There’s no place like home–unless it’s a shanty reeking of mice droppings without indoor plumbing and hot showers and there are live wires hidden everywhere. The house Ruth Wariner grew up in was more like a booby trap than a home.
Located in the village of Colonia LeBaron, her childhood home was in a compound started by her grandfather and led at one time by her father who was considered a prophet in the Church of the First Born of the Fulness of Times–a spinoff of what most would call fundamentalist Mormonism. Ruthie never knew her father because he was murdered by his brother in an act of Cain and Abel betrayal. She was not even given her father’s name. Her father had dozens of children. But this story is not about Ruth’s father, but rather what transpired as the result of her mother becoming the second wife of another man. This is the story of betrayal and survival, poverty and resilience and a story of teenage hate for her narcissistic step father and a pitiful love for her mother.
We rejoice with young Ruthie as she discovers her new friends are actually her half-sisters and she finds out she is not alone. We sigh with annoyance every time her mother becomes pregnant because we wonder how she will be able to clothe and feed yet another mouth in this world where men are rarely home to help with the chores because they are off spending time with another wife.
Although I was NOT raised in a Mormon cult, I once again found some things in common with a polygamist’s daughter. I’ve also reviewed The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser. Despite the similarities of growing up with Mormon fundamentalism, these two women’s stories are quite different just as two Baptists, Catholics or Adventists can have completely different stories.
I like to think of memoirs as true life fairy tales where young girls who spend their childhoods cooking and cleaning and babysitting get to find joy eventually. We can learn from each of our stories and we need all of our stories to build a better future.
So back to what I found in common with Ruthie:
1. The most obvious was her physical situations which included constant moving, using an outhouse and sleeping in inadequate beds and shivering in the cold without heat due to extreme poverty and lack of electricity and hot running water. Which is mostly the result of the second thing I found in common.
2. We were both raised in a religion focusing on isolation from the world where a call to separate from Babylon includes conspiracy theories and fear of the government. A dream to be self-sufficient and prepared for the desolation or time of trouble. This includes conversations and fear messages about the end of the world with an emphasis on salvation by works.
3. While Ruth’s step father and mother did things my own parents would call unthinkable, there was a common thread of constant moving, parental control, lost education, teaching children to lie when it’s convenient for the parent and using children as house slaves while taking their money. Her step father has all sorts of broken down cars he plans to fix which once again I can relate to only too well.
4. There are many smaller similarities which bring familiarity to Ruthie’s story for me. My first memory is of my own mother baking bread in juice cans and sorting dried pinto beans. Ruthie grew up sorting beans and baking in juice cans too. Like myself, she was the main daughter that her mother relied on to care for the younger children. It’s like our mothers got the same memo on how to raise a daughter to do your chores.
There were two very ironic moments in the book for me, the first was where her grandparents shook their heads sadly and said they felt powerless to help their daughter and grandchildren because of her step dad. I’ve seen such shaking heads only too well–although I did not understand the depth of it until I left home. Her step dad asking her grandparents for a loan to buy a trailer for them to live in was de je vu for me too.
The second most bizarre moment for me was about music. It seems like such a little thing, but music connects us with hope and one of my biggest struggles with my father throughout my childhood was his oppression in trying to control my music. The scene where Ruthie’s step father listens to Kenny Rogers “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille,” while Ruthie begs him to listen to John Denver’s “Country Roads,” could’ve been taken from a chapter in my own book with the exact same songs. As a matter of fact I have a chapter written which includes these songs in a different order but reading Ruthie’s version freaked me out.
Other than these things, whatever harm my parents allowed by their actions was mild in some ways compared to the negligence of Ruthie’s mother and the evil of her stepfather. My own parents would consider the things Lane her stepfather did unconscionable. And my mother is a germaphobe who would bleach any signs of mice droppings and never serve me a fly in my food. However as we all know from counseling we cannot compare our stories as one being worse than the other. All abuse is abuse regardless.
Without giving away the plot, let me just say Ruth Wariner survived the unthinkable several times over, yet she wisely tells her story with the innocence of childhood, much like Jeannette Walls does in “The Glass Castle.” As Wariner describes her family’s drama in understated tones, she chronicles her private traumas with skill and uses her real life plot twists to keep the reader turning page after page wondering what else could possibly happen to this girl.
This book contains triggers of various kinds, so read at your own discretion with a box of tissues. However Ruth does NOT write as a victim, she writes as a shining star–one who shines most brightly against the darkness of evil. In the end, Ruthie triumphs against the face of false religion and abuse and learns to speak the truth–even when her voice shakes.
Ruth Wariner, thank you for sharing your story in The Sound of Gravel with the world. You truly deserve your place in the Sheroes Hall of Fame!