"Please, Dad! Wear your tie tonight!" Ruthe clicked into the living room with her first ever high
heels. The mismatched, second-hand furniture looked worse against the pink lace shirt-dress swirling
around her knees. But with nervous self-examination her eyes were on her skirt edges.
"I won't go to my own graduation!" Ruthe's threat rang high-noted, hollow and desperate.
"He will. He will." Ruthe's mother pacified from the bedroom where she was dressing. Anna Veer began
to nag and prod Ben to put on the tie she'd bought for their wedding. He saved it for extremely high
and holy occasions.
"Kids get disrespectful once they've some education-" Her Dad strolled back into the living room in
a hunting pose, pausing to watch his eldest checking herself nervously in one mirror then
She caught his glance and turned away as she realized her undemonstrative father was rather proud of
her. He would wear that despised tie for her. A long tense whoosh of air expelled from her trembling
rib cage. Lord, they don't understand me or life... I've got to protect and take care of the
Now she threw herself back into analyzing her appearance. Ruthe straightened the wide belt with the
square rhinestone buckle, pulling in her breath and again, slowly twirling the rustling skirt around
her knees. There. That flat, undecorated bodice reminded her with a fresh crush that the other girls
had ordered real flower corsages. She patted the spot on her left side where deep pink roses with an
iridescent bow should be, and sighed silently, no one can tell this is a second-hand dress, can
they? Thanks then, Lord, for this good find.
Gingerly she poked into the mass of light brown curls and waves that tumbled down and beyond her
shoulders. She had far more hair than her delicate features warranted. Now she swung the whole mass
of sprayed hair like she had seen others do in the school washroom. She spotted a few stray wisps on
top and tucked them down a bit.
More waiting? Ruthe took off her glasses and rubbed them vigorously with a tissue for the third
time, then studied her nails critically. Her dad would not allow nail polish, but Maelyn had lent
her clear nail strengthener in school, and so far he had not spotted it. She had even worn it to
work the last two nights at the telephone office in the city.
The phone shrilled. Ruthe nearly tripped on her seven-year old sister, Sharri, as she dashed into
the kitchen just fast enough to beat thirteen-year old Suzanne to the receiver.
She ignored Brandt, grinning from his perch on the counter, swinging his lanky legs, eyeing the
comedy. "Yes. Speaking."
For a long attentive minute she froze in a listening pose, weighing, deciding.
Suddenly the gold flecks in her teal eyes jumped with life. "I'm coming right in. It's okay. Hold
on- I'm on my way."
In one motion Ruthe hung up, swooped the car keys from the kitchen windowsill, and her new white
patent purse from the table. As she tore through the porch doors, she called over her shoulder,
"matter of life and death! Go ahead without me. I'll be back soon's I can!"
In those same split seconds her parents had appeared in the kitchen, Suzanne had bounced back
downstairs from their bedroom, and Sharri screamed Ruthe's name. But their dressed up graduate
jumped into the old brown '59 Pontiac, backed out into the gravel street and spun away, hearing none
Ruthe breathed deep trembling breaths as she steered nimbly around the familiar corners of
Kleinstadt and onto the highway to Saskatoon. She was now an adult on a serious mission.
Abruptly she giggled a tiny taut giggle. What a crazy reprieve from the fussy banquet and public
ceremonies and speeches, the anticipation of which had tied her in knots all day. This was
exhilarating; speeding down the highway in the magic of an early evening hour in May. The sun shone
warmly, a welcome surprise after a long winter of cold and very short days.
Just when she was beginning to unwind a new nervousness washed over Ruthe. What could she possibly
do for the O'Briens when she got there?
On the phone Muriel had said that her mother was dying and asking for her, and her older sister had
vanished. "Ruthe, you've got to come help me find Cathy before Mom dies!" her new teen friend had
"I've never been at a deathbed before," Ruthe worried. "I was not really at Grandpa's last year. Not
right when he died. What will the rest of the O'Briens think, me barging in like this?"
Swiftly her thoughts went into a soundless but high-charged dialogue with God, a habit developed in
her lonely preteen years. What will I do, Lord? I'm only that mousy bookworm who reads too much
and is scared of strangers. Just look at what I've got myself into now!
Vivid scenes from the last two weeks washed in like tidewater to remind her how she stumbled into
this double life.
Her dad had been out of work all winter. He was a strong, healthy man who was not afraid of
strenuous outdoor labour. It was the first time ever that he had been unable to find work. Her
mother had been in poor health almost as long as Ruthe could remember, and had suffered several big
surgeries in recent years, but when she, with rash pride, began to threaten to go washing floors for
others, Ruthe knew it was time to step in to help. Her parents had promised she could stay in school
as long as they could afford it, but before they would go on welfare, she would be expected to do
what all good Mennonites, at least of her parents' generation, had done; work to help the family
pull through hard times.
Ruthe was observant enough to know if she dropped out of grade twelve, chances of finishing would
get slimmer with time. After much deliberation and prayer and quiet inquiries, she wrote a letter
she had polished daily for three weeks. It won her a special interview in the city with the Chief
Operator at SaskTel, the provincial telephone company. She got a fine arrangement to work weekend
night shifts in the telephone office, with extra shifts in any week when she notified the scheduling
clerk she was available.
The Chief Operator had been so understanding and amenable to help Ruthe this way until she could
take full-time shifts, because she had done it herself in the fifties, in a small town not far from
Kleinstadt. Since the late sixties, operators were now to have their high school completed. It was a
coup, yet Ruthe did not brag.
Her parents did when she announced the job to them. They told everyone they knew. Her mother worried
about her commuting to and from the city those forty minutes at night and again at so early in the
morning. At the same time, they were both clearly relieved that Ruthe had found a way to support the
family and stay in school until after her June finals.
City life held a unique fascination for Ruthe. Characters and intrigues she had experienced
vicariously in books percolated and blended in her imagination. She couldn't keep from staring at
people in the streets, and at the huge buildings, which held so many unrelated individuals at once.
Each face, each voice she heard in her headset hinted at volumes of personal stories.
Tenderhearted, Ruthe soon began to have physical cramps of empathetic ache at the human suffering
she sensed. A month ago she began to come earlier or stay a while after a shift to drive up and down
the streets, sub-consciously hoping to be in the right place at the right time to help someone, she
"Dear God!" she moaned now, as she brushed her damp hands on the pink lace and gripped the wheel
tighter, unaware that her foot pressed down as she thought of Muriel and her mother, waiting. You
did a miraculous thing the night You directed me to Muriel. You even put words in my mouth. Do it
again! Please Lord! I cannot turn around now! Ple-as-e. I've promised.
Two weeks earlier Ruthe drove down one of the more run down business streets when she spied a
narrow, weather-beaten building, held upright by a cafe on one side and an over-stuffed pawn shop on
the other. An eye-straining sign flickering over the door proclaimed it to be Rona's DanceSpot. She
knew she was too naive about this, but felt one thing instinctively; there had to be some unhappy
kids there, never mind what Arlene at school said about the fun of modern dancing.
Cold clammy fear touched her neck. Some of those people might be hiding their misery under a false
gaiety, but which ones would admit it in there right now? And, what would the plain, conservative
people of Kleinstadt say if she set foot in that place? A few of her classmates would be willing to
dance there, but would sure be selective in whom they would tell about it.
Still driving steadily toward the city, and away from her own graduation banquet in the
streamer-decorated basement of the biggest church in Kleinstadt, Ruthe's mind was reliving how she
had driven around and around the block two weeks ago. She had stopped across the street and stared
at the door, which seemed to open and close with each colour change of the sign above. With great
turmoil, she had distorted and drawn out the sleeves of her old white cardigan sweater draped over
Fears taunted her after a fresh surge of compassion came, "Wow, you're schizo! Know something?
You're too naive for words!"
Oh-h Lord! another part of her whimpered, I'm sorry, but, unless You give me the courage, I can't do
it! Should I really go in there?
"Ach-h, you silly country bumpkin," her fears taunted her again, "Drive yourself to Emergency.
There's St. Paul's hospital just up the street."
"Will you shut up!" Ruthe cried out. "The Lord God Almighty is with me. If He wants me to go in
there He'll give me the courage."
For a stunned moment she considered the echo of those words. The battle eased for her some, but she
drove around the block once more.
Three tears dribbled down her cheeks as she prayed with a fresh conviction that there was someone
God wanted her to rescue in that place. She vowed to go in. Abruptly, she parked in front of the
door and dashed in. Fast.
The throbbing, thumping music deafened her as she entered. That, and the purple-brown haze of the
psychedelic lights flashing on and off through a cloud of suffocating smoke promptly numbed her good
intentions. Ruth froze as bodies shook and shimmered before her. Suspended in space like a speck of
dust, she was about to call herself a daydreamer and worse, when she heard a muffled sob behind the
door handle she was still clutching.
Ruthe about-faced, ducked some flailing limbs, and looked under the coats on a coat rack. There was
someone with tousled auburn hair on her white knees, with white arms hugging her thin white legs to
herself. Ou-p. Ruthe's heart jumped into her mouth, as she blinked to clear her quickly smarting
eyes from the smoke.
You've been wanting to help someone, whispered her silent companion, how about her?
That flesh has to be covered! Ruthe whipped her cardigan off her shoulders and onto those creamy
white ones, whispering urgently, "hey, com'on. Let's get out'a here."
A white swollen face lifted under the auburn mop. "-Like a game! Two guys fought over me. Then-n,
wh-when I split a seam, they tor-e my dres-s! God! I can't go home. Ever!" Her head dropped on her
knees again. "I wanna die!"
"Let's go fast." Ruthe urged briskly. "My car is at the door."
"They threw my dress away!" the young teen wailed.
"Com'on." Ruthe coaxed, feeling desperate for fresh air herself.
Slowly the redhead got up out of the coats and stood on wobbly platforms, stretching the bottom of
Ruthe's sweater down past her panties, and attaching herself to Ruthe's arm slunk out with
The redhead had begun to cry aloud in the car, and Ruthe, not sure what to do with an unhappy soul
now that she had found one, simply pulled away and drove out of that area. She decided that what was
needed next, was to talk it out, and let this girl spill her trauma. If in her place, she knew she
would not want to be taken to the police, or other strangers, but now that she had begun, Ruthe was
ready to die before she would bail out of helping this girl. Whatever it took, she was in this one
hundred percent, plus.
When she saw that they were on a quiet residential avenue parallel to the riverbank, beautifully
canopied with shade trees, Ruthe decided it would be okay to park in a hidden spot.
"Ahm? My name's Ruthe. What's yours?"
"Mu'riel-l." Embarrassed, she cried again, "Oh- my-God, Ruthe! I can never face my mother and
Glancing in the back seat to be sure, Ruthe apologized that she had nothing more to offer for a
covering. Nervous at first, then growing more tender, she got Muriel to talk more
Muriel told how it happened that certain new boyfriends that she had tried to impress had persuaded
her to try that DanceSpot.
In reply to a question about why she had come to rescue her, Ruthe opted for the truth. That led her
to explain some things about her family, and her own feelings about people. How her parents took the
family to every service at their small Mennonite church, but they were reluctant to care about
strangers, while on the other hand, she had a great hunger and ache for people with problems. Since
about nine, when she invited Christ to save her, Ruthe said, she had found Him to be a great
personal Friend to whom she could confide all her thoughts. "I always capitalize words or pronouns
related to Jesus. He's that precious to me. Only, I'm not greedy, Muriel. I want everyone else to
have this same wonderful Friend. He died to save every person in the whole world, and wants to be
close to everybody!"
Muriel drank it up. Her family were good Catholics, but she had never met anyone willing to discuss
religious stuff informally with her. She had never presumed that she might be able to talk directly
with the great Creator Himself.
Rapt in this conversation Muriel forgot for a bit that she was curled up sideways, in just her black
bikini underwear and still stretching Ruthe's sweater like a blanket around herself. "I'd love to
talk to God," she said wistfully. "Show me how."
Ruthe demonstrated her informal chattering style with her invisible Friend, and bubbled
enthusiastically as she introduced Muriel to Him. "She's anxious to meet You, Lord, tho' I bet
You've been looking forward to this much longer than we can guess. -Go ahead, you talk to Him now,
"Oh sweet Jesus; I've never done this, but my new friend talks to You as if You understand ordinary
English... an' have feelings. Oh-ho-o God!" Muriel dissolved in tears again. "How I wish it had
never-ever happened! Can You forgive me? An' please, can You make my life okay to live
Ruthe smiled at an oncoming car as she remembered those prayers.
Nearly three in the morning they had rolled up in the O'Briens' quiet drive, just a few blocks
further. The car stopped between lovely lawns and landscaped trees in the pearl grey moonlight.
Muriel's brick home was all dark and solemn. The clinging ivy rustled. Ruthe watched Muriel slip up
to the large oak door, find it unlocked, and slip through, still stretching the old sweater all
In her ears rang an invitation to come visit soon.
Ruthe smiled with dimples now as she checked her graduation hairdo in the rear view mirror and
recalled how she had felt driving back to Kleinstadt that night. A six to midnight shift plus
another two hours spent with this new friend meant she had robbed herself of sleep, but she didn't
care. She sang at the top of her lungs, praising God and venting the extra adrenalin energy that had
Over and over she had exclaimed, "Oh Lord-but-I love You! I love You! Oh-ew-how I love You!" Then
she worried that there would be such a shine on her face the next day that people would make her
tell what happened. That she resolved not to do. This night would always be a secret between Muriel,
the Lord, and herself.
A glance at her watch; she could be at Mrs. Pearl O'Brien's bedside in another ten minutes.
When her mother had asked where her sweater was, Ruthe said, "In the city," correctly guessing her
mother would think she meant her operator's locker. Her mom warned her sternly about leaving
temptation lying around for strangers to steal. "Don't trust anyone in the city, no matter how nice
they talk to you." Grateful not to be quizzed further, Ruthe accepted the warning with a
The following Monday Ruthe had stopped at the O'Brien house to pick up her cardigan. Mostly she was
curious to find out if her new friend was still traumatized. Had she told her parents? What if
Muriel pretended not to recognize her today?
A poised woman in a tweed and cream ruffles ensemble, wearing her thick auburn curls in a smart
coiffure, answered the door's chimes.
"My name-um-m," suddenly Ruthe was the painfully shy Mennonite girl others in her hometown thought
she was. "Ah. Is Muriel home please?"
"No. But do come in, Ruthe. She'll be home from her music lesson shortly." Mrs. O'Brien drew her in
with both hands and closed the handsome door behind Ruthe.
"I'm so glad you came." She motioned the gulping guest into an elegant living room. "My daughter
told me all about... well, what happened on Friday night, and the kindness you showed. I told her
she ought to have taken your number and address so we could thank you properly."
Panic hit Ruthe at the idea of her parents meeting these people. "Oh-no. That's all right. No need!"
She made a mental memo to impress on Muriel never to call her at home. Leave a number with the
operators' clerk instead. Nerves knotted her neck and between her shoulder blades as Ruthe glanced
about the room. It was perfectly appointed in a navy blue, white and gold French Provincial
With a gracious wave of her hand, Mrs. O'Brien had offered her the blue brocade chair, and perched
on the edge of the brocade sofa nearby. "Just today I've been wishing I could talk with you, alone.
So this is timely." Twisting her hands fiercely, she went on to tell Ruthe what a wonderful thing
she had done to help Muriel escape that wild hangout, and how good her attitude was now about life.
"You saved our family from an awful scandal." And more. "Of course," she interjected a couple of
times, "that's the first time any of our children have ever been involved with such crude young
Abruptly her shoulders sagged. "I just wanted to thank you, Ruthe."
Intuitively, Ruthe sensed that Mrs. O'Brien had just lost the courage to say something. Looking at
the tense face and the fingers twisted into pretzels, compassion rose in Ruthe like warmed mercury
and she found herself suddenly sitting beside the tight woman, her hand gently on the twitching
back, "Okay. What's really wrong?"
The woman's face dropped into her hands. "I- went to my do-doc-tor's th-this morning an'-and the
tests sh-show advanced ca-cancer of my cer-vix!"
Ruthe tried to explain that before this became serious, the doctors would help her.
"No-no. You don't under-s-stand! I hid it too long! The doctor said this morning-g that I have only
a few days. At most th-three weeks! Ouh, Ruthe!" she wailed. "I'm so scared! I've been stumbling
around all day fee-ling icy... with f-fear. How will I ever tell Ian tonight? What will become of my
Now she clung desperately to Ruthe. "An-what of me? I don't want to die! I can't! I jus-won't!"
Realizing she had no power over death, her voice trailed in anguish, "Oh-h God-d, must I!?"
Though death had never worried Ruthe much; she had heard so many sermons on the glories awaiting
believers in eternity; this woman's fear was catching, and Ruthe shivered with cold. She could not
think of anything appropriate to say, so she patted Mrs. O'Brien's back and let her cry herself into
exhaustion. That took some minutes. During that time Ruthe did what was her habit whenever she
didn't know what to do next. Her thoughts became a dialogue with her Friend who always listened and
often prompted her with ideas what to do next.
After a time Ruthe felt impressed to whisper to Mrs. O'Brien, "Do you feel God loves you?
The tweed shoulders grew quieter and a muffled answer agreed. "Yes, God loves us all."
"Since He is perfectly holy, do you think He might ever make a mistake and let a sickness or death
slip by Him to a person, and then say, 'Oops. Didn't mean that to happen!'?"
Sniffling into her ruffled wrist, Mrs. O'Brien raised her head and dried her eyes. "No. He's got to
be reliable, or He is not worth calling God. Or regarding as one. But-"
"Exactly." Ruthe warmed up. "If we understood everything we could run for His office. We need to
trust Him and see His view on things. Sometimes He tells people- in fact, the Bible teaches that He
always warned people and told them what He was doing, especially if they were His
"I wish I could ask Him about so many things!" she interrupted. "Muriel sa-id you- you talk with Him
Ruthe's favourite subject. She was so relieved that prayer was the key to helping this woman. They
knelt then on the ivory broadloom and she had taught Mrs. O'Brien to pray in her own frank and
intimate way. They took turns for half an hour. Then the city woman began to believe that God had
heard her, and that He felt very tenderly towards her.
"Oh Ruthe!" she beamed. "He says He loves me! He's even willing to forgive me for being unfaithful
to Ian. An-an the reason He let these things happen- was so I could end my long search for Him. It's
just as if He's kneeling here on the other side of me. I just know I've met Him at last!"
That was when Muriel came in. Mrs. O'Brien was all over her daughter, excitedly telling of her
encounter with God. Next both of them were handling Ruthe with hugs and kisses. She felt embarrassed
and tried to leave for work, but they were loath to let her go.
Floating on secret clouds, Ruthe had made two more visits since. One in the hospital just after a
hasty hysterectomy was performed, but Mrs. O'Brien's surgeon had found her bladder and lower bowels
perforated and filled with cancer too. The specialist offered no hope and let her go home when she
insisted she meant to die in her own bed. The other visit, at their home, had given Ruthe a passing
glance at Muriel's brother, Ross, but not the rest of the family.
Ross was eighteen, and like Ruthe, graduating from high school. His class ceremonies were to come at
the end of June. He was red haired like his mother and sister Muriel, and Ruthe was warned that he
considered himself a captivating ladies' man.
Cathy, seventeen, was described by her mother and sister as a well-proportioned blonde looking
twenty-seven; a jet-set party animal. Until that other Friday night, fifteen-year old Muriel had
envied her sister's many adoring boyfriends who bet each other for turns at dates with
Keith, three years younger than Muriel, was more like her, though blond like Cathy. "He's creative
and brave," Muriel had explained. A few twelve-year old boys tagged after her brother into whatever
projects he thought up. His mother felt he was hiding his real brains because of peer
It usually took Ruthe thirty-five minutes to make the trip into the city, but this night she arrived
in twenty-five as she turned in at the curved driveway and stopped before the brick two-story
Muriel was in the doorway. "Oh Ruthe! What are we going to do?" she cried, running around the car
front and directly into her friend with arms outstretched.