I can’t speak to her years of growing up, of being a teenager but I suspect that as the oldest of at least eight children, Mom probably never really had the chance to be a kid. If memory serves me correctly, more than one of her siblings said, “Ruby was more of a mother to me than our mother was.”
Those early years of responsibility served her well when she married Dad and began a family of her own. Her firstborn son, Reuben, lived only a few hours. The following six have survived to this day with their ages spanning from seventy-three to fifty-three. Perhaps owing to her own early experience, there was never any confusion among the six of us as to whom was our mother.
She was as hard working a person as I ever knew, and I knew quite a few of them as I was growing up in western Kentucky. She was also as authentic a pioneer woman as was possible, I think. She made her own soap, made clothes for the family, canned just about everything that could be canned and would as soon have her hand cut off as to have someone accuse her of wasting anything. Throughout the years of my own recollection, her family had three complete home-cooked meals a day, three hundred-and-sixty-five days a year every year except for leap years. She also tended the garden, helped with the milking, planting and harvesting on the farm. And in all her spare time, she’d do for others, especially those in need or in grief.
Those habits continued up well into her eighties, I’d say, although not to the degree as when she was in her prime. It was not until she was in her nineties that the decline took away pretty much everything that defined her. The one thing that never changed, though, was the fact that she was never allowed to be her own person.
My Dad was a good man with many good and honest virtues but there was no question of his control over his wife and family. If Mom needed a new stove, he’d go pick one out for her. If she needed a new washing machine, he’d go get her one. In fairness, I have to say that I never saw him trying to tell her how to do her work. He was not a micro-manager of the household but he was, without question or contradiction, head of his house.
It wasn’t that Mom resented her role. In fact, she told me several years ago, “All I ever wanted was to be a preacher’s wife.” I never knew of anyone who defined that role as broadly and completely as she did. Her statement notwithstanding, though, the happiest I ever saw her was the few years during the early Seventies that she was the head cook at an elementary school in Mayfield, Kentucky. She had a talent for that and the school administrators there recognized it and rewarded it. Anyone who ever ate her homemade yeast bread or cinnamon rolls appreciated it, too.
So, for five years out of ninety-nine, Miss Ruby had her own identity, her own role independent of marriage or family. I think it was the only time and place when she was something other than “Brother Charlie’s wife.” And she loved it. When Dad decided, without any consultation with her, that they would move to North Carolina, she was crushed. She did her duty, submitted to his decision and resumed the preacher’s wife role, but she was never the same again.
She went directly from the control of her parents to marriage. Shortly before Dad died, she was placed under the control of a series of court-appointed guardians. She lived a good life, made a good name and gained the respect of nearly everyone who knew her. She was a virtuous woman, a woman of character and dignity with more than enough personality to distinguish herself. I could not miss the apt irony of her funeral sermon.
The minister, a friend of the family for over sixty years, spent more time talking about “Brother Charlie” than he did about Mom. At the grave, he admitted “they were such a team that it was hard to talk about one without talking about the other.” What he didn’t realize was that he seemed to have had no trouble five years earlier focusing on “Brother Charlie” when he preached Dad’s funeral. I know that it was not for lack of respect or love for Mom; he just didn’t realize what he was doing until it was too late.
I believe Mom deserved her own eulogy. Maybe this will serve as a start for one…