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Aunt RuthAnn touched many lives
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When my husband and I got married, an annual tradition began. At least, for me. Every year without fail, I received a birthday greeting card in the mail from Tracy. It was always signed, "Aunt Ruthie."

Aunt Ruthie was RuthAnn Hughes. She was actually my husband's aunt, the sister of his father.

Her loving gesture made me, a new member of her family by marriage, feel truly special.

But at her funeral service on Thursday, five days after she passed away peacefully at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Manteca, I found out SHE was really the special one and not just to me but to a host of other people - from her 10-year-old grand-nephew Joseph to her longtime friend Beverly who drove 11,000 miles from Washington state to attend the beautiful Celebration of Life service at Tracy's historic Hotchkiss Mortuary Thursday morning. Another close friend, Lorraine Cooper, drove down from Yuba City with her husband Mike, a business owner, to pay their respects.

During the service, Lorraine shared how much fun she and Aunt Ruthie had volunteering for more than two decades at the church they both attended in Cupertino before life-changing circumstances prompted their move to different cities in California. Their volunteer work at the church was actually the genesis of what would develop into a lifelong friendship. But after moving out of Cupertino, physical distance did not come between their steadfast friendship, thanks to the United States Postal Service and the telephone company. Lorraine recalled the frequent phone chats she had with her friend, and added that in retrospect she wished she had called more often.

"I'm a better person because of her," Lorraine tearfully said.

It was hard to understand all the words that a sobbing Joseph said when he eulogized his great-aunt but he made it clear he was going to sorely miss her presence in his life. Afterwards, Joseph told me how his thoughtful and generous great-aunt always remembered his birthday with a greeting card. One year, he said, "I got only one card and it was from her."

Young Joseph and his family - his parents and his older brother and sister - were especially close to Aunt Ruthie because they lived with her for a while. And that's how their special relationship was nurtured.

Aunt Ruthie never had children of her own - her husband Ted, who, I understand, was several years her senior, passed away long before I met my husband - but she was always surrounded by many nieces and nephews whom she lavished with a lot of attention. And she was not just a beloved aunt; she was a great-aunt and great-great-aunt to the many who became part of her big extended family either by blood or by marriage.

According to her obituary notice, she was the great-aunt of 16 and great-great-aunt of 16. I can just imagine how many birthday, anniversary and Christmas cards she had to write every year, and that's not even mentioning her many friends!

But the really amazing thing about that is the fact she remembered everyone's special occasions without the help of a list jotted down in a notebook. My husband said his aunt was simply one of those rare individuals who are blessed with an innate knack - photographic memory, if you will - of remembering those kinds of details.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, so the old saying goes. And Aunt Ruthie proved that. Everybody remembered her great sense of humor and how kids were drawn to her because she always made them laugh. Joseph and her brother and sister can attest to that.

Aunt Ruthie's late father, J.R. McCurdy, probably would have loved that in his daughter, too. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to dote on Aunt Ruthie, who was born in 1944, and her brother Richard. She told me her father, who was a soldier during World War II, was killed in action in France. His body was never flown back home to America, she said, and no one in her family never knew where he was buried, or if he had a proper burial at all. But her late mother soon remarried, and the marriage blessed her not just with another brother - my husband's father Guy - but a loving father as well, Grandpa Risso, whom she fondly called "my Dad."

After Aunt Ruthie's mother passed away, Grandpa Risso married Grandma Mary who brought into the marriage her own four children creating an even bigger family. In recent years, and perhaps even long before that, Grandma Mary became one of Aunt Ruthie's many frequent phone pals.

Aunt Ruthie called Grandma every day, sometimes twice a day, or more on occasion. Even when she was at the hospital - at Dameron in Stockton and Immanuel in Turlock in the last few months before she passed away. She always called to ask how Grandma was doing even while she was under the weather herself in a worse way. Grandma said she sure will miss those cheerful phone calls from Aunt Ruthie.
To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail or call (209) 249-3536.