Aunt Ruthie (Goff)
Beatrice Macdonald’s sister
Aunt Ruthie was one of my favorite people. It has been years since I’ve eaten any of her delicious cooking or experienced her warm hospitality – but I can still conjure up the sweet smell of her kitchen. It’s impeccably clean surfaces still left a hint of chocolate cake, rice pudding, and sweet breads mixing in the air with the aromas of fresh lemons and berries from baskets on tables. It was a kitchen in Utah so very like Mother Bea’s kitchen in California.
Mother Bea and Aunt Ruthie had been raised in a similar kitchen by a sparkling mother, named Alice. But, from the day they were tossed from the back of their father’s truck, both landing injured in a nearby ditch, both newly motherless, they were bound, as sisters often are, by tragedy.
The scene was a farmland crossroads during the Depression. South Jordan, a community still working hard to force the rose from the desert was lined with sugar cane fields. The summer was hot, but the children had done their work early, bathed in the creek and gotten dressed to attend the Curtis Family Reunion to be held at Liberty Park. The children looked forward to this annual event every year. On this particular day Ross was reluctant to go. He was a hard worker and there was still a lot work to be done. All the children piled into the back of the open bed of the truck, all except baby Shirla who was held by Alice in the front seat.
Mother Bea’s only childhood picture shows a gangly girl on the step of the church on her baptism day. She wore a simple shift and ill-fitting tights. Mother Bea tells us of their trips into town where, ashamed of their tanned faces and hands (unavoidable after days of hoeing beets), she and Aunt Ruthie hid. They had no money to spend, but they had great imaginations that created a wealth of games to be played. While waiting for adult business to conclude, Francis, Darwin, Mother Bea and Ruthie would sit and watch the wagons and cars go down the street. Each child was a number and each car going by was assigned a number up to four, starting over again at one when the fourth car had passed. Sometimes a child was assigned a fancy car, but boy how they laughed when one of them was assigned a jalopy. The games they created helped them pleasantly pass the time in each other’s company.
After Alice and Baby Shirla died, the Mother Bea and Aunt Ruthie were sent to live awhile with Alice’s mother, Gram. There they played the game “Annie-Eye-Over” around a little shed in the yard. One little girl would toss a ball over the shed and yell “Annie-Eye-Over” then run like crazy around the house. If she could make it around and back to her place without the other girl catching the ball and tagging her, she could take the turn catching the ball. Mother Bea and Aunt Ruthie loved describing this game to us and even tried to teach it to us, but our brains had already been infested with the frenetic images of Sesame Street and we didn’t have patience to wait for the ball the come from the other side.
Gram’s house wasn’t the only place Mother Bea and Aunt Ruthie stayed after their mother’s death. The girls were farmed out to many different relations and even came back to live with Ross and his new wife Annie in Riverton. Life and work were hard in those days and Ross was a lonesome widower with four little children. He often worked with Alice’s little brother, but he needed to find a way to pull his family back together. Annie was a young widow with five children of her own. They found each other at a church dance not a year after Alice had died and were married soon thereafter. Later they had a child together, Aunt Sharon. When Mother Bea and Poppy looked throughout Utah for a new home, Mother Bea said she would consider living any place but Riverton; memories of living there after her mother’s death still haunted her.
Nevertheless, Mother Bea and Aunt Ruthie found great comfort in each other. Throughout their lives they seemed together like bright little cheerful birds exchanging affectionate nips and chirps. Their love and compassion for each other would illuminate a bright countenance about them. Never did they exchange a contrary or mean word in their world; theirs was a carefully created safe haven. They loved each other so completely as to erase or diminish the ill affects of the reality of their childhood.
The men driving the other truck that day were coming home from a ball game. They had done some drinking and the driver was later charged with manslaughter. I often wonder how the rest of his life went. What a heart wrenching moment to realize the devastation your accident caused and the lifetime of sorrow so instantly wrought for the little Curtis family. Alice and Shirla were taken to a hospital but did not make it through the night. If the accident happened today, there would have seat belts and car seats. The large hospital and medical center in the southern end of the valley would provide them with a real chance of survival. But, back in the 1930s there were long distances to travel and so little that could be done for trauma patients.
Mother Bea’s domestic discontent led her to seek work as a telegraph and switchboard operator for Western Union. She took the train to San Francisco with a few other friends and started a new life as a working girl at the beginning of World War II. It was there that she met Brad Macdonald (Poppy). According to Poppy’s romantic legend, before Ruthie and Ike were an item, Poppy arranged for a certain jeweler to shake Mother Bea’s hand as a way of measuring her finger size. The ring fit perfectly and when it wasn’t in the pawn shop she never took it off.
Ike Goff and Poppy became best of friends, and their antics became legendary. They lived riotously together as fellow newlyweds in San Francisco. Poppy and Ike ran a sham parking garage operation to pay the rent on a hotel room with a hidden hot plate and perishable food cooled in bags hanging outside their windows. Finally, a baby with a dresser drawer for a crib; wedding rings had to be permanently retrieved from the pawnshops and responsible living ensued.
Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Ike moved back to Utah in a little place in Midvale (where the shiny buildings of Union Park now stand). I remember spending nights in their cozy little house with their fabric swagged reading lamps and green plastic outdoor carpeting on the patio. Uncle Ike flooded his yard regularly to keep his lawn green and lush during the summer, and always had a lighted Santa and reindeer on the roof for Christmas. Aunt Ruthie made us rich gravy dinners and I’ll never forget her carefully crafted Christmas snowballs. (Vanilla ice cream formed in balls, covered in coconut and trimmed with a red candied cherry and green shiny leaves to look like holly berries). Uncle Ike could feed small countries with the bounteous produce that he grew in both his garden and his orchard. Mostly, he loved pulling a “fast one” on Poppy and vice verse. Ike and Poppy enjoyed each other as much as Ruthie and Bea loved each other
When shortly before my birth, my father (John Stone) went to work in Idaho, my mom (Judy Macdonald) lived on Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Ike’s property in a little trailer. My mom described her night trek through the yard and up the back stair to alert Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Ike that her water had broken. What a comfort it must have been to have her own mother’s twin spirit there to get her to the hospital and arrange to get Dad home in time for the birth. Aunt Ruthie helped when Mother Bea couldn’t, and comforted her young niece facing the possibility of a blind special-needs child. Aunt Ruthie was involved with our family then and never stopped taking care of us.
She helped me make a diorama for my 3rd Grade book report. I remember so well the Certs breathmints and Wrigley’s Doublemint gum that scented her purse. She even patiently allowed this little pesky niece to regularly rearrange her gold watch and see the dent it had made in her arm. We benefited from her time spent at Homemaking meetings; she often brought us darling Family Home Evening charts and special decorations for our home. She and Uncle Ike took us girls to get ice cream and often had us overnight for sleepovers. Uncle Ike even helped rock our fireplace and he and Poppy placed the traditional silver dollar in the mortar. I’ll never forget Uncle Ike holding a piece of old silver dollar encrusted in mortar at Poppy’s funeral; it was something we had just grabbed and brought to be part of a display of his life. Ike had tears in his eyes and said, “That guy…was like my brother.” How good to have brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles looking over us.
Mother Bea and Poppy lived big in California. They ran restaurants like the Shadowbrook and the Saba and Historical Wax Museums. When fires consumed the Saba, they moved on with new ideas and new determination, encouraged by Ruth and Ike. Poppy finally found the Gospel and as they raised their children in twin homes far from each other, similar values of family, service, love and eternity were taught.
When the Lord teaches that there should be a “welding link of some kind or other between fathers and the children,” I often think of the welding links caused by these dear sisters and their husbands and how those links have lovingly attached to us. (D&C 128: 18) A rich heritage of blessings has come from associating with such fine fathers (and mothers) who came from such difficult circumstances to create a beautiful world for their children.