When I shook Ruth’s hand it all came flooding back: The memories. Her memories. Her childhood… all 336 pages of her memoir become an almost unbearable weight, freezing me in the moment.
I met Ruth several years ago when I conducted this interview…
At first it seems intimidating meeting Ruth Wariner in person due to her inside stories she’s revealed to the world. But her kind, indomitable spirit and heart of gold envelope me as we sit down to chat about her newly-released book, The Sound of Gravel, now available in stores and online.
Ruth’s memoir details her haunting childhood growing up in a polygamist, Mormon colony in poverty. When she turned four, she was immediately needed for adult responsibilities. She helped care for her siblings while looking over her shoulder for the dreadful, lurking dangers children should never be exposed to.
The Sound of Gravel is simple yet beautifully written and refreshingly lacks self-pity.
Ruth nowadays lives an adjusted, happily married life in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and continues her healing journey despite her chilling memories.
Healing includes daily prayer, meditation, and journaling now.
Ruth deserves the world although she’ll never ask for it. “I want people to know I’m someone who rose above my circumstances,” she says. “I’m somebody who is not a victim, who defined my own life separate from my childhood.”
After years of unsettling instances, Ruth fled her family’s colony at 15 years old. Her goal was simply to keep her siblings together. At 19 she moved out on her own and raised her three younger sisters alone, all while putting herself through school. After earning her GED she put herself through college and graduate school at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon.
Ruth then received a job teaching Spanish at Gladstone High School and ended up meeting her husband, Alan, on the top floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower building in downtown Portland, Oregon, at a fundraising event for Portland Monthly. Alan swiftly fell for Ruth, realizing after hearing her stories how similar their kindred spirits are in caring for others in their family – Alan raising two autistic twins of his own.
Most of all, Alan loves Ruth’s ability to forgive: not in the sense that she puts up with being hurt but that she can let go of the pain from her past for her own sake and for the sake of her relationships with loved ones. “It’s helped me be a happier person, and he’s always said that I’m one of the happiest people he knows,” says Ruth.
“I love her courage, generosity and kindness,” said Alan. “I respect her commitment to her family. That’s the thing he loved about her first because I knew if she could have a strong commitment to her siblings, she would have a strong commitment to me, and she does.”
Aside from indoor cycling, just a two minute walk from her home, Ruth and Alan often take long, daily walks around the neighborhood, enjoy hiking, traveling all over the world and join their “Calories Be Damned” dinner club, regularly with local friends.
But most importantly, Ruth says, spending time with her family means the most to her.
You can tell she continues to keep a watchful eye on her sisters even though they’re now all grown up, living in different cities with professional careers of their own. They were too young to know the reality of what happened to their family, their older sister shielding and literally saving their lives from it all until they were much older and they asked her what happened one afternoon over lunch, which led to Ruth writing her book over the next five years.
One memory Ruth happily shared with us was when her mom – a constant companion yet a well-intentioned adversary in Ruth’s book – taught her to ride a bike. “She bought it at a garage sale and I got it as a birthday present,” recalls Ruth. “I remember the first day they took off my training wheels and I fell right over. I was three or four and wanted to immediately take off my training wheels. I wanted to be a big girl.”
Over the years she got her wish facing love, loss, fear, anger, resentment and the unknown far younger than most. But she said she often remembers these words, spoken by Maya Angelou – an American activist, poet and civil rights advocate who passed away just last year and Ruth had an opportunity to hear her speak:
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Despite her upbringing, Ruth remains resilient and grateful. “I love the fact that I had the opportunity to have an education, it gave me perspective, confidence and a new community and culture to live in,” she says.
Now Ruth’s unending commitment, love and loyalty to her family has never wavered.
And her book, The Sounds of Gravel, is one that will stick in your memory forever.