Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good bye, Ruby's house: thoughts on impermanence

As I typed the title above, the Stones' Ruby Tuesday started playing in my head... but the Ruby I'm thinking about wasn't of that era at all. She was another wonderful back-alley-neighbour who lived next door to Back-Alley Mary, whom I've gone on about at length. Mary and Ruby were the best of friends besides being good neighbours. I have fond memories of their laughter from one or the other's back yard on a summer's evening. I got to know Ruby a little during the summer that she let me use part of her garden to grow tomatoes. She lived very simply, and was a delightful friend.

Unfortunately, the following summer, Ruby, who was 97 at the time, fell down her back stairs. The bathroom in her house was in the basement, and she misjudged a step on the way down one night. She and Mary had a system -- when Mary, who was 25 years younger, got up in the morning, she would look over at Ruby's bedroom window to be sure the blind was up. If not, Mary would take her key and go over to check on Ruby. That morning, Mary had to call 911.

Luckily, Ruby hadn't broken anything, but returning home wasn't something the medical professionals could see in her case, and she reluctantly admitted that those stairs had gotten to be too much for her. Fortunately, after a relatively brief stay at the Leduc hospital, Ruby and her cat were able to move into a senior's residence that allowed Sunny the Siamese to stay with his owner until Ruby passed away in June. She was 102. Mary and I helped Ruby's niece, June, clear out the basement when Ruby left the house five years ago, and I inherited a barrel of preserve jars for which I thank Ruby every autumn. She also left me her "Little Rube" -- a variety of small red tomato that I grow every year in her honour.

Ruby's 600 sq. ft. (56 sq. m) house was purchased by a couple who rented it out for the last five years, and who spent their time making plans for a new two-storey home to house themselves and their son's young family on the lot. They consulted with the neighbours so that we would know of their plans, jumped through all the hoops set out by the City, and had all the trees on the lot cut down, sigh. Last Friday, Ruby's little old house, which was built perhaps 70 years ago by my old gentleman neighbour, Bob, was knocked flat in less than a half hour. I went out to watch and say my own little goodbye, only to find a whole group of neighbours standing in the alley, doing the same.

I found it a bit shocking to watch the house go down. For the ten years I've lived here, Ruby's place was a given. My neighbours have known it much longer than that. In less than a half hour, it was gone.

I don't know about you, but I find that kind of change to be a wake-up call. It's so easy to think that our homes, our possessions, our little corners of the world are permanent, but it only took a few moments for a backhoe to flatten the house that I will always associate with Ruby. 

Nothing is permanent. Even the mountains are eroding. I'm sure Ruby would agree that a life of 102 years passes in the blink of an eye. When you think about it, it's kind of silly to collect a ton of stuff when we are anything but permanent.

So, while we have a place on this planet, let's not clutter it up. And let's give some thanks.

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