However, the latest challenge, and likely the last one they will have to endure on this planet together as man and wife of over 50 years, is a terminal cancer diagnosis Gene got over a year ago.
Although Gene is self-conscious of the swelling on his lip and face the cancer has caused, it is the only sign he has a disease threatening to end his lively spirit.
We (my boyfriend, Mike, and I) met the Ratners a year ago when we moved upstairs from their comfortable two-bedroom apartment. At first glance, we thought them to be energetic and youthful 70 somethings, what a surprise to learn their true age of 94 and 90.
Our friendship grew over the year and we came to love Gene and Ruth as grandparents. Gene and Mike connected over a love of military and have spent countless hours exchanging stories of their enlisted time, I enjoy making them soups, smoothies, candies and goodies and talking with them about “the good old days” when our world was less technology-driven and more about personal connections.
***MORE ABOUT GENE
In 1942, an 18-year old Minneapolis, Minnesota, native enlisted in the Marines not knowing what his future held. Gene became part of the Second Marine Division, Company E, Second Battalion, Sixth Regiment (E-2-6), one of 150 soldiers fighting for the United States of America.
During a battle on Saipan, enemy fire struck Gene piercing his right lung severely damaging it and ending his military service. He would spend five months in the hospital before returning to civilian life with the bullet still intact, a constant reminder of his service to the citizens of our country.
Of the 150 men who left the States with his Company, most died in battles at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian, many others fell victim to malaria, naturally some died of natural causes, but of those few who remained, they continued their close bond through annual reunions. Today, though, Gene is the only surviving veteran of his unit.
After recuperating, Gene returned to his hometown then eventually moved on to California and to a job at Heublein, Inc., and alcohol distillery, where he ultimately met Ruth.
Ruth jokes about Gene’s maneuvers for compelling her to go out on a date with him, “He had such a way with the ladies and I wasn’t going to fall for it,” she remembers with a twinkle in her eye. Eventually, though, he wore her down… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Gene became a father to Ruth’s two children from her previous marriage, their home and life has been full of adventure, laughs, patience and a lot of love.
In 1997, Gene saw People Magazine had named George Clooney as their “sexiest man alive”, being the character he is he took pen to paper and wrote them a letter. He inquired as to how they could possibly declare Clooney as “sexiest man alive” if they had not judged every man in the world. Somehow, Gene’s letter caught the attention of a higher-up at People and somebody in their letter’s department called him. He pled his case when they questioned him about his letter and why he thought somebody other than Clooney should be chosen, Gene responded, “Well, if you had judged me, you would have chosen me.” The next issue contained a copy of Gene’s letter.
Gene’s humor has not waned with his circumstance; he remains as funny, positive and lovable as I imagine he has always been.
One evening we took a tray of cocktails down to Gene and Ruth’s place for a nightcap. As usual, the men laughed and talked about their military service while Ruth and I talked about family and pined for days gone by and discussed dial-up telephones, cocktail parties and community and planned the next time we would get together.
Just as we were about to leave, Gene turned to us and made a request, “I know I don’t have much time left. When I’m gone, you two will take care of my Ruthie, won’t you?”
To that, Ruth responded, “Oh Gene, I won’t be able to afford to stay here…” her eyes filling with tears.
We would like to present a check to Ruth while Gene is still here, so he is at peace knowing his Ruthie has a place to stay for a year.
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