When octogenarian Ruth Preminger entered the Lower Manhattan StoryBooth four Sundays ago, across her heart lay a broach containing a photograph of herself and her Hungarian-born mother, Rose Tucker. When Ruth exited the booth with her interview partner, daughter-in-law Beth Preminger, the pair in the small timeworn photograph, their challenges, their resilience, their accomplishment and their taut connection to each other were made vivid.
Widowed when Ruth was just 3, Rose and her brood lived in Philadelphia with her sister Jean, until Jean’s expanding family forced Rose to place a 6 year-old Ruth in a local orphanage. Ruth’s memories of the day she left her mother’s care were sharp.
I can feel my mother holding my hand to this day. She dressed me in a white linen dress with a green linen yoke.
Ruth rattled off the names of her orphanage chums and matrons with a depth of fondness and not a hint of bitterness at what must have been a trying circumstance. Threatened with punishment for ripping her bedsheets, usually a spell confined to a closet, Ruth learned to darn exceptionally well and expressed great pride in that skill later drawn upon in her diverse design career.
The only Jewish girl in the orphanage, Ruth mentioned occasional quips about the superiority of Christianity but emphasized the kinship and kindliness among the girls and joked about her unusually extensive knowledge of Christian hymns. Moreover, Ruth evinced a deep understanding of the challenges that surely faced her mother, a single parent at the eve of the Great Depression.
While Ruth was in the orphanage, her mother rented a room above a tailor shop, secured a position at a department store and kept Ruth on some weekends, the two of them sharing her single bed. When she remarried she regained custody of Ruth and integrated her daughter into their new blended family.
Whether it was losing her father young or spending six of her formative years in an orphanage where she was the only Jew, Ruth maintained a serenity in her conversation with Beth, which she attributed to her mother and stepfather’s abiding affection. “Love covers everything,” she reflected. Not only is there no room for resentment in Ruth’s mind, but no reason.
“I don’t feel that the experience really affected me other than to tell the story [that] I always felt my mothers love.”