Miss Ruth Price
Sometime about 1950 when I was ten years old, a unique person came into my life.
Like many of the good things that happened to me, this came about because of my
sister Jean. Miss Ruth hired Jean to help her in her florist shop making forms for
wreaths for funerals and other arrangements. I do not remember how this came
about. My sister was a good employee, and Miss Ruth also employed her to sit
with her invalid sister Mamie Ramage, who was paralyzed and could not walk alone,
nor could she be left alone for any length of time.
As a result of Jean’s record in these households, I soon was asked to do various
chores for Miss Ruth such as running errands, delivering floral arrangements in the
neighborhood, and later on I took on the sitting job with Mrs. Ramage when my
sister graduated from high school. I also spent the night with Miss Ruth if her sister
Allie happened to be out of town because Miss Ruth didn’t want to stay in this big
old house by herself. Their house was the old Price family home, a very large two
story house with two parlors, a large dining room, a hallway that ran all the way
through the house, 3 large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a very large kitchen and a
back porch that connected to Miss Ruth’s florist shop. Then there was the upstairs
that I was allowed to see only once in my life. It was vast and mysterious.
The house was furnished with beautiful pieces of period furniture, and yet some of it
had been stored and shelved back in closets and pantries. One was a dresser made
of walnut I think. Years later when I was grown, for some reason she gave it me. I
can’t remember why or what the occasion was. Perhaps she was cleaning out
space. It had belonged to her mother. I was thrilled. I managed to get it home (a
half a block down the street), and I tore into refinishing it. It had been painted
several times. I must have used gallons of Stripeze on it. I finally got it down to
the original wood, and it was lovely. At one time it had had a marble top, but I
never was able to replace that. I used it for many years, and when I went to Saudi
Arabia, I was afraid to take antiques so I gave it to Lynn Ramage, Miss Ruth’s great
niece. Lynn was one of my students when I was teaching in Nashville. She, being
the great granddaughter of the original owner of the dresser, I thought it was the
thing to do.
One of my most interesting chores was shampooing Miss Ruth’s hair and rolling it
in pin curls. She had long gray hair that she wore in a bun at the back of her head.
That she asked me to do this was a shock to me. She would lean over the
bathtub, and I would scrub her hair, rinse it, comb it out and roll it up. The next
day when it was dry, I combed it and fixed it in the bun for her with long hair pins.
I took this as a great compliment that she asked and allowed me to do this, as it was
a very personal thing. My compensation for chores and errands amounted to 10-15
cents each. This was enough to keep me in spending money for movies in the
Miss Ruth was the closest thing to a grandmother that I ever had even though she
was an old maid. She and her sister Allie never married. They lived in this family
home together all their lives. I asked Miss Ruth one time about boy friends, and
she said she had one but he was killed in World War I. She never told me anything
else about him. One time I asked her about her favorite music, and she said she
used to love to dance to Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
She required various things of me. When entering her kitchen for anything I was
expected to wash my hands. She often made cheese toast for me for breakfast
when I spent the night with her. I sat at her big table which was covered with oil
cloth. She was an excellent cook, and there were always cookies when I returned
from running errands. Another expectation had to do with making the bed. If it
involved changing the linens I soon learned one does not put the pillow under one’s
chin to put on the pillow case. She never told me why, I was just instructed not to
do that. To this day I do not put the pillow under my chin to put on the pillow
case. On her 80th birthday her great nephew took her photograph outside in her
backyard leaning against her little log bridge, which sat over dry ground. She gave
me a copy of it. She had written on the back, “A thing of beauty is a joy
forever.” This remains a treasure for me. It was the first photograph that I framed
to start what I have called my “woman’s wall.” I have a bedroom with all the
walls covered with photographs of women in various stages of life from infants to
the elderly. Near the one of Miss Ruth I have the poem “When I am an old
woman, I shall wear purple....” Her photograph was the inspiration for the whole
Miss Ruth saw me through my junior and senior high school years, through college
and graduate school. She was there through my twenties and into my thirties. Her
influence on my life stemmed from her words and examples. She was consistent in
the things she said and did. That was important to me in my youth as it made me
feel secure. I knew I could count on her to be true to her words and deeds. She
taught me about trust and honesty when she sent me to deliver the flowers to her
clients and when she hired me to attend to her invalid sister. I am grateful that a
little old maid a half a block down the street from our house took an interest in me
and shared many hours and taught me things I might never have known otherwise.