Auntie Elfe

This past Wednesday my beloved Auntie Elfe (aka Mary Ruth Elfe) joined my mom in Heaven and I know the two of them are having a tea party and planning something big.  The above and below pictures were taken in the summer of 1990 at the tea party she and my mom had to celebrate sisterhood. I have to say that it was an honor and a privilege to have been a part of her life.  She taught me so much, not just in math but in life as well.  One of the earliest things that I remember and have adopted as part of my philosophy is the saying “I came to see you, not your house.”  This was a result of a time Mary Ruth came over to talk to mom and mom felt embarrassed as she had laundry spread out over the family room.  From that day on we stopped apologizing for our home and apply the same principle when we visit others home.  Life is about people and time with them not the look of the home.  I guess it is a good thing that mom and I have never aspired to have our homes photographed for magazines. For about the past 10 or so years my holiday gift from Auntie Elfe has been a big tin of popcorn.  At the left is a photo of some of the most recent cans of this fabulous holiday gift.  Even these past few years when I just have not been able to get the holiday spirit it was so uplifting to be surprised with one of these lovely tins and the wonderful popcorn.  The holiday’s will be very dull from here on out.  Folks, this is one of those gifts that keeps on giving as once you have finished all the popcorn, usually done by the Super Bowl, these tins make great storage containers for all kinds of treasures, just sayin.                             I want to share with you what her youngest daughter Doris Elfe Mittelstedt wrote about her:  Mary Ruth Tate Elfe  was known by different names by different people, but only CERTAIN people could use those names. Her husband, Tom, called her Mary Ruth.  She was known by her three daughters as “Mommy.”  Once, Doris asked if she could call her just “Mom.”  MR replied, “Not if you want me to answer.”  Her sister Charlotte, as well as Keith and Valerie called her “M R”.  To Julie and Jason, she was “Grandmother.” If someone asked them about their Grandma, they would say, “Do you mean GrandMOTHER?” Jimmy Ebersole called her “Auntie Elfe.”  This is because, one day,  Wanda and Mary Ruth declared themselves honorary sisters.  To Amanda, Will, Bill and Ginny, she was simply “Elfe.”    To students, she was always Mrs. Elfe. It didn’t matter if you were an elementary, high school, or college student; it was still MRS. Elfe.  In fact, she was called Mrs. Elfe by most of the parents, faculty, and staff, too. When Girl Scout camps assigned nicknames to counselors, they were always challenged by what to call Mary Ruth.  She was not a nickname type of person.  It was obvious that you did NOT know her, if you called her Mrs Elf-ie, or “Mary,” to which she would reply, “I’m not Mary, my name is Mary RUTH.”  In this room, today, you will hear her referred to by many names, but Mary Elf-ie will NOT be one of them. You don’t have to work hard to be reminded of Mrs. Elfe.  Take a ride in the elevator of the Wesley Foundation, pick up an Oak Hall or Buchholz yearbook in the years when she taught there, sit in HER seats in the Gainesville Little Theater, or observe the three and a half acres of natural setting, particularly the moss and trees, around the last house on the left on NW 36th Street.  No, remembering Mary Ruth will not be a problem. If you knew her, if you were related to her, if you met her, if you had her as a teacher, you remembered her! Like an M.C. Escher print where the contrasting colors appear to be opposites, but actually completely fill the entire page, Mary Ruth is as well defined and will be remembered by what she was, as what she was not. By what she liked, as much as the things she didn’t, by what she did, as what she CHOSE not to do.  The contrast is complimentary.  The distinctions are subtle, but she did not let others define her.  Most of us were at a loss to even be able to DESCRIBE her!  She defined herself. What are some of the things Mary Ruth Elfe did NOT do?  She did NOT drink coffee!  Of course her TEA was stronger than most coffee.  She did NOT like air conditioning.  She lived in Florida for more than 45 years without air conditioning!. When she finally decided to install air conditioning in her house…. she didn’t mention it; she waited to see if any one noticed.  Mary Ruth did NOT have a dishwasher. Well, actually, she had three:  Martha, Carolyn, and Doris. She was not fazed by a messy house.  Mary Ruth used to say, “I am coming to see YOU, not your house.”  . Mrs. Elfe was NOT a worrier…except for what kind of car she would get after they stopped making Oldsmobiles.    Mrs. Elfe did NOT judge.  She DECIDED,  She did NOT mumble.  She SPOKE very clearly, and said what she meant.  She didn’t nag.  She said it once; If you were not listening,  that was your problem.   She was the calming force in a crisis. She did NOT panic. Mrs. Elfe did NOT demand, she expected.  She expected things to be done her way! She expected people to do what they said; she always did.  She expected APPROPRIATE behavior. She was delighted by the fact Amanda invited her to spend the night at her slumber party, because she knew Elfe would make everyone behave. She taught, but it was up to you to learn.  If you fell asleep in her class, she let you sleep.  She felt you needed the sleep more than you needed the lesson that day.  Of course, she expected you to know the material if it showed up on a test. She expected appropriate dress in her classroom, and did not permit students to chew gum.. Boys were expected to remove their caps during her class. She did not teach you how to think, she ENCOURAGED you to think, and embraced the fact that there is more than one way to get to the same answer.  She expected math to be done in pencil. If you didn’t have one, she would sell you one for a nickle.  Once, a student asked her what she did with the money she collected for selling pencils.   Her answer, “Buy more pencils.” Like fabric, the activities in Mary Ruth’s life are interwoven.  The patterns are as significant as the thread selections. Mary Ruth loved to sew.  She made her own wedding dress, matching dresses for the three girls for holidays, Christening gowns, bed spreads, dresses, robes, alter cloths, dance costumes, and quilts.  The amazing thing, wasn’t how MUCH she sewed, but how FAST.  When Julie needed play dresses, she made her one the same day. It would APPEAR.  In college, Carolyn volunteered her mother to make a Pink Panther costume for the Chi-Omegas, they didn’t need it until two days later.  In a matter of hours, with pink fuzz all over the house, there was a finished costume.  Ironically, the costume was disqualified because the judges deemed it was made by a PROFESSIONAL seamstress.  Instead of being irritated, Mommy was flattered.  No one had ever mistaken her for a professional seamstress.  Years ago, in the afternoon before a Christmas Pagent the robes of the three Wise men disappeared from the closet where they had been hung.  Wanda called Mary Ruth.  Wanda made one; Mary Ruth made two, and three robes appeared for the Wise men to wear! Mary Ruth loved music!  She went to countless operas every Spring when the metropolitan opera came to Atlanta.  She always listened to classical music. In fact,she folded clothes to classical music.  She sang in the church choir for many years.  It was not only her love of music, but she liked being in the loft itself,  High up above where you could see what was going on. She and her choir cohorts always rooted for babies to cry at Baptisms. In high school, she performed in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. She taught her children the lyrics, when they were learning to talk.  It’s not easy to say “To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock, while awaiting the sensation of a short sharp shock.” Mary Ruth was seldom bored, because she knew when to bring her knitting and always had several open projects. She knit in meetings.  She knit all through her classes in graduate school.   Some of you might remember Mrs. Elfe knitting at basketball games.  The more exciting the game, the faster she would knit.  She even scored the basketball games at Oak Hall WHILE she was knitting.  She would hold the pencil between two fingers and the knitting needles between two others. She did not want to be without anything to do, and she never was!  If she was putting something off, her excuse was that she was “waiting for the sun to come out.” Cooking is another thing many remember about Mrs. Elfe.  If you liked to eat, she would cook!  Mary Ruth Elfe could feed an army, and she did: Family Night suppers, students, and Gator basketball players! . She made each player their own pan of lasagna, then one pan for the rest of the family.  Others might remember her pizza or cakes.  When the girls were young, the Elfe’s hosted an annual Christmas Open House.  Mary Ruth made 100 DOZEN cookies of EVERY variety, and always made hot spice tea. The years and hours of service over Mrs. Elfe’s lifetime are staggering.  She was always doing things for other people.  Mary Ruth volunteered for years to the Girl Scouts, American camping Association, Parlimentary Law, Pi Beta Phi, her church, the Women’s Club, N.A.M.E.,. and more.  She alway jumped in with both feet.  She provided countless hours of time, energy, and resources.  Mary Ruth was either president or treasurer in almost every organization that she joined. Any memories of Elfe would be incomplete without mentioning her love of children. Whether it was though Scouting, Sunday school, volunteering as a Room Mother, tutoring, or teaching.  Mary Ruth always had children in her life. Anyone who knew Elfe in the 90’s, heard  ALL about Amanda and Will.  Any one who knew Mary Ruth in the last decade, heard ALL about Julie and Jason.   It was unconditional love, not judgmental, complete acceptance.  She had the time to spend that parents don’t.  She delighted in their activities and achievements, and as their ever present audience, had a front row seat. She followed their schedules, went to every birthday party, delighted in anticipating their triumphs. When Julie was born,  a visitor at the hospital remarked to Doris, ” When I die, I want to come back as one of your mother’s grandchildren!  The baby is 2 days old, and she’s already planning road trips five years from now!” Martha’s friend, Alice, wrote,  “Your baby has the BEST grandmother in the whole world!”  Mary Ruth always strove, not for perfection, but for excellence.  She was an EXCELLENT grandmother. There are so many more stories, friends, and activities than can possibly be mentioned. If there is any sadness today, she would tell us that it has to do with us, not her.  We don’t want anything different.  We just want more… BUT… if you EVER told Mrs. Elfe you wanted MORE of anything—watch out—you would get more!  If it was food, you got a heaping portion, if it was something she could buy, order, or make, you’d have one in every color. She’d often say, “If one is good, a dozen is better!”  Outlets and bulk warehouse clubs were her shopping havens!. Mary Ruth loved variety but didn’t take change lightly. She watched the Tonight Show every night.  She married ONE time, ONE husband, ONE house, ONE make of car, and ONE church.  Although she reluctantly accepted some events, it is important to remember, Mary Ruth did NOT do many things she did not enjoy.  She enjoyed her students; she enjoyed teaching; she enjoyed her friends; she enjoyed her grandchildren; she enjoyed her hobbies; she enjoyed music; she enjoyed numbers; she enjoyed reading;she enjoyed driving her car; she enjoyed Garrison Keillor; she enjoyed humor, she enjoyed water from HER well; she enjoyed her house, she enjoyed her community, she enjoyed herself…SHE ENJOYED LIFE! 


Here is a slideshow from her daughter Doris:


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