Which Have Directed My Life
by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"I am extremely suspicious of any man who calls himself self-made."
These word recently spoken at a public meeting have caused me to reflect appreciatively over the personalities and environments which have directed my life.
The fact that my father was a school teacher, a history student, and a lover of books aroused in me, I am sure, a curiosity for knowledge at a very early age. Being one of the youngest of ten in our family, our modest home offered rather cramped sleeping conditions. Of necessity my sister and I slept on a roll-a-way couch in the living room. On the opposite wall and occupying practically the whole space, was a large bookcase containing nearly three hundred volumes of books. The street light shining in through the window at night lit the room sufficiently for me to barely read the titles of those volumes: "Stoddard's Lectures", poems of "Keats", "Tennyson", "Longfellow", "Browning", "Shakespeare", Harvard Classics", history of Germany, England, Scotland, and so on until shelves became too high for me to see.
Often at night forbidden reading was indulged in with the aid of a flash light. In the histories I stirred with the thrill of the ancient Teutonic tribes roaming over Europe. More than once I wept over Tennyson and sympathized with his sensitive interpretation of beauty. Stoddard's Lectures allowed me to travel Europe; but I enjoyed my travels to Italy best. It seemed that all the beauty of the world was crowded into that country. Those books opposite my bead became my nightly companions and took possession of my dreams. Their influence still makes me eye new books hungrily, desiring to learn their story.
The fact that my mother was a music teacher and had energy and determination enough to see that her children had every musical advantage available, I am sure, caused me to love and desire music. It was an advantage to be a younger child, as my brothers, being much older than I, had already attained proficiency in their instruments. Listening to beautiful melodies rhythmically and interpretively executed made music always seem natural and desirable.
As a child I remember looking with pride at our array of instruments crowded in an allotted corner between the piano and adjoining wall. There, occupying with eminence, were the cello and two violins. Less important were the saxophone, cornet, clarinet, and banjo. The latter instrument was used mainly to accompany my brothers when they sang male quartets. Of all the instruments I believe the cello invited me most. Its low mellow tones seemed to express my inner feelings best.
Because of the need for more accompanists in our family it was decided that I should learn the piano. The cello could wait. Thanks to the sacrifices of my mother and brothers I was privileged to study with very excellent teachers. My lessons were sporadic through my life time, but their quality allowed me to build continually. As a result each new teacher could build on the last teacher's efforts. The determination in our family to work together for opportunity and advancement gave me an eagerness for life and a faith in the future.
The third great influence in my life and the one I shall be eternally grateful for is that of the church. The family musical activities brought us consistently to church under the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At an early age I thrilled with the fact that if I lived worthily I could be continually inspired and aided in my work, temporally, spiritually, and physically, by a higher power. Again, I was given a constant companion to share my problems and joys with. Again my faith in the future was increased.
These three great forces in my life caused me to put value on family life, music education, and marriage with a companion who shared such desires. Through faith my life has been spared me many times that these desires might continue.
May my gratitude for life and my love for the beautiful things about me stimulate me to make life more desirable to others.