Ruth Kenney, Warrior Princess

Today, we have a delightful treat from a Guest Blogger!
My Little Red-Haired Girl is sharing her thoughts from St. Patrick’s Day about a special lady :

This morning I caught my second wind, after staying up most of the night. As I drove to McDonald’s this fine seventeenth morning of March to get a little breakfast and a hit of a.m. caffeine, I tuned into our local NPR station just in time to catch the beginning of a wild Irish jig, one of my favorites: the Swallowtail Jig. As I sat in my car waiting to make my order, I whistled and tapped my foot in time with the drums and pennywhistle, trying to picture my ancestors in County Galway dancing in the glen on May Eve. Somehow, though, I couldn’t imagine it quite rightly. Another picture kept popping into my head, intruding on what was probably an overly-romanticized bit of family mythology, anyhow.

Instead of step-dancing peasants in native dress, I instead kept seeing the image of my own living grandmother, with her snapping brown eyes and her rich, dark auburn hair, the way it used to be when she was a young matron in her early forties. I saw her dressed in her white uniform, spectacles framing her sharp, intelligent gaze and the red ruby lipstick, carefully applied and gently blotted, the only makeup she ever wore (or really needed, for that matter) and the color so becoming to her fair, porcelain complexion. Her shoes were white oxfords, impeccably clean and neat upon her small, dainty feet. The tapering fingers of her likewise delicate little hand flew over her adding machine as she totaled the costs of the coming month’s order for the hospital cafeteria and dietary department. She ran this concern as though born to it: never more at home than in the running of an institutional kitchen and everything connected with it.

When I heard that Irish music this morning I thought not of St. Patrick, whose day we are celebrating, not of shamrocks, nor of the minstrel boy who went to war, but of her, Ruth Kenney Schnick, wife of Howard, daughter of Irish, Welsh, and Amerindian parents, native of Kansas prairie and Oklahoma plains; child of the Depression and mother of three fine, well-brought-up children. I felt within me the resonance of her energy and her feisty sense of humor; her lively grin and chuckle when she found something funny, her deep loyalty and moments of great tenderness or sorrow; her faith and lastly, but certainly not least, her hellacious temper!

So very many memories of her part in my life came crowding back to me over the succeeding hours, of the delicious dinners she’d cook during the holidays, of potted African violets on her windowsill, of homegrown tomatoes in the summer on her wonderful garlicky hamburgers, of the pretty clothes she’d buy us on our birthdays, the feeling of safety and comfort she was able to impart to us during the very worst of spring thunderstorms. I used to say that even a tornado couldn’t stand up to my Mamo, she’d order it back up into the clouds, and it had better listen and just stay up there, or else. You couldn’t imagine a greater force of nature than this indomitable little woman.

How many times did it seem she was about to flicker and fall, to cross over that river of life into the great beyond only to rally, raise her saber and her colors again, and gallop back into the fray, like the scrappy little Irishman that she is? (Yes, I did say Irishman: for in that sense she was the closest of all her siblings to her Dad, and also to being like the son he never had. His nickname for her, by the way, was “Pete”.)

Now I’m going to somewhat apologize for my emphasis on the Hibernian imagery: you have to know one fact about my Mamo. She is fiercely proud of being a daughter of the plains. And she would probably prefer that I concentrate my blarney on her Native American heritage. But today is simply not the day to pay tribute to the maternal side of her origins. Yes, I know she strongly channels her beloved (Cherokee? Choctaw? Delaware?) Grandma Talley, and I do, too. Indeed, I think I love and revere this woman as much as I might have, had I actually met her, simply because I know she must have been so very like Mamo. Yet as I muse on this somewhat confusing theme, my thoughts again begin to stray to another over-wrought romanticism . . .

This time I picture my grandmother in a past life, perhaps as one of the daughters of the great Celtic warrior queen, Boudicca, galloping a charge against the Roman legions and shouting a war-whoop, auburn hair flying, having a fierce and wonderful time in the heat of battle, People are shouting, the din of clanging metal and whinnying horses cannot drown out the rumbling drums, the skirling bagpipes! Oh, geez, is that too much? Perhaps it is … so I’ll just scratch that for now and come up with something a little more realistic.

On second thought, how about I just let her be Ruth again, in this life-time, just a tad younger, only some seventy-seven short years ago, out in the pasture playing football with her cousins. It’ll be a warmish March seventeenth afternoon in 1932, school is out, her chores are done and it’s a great day to be alive. While she enjoys playing her game with the other boys and girls, I’ll gently make my way back into the real-time world of 2009, and make plans to stop by her house this evening for a visit. It’s high time I did that, anyway. So long for now, and Happy St. Paddy’s day, everybody!

Our beautiful Mamo left us recently.
She will always be both missed and adored.


1 Response to “Ruth Kenney, Warrior Princess”

  1. 1 2bvnot2b
    February 22, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    This is such a good thing. It is giving honor to whom honor is due and it is a marvelous thing; and I think God is pleased both with Ruth for having inspired it (no mean achievement) and you for having noticed and appreciated the beauty of this person. Thank you for sharing.

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