Monday, September 16, 2013

Amanuensis Monday ~ Saddest of Memories

Amanuensis Monday is an ongoing series created by John Newark at Transylvanian Dutch. An Amanuensis is a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

Today I share a letter sent to my husband's father, Elbert B. Ruth. It was written January 14, 1953 by Naomi Ruth Shellabear, Elbert's sister.

The letter was typed with some handwritten text, which I have italicized. The information on the envelope "concerning my brother Ray - deceased, also a letter concerning my birth" was added by my husband's father.

Naomi writes about the death of their brother, Raymond Reber Ruth. Ray was born January 1, 1891 in Carmel, Indianapolis, Indiana. Sadly, he passed away Valentine's Day 1896.

Dear Elbert,
There is just one big reason why you have not been fully informed about your older brother Ray, and you need feel no shock whatever concerning your lack of information to date. But I am glad that you have written to me for the missing data, and shall do what I can to fill it in.
That one big reason is that the three of us, Mother, father, and I, who could have told you, never felt at all inclined to talk about him. His sickness and death was such a poignant, anguished experience for us that we could not talk about him without bringing up what we had to try to keep buried from our present thinking. I've been trying all my life to forget, but such a keen experience as that was, can never be erased. Actually, it is , as I think of it now, the only memory of my childhood which stands out, preceding the birth of Ray. The morning of Ray's birth, when the wee pink bundle was laid into my eager arms - (I had been longing for a baby!) - our father said to me, "His name is to be Ray, because that is a close resemblance to Roy." That was all he said, or needed to say. It meant everything in our life, up to that point.
Now, to try to avoid too much emotional reminiscence, I'll take up your questions, answering them as briefly as I can: -

1. His full name was Raymond Reber - originally the name of a dear "old" man (as I remember him, having a white beard) of whom our parents were very fond, and who suggested my name, at my birth.
2. Ray was the third child of our parents' first trio of children, with intervals of two years between us, i.e. two years between me and George, then two years between George and Ray. (I'm reckoning the year by my age).

3. Had Ray lived to grow up with us normally, of course my memories of him would be clear enough. But as I intimated above, the shock of his sudden death when I was just past my 9th birthday seems to have run everything else, before and afterward for a time, into an indistinct, faded picture. DEATH for me at that time was really grim, strange, overwhelming, especially accompanied as that was with my mother's and father's awesome grief. You see, black veils, somber equipment and funeral processions, robes, and crepes on the front door, were all included in those days, to add to the misery of such an occasion. Women and ministers calling in solemn silence upon my parents, and especially our dear mother who was definitely prostrated - as I now realize, with her anguish over the child's suffering which she was helpless to alleviate. That is what I wish I could forget.
4. His age was five, mine of course was nine. George was seven. I've never referred to the subject with George, so I have no idea what impressions or recollections he has of Ray, or of that occasion. Ray's birthday - I supposed I knew; but I cannot now recall, for certain. We'll have to ask Laura to look it up in the old family Bible, which I suppose is in her care.
5. What were the family circumstances, and where did the family live, and where is he buried? In a somewhat rambling old house, facing E. Washington - no, E. 10th St, near the country road which afterward became known as Rural Str. (Now it is a thriving business section of Indianapolis!) Father was away, but a "hired girl" as usual, lived with us. George and I were attending School No. 33. It was the first crisis in our family, when mother sent a telegram to father to come home. He came quickly; arriving, probably, at night in my sleep; as I have no recollection of his arrival. I only remember he was pale, shaken, silent. Some kind neighbors had George and me in their care. The only distinct recollections I have of the interval between Ray's last day and the funeral was that I was brought home from a friend's house up the road - where we had probably been staying most the time during the illness and those grim sad days, and let into the kitchen where Mother sat, in that big old kitchen rocker (do you remember it, or does that belong to your pre-historic days?) - she motioned to me and I, shy and chilled with the sense of something very unusual, moved slowly to her when she took me into her arms and tried to speak but couldn't, held me close, then whispered, "Ray went to heaven today". As I think of it now, Mother was then only thirty-three years old! Still young and fair and lovely. I'm sure she had no intention that her young children should know the details of that three weeks' illness and anxiety and suffering; in fact, we were kept at the neighbors' hospitable homes. But somehow, I overheard conversations and caught scraps, quite sufficient to leave their most deep and indelible marks upon my spirit and life. I've never told this before or asked, and it is your concern and interest as much as that of any of us. Except, that you did not live through it. You belonged to the "second and later trio". Ray was buried in a little grave dug beside Mother's Mother, in Grandfather Springer's ample plot at Crown Hill Cemetery. Did Mother never take you there to see the spot? Perhaps she did not. And just as well for herself is she did not.
You probably remember our joyous street-car rides away out past Crown Hill Cemetery to Old Fairview Park where it was our chief fun and family treat in the summer time to pack up an ample basket lunch and go for a picnic. I understand that Butler U. has taken over that ancient site of Fairview Park; and to me it is nothing short of desecration! Not that I have anything against Butler U!

Mother and father were precious in their sincere effort to conceal from me and George their depth of suffering. They may have succeeded with George, never having spoken of the matter with him, I wouldn't know. But some years ago, while I was a student at Drew University (then Drew Seminary) I had a lovely experience which I was happy to confide to mother. One afternoon I was in the laundry, at the Ladies Dormitory, doing some ironing. Suddenly I had such a clear and beautiful sense of a heavenly visitor at my side, and that visitor was Ray - radiant, tall, wonderful! He was not the little fellow of five I remembered, but fully grown to handsome young manhood, in his spiritual development and maturity. By that I understood clearly that "over there" we continue to grow, mature, and to reach our greater potentialities. I was indeed comforted; and Mother had a beautiful, shining expression on her face when I told her of my visitation, the next time I saw her.
In connection with this, I must tell you of a similar experience that came to me one day last June. It was a quiet, lovely Sunday afternoon, I was resting, and hearing the Old-fashion Revival Hour. What was being said or sung I do not remember or know; but I certainly saw Mother - with the most beautiful, completely happy smile that I have ever seen on her or anyone on earth. It was such an ineffable comfort to me, to know that our darling Mother is now so completely happy, and free from all sadness, and all care!
Some months ago Aunt Ony shocked me with the request that we remove Ray from that place in Grandpa's lot, so that she might be buried there, as she did not like the idea of being buried in her husband's lot at Buffalo - or wherever it is. Of course it knocked me breathless, and speechless for a while; but finally I was able to write to her something of how I felt about it; and she has apparently accepted that as final and has said nothing more about it. I'm very thankful. For I really could never think of moving or disturbing that spot, unless I were compelled to do so, or, if Aunt Only really needed it - which is not the case.
Thank you for writing, and I'm glad to have let you in to a little bit of your family's earlier history. And it has probably done me good to bring to the surface, to an understanding listener, these long-pent-up memories.
With love to you all,
Not very clear memories do I have of the day, but I must have loved him intensely, and he must have been a most lovable child, for there was in my childhood heart the never before uttered wish that it might have been I instead of Ray, who had that terrible illness and those dreadful things done to him by the doctor, etc. For years I struggled with an intense hatred of that doctor! N.R.S.


  1. What an amazing letter by an amazing sister. My, so sad. Thank you for sharing this wonderful letter.

    1. Celia,

      I felt the same way when discovering the letter. It was tucked away in my father-in-law's steamer trunk. Such a lost art letter writing! Afraid we will be missing so much history with only texting! Thanks for stopping by to read the post and leave a reply.

  2. What a tenderly written letter to share with her brother her memories of their brother's death. Do you know what illness Ray had? Naomi didn't mention it in the letter but the weeks of suffering she mentioned cause me to wonder.

    1. Nancy,

      This is a real family treasure! As I said in an earlier post, such a shame that we don't write letters anymore! Think of all the lost family history. As to what Ray died from, I'm not sure. Have located information to obtain his death certificate and hope to send for it soon. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and leave a reply.

  3. Wow, Deb - what an insight into a child's death during that time - and how this family is impacted. I read the registers in church records of all those deaths of my ancestors' children and I never stop to think of how they were treated medically and where care most likely took place (at home). No wonder they didn't want to linger on the memory of that pain as caregivers often feel responsible and helpless. I was touched to realize how the later apparitions gave her comfort in her losses. Thanks for sharing.