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



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.