May Dates in Women's History
by Susan G. Butruille

Bonne Vivante
January 27, 1916 - June 10, 2003

Ruth Hendricks Greffenius was my mother. And she was more. She was my muse, my editor, my friend and coach, my comedy partner, fashion advisor, my sidekick. Still, so many things to tell her, to ask her.

On a June evening after a trip to the doctor to review her too-many physical problems, we drank wine and giggled over dinner in a new Italian restaurant overlooking a lake. As I left her that evening, she said, "Didn't we have a wonderful time?"

The next morning she was gone. She had lived 87 mostly good years. And we did have a wonderful time.

In August, I wrote some haiku to a friend.

My mother is gone
A wonderful time we had
Last night together

Next day found a note
Call Susan she had written
How I wish she could

One more day I wish
One more day to ask her things
Tell her I love you

But I did tell her
Didn't know for the last time
Tell them. Tell them now.

It was a summer of memorials, in Oregon, where she lived near me her last years, and in Colorado, her beloved home. How does one distill the belongings, the memories of a life, into so many boxes?

How to tell of Mother's life? Leona Ruth Hendricks was born a miner's daughter, like Loretta Lynn, she used to say, in a town that isn't there any more. Mount Harris, Colorado. She got her bonne-vivante-ness from her father, Robert W. Hendricks, who sang and danced with her in the kitchen. Her mother, Mae Jones Hendricks, danced when asked, and lived the serenity that surfaced in Mother at unexpected times.

Through high school and college, Ruth honed her skills in speech and drama and singing. She dreamed high and married Griff, R. J. Greffenius, a forest ranger who honestly was tall, dark, and handsome. Their life in the Forest Service took them from Northwestern to Southwestern Colorado, where Mother taught school, acted in community theatre, presented musical reviews of Broadway shows, danced with Dad, and produced a readers theatre featuring women from Durango's history. She was proud of being the first woman in Durango Toastmasters. After Dad's retirement from the Forest Service, Mom and Dad traveled and danced through Europe and landed in Michigan, where Dad earned his Ph.D. From there, they moved to San Luis Obispo, California, where Dad taught Natural Resources Management at California Polytechnic State University for ten years.

Mom and Dad enjoyed a second retirement life back in Durango, traveled widely, and kept on dancing. Mother lost her life and dancing partner in 1991. But she continued to wander and to wonder. She and I rested against the ancient walls of Troy while our Turkish tour guide and friend Resit Ergener read his poetry. In New Zealand we danced with Mauris. On the Oregon Trail, she helped me gather stories and shape my first book. Mother was the only one I entrusted with my drafts. She could spot the good parts and get me back on track when I lost my way.

In her last years, close to me in Portland, we had a special place in the first balcony for Oregon Symphony Pops concerts. We would listen, sometimes through tears, and remember the songs of the 1930s and 40s that expressed and shaped Mother's life and my growing up. She was amazed at getting to hear Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama speak to the World Affairs council of Oregon. She herself was a popular reader of her own poetry in a series called PoetSpeak.

We worked together on a collection of Mother's memories, poetry, and stories called I Hope I Get To Dance. In it, she wrote about choices we all can make for "the lighter touch and peace, poise and calm."

I learned to find my way without this elegant and feisty woman who was my mother, still wishing for just one more day to tell her thank you, to ask her the story behind the old golden flowered compact I carry, to tell her about the Bavarian village in Washington where I now live.

Sometimes, in the dark of my mind when words won't come and thoughts run away, I wonder--, who is my muse now? Where is she? I found the answer when I reread Anne Cameron's words from Daughters of Copper Woman:

Old Woman is watching
Watching over you

In the darkness of the storm
she is watching watching over you

weave and mend
weave and mend

. . .

I have been searching
Old Woman

and I find her
my Self.

And so, the voices pass from generation to generation, from Ruth to Susan to my sons, and, to my grandchildren. . .

Weave and mend.

This article, dedicated to the author's mother, Ruth Greffenius, is excerpted from previous columns and speeches.

by Susan G. Butruille, Copyright 2001, 2019

In 1870, author, suffragist, and pacifist Julia Ward Howe campaigned for Mother's Peace Day, the forerunner of Mother's Day. In her Mother's Peace Day Proclamation, the author of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" appealed to mothers throughout the world to stop wars. "We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

As Julia Ward Howe declared Mother's Peace Day, American Indian people throughout the United States were under siege -- because of national, state, and local government policy.

In the country of California's Mother Lode, home of the most spectacular gold rush in history, a strong old Indian woman named Manuella survived attacks on her people and her culture. To anyone who wanted to listen, she had much to teach about how her people once lived in peace on this earth.

But Manuella's story is not simply something that happened in another time and place. It is still happening, and indigenous people throughout the world are raising their voices to keep their people and their cultures alive.

Susan G. Butruille ©1998, 2019

The story does not begin with the gold
The story begins with the Grandmother
All stories begin with the Grandmother
The one who propelled the earth, the sky, the sea, and all the creatures

From the darkness of her womb long ago

The Grandmother begins and sustains.
The Grandfather builds and protects.
It is all one. We all are one.

You see me, Manuella, as the Old Indian Woman.
The old one squatting beside the water with her pan, looking for gold.
In the water I see the face of an old woman
Who has known the joy of living free on the earth
It is a joy you will never know
With your mad race for gold, you have invaded the earth --
Source of life and joy and wisdom

I see the face of an old woman who has known the terrors
Of seeing my people -- once fiercely strong -- weak and dying
You say many are gone, vanished
They are not vanished
They are dead of disease and violence and broken hearts.

I see the face of an old woman
Banished from the land that once belonged to no one and to everyone.
Banished from the land where the clear running water was her gold,
and the little acorn, gold of the giant oak.

I see the face of a mighty woman
Who yet lives.

"Manuella’s Song" is excerpted from Susan’s book Women’s Voices from the Mother Lode: Tales from the California Gold Rush (Tamarack Books, 1998).


On Mother's Day, we can do to honor mothers by recognizing that mothering isn't just for mothers. The mother we have, the mother we may be, the mothers of our past and future, and especially the mother WITHIN each of us -- that is the mother to honor and affirm.

Perhaps the most revolutionary, radical thing we can do to honor Mother's Day -- is to OBEY OUR MOTHER! Obey, in the most ancient meaning of the word: to hear deeply. Hear deeply that voice many of us know from our childhood, the one from the most ancient of times -- the voice that says:

Clean up your mess! Mind your manners! Don't hit each other!

In ancient times, domestic work was women's work. And so was decision making, food distribution, calendar keeping, education, ceremony -- all the elements that sustained community and the lives within. Ancient cultures honored domestic work. Worldwide, women still do most of the domestic work, without the power and respect it once had.

For thousands of years in the western world, domestic work -- the work of community building and sustaining -- has been deemed less significant than the work of war.

To honor Mother's Day, let us understand that domestic work -- mothers' work -- is so important that it is everyone's work.

Clean up your mess! Mind your manners! Don't hit each other!

Obey your mother!

When the voice of the mother is not heard, the mothers are left to weep. You can hear them weeping now in Iraq, in Israel, in Palestine, Nicaragua, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, in this country, in our own homes and neighborhoods. The voices are not only women's. They are children's and men's voices.

It was the mother's voice in all of us that Anna Jarvis wanted to affirm when she became the official founder of Mother's Day.

Anna Jarvis's mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was a young homemaker in Appalachia who organized "Mothers' Work Days" in 1858 to improve sanitation and save lives. At the time, the medical establishment failed -- or refused -- to recognize the role of germs and dirt as the main cause of the terrible diseases that ravaged the land. During the Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis organized women's brigades to help wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. After the war, she took the lead in trying to heal wounds between North and South.

Her daughter, Anna, never forgot the words of her mother: "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Anna Jarvis would be the moving force behind the official designation of a national Mother's Day in 1915, celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Anna Jarvis wrote so many letters promoting Mother's Day that she had to buy the house next door just to store all the papers! She won her cause, but spent the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of that special day that was supposed to honor mothers instead of fueling profits of florists and greeting card companies.

But before the official Mother's Day, the famed author, pacifist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe campaigned for Mother's Peace Day. The woman who wrote the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was shocked and enraged by the useless destruction of war, and horrified by the use of her anthem by some to promote war.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe appealed to mothers throughout the world to stop the killing of their sons in war. In her Mother's Peace Day Proclamation, Howe wrote:

Arise then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up
With our own. It says, "DISARM! DISARM!"

For several years, Mother's Peace Day was observed in Julia Ward Howe's native Boston and other places, but the events leading to the First World War drowned out voices of the mothers calling for peace.

Listen to the voices of the mothers. Obey (hear deeply) the voices of the mothers.

Clean up your mess! Mind your manners! Don't hit each other!

This article, dedicated to the author's mother, Ruth Greffenius, is excerpted from previous columns and speeches. Susan Butruille and her husband, John, are the mother and father of two sons, Frank and Tony, and grandparents of Sarah, Evan, Sean and Matt.

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