Tamara Eaton Interviews Ruth Ackerman from Weeping Women Springs
An Interview with Ruth Ackerman of Weeping Women Springs
by Tamara Eaton
TE: Could you introduce yourself and tell us where you grew up?
RA: My name is Ruth Ackerman. Some call me Ruthie. I was born in Hope Springs, New Mexico in 1923. It’s a small town just outside of Alamogordo.
TE: Most readers haven’t heard of Hope Springs since it can’t be found on any map, so please tell us what it was like growing up in there.
RA: It was quiet. That’s the main description I’d give of Hope Springs. It’s a desert town, and we had the Spring, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with its blue-green water under the red sandstone cliff. The streets were typical of many towns, we had a school, a general store, a high school, and a bank.
Most of the townspeople were farmers. My father owned the Hope Springs Bank, so I grew up knowing everyone. Papa spoiled me a bit. But I worked hard too. Hope Springs was a happy place. We were always full of hope back then. Once I was old enough I helped out at the bank. And I’m proud to say I worked hard at school also. I was valedictorian of Hope Springs High for the class of 1942.
TE: Where were you when the news of the Pearl Harbor attack came?
RA: Oh my, I’ll never forget. I was watching the boys practice basketball in the gym, including my boyfriend, Joe. They were getting ready for the big game with our rivals over at Tularosa. Little Eddie Frolander came running in with the news. No one had a radio except the Brachts, so we all went over there to listen for more news. I didn’t know what to think at first. We kids were in shock, but the boys they were excited like it was all some grand adventure.
TE: Did the news have an impact on your life or that of Hope Springs?
RA: Those are sad times to remember. I suppose the whole country was affected in some way, but it was very personal to Hope Springs, very personal to me. Joe went off to war, as did all the other boys of that age. We were supposed to marry, but I wasn’t going to have a rushed wedding. I always expected he’d come home and we’d marry and have babies. Things didn’t turn out that way. When word came that he’d died up in Alaska, I had to be strong, but it doesn’t mean my heart didn’t ache. I felt I had no choice at that time but to escape. I went to California to get out of the place my hometown had become. My goodness, the sadness that permeated Hope Springs was just horrible. In my opinion, the other women should have gotten out too.
TE: We appreciate that it must be difficult to remember, and thank you for helping us understand what you went through. What influence did your family have on you?
RA: Papa gave me every opportunity, more than any of my classmates might have had. For that I’m grateful, but I have to say, I made the best of every opportunity too. When life gives you hardships, you don’t have to be downtrodden. I held my head up and persevered.
TE: If you could relive your life, what changes would you make?
RA: I don’t think I’d change a thing, in all honesty. I’ve chosen to do what needed to be done at every turn, and I never let anyone, especially the Council, tell me how to live my life.
TE: Could you tell us about the Council?
RA: I can’t help but sigh when I think of them. They were the town council of Hope Springs, but the Council just wants control of everything. I suppose it’s good to have some control, or direction, but they wanted to hide Hope Springs from the outset. By the time I was born it was a foregone conclusion you followed what they said or you had to leave town. Most people didn’t want to risk their ire or being ostracized. I rather understand.
TE: It sounds like you have a story there.
RA: The story isn’t in the book they wrote about the town. I didn’t want to tell that part. It’s best to avoid bad blood when you can, don’t you think? But I suppose most people guessed my return wasn’t as easy as you’d think. I’d been out in the world, worked in Southern California during the war, even started making a movie in Hollywood. But when I got back to Hope Springs, the Council didn’t want to allow me to live there, since I’d chosen to leave. I hadn’t told anyone in the Outside about the town so they didn’t have any reason to keep me out. It was a little battle I fought, with my parents’ help. They went to the Council on my behalf. However, several years later I had to leave.
TE: How did you feel when you first saw Joe Bauer?
RA: We’d grown up together, but by the time we were in high school, Joe was the most handsome boy in the class of 1942 and I was proud he chose me to marry, but God had other plans. He used Joe to lead me to the best man. I truly believe he sent Al to me after the war.
TE: I know how difficult it must be to talk of Joe, but could you tell us about him?
RA: He was the love of my youth. I’ll never forget him. I prefer to think of him our final night together, under the stars. I can’t imagine him afterward, how he must have suffered in the cold on that island in Alaska. It breaks my heart to think about it.
TE: If losing your love was so difficult, why do you think we fall in love?
RA: Now that is a deep question. I believe love is eternal. I still love my Joe, even though he never came back from the war, but Al, he’s a good man and has made me a wonderful husband. Love has many forms, and all of those have their times in a woman’s life. Her first love may be unforgettable, but if he dies, that doesn’t mean she has to be alone all her life, now does it?
TE: Tell us why you believe that falling in love is a gift/curse?
RA: I tell you, it’s been both to me. Joe was a gift, the heartbreak that his death gave me was a curse, and then Stephen in California, well he used sweet words but I was lucky to escape and to tell the truth, I’m not convinced I was in love with him, but he also served a purpose because he introduced me to the producer. In Hollywood I met Andy on set and well that passion swept me off my feet, but in my mind he was also Joe somehow. We were cursed from the beginning, no matter what. Then in 1953 back in Hope Springs—it was called Weeping Women Springs by then—I met Al, and I embraced love again. This was full circle for me, a destiny if you could call it that way and in that way it’s been the greatest gift of my life. I’m sure Al would say the same.
TE: Could you tell us how you contributed to the war effort?
RA: Oh, of course. In California I worked in the Lockheed factory where they made the B-17 bombers. Though I thought I’d work in the office, they didn’t need any more office help and they put me to work bucking rivets. It was good work, and I was proud to do my best to make sure the planes would be safe to carry our men into the war and do the job we needed them to do.
I also had part of my paycheck go to war bonds. On my off days, I went to the USO and served coffee and donuts to the servicemen, danced with a few. It was fun, and the men needed to have a little feeling of home and comfort to get their minds off what might come next I suppose.
TE: Tell us why you believe women really are/are not the weaker sex?
RA: I saw the women at Lockheed work as hard as any man might. They were strong and carried on. The same goes for women who stayed on the farms. Did you know the production went up during the war years? I swear that had to do with the women’s effort. They are not the weaker sex in any sense. It about boils my blood to even say it. My generation proved it without a doubt.
TE: I’d have to agree women of later generations have a lot to thank you and your generation for. Are you happy with how your life turned out?
RA: Yes, and I was grateful that I had the opportunity to share my story. I have a good life with Al in Albuquerque. The memories of what the war brought Weeping Women Springs are still with us, but there was good to come out of it, too. We had to fight the war, there is no doubt about that, but it took a toll on us.
TE: I know we covered some difficult topics, but I’m so happy to have had this time with you. We wish you well and thank you for sharing your story and giving us a glimpse of those years.
Tamara Eaton is a “western woman.” She divides her time between Nevada, New Mexico and South Dakota where she and her love spend their summers renovating an old school. Wide open spaces of the desert and prairie are often portrayed in her work.
A former secondary English teacher, she grabbed the opportunity to create her stories after she left the classroom. When not writing, she works with other writers, editing and polishing their stories and poems.
She is and award winning author and Weeping Women Springs is her first full length novel and is available on Amazon.