A Few Memory Trips with Ruth Ginsberg

The image above captured Ruth during her latest visit to Helen and me here in Tucson, in early March 2009. Ruth has a way of visiting her friends and, doing so, enriching their lives. (Our son Michael has confessed to me that each time he has seen her he develops a "Crush" on her, and I'm sure he is not alone in having that experience.)

Helen became close friends with Ruth when they were freshmen at Syracuse in 1955, and, though Ruth transfered to The New School the next year, they remained in contact, so when I met Helen in 1958, and we became close friends, she would describe her experiences with Ruth and other people she met at Syracuse in often hilarious detail. Regarding Ruth at that time, I remember mainly Helen's fondness and a black-and-white photo of her in Helen's collection (which we should still have someplace here, Helen never discards hardly anything, but sadly I can't find it for this writeup, so I can only say her face appeared slightly rounder than it was when we eventually met).

Eventually I saw her with Helen at her home near Washington Square while I was teaching at Yale, sometime in the mid-1960s. This memory too is very limited, but we left her apartment really late, I remember it was three in the morning, and she escorted us on the subway all the way to our destination, it was a slightly scary ride that night but again what I mainly remember is her glowing presence sitting beside us in semidarkness on that jerking and rattling train.

When I say that Ruth transforms our lives, that includes beautifying our home. In the image below, she occupies one center of our living room: (Click on the image for a close-up)

She's also prominently present on one wall of our bedroom, and in a hallway as well. But one important location must be identified somewhat differently. See below a view of our front patio as it looked in March 2009, just before Ruth arrived. At left, you can see Helen sitting inside, the brick planter an original feature of the house but now containing a small array of desert succulents. Notice the teak chair to the right, which we had placed there in front of a door built when we enclosed the former two-car open garage (now fronted with south-facing windows and, inside, adobe bancos running across the base).

I show all this detail here because when Ruth visited in 2009, she would sit out in this chair in the warm Arizona mornings, and told us enthusiastically how delightful it was to sit out here and experience Tucson that way (lots of birds, sunshine, gentle breezes through the trees, etc.). Winter or summer we had hardly ever sat in this chair, much less used it to commune with nature there, so as she talked about how much she enjoyed herself there I began seeing the place differently, and afterward became more involved with it. You can see differences below in this photo taken February 3 of 2012.

I should say here that this difference is by no means entirely due to Ruth's influence. Another friend, expert in cultivating desert succulents, has played a very large active role. But Ruth got me thinking about our front yard more aesthetically, and I have now become an enthusiastic denizen there.

In the summer of 1996 we traveled east, and stayed with Ruth briefly at her home on Waverly Street. Lila was living with her there at the time, and the whole place was filled with works of their art, a dazzling experience. I have a memory of a work by Lila on the wall there, depicting a mass of interweaving gears, that pops up every time I think of the place. Haunting somehow. Below, Helen and Ruth in her kitchen:

Ruth directed us to a variety of delightful experiences around Boston. Lila was getting ready to attend Columbia U. at the time, and we spent part of an afternoon trying to figure out how to stuff all of her essential gear into her small vehicle. Below, Lila and Ruth contemplate some of the problem. (Note the rather large potted euphorbia at lower far left, a minor part of the puzzle.)

Below, Dick and Lila lugging some of the gear. (Note more stuff at lower right.)

I could hardly believe it, but we did manage to get the entire mass of complex objects into that small car! Below, Lila and Ruth celebrate our communal victory.

From these few and casual images you would be mistaken to infer that we think our experiences with Ruth have been only aesthetic. (That's mainly a function of our own recording media here.) In her own very quiet way, Ruth is a very strong person, morally courageous and assertive in ways that many people tend, from desire to accommodate others, to "let slide", so to speak. While our time with her has been brief, I have witnessed a number of occasions where her behavior in casual social situations has set a very valuable example for others to follow (including myself, who for example intends never to allow myself to be bullied by insoucient waiters after watching Ruth respond to one particularly snarky person in a chain restaruant where we ate in Sierra Vista during our trip along the San Pedro River in 2009). And thinking about these brief contacts, she is consistent that way. I'm sure she has been an exemplary as well as a loving mother. We found Lila, like her mother, a stunning, thrilling personality, someone confidently facing her future. We have not had the chance to get to know Julien personally, but I'm sure he is another firm chip off that old (75 years) block.

With love for all of you,

From Dick and Helen Henderson