Shake a Leg
Ruby Slaughter has a twinkle of mischief in her 97 year old eyes. She loves to tease Ricky Cheung, the young Assistant Administrator at St. Mary’s Gardens, calling him her boyfriend and warning him he better not be flirting with other women. Ruby also loves the site’s Administrator, Mary Francis Giammona, because she fixed the heat in Ruby’s apartment the minute she asked for help.
Ruby is the only original resident of St. Mary Gardens left. The others have now all moved or passed away. She says, “I moved in when it was first built in 1979 when the Catholics still ran it. We had a nun who used to drive us everywhere. And we even had a cook. Actually I moved in on October 31st, so in a few weeks I will have lived here 31 years.” She does the math effortlessly; that’s how sharp Ruby’s mind still is.
Later we discover we are both poets, and I am totally enraptured as she recites from memory poem after poem that she’s written. One about her mother brings me to tears. She mentions she’s written lyrics to a few songs. When her caretaker returns, Ruby asks her to find the sheet music. I ask her if she’ll sing the songs for me. “Oh, no, I don’t have a good voice anymore,” she answers.
“But, Ruby, that doesn’t matter. I don’t mind what your voice sounds like. I need to hear the melody. “
She begins in a soft whisper to sing the plaintive tune to a blue’s song she’s written called Bye Bye Johnny Boy. Her voice still shows a hint of the beautiful soprano range it once had. She then tells me the story of why she left John Slaughter, her ex-husband. And while she’s reminiscing, she tells me of her hometown of Wiggin, Mississippi, of graduating from high school where she was the star baseball pitcher and a tennis player, and of how she used to dance the Charleston on stage. “People used to shout when I was on stage; I could shake a leg!” she exclaims smiling.
If she could have followed her childhood dream, Ruby would have been a professional dancer or a movie star. A picture of her in her early twenties, hanging on her living room wall, shows she was certainly beautiful enough for Hollywood. She still has an elegance about her that is timeless.
As I get ready to leave, I ask Ruby when she had last danced. Her eyes twinkle and her laugh is contagious as she tosses out her answer as easily as she long ago tossed a softball, “Why, at the St Mary’s summer block party a few months ago. I had my knee braces on and leaned on my walker, but honey I can still shake a leg!”