Ruth Ross and the Polio’s

No, it’s not a band.  But, it is a group.  They call themselves THE POLIO’S.  Here is how my not-so-unlikely friendship with them began.

Here I go again.  Another story that starts with my dad.  After he died and I just wasn’t coping that well with the loss, I found an article in the L.A. Times about post-polio syndrome.  It talked about this painful late-in-life condition of those who’d been afflicted with infantile paralysis, and how some of them formed a group that would meet at UCLA.  My dad did not suffer from this syndrome, at least not that I was aware of.  Still, I found the phone number, left a message and received a call back.

Friendliest, loveliest voice on the other end.  Ruth Ross introduced herself.  She asked me why I called and what could she do for me.  I told her about my dad, that he had polio and recently died — and how much I missed him.  Told her we did everything for him all the time.  Duke always had someone helping him, and my brother and I were very good at fetching him things.  We were trained early.  He would point at something, let’s say a box of Kleenex, and without any words exchanged, we would stand and bring it to him.  Now on the phone, Ruth, a stranger, was a therapist hearing me out about the love I had for my dad.  When the conversation was about to end, I remembered why I called.  “Listen,” I said, “anytime you need something, groceries, whatever, please call me and I will run errands for you.”

That never happened.  Not once.  In fact, not long after the conversation with my new friend Ruth from the Polio’s, I broke my foot in a car accident.  I was so immobilized that Ruth was now calling to ask what I might need her to do for me.  Oh my God, I felt bad about that turn of events.  However, I did have her come over and get all the things I wanted to donate to her group, such as my dad’s electric scooter and wheelchairs my father had stolen – yes, stolen — from hospitals.

On each Jewish holiday Ruth would call to wish me gut yontif or L’Shanah Tovah or the appropriate greeting for the occasion.   She called me My Beauty.  Twice a year, I got the call to go to the group’s luncheon.  One time, I brought my husband Michael, and another, my son, Barnaby.  The Polio’s seemed to always want to include me in their lunches.  There were at least 30 people in the group and I was treated like a celebrity, an honored guest.  Sometimes, I would think of how my dad would cringe at all of this.  No fucking way would he go and hang out with other physically disabled folks calling themselves the Polio’s.  The restaurants always varied until finally, a few years ago, they settled on Fu’s Palace in Beverly Hills.  On those Sundays, they would all file in on scooters, or limp, tilting from side-to-side like my dad, and pay the $13, tip included, and enjoy each other’s company.  They would always rave about the food and the service.  It was the most upbeat group of people.

We Jews like our good Chinese restaurants, though I can’t say eating at Fu’s was so much about the great food for me.  It was more about the good vibe, and being so warmly accepted for having polio by association.  And, of course, it was a way of being closer to my dad.

The calls from Ruth ended more than a year ago.  I chose to ignore that I hadn’t heard from her.  Then a few months ago, I said to my husband that I was worried about Ruth, but sort of afraid to call.  He kept urging me to just make the call.  I did.  The phone was out of service.  I was never sure how old Ruth was.  Probably in her 80’s I assumed, but I never really knew or asked her age.  After realizing the phone was out of service, and I called the number many times, I looked online for obits.  There was a Ruth Ross from Beverly Hills who died last year at age 90.  That seemed impossible.  But it’s not impossible and I’m afraid I’ve lost my friend Ruth from the Polio’s.  I really miss her pouring love into the other end of the phone.  When she called me, she often said she was staring at the photo I had once given her of me with my father.  She would go on and on about how much she loved to look at that photo.  Loved looking at the adoring way I looked at him in this photo.  Every time I was on the phone with Ruth I was being told that I was the most special girl on earth.  And come on, we all like to believe that.  At the end of each phone call, she would say, “I wish you nachas, (Yiddish word for joy or blessings) do you know that that is?  It’s my favorite word.”  Then she would repeat it.  “Okay, my beauty, I wish you lots and lots of nachas.”

Wherever my friend Ruth is, I’m wishing her lots of nachas.

enjoy the clip of Ruth Ross and the Polio’s lunch

I’m sure there are very good Chinese Restaurants in downtown L.A. or Chinatown in New York or S.F.  I do hear there are amazing and very affordable Chinese Restaurants in Monterey Park and I should get more adventurous and try them out.   And this might sound really spoiled of me but, my favorite Chinese Restaurant in Los Angeles is Mr. Chow’s.  I do not go that often and it can get a touch pricey.  Or, I also love Joss which has changed it’s location a few times.  It was originally just before the Sunset Strip on Sunset in Beverly Hills.  It has since moved to Santa Monica Blvd. in B. H. right around Beverly High and is called Joss Cuisine.  They have my favorite, Peking Duck.  It’s a bit like Mr Chow’s in that it’s sort of gourmet Chinese food.

In New York I like Shun Lee West or the more casual, black and white checked,  Cafe in the west 60’s.  My brother and his wife love the one on the east side, Shun Lee Palace.

me with my brother Alan and wife Kris at Shun Lee Palace in New York, 2012

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7 Responses to “Ruth Ross and the Polio’s”

  1. David Miller-Engel says:

    Great Fredde… time in NY I want to take you to Wo HOps…..on Mott st. cantonese at its finest in NY

  2. Carol Dudley says:

    Fredde – always a wonderful and moving story – and a special friend. xxooc

  3. Augie Duke says:


  4. I am one of the Polio’s, genetically connected to all of those who had the predisposed gene which “The Polio Fever” could breed in and burn out muscle nerves or anterior horn cell neurons. I have a loving family, faithful friends and am a very, very blessed husband and father.

  5. Alice Stambler Seidman says:

    I think Ruth was my landlady for a very brief time when we rented an apartment on North Arnaz. Very sweet lady.

  6. monoatomic gold…

    […]Ruth Ross and the Polio’s « Channeling The Food Critic in Me[…]…

  7. Christel Chesney says:

    Inheriting your Dad’s balls, well, what could be better than that. The picture of the three of you is so very sweet. Yes indeed. He loved you all. Ms. Ruth is correct in saying “you could see the love in his eyes”.

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