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Afternoons with Ruth
It was mid-summer 2005, the summer before my high school career would begin. The clouds were high in the sky, the days were long, and I was anxious to begin my new job.
My dad had suggested I became involved with our county museum; however, I was leery of how to do so. He had called the curator to set up an appointment where we could meet and discuss my duties. We had decided to meet Wednesday afternoon at 12:00 – one hour before the museum would open.
That day came, and I rolled out of bed ready to start. I pumped up the tires on my red, ten-speed bike and rode the seven blocks to that ancient building, not 100% certain how today would go.
I meandered into the building after taking a curious glance at the dusty green car badly parked outside. The screen door banged behind me and the bell on the heavy oak door rang with my arrival. And there she sat. An old lady with knobby knuckles and a blue beauty-shop perm. A lady whose face hid a mind so brilliant, people pondered its actuality. A lady who simply looked like a rag doll, curled up in the desk chair.
She glanced up at me with her gray eyes, partially hidden by her out-of-style round eyeglasses. I waited for her to break the awkward silence, except nothing happened.
“Hi...” I managed to stammer.
“Hello, Caitlin,” she murmured eloquently, as if greeting an old friend.
“I'm here to help you, I guess.” I was suddenly astounded as I noticed what was staring me back in the face, one hundred years of history surrounding me.
“It can be a little overwhelming, can't it?” She quietly chuckled at the look on my face.
We continued with this polite banter, and then finally, we began to speak about the museum.
She quietly explained what my duties would be and led me through a quick tour of both buildings, hobbling as quickly as she could with her new hip.
We hurriedly made our way back to the front desk for 1:00, even though we both knew it was highly unlikely that we would see any visitors – that afternoon or the rest of the summer. And so we sat for three hours making our way through every topic imaginable. Like two busybodies in a beauty shop, we gossiped like there was no tomorrow. A thirteen year old and a ninety-three year old, passing the time together.
That afternoon, the clock ticked too quickly for my liking. I anxiously awaited my afternoons spent with Ruth – every Wednesday and Sunday for the rest of that summer and the next. Time went visiting with a woman who had visited five of the seven continents in her glory days. A woman who contemplated living in China after seeing the conditions of the schools. A woman who lived the majority of her childhood and adulthood in the same house on Main Street, Fairmont, Nebraska. A woman who was never married, but yet through her teaching career, shared her life with hundreds of students.
Eventually, my afternoons and weekends spent working at the museum would turn into days leading tours. My days spent working at the museum alone would end with evenings spent at her house, sitting on her sunken floral couch, talking about what had happened that day. I soon became to know everything about her, or so it seemed. I knew her favorite type of jelly to make in the summertime, her favorite record to play in the evenings when the cool breeze blew through the trees, her love of costume jewelry, but most importantly, I grew to know her love of history – both five years ago and those events of today.
Ruth would stay with the position of museum curator until the day she died, and it was only after I attended her funeral did I realize the significance of what she had told me.
“The moment you walked in that door, I knew you were hooked,” she had told me after we had spent an afternoon together talking. And it's true. Now, I live for history and everything that surrounds it. And my favorite part? Leading those tours. I cannot wait until I experience finding another history fiend, just like me.