A childless old woman reached her one-hundredth birthday alone, with no one to celebrate with. A boy shows up at her door and introduces himself as her great-grandson.
Ruby was reaching an incredible landmark birthday for any human being, and nobody cared. She was turning one hundred, but there was no one to celebrate the moment with her.
Ruby was alone, just as she’d been for most of her life. From the time she was eight years old, and her father had gone off to fight in the war, Ruby had shouldered an adult’s burden.
Her mother was a frail and distant woman, and her dad had taken Ruby aside. “I’m going to need you to be a big girl, Ruby,” he’d said seriously. “You’re going to have to be very responsible and look after momma, OK?”
“OK, daddy,” Ruby had answered, and that had been the end of her childhood. Ruby became the adult in the family and looked after her mother and her four younger siblings.
She couldn’t wait for daddy to come home, so she could be a kid again, but he never did. When Ruby was twelve, the family was informed that their father had died in combat.
Daddy was never coming home. Mom fell apart, screaming and crying so much that she frightened the other children dreadfully. A doctor had to come and give mom an injection, and then she was quiet and vague again.
When you least expect it, life sends you a blessing.
The pension mom got from the Government was very small, and she wasn’t able to work. Ruby gave up school and took a job at a nearby shop that sold fabric, threads, buttons, and ribbons — anything you’d need to make clothes in those hard times.
Ruby was bright and energetic, and she soon became an asset to the woman who owned the haberdashery, Mrs. Dorris. Mrs. Dorris was a war widow, just like mom, and she was kind to Ruby in her way.
She’d sometimes give Ruby off-cuts from the prettiest prints and bits of colorful ribbons so she could make herself little shift dresses. Ruby often used the fabric on her siblings, and on her mom.
Mom had become even more distant as she grew older. She drifted around the house in her nightgown, and Ruby had to watch, so she didn’t go outside like that.
Ruby was determined that her four sisters would finish school, and she refused to allow them to go to work to help out. “Focus on school,” she’d tell them sternly. “That’s the biggest help you can give us!”
Ruby turned eighteen, and no one noticed. There was no party, no presents, no birthday cake. Mrs. Dorris didn’t know or didn’t care — she was an unemotional kind of woman.
Mom was lost in her own world, and Ruby’s sisters, with the innate selfishness of children, didn’t even realize that Ruby, too, had birthdays.
That was the year Ruby met Brad. He was tall and slim, and he had a shy smile. He came to the shop to buy needles for his mom and stayed to talk to Ruby.
They started ‘stepping out,’ as people called it back then. They went out dancing and to the movies, and parked and kissed on Lover’s Lane. Then the kissing led to more.
When Ruby discovered she was pregnant, Brad told her he’d marry her, they’d have a pretty house and raise their children and be very happy. Then Ruby told him about mom and the girls.
“I have to look after them, Brad,” Ruby told him. “I promised my father. But in a few years, the girls will be finished with school, and it will be only mom.”
“Your crazy mother and your sisters are moving in with us?” Brad asked. “For the rest of our lives? Is that what you’re telling me?” After that, Brad was very quiet.
He agreed to meet the next day and make the arrangements for the wedding, but he didn’t kiss Ruby goodbye the way he usually did. Ruby never saw him again.
She learned that he’d volunteered for the new war in Asia that very afternoon. He’d left her all alone and pregnant. “What am I going to do?” she asked herself.
If she kept the baby, what kind of life could she give it? She had to work all the time to raise her sisters and look after her mother. She couldn’t leave the baby with mom while she worked; it just wasn’t safe.
Ruby pressed her hands to her tummy and wept. She’d have to give up her child. She’d give it up for adoption and know that he or she would be loved and cherished.
The moment when she gave up her newborn daughter was one of the hardest in Ruby’s life, but she knew she was doing it for the best reasons. “Be happy, my sweet girl,” she whispered. “I love you.”
That was more years ago than Ruby cared to remember, and the last time she’d felt young. After Brad, Ruby never looked at another man. She knew that whatever happened, they would never accept her burdens, and she couldn’t ask them to.
One by one, her sisters finished school and left home. They married and moved away, and Ruby was left to care for mom, as always. Ruby was seventy-three when her mom passed away.
That day Ruby wept, not just for her mother, but for the bitter waste of an entire life. She had nothing. No family, and since her retirement, few friends.
“I’ll just wait to die,” Ruby told herself. “It can’t be long now.” But it was. Ruby was a sturdy woman in the best of health, and pretty soon, she turned eighty, then ninety…
The years passed unmarked by any celebration. No one cared. Ruby sat in her little house and grew older and older. When she turned ninety-nine, a social worker showed up.
She wanted to see if Ruby was capable of living on her own. She looked around and was quite happy with her living conditions. She left without wishing Ruby a happy birthday.
“One hundred,” Ruby said to herself. “I’ve seen a century of this world’s history and lived none of it.” She was sitting in her kitchen and thinking about her life when the doorbell rang.
She got up and opened the door. There was a young man there, and he was holding a huge cake with a big 100 on top of it. “Hi Gran!” he cried cheerfully. “Happy birthday!”
Ruby’s chin dropped. “Young man, you have the wrong house…”
“No, I don’t,” he said gently. “You are my great-grandmother Ruby. My grandmother always wanted to know who her birth mother was, so when she turned 81, I had the records unsealed.
“No one imagined you were still alive! Gran’s outside, in the car, waiting to meet you — if you agree.”
“My daughter?” Ruby asked. “She’s…Does she want to meet me? I…I gave her up…I wanted her to be happy…”
“She knows that gran,” the young man said. “We also know you’ve been alone for a long time, but now you have a family: a daughter, five grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren!”
Ruby started sobbing, and the young man put his arms around her. “It’s OK,” he said. “We’re here now, and you’re going to have quite a party!”
Ruby met her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, and it was the best day of her life. They lit the candles on the cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was the most beautiful sound Ruby had ever heard.
“My life wasn’t a waste after all,” she whispered to her daughter. “I had you!”
What can we learn from this story?
Duty can be a terrible burden, but life always brings a reward. Ruby gave up everything, including her child, to keep her word to her father and look after her mother.
When you least expect it, life sends you a blessing. Ruby was alone until her 100th birthday, and she spent the rest of her life surrounded by family and love.