As I write this now, my grandmother, Ruth Sligh Gross is laid up in the hospital at 90 years of age and is experiencing her last moments on earth. While I a deeply saddened by this news, I can’t wait to tell you about her life!
She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina during the tail end of the Prohibition Era in the United States. Her father, Strother Swift Sligh (We eat fantastic names for breakfast in this family) was the local sheriff. My grandmother would tell me stories about her dad chasing moonshiners down dirt roads, going as far as to create a grappling device on the front of his patrol car that could grab a hold of the the fleeing perpetrators’ bumpers. Come to think of it, my grandmother is one of the best story tellers I know. Whether it is her syrupy sweet southern style of speech, or her cadence and phrasing, she is utterly captivating.
She married my grandfather, Ralph James Gross, a dentist and a Navy man, and they settled down in Greene, NY. There they had 5 boys (we’re about to have 3, and my heart is skipping a beat just thinking about those grocery bills. I can’t imagine 5…) Ralph, David, Edward, John (my dad), and Strother. When my dad was very young, my grandparents decided to change the world by selling my grandfather’s dental practice and becoming missionaries in Kenya. Just think about that folks…would you have the guts to do that?
Unfortunately, my grandfather’s life was cut short at 58 from a heart attack. Ruth was just 56 years of age. I think about losing my wife right now, and I’m pretty sure I would pack up shop and crawl into a hole until my body gave out on me. But that’s not what my grandmother did at all. I’m not saying she didn’t feel the loss of her husband; she talked about him all the time and never remarried. That lady kept going and went on to influence people with her faith, bringing the message of hope to thousands of people.
As a matter of fact that is what she was doing until her health finally caught up with her spirit. I’ve have never, and I mean never, met anyone that can boast the level of charisma that my grandmother possesses. She can literally talk to anyone she meets; not in an awkward or off putting way but in a way that makes you feel as if you have known her forever – like someone who is a family friend. At an early age, she would encourage my sister and me to perform plays and to practice our speaking and writing. She fostered an environment of creative safety – a place where we could let it rip without the fear of being criticized. She allowed and encouraged us to use our imagination, never failing to engage us even when we were very little.
All in all, my grandmother had every excuse to live a comfortable life without much concern for anyone or anything else. But she didn’t; she took the narrow road, riddled with potholes and debris, and the world is better place because Ruth Sligh Gross lived with to its fullest. She loved everyone she ever met and is an inspiration to me, and now, I hope to you too.
One of my favorite videos of all time sums this up perfectly. The premise of actually living your life instead of merely existing sums up my grandmother’s life perfectly. Enjoy.