Aunt Ruthie’s Nest Egg

by Bella Rum

Scan0001_2People liked to be around her. She was light-hearted, quick to laugh, told a good story and played a mean game of cards. Aunt Ruthie was Dad’s youngest sister.

She was born in 1931. She was the last of my grandparents’ seven children, the most personable and my grandmother’s favorite – besides Uncle Wishie. Aunt Ruthie had what most would consider a ‘full life’, and some would even say a bit glamorous. At least it seemed that way to me when I was a teenager. She raised three children as she traveled around the world with her husband – two years here, three there. She was a talented artist, a master bridge player, an avid gardener, and she did volunteer work where ever they went. No one ever had more friends than she did, but all of her sophistication, education, beauty and talent could not fill in the spaces that needed filling.

Her husband was older than she, a bright man of pretty impressive accomplishments, but I don’t think he ever saw her talents or her discontent. If he did see her gifts, he did not encourage them. She spent a lot of her life appeasing. Yet I would not describe her as weak at all. She made her choice and did not complain. I used to wonder why she stayed. It was not a life that some of us would choose, but I finally realized it was hers to make. I think she believed the grass was not always greener… She had great children, friends, and lived in the midst of family on a beautiful piece of property that had been in the family for generations. It was  home, and it was her choice.

Whatever bargain she struck with herself, it never dampened her joie de vivre. She believed life was to be enjoyed. I guess I’m choosing this darker side to write about because it was not seen by everyone, or they chose to turn away from it. Everyone wanted her exuberance to spill over on them. It was blinding at times. Everyone enjoyed being around her, glowing in her reflected light. Being in her presence could be intoxicating. She would laugh at that, but I think she knew it was true.

One day my uncle returned from the bank, and demanded an explanation from her. That’s when we all learned about Aunt Ruthie’s egg money. Uncle Johnny had gone to the bank to conduct some business, and one of the bank employees divulged to him that Aunt Ruthie had a separate account in her name. Can you believe it? Dumbfounded, he demanded to know how she acquired $47,000 and why he didn’t know about it! (That’s the first time I’ve used an exclamation point justifiably.)

I would later ask her the same question. She said, “Bella Ann, every woman should have her own money, money that’s only hers and nobody else’s. It means a lot. I just saved a little here and a little there over the years. It isn’t the big deal everybody is making it out to be.”

I swear.

From that day forward, we referred to her stash as Aunt Ruthie’s egg money, but I never stopped wondering what other secrets she harbored. Yet I felt a little sad when her secret was revealed. After all it was HER secret.

The term ‘egg money’ or ‘butter ‘n’ egg money’ hails from a time when farm women had very few methods of generating money. Many of them sold eggs and butter or handmade items to make what Aunt Ruthie referred to as “their own money, only theirs, nobody else’s.”

Few believed their marriage was one of deep attraction or love.  That’s not to say she didn’t care for him. She did, in her own way. In the end, he had COPD, and she cared for him for years at great expense to her own health. She devoted much of her life to him, but I also remember when she seized the opportunity to move out of their bedroom and into a much smaller guest room. She suffered a temporary illness about thirty years ago that provided her with what she saw as a plausible reason to vacate the marital bedroom, “I don’t want to disturb John’s sleep with my tossing and turning.” It was transparent, and even the dullest among us saw through the facade. But no one said a word.

Predictably, she never moved back. Instead you could find her gazing slyly at her tiny sewing room that shared a common wall with the tiny guest room she had commandeered. Before Uncle Johnny knew what had hit him, the wall was on its way down.

She hired a couple of guys to remove most of the wall and create a beautiful arch. She then asked them to line the back and sides of the arch with bookshelves. I remember when she showed it to me. She was like a child on Christmas morning. Her art covered the walls, and her beloved books lined the bookshelves from floor to ceiling. She had strategically placed her bed under the archway, so her books surrounded her while she slept. When I looked at it, I saw a sanctuary that was purely Aunt Ruthie – unadulterated. She had finally created a space in her home that was all about her, a place she could close the door and be herself, and she had such style, such taste. It was fabulous.

I felt happy that she had it. She needed it so much. It was still less spacious than their shared bedroom, but it was hers. It was thirty years in the making. She enjoyed it for another thirty years before she died there, surrounded by her art and books, last February.