Founding book club member, 90, turns a page
Thursday, April 19, 2012
WENATCHEE — On the day before her 90th birthday, Ruth Gardner sat with her book club and described the day she learned about, ahem, the facts of life. The book lovers were all ears.
“I was sitting on a bench reading a sex education book for kids, about how the male part went into the female part, and I was absolutely shocked,” she said, twinkle in her eye, in answer to a series of cheeky birthday questions posed by book club members.
“I knew about male anatomy — after all, I took care of my little brothers and bathed them all the time — but this new information about what fit where completely floored me,” she laughed. “I thought, ‘No way, not happening.’ Of course, I hadn’t considered the whole thing about marriage.”
About eight decades later — not to mention six kids, 17 grandkids and 15 great-grandkids — Gardner is still learning about the world through books. But not much shocks her anymore.
“You get to be my age, and it takes more than a little to give me a surprise,” she said.
But she was a bit wide-eyed Wednesday when the other 24 members of the Wenatchee Public Library’s Brown Bag Book Club unveiled a surprise 90th birthday party. It came (one day early) complete with member Dana Schmidt’s upside-down cake, Golden Delicious apples from member Nick Davis’ orchard and glasses of sparkling pomegranate juice.
“I should have guessed this bunch would have something up their sleeves,” joked Gardner, a founding member of the club.
Over the last decade, Brown Bag has matured into the largest and one of the oldest of 315 book clubs at the 28 branches of the North Central Regional Library system, said Paula Walters, book club coordinator for NCRL.
Clubs choose from the library’s growing list of over 1,000 titles — classics, bestsellers, fiction, nonfiction, kids books — for which NCRL has bought multiple copies to feed the discussion groups’ ravenous reading habits.
In September, Brown Bag will celebrate a decade of book discussion — one book a month, 120 titles in all and a zillion snappy comments on reading, writing and life in general.
“I’ve been reading good books all my life and won’t quit now,” said Gardner, a copy of this month’s discussion title — “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls — sitting next to the 90-year-old’s slice of birthday cake. “Reading’s been one of my life’s great pleasures.”
Born in Chicago, Gardner lived in various places before marrying and moving with her husband to the Wenatchee Valley in 1966. Raising kids, they lived in Leavenworth, Wenatchee and East Wenatchee before settling in Malaga, where Gardner lived for 32 years. She now lives at Hearthstone Cottage, a retirement home in East Wenatchee.
At age 56, with most of her kids grown and gone, Gardner fulfilled a lifelong dream to become a registered nurse. Completing courses at Wenatchee Valley College and other schools, she dived into a 20-year career at a convalescent home in Cashmere.
In 1983 and 1984, she wrote and self-published her own book, a memoir entitled “I Weep for That Which Has Been My Delight.” Her own examination of her life and writing of the book was triggered by the death of her son, Capt. Gregory Gardner, a military surgeon, in an airplane crash in 1981.
“Ruth’s a treasure,” said Librarian Kathy Holscher. “She’s an inspiration to us all to lead full and varied lives.”
On Wednesday, Gardner — mother, reader, nurse, author — joined in the lively book-club banter over “Half Broke Horses,” the 15-year-old heroine’s frontier journey on the back of a pony and a comparison, then and now, of the stuff mothers worry about today. Like bad food and bad people.
As comments grew more animated, Gardner rose, modestly thanked everyone and excused herself. Seems she was late for another book club meeting where another title was up for discussion.
“This is one of those busy days,” smiled Gardner. “Two book club meetings — a double dose of fun in one afternoon. Sounds good to me.”
I wanted all of you to see this wonderful article that was in the Wenatchee World yesterday. If you have time go to the online site as there is a sweet picture. What a fun book club meeting. Occasionally I am invited to vist this club. What a group of wonderful people, women and men. It is our largest club twenty plus members and growing. Eight to twelve is the ideal number for a book group but I am very impressed by this group. They are all very considerate of each other and all of the members get a chance to talk and they stay on track!!
I have been busy, busy, busy reading reading reading!! Once I have "all my ducks in a row" I will be sharing some of my favorites!! Happy Spring!!