Bobbi Wolcott and DiAna Hart Smith

“The Welcome/Unwelcome Guest”
Bobbi Wolcott

Wisdom Bearers
By DiAna Hart Smith
Inspiration piece

Here I am in the little living room of our row house resplendent in my full-skirted tea length dress of baby blue organdy. Two-inch heels have been dyed the exact shade of blue as my dress. Hairspray and hairpins hold my upsweep motionless. This is my first date. The door bell chimes—Bruce is here to take me to the Junior High School dance. He and I are all of fourteen. Mom gently opens the front door.

A woman blows in over our threshold. She takes three giant steps and looms large—like a ringmaster–in the middle of our living room that’s suddenly become smaller. She’s pumping Dad’s hand saying, “I’m Bruce’s mother. I’m Ruth Kramer.” Then, she latches onto my hand, “You must be Brucie’s date, DiAna.” Then Ruth turns her energy onto Mom—still frozen in place not even blinking. Mom’s hand stays tightly wrapped around the door knob. Mom looks stunned. She’s silent. Ruth says, “Hi, I’m Ruth.” in Mom’s general direction.

It’s 1958. Ruth’s hair is cropped and gently colored, suspiciously close to the shade featured on the new TV commercial for the Clairol home coloring kit. Ruth’s suit is black. The sharp edges of its fine tailoring contrasts with the soft gathers of Mom’s pastel shirtwaist dress. Mom has suits but they have peplums, crystal rosette buttons–feminine touches. A sensational eye-grabbing jeweled broach gleams on Ruth’s lapel. Suddenly, Mom’s strand of pearls looks so classically innocent. Mom always looks lovely. Ruth is some new kind of exotic for me. She’s not refined Mom and she’s not glamorous Loretta Young–who hosts her own television show.

Ruth tells my parents and me that she and Bruce live in an apartment on Angora Terrace and that she has a career. Few mothers I know work outside the home. Those who do, have part-time jobs, nothing they classify as a career. Ruth begins enumerating on her fingers that: First, she’ll drive Bruce and me to the dance. Second, she’ll pick us up at the front door of the school gym at eleven o’clock sharp. Third, she’ll deliver me back to my front door by eleven twenty-eight at the latest. I almost expect her to say to Dad, “Have you got that?”

Sometime during my slow recovery from the jolt of Ruth, I glimpse Bruce in his mother’s wake just a few inches into our living room. A white oblong corsage box with the telltale cellophane window is tucked under his right arm. Suddenly, it hits me that I have forgotten all about him. My eyes have been riveted on his mother and her broach.

I am witnessing Ruth taking complete control of our situation—so expertly and with such concentrated energy—while dressed in such a serious shade of fashion. Bruce must have slipped the orchid corsage on my wrist at some point but I wasn’t able to divert my attention from Ruth, who has become my date of choice.

Bruce sits next to me in silence in the backseat. I don’t know what to say to him. He doesn’t know what to say to me. I watch Ruth competently maneuver her car through Philadelphia’s complicated traffic patterns. Traditionally, only dads own cars and do all of the driving and delivering of everyone—family, friends, neighbors.

I sit forward and ask Ruth questions from the back seat. Ruth’s eyes meet mine in her rear-view mirror as we talk of the Eisenhower administration, my course load, and the permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Thank goodness for all of those current events assignments and all of those school field trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that I adore. The questions Ruth poses makes me feel as though she’s genuinely interested in my opinion. And, she respectfully responds to my questions. I never get to know Ruth’s full story. It isn’t for my lack of trying. She intrigues me.

I’m home at eleven twenty-six—two minutes early. Mom is waiting up for me. She loves how nice my dress looks. She compliments me on not shining on Bruce, “I’m so relieved, DiAna, that you’re not boy crazy. Kathy Russo’s mother tells me that Kathy is boy crazy and she worries so about her.” Curiously, Mom doesn’t mention Ruth. I don’t either. I suspect that Mom doesn’t know what to think—whether to feel sorry for Ruth, admire her, or find her ways pushy and offensive.

I sense from pieces I put together from Ruth’s and my conversation that Bruce’s father isn’t a part of her and Bruce’s family unit, that she alone will fill all gaps. Bruce won’t feel the lack of a father or suffer from their adjusted lifestyle, if Ruth can possibly prevent it. Soon, I don’t remember much about Bruce–other than he was tall and had curly dark hair–or the dance. Bruce’s mother eclipsed him. He faded from my life as fast as the orchid wrist corsage, but Ruth still rattles around in my brain.

I gnaw on Ruth for months. People can really choose different life styles—that’s huge for me. Ruth is single and so brave. She earns the money that pays all of her and Bruce’s expenses. She must have selected her car and paid for it herself. Mom relies on Dad to make big decisions, pay bills, and write checks. Ruth does all the things that dads are expected to do. She didn’t call Dad, act pitiful, and ask him to drive us to the dance. Mom doesn’t drive. Bruce is lucky his mom is devoted to him and will take care of him. Whew! It’s a lot to think about.

Little do I know that fifty-five years later, I’ll still be benefiting from Ruth occupying a crag in my brain. I think of Ruth standing tall, free and brave—doing what had to be done. Ruth planted a feministic seed or two in me. She influenced my choice to have a son, a career, and a life that I crafted.

All those decades ago Ruth put me on alert that wisdom bearers come unannounced in unexpected shapes and in unconventional forms. I still keep my ears and eyes wide open.


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