Ruth "Uncle Ruthie" Buell, who lives in L.A.'s Pico-Robertson neighborhood, had a thought one day. Actually, the thoughts are always bubbling over with her, but this one was particularly inspired.
Why not replace the rotting tree stumps in her frontyard with benches as a way of inviting neighbors to take a breather, talk and get to know one another?
That was Part One of the idea, which took shape about two months ago. Part Two was a note to visitors from Uncle Ruthie — who has graced the planet for 82 years — encouraging them to take pen and paper from pouches pinned to the tree and share their thoughts.
Or, as Uncle Ruthie wrote:
Welcome, neighbor, king or clown
Weary walker, sit you down
Tired queens or winsome wenches
Silent bards or poets true,
Share your words
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Both old and new
Or if in silence you would stay
We welcome you with love today
"What happened is so magical I am still wondering if I am dreaming!" Uncle Ruthie wrote to me one day. "People are writing poems, tacking them on the tree (it does not hurt the tree), and helping themselves from the basket of free books I provide.... Neighbors are meeting neighbors, dogs are meeting soul-mate dogs, and I am having the time of my life."
Uncle Ruthie, you should know, is the kind of person who could have the time of her life just walking to the store, or growing tomatoes or listening to the wind rustle the leaves of the big Chinese elm in her yard. She's just that way.
For more than 50 years, she's hosted a family radio show on KPFK-FM (90.7), coming up with the stage name "Uncle Ruthie" because men who hosted children's shows always called themselves Uncle this or that. Uncle Ruthie also teaches at the Blind Childrens Center, and she's taken in a former student, named Milagros, who has written haiku in Braille and pinned it to the tree.
"I think it's wonderful," neighbor Howard Green said of the daily commotion around the elm, with its broad branches raised to the gods of poetry. "It's amazing how many people just casually walking down the street are drawn to it. They don't know Ruthie, necessarily, but they've just got to sit down."
Uncle Ruthie has had to remove poems to make room for new ones, pasting the older ones into a book. Ella Roark, age 10, is a prolific contributor. Once, all she wrote was:
Share, Care, Everywhere
But that was followed by an ambitious commentary on materialistic excess:
More, more, more, more, more, more, sure! More, more, more, more, there isn't any more