Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Sweet Little Dove

RUTH THOMPSON LIFE STORY
Ruth Evelyn Johnston Thompson (January 4, 1916 to May 1, 2006) was the daughter of Court I. and Grace V. (nee Higgins) Johnston. At the time of her birth they were farming in Elsah Township, Jersey County, Illinois. As Ruth grew up she had two older brothers, Loris and Lloyd, two younger brothers, Ralph, Marvin, and three younger sisters. Two of her sisters died in infancy, but her younger sister Grace has remained close to Ruth throughout her life.

Ruth graduated from Alton High School in 1934. Tragedy struck that summer when she was involved in a serious automobile accident. Her college education was interrupted by operations resulting from her injuries and time to recover from them. This was one of many major life challenges Ruth gamely faced and overcame. She went on to receive her Bachelor's Degree from Western Illinois University in 1939.

Although her degree was in Biology, there were no jobs available in that field during the end of the Depression. She accepted a teaching assignment at Gregory School in Green County—considered the best school in the county—for $65.00 a month. Ruth taught all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse. Her following teaching assignment during the next two years was at Godfrey School.

On June 6, 1942 she married Erwin A. Thompson (then Private, later Sergeant) in the Thirteenth Regimental Chapel, Camp Joseph T. Robinson, Little Rock, Arkansas. Three children were born to this union: Julia Ann, Gary Arthur, and Janet Grace.

Ruth's marriage cut her teaching career short. Married women could not teach then. In 1953 teachers were in short supply and the situation changed. Ruth was vigorously recruited to fill a vacancy they could not find a suitable candidate for.

Since Ruth’s teaching certificate did not cover teaching in elementary schools, she needed to go back to college. Ruth was never one to do things by halves. In 1955 she earned a Master's Degree in Education from Washington University in St. Louis.

Again, due to critical shortage of teachers in the Special Education field, she was assigned to a special education class. She had no training in this field, but quickly took to it and decided to gain certification through courses at Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University. Ruth successfully received her certification and this became her new field of specialization.

Ruth will be remembered for her warm support of the children in her classrooms, the children of the neighborhood, and children in general. She was a life member of the National Education Association. She retired from the Alton School System in 1980. She was a Girl Scout leader, and charter member of the River City Swingers Square Dance Club.

In whatever projects she undertook Ruth brought passion, focus, and talent. In her retirement she was able to pursue her life- long dream of birding around the world, gardening, quilting, painting, and extensive travel to Europe, Africa, and Russia. Ruth Thompson was preceded in death by three of her brothers and her oldest daughter, Julia Ann. Her surviving clan includes her husband, Erwin A. Thompson of Godfrey, Illinois; sister, Grace Barker of Godfrey, Illinois and brother, Marvin
Johnston of Lake Hills, Texas; children Gary Thompson (wife Patty) of Jacksonville, Illinois and Janet Riehl (sweetheart Daniel Holland) of Lake County, California; David Kraus of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, husband of Julia Ann Thompson; grandchildren Diane Thompson (husband Kevin McCarthy), David Thompson (wife Lori), Sarah Thompson, Janean Baird (husband Mike), Vince Szewczyk (wife Susan); great-grandchildren Amelia, Margaret, Travis, Andrew, Bradley, Cody and Nathan.

In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Ruth Thompson to support retired teachers should be made payable to IRTA Foundation with Retired Teachers Support on the memo line. Their address is: IRTA Foundation, 620 North Walnut, Springfield, IL 62702.

QUEEN FOR A DAY
You have to have seen the show.
It aired a long time ago.
Three housewives
(back when we called women that)
lined up, breathless.

These Queenly figures
came from scrubbing floors,
not aerobics class.
The winner had the saddest story.

Then the announcement,
the crown,
the ermine-trimmed robe, velvet.
Red, I suppose.
The promenade.
The applause.
Better than the Miss America pageant,
which came later.

Mom coughs.
I snap to.
Let me get you a glass of water.
"Oh, you shouldn't do that. I'll get my own."
(She thinks she can still walk.)
But, you are the Queen, I say, and mean it.
"Queen of what?"
This household, your domain.

She rises from her upholstered throne.
Got your balance?
Stand tall, like the Queen you are.

If she's the Queen,
that makes me a princess.
But, in real time, I am a crone,
excavating for the tunnel
to become Queen of Myself.
This is it.

UNDER MAMA'S YEW TREE
Carefully, carefully
she gathers the country to Illinois.
Maine ferns find new shadows
in Midwest loam.

Carefully,
only a trifle greedy,
she draws together, under her yew tree,
the country's foundations.

Rocks and rubble
from Gettysburg National Cemetery
and Long Island back yards.

In darkness the country
crumbles while yew-loam
shines.

Published in Folio, Winter 2001

CROCUS
I offer her the first crocus.
Purple in a red-orange vase.
"That was Mom's," she said.
Yes. Francoma.
Cousin Cynthia showed me how to spot it.
Highly collectible.
An amphora crested with spring.

She draws closer to inspect it.
Tips it up to drink the water.
She starts to nibble the leaves and blossoms.
Flowers, Mom. To look at.

But, what if essence of crocus
surging through her bloodstream
is exactly what she needs?

APPETITE
At the end of her life, so much left undone.
So much promise left to be won.
So much sugar left unspun.

So many recipes left in the book.
So many foods left to be cooked.
So many meals left to be tasted.
So many roasts left to be basted.

So many tastes left to devour.
Her appetite still grows be the hour.
Even her stomach growl shows power.

Collected in boxes, bags, and barrels
her recipes keep her up all night.
She comes to bed now, and we turn off the light.

Memorial Service
for Ruth Evelyn Johnston Thompson
Oak Grove Cemetery
Jerseyville, Illinois
May 6, 2006
by Erwin Thompson

Ruth Evelyn Johnston Thompson died in the early morning hours of May first, two thousand six at the Blu Fountain NursingHome, Godfrey, Illinois. It seemed significant for her to die on May first, May Day. This day has been celebrated around thecountry and around the world as the beginning of spring flowers, and the beauties of nature. It seemed an appropriatedayfor Ruth to pass on into eternity, for the love of flowers and the care of them was a great passion of her life.

The arrangements for the preparation of her body, (cremation) had been decided upon and arranged for in advance. The funeral home people were most kind and helpful. The family was in total agreement. The business arrangements were accomplished with a minimum of strain.

Ruth's ashes were put into a beautiful urn, which was placed in a special vault for burial. Janet and I looked at the choices, and independently came to the same decision. The flowers painted on the urn could have been one of the paintings that Ruth made. She would have chosen the same one, we are certain.

The weather smiled on us, with a bright, sunny day. The plan for the internment was that she would be buried between her parents. This was possible, as they were in conventional full sized vaults, with enough cover that Ruth's small casket could be placed between them.

The gathering consisted of members of the family from both the Thompson and Johnston heritage as well as our children and their children. It also included what the Africans would term members of our "extended family." People who had been close to the family through the years, and were a part of it, although not by blood relations. Before the ceremony, Janet offered some of Ruth’s handkerchchiefs around, for people to use during the service, and keep and keep-sakes afterwards. These were ones that had her crocheting on and also ones students had given her through the years when students
did such things.

Patsy Dodds opened the service by singing, unaccompanied, one of Ruth's favorite hymns, "In the Garden." It was beautifully done. She has a good voice, and I have never heard her sound better.
I did the scripture reading, with my own interpretation of its relationship to our lives in the present day and as an inspiration for Ruth's dedication to whatever goal she had set to achieve. (Text included separately)

We asked anyone in the gathering to share their memories of Ruth, and several did so. The texts were not captured by recording, but they will live in the hearts of everyone who heard them. Little, funny stories that everyone who knew her could relate to. The situation was relaxed and easy, without taking anything away from the sad facts of losing a loved one.

Janet read her poem, "Under Mama's Yew Tree," which was highlighting Ruth's talent for collecting interesting rocks and flowers from all over the country. They were gathered together under a certain yew tree in our yard.(Text included separately)

The service was concluded with a prayer, written by Patty Thompson and offered by Gary.

From here, we all adjourned to Court and Pam Barker's store in New Delhi, six miles south, to continue our visit with the other members of the group and enjoy the fine meal that had been prepared. The meal was a joint effort, but master minded by Cynthia, Grace's daughter, who had been in the food preparation trade for many years and is the acclaimed family expert. I had taken all of the family picture albums, and many of the gathering enjoyed looking through them.

Altogether, we feel that Ruth would have approved of everything that was done. We feel that she was there.

I. Hymn, “In the Garden,” sung without accompaniment by Patsy Dodds
In the Garden

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

II. Scripture Reading and Comments by Erwin Thompson

Luke 9:62 "And Jesus said unto him, 'No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit
for the kingdom of God.'"

To properly understand this passage, we need to go back in history to the methods of agriculture that were in use two thousand years ago. Even a hundred years ago, before the use of mechanical power to pull the plow, the quote would still be appropriate.

In those days, the plow was pulled either by oxen, or donkeys. They were in front of the plow. The plow, itself, which turned the fertile soil, was in front of the man responsible. Thus, with everything that needed to be paid attention to in order to perform a good job, was in front of the man, there was no need and no useful gain in looking backward.

My interpretation of this passage in a Biblical reference, is that if one is to truly follow Christian teachings, there is nothing to be gained by looking back to irresponsible days and regretting the selfish indulgences that we had known in our past.

Many people will start a project with high hopes, only to decide that it is just too much trouble. Looking back causes one to lose focus and lose sight of the project at hand. Ruth Evelyn Johnston Thompson always looked forward. Once she started something, she never stopped until it was done. Many if not most of her projects concerned the welfare of others.

Many people are better off, today, for the thought and effort that she put into Teaching and helping her family, the children in her classroom, and anyone else that she found along the way that needed her help.

Going home to visit her parents was a very important thing for Ruth. When we were in the service, in Winona, Texas, I remember the homesick feelings that we both had when we heard the mournful whistle of the train that passed within a block of our home. There is nothing so mournful as a train whistle at midnight when you are a thousand miles away from home, and not sure that you will ever be able to return.

Later years, she would get the feeling of needing to go home to visit. We always tried to accommodate this urge. The family feeling was very strong. They were a close family. They treated me more like a son than a son-in-law.

Lately, she would wake up and say: "I want to go and see my parents, today!" Or: "I want to go home."

I believe that she has now gone home.

III. Sharing Memories

May Day and Mom: Janet Grace Riehl

My mother chose May 1st—May Day—as her death day. We have commented at home how right this was for her and her life. Mother was life-long biology major and loved birds and flowers in a big way. Betsy Hamer, a schoolmate of Gary’s who used to come out to our place for square dances, recently came back into our lives. She sent Pop a May Day basket in
Mother’s honor.

May Day is the exact halfway point of the Spring season when all nature in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere throws off the glow of Spring fever—a dizzy, delirious dance of motion and emotion with heady smells and riotous color. This is a growing time when life seems to shoot up out of the ground and keep on going forever. The seed, the root, the shoot, the sap, the bud, the bark, the branch, the trunk—the very tree of life.

We are all part of this tree of life and Mother was a vibrant Woman Tree, leaving each of us with many blessings and memories. My father wondered if perhaps some of you might like to share some of those memories at this time. Of course, there will be more informal story- telling later over good food arranged by Cynthia at Court and Pam’s.

[Many people did share touching and funny memories of Ruth.]

V. Closing Prayer—Gary Thompson read this prayer written by Patty Thompson.

Most gracious Father, We offer you praise and thanksgiving for the life of your humble servant, Ruth. She has served you well. She has served all of us well. We thank You, too, for her life partner Erwin. Together, they worked, struggled, rejoiced and grieved as their life together took many turns.

We thank you for our immediate and extended family. Three siblings, each strong and unique from one another, bound forever by family. Death does not break bonds this strong! This we know! We were raised to follow our dreams...even when we were not sure where that would lead us.

We thank you for your steadfast faith and love. We thank you for the life lessons taught to them by their parents, that they in turn taught to their children, which continue to be passed on to each succeeding generation. We are so grateful to have been raised in a family of faith, with a strong moral, ethical, and work ethic. We are so thankful for our mother’s love, which went well beyond the boundaries of family.

As difficult as it is to let go, we lift your servant Ruth up to you, Father, knowing that she is in a far better place. We promise to always honor her memory, which in turn honors you. Continue to be with us, comforting us with your love and patience as we strive to re-order our world without our mother, wife, sister, Grandma, aunt and friend.

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