Thelma Shares her Story with Others through Autobiography

By Allison Bain

At 98 years old, Thelma Ruck Keene has had what she calls “an interesting life.” She decided to share her story with others by writing her autobiography, titled The Handkerchief Drawer.

“It’s a true story about a child being born nearly a hundred years ago,” she says. “I’ll be 99 in January. It was a different life altogether. It was still Victorian in many ways.”

Thelma says it was easy for her to recall different memories and that the story seemed to flow out of her.

“I didn’t have to remember anything, it just came.”

During the Second World War, Thelma travelled to different countries while working as a short-end typist. At one point, while escaping from Greece, she and several others took refuge on an uninhabited island, only coming out at night so they could avoid being seen by German planes.

“And suddenly, as we were running, going back, a plane came over, and it was a German plane and he was so close that I could almost see his face, quite clearly, and then we heard the bomb falling,” she says. “And at that moment, at some point, he came back a second time, and when he did I shot up out of my hiding place and I shouted to God I said ‘God, I don’t know whether you exist or not, but I’m not going to die until I find out!’”

Thelma’s tenacity has gotten her through many situations, but she doesn’t think of herself as being exceptional.

“Sometimes people say ‘You’re amazing’ and I say ‘I’m not amazing, I’ve just enjoyed being alive,” she says.

Thelma hopes to continue writing and has a large collection of quotes that she would like to publish someday under the title The Wide Sea of Words.

“I realize now that words are terribly important... I wish I knew about words in all the other languages and so on, but that’s alright, the words are good enough and varied enough that they can say the most extraordinary things, and the most beautiful things, and the most frightening things.”

When Thelma isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her friends and meeting new people while she’s out running errands.

“It’s an interesting life, and I’m very grateful for the people who are kind and helpful.”