Hasta mas tarde, mom, Senora Hout
I picked my mother up earlier this week — her ashes, that is — and off we rode home together for the first time in a long time.
I anticipated being very emotional about this, this being yet another part of the journey since the Feb. 8 death of Ruth Ann Scherrer Hout in which my siblings and I officially became orphans. No father for a long time, as dad died in 1993. Now, no mother.
But instead, I felt oddly comforted during this not-so-ordinary mother-daughter outing. Not to be flippant, but we even stopped at the dollar store. Now that would have made her a happy woman, I later assured my brothers and sisters, not to mention placing her urn on the bookshelf at home among the many classics, travel material and reference works that tamed her lifelong cravings for knowledge.
I wasn’t surprised when the funeral home called about her ashes, as the alert came on the heels of a day punctuated with a hodgepodge of “gotcha” moments.
There was the spider in the bathroom that morning, “a noiseless, patient spider” she would have observed in Walt Whitman fashion and never once considered squashing, heaven forbid. Mom was a champion of nature, not so much of cute kittens and adorable little puppies like most of us, but a defender of spiders and snakes and creatures that give normal people a fright.
There was the Depends coupon I came across in my purse, as I was the designated purchaser of such necessities. Now who would think a Depends discount could make a person’s eyes swell with tears?
And there was the ride home from work where a radio station ironically broadcast one of the classics that was on a CD of 25 piano favorites, one we had played over and over in mom’s room at Martha Manor in Steubenville during her final days, knowing such music brought her joy throughout her life, including at the end of it.
Who this 94-year-old woman was is what we celebrated at her memorial service at the Richmond United Methodist Church, a remembrance led by my oldest brother Jay, the designated family eulogist.
Many words come to mind to describe her, my brother noted. Intelligent; articulate; knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, yet not arrogant; reliable; structured; faithful; responsible; courageous; adventurous; cultured yet unpretentious; well-traveled.
Opinionated at times. A hint of bossy now and then, even. Her elderly mother, suffering herself from dementia, referenced Ruth Ann as “that bossy school teacher.”
Some descriptions were paradoxical, Jay noted. Frugal yet generous, mom was financially shaped by a childhood lived during the Great Depression. You don’t waste water, scrape butter off the wrapper, and a newspaper has many uses beyond reading. Wrap a casserole dish in it to keep it warm, securing it with a pair of pantyhose replete with runners, no less.
In her pre-arranged funeral, mom opted for a “basic” cremation. What’s the deluxe version, my brother wondered aloud!
Despite her frugality, though, she wasn’t stingy. Mom was generous with her time and resources, investing in family, church and community.
The eldest of four children in a household led by two loving parents who had no more than a fourth-grade education, Ruth Ann was encouraged to read and excel during her upbringing in Wheeling. Scholarships would be her only gateway to advanced academics. There was proof that she embraced the advice. She was valedictorian at Wheeling High School and again at West Liberty State College, where she double majored in English and biology and minored in Spanish. Both achievements she dismissed, though, not being one to brag.
Ditto for her time playing violin in the Wheeling Symphony in the early 1940s, “second fiddle” she would say, to her father, a violinist himself in it and a charter member of the symphony.
Mom was the consummate teacher, inside the classroom at Jefferson Union High School where “Senora Hout” taught Spanish, and outside it, where walks with children and grandchildren, for example, were opportunities to explore fauna and flora.
Life was ripe with teaching and learning, learning and teaching.
Though she never learned to drive, she was never without a ride and that made her a punctual passenger. She would stand at the front door, ready and waiting for an appreciated lift to work or elsewhere.
My brother described our mother as tough, sometimes caustic, maybe volatile, a force to be reckoned with and yet tender. She had a repertoire of songs for children with momentary tissue paper feelings. She was a lady. She was someone you would want in your corner.
And her life made a difference. “People were richer for having known her. The world was a better place for her having made her pilgrimage through it,” my brother observed.
The last casserole dish returned, the final thank-you card written, wilted flower arrangements discarded, reality is settling in now.
Mom is gone, yes, although she hovers in our hearts.
And we’ll take another ride together soon, one in June when a family celebration will culminate with a proper burial of mom next to dad. It will be a time for more remembrances, a final, formally informal tribute.
We will bid her a fond adieu, but rather than just “adios,” it’ll be “hasta mas tarde” — see you later, Mom, as we anticipate our day of reunion.
(Kiaski, a resident of Richmond, is a staff columnist and community editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)