As everyone knows, the way to a man’s heart is a tuna fish sandwich.
It was the late 1950s, about the time Clyde McPhatter was asking the 45-rpm question: Does she love me with all her heart?
Ruth Scott’s uncle had just been discharged from the Army and the family was putting together a welcome home party in their hometown of Philadelphia. The uncle brought an Army buddy home with him, a man named Richard Russell Harris.
Before the party got underway at her sister’s house across the street, Ruth made lunch for the returning soldiers.
Ruth had met Richard years before, at a friend’s house. He was a few years older than her and family legend holds that, upon watching Richard for a moment or so, Ruth asked a girlfriend: “Who is that goofball?”
“I wasn’t interested in him and he wasn’t interested in me,” said Ruth. “We danced and that was it.”
An ironed dress and a walk home
And here they were again, quite unexpectedly, no longer kids.
Quite simply, said Ruth of that long-ago afternoon. “I made him the best tuna fish sandwich he ever had in his life.”
That evening, Richard was the first guest to arrive at the party. When he walked in, Ruth was still in her everyday clothes, having helped get the house in shape for the celebration.
“I went home, and washed and ironed my best white dress — we didn’t have clothes dryers back then,” said Ruth. “I took a bath, put the dress on and walked back to the party. Later on he asked if he could walk me home — it was just across the street, and I said sure. The rest is history.”
So, was it the beautiful dress or the tuna fish sandwich that led Richard to the altar?
Every corner diner sells tuna fish and it’s only a pretty dress on a pretty girl. Perhaps it was Ruth. She and Richard were married on September 3, 1960 when the number one song in the land was “It’s Now or Never,” by Elvis Presley.
For the Harris’s — who raised a son (Richard, Jr.) and daughter (Richelle) in Maryland and moved around the state several times before settling on Hayshed Lane in Columbia — it was now and forever.
Right up to “’til death do us part” when Richard, 86, died from pneumonia on November 21, 2020. It was a marriage of 60 years, and a good one.
“Why do you think I stayed so long?” said Ruth when asked if he was the love of her life.
“A measured force of a man”
Now 83, Ruth is a retired Baltimore City elementary school teacher and taught at Liberty Elementary and Fallstaff Elementary among others. “Whatever grade I was teaching, that’s the grade I liked best.”
Richard was a senior program analyst with the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. A member of New Psalmist Baptist Church, he was active in the congregation’s prisoner re-entry program, loved cowboy movies and served as past president of the Leon Day Foundation, named for the star Baltimore pitcher of the Negro Leagues. Bringing baseball to Black youth was very important to him.
He was, his obituary said, “A steady, measured force of a man.”
Richard died less than a week before Thanksgiving and the holiday was hard, “very hard,” said Ruth “And Christmas was worse.”
This is the first Valentine’s Day that Ruth will be without him since Eisenhower was president.
Salad Days – even on Valentine’s Day
Their daughter Richelle, who lives nearby and spends a lot of time with her mom, said humor — supported by love — made for the longevity of her parents’ marriage.
“They were hilarious and you needed to be a special person to deal with my mother,” said Richelle, whose life partner likened Ruth and Richard to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo of the fabled “I Love Lucy,” television show. “Dad could take it but when he’d had enough, he’d just leave the room.”
The couple loved to dance — “My mother can dance better than she walks,” said Richelle — and often stole the show at the Champagne Ballroom on Patapsco Avenue in Lakeland. And of course they argued. “Dumb stuff, stupid stuff,” said Ruth. “We’re human.”
In France, salad is eaten after the main course. In the United States, it’s the opposite. In the Harris house, said Ruth, her husband ate it throughout the day. Richard, it seems, was the unusual man for whom salad was the favored meal.
“He loved salad, he was that way since he was a kid,” said Ruth. “That man could eat it for breakfast.” And, naturally, enjoyed it over the many decades of Valentine’s Day dinners the couple shared together.
No more. “Of course I miss him,” said Ruth. “But you have to go on.”
Rafael Alvarez was born in Baltimore and has chronicled the city’s people and places for decades. He is the author of several books of short stories, including The Fountain of Highlandtown, and can be reached via email@example.com