I am waiting in line at the checkout. Did you know that cash registers and scanners can be made to emit any sound we want them to? They could sound like birds. The tones could be different for different items instead of always the same. Lane Three could be made to sing in harmony with Lane Four. We could be listening to music. Instead we have opted for this relentless beep – beep- beepbeep – beep. How cashiers stay sane is anybody’s guess.
I have the good cashier today, the one who says “have a lovely weekend” like she truly means it. The woman in line in front of me has her cart loaded with what looks like a wonderful, if not heart-healthy, party. She has two pork loins, and plenty of chips, and four of the expensive pizzas. Chocolate milk and butter tarts. A butter tart is a party in and of itself and I smile at her, in that check-out line way, hoping she will take a shine to me and ask me to drop by later.
I myself am buying ginger ale for my husband. He has the stomach flu and late last night sounded like he was retching up some demon that had been partying in the depths of his soul. So he needs ginger ale, my poor love.
My Aunt Ruth died the other day. I am taking it harder than I expected, considering it was expected. She had been sick in a number of ways for some time and in the last few years had lost a fair bit of her once prodigious recall. She could still tell you about things she was doing in 1952, but couldn’t remember what she just had for lunch. I am relieved for her sake that she doesn’t have to try any more but still, it’s a loss.
It might be hard to put her down on “paper,” but that’s my job, so I’ll try. Ruth was a woman of boundless energy, with a vigorous and expansive mind. It’s likely the word “verve” was invented to describe her. She was entirely engaged in life. She was a great reader, an excellent cook, and a fierce tennis player who played daily and well, into her eighties. She saw every play she could. She could tell you everything everybody said on the CBC today, and in the House of Commons yesterday. Yes, it could be a little tiring trying to keep up with her, and if you don’t like to be peppered with challenging questions about everything you are doing, thinking, reading and eating, you might not have found her relaxing to be around.
Even a woman like Ruth, with a brain the size of a planet and all that energy, was presented with few career options in her day. Nurse, teacher, mommy. The farm didn’t bring in enough for a lot of higher education but she went to Normal School and became a kindergarten teacher, and a school librarian. It was hard to imagine her being quiet enough for any library but she was nothing if not self-disciplined. If she’d been born later she’d have been Prime Minister, at least.
As a young lady she had a beau named Ron, but their jobs and pursuits took them to different cities where they married other people and raised families. A couple of decades later they met again, and came as close to living happily ever after as anyone I know. They retired early and travelled extensively, which was the only way Ruth did anything. For a few years they had a great little camper van and went all over North America. They saw every damn thing along the way, every historical site researched within an inch of its life, every available local pumped for juicy stuff the guidebooks didn’t mention.
For a couple of weeks in 1983 or thereabouts I got to tag along and we “did” the Maritimes. We had a gas. We stuffed ourselves with crab legs and cod tongues and got drunk on the ferry to Newfoundland. Her drink of choice was a vodka and tonic, which she called a “voddie,” and the drinks were served each day at “Happy Hour” with joyous ceremony. One time I coloured her hair for her, not very well, and one time we bought a fake wedding ring for Ruth so that when we visited some devout relatives of Ron’s, they wouldn’t be shocked. Ruth and Ron lived in sin for years. They were so cool.
The night before the ferry trip to Newfoundland we camped in a big campground with about a thousand other people. In the morning, we woke to find that everyone else in the whole place had got up properly early and hurried away to be the first in line for the ferry. (Only one of them was.) So we were alone in a wide, empty field. Very surreal and post-apocalyptic it was too. Had the Rapture come? Did the campers go to heaven too? We laughed for hours, and ever after that “where did all the people go?” was our catchphrase and running joke. I guess you had to be there. I am so glad I was.
My father had eleven siblings and my mother had four. When I was born, if you count the in-laws, I had thirty (30) aunts and uncles. I needed both hands, both feet, and the hands or feet of one other person to count them. So few of them are now left that I refuse to count up. I am so afraid of the day when I won’t need both hands. I know Ruth’s passing is also hitting me hard because I am not just missing her, but I am missing the time when she was here, when they were all here. In that time before the canopy started to thin, the world seemed safer. I know it wasn’t, but where did all the people go?
I miss Ruth. I’ll do my best to concentrate on how happy I am that I had her. We had a wonderful time.
Almost my turn in the check-out line. From behind me I hear a man say “I love your boots.” I know he’s not talking to me. My boots are in no way loveable. Ruth would have a fit. I should try harder. The man is talking to a lady who I would guess is maybe ninety years old. She is nicely coiffed, fully made up, with good jewelry and yes, a really smashing pair of boots with high heels and a broad stripe of faux leopard up the backs. I love her boots too.
The lady with the artery hardening party-in-a-cart is done and on her way, on hospitable thoughts intent. I’m next. Time passes in the checkout line, just like it does everywhere else. Beep – beep- beepbeep -beep. We should put our kick-ass boots on and throw a party, and damn the saturated fat. We should take our nieces and nephews on a trip. Take up tennis. Drag our sick fellas out of their sickbeds and go run on the beach. Time, that bastard, is marching on. Relentless. Ruthless.
Time for a voddie. Have a lovely weekend.
© 2017 By Ellen Peterson.
Ruth Worthington, formerly Lindgaard, nee Peterson. January 28, 1931- March 2, 2017. In the group photo above, she is in the front row at right, in blue.