Joan Ruskin and Susan Steinhauer

Recorded August 26, 2007 Archived August 26, 2007 37:27 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: grb000446


Joan Ruskin reads a poetic piece she recently wrote that describes her life’s path. Afterwards, her daughter asks a few questions about her childhood growing up with divorced parents in an era that parents did not divorce.

Subject Log / Time Code

Joan reads a piece of creative nonfiction she recently wrote about her own history and path through life. It is an abstract recount of the events of her life.
At the age of 82, Joan relocated to California to live with her daughter, Sue. Prior she spent her entire life in the New York City area.
Her parents divorced when she was a toddler in 1925, at a time when divorce as a social taboo. She remembers traveling with her mom to Reno where couples could obtain a legal divorce.
Lived under an emotionally restrained cloud until she met her first husband, Buckey. His generosity and loving spirit lifted her being into a better place.


  • Joan Ruskin
  • Susan Steinhauer

Venue / Recording Kit



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00:05 My name is Sue. Steinhour. I'm 57. Today is August 26th. I'm located in Oakland at the storycorps griot booth and I'm here with my mom to record her story and I am looking forward to learning about much of what she experienced.

00:30 And here to share it with my daughter Sue and my Joan Ruskin. I am 83.

00:40 It is now August 26th.

00:44 Location is also the story booth.

00:47 In Oakland, California

00:50 And the relationship to my partner is I am Sue's mom.

00:59 Mom has spent a lot of time this week preparing for this event. I was happy to learn that the story Booth was going to be in Oakland. I know it had been in Grand Central Station in New York several years ago and Mom had an appointment but was unable to keep it. So this seems like a prime opportunity. I know if we were living in the East mom would be regarded as National Treasure and

01:30 The way in which age is viewed in our culture is a bit different, but I am hoping that this little window of opportunity will allow her to imbue some of us with her story and

01:49 Keep it for posterity.

01:53 So take it away Joan. Very good or as Sarah would know. This is Joan speaking from Jonesville exactly.

02:02 A worthy Storyteller these she fabulous dog real chronicler or memoirist must invite The Listener to take the minut step or major leap into the heretofore unknown.

02:19 I invite you dear listener to walk with me around one of my three last homes that is not the origin of the entire story but to begin it will do.

02:34 Leave your coat. The day is fair.

02:38 They're on the floor of the study of sturdy container weights an old-fashioned trunk of great size preserving. The precious contents Within.

02:51 A multitude of drawers and Hollows secure the transfer of the material from Rockville Centre, New York 11570 to Oakland, California 94609 editions of some 3,000 miles.

03:10 It awaits my selection.

03:12 Pulling this little handle or raising that iron latch an entry into a specific focus of recall.

03:23 This draw with a circular finger hole could release a Litany of the tales addresses in schools attended that shallow drawer could surrender an assortment of theater playbills.

03:39 Each Pole or pressure of my finger might liberate a bit of my history and exploration of becoming Joan.

03:56 Browsing the trunks Contents I assign each draw as a receptacle of memory.

04:03 And connection and there isn't anything the narratives theme connection.

04:11 At this time those connections must be defined with particularity the junctures at which each person entered my life.

04:22 One became two two became three.

04:26 Three became four and the changes they wrought.

04:31 My marriage to Buckeye in 1943 the birth of Greg in 1946 the birth of his sister Sue in 1949.

04:43 That is the timeline. I will use as a guide.

04:48 The interior and exterior of my journey

04:54 Buc-ee's amplitude was the igniting unifying force.

05:00 His strength of purpose and loving devotion were factors in recognizing the frugality of the absolute when applied to The Human Condition.

05:14 Puppy born in June an emblem of a sun

05:19 The warmest of him capable of thawing most resistance

05:25 A Norman Thomas socialist an Edward Davis politician response to my undeveloped awareness of family Dynamics. What is the defining moment?

05:40 His he's at home with his mom and pop an elder sister a younger brother and a young niece.

05:48 Swept me into their spontaneous rhythm.

05:53 The back door household was never closed the kitchen of vital Hub of nourishment and exchange.

06:03 The table was long to accommodate the regulars or Wanderers who might find themselves. Welcome by entering that door at 1584 Bryant Avenue in the Bronx.

06:18 Walking down a long hallway to find comfort and Shelter From a less hospitable world.

06:27 If the table was set for 6 or 8 quiet time, I dad only two or three settings or double that number if it was a poker or Mahjong night.

06:40 Loaves and Fishes a steady expansion to accommodate those who came to be welcomed at the back door table.

06:49 Chloroform and cabbage rolls with stretching do for strudel sampling one more potato or hacking a pineapple or grapefruit. Will Hallmarks of the family's generosity generosity to assuage the homesickness of many who came as immigrants.

07:09 It was always room for one more.

07:13 This wasn't a family and its ability to make much of less.

07:20 How fortunate I was to be absorbed into the atmosphere of true abundance.

07:26 And spoke his ability to persist when I showed signs of resisting the ebullience hungry for more seclusion resistant to sharing.

07:38 What can never be depleted?

07:40 A generous spirit

07:44 I would have to learn to bend if we were older flourish.

07:50 Greg's arrival on March 15th 1946 was the occasion for much joy muzzle tough. The first male grandchild ushered in with the expected rituals of circumcision.

08:06 To which I was opposed.

08:09 However, I could no more deny pop that affirmation.

08:14 Then I could deny a man with such a great heart.

08:18 The pleasure of God in his grandson through his bar. Mitzvah.

08:23 In a little shul in Far Rockaway

08:27 The lady's assembled in the balcony through sweets down from above.

08:33 A celebration of followed that the backers with all the Delights made it home by Clara pickled herring gefilte fish noodle pudding strudel.

08:46 The Hallmark of all such celebrations as it was for Greg's birth a huge Halle created and baked by Clara.

08:58 Greg's temperament provided me with much latitude to grow into motherhood.

09:05 Long naps and a sunny disposition more of me to the new role while slowly stretching my understanding of the rights and needs of infancy.

09:17 Greg always relished anything on wheels

09:21 A blue tricycle was a precursor to a slim black rolly and the ultimate series of vw's so prized as a liberating engine.

09:35 In 1949 the upper level of a double-decker bus off at a bird's eye view of the New York landscape.

09:44 Vehicles large and small buildings tall and building Squad inviting fleeting views of residence at work and play.

09:55 Repair equipment hoisting workers above the street and hardhats or beneath the ground under manhole covers erupting suddenly a crane operating at a construction site a cement mixer in the midst of traffic rotating the mixture for a new sidewalk.

10:15 So Father and Son scouted the New York scene before a lunch of chicken soup and matzo balls.

10:26 Sated with sites and soap time to check out what mom was experiencing at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

10:35 The realization of this tiny baby girl rounded the family out to 4.

10:41 Susan arrived at 1 p.m. On September 21st, 1949 in time for lunch a pink birthday package for me of 7 lb to ounces.

10:58 Susan infancy was more of a challenge than I was prepared for.

11:04 Her signals of distress just comfort and unhappiness will cause for my concern and unease

11:12 I was unable to make it better.

11:16 Earlier in this narrative. I noted a trunk drawer containing objects of particular significance.

11:25 Resting and cedar shavings a gyroscope with a piece of butchers cord.

11:33 A faded frayed typewriter ribbon from a royal portable typewriter

11:41 These are my restorative tools.

11:45 My own global positioning system

11:50 The gyroscope in the string were brought to me by my dad to demonstrate the Earth's rotation.

12:00 The typewriter ribbon for my prize Royal portable

12:05 A gift for my dad for my 9th birthday.

12:09 Opening a doorway to the written word.

12:14 These two are touchdowns. I've carried with me throughout the years.

12:21 There remains a third item of white and recent adaptation.

12:28 Emmanuel as reminder

12:32 Outlining the functions of a cardiac device

12:35 That itches and alert order expiration to the hearts full touring the rhythms.

12:44 Despite the rigors of the year and the energy required to submit to illness. It has been a year of great victory.

12:53 Inordinate demands have been placed upon loved ones and although lovingly MIT.

13:00 The issue and surrender it to it.

13:04 I cannot make it better.

13:08 This Chronicles show continue with focus upon my father Gabriel my grand grandchildren David and Sarah.

13:17 My son-in-law Michael

13:19 My second love and husband Herman David

13:24 And the numerous friends and mentors who also inhabit and invigorate my life.

13:32 Fanning The Embers

13:35 Each of the singular Society of vital friends and mentors resides as a constellation.

13:45 For purposes of travel I have condensed the memories.

13:49 To a distillation of essences

13:53 Floral

13:55 Herbal or spice?

13:59 This is all to be continued as the chronicle on Foles.

14:05 It might be of interest now for either of my interrogators to ask me some questions, which may not have been answered in the Segway from one paragraph to another or all that it has.

14:23 Released in terms of no. I wonder why she did that.

14:29 What does that mean?

14:31 Never a very outspoken.

14:35 Explica tour of why I did what I did, but just listen.

14:41 I think this might gives you an opportunity to express some of her Wonder at the vagaries of motherhood thing that comes to mind why you insisted on that damn candy striped wool sweater when I told you it itch because it was so beautiful and it was part of a little gray jumper little red embroidery going across the jumper and it did not age. Well, I was stupid enough to believe you when you told me that it took me years to realize that in fact it did it.

15:25 And I had every right to not wear it you're you are correct. And you should have said I won't wear it. Oh, yes, that would have worked store in in that atmosphere. That was not an option option. That's true. What was was what is is a more serious note, I guess I slept really fast do the sweater. Oh, it was a little bit will you know and in those days there were it was no synthetic blend. It was a hundred percent wool. It was not cashmere true. It was not soft. It was quite scratchy. I was quite thin and I don't know how I've been less than if it would have ditched last but it did it and it was very cute, but it did it very much.

16:23 But on a more serious note, I think.

16:29 The question that I have and it's not solely from your retelling your story, but just in terms of observation the last year and the location relocation and move from New York where you had live for 82 years in when you were a child. I know in many different homes, but as an adults in really a small amount of residences in probably two or three

17:06 How you have been able to?

17:09 Keep your sense of wonder and adventure.

17:13 During an extremely difficult time and transition

17:23 That is an excellent question and Sue has the ability to hone in on.

17:31 The groove a man of the issue as it were the issue itself.

17:39 There must have been in my early globulin positioning system.

17:45 Some kind of compass.

17:49 Set an able me to keep safe those parts of me that might I sensed be violated.

17:59 ETSU mentioned in my early life my parents were divorced when I was 2

18:07 This was way before this was an acceptable solution for parents who did not get along right that was 1925. There were pictures of you that I have that were taken in Vegas when in Reno me know very petulant and

18:29 Unhappy cute little girl who'd been taken there with your mom because you had to be there for about six weeks didn't know died in order to get the divorce. But continue with your Early Childhood there from that pond coming back from Reno.

18:53 With the divorce in hand

18:57 This was 1925.

19:00 Jesus said I need a written witch or divorced woman was really looked upon with great scorn.

19:09 How was the child of such a divorce Feud?

19:17 As an appendage of the mother as I had kindly not kindly no. No, I was an outsider.

19:26 And because we after moving back to New York with my mother.

19:33 We lived with my grandparents and an uncle until my grandparents died in 1926 and 7 1928 at which point I was ready for kindergarten.

19:47 Grandparents have died.

19:49 My mother and Uncle Ben on married and I moved to the first apartment that we had had independently and I started school.

20:03 It was only then.

20:06 Is that I began to see my father.

20:10 Home, I will discuss in Greater length because he deserves far more than a scant observation.

20:18 Most likely a good part of the staying power of my compass.

20:24 Although he did is I relate in the story before give me a gyroscope.

20:30 To establish the rotation of the universe.

20:35 Somehow the message was sent.

20:38 With such certainty from him

20:44 That I would find my location.

20:47 He was a very quiet man not given to much illustration.

20:55 We were really Nomads from the time. I was of school age 5 you and your mom my mom and I

21:05 Until I was about

21:09 18

21:11 Frequently living in 3 Apartments within a year

21:16 It was a time of post-depression when they were bread lines.

21:23 People who dispossessed which we never were

21:27 But it certainly was a time and which one had to acclimate to leaving one set of walls in the morning.

21:37 I'm returning to another set in the evening.

21:41 I kind of great.

21:45 Potential this Aquila equal equilibrium equilibrium. Thank you.

21:54 I suppose I decided early on that to survive this.

22:01 I would have to grow Underground.

22:04 And not reveal.

22:06 Anyting

22:09 Which I did for a very long time until I met your dad.

22:15 But there's was some other message that was sent aside from the certainty that your dad's message was that you would find your Center and prevail.

22:28 Aside from Going Underground

22:32 There was some other ability that you were given or developed.

22:40 To persevere

22:43 Yes, and the best way I can answer that question is that it was most likely part of the ornery child at night and which is so hard.

22:57 You can't do this to me.

23:00 You won't know who I am.

23:03 And of course that meant that until I met property you didn't know I really didn't know either so a great mystery was yet to be revealed.

23:16 And I continued learning.

23:20 Throughout Dad's life

23:24 And learning even in his death and learning again when I was fortunate enough to be loved again and married again.

23:38 That

23:40 As I said very early on.

23:45 What could not be extracted from anyone?

23:49 Was a genuine Generous Heart?

23:55 And Trust I did feel that although I did not live with my dad and saw him only on the weekend.

24:05 Or occasional weekends

24:09 His belief in me was so secure.

24:14 Even though I know

24:17 His pain and not having a

24:23 Uneasy relationship with me

24:26 Which only began two years before he died when I was 16.

24:33 Must have given him much pain.

24:37 However, he remained constant.

24:41 He never forsake forsook me.

24:46 And it is my sorrow that we did not go on that he died so soon.

24:54 That many of my awarenesses did not develop until long after he died.

25:01 I think that too.

25:06 Disencumber myself of the closed-in qualities

25:12 That helped me to survive in those early years.

25:18 Was a great divestiture.

25:21 It was taking off layer after layer of what had previously been.

25:29 Necessary as a protective device

25:33 Which unfortunately I felt.

25:41 Overpowered

25:43 My softer capacities would you with very much in need of and which would have benefited both of us had I been able to be that compliance?

25:57 Easy non itchy mother that's cuz you wouldn't let me have a hula hoop. He that's true. It was so ugly.

26:06 Certainly had a very clear sense of what was okay, and what was not

26:17 Are there is no vacillating there? I think that the Marvel of this is that soon I have shared many trevize.

26:29 Many joys

26:32 But she is such a magnificent person.

26:38 She has been able to rise beyond the irritations which I'm sure have been many because all I want stated. I'm sure when I come into her kitchen now, which is her kitchen and say not a word I don't need to because it is written on my ferret as in my brain. Oh you did it. That way. I would have done it this way. I didn't say a word though know that is true. You did doesn't mean I stop drinking know I've often thought it would not be a bad thing. If for a blip of a moment, you could stop thinking that's true, but it is the nature of the Beast my dear. I know and I think that the sense of

27:29 Watching Sue

27:31 In her growing years.

27:35 Having met with great.

27:39 Difficulties and pain and seeing her for the last

27:46 Since 1990 with a man who dearly loves her and cherishes and values her.

27:53 Who she can boss around?

27:57 Has been a great bomb to me.

28:04 Recognizing how in fattic Lee necessary it is to have a playmate.

28:14 How fortunate I was in Dad to have that playmate.

28:20 At the right time at the right time. His personality was the right one for me.

28:28 He wooed me out of my.

28:31 Closet

28:34 So much for being

28:37 Hidden and the strength of my second marriage which we don't have time to go into here. However is also the story of a man who had the capacity to love with a fierceness.

28:55 And a devotion and a subtlety

29:01 That allowed me after having experienced Bucky's death four years earlier.

29:09 To accede to marrying again.

29:14 And I did go on to have as you know.

29:17 We had eight very very happy years until Herman and died.

29:26 So that when I look at the drama of history and of my history and what my experiences and

29:38 Choices

29:40 Have meant not just to me.

29:43 But to the people I love

29:48 It is a great illustration to me that one never knows.

29:57 Where that little surprise is going to come from?

30:03 That will suddenly sweep you off the floor.

30:09 And give you a life force again.

30:16 Which is frequently flickering right as you painfully have been a

30:26 A participant in and watching this and I think that is one of the

30:33 Great.

30:37 Pains of connection

30:43 To love is to be vulnerable and that means open to

30:49 All the good and also

30:53 Part of the

30:57 Wrenching pain

30:59 Of fading

31:04 Well, you make it hard to follow some of your statements and certainly your story was quite eloquent and well done. I applaud you.

31:18 I

31:20 Don't think I have any more questions that this moment.

31:24 But thank you for sharing it and for getting it down on paper and tape well for getting it down on paper and tape. I only have you my dear to think because Sue has the capacity to wear many hats.

31:43 Sequentially or all the same time and in a very short time. I was always a great what I'd and believe that the yellow pad and pencil will quite enough for me.

31:57 You know Blake and the great authors of the past never had a computer. The computer was a nevermind I could do with that one, too.

32:08 But after editing Andre editing and many many pieces of work in which

32:17 An error appeared and then I had to type the whole set all over again from the beginning and to see Sue sit down with her magical finger just push a little button and

32:30 Movie keyboard

32:34 And there was it was all done. It was all corrected and presented and as much as I know this transition as I had said was harder for all of us than any of us anticipated.

32:49 Requiring much more

32:52 Strength and endurance

32:55 I thank you. All you and Michael and Sarah and David.

33:02 For being there

33:05 It has made the difference. I hope it has.

33:11 I'll be here to nag you for a while. I'm still not wearing that sweater.

33:26 I guess maybe people who are either I guess just discovering their Identity or just any advice that you've been thinking about recently thinking about your life history in your Lyft history.

33:43 I think the time in which our growth as difficult as it was.

33:49 Was

33:52 More difficult, but yet simple there were fewer choices.

33:57 The margins were very clear. I mean this was where childhood began and this is where it ended in. This is what your obligations were. And to whom you were obliged. It is now much more wonderful to be young and much more frightening I think.

34:16 One is faced with so many choices and as I sat down to review these two pages.

34:26 And rustling through my notebooks and the dictionary and a thesaurus and so forth and I thought

34:34 You're only evading it sit down and write it.

34:40 It is in you.

34:41 And if

34:44 I can suggest to people who are listening.

34:48 There is so much that is Rich within the person.

34:54 If they would just go into a quiet room and sit in a comfortable chair.

35:03 For a reasonable. Of time to sort it out.

35:09 And have enough faith in themselves.

35:14 That no one can foretell the moment when

35:18 UPS I made or partner will arrive.

35:22 To help you through the

35:26 Vagaries and disturbances of Life which certainly are very real

35:34 It is worth the effort it truly is because it is only then when you dare to confront yourself.

35:46 That you can relish the richness.

35:51 Of what is around you without even moving beyond the house it is there it is in you.

36:00 So that when I see

36:03 The prodigious ability of young people today

36:09 Many of whom can I mean I cannot play an instrument I do not sing. I cannot dance I gave up ice skating because I couldn't etc, etc.

36:25 But even back then somehow, although it was rather inchoate.

36:33 Even at a very young age. I rather didn't know who I was I could not have written a piece to identify that.

36:43 But somewhere I know there was a little Spark.

36:48 Joan

36:51 Which would emerge? Yes, it took a long time and much had to be undone.

36:58 Before

37:00 I could really join the race.

37:04 But it did happen and it can happen.

37:09 Do you have any other questions that?