Autobiography of a Western woman

The following was originally type-written by Ruth Shields in 1950, as a 25-year-old woman.


18 Sept. 1950

Here I go after considering doing something like this for a couple of years and longer too I suppose. At this point I can’t decide whether to write about interesting adventures etc. or to start out on an autobiography and let it grow from there.

Guess I’ll just start by typing and let come what may that way I’ll be able to record more pertinent facts and more events that have made me what I am. After I get up to date then I can arrange things according to time, cause and effect or what ever is most suitable.

The germ for finally getting started on this opis was inspired by one Corrine Gillie and a cohort Mary Kiely. It all started at camp the last session of the summer when they were in my unit and had just returned from be counselors at the Longmont G.S. camp under the directorship of Mrs. Richardson. She knew me when I was in college and working with the Fort Collins Girl Scout. From the reports they brought back about comparing notes with Mrs. Richardson I had grown into quite a character and it was suggested that they write a book about the aforementioned “character.” Well, they could really do it up brown. I am starting this and some day hope to collaborate with them to make the picture complete.

To write on any subject the writer is supposed to be thoroughly familiar with it. I guess that is the only justification for one to write an autobiography. If he doesn’t know himself after living with him constantly for all his life, how is he going to find a subject which he is more familiar with?

Enough of the rambling foreward stuff which most people skip anyhow. Now to get down to bare facts.

Just so I won’t bog down and get all out of the mood trying to think of a clever beginning this lovely author will start with what’s known as vital statistics.

One lovely spring day on the first of May 1925 (maybe it wasn’t such a lovely day I don’t remember for sure have to check with Mom) my folks became the proud posessors of a freshly hatched baby girl, weighing about 6 pounds. From what dad said once I wasn’t like most babies. I was cute and had a goodly crop of curly black hair and beautiful blue eyes. Besides that this little bundle from heaven was to become very cute and passed through that red stage quite rapidly or it skipped all together. (I’ll have to check on that to be sure but it probably won’t effect the story much) From the first this one had the urge to be different from the rest of his her social crowd. And this attitude has persisted tothis day, and will probably continue to do so in the future. Oh, yes, this all happened in the dining room of a forest officer and his wife in that rough and tough gold mining town of Custer City (only 700 pop. At that time but I guess they expected to expand) South Dakota. At that time moonsingin was a bigger business than gold mining. So the environment from the beginning was full of adventurous possibilities. Which if prenatal effects are at all a possible influence I was chuck full of ‘em. Well, that is one excuse for it.

Since Custer City didn’t have any doctors the only medically trained person was an old dentist who was on hand to welcome me into this new and strange environment.

From there, according to my long suffering mother, I developed a case of six weeks of colic and as a result developed my lungs into powerful organs that could cough and beller all night. With the coming of daylight exhaustion would set in and I’d be quite peasable most of the day getting all rested up to put in another hard night.

I guess I never was much of a sufferer of acrophobia. As a matter of fact high places had and still has a fascination for me. If by chance the baby buggy was pushed against a piece of furniture and left there for a short time, the baby would be out of the buggy and squirming along the edge of a table the keyboard of a piano or any other perilous place it could get before being discovered. The prize adventure was when they discovered the buggy empy and could find the kid anywhere imaginable. Finally they discovered it on top of the piano sound asleep. After that the safety strap was always fastened to make sure the little bundle would stay put. My now having my wings clipped so to speak frustrated me. Well it didn’t take too long to figure out a way to combat that problem and get even with them for tying me down. It was so simple. I’d just start rocking the boat until it’d turn over or else until I’d got enough slack to bail over the side. In either case it left me suspended in an uncomfortable position with my head hanging down. Here’s where my powerful and well developed lungs came in handy to notify the porews that be of my predicament and for gosh sakes to hurry and do something about it.

After I became a walker, my goal was a high shelf where the cookie jar was stashed away. It really was a challenge and taxed my ingenuity considerably to overcome that obstacle of height. Usually I won out in the end. If my project was disovered before I’d accomplished my mission a cookie was usually awarded either to passify me or else as a reward for my effort. At that stage I was too young to care about motives the cookie was plenty to think about. Finally as a safety measure the cookies were put in the bread drawer of our kitchen cabinet. At first all was well as I wasn’t strong enough to slide back the tin lid. But one day after silence had reigned for a suspiciously long time my mother came out to the kitchen to see what great deed of mischief I was engaged in. Well I’d gotten access to the cookies. There I was sitting on the floor surrounded by cookies all laid neatly around me in good shape except for one sample bite out of each one.

Beside cookies postage stamps were probably my next greatest passion. I guess it was the mucilage that attracted me. At any rate I’d lick the stamps off anything whenever I could get the chance. Maybe that explains why stamp collecting is now one of my numerous hobbies.

Dogs were always my closest and most trusted of friends and devoted companions. I was never without a dog more than a few months during my childhood. Jueno, a female airdale, took over quote a load when she undertook to be responsible for me. She did a good job too. I can remember how she used to make me so angry. I was a great one for adventure and going places (was? I need a more inclusive verb for that lust still burns hotely in my veins). She’d cooperate and play with me until she was sure o fmy intentions then she’d wait until she could catch me red handed, that’s not quite right, she’d catch me with good though. Well, here’s how it’d work: to get anywhere I’d have to crawl through a hole in the fence and it was a tight hole that one couldn’t just pop through in a big hurry. I took a little time to negotiate it. Jueno would sit by and watch until I got my head and shoulders thru then she’d gently but firmly grab the back of my dress and there trap me for mom to catch in the act. Guess that’s where my dislike for dresses started.

This thing should be kept in some sort of chronological I suppose order. But right now I’d rather write about more recent events. Well, we’ll see what comes out.

To make the picture complete I am going to eclose any gems I am able to dig up about Chet’s past. One comes to mind now. It seems that guns have always had a big attraction for him as his father once told me if they’d only know they would have named him Winchester instead of just Chester. This little adventure can be called trapped by a .45 .

It seems that when he was about 4 or five his father had a .45 Colt automatic that he’d let Chester play with on occasion. The spring in the slide was pretty stiff for a kid of that size but by using both hands and not shooting too often he could entertain himself for the better part of an afternoon or so the story goes. (But I don’t doubt it). Well, he got to shooting all sorts of enemies and was reaching the point of fatigue when the incident occurred. Somehow he got his thumb caught in the works and wasn’t strong enough to pull the slide back with the other hand alone to release himself. Even though it really was hurtin’ he didn’t want to endure a hurt in pride by going to his father to be released, but the practical side finally won out after what I imagine was a very short battle under the circumstances. (This is one of those incidents which will probably be enriched with an illustration.)

My adventures were coming along just fine and I was well established as a permanent fixture around the house, when along comes my sister, Eileen. Right off-hand I can’t recall that her arrival caused any feeling of insecurity on my part as a matter of fact she doesn’t impress my memory much until just shortly before my sister, Fay, was born. But then I was only about 18 months old when Eileen entered the scene so that probably accounts for it.

Mother had been wanting a vacuum sweeper for some time but dad just couldn’t see getting one for a little while yet. With a floor baby around it would save her both time and worry; but dad was firm. One morning I got up bright and early and was busy in the living room while mother prepared breakfast. Breakfast was ready and dad was sent to convoy or convey me to the table. Upon picking up the little chipmonk he suspected that mother had given me something to chew on but she denied the charge. Upon investigation, a button, several ravelings, a piece of string, some lint and a large badly mangled spider was brought to light. That did it. A order to Monkey Wards was in the mail that day for a powerful vacuum.

Grandma Ruth passed away in August 2014. She left behind a small, windswept, single-story home in Ranchos Florida, Colorado, on the outskirts of Durango, filled with everything. The thin, typewritten pages that hold the story above were among thousands of items from a lifetime in the West.

Objects tell a story. They pose questions as much as answer them. We lost Grandma Ruth in the blink of an eye, and the process of sorting her things is cathartic. Her family can have some of the conversations about her past that they never got to have. As the husband of her granddaughter, feel as if I am meeting for the first time a woman I knew only in old age, through holidays and hugs or handshakes.

I am documenting these objects in a series on an Instagram feed, under the hashtag #Grandmasbasement. A few of those photos are below.