A tribute to Ruth P. (Maurer) Grover January 28, 1946 – November 12, 2022 (76 years)
Thank you for being here.
I admit to you, I am... heartbroken. I will always feel like I could’ve done more.
My mother Ruth was one of a kind. I liked to call her a crazy bitch — which she half hated\half adored. She was ourcrazy bitch.
As many of you know, Ruth was a devout Catholic. She knew all the rules, she liked telling you that she knew all the rules, and she liked referencing official Catholic canons of law to prove how she knew all the rules. It is a well-known fact that if Ruth hadn’t gotten married and had children, she would’ve liked to have been a nun. Scratch that. She would’ve liked to have been a priest.
For those of you who don’t know: Our mom’s nighttime prayer ritual took roughly an hour -- at least — That’s legit how she ended phone calls: She’d be like “Okay, well I’m gonna say my prayers...” Or... She’d preemptively call ahead and be like “I’m about to start my prayers.” We all knew what that meant: She would now be unreachable for the evening. She’d say her prayers, and then she’d go to bed. (With the TV on, probably Law & Order. Specifically SVU.)
Ruth said the Rosary daily, and, up until very recently, she still made every effort to go to Mass every day. She was actually heading out to morning Mass when she broke her hip — that was less than a year ago — January 5. That’s so incredible to me. How everything can change in one instant. And here we are.
Upon beginning to go through her things, I located various rosary beads — like three dozen sets in all shapes and sizes. A few of them were those ones with the colorful plastic beads that we made in the ‘80s at Our Lady of Victories.
Speaking of OLV, I want to give some context about what a huge part both the school and church played in our family life:
My siblings and I all attended OLV elementary school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. And... Once my mom began teaching there in the early ‘80s we were literally always in that building, cleaning, or in class teaching or learning... (note that I use the term “learning” loosely for Robert and me... Ann Marie was the valedictorian of the Class of ‘87).
If we weren’t in the school we could generally be found in the church. And, further context, if there was a choice between a “regular” one-hour Mass and a three-hour “special,” my family absolutely would be at the one with incense.
And... when I say “we” and “our family” I mean the core four — My mom, my sister Ann Marie, my brother Robert, and me. We were a team.
The four of us have always joked about who was Mom’s favorite. Mom would always demur, claiming “I love all of my children.” We’d be like, “But one more than the others, though, right?” And... “We’re all pretty sure we know who it is?” Ann Marie would point-blank be like, “It’s definitely not me.” And, “We all know it’s Robert.” [And I’m pretty sure everyone here is like Uh, yeah? It’s Robert.]
I do have to say, though, that throughout our lives I believe Mom tended to tell her deepest thoughts to Ann Marie. Right up to the very end. Every time Ann Marie got to visit over the last year, my mom was positively thrilled and shared with her what she was seeing. And recently when she saw Ann Marie on FaceTime — Mom absolutely lit up when she saw her face.
I do also have to point out, though... that I was the favorite for several weeks in 1989 when I got the OLV phone-answering job. Guys: I answered phones at the rectory most weeknights from 6-9pm and on weekends from 1-5pm. That was, and remains, a Pretty Big Deal.
Beyond the “favorite” debate — Our foursome shared countless awesomely funny stories, each of us retelling our parts. A classic that we always go back to is the time my mom went to OLV for her interview in the spring of 1982.
My part: I’m in Sr. Jane’s first grade classroom and I see my mom walk by to go into Principal Sr. Mary Lavin’s office. (Remember that little closet down the steps there in the corner?) I was so excited, especially when Sr. Mary Lavin brought my mom into my classroom afterwards to say hi. I don’t recall my brother being there for the classroom visit, which tracks with...
Ann Marie’s part: She’s out on the school yard for recess and Robert goes zooming past her — “Hi, Ann!”— and then, like, hides behind some bushes. Rob went running by... followed by my mom... followed by Sr. Mary Lavin.
Mom got the gig. Inexplicably.
Some other classics are:
The time we were driving Ann Marie to a basketball tournament in the Watchung Mountains in Grandma’s beige Chevette and we were crawling up a steep hill. We were like, “Floor it, Mom!” and she replied, “IT IS FLOORED!!”
...Which always leads to the story of driving the Chevette to school on a snowy morning and Robert and I had to lay down in the hatchback for traction.
And, one of my personal favorites: The time Robert kicked the back sliding glass door and broke it, and I suggested we close the curtain and not tell Mom until AFTER we got the VCR back from the repair place in South River. (Some might remember the popsicle stick we had to use to operate it afterwards.)
Back to OLV — What I could not possibly realize when Mom got the job was that this meant that for, like, several decades, we’d spend countless hours in that building: carrying boxes, moving desks, Robert climbing into the overhead storage closets.
It’s worth noting that at some point Ann Marie and Robert found other pursuits — they’re no dummies. This girl right here: I am. Even as a college graduate — even as a married woman — I was back every August in the sweltering heat to arrange desks and decorate bulletin boards. It was just my job, no doubt. (Google “middle child.”)
The point of this very long preamble is that the very first thing that came to mind for me when thinking about what to write for our mom was the wooden plaque that she hung in her classroom every August — “Stupid questions make more sense than stupid mistakes.”
I remember seeing that plaque for the first time in August-ish '82 and asking Mom what it meant. “Oh, that’s why I teach,” she told me. I’ll never forget it: She and I standing there in her new classroom, 7A, and her squatting down to talk to me, to explain to me that if I’m ever unsure about anything, there is no shame in asking questions. To make mistakes, to try and fail, was absolutely okay, she explained... as long as you do your best. To not try and fail was a sin. This really was her mantra: “Use the gifts God gave you.” — That and “This, too, shall pass.”
All this said, I do have to say that I don’t recall many, or any, more moments in which she actually liked answering questions. Ruth was part of that whole tight-lipped Irish thing — except when she was having cocktails, also an Irish thing. THEN she would share info that you definitely didn’t ask for, and you could only be like... “Uh, I didn’t really need to know that, but thanks?” A joke in our extended family: “If Aunt Ruthie’s calling after 5pm, don’t pick up.” (Am I right, Kevin?)
I’ll never forget one time she was yelling at me about something — I don’t recall what it was — but I remember it being something “that everyone was doing” and others were not getting in trouble for the same behavior. I pushed back, saying as much. What gives?
Her exact reply: “Maybe it’s because I EXPECT more from you.” Wow. Such powerful words. She could be pretty powerful, and that exact moment has always stayed with me. God has given me, each one of us, unique gifts and it is absolutely our duty to apply them. To me it really is a beautiful legacy she leaves for us; for her grandchildren; and for everyone she ever taught.
Speaking of my own children, Keith and Nate, who both did so much to care for Grandma — and John, too — one of our more recent family story classics involves Keith hanging with Grandma... watching Law and Order... Keith said in his inimitable Keith way that Grandma loved so much: “I don’t knooooow, Grandmaaaa... I don’t think they’re gonna catch this guy.” Grandma replied, “Of course they are, Dear.” Keith: “How do you know that?” Grandma: “Because I’ve seen all of them.”
Over the last few days many of Mom’s former students have shared countless Mrs. Grover stories with me, and I have to say: My mom loved being a teacher; specifically for the middle-school crew. Ann Marie remembers our mom telling her that puberty was such a difficult time and our mom felt a calling to make a difference for this age group specifically.
Of course she did this in her own Ruth brand: Her take-no-prisoners style with daily algebra drills. She was the epitome of a tough-love hardass, and many of her former students have told me recently that our mom was a favorite because of this. Ruth loved this persona — And as a child I myself idolized her for it. I realized recently that she was my first feminist. She showed me that we didn’t need a man to fix a leaky pipe, thank you very much. “Where’s the pipe, Dope?” was quite literally one of her standard jokes. We’d go to Ace hardware to get some pipe dope and she’d show me how to fix the leaky pipe and say, “See?”
I believe I’d be a different person today, my siblings and I all would be, had we not been raised by a single mom. She had her own tools (and was constantly yelling at Robert for misplacing them) and she made it clear that anything is possible — if you just put your mind to it. “Use the gifts God gave you.”
To that end... Ruth loved imagining possibilities. And I think that’s what Mom excelled at most. No matter how bad things got sometimes, and they could get pretty bad, she still would love to sit and dream. For example: My siblings and I knew exactly how she would’ve redesigned our dining room on Wick Drive if she’d had the money. She’d refit the windows with French doors that opened out to a deck. And, in more elaborate plans, said deck would extend to surround the pool. She also wanted French doors leading from the rec room to the back patio. The lady loved French doors. And, for my own part, I loved these imagination sessions with her. They are absolutely a huge part of who I am today.
Right up to the very end, she always had ideas for how to redesign rooms in my own house. Out of nowhere she’d say, “You know what you could do in here?” No, Mom, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell me. She’d point out pipes going up to the second floor “green room” as we call it — basically a catchall for books and CDs, the litter box, various boxes and trash, wrapping paper — and she’d say “you should have a laundry room in here.” I’d be like, “That’s brilliant... Maybe one day.” She’d repeat “maybe one day...” And then she’d look at the boys and shrug and say, “Waddayagonna do?”
On this note of always thinking of ways to make life easier and better, she was also always buying gadgets... Her stockpile of random items from Publishers Clearing House is quite extensive.
Like if you want to cook a potato or bacon in your microwave, or cut up fruit into various shapes with minimal effort, let me know and I will locate that very item for you. Honestly, it’s yours: She would LOVE for you to have it. She was so quirky like that. Such a fascinating mind. And one that had a facility for order and numbers. For example:
Every Sunday afternoon the dryer bell would ring and we were all called down to the basement where she’d hand us our uniforms right out of the dryer to put directly on hangers. So no ironing. See? Efficient.
She had a little notebook in which she conducted laborious budgeting, specifically with regard to planning out meals for the month. We’d all go on ShopRite expeditions, splitting up for efficiency. One of us would be placed on line at the deli counter and directed which items to purchase — and directed to say “sliced extremelythin” — while the others went down aisles with her to locate the deals in the circular. Hours later we’d be on the checkout line with two overflowing carts. That was our food for the month! Use it wisely.
We would tell her: You should’ve been an accountant. “No way,” she’d say. “I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a teacher.”
And... If you didn’t know it, to get her teaching degree, every day in the mid-’60s she took a bus from Old Bridge to South Amboy and then took the NJ Transit train from SA to Jersey City State College. Years later when I became a train commuter myself, I remember asking her, “What did you do during the ride? Did you read? Books? Newspapers?”
“Nope,” she told me. “I just looked out the window.” Every day? That still floors me to this very moment.
So... Ruthie... Dreamer. Designer. Feminist. Teacher. Rosary enthusiast. Law and Order aficionado. THAT is how I think of our mom. She was one of a kind — eccentric and rebellious, many times harsh, but a softie at heart. I do believe she had good intentions, and I do believe that she did the best she could.
If it’s true that spirits... souls... hang around for this part of their transition, she’s here with us right now... [My brother HATES it when I do this.]
I do wonder what she’s thinking.
She’s with her brothers. And her parents. They’re all laughing and having a Manhattan. My mom just said that she doesn’t like some of the stuff I wrote. And... Uncle Kevin just called her an asshole.
Thank you for being here to pay your respects. From my siblings and me: Thank you.
My most fervent wish is that our mom has every answer to every question she ever had. Stupid or not. When I was little, I remember her telling me that that is her version of heaven: Every answer to every single question you’ve ever had.