“Obituaries have next to nothing to do with death, but more to do with a life.” Ruth Hicks Etheridge had passions—Family, nursing, cigarettes, coffee, beer, chocolate, the daily newspaper, and pigs were only a few of them! I’m not sure what the order of importance should be! After the daily comics, Mom’s favorite part of the newspaper was the obituaries. Without even knowing the people who were being written about, she loved to read the stories of their lives. She would routinely say “my name isn’t in the obituaries, so it’s a good day!” So, this needs to be one that would have gotten her attention. Hopefully, it would make her proud.
Mom was born on January 8th, 1935, in Dublin, Georgia, to Grace Pryor and Henry Hicks. Besides her parents, the family consisted of an older sister Mary Grace (Macy) and would later be joined by a brother Henry, Jr. (Uncle Bud). Sadly, both Aunt Macy and Uncle Bud passed away much too young. Her nephew Henry, Jr. (Hank) recalls our annual family trips to Dublin as some of the fondest memories of his childhood. “All the family would be gathered again in Grandmother’s small house…all the adults sitting around the table laughing and talking…kids running around and playing…the house was full!”
At the age of 17, she fell in love with a boy that would stay with her the rest of his life. A childhood friend was setting up a double date for them. Since Mom knew Jimmy, (who later married my Father’s sister and became Uncle Jimmy) she wanted to go with him leaving her friend with Leo (Frank) Etheridge (Dad). That was all it took! After that chance meeting they were inseparable, after that date with other people, of course. So in writing this, they are also inseparable.
Soon after they started officially dating, Mom and Dad just started talking about their plans for a life together as if it was decided without a formal proposal. After announcing their plans to get married, Grandaddy Hicks told Dad “son, you’d be better off staying in the Army”. At least that’s the story I heard. I didn’t get to meet my Grandfather, but I imagine he had a similar off-beat, somewhat dark, and sometimes embarrassing (for us!) humor like Mom to understand just how to take that statement.
Delaware is where they built their home. After years of wanting to start a family, they adopted two perfect children to spoil. First the boy who was reportedly a “feeding problem”, but Mom said her only problem was in “filling him up!” Daniel Franklin filled their lives in a way only parents can understand. About 18 months later, a girl (me) Cathy Lynn completed the family of four.
Our home was open to neighborhood kids year round, with sledding out back, basketball, riding bikes in the driveway, swimming in the pool and games of flashlight tag electrifying the night. Kids were attracted to our home partly because our parents would drop their “adult chores” to spend time with us and partly because of the lack of strict rules in our home. “Honorary second daughter” Diane recalls how often she would be at our house mornings, sometimes before I woke up and that she probably spent more time at our house than her own. On one occasion, Mom stepped in with a reassuring and compassionate voice explaining that her doll had come down with chicken pox when Diane’s new doll developed brown spots all over it. “She encouraged me to embrace the role of an extra caring mother, assuring me that it was my job to nurse my doll back to health.”
Mom went back to school to get her LPN license and started nursing at Wilmington General Hospital where she cultivated her nurturing skills, made life-long friends, and learned that smoking was the only way to get a break from work. She started her nursing career working with babies and ended it working with college kids at the University of Delaware. Some students she cared for continued to send her letters for many years, some well into their marriages and births of children. She made a lasting impact on their lives with her compassion. She often talked about one student who frequented the nurse’s office who told her “When my mama wasn’t there to take care of me you took her place!”
In addition to parenting and Nursing, Mom branched out in many different directions—making our clothes when we were young, dealing with cloth diapers-because she said “they made a baby look loved”, taking on the role of Cub Scout Troop Leader, volunteering at our elementary school, taking neighborhood ceramics classes, and supervising all of us crazy kids coming and going from the house.
Mom had a passion for pigs!! As a teenager, she had a pet pig named “Dreamboat”. After marrying and leaving Dublin for their new home, having to leave him behind, she learned her family didn’t share the same affinity for keeping pigs as pets. I’m not sure if her life-long love of pigs started with “Dreamboat”, but that seems most likely. Her collection was too big to contain in the small ranch house and eventually creeped into their “shore” home in Rehoboth. She received many additions to her “pig pen” over the years from friends and relatives as gifts.
Both Mom and Dad loved St. James Episcopal Church! Attending services regularly, they were members for almost 50 years. They looked forward to church events, especially the annual Thanksgiving dinner and bazaar. Being unable to attend services due to the pandemic, Mom watched the live stream every week and continued when regular services reconvened, due to her physical limitations to attend in person.
My brother Dan remembers Mom bringing us breakfast from McDonald’s on school days while she was doing shift work, something I had forgotten. She also routinely helped Dan with his homework (sometimes she completed it!). We were both always allowed to bring one friend on vacation with us and Mom and Dad paid for everything. One time they even lent money to one of his girlfriends to help her buy a car.
Some fond memories from her Grandchildren include: feeding the squirrels, collecting bird feathers and buttercups from the yard, sleepovers, getting pizza (when she didn’t even like it!), playing with her pig collection and playing cards. We all remember the goofy jokes she told repeatedly over the years. Like when you passed a graveyard “I wonder how many people are buried in there?” “All of them!” And she called any food you bought “homemade” because “you made it home from the store with it!”
Mom moved in with us, spending her days beating everyone (really!) at Rumy, playing solitaire, doing crossword puzzles, reading magazines, and spending hours pouring over the newspaper. Watching Maury and Jerry Springer daily so we could find out who the “father was” and Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy nightly to keep us sharp. We enjoyed weekly family board games as our entertainment so we could all spend time with Mom. Even when she was unable to play, she enjoyed just being there and listening to us laugh and talk.
Ruth Hicks Etheridge, 89, of Wilmington, Delaware, passed away peacefully on Friday, January 26th, at our home. Before dementia took hold in her later years, she could recall any one of the above listed memories at a moment’s notice. Her life was full of love, humor, McDonald’s coffee, and stories that prove a life well lived. A lesson we can all take from her is to never take life for granted, and remember to crack a joke once in a while, even if it’s embarrassing to your family!
Ruth is survived by her children, Cathy (Michael) and Daniel (Marcie) and her grandchildren Rakan (Aasya), Katherine, Emma and Daniel, Jr. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband Leo Franklin Etheridge who passed away December 20, 2000, after 48 years of wedded bliss!—They are inseparable again!
A memorial service will be held at St. James Episcopal Church, 2106 St. James Church Rd., Wilmington, DE 19808 on Saturday, March 23rd at 12, with a luncheon at the Parish house immediately following. In Lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Delaware Hospice at delawarehospice.org/donate.