Ruth Van Wormer, a Friend of a Different Generation

Ruth and her husband Marvin

Ruth and Marvin Van Wormer

Ruth Van Wormer was the mother of my best friend Jo, and Ruth was a best friend of a different generation.  Her house was the kind of place we all wanted to spend as much time as possible.  Her husband Marvin was one of the dearest men you could ever hope to meet, a conscientious objector who did alternative service during World War II.  He was a researcher in the Minnesota Starving Study.  This study involved research toward the end of the war, dedicated to figuring out how to feed the large number of people in Europe who were perilously close to starvation  For the rest of his life, Marvin could not stand to see food go to waste.

Ruth was the world’s best cook, bar none.  (My apologies to anyone else whose cooking I also love.)  We could appear by surprise at dinnertime, and she would come up with a delightful meal on the spur of the moment.  She also sewed all manner of clothing and decor, including a wedding dress for a classmate of Jo’s who proceeded to elope before the dress was finished.  (The marriage didn’t last much longer, as I recall.)  She must have sewn Jo’s wedding dress too, though I honestly cannot recall.  She was a master at knitting and needlepoint.  I still have the knitting needle case she needlepointed during her best years.

Helen Winnemore’s, a long-established shop in the German Village area of Columbus, was the beneficiary of her love for artistic paraphernalia.  Her children and then her grandchildren inherited some wonderful decor, and can think of her every time they look toward those items.

And what a conversationalist!  She was so wise, and versed in so many topics.  When I called to talk to my age-mate Jo, there were times I almost wished Jo would not be there, because I would wind up having about a 20-minute fascinating conversation with Ruth.  

As the adoptive mother of her two children, Ruth became an outspoken advocate for all children.  She was an integral part of the team that started the day care center at North Broadway United Methodist Church, which is still thriving today.  She told me with pride how one mother came to them explaining that she and her husband had checked out 17 day care centers, and if her child could not be accepted that that particular one, she would not be returning to work.  The other 16 just didn’t meet this mother’s standards.

Ruth left this world so many years ago that I cannot recall the exact year, though I can pinpoint it to the early 1990s.  Her husband and her daughter Jo followed during the ensuing years.  I miss them all.

There was one problem that hung over Ruth for most of her life, one that made many people instantly think less of her.  She never could manage her weight.  This beautiful woman suffered so badly due to body image issues.  Her doctor was always telling her that if she didn’t lost weight, it would be an early grave for her.  She lived into her 80s, so I am guessing she won that argument.

In her later years, Ruth had a smaller appetite, and a smaller body.  In those years she looked frail to me; it just always felt like Ruth’s previous set point was the weight she was intended to be.  However anyone chooses to regard her weight, it did nothing to detract from the beautiful person she was, inside and out.  It did nothing to detract from the powerful positive influence she had in so many lives.  It took nothing from who and what she was.

But it brought her underserved sadness and frustration.

My hope is that we can one day—soon, I hope—live in a world where people come in all shapes and sizes and everyone can just be the size they are.

Body Image

Your body is fine

Loving your body

Way back when my sister was about 7 years old, our older brother was taking a very pretty classmate to a graduation dance. My sister was so impressed by this girl, especially since she was wearing a satiny dress that my young sister brushed her fingers against and said “Ooh, you feel just like my Dacron pillow.” This beautiful teenagers immediate response was to miss the compliment and apologize for being too fat. (Which she was not. At all.). This happened decades ago, and even then, we (females especially) had conditioned ourselves to constantly apologize for our size, regardless of whether it was an actual issue to anyone else on the planet. I suspect this has changed, but only for the worse.  Body image is a problem for too many of us.
When we are little we just use our bodies for things like running, stretching and playing and don’t think a lot about it. We give them food and exercise on a regular basis, just because that feels right. Assuming we are not raised in a highly oppressive environment, we don’t spend those early years sitting around worrying that we are too fat or too thin. We think often about our next opportunities to exercise, but we aren’t thinking in those terms: It is about climbing trees, swimming, running, bicycling, sledding, skating, building a snowman…So it is fun instead of a duty.
Then teen years and adulthood have a way of taking hold. Not that those are bad years; I certainly enjoyed my teens and the adult years that have led to where I am now. And there didn’t stop being some things I did for pleasure that also happened to provide good exercise: dancing and walking in the woods come to mind. But I also attended classes designed to encourage me to keep moving. Again, that is not a bad thing. Plenty of friendships are made and good conversations started while people roll up their yoga mats. And the ones who stick it out tend to be either very disciplined or in love with that particular way to keep your body moving. I vote for doing it for enjoyment, rather than taking it on as a chore.
Likewise, a great deal of nutritious food is truly enjoyable, yet a lot of the enjoyment is lost if you choose that diet simply for the physical health benefits. I know, we want to enjoy our food and we want to choose foods that will enhance our health, and we commonly can do both. So let’s, let’s enjoy movement that feels good and food that tastes good. And let’s try to not constantly measure and critique our own bodies in the meantime.
One of the joys of getting older is, competing for the best body becomes pretty pointless. We can enjoy our bodies for what they do, for how they serve us, rather than constantly comparing and focusing on where these bodies fall short.
Let’s think like children again. Let’s think like my sister did at age 7. Let’s enjoy the great feeling that comes from throwing our self-consciousness aside. In her book “Some Body to Love”, Leslea Newman suggests writing a love letter to yourself as a step toward becoming more comfortable in your own skin. Let’s start now, can we?