The Color of Water

Ruth McBride-Jordan Character Analysis

One of the narrators of The Color of Water and James McBride’s mother. She had twelve children born to two husbands, Andrew Dennis McBride Sr. and Hunter Jordan Sr. More than anything else in her life, Ruth values her children and her relationship to God. A white woman who married two black men and gave birth to twelve mixed-race children, Ruth dislikes discussing race, but nevertheless values open-mindedness and condemns bigotry. Ruth has dealt with significant trauma over the course of her life, and deals with painful emotions by locking them away in her mind and doing her best to forget about them. She was born as Ruchel Dwajra Zylska in Poland in 1921, and immigrated to the United States with her mother, father, and older brother in 1923. Her name was Americanized to Rachel Deborah Shilsky, and for the first twenty years of her life she was known as Rachel, only changing her name to the less Jewish sounding Ruth when she left home for the last time. Ruth grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, where her father Tateh was a business owner and rabbi. Her family life was tumultuous, as her father was abusive and her mother Mameh, disabled by polio as a younger woman, was unable to defend her three children. Ruth faced abuse within her family, but also anti-Semitism from the predominantly white protestant community in her Southern town. She never felt loved or cared for, and didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere. Ruth eventually left her family and moved to New York City, where she met and married her first husband, Dennis. Although she remained in touch with her birth family for a while, after her final visit in her early twenties she was entirely disowned, and her relatives sat shiva and treated her as though she had died. For much of her adult life, Ruth’s past self, Rachel, was dead to her as well. She had reinvented herself as a light-skinned Christian black woman, and it wasn’t until James began to pry into her history for his book that her twelve children began to understand who she really was and where she had come from.

Ruth McBride-Jordan Quotes in The Color of Water

The The Color of Water quotes below are all either spoken by Ruth McBride-Jordan or refer to Ruth McBride-Jordan . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of The Color of Water published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I was born an Orthodox Jew on April 1, 1921, April Fool’s Day, in Poland. I don’t remember the name of the town where I was born, but I do remember my Jewish name: Ruchel Dwarja Zylska. My parents got rid of that name when we came to America and changed it to Rachel Deborah Shilsky, and I got rid of that name when I was nineteen and never used it again after I left Virginia for good in 1941. Rachel Shilsky is dead as far as I’m concerned. She had to die in order for me, the rest of me, to live.

Related Characters: Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker)
Page Number: 1
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Chapter 2 Quotes

The image of her riding that bicycle typified her whole existence to me. Her oddness, her complete nonawareness of what the world thought of her, a nonchalance in the face of what I perceived to be imminent danger from blacks and whites who disliked her for being a white person in a black world. She saw none of it.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Related Symbols: Ruth’s Bicycle
Page Number: 7
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Chapter 4 Quotes

Mommy, after all, did not really look like me. In fact, she didn’t look like Richie, or David—or any of her children for that matter. We were all clearly black, of various shades of brown, some light brown, some medium brown, some very light-skinned, and all of us had curly hair. Mommy was by her own definition, “light-skinned,” a statement which I had initially accepted as fact but at some point later decided was not true. My best friend Billy Smith’s mother was as light as Mommy was and had red hair to boot, but there was no question in my mind that Billy’s mother was black and my mother was not. There was something inside me, an ache I had, like a constant itch that got bigger and bigger as I grew, that told me. It was in my blood, you might say, and however the notion got there, it bothered me greatly. Yet Mommy refused to acknowledge her whiteness. Why she did so was not clear, but even my teachers seemed to know she was white and I wasn’t. On open school nights, the question most often asked by my schoolteachers was: “Is James adopted?” which always prompted an outraged response from Mommy.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 22
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Yet conflict was a part of our lives, written into our very faces, hands, and arms, and to see how contradiction lived and survived in its essence, we had to look no farther than our own mother. Mommy’s contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars at Coney Island. White folks, she felt, were implicitly evil toward blacks, yet she forced us to go to white schools to get the best education. Blacks could be trusted more, but anything involving blacks was probably slightly substandard. She disliked people with money yet was in constant need of it. She couldn’t stand racists of either color and had great distaste for bourgeois blacks who sought to emulate rich whites by putting on airs and “doing silly things like covering their couches with plastic and holding teacups with their pinkies out.” “What fools!” she’d hiss.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 29
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Chapter 6 Quotes

…One afternoon on the way home from church I asked her whether God was black or white.
A deep sigh. “Oh boy…God’s not black. He’s not white. He’s a spirit.”
“Does he like black or white people better?”
“He loves all people. He’s a spirit.”
“What’s a spirit?”
“A spirit’s a spirit.”
“What color is God’s spirit?”
“It doesn’t have a color,” she said. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.”

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 50
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Chapter 9 Quotes

Nobody liked me. That’s how I felt as a child. I know what it feels like when people laughing at you walking down the street, or snicker when they hear you speaking Yiddish, or just look at you with hate in their eyes. You know a Jew living in Suffolk when I was coming up could be lonely even if there were fifteen of them standing in the room, I don’t know why; it’s that feeling that nobody likes you; that’s how I felt, living in the South. You were different from everyone and liked by very few. There were white sections of Suffolk, like the Riverview section, where Jews weren’t allowed to own property. It said that on the deeds and you can look them up. They’d say “for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants only.” That was the law there and they meant it. The Jews in Suffolk did stick together, but even among Jews my family was low because we dealt with shvartses. So I didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends either.

Related Characters: Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker)
Page Number: 80
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Chapter 10 Quotes

To further escape from painful reality, I created an imaginary world for myself. I believed my true self was a boy who lived in the mirror. I’d lock myself in the bathroom and spend long hours playing with him. He looked just like me. I’d stare at him. Kiss him. Make faces at him and order him around. Unlike my siblings, he had no opinions. He would listen to me. “If I’m here and you’re me, how can you be there at the same time?” I’d ask. He’d shrug and smile. I’d shout at him, abuse him verbally. “Give me an answer!” I’d snarl. I would turn to leave, but when I wheeled around he was always there, waiting for me. I had an ache inside, a longing, but I didn’t know where it came from or why I had it. The boy in the mirror, he didn’t seem to have an ache. He was free. He was never hungry, he had his own bed probably, and his mother wasn’t white. I hated him. “Go away!” I’d shout. “Hurry up! Get on out!” but he’d never leave.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Related Symbols: The Boy in the Mirror
Page Number: 90
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…I myself had no idea who I was. I loved my mother yet looked nothing like her. Neither did I look like the role models in my life—my stepfather, my godparents, other relatives—all of whom were black. And they looked nothing like the other heroes I saw, the guys in the movies, white men like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman who beat the bad guys and in the end got the pretty girl—who, incidentally, was always white.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan , Hunter Jordan Sr.
Page Number: 91
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The question of race was like the power of the moon in my house. It’s what made the river flow, the ocean swell, and the tide rise, but it was a silent power, intractable, indomitable, indisputable, and thus completely ignorable. Mommy kept us at a frantic living pace that left no time for the problem.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 94
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As I walked home, holding Mommy’s hand while she fumed, I thought it would be easier if we were just one color, black or white. I didn’t want to be white. My siblings had already instilled the notion of black pride in me. I would have preferred that Mommy were black. Now, as a grown man, I feel privileged to have come from two worlds. My view of the world is not merely that of a black man but that of a black man with something of a Jewish soul. I don’t consider myself Jewish, but when I look at Holocaust photographs of Jewish women whose children have been wrenched from them by Nazi soldiers, the women look like my own mother and I think to myself, There but for the grace of God goes my own mother—and by extension, myself.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 103
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Chapter 11 Quotes

You know, my whole life changed after I fell in love. It was like the sun started shining on me for the first time, and for the first time in my life I began to smile. I was loved, I was loved, and I didn’t care what anyone thought. I wasn’t worried about getting caught, but I did notice that Peter’s friends were terrified of me; they stayed clear anytime I came near them. They’d walk away from me if they saw me walking down the road coming toward them, and if they came into the store, they wouldn’t even look at me. That started to worry me a little but I didn’t worry much. Then after a while, my period was late. By a week.

Related Characters: Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker), Peter
Page Number: 112
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You know, the thing was, I was supposed to be white and “number one,” too. That was a big thing in the South. You’re white, and even if you’re a Jew, since you’re white you’re better than a so-called colored. Well, I didn’t feel number one with nobody but him, and I didn’t give a hoot that he was black. He was kind! And good! I knew that! And I wanted to tell folks that, I wanted to shout out, “Hey y’all, it really doesn’t matter!” I actually believed folks would accept that, that they’d see what a good person he was and maybe accept us, and I went through a few days of thinking this, after which I told him one night, “Let’s run off to the country and get married,” and he said, “No way. I don’t know where that’s been done before, white and black marrying in Virginia. They will surely hang me.”

Related Characters: Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker), Peter
Page Number: 113
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Chapter 13 Quotes

I was always grateful to Aunt Betts for that. Even though she slammed the door in my face years later, I never felt bitter toward her. She had her own life and her own set of hurts to deal with, and after all, I wasn’t her child. Mameh’s sisters were more about money than anything else, and any hurts that popped up along the way, they just swept them under the rug. They were trying hard to be American, you know, not knowing what to keep and what to leave behind. But you know what happens when you do that. If you throw water on the floor it will always find a hole, believe me.

Page Number: 135
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Chapter 15 Quotes

“They’re making me marry her,” he said. “My folks are making me.”
“Did you get her pregnant?”
“Yeah.”
Oh, that messed me up. I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore and walked back through the black neighborhood, into the store, and went upstairs and cried my heart out, because I still loved him. I went through this entire ordeal and here he was getting busy with somebody else. The fact that he was black and the girl he was marrying was black—well, that hurt me even more. If the world were fair, I suppose I would have married him, but there was no way that could happen in Virginia. Not in 1937.
I made up my mind then that I was going to leave Suffolk for good.

Related Characters: Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker), Peter
Page Number: 154
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Chapter 16 Quotes

“I’ll never learn to drive,” she said.
The irony was that Mommy knew how to drive before she was eighteen. She drove her father’s 1936 Ford back in Suffolk, Virginia. Not only did she drive it, she drove it well enough to pull a trailer behind it full of wholesale supplies for her family’s grocery store. She drove the care and trailer on paved and dirt roads between Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and North Carolina. She could back the trailer up with the goods in it, unload it at the store, back the car into the yard, unhook the trailer, and park the car in the garage, backing in. But she had left her past so far behind that she literally did to know how to drive. Rachel Deborah Shilsky could drive a car and pull a trailer behind it, but Ruth McBride Jordan had never touched a steering wheel before that day in 1973, and you can make book on it.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan (speaker)
Page Number: 168
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Chapter 21 Quotes

“I know you’re gonna marry a shvartse. You’re making a mistake.” That stopped me cold, because I didn’t know how he learned it. To this day I don’t know. He said, “If you marry a nigger, don’t ever come home again. Don’t come back.”
“I’ll always come to see Mameh.”
“Not if you marry a nigger you won’t,” he said. “Don’t come back.”

Page Number: 215
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Chapter 22 Quotes

Like most of the Jews in Suffolk they treated me very kindly, truly warm and welcoming, as if I were one of them, which in an odd way I suppose I was. I found it odd and amazing when white people treated me that way, as if there were no barriers between us. It said a lot about this religion—Judaism—that some of its followers, old southern crackers who talked with southern twangs and wore straw hats, seemed to believe that its covenants went beyond the color of one’s skin. The Sheffers, Helen Weintraub, the Jaffes, they talked to me in person and by letter in a manner and tone that, in essence, said “Don’t forget us. We have survived her. Your mother was part of this…”

Page Number: 224
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Chapter 23 Quotes

There was no turning back after my mother died. I stayed on the black side because that was the only place I could stay. The few problems I had with black folks were nothing compared to the grief white folks dished out. With whites it was no question. You weren’t accepted to be with a black man and that was that. They’d say forget it. Are you crazy? A nigger and you? No way. They called you white trash. That’s what they called me. Nowadays these mixed couples get on TV every other day complaining, “Oh, it’s hard for us.” They have cars and television and homes and they’re complaining. Jungle fever they call it, flapping their jaws and making the whole thing sound stupid. They didn’t have to run for their lives like we did.

Page Number: 232
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Chapter 24 Quotes

Sometimes without conscious realization, our thoughts, our faith, our interests are entered into the past…We talk about other times, other places, other persons, and lose our living hold on the present. Sometimes we think if we could just go back in time we would be happy. But anyone who attempts to reenter the past is sure to be disappointed. Anyone who has ever revisited the place of his birth after years of absence is shocked by the differences between the way the place actually is, and the way he has remembered it. He may walk along old familiar streets and roads, but he is a stranger in a strange land. He has thought of this place as home, but he finds he is no longer here even in spirit. He has gone onto a new and different life, and in thinking longingly of the past, he has been giving thought and interest to something that no longer really exists.

Page Number: 250
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Chapter 25 Quotes

Doctors found squamous cell cancer in a small mole they removed from Ma’s face, a condition caused by too much exposure to the sun. Ironically, it’s a condition that affects mostly white people. To the very end, Mommy is a flying compilation of competing interests and conflicts, a black woman in white skin, with black children and a white woman’s physical problem.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 260
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For her, her Jewish side is gone. She opened the door for me but closed it for herself long ago, and for her to crack it open and peek inside was like eating fire. She’d look in and stagger back, blinded, as the facts of her own history poured over her like lava. As she revealed the facts of her life I felt helpless, like I was watching her die and be reborn again (yet there was a cleansing element, too), because after years of hiding, she opened up and began to talk about the past, and as she did so, I was the one who wanted to run for cover…Imagine, if you will, five thousand years of Jewish history landing in your lap in the space of months. It sent me tumbling through my own abyss of sorts, trying to salvage what I could of my feelings and emotions, which would be scattered to the winds as she talked.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mommy’s children are extraordinary people, most of them leaders in their own right. All of them have toted more mental baggage and dealt with more hardship than they care to remember, yet they carry themselves with a giant measure of dignity, humility, and humor. Like any family we have problems, but we have always been close. Through marriage, adoptions, love-ins, and shack-ups, the original dozen has expanded into dozens and dozens more—wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews—ranging from dark-skinned to light-skinned; from black kinky hair to blonde hair and blue eyes. In running from her past, Mommy has created her own nation, a rainbow coalition that descends on her house every Christmas and Thanksgiving and sleeps everywhere—on the floor, on rugs, in shifts; sleeping double, triple to a bed, “two up, three down,” just like old times.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Page Number: 276
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Epilogue Quotes

She catches all of her important moments with a camera, waddling down Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue from the A train to Long Island College Hospital to take pictures of my daughter Azure’s first days of life; standing my toddler son, Jordan, up against a tree in her yard so she can snap a quick picture of him in his Easter outfit. Her photos are horrible, heads cut off, pictures of nothing, a table, a hand, a chair. Still, she shoots pictures of any event that’s important to her, knowing that each memory is too important to lose, having lost so many before.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan , David Lee Preston
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ruth McBride-Jordan Character Timeline in The Color of Water

The timeline below shows where the character Ruth McBride-Jordan appears in The Color of Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Dad
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In first line of the first chapter Ruth declares, “I’m dead.” At this point, in the 1980s, it’s been almost fifty years since... (full context)
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Ruth tells her son James that her family would not have put up with being interviewed.... (full context)
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Ruth gives a short history of her life: she was born an Orthodox Jew in Poland... (full context)
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When Ruth married her first husband, Andrew McBride, her family sat shiva and acted as though she... (full context)
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Ruth’s parents were polar opposites. Her father, Fishel Shilsky, who she called Tateh, was an Orthodox... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Bicycle
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...narrates this chapter. When he is fourteen his stepfather Hunter Jordan dies, and his mother (Ruth), unable to drive, starts bicycling around the neighborhood. James misses his stepfather, who he thought... (full context)
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...mother on her old blue bicycle, which he sees as an indication of how different Ruth is from the other mothers in his neighborhood. (full context)
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...family, and speaks Yiddish. Because Hunter lives in Brooklyn and only visits on the weekends, Ruth is the “commander in chief” of the family—surgeon, priest, psychologist, and financial advisor—and deals with... (full context)
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On his first day of school Ruth walks James to the bus stop. It’s the first time he can remember being alone... (full context)
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A few weeks later, James gets off the bus and panics when he realizes Ruth isn’t there to meet him. He waits and waits until all the other children have... (full context)
Chapter 3: Kosher
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Ruth, narrating again, describes Tateh and Mameh’s loveless arranged marriage. Mameh’s family was upper class and... (full context)
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When they first arrive in America, Ruth and her family live with her grandparents, Bubeh and Zaydeh, in Manhattan. This time with... (full context)
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When Ruth is still a small child, Zaydeh dies in the apartment. She has trouble understanding he... (full context)
Chapter 4: Black Power
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As a child, James wonders about his mother’s family history. Because Ruth won’t answer many of his questions, James turns to his siblings with questions. When James... (full context)
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...has also noticed teachers continually ask his mother if he’s adopted. He starts to believe Ruth isn’t his real mother. (full context)
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One night James stays up until 2 A.M. to confront Ruth about his origins. She just laughs and tells him he isn’t adopted. When he asks... (full context)
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Ruth, meanwhile, is only interested in church and her children’s academics. She encourages her children to... (full context)
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...would accept his mixed-race family, and so he taught his children to keep to themselves. Ruth used her own (imperfect) childhood as a model for her parenting, and together with both... (full context)
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Ruth passes on complicated ideas about race and class to her children. Although she understands that... (full context)
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...street about her mixed-race family if she is worried about the safety of her children. Ruth feels that Malcolm X’s comments about “the white devil” don’t include her, sees civil rights... (full context)
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...child is confused by her comfort in dangerous neighborhoods. As an adult he understands that Ruth’s faith in God kept her calm, but as a child every incident—like a man stealing... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Old Testament
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Ruth’s father is a traveling rabbi, but he isn’t particularly good at his job so Ruth... (full context)
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Suffolk is a small, insular, anti-Semitic town. Ruth endures years of insults from other children in school. Despite this, Tateh decides he’s sick... (full context)
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Their general store makes Ruth’s family richer, but not happier. Her parents don’t get along. Although Mameh is a devoted... (full context)
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Ruth is a claustrophobic child (and grows into a claustrophobic adult). She hates going into the... (full context)
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As a child, Ruth has low self-esteem, partially due to Tateh’s mistreatment of her. She credits her first husband,... (full context)
Chapter 6: The New Testament
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Ruth loves God and goes to church every Sunday. The whole family likes the pastor, Rev.... (full context)
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...can see the power of faith secondhand, because church is the only thing that made Ruth cry for joy, but as an adult, James says, he personally understands the power of... (full context)
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James asks Ruth if God is black or white. Ruth explains God is neither black nor white, and... (full context)
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All of Ruth’s children deal with race-related identity crises at various points in their lives. Richie, James’s older... (full context)
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...knows. Billy recites the shortest verse, which is, in full, “Jesus wept,” and sits down. Ruth is angry and embarrassed, and punishes him when they get home. (full context)
Chapter 7: Sam
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As Ruth works in her family’s store, sailors come in and try to flirt with her and... (full context)
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Ruth remembers seeing the Ku Klux Klan drive through town. She doesn’t always realize who they... (full context)
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Looking back on her childhood, Ruth considers how different life is for her mixed-race children compared to how black people lived... (full context)
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Ruth and her Jewish family, who had money, were unhappy, whereas black families in her town... (full context)
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Ruth’s brother Sam is quiet and hardworking. Tateh is harder on him than he is on... (full context)
Chapter 8: Brothers and Sisters
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...so many of them and their family is relatively poor, they often fight over food. Ruth cannot cook, because she has neither the time nor the talent, so she brings home... (full context)
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...doctor. James knows Dennis spends much of his time as a civil rights activist, but Ruth doesn’t mind, as long as it doesn’t affect his performance in medical school. (full context)
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...out of school to become a hippie and stage a “revolution against the white man.” Ruth is furious, and repeatedly disciplines Helen, but her mind remains unchanged. After a fight with... (full context)
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Months later, Jack calls Ruth and says she’s found Helen. Helen is living in a housing project in Upper Manhattan.... (full context)
Chapter 9: Shul
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...Kosher way. Watching her father, who she already fears, butcher animals makes it hard for Ruth to eat meat for much of her childhood. (full context)
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...black townspeople, one for whites, and one for the Jewish community. Although Tateh doesn’t think Ruth will learn anything in school, and he pays for private lessons in sewing and record... (full context)
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In the fourth grade, Ruth makes her first and only friend, Frances. Frances isn’t Jewish, but she doesn’t care that... (full context)
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As a child, many of the families around Ruth are poor, regardless of race, Frances’s family included. Comparably, Ruth’s family is relatively well off... (full context)
Chapter 10: School
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...until he goes shopping for school clothes in a Jewish neighborhood. He’s surprised to hear Ruth haggle in Yiddish, but when he asks her, she refuses to tell him how she... (full context)
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...people are different from other white people, but he doesn’t feel any connection to them. Ruth, drawing from her own childhood, testifies that “some Jews can’t stand” her mixed-race children, but... (full context)
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In her parenting Ruth draws upon her Jewish traditions, especially one of academic excellence. Ruth makes sure to take... (full context)
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...role models and relatives. James learns the term “Tragic mulatto” in a book and asks Ruth about it. She becomes upset and refuses to answer his question regarding whether he’s black... (full context)
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James describes the question of race as “a silent power” which dominates his childhood household. Ruth, however, tries to keep her children too busy with school, free concerts, library visits, and... (full context)
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The revolutionary spirit of the 1960s disturbs Ruth’s carefully constructed household. Helen, who had run off at fifteen, returns five years later with... (full context)
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...the street, and pin it on Richie because he’s black and because he has money. Ruth, panicked, goes to his trial, and because the judge is white and Ruth is white,... (full context)
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...her, he insists he go alone. Unfortunately, the white storeowner purposefully sells him expired milk. Ruth is outraged, and marches back to the store to demand a refund. When the storeowner... (full context)
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...believes he is “a black man with something of a Jewish soul,” and often sees Ruth in Jewish women he encounters. As an adult James “belong[s] to the world of one... (full context)
Chapter 11: Boys
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Ruth’s unhappy home life only gets worse after Sam runs away. She’s expected to do more... (full context)
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Ruth meets her first boyfriend, Peter, in her father’s shop. They flirt whenever he comes in... (full context)
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Falling in love changes Ruth’s life. In addition to loving Peter, she feels loved for the first time. She isn’t... (full context)
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In the South, Ruth and her family are technically white and “number one,” even though they’re Jewish, which elevates... (full context)
Chapter 12: Daddy
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Hunter Jordan and Ruth met when he was a fireman for the NYC Housing Authority and Ruth was selling... (full context)
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Hunter Jordan values neatness and order, and so doesn’t live with Ruth and her children. When James is seven Hunter buys the family a house in Queens,... (full context)
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...the next two weeks, and James does his best to avoid going to visit. Eventually, Ruth forces James and his sister Kathy to see their father, and both children are horrified... (full context)
Chapter 13: New York
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Somehow, Mameh knows that Ruth is pregnant. Though a quiet woman, Mameh is very perceptive. For many years she could... (full context)
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When she visits New York Ruth stays with her grandmother, Aunt Mary, or Aunt Laura. Aunt Laura is rich, with a... (full context)
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Bubeh is warm, funny, and “full of life.” She’s older and diabetic, and Ruth is constantly worried that she will go into diabetic shock. Ruth repeatedly wakes Bubeh up... (full context)
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Ruth’s Aunt Betsy lives with Bubeh. She can tell that Ruth is upset about something, and... (full context)
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As an adult, Ruth goes to Aunt Betsy again for help, but Betsy slams the door in her face.... (full context)
Chapter 14: Chicken Man
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After her second husband’s death, Ruth “stagger[s] through the motions of life.” She does her best to maintain her household, but... (full context)
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...gets so drunk in celebration that he can’t walk. When he eventually makes it home Ruth whips him in punishment, but it doesn’t change his behavior. James explains, “my friends became... (full context)
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...to help. However, Kathy gives him C grades instead of his usual As, which prompts Ruth to call the school. Ruth then discovers that James is not even a C student—he’s... (full context)
Chapter 15: Graduation
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After her abortion Ruth stays in New York. She lives with Bubeh and attends Girls Commercial High school. She... (full context)
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After finding out about Peter’s upcoming marriage, Ruth decides that once she graduates high school she’s leaving Suffolk forever. Her only reservation is... (full context)
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As graduation approaches, Frances asks Ruth to walk with her. Ruth hasn’t shared any of the trouble in her life with... (full context)
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On graduation day Ruth is nervous. Frances understands, and tells Ruth that if she can’t go into the church,... (full context)
Chapter 16: Driving
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One morning in 1973, when James is sixteen, Ruth decides she’s going to learn to drive Hunter Jordan’s car. James doesn’t think his mother... (full context)
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Looking back, James sees that it took Ruth a decade to recover from her second husband’s death. She mourned her husband, but also... (full context)
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Even when everything else is falling apart, Ruth finds strength and hope in Jesus, and goes to church every Sunday regardless of how... (full context)
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Ruth has convinced herself that she needs to learn how to drive, and recruits James to... (full context)
Chapter 17: Lost in Harlem
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When Ruth first moves to New York she stays with Bubeh and works in Aunt Mary’s leather... (full context)
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Ruth tries to get a job in a movie theatre in Harlem, but most employers don’t... (full context)
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Ruth lives some of the time in her Harlem apartment, and some of the time at... (full context)
Chapter 18: Lost in Delaware
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In June of 1974 Ruth announces the family is moving to Delaware. Three years after the death of her second... (full context)
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...generally only cause for a ticket or citation, he’s taken to night court. In court Ruth panics, and yells across the room to David not to plead guilty. From this moment... (full context)
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James understands that Ruth is “spinning in crazy circles only because she was trying to survive,” and she always... (full context)
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...drives to the Greyhound station. Even as he is getting out, James is aware that Ruth is stuck in the state. She has few friends, and cannot get along with anyone,... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Promise
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A few weeks after Ruth has officially parted ways with Rocky, she and Dennis start dating. He’s a violinist and... (full context)
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...interracial relationships are very uncommon, but Dennis insists on being public with it, and introduces Ruth to all the members of his family. His family adopts Ruth as their own, and... (full context)
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One day, Ruth misses her mother and decides to call home. Tateh answers and tells her Mameh is... (full context)
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...begins to cheat on her with a white Christian woman from the town. He has Ruth act as an intermediary between himself and Mameh, and tries to get Mameh to divorce... (full context)
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Ruth worries about how Dee-Dee, who is only fifteen, is being affected by the problems in... (full context)
Chapter 20: Old Man Shilsky
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After years of badgering, James has finally found out about Suffolk, Virginia, where Ruth grew up. James wants to understand where she came from, and wants to understand who... (full context)
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...his grandfather eventually ran off with a white woman. Eddie asks if he can call Ruth, so James calls his mother and asks if she’d like to talk. The chapter ends... (full context)
Chapter 21: A Bird Who Flies
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During her last summer in Suffolk Ruth receives a letter from New York announcing that Bubeh has died. The letter is in... (full context)
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Tateh meets Ruth at the bus station and tries to bribe her into staying, promising that she can... (full context)
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Tateh warns Ruth that if she ever marries a black man she won’t be welcome back, and drives... (full context)
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...for Aunt Mary, and he hears that Tateh has hired a detective to look for Ruth. Not long after that, Dennis overhears that Mameh is sick and has been brought to... (full context)
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It takes time for Ruth to begin to feel better. What helps her is Dennis and his talk of God,... (full context)
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Ruth remembers her mother playing with live chickens on Yom Kippur, explaining that by killing the... (full context)
Chapter 22: A Jew Discovered
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...his potential. Mameh, in contrast, he called a “fine lady.” Rubenstein recorded a message for Ruth on James’s tape recorder, but James never played it for his mother, worrying it would... (full context)
Chapter 23: Dennis
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In 1942 Ruth and Dennis lived together like husband and wife, although they are unmarried. Some black people... (full context)
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Dennis brings Christianity into Ruth’s life, along with the struggle for equal rights, and Southern food. During the week Dennis... (full context)
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Ruth eventually begins to work as church secretary, and as she gets more religious she becomes... (full context)
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In 1943 Ruth and Dennis have their first child and move to a one-room kitchenette. They live in... (full context)
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...gets what seems to be a bad cold. He gets worse and worse, and so Ruth takes him to the hospital. Once there, he continues to get sicker. The doctors do... (full context)
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When Dennis in the hospital Ruth realizes she’s pregnant, and Dennis decides they’ll name the child James, if he’s a boy.... (full context)
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Ruth buries her husband in North Carolina, where his family lives, and when she returns to... (full context)
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Luckily, not long after the death of Dennis, Ruth meets Hunter Jordan. She’s hesitant to marry him, but Aunt Candis tells her it’s the... (full context)
Chapter 24: New Brown
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Ruth and James attend the fortieth anniversary of the New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in 1994.... (full context)
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Ruth rarely talks, or even thinks about her first husband Dennis. James thinks of her memory... (full context)
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James and Ruth do not like the new minister, who hasn’t paid the proper respect to Ruth, one... (full context)
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At the anniversary, the new minister invites Ruth to the stage to say a few words. She begins her speech nervously, but soon... (full context)
Chapter 25: Finding Ruthie
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In 1993, as James puts together Ruth’s will, the two of them discuss where she wants to be buried. She doesn’t want... (full context)
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James believes it took him so long to uncover Ruth’s past because he spent so long wrapped up in his own questions of race and... (full context)
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Ruth hates that James keeps quitting his jobs, but just like she ran from her troubles,... (full context)
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It takes James over a decade to get Ruth to sit down for his interviews, a process he hoped would take a few months... (full context)
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At sixty-five Ruth gets her college degree in social work, and moves in with her daughter, Kathy, in... (full context)
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In 1993, James and Ruth return to Suffolk. It’s the first time Ruth has been in fifty years, but she... (full context)
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Ruth sees her life work as her children’s achievements. She’s proud of all her sons and... (full context)
Epilogue
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...invited, and when David marries his wife, Rondee, in a Jewish ceremony, both James and Ruth are invited. Ruth is hesitant, but enlists Kathy to come and provide moral support. During... (full context)
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Ruth brings her camera to the wedding. Late in life she has started to take pictures... (full context)