By T.W. Burger
Miss Ruby Anderson stood in the front of our high school classrooms when our regular teachers were sick or having babies. She was called a substitute teacher, but we did not do much learning.
Miss Ruby was ancient, the very epitome of the old maid school teacher; tall, angular, all knobs and sticks in a severe dress of black crepe. She either only had one dress, or had several that were exactly alike. When we were inattentive, which was usually, she raised a pale spider of a hand in a gesture like a benediction and said “Young citizens! Young citizens!”
We had no idea how old she was. With her sepulchral appearance, she could have been out of the Victorian age. She even smelled old.
She told us once that she had played chess on a train with a president of the United States, and asked us to guess which one. To prove that I could be a disrespectful as the next smartass in the class, I offered “George Washington!”
The class cracked up, of course.
“No, it was President Dwight David Eisenhower,” said Miss Ruby. I do not know how to describe the look she gave me. Not exactly a rebuke. More a flash of disappointment.
I do not know what got me to thinking about Miss Ruby. I got on the Internet and looked her up. I found a mention of her on a University of Georgia website (http://www.cviog.uga.edu/Projects/gainfo/Anderson_Cottage.htm) that lacked a photo of Miss Ruby, but did have a picture of the little house she bought in 1915. The site called her a “distinguished educator” and said she lived in the house with her siblings.
Her sister, whose name I forget, was also a teacher. Her brother, Henry Claude Anderson, was famous for his soft drink “Bludwine,” later called "Budwine.” He supposedly developed the formula in that little house on Church Street.
The article said Miss Ruby died in the 1970s. She endowed enough money to UGA to fund an annual $8,000 scholarship for graduate students planning to become, of all things, teachers.
I thought that was remarkable, considering the disdain with which she was treated.
We were in our teens, forever young, we thought. I suppose we figured that somebody that old had nothing to offer. I really wonder where we got that attitude. In more tradition-bound societies, the old are revered. I do not know what it is with us. We warehouse our wealthy elders in attractive gulags we grace with comfy names. The less fortunate we warehouse in places that are more, well, warehouse-like.
At my recent high school class reunion, the 50th, a group of the usual suspects burst out in the unofficial Athens High Trojan fight song, which includes the line “…send Miss Ruby out for gin for the glory of Athens High!”
At any rate, I appreciate her now a lot more than I did 40-some years ago. Part of my time in college was spent majoring in education, and I soon learned I had no stomach for it. I just do not have the patience, and I have a fuse that’s way, way too short.
I can’t imagine how I would respond if, for example, I said I’d played chess with a president and some geeky kid with braces suggested it might be George Washington.
I am pretty sure my reply would NOT be “Young Citizens! Young Citizens!"
T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.
President of Marsh Creek Media, he has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.
He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”