Tag Archive | Ruth Robbins

A Tree, a 100-Year-Old Friend, and Lots of Memories

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Remodeled Farmhouse

Twenty-six years ago Mim and I left Chicago to move back to the family farmhouse in Wisconsin – the farm where I had grown up, also where my mom had grown up and lived almost her whole life. My brother re-modeled the farmhouse for us to make it our perfect home – doubling the square footage: adding a few rooms, tripling the number of bathrooms and adding a front porch. We also increased the size of the lawn to incorporate a couple fields, giving us about three acres of lawn to mow and a gigantic vegetable garden the size of the whole lot of our Chicago two-flat (30’x120’), where we had lived the previous 20 years.

Shortly after we moved into our newly remodeled home, I invited my mom’s brother, Uncle Helmer, and his wife, Aunt Edith, over to see what we had done to the house where he had grown up. We walked them from room to room. When we got to one of the upstairs bedrooms (the one that had been my room when I was a kid), he looked through the north window and pointed to a large oak tree beyond the pasture and just across the road (Highway PQ). Uncle Helmer said, “See that tree way over there. That was our target. Fletcher [his younger brother] and I used to open this window and shoot our rifles at that tree. I wonder if you can still see any of our bullets in the tree trunk…”

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What’s left of the old oak tree.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past few days. Last week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare to work on writing my second “Talking to God through Music” book. At the end of the week, as I was driving home past that old oak tree, I was startled to see that the tree was no longer standing, but instead there was a huge stump, about a foot and a half tall and five feet wide. Big chunks of the tree were lying beside the stump. The next day I noticed some men sawing the chunks into more manageable size pieces that they trucked away. Now the only thing left is the stump.

A few years ago Highway PQ was given an additional name, Water Street, as the village of Cambridge expanded westward. This summer the street will be closed to traffic as water and sewer pipes and underground utilities are replaced. Then a new road will be constructed on top of the upgraded infrastructure. I assume the old oak tree is a necessary sacrifice for progress in Cambridge. I can accept that, but I will miss the old oak tree. Fortunately, I still have the memory of that tree, and of my conversation with Uncle Helmer about target practice with that old oak tree.

fullsizeoutput_241cSpeaking of memories, our next-door neighbor in Chicago turned 100 this year. Ruth is still living in her two-flat. In 1924, Ruth’s parents and her aunt and uncle bought the two-flat, brand new. Her parents, 6-year-old Ruth, and her baby sister Elaine moved into the first floor apartment, and her aunt and uncle moved into the upstairs apartment. This two-flat has been home to Ruth and Elaine ever since. (Elaine passed away a few years ago.) The picture on the right is 6-year-old Ruth modeling her new ballerina dress (sewed by her mother) in their back yard.

Fifty-five years later, in 1979, Mim and I, along with our friend Marilyn who was renting an apartment in a Chicago suburb at the time, bought the two-flat next door to Ruth and Elaine. Marilyn had the first floor, and Mim and I had the second. We were neighbors of Ruth and Elaine for 13 years, until Mim and I moved back to Wisconsin in 1992. We’ve continued our friendship over the years, and we stop to visit Ruth whenever we can on our trips back to Chicago. We’ve been fortunate to call Ruth our friend for nearly 40 of her 100 years.

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Marian, Mim, and Marilyn in our backyard in Chicago, about 1980.

One of Ruth’s relatives suggested a plan to celebrate Ruth’s 100th birthday this spring. Instead of holding a huge party, she suggested a hundred days of celebration. She set up an online calendar for Ruth’s friends to schedule a private party for just Ruth and themselves, any time beginning with Ruth’s actual birthday (March 22) and continuing for the next 100 days.

Yesterday (May 22) was our day. Marilyn, Mim and I brought lunch and celebrated with Ruth in her home. We reminisced, talked about the neighborhood, laughed, looked at pictures, took new pictures, and had a wonderful lunch together.

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Marilyn, Ruth, and Mim. (My arm isn’t long enough to take a good selfie, so I didn’t get in the picture.)

Among the best things in life are opportunities for making memories, and friends to share them with. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we will be reminded many times to express appreciation for the protection our military has provided us throughout our country’s history. That’s important. But what’s just as important, is to thank God for all the happy memories we have – from conversations with uncles about trees, to lunch with 100-year-old friends. 

I’ve decided to start thinking of “Memorial Day” as “Memories Day.” For people who are suffering with traumatic memories, may it be a day of healing. For people with memories of service to country, may it be a day of patriotic pride and thankfulness for the blessings our country provides. And may we all remember the happy moments we have experienced throughout our lifetimes. Thanks be to God!

Happy “Memories Day” Weekend!

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Ruth’s 2-Flat is on the left. Ours is on the right. When it was ours we had a tiny lawn in front with some hostas next to the brick, no trees.


Friends and Relatives, Cats and Dogs

How many friends and relatives, cats and dogs does it take to make one’s life wonderful?

Hundreds. Maybe thousands. What it takes to make a life wonderful is to learn to appreciate – to be thankful for – the  enrichment each person and pet contributes to one’s life.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte - our first puppy - in our living room in Chicago.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte – our first puppy – in our living room in Chicago – 1990.

During the last couple weeks, Mim and I have had opportunities to see lots of friends and relatives from much earlier times in our lives. That got me started thinking about all the people in our lives – in our whole lifetimes – and how much all these people, and pets, have enriched our lives.

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Mim and cousin Roger in 2006.

Last Friday, we attended the funeral of Mim’s last first cousin, Roger Hovey, age 93. We drove over 500 miles to Clear Lake, South Dakota for the funeral. After the service we ate a funeral lunch in the church fellowship hall with about a hundred of Roger’s friends and relatives, and we enjoyed a couple hours of visiting, mostly with second cousins of Mim. Then we drove 500 miles home. That’s how we spent Thursday, Friday, and half of Saturday last week. The trip was exhausting, but the time spent remembering Roger’s life and talking with Mim’s relatives was incredibly refreshing.

Roger and his wife June had lived and farmed in South Dakota their whole lives. For the last 30 years or so they spent their winters in Florida. When Mim and I moved to Wisconsin from Chicago 23 years ago, Roger and June started to drive through Cambridge almost every spring and fall on their way to and from Florida for a short visit. They never called to schedule the visit. They just rang the doorbell, usually mid-morning, and came in for a cup of coffee and an hour or two of conversation. Fortunately, either Mim or I always happened to be at home when they came. The last few years their daughter Pam drove with them. We always enjoyed their short, lively visits. Each visit was a time to step out of our daily routine and enjoy both reminiscing and catching up on the current lives of these loving people from our past – in this case, Mim’s past. However, over the 20 years of their twice yearly visits, they became good friends of mine, too.

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June and Roger with their daughter Pam and her husband Gene – 2006.

The week before the funeral, Mim and I went to Chicago for a church music conference. (All this travel is very unlike us with our 24/7/365 assisted living business, but everything just happened to work out smoothly for these two trips.) The conference was great, both practical and inspiring. But even better was the reconnection with more old friends and relatives. One day we had lunch with Mim’s niece and her daughter. We hadn’t seen them in at least 25 years. That evening we had half-pound cheeseburgers and a pitcher of Sangria in the beer garden of Moody’s Pub, our old hang-out in Chicago, with Marilyn, a friend from my college days who co-owned and lived in our two-flat in Chicago with us for 13 years.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody's Pub - 2015.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody’s Pub – 2015.

On our way back to our motel from Moody’s we drove through our old neighborhood and stopped to see Ruth, the woman who lived next door to us in Chicago. At 98, she’s still living in her two-flat, now all by herself. Until just a couple years ago, her sister Elaine had lived with her. Although Elaine was six years younger than Ruth, Elaine passed away first. We talked about some of the changes the neighborhood has seen in Ruth’s lifetime. Her parents had built the two-flat she is still living in, 90 years later. Their family was one of the Russian Jewish families who settled in that block of Chicago when it was first being developed in the 1920s.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

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Zoe – still a puppy at heart until the day she died at age 15.

One of the more current things we talked about was Ruth’s dog Zoe. Her 15-year-old dog had died less than a week ago. One of Ruth’s friends wrote “Elegy for Zoe” on her blog, MidwesternRobot.com. It’s a beautiful story about Zoe and about close-knit friendships in the neighborhood. (I encourage you to follow the link to Zoe’s story, but be prepared to shed a tear or two.)

That’s partly why I’m reflecting on how friends, relatives, and pets enrich our lives throughout our whole lifetime. That’s what makes life so wonderful. I guess that’s why the Bible tells us to love each other.

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

Fortunately, throughout my lifetime, I have had many, many neighbors – friends and relatives and cats and dogs – who have loved me and enriched my life greatly. It’s good to take time to remember these wonderful people and other loving creatures from our past.

Mim and Pam in cemetery - 2015.

Mim and Pam in cemetery – 2015.