each other.

A while back Ruth and I were visiting a little museum that included a small gift shop. I saw her attention fixed on something as we came in, and on the way out she paused and told me to select between two figures of roosters in the display. They were very realistic, especially the bona fide feathers. She purchased it for the cousin who threw the grenade.

He has been in this country for many years, and suffers now from very advanced dementia. He recognizes little of what is going on about him. When they were children on the farm, there was a rooster that followed him everywhere! Not her, just him. Ruth was very jealous of that rooster.  She bought the shop rooster for an upcoming birthday. I asked later, and Ruth said he called her by name, and called the rooster by the name he called the one so long ago. He held and stroked it all evening.

Ruth says she is a tough Kraut. I say Ruth is the history we are repeating because we do not remember.



 The big smile in the superman shirt is my youngest granddaugher, Caroline, and Ruth's oldest. If Ruth had a childhood picture of herself, it would be that little face.

34 comments:

  1. Joanne, your ability to tell a riveting story is amazing.

    And your timing is spot on.

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  2. What a poignant story. It is the kind of story that needed to be written down and saved for Ruth's family as well as for the rest of us. She may not realize it but she is a very courageous person. And obviously a loving person. It was nice to hear about her cousin's reaction to the chicken. I am so glad you shared this story with us.

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  3. Their stories of their childhoods are amazing, as a child I lived next to a family of white russians, the mother often told us stories of the war and her early life in her country which was invaded by the Germans in the war as she was only a child at the time it was always a bit mixed up and I don't remember it all that well but you have captured the feeling I got when ever I talked to her, she always liked to talk english with us as it helped her to learn but as children we were never sure what she ment.
    Merle........

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  4. Hari OM
    " I say Ruth is the history we are repeating because we do not remember."
    Was attempting to convey a similar thought to someone recently. Wish I'd been able to nail it like this.
    YAM xx

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  5. Such a heart-warming inspirational woman. And post.
    And how I love that her gift brought her cousin back to her for a time.
    Thank you.

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  6. Tough..and golden hearted.
    Yes, we forget our history at our peril.

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  7. Thank you for sharing Ruth's story. Linda@Wetcreek Blog

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  8. From your story of your daughter's mother-in-law I would agree that she was a tough Kraut! the story was amazing that such a dramatic young life could come out of the experience fully functional. War is such a tragedy to the many people that experience it. And now we have thousands of families seeking refuge in Europe -- all from war.-- barbara

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  9. I was so afraid to keep reading on about Ruth. I was afraid it was going to end differently than how it did. I love the smile of your grand daughter and realizing that would be Ruth's smile too. What horrors she saw and endured, but what a living testimony of someone who carries on and tries to thrive, no matter what life threw her way.

    betty

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  10. Very moving. I had already made a comment to my husband this week that the scenes of people being misled into getting on to a train that took them to forced registration and a camp reminded me of the Jews getting on to trains supposedly taking them to a new life in the 1940s. I was surprised that nobody else seemed to have made the connection. We have short memories.

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  11. Oh my gosh! What an incredible life and you shared it with us beautifully. Ruth is an amazing person. Life certainly toughened her. Thank you for this post, Joanne.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this story of pain, strength and a very modest, loving gesture --Ruth purchasing a gift to repair a little bit of this strange future.

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  13. Wonderful and heart warming piece.

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  14. Thank you for telling us Ruth's story. It is one of courage and survival and kindness that should be shared.

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  15. You certainly have a gift for telling stories.... I love reading about your family and friends... makes me feel as if I know them.

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  16. You have done some justice to both Ruth and the importance of remembering with that well-told account. Hardship, courage, a rooster: it all adds to a greater whole.

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  17. What a touching story! Ruth is a heroine. We think we have had a hard life? Hers was worse/

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  18. I have nothing new to add to the comments, but just had to say that Ruth is a remarkable woman who's had a remarkable life.
    Yes, it makes you wonder how many Ruths will come out of the plight of the refugees from Syria.

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  19. a great post Joanne. Americans are so soft, none of us would have survived what Ruth did. yes, we are doomed to repeat history not because we don't remember it so much as we willfully change it to suit ourselves.

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  20. Wow! Some people are just so strong that it amazes me. We are such a soft nation, how many of us would survive what she went through. How incredible that she still cares enough to find a meaningful gift for her cousin. I'd have got him a grenade, maybe a fake one.

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    1. He was just a child, too, and in his fright did not think where he was sending the grenade. "It was just an accident," Ruth said.

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  21. Wonderful story Joanne and one which I am sure was repeated throughout that area in those times. You are right - we have forgotten. We can still see it etched on the faces of the elderly who were involved though.

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  22. Wow, Joanne, your story about Ruth is similar to the book I'm reading right now (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah).It is the story of a family during German-occupied France in the early 1940's. It is riveting, but not enjoyable to read. Unbelievable that people could treat other people so horribly. Hard to believe that anyone could have survived... It's not the kind of thing that I like to read as it's made me sad for days now just thinking about it. I'm glad that Ruth was tough... and survived.

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  23. Had to make the time to comment how wonderful this post of yours is. Just loved it.

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    1. Thank you. I hope all is going smoothly in the move. Such hard work.

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  24. Shocking and tragic. We are doomed to return to the past: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

    Love,
    Janie

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  25. Such fascinating history. My parents never talked much about their early lives, all I know is Mum's Dad raised award winning show rabbits.

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  26. I stop in from Carol blog and I love such history. Miss Ruth seem to be one lady who is quite "snarky" and "free willed"...Bless her and her family....Hope you find the time to stop by for some coffee.

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  27. I am glad you shared this story. There are so many out there who suffered worse childhoods than we think we did! God Bless both you and Ruth!!

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  28. She says "kraut" means "weed." She is the most beautiful of weeds: tough, resilient, wild, flowering. I am the luckiest person in the world to have found a mother-in-law as great as my own mother.

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