February 20, 2021

Weena interviewing Ruthie Bolton, April 18, 1999

IN SEARCH OF A WOMAN WHO DOESN”T WANT TO BE FOUND

Weena Gaulin, a beautiful student from Reunion Island, was at the University of South Carolina for the 1998-1999 year.  She had come all that way in search of a woman she felt compelled to meet.  While on a beach vacation to Australia, she had read a book that changed her life—Gal: A True Life by Ruthie Bolton. This painful true story by a South Carolina African American telling of the incredible abuse she suffered primarily at the hands of a cruel step-grandfather went straight to Weena’s heart.  She decided she wanted to write her thesis at Universite de la Reunion on this book.  To do so, she determined to meet and interview the author.  

Ruthie Bolton was a pseudonym the author chose to protect her privacy and her family. Weena knew the story took place in South Carolina.  Surely she could find the real Ruthie somehow, she thought. At the university, she asked everyone she met if they had heard of the author.  She used clues from the book she practically had memorized and by early spring, she met a student from Mount Pleasant who said she knew someone who knew Ruthie.  Weena convinced the person she wasn’t out to embarrass Ruthie but just wanted to interview her for her thesis.  She got a phone number and called.  Speaking to Ruthie, she explained her mission and requested an interview.  Ruthie was hesitant at first, but after several conversations, agreed.

She told Weena to come to her home on Sunday, April 18 for lunch with her family.  Afterward she would let her interview her.  Weena didn’t have a car and asked me if I would take her.  I agreed, and Ruthie consented. She instructed us to meet her in a Food Lion parking lot at 11 o’clock that morning, and she would lead us to her house.

Ruthie and children, Mount Pleasant, SC 1999

Armed with her notebook and a cassette tape recorder, Weena was giddy with excitement.  Ruthie came over to our car in the parking lot for introductions and we followed her home.  She had three daughters and a son, all teenagers with beautiful smiles and warm but shy personalities.  They lived in an attractive and spacious suburban home with a carefully manicured lawn. 

Ruthie had her children serve the delicious Southern Sunday dinner she’d prepared for us.  We sat down with the whole family, Ruthie said grace and we ate together.  Pork chops so tender they melted in your mouth, rice and gravy, sweet potatoes seasoned with nutmeg, fresh green beans cooked to perfection with ham, fresh strawberries and cantaloupe for dessert, and sweet iced tea.  Ruthie said she loves cooking—and would love to have a restaurant except for how much work that would be.

After lunch, we moved to the living room where Weena began her three-hour interview.  She gave Ruthie an outline of her proposed thesis. It was a fascinating afternoon—hearing her talk about the way the book changed her life—both for good and bad. And to have her describe how she came to write the book and what it was like to travel about for readings and interviews (she was a guest on The Oprah Show) and why she has retreated from public life. She also answered Weena’s questions about the tragic details of her early life that she had revealed in her book.

She fixed Weena a gift basket including autographed copies of her book and two ceramic figures she had a friend make for her—they were a little boy anda little girl reading Gal.  She also gave me an autographed copy of her book, in which she wrote: Sally, Thanks for taking out time to bring Weena. It’sbeen a pleasure having you over. You must come again. Love, Ruthie Bolton.

Ruthie thought Weena was beautiful like her daughters and said she would never have agreed to meet with anyone else.  As we drove home to Columbia, Weena said, “I am exulting!”  And by that fall, she was back in Reunion Island writing her thesis.  She mailed me a copy—An Exploration into the Power-Relations in Gal, A True Life (1994) by Ruthie Bolton (1961- ).  Ruthie never told us her real name.  We never saw her again.  But what a day we had!

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