Graduation behind them, the Kleinstadt grade twelve class buckled down to study for June finals. Daily routine returned, except that two or three classmates teased Ruthe with different stories they cooked up as to what kept her from their grad banquet. She tried to ignore them but couldn't hide her tiny smiling blushes. They were more intrigued.
Mr. Logan, the principal, as an after-thought, or because he became aware of the teasing, called Ruthe into his office late on Monday,
for an explanation.
With utmost sincerity she said, "A friend in the city was dying and calling for me. What could I do, Sir, but rush to her bedside? I was fortunately, able to bring a wayward daughter to say her last good bye as well."
The portly man, who often laughed alone at his own jokes, was sensitive enough not to clown at this. He accepted it and told Ruthe that he had a high regard for her compassionate ways. "You really live up to the meaning of your name, toward your family, and your friends," he said. "What is more, even with your part-time job, you have created an advantage for yourself, in that you disciplined yourself to study all through the year. These finals should present no problem to you."
She marveled that he knew of her study habits, but she thanked him and left quickly before he asked more questions. She breathed ecstatic love notes to the Lord all the way back to her classroom.
Her family tried to worm more of the story out of her for a few days. Eventually they resigned themselves to her silence. They did not notice that Ruthe sighed often, as if she had escaped by some happy fluke. Whenever she prayed though, she gave God the credit.
As Mr. Logan had pointed out, her rigorous studying paid off. She could still work her late evening shifts, and manage to stop in at the O'Briens about once or twice a week. Their friendship was opening up a new world to Ruthe.
Muriel informed her that Ross had gone to commiserate with Granny in the old Greystone next door. While they were having tea, he was pointing Ruthe out from her bedroom window. But Granny out-complained and out-whined him. Ross had been bitter and angry when he returned. No one could reason with him. Mostly, he stayed out now. His sisters didn't know where or what he was doing.
The girls made Ruthe feel welcome and special. With Keith and their dad making her out a heroine, when they were in, Ruthe blushed a lot.
Cathy wanted to know; "What kind of boyfriend do you have?"
She pinked up still more as she admitted for the first time to another person that she had a private arrangement with God. Muriel was eager to know about this too, so the sisters worked together to draw it out of Ruthe.
"Sex loses its beauty and holiness when it's sprayed about like cheap cologne. God meant it as a special friendship for marriage, something private and unique." Ruthe scrunched up her face in a smile that brought out her hidden dimples. It was plain she was unused to such conversations, aloud no less. "The Lord has been my dearest Friend since I was a child, and I respect His Word and ways of doing things. So I've promised to keep out of relationships where I'm in danger of being talked into a try at sex. It's no new soft drink, y'know."
Muriel just had to interrupt. "You mean, you don't want any romance or marriage? Like a nun?"
"Sure I want romance and marriage!" Ruthe returned quickly. "I look forward to that. But I've promised the Lord, I'll avoid rushing into that territory. I'll let Him choose the perfect husband for me. In fact, I'll let Him first make me into a woman worthy of him."
Cathy said, "You are weird!" But she was full of questions and shared some experiences of her own that confirmed in Ruthe's mind she was on the right track. Casual sex was not worth it. Their mother's cancer was a solemn warning to all three girls.
Muriel was eager to make a similar vow. When Ruthe prayed with her, to make it formally with their Lord, Cathy became moody and jealous.
Later, at another visit, Ruthe told Cathy that she had just read about a chastity vow that could be made by those who had lost their virginity. Cathy listened carefully.
Ruthe revelled in the girls' sophistication and their elegant home. Yet, when they tried to give her some of their mother's wardrobe, and her mouth watered at the lovely ivory blouses, rust-coloured suits and dresses, and pink silks- Ruthe refused. "I'd never be able to explain them at home! Can you imagine these at the MCC Thrift store? I better wait for Aunt Agnes' next parcel."
Muriel and Cathy coaxed Ruthe to tell them more about her family.
Mostly she talked of her own thoughts and dreams so she could steer clear of downgrading anyone else. "I have a little day dream that if I took this correspondence dress designing course I saw in a magazine, I could learn to sew and make my own lovely outfits." Ruthe caressed a silky sleeve as Muriel folded yet another blouse to lay away in a box. "Then I'd make something like this!"
"Don't you sew now?" asked Muriel. "Aren't all Mennonite girls born with such talents?"
"Oh no. Mom's been too sickly most of the years. Besides, she says that, me, being a lefty, I'd be hard to teach."
"Why don't we just lay these aside until you have started that course," offered Cathy, "Then when you can start adding these things to your wardrobe, you gradually pretend that you have made them."
"No. That wouldn't be honest...." Ruthe's voice trailed off.
She did allow Cathy to persuade her to write away for information on the designing and sewing course.
In these brief, intense visits to their home, Keith and Ruthe became better friends too. He often skidded to the front door, as eager as Cathy and Muriel to tell her all that had happened since he last saw her.
Keith reported that he was telling everyone at his school about the marvellous relationship he had started having with God the same weekend that his mother died. "Two of my buddies joined up!"
Ruthe had no problem getting excited at such news. She hugged Keith and asked him all kinds of questions to hear what had transpired.
When their dad was home he greeted her warmly as well. Their encounters were usually brief, but Ruthe was observant enough to see that he still pined away nobly, for his wife. At least she thought so, until one day, he made a quiet, caustic remark that made Ruthe remember a cold hard truth; Pearl's cancer came from sexual encounters with someone other than her husband. Yet, this devastating thought was what made him keen to learn more about forgiveness. Ruthe believed that besides reading and praying, the tall lawyer with the silver temples was likely weeping behind the door of his den.
Occasionally he asked Ruthe what she thought a certain Bible verse or phrase meant, but in the main he seemed to be working out most of his questions on his own. Or, perhaps with Father Inglis, whom she met, another time or two, coming out of the den.
One thing Mr. O'Brien asked Ruthe was, whether they ought to be attending an evangelical, Protestant church like hers.
"Why? Do you feel uncomfortable in yours?"
Lord, this could be delicate. I know some folks back home would urge them to come out of Catholicism, but I don't know how big this issue is with You.
She added, "I thought Father Inglis was a good friend of yours."
"He is. We've discussed this. But I read in the New Testament that believers are to have a close fellowship with others of like precious faith; to function together as members of the living Church. I see a vacuum for that kind of working relationship in our parish. There is a tie to traditions, so it's not likely to happen. Father Inglis agrees, however reluctantly."
This caught her off guard. She sent up silent prayers for guidance while she offered some tentative suggestions. Aware that there were evangelical denominations for every temperament, she advised that they spend a few weeks trying out different ones. Maybe they could even interview the pastors during the week to find out which ones believed and followed the Bible most closely. If they prayed about it and had a humble, teachable attitude, she was sure God would help them sense which was the right church for them. "If I were looking," she added, "I'd want one where the preaching and teaching would help me to know and love God still more, and where they would let me get involved in special projects to help others."
Over the next number of Sundays the O'Briens followed this plan fairly closely. All except Ross, of course.
Ross was not about to be a silhouette in the door of a church. He kept himself aloof from his immediate family when he wasn't snapping at them. They all knew something was eating him, but he would not discuss it. Defiantly, Ross did as he pleased, and could not be held accountable to even his dad, never mind his sisters, who wished he would at least show up on time for their meals.
If Ross was at home when Ruthe dropped by, he put on a totally different persona. He would try to race his sisters to her, and put on a flirtatious air. Ross wanted her to be his date at his graduation at the end of June. She declined. He tried to lure her into his new red Mustang for a ride more than once. Other times he clowned and goofed, and interrupted Ruthe's serious conversations with Cathy and Muriel, making sarcastic quips and digs. Ruthe's first impression was that Ross was acting like a puppy needing to be petted. She had to smile at some of his antics.
He crowed when he saw that he was frustrating them beyond their self- control. When their tempers showed he would exhort them with an exaggerated, "Oh-oh, Christians can't get angry! Ya' have to love your enemies, remember?"
The three young women found a fine line between controlling themselves and ignoring his petty behaviour. One minute he was funny, the next he was vexation personified. Ruthe wanted to be fair, so sometimes she tried to carry on a sincere dialogue with Ross, but he made it next to impossible with his jokes when she was saying something in earnest. On one hand, she knew he needed to become friends with the Lord, but she also worried that if she worked too hard at convincing him it would look like she was chasing Ross socially.
He is not my type! she reminded the Lord. I know I asked You to be my matchmaker, but pl-ease, not Ross!
To avoid running into him more often than necessary, she started to stay away from the O'Brien home a bit more, even when she had extra time before or after a shift. One Saturday, after a full day at the telephone office, instead of going straight home, she drove up and down the streets of Saskatoon again. Ruthe did not know what she was looking for, but she felt compelled to search.
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I can hear you saying...
Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One