My Mother Ruth: Part III – Early Married Life

Larry Pearce
12/7/02 rev. 4/8/11

After an introduction to my mother, Ruth Elizabeth [Gray] Pearce (1917-2005), in Part I and some memories of her parents and grandparents in Part II, we want to elaborate on her early married life. We indicated that, while both the Grays and the Pearces, and most of their related families, were farmers, there was apparently some differences in the socio-economic status between the 14-member Paul B. Grays and the 6-member Wesley H. Pearces. Paul farmed on the side, mostly to feed his family, and considered himself a carpenter by trade. Wesley had run a 200+ acre farm adjacent to a highly successful grist mill that had been in the family for over 100 years before buying and moving onto another commercial operation. [See the E-Gen: Pearce series “The Settlement at Pine Creek.”] The Pearces weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but they had a steady income with only four children. The Grays seemed to always have a child in diapers and one “on the way,” and Paul’s work wasn’t always dependable. So, after leaving school in the 8th grade, working as waitress and housekeeper at various jobs, and finally having to care for her elderly grandparents, Ruth fell “head over heels” in love at age 19 with a man she had met on a blind date. This then is Ruth’s own story, with some interesting literary analogies.

At the start of this series we began with the story of Ruth’s namesake from the Bible. We said that, after a series of tragic deaths, the young widowed Moabite daughter-in-law had vowed her allegiance to her Jewish widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. We promised a happy ending, and in maintaining the parallel between my mother, Ruth, and the biblical Ruth, both real life and scripture reveal that they each married the man of their dreams. We’ll hear about life with Ralph in a minute, but let’s present Boaz. After setting out for her homeland, Naomi, along with Ruth, reached Bethlehem in Judea at the time of the barley harvest. In keeping with the Mosaic law, the two poor widows were permitted to glean from the fields whatever the reapers might have missed. The field that the two had chosen happened to belong to a relative of Naomi’s husband named Boaz. Whether he was attracted to Ruth because of her looks, her faithfulness to her mother-in-law, or both isn’t clear, but to make a long story short, Boaz was automatically obligated as a relative of her late father-in-law to take care of her, and they were married. He also allowed Naomi to live in his household. I’ll save the moral interpretation of all this for the end of this article.

In our interview, my mother remembered the handsome young Ralph Pearce as being “a real tease.” She said he always liked to tease the girls. But, during a conversation she had with her mother while doing dishes one day, her mother advised her, “Watch how you handle that young fellow and you may be able to nail him one day.” Ruth never dated anyone else but Ralph. After courting about two years, Ralph and Ruth married the day after Christmas, 1938. [For the humorous wedding details see the E-Gen: Pearce article  “The Sons of Wesley and Bessie: Ralph Hill Pearce.”]

That winter they lived in a “little four rooms with a path” below what is known as Brickyard Hill in Mars, Butler County. They paid $17 a month rent in what they called Balbeer’s house. After the owners reclaimed it, they moved in to the Hutchman House in Mars before Ralph began building their own house along Rt. 8 near Cooperstown in 1948. Ruth by then, was responsible for 8-year old Paul Wesley, named for his two grandfathers and 6-year old Carl Dale, named for an uncle and great-uncle. Pregnant with me, mother lived with Ralph in the basement of the new dwelling for about a year even helping stain and varnish the woodwork. Her father Paul helped Ralph with the carpentry and the two got along very well. I can remember one statement passed down to my dad from his father-in-law. When asked which side of the pencil line to cut a board on, he would say, “You cut down the middle.” Both men were perfectionists.

Ralph had an exemption from serving in the military during World War II because of his expertise working with the new lines in the rapidly expanding telephone communications system in the area. He served the North Pittsburgh Telephone Company for 17 years while Ruth raised four children. In the late 50’s he began as Building Superintendent for Calgon Corporation, located in the West Hills of Pittsburgh. This meant a long drive to and from work in all kinds of weather, so in 1960 our family moved about 35 miles southwest as the crow flies to the rapidly developing Moon Township near the new Greater Pittsburgh Airport. The drive could take upwards of an hour then over winding and hilly suburban Pittsburgh roads, before the construction of Interstate 79. Perhaps the most drastic change for my mother was the distance she was away from her parents and family. But, she quickly got to know her neighbors in the comfortable suburban settlement known as Sharon Hill Manor. New church, new stores, new doctors all became familiar in her new life. In an unusual and even ironic move in the early 70’s, after all the kids had moved out, Dad sold the large house at one end of the street to buy a slightly smaller house at the other end of the same street. Mother always wanted a ranch-style with everything on one floor, but the real twist was that Dad bought the new place at a bargain through a sheriff’s sale, the same fate that had almost cost his wife’s family their home 40 years earlier.

In conclusion, and on a philosophical note, the Rev. G. Bradford Hall, from whose sermon we derived our primary interpretation of the biblical Ruth’s story in Part I, believes that this book is especially Scriptural because:
It affirms something that we all must eventually learn: life is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we experience joy and ecstasy. On the other hand, we experience tragedy and sorrow. Though life is filled with mixed blessings, it always ends in redemption and release. We do live happily ever after. [He is speaking to Christians.]

Hall sees Boaz as a Christ-like figure, one who redeems both Ruth and Naomi. My father was probably not a saint, although some people thought he was, but he had many redeeming qualities. If there is a moral equivalence between our Ruth and Ralph and the biblical characters, it’s surely that my mother must have always felt “saved” by her marriage, and Ralph was a good man. The fact that he took Ruth’s mother into their household in the final years of her life is another beneficial irony. Have I gone too far? Then I won’t draw any analogies to the fact that the biblical Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother and listed in the Gospel of Matthew as a direct ancestor of our Lord, Jesus Christ.




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