Sometimes I think about my mother, Ruby, who died 15 years ago. She reared me and my brother Randy. Those were hard times. She had a sense of humor but the years wore on her, making life a burden. She was a lifelong resident of our hometown.
In early life, she worked as a waitress. She often spoke with great pride of her ability to carry more hot dishes barehanded from kitchen to table than anyone else she knew.
She was an avid card player. If you couldn’t remember what tricks were played in a game of 500 — Ruby had you for lunch.
She lived in the heart of the downtown area on Federal Avenue for decades — and loved every minute of it.
She enjoyed the noise of traffic, the city waking up, the city eating lunch, and the city having a hard time going to sleep at night.
She lived high above the street, and didn’t mind the stairs at all, even late into her seventies.
Ruby loved going out for coffee. She was a great talker, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing a good joke. She knew that sharing troubles and laughter were both healing. In her own way, she reminded us to cherish our blessings wherever we found them. We will remember.
I am very lucky to have some snapshots of my family, and even luckier to find one of her smiling brightly. She suffered to put it simply. Religious faith helped. We went to church regularly for some time. My father never went to church as far as I know, but for some reason, at one time I remember there was some hint that he might attend Sunday service with us. A new pastor had taken over and I remember he said flatly that he would never allow some “Black buccaneer” in his church.
Over the years, I’ve thought about whether the pastor’s emphasis was on my father being black or just a buccaneer. He was both. Anyway, he never showed up and that’s just as well because he surely was not welcome.
At Christmas, we used to get gifts of fruitcake from members of the church. I think that was one of the first times I learned how to lie from my mother who didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings who was making a gift to us during the holidays. I hated that fruitcake so much; I can’t even begin to tell you. But I told anyone who gave that stuff to us that I loved it.
Television was about the only entertainment we had. We used to watch Ed Sullivan, Lost in Space, and all those other shows you can see on MeTV nowadays. We used to play Old Maid with a pretty creepy deck of cards.
Mom could climb a lot of stairs without any problems, well into her eighties. I climb a lot of stairs too as a C-L psychiatrist in the general hospital, and I’m well into my sixties. We’re alike in many ways.
One of the differences was that she could play cards better than I ever will. I’m just not so good at remembering what cards have been played. However, I try and my wife and I occasionally play a game called Schnapsen, in which remembering what’s been played is critical to winning. I lose more than my share of games.
Mom was a fast walker. We often walked from our house to Central Park downtown, which was quite a distance. We didn’t have a car, so walking was the only way to get around. I take after her because I’m a pretty good walker. Ask any trainee who rotates through the psychiatry consult service.
When she got very old, her health worsened and her nerves got the best of her more often than not. I remember she made me promise I’d never put her in a nursing home. I did promise—and I eventually had to break it.
Mom and I were very much alike. I treasure our differences.