“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” – Psalm 116 : 15
Ruth Soldier was born an only child in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1924. Her German immigrant father took Ruth and her mother, Lydia, back to Germany and abandoned them both during the period of the worldwide Great Depression.
Ruth’s mother, Lydia, supported herself and her young daughter by selling apples on street corners and, eventually, by opening a small bakery. Just as things were getting better for the two, Adolph Hitler came to power, and this young American mother and her child were stranded in the middle of the darkening and disastrous “Third Reich” of the now Nazi Germany.
But Ruth found life and even love in the midst of a world at war. Still in her teens, she married a handsome young suitor, Martin Trumpelbaum, whom she knew from her small Baptist church. The marriage was performed against the wishes of both families. Martin’s parents, who claimed nobility in their bloodlines thought that Ruth and Lydia were beneath their station, and Lydia didn’t want her daughter to marry a soldier, which Martin was, knowing he may never return from battle.
Their union quickly produced a daughter, Agnes, and almost as quickly ended when Martin was killed somewhere on the Eastern Front. Lydia, a young widowed Ruth, and baby Agnes, were stranded after the war in the ruin of a conquered Germany. Martin’s family had utterly abandoned them, but a young, wounded American G.I. named Robert Soldier married Ruth and brought everyone home to the United States with him.
Robert sired three sons, Robert, Jr., Michael, and Kevin. Robert, Sr., and Robert, Jr., were both deceased and the rest of the children grown and moved away before our family met Ruth and her aged mother when they began attending our little Baptist church five years ago.
Jesus once told His followers that He would add brothers and sisters and even mothers to the lives of everyone who was His. And so it was that Ruth Soldier became another mother for my wife, Maria and me, and a grandmother for our children. Especially after her mother died like ours already had years before, Ruth became increasingly precious to us and we to her.
Ruth had us over to her house sometimes for delicious home-cooked German meals like “rouladen,” which is sliced roast beef rolled around a pickle, bacon, and onion. Ruth also made the most succulent roast pork with mashed potatoes and red kraut. And we would have Ruth to our home sometimes for holidays or birthdays.
A few years ago, Ruth gave us one of her framed cross-stitch compositions with grapes and butterflies surrounding the beautifully-lettered statement, “Faith Makes All Things Possible.” Coming from a soul who had lived out the truth of this statement, Ruth’s gift became one of our most cherished possessions.
In all the years we knew her, we never heard Ruth complain, even as she was becoming increasingly infirm in her aging body. We also never heard her utter anything discouraging. Rather, Ruth only encouraged the people she knew. Whatever Maria or I or our children tried to do at our church or in our community, Ruth was always a faithful cheerleader for us. We knew we were in her prayers, and the sincere compliments she would offer always became a quiet source of strength for our efforts.
One Palm Sunday a year ago during the greeting time in our morning church service, Ruth told me about a friend back east who was a believer in Jesus who had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ruth asked me to pray, and we did so right there. I then tried to express something positive to encourage my longtime encourager. I said, “Well, something has to bring us home to Him!” Ruth looked up into my eyes somewhat surprised and then nodded her head in agreement.
About a month later, Ruth suffered a massive heart attack, and when we visited her in the hospital shortly thereafter, about all she could say regarding the experience was, “Whoa! I never want to go through anything like that again!” She was so strong of heart, however, she had briefly survived something that should have killed her on the spot. With only about 15 percent capacity left in her eighty-five year old heart, Ruth’s physical condition began to deteriorate. However, she had good days that alternated with rough ones. She moved from the hospital’s intensive care center to a nearby rehab facility and then to a full-assistance retirement complex.
In the meantime, Agnes came from California to care for her mother and to arrange her affairs, and Michael and Kevin were able to visit also from out of state. And all those who loved Ruth had the privilege of now encouraging her as best we could.
Maria and I would visit, and usually we brought a simple ceramic goblet with grape juice and unleavened crackers for Communion. We sang for Ruth the “Communion Song” by Barry McGuire that our pastor sang at our own wedding years ago.
Take this bread I give to you
And as you do remember Me
This bread is My body broken for you
And each time you do
Take this cup I fill for you
And as you do remember Me
This cup is the new covenant
I’m making with you
And each time you do
Take this love I’ve given you
And as you do, remember Me
And we also sang for Ruth a worship chorus about Jesus that we learned from some old friends who have a Christian ministry to young people in oh so now secular Austria that was sung to the tune of “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.
Oh to us who believe
Jesus Christ is precious!
He’s the same
He is the Way,
of Peace and Joy
He has said,
“Trust in Me.
I’ll be with you
Maybe this was why Ruth asked for Maria and me to lead music at her fast approaching funeral service that she insisted be entitled a “Celebration!” Maria used to sing with our church’s choir, however I usually sing from the pews surrounded by as many other singers as I can to cover up any errant notes from my untrained voice.
But I would do anything for Ruth Soldier.
And so Maria and I sang together for our dear friend. The final hymn we led our congregation in singing at Ruth Soldier’s “Celebration” was one of Ruth’s favorites, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” sung to the melody of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy!”
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth & heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
The second to last time we had visited Ruth she was back in intensive care at the hospital having a rough go. The food channel was on television with the sound turned off, and I asked Ruth if there was anything she might like to eat besides hospital food. Ruth said that she didn’t have much appetite anymore, but she added, “I would like a good German beer though . . . a dark one!”
Maria and I both laughed because we had assumed that Ruth was a teetotaler like most of our church members, especially the older ones. However, I did call Agnes and mentioned her mother’s request to her. Agnes was also amused but didn’t think it was a good idea.
Two days later and two days before Ruth died, Maria and I went to see her in the care center to which she’d been moved and, although she was nearly gone, the first thing Ruth said to me was, “Where’s my beer!” Agnes was there, and we all three laughed again, but I was somewhat embarrassed this time for showing up empty-handed. When I looked at Agnes, she said, “What can it hurt at this point.”
I promised Ruth that I would leave everyone to keep visiting while I ran out to look for a dark German beer. I had to go to two different stores, but I finally found a good Texas label, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, brewed by German immigrants that offered a dark beer they had introduced a few years ago to celebrate a special anniversary of the company.
By the time I returned from my mission, Agnes had already left and Maria was speaking with a nurse across the hallway. As I leaned over to kiss Ruth’s forehead, I said in all the German I could still remember from high school, “Hier ist ein schwartz bier fur dich, Tante Ruth, weil ich liebe dich!” [“Here is a dark beer for you, Auntie Ruth, because I love you!”]
Ruth sat up in bed and reached for the long-necked bottle that I held in my hand, disdaining the juice glass I had offered to use. Then she took not a sip, but a long, satisfying swallow. After that, she lay back and gazed off beyond me, into her past I’m sure, back to the early days of romance with Martin, or maybe her big-hearted Robert, the scent and taste of the old familiar beverage having the power to transport her memory through space and time.
I took the nearly still full bottle from Ruth’s hand, as I told her, “I’ve gotta go now, and I can’t leave this here!” Ruth again looked at me with her kind, motherly affection. Maria had now joined us in the room, and as we held hands to pray, I asked God to tenderly receive our dear one to Himself. As I kissed her forehead I whispered to Ruth, “Go to Him. He’s waiting for you!” Ruth softly nodded her head, “Yes!”
We told each other goodbye, and when I looked into Ruth’s bright eyes I saw no pain or fear . . . only love.
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