"Everything around here just seems like normal family life to me," said "Big Ruby" Folsom Austin yesterday from the Governor's Mansion in Montgemery, Ala., where she is the house-guest of her daughter and son-in-law, Cornelia and George Wallace.
She said that she had heard on television Monday night that unfiled divorce papers for the Wallaces had been leaked around town. She said she had figured in the morning, when her daughter came to pick up keys to the guest cottage, that she had better not mention the subject.
But things "looked normal," she said, when Cornelia entertaining her cousin Melisa Folsom, and George going off to work in the Capitol.
The key question is what is considered normal in that family. Last year, Gov. Wallace gave a press conference in which he acknowledged that he had discovered that his wife was bugging his telephone, but added that he failed to see why anyone was interested in such a purely domestic matter.
In this week's installment, a mysterious, dark-haired lady went around town at night, distributing photocopies of a divorce petition to a Montgomery television station, a newspaper and a radio station. The newspaper, The Alabama Journal, verified the signature of the lawyer but was unable to identify the distributor.
The papers were not signed. The date simply read "July . . . 1977." It is now August, so it appeared the papers had been prepared for earlier filing, which did not take place.
Yesterday, the governor's deputy press secretary, Elvin Stanton, quoted Wallace, 58, as saying, "There's nothing in it. If they want to go ahead with such a story, they can go ahead." Cornelia Wallace, 38, was home yesterday, but not taking telephone calls.
And "Big Ruby" Austin decided that, "If Cornelia and George want me to know anything, I guess they'll tell me," and that meanwhile it would be better not to ask.
News services yesterday were still quoting "sources" who maintained that Wallace would indeed seek the divorce, conceding, though that he might change his mind again.
Others, however, were speculating.
The story around Montgomery was that neither of the Wallaces wants a divorce now - she because she enjoys being First Lady, and he because he thinks it might hurt him in a 1978 Senate race.
It is not, however, a purely domestic secret that the couple has had problems since that dramatic day in 1972 when she flung herself over his body in a Suburban Maryland shopping center after he had been wounded by a would-be-assassin.
She said last year that Wallace's brother Gerald "has spread rumors that I had slept with every state trooper around." She denied them, and Gerald denied he ever said it. Gov. Wallace has simply said they had "problems."
Others speculate that the divorce papers have served each as a weapon in their struggles. That he prepared them to scare her and "to keep her in line." That she leaked them to scare him and "show everybody how mean he was being" by using such a threat.
Meanwhile, "Big Ruby," who can't get around the house much because she is recovering from a broken hip, muses, "I sure wish I could tell you what's going on around here, sugar."