In this issue: A few of our readers expressed some interest in learning more about Louella’s incredible reunion with her daughter, Jennifer Ruth. Everyone enjoys a ‘feel good’ story, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint
Deeply imbedded in the happier aspects of this tale, some obvious questions naturally arise: “What took them so long? Why didn’t Louella initiate a search for her daughter in 1961 when she was notified of Harold Hightower’s accidental death?”
The next few days of Louella’s new-found relationship with her daughter, Jennifer Ruth, were bittersweet. Each of them were to discover and acknowledge opportunities missed and ‘roads not taken.’ Living but one thousand miles from each other for the past forty-seven years, Louella and Jennifer were, in some ways, akin to ‘ships passing in the night.’
As a new stepmother to 13 year old Jennifer Ruth, Norma Hightower had been able to provide enough love and security so that there wasn’t a pressing need for Jennifer Ruth to actively seek her birth mother. To further augment this warm relationship, Harold Hightower, her father, lavished considerable time, money, and attention on his only child during her teenage years.
Although she is physically more slight and delicate than Louella, Jennifer inherited Louella’s ice-blue eyes and rather intense Teutonic bearing. Like Louella, Jennifer Ruthamas extremely hard-headed, and could not be easily deterred from her life’s goals. Jennifer’s hair has started to turn white, and if she were to cut it short, she would look very much like Louella did at age 58. The similarities between them are not startling, but as we spent more time with Louella and Jennifer Ruth, similarities were becoming very apparent.
Jennifer told Louella that when she felt sure that she had found her mother, she had decided not to depend on others to complete this important process. Instead, she decided to take a leave of absence from her job and complete her search herself. Being an extremely frugal person, Jennifer decided to take an AMTRAK train to Atlanta with a regional bus connection to the city of Blue Ridge. She described her AMTRAK experience as being “very pleasant,” but her trip to Blue Ridge in a run-down, sixteen-year old bus was “a transportation disaster.”
During their many conversations, Louella was surprised to learn that Jennifer Ruth, at age 58, has been hoping to retire early. In fact, Jennifer reported that, in June, a Human Resources representative at McDonald’s told her that she had enough common stock to live comfortably and tour the world for the remainder of her life if she wished to do so. Believe it or not, Louella discovered that Jennifer Ruth has no clue as to her net worth because money has never played a very big part in her life. Jennifer’s primary focus has been on her work; no travel, no social life — just her work.
Louella’s home in Dial looks remarkably like a traditional Cape Cod style home with weathered gray wooden siding and faded green shutters, situated on Double Head Gap Road near the Toccoa River. With several acres of rolling pasture, a small gray barn, and an antiquated stone smokehouse, Louella’s home almost immediately captured Jennifer’s heart and imagination. Villa Park, once a small suburb of Chicago, has exploded into a small bustling city, and Jennifer Ruth is admittedly not a city person. I’ve been to Louella’s home several times with Isabel, and I have enjoyed exploring and sniffing about in her pastures with all of their new smells and visual surprises. Louella even has a feral cat living in her barn. Go figure!
As far as the future is concerned? Even I can see the disconnect on the horizon. Jennifer Ruth sees herself in the role of a “rescuer,” but Louella, even at the ripe old age of 79, savors her independence and can still outwork and outperform other women half her age. Louella loves her job and wants to work until the day that she can no longer do so. Jennifer Ruth, on the other hand, seems ready to retire, kick back, and enjoy the fruits of her life’s work. I overheard Louella say that although Jennifer “talks a good game,” she seriously doubts that Jennifer Ruth can survive very long without her job, and that retirement for her “might prove to be a big mistake.”
Many of the conversations between Jennifer and her mother were purposely shared directly with Louella’s friends, Isabel, Micah, and, of course, me. It soon became clear that Louella wanted to keep an open dialogue with all of the most important people in her life. Throughout the many lively and informative conversations in our common area, Isabel has remained convinced that Louella wants to spend her remaining years with her daughter, but continue with her duties as baker at Faded Glory, as well.
Most of you folks are fortunate to have a lifetime of continuity with your families and children, but when there are serious gaps, as in Louella’s case, even the most simple issues are suddenly looming and ‘on the table.’ Because neither Isabel nor Micah have any children, neither of them feel able to relate to the quandaries being faced by their good friend, Louella, especially at this time in her life.
Despite all of the issues and questions, the voice of reason seems to have prevailed. Louella and Jennifer decided to extend Jennifer’s visit to become a ninety-day trial period to determine whether Jennifer could stay away from her job without going crazy, and to see if Louella could share her home with her daughter for that period of time without a loss of her own sense of independence. Jennifer contacted her employer and agreed to a ninety-day unpaid leave of absence to be followed by a decision, within thirty days, to retire or continue at her job in Oak Brook.
The ninety-day trial period came and went without incident. Louella continued her usual commute to Faded Glory to bake, and Jennifer Ruth obtained oil painting supplies and has been doing landscape paintings at, and around, Louella’s home in Dial. Although it might seem logical to most that a nutritionist might be a good cook, it seems to have come as a surprise to Louella and Isabel when they learned that Jennifer Ruth is capable of ‘magic’ in a kitchen. In fact, Jennifer has provided Isabel some relief from her kitchen duties during the last two Sundays in September, allowing Isabel ample time to arrive at church and visit before the service with her many friends there.
Some things are meant to be; and, Jennifer’s continued presence in Faded Glory’s kitchen seems to be one of them. The last time Isabel ever saw a microscope being used in her kitchen was during one of Stella Sondheim’s initial kitchen inspections almost four years ago. This particular morning, Jennifer had brought in her electronic microscope, as well as a portable chemistry lab, and she was inspecting one of Hans Stutzmeyer’s handmade breakfast sausages for nutritional value, sodium and fat content, filler quality, and a host of other things including the possible presence of parasites. Isabel has said many times that she has secretly wondered what goes into those heavenly, artery-clogging, porcine works of art. Now, thanks to the skills of Jennifer Ruth Hightower, Isabel would finally know.
Jennifer Ruth was smiling as she finished her tests and began packing up her equipment. “Hans’ sausages are preservative-free, reasonably low in fat and sodium, and they are among the best I have ever seen. Instead of using pork by-products or other questionable fillers, Mr. Stutzmeyer is using ground pork loin, making these sausages much more healthy than your run-of-the-mill processed meat products.” Isabel could only wish that her friend Hans Stutzmeyer could have been standing there at that moment. Personally, Jennifer’s announcement only managed to make me very hungry, and I made a beeline for my half-finished bowl of Purina which was waiting in the front vestebule.
At this point, Isabel would have had to be blind not to recognize this event as an opportunity to distance herself from future kitchen duties. With the combined talents of Louella and Jennifer, she could be assured that Faded Glory’s kitchen would be in good hands. Louella and Jennifer had settled into a very acceptable living arrangement at Louella’s home in Dial, and when Isabel proposed that the mother/daughter team work in our kitchen, Louella and Jennifer were ready to jump at the opportunity.
The rest, I guess, is history. Jennifer Ruth submitted her request for early retirement to her employer, and she will be moving to Louella’s residence here in the mountains by the end of next month. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Louella as happy as she seems to be these days. For you humans, family really does make a big difference. Isabel’s minister, Rev. Calvin Payne would call that, “one of God’s many blessings.” We do have many blessings at Faded Glory, and, now, Louella’s good fortune has blessed us all, yet again.