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I was helping my sisters clear out Mom’s house as she prepared to move to assisted living. In the almost-70 years since Mom and Dad married, they had accumulated a lot of stuff! Tools. Vases. Balls of string. Partial cans of lubricants. Now-out-of-date food storage. Sets of dinnerware. It was amazing how much stuff Mom had packed in the modest-sized home she bought in St. George after Dad died. It is hard to disassemble and sort a lifetime of loving, living, growing, and serving.
A few essentials were packed to take to Mom’s new place. Other things were put in piles for one of her children who might need or enjoy the stuff.
I was assigned to sort through a garage filled with overstuffed cabinets and mountains of accumulation. As I picked through things, I wondered, “What did this mean to Mom? What story does it tell for her?” It was too late to learn most of the stories. Mom couldn’t remember many details anymore.
One of the boxes in the garage was filled with large pictures. Family groups. Travels. Ancestors. I pulled out one picture with an old frame and no glass with poses of a little girl. It had stains and scratches, but it called to me.
I recognized the girl as Ruth, Mom’s older sister who died when she was six years old of pneumonia. I felt a terrible sadness that there was no place on earth where someone cherished Ruthie’s picture and told her stories. I resolved to change that.
As we displayed the picture of Ruthie in our home, relatives began to share the stories they knew about her. Paul shared pictures. Alan told stories of her loving relationship with her grandpa. Mary Ann provided details about her short life.
We started to piece together her story. As Harold and Rhean Wallace’s firstborn, she was cherished and joyous. Her parents surrounded her with love. And her grandparents visited often. In fact, Grandma and Grandpa Wallace lived right next door. Grandpa Wallace came over almost every day to take Ruthie for a walk, a buggy ride, or, as she grew, a ride on her trike. Ruthie loved her time with Grandpa Wallace. They became the best of friends.
As we learned more about her life, Ruthie became a vibrant part of our family.
Coming to know Ruthie underscored how little we knew about Grandpa Wallace. He was born in the early days of Salt Lake City. His father, George B. Wallace had five wives. Alonzo was the 32nd of 45 children. I wonder if he felt lost in the family crowd.
When I read the transcript of Alonzo’s funeral program, I didn’t learn a single interesting story about him. People described the family as good people. Pleasant. Solid. But no one told a story of his life. No one seemed to know him as a person.
Alonzo worked for the railroad, first as a fireman, then as a blacksmith, and then as an engineer. Later he worked as a barber, as a grocer, and as a manager of a local theatre. Did he ever find the place where he fitted in?
So, I can’t find a good description of Alonzo’s personality. But I wonder if, at the end of his life, his time with Ruthie was a sweet gift to him, a highlight of his life. He found a place where he mattered; every day Ruthie looked for her grandpa to come visit. Every day they had fun together.
They played at Liberty Park. They ate ice cream. They watched birds and talked to the neighbors.
Then, at the age of 64, Grandpa Alonzo died of a heart attack. Six-year-old Ruthie did not understand where her grandpa had gone. She missed him. Each day she asked her parents when her grandpa would come play.
About a month later, Ruthie developed pneumonia. She was very sick. In spite of good medical care and the family’s prayers, Ruthie fell into a coma. Her dad was worried about her. He prayed that Heavenly Father would not let her feel lonely or afraid. One day as he was praying for her, he felt directed to go to her room. He went immediately.
As he entered Ruthie’s room, she woke. She looked heavenward, raised her hands, and cried out, “Grandpa! You came for me!” Grandpa had come to take his beloved Ruthie home.
That sweet story is now a vital part of our family legacy. We have hung pictures of Ruthie in our home. She is very much alive in our hearts. We even created a children’s book about the story of Ruthie and her grandpa.
Many of us have worked to create a family tree as we endeavor to connect with our ancestors. Yet, family history is more than simply filling in names on a tree. We should make our ancestors and their stories a vital part of our family legacy. In coming to know them, we discover our own identity.
You may have relatives who have been forgotten. Maybe you have felt them calling to you. Find the way that is right for you to honor that relative. Maybe you hang their picture in your home. Maybe you create a story about them for Family Search. Maybe you share stories about your relatives with your children to help them understand that we can face challenges with faith and courage.
Your life will be enriched as you remember and honor relatives, including those whose stories have been neglected. They will smile on you forever. And one day they will greet you warmly.
You might be interested in the illustrated children’s book that tells of Ruthie’s story. Perhaps you could read it with your children as a way of beginning conversations about the stories of their own ancestors. Ruthie can be bought at LDSGreats.com for $15, shipping included.