Did you know Ruth Abel? Ruth Abel was born Ruth Knupfer in the town of Plauen in Germany on a beautiful June day in 1933. War had not yet found the country. She was her father’s favorite of the four children, trailing after him through errands in town, and through gardens on the weekend. Her life was joyful. She wanted to be a journalist. She loved school, and she was good at it.
The war derailed it all.
When the Allies decided to make an example of Plauen, they methodically bombed it flat, flying over in run after run, reducing the small city to flaming ruins and screams. Ruth’s idyllic childhood turned into a hellscape of collapsed and burning houses, fleeing refugees, and planes that strafed the streets when the women and children emerged to find water at the broken city pumps. While foraging for fallen coal along the railroad tracks in the harsh bite of winter, she and the other desperate children were shot at. The pets were eaten. There was nowhere to go in a ravaged countryside.
When Hitler finally lost the war, the Americans moved through bearing chocolate. The Russians followed, bringing rape. A wall went up, and she now lived in East Germany.
As a teen, she learned to barter for food and other necessities on the underground black market. At 17 she had to run for it, swimming a river in winter at night on the East/West German border in her one good dress while border guards fired into the water. The other swimmers turned back, and she arrived on the West German border wet, freezing, and penniless. The families waiting for the other swimmers beat her in a rage of frustration.
Ruth eventually found her way to a cold farm attic, and a job hand painting porcelain at a dishware factory. She also found a young husband, Herbert Krauss, and they were happily married until he died of a kidney disease 10 years later. There were no children. It was assumed she could not have any, about which she was heartbroken. She loved and understood children.
She moved to Frankfurt and became a waitress at a supper club near the U.S. Air Force base. A charismatic Air Force officer pursued her. A picnic in the Black Forest with good German wine produced a daughter nine months later. Apparently she could, in fact, have children, and she was overjoyed. At 35 she and her daughter Judith “Judy” left Germany to live with her new American husband in San Antonio, Texas. Eleven years of abusive misery followed, then the freedom of a hard-fought divorce.
Ruth continued to waitress in San Antonio, and later in nearby Marion, Texas, then found her way to working with plants and herbs at Schultz Nursery. She became a speaker on the benefits of herbs in cooking and healing. She opened a plant care business, and met Don Abel, her third husband, while watering plants in a San Antonio beer garden. He joined her business, and then her household, and they were married when Judy was 17.
Don had grown up lonely without pets. Ruth loved all animals. Together they collected nine cats and four dogs, all rescues, on their two acres in Marion. They build greenhouses and herb beds and the business. They laughed a lot.
When a series of honeybee stings triggered sequential near-death comas, Ruth was advised to flee humid, buggy Central Texas. Together, Ruth and Don followed their hearts to Far West Texas, settling down in Limpia Crossing with all of the cats and dogs. Ruth sold the business. Retired now and free for the first time in her life to pursue anything she wanted, she put her energies into planting the property, watching the deer she began to feed, and making lifelong friends of the skunks that moved in under the porch, the birds at the feeders, and the neighbors. She and Don sat on the porch in the evenings watching wildlife and sunsets, content. One of her letters from this period mentions that she is so happy that she does not know how to handle it all, that she never dreamed this kind of happiness would be hers.
Don died in 2009, and Ruth adopted Bonnie, a golden lab/chow mix who became her stalwart companion. At the age of 80, ever practical and aware of her growing frailties and the remoteness of her mountain home, she wrenched herself away from her happiest place and moved to Alpine to be nearer a hospital and the other amenities of a larger town.
It was here that “Ruth and Bonnie” became a familiar sight, Bonnie the copilot while Ruth could still drive, and a walking companion at the park where she would slip the leash and run off to plow gleefully into any gathering of children. Then, as Ruth became more frail, the walks constricted to the immediate neighborhood. Eventually the two of them stayed at home, where Bonnie resolutely took up station at Ruthʻs side at all times. Her bark was deep and scary, but it was all bluster. Bonnie, like Ruth, welcomed everybody and doted on kids. The house was never empty of friends. Bonnie never lacked for attention. Ruth held forth from her loveseat with a glass of wine, ready with advice if you needed any.
In 2017, Ruth fell and cracked a hip. To the astonishment of Judy, her friends, and the doctors, she rallied and reclaimed her life, carrying on with a walker and reluctantly admitting she needed help around the house. Bonnie, too, was slowing down.
In December 2020, Ruth fell again, and this time broke her hip badly. She was in the hospital for a month, then came home to the life of 24-hour care. For the fierce, strong, and independent woman she’d been, this was not living. She became gradually weaker, then mostly bedridden. Bonnie died at her feet in February 2021.
Ruth followed, ready, on a beautiful morning on June 29, 2021, after the monsoon storms had finally broken the drought. She breathed out peacefully, and was gone.
We assume Bonnie was waiting, ready to take up her duties.
Ruthʻs spiritual beliefs aligned with Buddhist and Native American values, centering on the impermanence of life and the innate sacredness of all living things. She was a warrior for peace, having seen war firsthand, and having never really recovered from the anxieties it imbedded in her soul.
She had the gift of meeting people exactly where they were at, with no judgement, which earned her legions of faithful friends. Her insight into human nature was legendary. Her sense of humor was both famous and infamous. She did not suffer fools gladly, but she did pity them for being blind.
She built beauty in the rubble. Always.
There has not ever been, nor will there ever be, another like her. Look for her in the mists that hang in the Davis Mountains after a rain. Her heart is with the Limpia, running through the valley.
If you wish to make a donation in her name, please give to the Alpine Humane Society and Grand Companions in Fort Davis.
A celebration of her remarkable life will be held in the fall.
Alpine Memorial Funeral Home has been entrusted with arrangements.
Online condolences may be left at alpinememorialfuneralhome.com.