The Death of Ruthie Joad, 1924-2012

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“Our brother’s a-hiding right now from killin’ a fella.”
                                  – Ruthie Joad, 1924-2012

 Passing on News of Aunt Ruthie’s Death

No, she never married, as far as I know.
She lived with my folks until Pa passed four years ago.
Missed him so much she couldn’t stay here,
so she moved into a nursing home in town.
Shared a room with a woman from Texas
and died in her sleep last night.
Not a peep out of her.

Would’ve been 88 next month.
Dad used to say she was as tough as a cocklebur.
Said if you found those weeds in a wheat field,
you couldn’t cut them.
You had to yank them out by the roots
and turn them upside down
so they couldn’t grab hold again.

But Aunt Ruthie was nice to me, especially
when my girls were born.
She liked to come over and rock them,
sing little songs so I could get things
done around the house.
Made you wonder
why she never had her own.

No, not many Joads around here no more.
Just my dad and Ruthie came back to Harper County
after Dad got out of the Navy back in ’46.
Sometimes they talked about Noah and Al
and Rosasharn and their Ma and Pa.

One way or another, they lost them all
when they went out West back in the 30s.
Dad said he’d be dead, too,
except Ruthie wouldn’t let him go.
Said he owed his life to her.

Yup, there was another brother.
Older, named Tom.
Dad never talked about him when Ruthie was around.
Said something happened in California
that still weighed on her.
Something about him hiding out
and a fight at some camp and Ruthie’s bad mouth.

Once he asked me to search for Tom online.
We found a few, but not their Tom.
I can’t imagine losing touch
with my family, my three girls.

Sharon is due next month.
Her first. She’ll be a good mom, I know.
It’s funny how she looks like she’s
holding some great secret inside.

So the funeral’s tomorrow.
Ruthie never wanted nothing special.
Just a few songs. A big family dinner.
Paid for her stone in the cemetery years ago.
Said she wanted red dirt piled high on her
so that if it blew away, there’d be
enough to keep her bones here.

We picked up her things at the nursing home.
A pair of old earrings I’d never seen before,
the tiniest baby cap, a few clippings and recipes.
We’ll miss her. She was quiet, moody sometimes,
but she was a good woman.

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3 thoughts on “The Death of Ruthie Joad, 1924-2012

  1. Julia, a lovely tribute! She reminds me of my great-aunt a bit. Irene lived in Kansas, raised 6 children on her own during the depression and died two years ago at the age of 101. Here’s to them both!

  2. Nice ‘eulogy’:) “The Death of Ruthie Joad” sounds like it could be a ballad, played in a minor key

  3. Ruthie Joad is the little sister in The Grapes of Wrath whose thoughtless words are the reason her big brother Tom has to hide from the law and leave the family. Always thought she was an interesting character, and when I figured out how old she was, I realized she wasn’t much older than my dad.

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