On the 12th Day of Ebony my true love gave to me…
Today, on my 46th birthday, I have sweet memories of Ruth Dean-Nash, my beautiful grandmother. We called her Mama Ruth.
Mama Ruth was a 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Survivor. She was just 5 years old when white men approached the family car as they tried to make their escape. These men had guns and they were pointed at Mama Ruth’s family. My grandmother was so terrified she jumped out of the car and ran. Her mother ran after her, but the rest of the family had no choice but to flee, leaving them behind.
My grandmother and great grandmother survived that terrible night, but I can’t begin to imagine the terror they must have felt being separated from their family in the middle of a war zone.
That terrified little girl grew up to be a strong, loving, and beautiful woman. Mama Ruth had the most beautiful head of silvery white hair I’ve ever seen. My father has that hair and, sometimes I look at him with a twinge of jealousy. If I had that hair, I’d never allow a dye bottle anywhere near my tender scalp…but my gray hair is just…blah…so I dye it blonde it to make myself feel better.
I can still smell Mama Ruth’s pot roast baking in the oven every Sunday. I remember calling her, as an adult, to ask her how she made her roast so tender. I wanted mine to taste just like hers.
Mama Ruth was a very special woman. She was so special, we often tried to protect from the less than holy sides of our personalities. You see, to us, Mama Ruth was an angel on Earth…meant to be placed on a pedestal.
In that spirit, when my cousin, Robin, asked me to perform some of my risqué poetry at a ladies night she was hosting…everyone was invited but Mama Ruth.
Y’all, Mama Ruth was not happy! She called one of my aunts while were at the party and that aunt put her on speaker phone.
“But, Mama Ruth!” I told her. “I don’t want you to hear me talking about sex and stuff.”
Mama Ruth said, “Do you know how church folk get babies? They **** like everybody else!”
We all fell out laughing. I was thirty years old and I had never heard my Mama Ruth cuss. It was hilarious, and I realized she was more than just my beautiful grandmother. She was human.
Each year, for as long as I could remember, Mama Ruth would mail me a birthday card with a single dollar bill inside. I still have the very first birthday card I received from my Mama Ruth and my Daddy Nate on my 1st birthday. From my first birthday until my adulthood, I could always count on that dollar from Mama Ruth. Mama Ruth kept a huge chart with every child, grand-child, and even great-grandchild’s name and birthday. She wanted to make sure we all got a card and a dollar from her on our special day.
One of my biggest regrets is only realizing the impact my grandmother had on me. I was oblivious to the impact she had on her community. She was special to me. I didn’t know how special she was to others until the day of her funeral.
Her funeral was packed. Imagine a huge church with every available inch of space taken in honor of one woman. A woman who, to me, was just my beautiful grandmother. But to everyone else, she was mother, sister, neighbor, friend, and devoted member of Timothy Baptist Church.
During her funeral, the Timothy Baptist Church choir sang the most beautiful rendition of “Well Done” I’ve ever heard.
That song was perfect and embodied who my grandmother was to those around her. She was love and she lived a life worthy of praise.
I miss Mama Ruth, but I find joy knowing that she was reunited with Daddy Nate the moment she closed her eyes that last time. I like to think he was waiting for her at the end of that lighted tunnel with a huge smile on his face.
I imagine his first words to her were, “Well done, Ruth. Well done.”