Ruthie Runs for President
soph·o·more | \ ˈsäf-ˌmȯr, also ˈsȯf-, or ˈsä-fə-, or ˈsȯ-fə- \
a student in the second year at college or a 4-year secondary school
History and Etymology:
perhaps from Greek sophos wise + mōros foolish
It started as a prank.
In late fall, we had nominations for spring student government.
One of the “wise fools” decided to nominate Ruthie for sophomore class president of the spring semester.
Ruthie was not one of the popular pack who had their collective fingers in every pie, but everybody knew who she was. You couldn’t miss her.
Ruthie! She was in Special Ed.
She walked with her head tilted toward one shoulder and had the rolling gait of a sailor. She could cuss like a sailor, too! Her voice was coarse and raspy, her speech not clearly enunciated, but every word was intelligible.
One day I was making my way from PE to my next class and here came Ruthie, heading to her adaptive PE class. She always had a jaunty look as she swayed along, with a half-smile as if thinking secret thoughts, intermittently tossing her somewhat large head.
One of the boys called out as he passed her,
“Hey! Ruthie! Joey likes you. Will you go out with him?”
The comment and question were just as much to embarrass Joey as to razz Ruthie. Maybe more so.
Joey turned red and batted his friend on the shoulder.
Ruthie was oblivious…
Or was she?
Without missing a beat, she jerked her head toward the boys and let loose.
“^%#$& #*%^£? &$*%^#!”
Several students laughed, and a few clapped. One of the boys cheered,
Ruthie grinned saucily and continued on her way, flat feet slapping the pavement.
At another point, she broke her leg and missed a few days of school. When she came back, she hobbled along on crutches — pretty well, too.
Then came the cane.
Ruthie, careening along with her furtive smile, gave the impression of a slapstick comedian as she swung the cane by her side and only occasionally used it to steady herself.
The cane became a prop, which she twirled to the rhythm of her bouncy walk.
Flump-Flump (Swish!). Flump-Flump (Swish!)
“Hey, Ruthie! Can I borrow your cane?”
It was always the same group of boys trying to be funny. Ruthie’s response was funnier than they were though; she brandished her cane at them (with a twinkle in her eye) and shouted,
“^%#$& #*%^£? &$*%^#!”
Like many cognitively impaired people, she seemed to have a deep sense of morals and ethics — an innate wisdom. She meted out her own brand of retribution for wrongdoing!
I usually didn’t pay any attention to the student government. The same group always got involved; one or another was bound to be class president.
Word started going around that Ruthie was a nominee. There was a lot of snickering, chuckling, and eye-rolling.
“Ruthie? Whose idea was that?”
“She’ll never win! She might get a few votes.”
The prank backfired.
Ruthie joined the campaign with gusto! She wanted to be class president. No one told her she couldn’t.
Someone, or several someones, painted posters to put up in the hallways:
“RUTHIE FOR SOPHOMORE CLASS PRESIDENT!”
She wasn’t just a nominee — she was a candidate!
The junior class, the group that always seemed to be the worst of the lot all the way through school, mocked our class.
“Yeah, the sophomores are gonna have a retard for class president!” (That’s the way they talked.)
Ruthie gained a following. She was greeted as she crossed the quad; lurched down the hallways; waited in the lunch line.
She blossomed in the warmth, which had somehow become genuine. The other nominees declared, “If Ruthie wins anything, we’ll help her!”
It was fairly common to overhear snippets of conversations such as:
“Hey, who are you voting for as class president?”
“You are? … Maybe I will too. That would be great if she won!”
Election Day came.
The way school elections worked, whoever got the most votes was class president. The one with the second highest votes was vice president, and so on.
I voted for Ruthie first, because if she won, that would be cool! For the other positions, I chose the nicest people, not necessarily the most popular.
(That’s not to say all the popular kids were objectionable — some of them were quite nice. Maybe it was even one of them who nominated Ruthie…
Ballot counting commenced, and we waited for the results.
“What if Ruthie wins?”
“She won’t win. She might get a lot of votes, but not enough to win anything.”
The day came. Results were announced on the PA.
Ruthie didn’t win.
Lisa got the most votes, and became class president. She was a likable, dependable girl.
But Ruthie didn’t lose.
She got the second highest number of votes, making her vice president of the sophomore class.
She was jubilant, ecstatic, thrilled! She beamed, and so did we.
Ruthie had a good year. As promised, the others helped with her responsibilities. They had the privilege of getting to know a girl they had previously overlooked. She had the opportunity to be part of a group. She’s pictured in the yearbook, “Sophomore Class Vice President, Spring Semester.”
She became something of a class mascot.
What Ruthie really accomplished that year, in her role as vice president of the sophomore class, was not performing duties of office. It was the forging of bonds, the planting of seeds of empathy.
And it started as a prank!
Ruthie graduated with our class.
A few years later, in a supermarket I rarely visit, I noticed a familiar-looking employee. The young woman, carefully placing merchandise on a shelf, was absorbed in her work. Her name tag read, “Ruthie”.
Several years went by before I returned to that store. This time, I saw a middle-aged woman stocking shelves. She moved down the aisle with a distinctive rocking motion, flat feet slapping the linoleum.
Just then another employee came by and gave the woman a “thumbs up” signal.
“Good work, Ruthie! When you’re finished with that, take your lunch break.”
Ruthie smiled and tossed her head.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I am gradually working my way through all your stories because I love your writing. Are you a published author? I didn't see this in your bio, but I would buy a collection of your stories if you publish them.
Wow, what a lovely compliment! No - I haven’t published any stories. I do have a few sitting on Wattpad (I’m not active there); one chapter story, and three shorts, I think. I can give you links if you want to read them. I actually just removed one of them and did an extreme rewrite for this week’s prompt - Daze of the Weak. ; p
I haven't heard of Wattpad but yes I'd be interested in reading them, thanks. Wendy
Try this link. It’s a very short memoir called “Going Coastal”. If this works OK, I’ll send you links to the others. (I am “afterwordstoo” on that site.) https://www.wattpad.com/story/137787217?
I've just read your very engaging story. I am so glad my parents never owned a tent.
It’s a better experience to look back on than to go through, overall! My parents never had a tent either. Can you access the other stories? (Sleep Tight, Keepsake, & Norman’s Neighborhood.) If not, I’ll give you links.
Hi Cindy, loved this! And the fact it’s a true story only makes it better! You describe Ruthie so well, the warmth she had that won people over. Also the onomatopoeic sounds were brilliant and their evolution through the story. Well done and thanks for posting!!
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. Probably one of my favorite high school memories. It was fun to write Ruthie so readers can visualize her, and I do like to use onomatopoeia quite a bit. I enjoy writing sensory descriptions!
Cindy: Wow! I love Ruthie! But the way your use words makes me hear her. Making her an almost heroine attests to the humanity of your fellow students. I always thought that the good Lord was humane when he gifted some individuals without the ability to discern the selfish, cruel motives of their peers....in the worst of situations. I also found that they tended to bring out the best in the best of people, too. If you talk to the families of students with Down's syndrome, they almost unanimously contend that their child is a blessing....
Maureen, I really value your comments on this story. Your career as a special needs teacher certainly carries weight. I’m so glad my portrayal of Ruthie was clear! I really feel most of us in the class had a kind of fondness for her, even before the election. She was amusing, but it was due to her indomitable spirit. She did seem to be a loner, but she wasn’t shy! You’re so right about the gift of not being affected by cruel motives - there’s a purity of spirit that doesn’t want to see evil in others. I do believe God sometimes places speci...
Cindy: That's an incredible story, but unfortunately not always that uncommon. My first year of teaching I had a young student who came from a family of six kids. Due to cultural, environmental, nutritional, economic,etc.......reasons, the entire family was riddled with intellectual and physical problems. On a home visit I met them all and was surprised to be introduced to a thirteen-year-old sister with spastic cerebral palsy with a newborn baby. Mother had taken her kids to a city park and my student had come upon his older sister bei...
Dear Cindy, WAY to go!!! As someone who supports inclusion and potential, I love to hear that in the 'real world,' a person with a challenge makes it. And your Ruthie held a job and was valued. You did a great job with Ruthie's character; you did justice to her traits and mannerisms. It was easy to 'know' Ruthie. I like how you balanced the thoughtless acts with the kind ones. You have brought back memories of the students I worked with that had challenges and with a specific adult who had Down's. Here in Edmonton, AB, CA, a wonderful moth...
I’m glad to know Ruthie was clearly characterized! Really wanted to tell her story the way it was. I’ve always wondered what the perpetrator of the prank thought of the outcome! Glad also that it brought back memories. I’ve read quite a few stories here that stir my own memories, and it’s nice! Makes us all more connected. Yes, I will look up “Anthony At Your Service”. I love stories like that. As noted in another reply, I had a wonderful friend who had spina bifida. She did the most she could, for as long as she could, until she passed away...
A fun take on the prompt, particularly considering it's based on a true story. It reminds me of all those underdog-in-school movies. Pranks like that are curious things. It seems like they can easily either lead to friendship or bullying, and I'm not sure what determines it. Maybe in this case, the outcome was positive because Ruthie stood up to the challenge and played along. Kind of like she proved herself in a trial by fire, and the experience helped her peers grow too. In any case, she was well characterized and I'm glad for the posit...
One of my favorite memories from high school (looong time ago!) I think you’re right about the positive outcome. My guess is that whoever started the prank never thought about Ruthie’s feelings. She probably wouldn’t have run for student government on her own - but she was spunky and must have thought, “Hey! I can do it!” It was a good lesson for everyone. Thanks for the read and comment, always appreciated!
Hi Cindy, The story begins with etymology of 'sophomore' and you have your favourite onomatopoeia too. I have to ask, are you a keen grammarian?😊 I liked your realistic depiction of the obstacles differently abled people face right from the beginning of their lives and most of the time till the end. And you didn't want to sugarcoat her prospects either, another sad reality. I hope the world becomes a kinder place for them in future.
Hi Suma, Yep, you guessed my deep, dark secret! 😉 I love words and language - English and any other ones I get to know. It’s a strong gene; my daughter also writes, and hopes to become an interpreter. This story felt like it needed something to liven it up, so… onomatopoeia! I wanted to depict Ruthie as closely as I could without seeming to make fun of her. She was quite a character. I had a very dear friend (passed away several years ago, and I miss her!) with spina bifida. She had innumerable disadvantages, but always a positive attitude...
Hi Cindy, Sorry for the late reply. Your daughter writes as well! Wow!! that's lovely. I wish her the best.
Ah - replies welcome any time! Yes, it’s very nice - we critique each other. I hope she’ll eventually post on Reedsy too!
This is a true story. I struggled a bit with it because I wanted create an accurate representation of Ruthie’s character. Truth is harder than fiction!