The Church of Ruth and Pancakes

Ruth, about a year before she died.

My mother-in-law, Ruth, died about three years ago.

Ruth was a tough-minded woman and an alumnus of the college of hard knocks. And she could be hard to please. She disliked all of her sons-in-law, as well as her daughter-in-law.

Except me. She and I had similar philosophies on life, and agreed with each other often enough to be agreeable with each other.

But that wasn’t why she liked me. She liked me because I worked for a living and took care of her daughter. Which was hard to do. I’m lazy and don’t like work, so like I say, she was hard to please.

Ruth was old-school. She saw a man’s place as one who brings home the bacon. She liked when women worked, too. But she especially enjoyed seeing a man bending his back.

Occasionally I would yawn and stretch in front of her, and mutter, “I’m tired.”

Her invariable reply was, “What the fuck do you have to be tired about? Get the hell off your lazy ass and do something!” She was half joking, but the other half was deadly serious.

She and I viewed the world through morose-colored glasses. She greeted the news of pregnancies with deep somberness, as if someone had died. But word of a death left her feeling elated, and eager to celebrate the blessed event.

Ruth cobbled together many wise sayings over the course of her long life, some stolen and some original. Every Sunday morning for over 20 years, my wife and I, and other members of my wife’s large family, would gather at my in-laws’ house. My father-in-law, Jake, would cook pancakes for us, while Ruth regaled us with her wisdom.

It was almost like being in church. Family gossip and other salacious news was tossed around the table, just like all that gossiping that goes on at places of worship.

Ruth would ponder over the table talk, then weigh in with her proverbs and preachments, often punctuated with four-letter imprecations, and mallet-mouthed maledictions. Her sermons were down-to-earth, salty, and as powerful as fire and brimstone. They hit home hard, sometimes to the chagrin of a pancake eater seated nearby.

One day I wrote a poem about her, and read it to her at church. Er, I mean at Sunday pancakes. She loved the verses, and requested that I read them at her funeral. It took eight years, because Ruth was slow to leave this world, but finally I was able to grant her request.

That was three years ago. Since that time, I’ve had the honor of sleeping in the same bedroom Ruth slept in for nearly three decades. In fact, it’s the same room she passed away in, and the same room I’m typing this post in.

She haunts me. In her loving but tough-minded way, her memory reminds me now and then to get off my lazy ass and stop napping. Do something. Take care of business. And cut out the bullshit.

Well if I’m going to be haunted, I think you should be too. So I’m unleashing Ruth’s spirit upon you. I’m sharing with you the poem I wrote for her, which I read at her funeral. I hope you like it, but keep in mind that it goes down better with an earful of gossip and mouthful of pancakes.

The Church of Ruth and Pancakes

The Church of Ruth and Pancakes
Holds service every week.
We congregate on Sundays
And find the things we seek.

We find many words of wisdom,
And a family reunion,
Where Deacon Jake fries pancakes
And serves them for Communion.

The sermon is a doozy,
With words of wisdom, long in tooth,
From a wizened, world-worn woman
Whom we call our Prophet Ruth.

Now listen up, and I will share
Some treasures from her mind.
If you heed these gems you will become
A little more refined:

“Never deal with a dummy,”
Prophet Ruth is prone to mime,
“My father warned me if you do,
“You’ll be screwed most every time.”

“I can smell a bum a mile away,”
She’s often proud to state.
But when the bum comes near her,
God help that poor man’s fate.

And to the fair young ladies
Attracting all the guys,
She’ll say, “A stiff prick has no conscience,
“Take this warning from the wise.”

And when an older woman
Acts mean, she’ll find the blame,
She’ll say, “An old bitch was a young bitch,
“I think I know your game.”

She sees how generations live
And says with gravity,
“You’ve got to think of fruit
“Falling not far from the tree.”

We’ve learned a lot from Prophet Ruth,
With pancakes on our plate,
And as our week goes grinding by,
It’s for Sunday we can’t wait.

If you follow Prophet Ruth’s words,
Your reward will one day be
Pancakes made in heaven,
With some damn good company.

Categories: Family

48 replies »

  1. Made me think of a story I heard a long time ago (and noted in some Post Comment more recently) about a conversation between a professor and a man who basically lived on a park bench. The park bench man was always so happy, that the professor asked him what his secret was to a happy life. The man grinned and said it’s really simple “You just have to keep you mind full, and your bowels empty. The probable with so many people is they get it the wrong way around!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading about Ruth made me smile. Sounds like she knew how to keep you in line. 🙂 Great poem, and I love how she wanted you to read it at her funeral. I would say you touched her life as much as she touched yours. Thanks for sharing!

    Though at the same time, I am wondering what it is about funerals today! Brad messaged me about a song that he wants played at his funeral. He assured me that he isn’t planning on dying anytime soon,he just was listening to the song and had the thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think that I would have gotten along with Ruth. I have come across women who seemed to delight in men working to benefit a woman, women who seemed to feel as it was their right to tell me what I should do with my time and money, treated men as something to manage. Always made me a bit resentful and eager to demonstrate how little I needed them. But I hear there are nice people out there too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I understand. I got along great with her, as her son-in-law. But I doubt I could have been her husband. She treated my father-in-law as if he was her slave. And she loved to badmouth him in front of others. He usually took it with good humor, and usually did her bidding. But once in awhile he’d stand up to her, and she’d back down.
      I’m too independent to let someone treat me like that. The nice thing about Ruth was that she recognized my independence and respected it, as I respected her.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry about the women you have come across, but you heard right, there are nice women out there! Really! 🙂 Ones who know how to treat a man with respect, not someone to manage. I have a hard enough time keeping myself straight, I sure can’t worry about trying to manage my husband, than I would really go crazy!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I hope Ruth is in Heaven spilling proverbs around a stack of pancakes. I’ve heard that in Heaven, you can eat as many pancakes as you want with as much maple syrup as you can stomach, and you’ll never get fat.

    Thank you for sharing this. Ruth sounded like a damn interesting person.

    Liked by 3 people

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