As Ruth works in her family’s store, sailors come in and try to flirt with her and Dee-Dee. Mameh doesn’t approve, and tells Ruth, in Yiddish, to make the sailors leave.
Mameh does her best to protect Ruth from the outside world, even if she can’t provide her with a happy life (or protect her from Tateh).
Ruth remembers seeing the Ku Klux Klan drive through town. She doesn’t always realize who they are at first, but the black customers at her family’s store always run home when the see the Klan on the street. Ruth and her family don’t fear white supremacists specifically, but they do worry about anti-Jewish sentiment in their town. Tateh buys a gun for protection, and Ruth constantly worries that he’d accidentally shoot himself while cleaning it.
Black people in Suffolk have to deal with violent, potentially deadly racism. Although Ruth’s family is discriminated against, she has the luxury of not needing to know who the Klan is, because they do not pose a direct threat to her and her family. Although Ruth does not love her father, she dislikes the idea of his death because he is some of the only family she has.
Looking back on her childhood, Ruth considers how different life is for her mixed-race children compared to how black people lived in Suffolk. These people lived in “shacks with no running water, no foundations, no bathrooms…no paved roads, no electricity.” Life for black families was “a dead end.”
Growing up in the rural South, Ruth understands what true racism and dire poverty look like. She’s worked hard as an adult to guarantee her children will never have to experience such hardships.
Ruth and her Jewish family, who had money, were unhappy, whereas black families in her town were very poor, but often happy and content in their communities.
Ruth’s family life is so troubled that their relative economic prosperity brings them no joy. As Ruth often notices, her family provided her with a place to sleep and food to eat, but not with love.
Ruth’s brother Sam is quiet and hardworking. Tateh is harder on him than he is on his daughters, and Sam is left with no time to study for school and no time to make friends. Ruth can only remember him smiling once, at his bar mitzvah, and she knows he was only happy because Mameh was happy to see him become a man. At fifteen Sam runs away to Chicago, and then enrolls in the army during WWII. He writes one letter home in English, which Ruth has to read to Mameh. Mameh asks Ruth to write back, asking Sam to come home, but Sam doesn’t respond, and doesn’t return. He would go on to die in WWII, before Ruth could ever see him again.
Ruth’s relationship with her brother was similar to the one she had to every member of her family — essentially contractual. His relationship to the family is the same, and he makes the same choice Ruth did years later — he ran away to save himself from the tumult and abuse of his home life.