My Mom Can’t Remember Her Love Story, But I Do

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On paper, they were seriously mismatched. He was the brilliant, favored son of a well-educated southern family, she was the hard-scrapple middle child of working-class Canadians. Both families migrated to the Los Angeles area before their kids were old enough to remember any place else.

Ben’s family was firmly ensconced in a downtown Methodist church—teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, providing leadership in a multitude of ways. Ruth was a church orphan, whose parents dropped her at the front door each Sunday and drove away.

They came up through the youth group separately—he, four years ahead of her— but each knew of the other. She had a steady boyfriend by the time she was in high school. Most of their life together centered around that old brownstone church.

Ben was gifted musically and intellectually, but very reserved, even shy. Ruth was vivacious, smart, mischievous, and funny—a natural leader. He stood on the sidelines of Ruth’s life for a while, becoming increasingly smitten. After Ruth’s relationship ended, they gravitated toward each other, happy to discover the ways their differences were complementary.

The rest, as they say, is history. They “went together” for several years, as he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA. She matriculated there, but dropped out when family funds evaporated. By then, they were committed to marriage, the US had entered WWII, and Ruth’s folks saw no reason for her to get a degree. She regretted it the rest of her life.

He failed to pass the physical for the draft, so began to teach in San Diego at a small military academy. In 1941, they married in a friend’s garden, honeymooned in Laguna Beach, and settled into community life at the school. His family didn’t approve of her. His mother took to her bed for a full week when they announced their engagement and wore black to their wedding. Each of their families of origin had their own unique dysfunctions and patterns and, as is true for all of us, the wounds of childhood were real and lasting.

He was the “show-kid,” with his skill at the piano and in the classroom regularly put on display by a pushy mother. She was the caretaker, intervening at a very young age when her dad came home drunk and became verbally and even physically abusive to everyone in the family. He kept things in, she let them out, often in a big and dramatic way. These were issues that didn’t go away.

They had three children, a daughter first, then two sons. She stayed home, creating a lovely space with very little money. He worked multiple jobs to assure benefits, most of those jobs centered around teaching or educational administration. Both were active in church, raising their kids to keep faith at the center of life.

In many ways, she made it all work. She was raised to believe that it was the woman’s “job” to build the man up, to bow to his preferences, to take a distinct back-seat. Yet, she hung onto who she was … most of the time.

He adored her, was a kind and good person, a loving husband and father. He filled their home with music—his own at the keyboard, and all styles of it on his hand-built “hi-fi” system. He could fix almost anything. He was slow to speak but quick to laugh.

She adored him, and always believed he married beneath himself. Which is so NOT true! Ruth was gifted artistically, could make not much look like a million bucks, and had a deep and searching curiosity about life. She read voraciously, had a grand vocabulary, was one of the most natural and gracious hostesses I’ve ever known. She maintained lasting friendships for decades.

Together, they built a good home. Somehow, they emerged from the brokenness of their past and established a life together that was enviable. They weathered health problems, parenting problems, family tragedies of various kinds. Through it all, they kept their relationship central, always taking time to get away together, just the two of them.

In retirement, they moved out of the Los Angeles area and made a whole new set of friends, traveling widely and playing tennis until he was 82! They found a new church, and built new community. Their love was fierce and tough, the kind that endures, the kind that weaves its way into their children’s hearts, and sets an example of faithfulness and commitment.

They were not perfect, except in this way: they were the perfect parents for me and for my brothers. We would pick them from any list of parents anywhere. Their love story shaped us in ways we are still discovering, a gift we continue to unwrap and enjoy. It’s one we’ve tried to pass along to our own children. My father is gone and my mother no longer remembers this lovely story … but we do. We do. And we are so grateful.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Comments

  1. Gwen Acres says:

    How blessed you have been and what a blessing you and Dick are. It is a joy and privilege to know you. I am delighted that your wisdom is working its way into the lives of my son and his soon to be wife. I don’t know your dear Dick, but I have loved the images of him as he has related to children. Anyone who can do that has to be a special person. You are passing on the legacy your parents started. Though I read this late of Valentine’s Day, I thank you for the love.

  2. Nancy Ruegg says:

    A heart-warming tribute and delightful read. Thank you, Diana!

  3. How beautiful. Helps me believe the past can be overcome as a marriage grows.

    • Exactly, Morag. My brothers and I were always amazed to observe the home we were blessed to grow up in as it compared to how each of our parents experienced their childhoods.

  4. N. L. Brumbaugh says:

    What a beautiful, true story. Thank you.

  5. Your parents’ love is absolutely inspirational. Thank you for sharing it with us this Valentine’s Day, Diana!

  6. Bev Murrill says:

    Oh gosh, Diana. What a powerful love story. Love is so much more than a feeling, isn’t it.

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    Oh so lovely, and what a treasure to inherit and pass on. I can see this light in you too, Diana.

  8. Pam green says:

    And I am grateful for the aunt and uncle I was given

  9. this is so beautiful! thank you!

  10. Theresa Frisius says:

    Love them…an example that crosses over generations. Weaving through time and touching my soul. Thank you for this cousin Diana. -Theresa

  11. A dear friend who was fifty years older than I began her journey into Alzheimer’s when she was in her mid-seventies. When I could see that she was beginning to lose her connection to me, I wrote her a letter telling her that I would remember our friendship and her life even after she could no longer remember me, and it seemed to be a precious thing to her.
    Sharing this story is a sweet gift to your mother, and even more valuable is your willingness to stand in the role of memory-holder for her.

    • Thank you, Michele. I do see that as a primary task during these hard, last days of her life. And I tell her that every time I’m with her.

  12. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Oh Diane, what a beautiful and poignant story (black to the wedding?! oh my!)….not just b/c your parents’ devotion and love overcame real obstacles, but b/c your father is gone and your beautiful mother can’t recall his love, which had sustained her. But what a testament to the power and purity of their love you are. How wonderful that you refuse to let it die, and share their story in print, as a way for others to be blessed. I so admire this, and know in some ways, that it can’t be easy to write. And yet may it comfort you to repeat their story, basking in the strength of it, and to know the blessing they have become to others, me included.
    Love
    Lynn

    • Thank you, Lynn. It was actually really good therapy for me to write this out, at least briefly. As with any story, there are many more permutations than could be included here! But I had recently spent time with my brother — after about two years of phone calls only — and we had both commented on their story and how grateful we are for it.

  13. Over the past few days I’ve read two of what pass in the Christian chick-lit world as love stories. This far surpasses any of them. I think I will be smiling for the rest of the day, and hoping that some day this is the kind of story that can be told about my husband and myself.

    • I’m so glad their story made you smile, Rea! And I think it’s better than about 99% of the chick-lit stuff I’ve endured over the years!

  14. I love this tribute to your parents, Diana. And how special to read this and get a beautiful snapshot of their lives and how they raised you.

  15. Helen Burns HeleneBurns says:

    Thanks for remembering your parents gorgeous love story and sharing it with us….what a tribute to both them and to you. So much beauty here Diana… xoxo

  16. Angela M. Shupe says:

    A beautiful tribute to your parents, Diana. Thank you for sharing such an honest, heartwarming view of your parents. “Their love was fierce and tough, the kind that endures.” – encouraging & hopeful.

    • I’m so glad you found this small story to be both of those things. It is to me and I’m happy to know that it touches others in the same way. I know mom would be, too.

  17. Sandy Hay says:

    The adjectives you use…brilliant, hard-scrapple, reserved, shy, vivacious, smart, mischievous, funny, fierce, tough…words that separately say little but put together with faith at the center creates a lifetime of love.

Trackbacks

  1. […] of ever being married, despite their 63 years together. So it’s my story to tell now . . . you can start this sweet tale here and click over to SheLoves to continue it. It’s a good one for Valentine’s Day weekend, don’t you […]

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