Proof of gifts that come when generations mingle

After 87 years of fantastic life adventures, Ruth Rappaport died Wednesday at her home.
After 87 years of fantastic life adventures, Ruth Rappaport died Wednesday at her home.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The car horns punched the cold night air, and despite the glare of their headlights, you could see the drivers were peeved - jammed up, waiting behind the mortuary wagon on a tight, one-way street.

Ruth Rappaport left her front porch and was wheeled away from her Capitol Hill rowhouse on the mortician's gurney while those car horns complained. The gurney cachunked into the wagon, the doors slammed shut.

It was a triumph for Ruth, leaving her home this way. And I've got to think she would've laughed to know she slowed down traffic on her beloved street for a little while. That was how she had wanted it - to die in her own home, instead of joining the millions of elderly who wind up in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

"I don't want to be put in a warehouse with people my own age. What a bore," she'd tell the neighbors every other day while holding forth on the front porch she shared with her Norwegian forest cat, Murphy.

That front porch served as an appropriate stage for the daily unfurling of Ruth's 87 years of fantastic life adventures.

When Ruth had her way - and she nearly always did - whoever was within earshot would eventually have to put down the groceries, feed the kids later, give up on any errand and simply stop everything and listen to her story about the time she detected a car bomb on an officer's Jeep in Vietnam, or when she sneaked Golda Meir out onto a rooftop to see a California sunset or when she eluded the Nazis as a teenager.

Ruth had a knack early on for being a "busybody," she told me.

When she was 15 years old, she sneaked out of her home in Leipzig, Germany, and watched her high school and synagogue burn during Kristallnacht in 1938. Knowing only more horrors would follow, she took action during a trip to St. Moritz. On the way back, she jumped from the train, becoming a teenage runaway in Switzerland.

This I learned while painting my front porch, listening to Ruth.

She made it to America, where she lived with relatives in Seattle and quickly became a leader in the West Coast's Jewish community. That's how the Golda Meir incident came to be (heard that one while weeding the front garden). And how she came to witness Israel's war for independence.

"I found myself on a 'convoy' to Jerusalem in Jan. of '48 . . . that was the convoy that got attacked at Latrun . . . our escorts were killed . . . [there] was a fierce battle . . . and near me sat the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, praying without stopping," she wrote, in one of her many e-mails (she had a very active online life - shopping, chatting, updating her Facebook page.)

Ruth went on to become a librarian for the Defense Department, organizing books as well as senior officers on U.S. bases throughout Southeast Asia, and eventually came back to the states and worked at the Library of Congress for 22 years.

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