On Sunday, 66 years after her husband built the log home at 116 Bridget Ave. in Lemeta, Ruth May, 93, met her six children there for photos. Five of the six were born in the living room at 116 Bridget between 1953 and 1960. The sixth was born in Massachusetts. All now live in Fairbanks, along with many of their children.
Ruth became a registered nurse in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in fall 1951. She moved to Fairbanks in March 1952 at the invitation of her brother and his wife. Within a few weeks she was working as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“Labor and delivery was across the hall from the tuberculosis ward,” Ruth remembers. “One of my jobs was getting TB patients to cough into containers so I could collect sputum specimens. We didn’t wear masks, and one time sputum landed on my lip. I decided right then that if I ever got married and had babies, I would not have them there.”
Ruth met Don May at the First Avenue Gospel Center shortly after she came to Fairbanks. Within a year they were married. Don worked at Petroleum Sales and built houses on the side. He intended to sell 116 Bridget as soon as he finished it, but his plans changed after he married Ruth. He began working on a garage for the house. In summer 1953, Ruth, pregnant with her first child and working nights at St. Joseph’s, peeled logs by day. One of the family’s most prized photographs is of Ruth in her maternity smock, wielding a draw knife.
Don wanted his children’s names to have his initials of DJM, so Ruth obliged him by producing David John, Deborah Jo, Daniel Jay, Donna Jean, Darlene Joan and Donald John Jr., all born within a span of 10 years. Don founded Polar Mining in the mid-1970s, and today the business is owned by two of his sons. Don passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.
The idea to reunite at 116 Bridget was born last summer, when Debbie Tilsworth picked up her mother from the Pioneers’ Home on the Fourth of July and drove her around town on a “trip down Memory Lane.” The two visited each of the 10 houses the family lived in, beginning with 116 Bridget.
“I stepped out of the car to take photos,” Tilsworth said, “and I saw this family having a picnic in the backyard. I told them that my father had built the house in the early ’50s and I had been born there, and my mother — who’d peeled logs for the garage — was in the car. I asked if it would be OK to take a few more photos. I thought they might say no, but the owner, Larry Davis, introduced himself and said yes. And then he asked if Mom and I would like to come inside. I was so excited, I ran back to the car. When Mom came into the house, she couldn’t stop smiling. She loved being back in the home she’d shared with her husband as a newlywed. Everywhere she looked, she had a memory or a story. She pointed to the place where I was born, and it gave me chills to be standing only feet from where I’d come into the world. Larry and his family were so gracious — they didn’t seem to mind that these strangers had crashed their party. It was the highlight of our day. For months afterward, Mom talked about that visit.”
In part, the experience inspired Tilsworth to begin helping her mother record the story of her life. A year later, after more than a hundred hours of interviews and countless hours sorting through old records and photographs, Tilsworth has nearly finished editing her mother’s memoirs. But Tilsworth believed that one of the final chapters, “Endings and Beginnings,” needed a special kind of closure — photographs of her mother at 116 Bridget with her six children and their spouses.
A few months ago she sent a letter to Larry Davis asking if he would be willing to let her mother come back, this time with her children. Weeks went by with no answer. “It was a nervy ask,” Tilsworth said. “I was on the verge of giving up on the idea when Larry emailed me. He said that he’d been out of town, but it was okay with him if our family came over.”
In the process of settling on a date, Tilsworth found out that Larry had gotten married to Suzanne Lichtman on June 21.
“Newlyweds at 116 Bridget again — imagine that,” Ruth said. “My husband would have loved it.”
Despite the smoke, the family took several outdoor photos in front of 116 Bridget on July 14. One was a reenactment of Ruth peeling logs. In her wheelchair, she used a pen-knife to shave a piece of bark from a willow branch, demonstrating that, in her 90s, she has lost neither her touch nor her sense of humor.