Nowadays, those in the health profession look down on homeopathic medicine, but the tricks my family used worked more often than not. A piece of fatback draws out a splinter, a drop of whiskey numbs a teething baby’s gums. These are just a couple bits of wisdom my mom gleaned from growing up on a farm in Georgia.
What made Mama Ruby magical in her own right, though, was her ability to spoil surprises. One year, my sister, Lenora, decided to surprise Mama Ruby at the Merritt family reunion. A week before, Lenora called Mama Ruby, who said, “I look forward to seeing you at the reunion!”
Lenora spilled the beans immediately. “Who told you I was coming to the reunion?”
“Well, you did just now!”
It could be argued that Mama Ruby had just been teasing Lenora, thinking there was no way she could make the trip from California in a week’s notice, and that she knew nothing about the reunion plans. Lenora could have given herself away over a simple joke. That is possible. But that doesn’t explain another occasion…
On this date, about twelve years ago, my other sister, Ashleah, and I wanted to surprise Mama Ruby on her birthday. We stopped by Walmart for a gift along the drive, and got a stereo system and two audio books: Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Stephen King’s The Shining. (She liked a variety of genres.) This was my idea, because her two favorite hobbies were sewing and reading and I thought that the audio books would allow her to do both at once. It wasn’t a gift we had planned on getting her in advance, just something we thought of while browsing on the way there. So, she couldn’t have known what we were giving her, because we didn’t know what we were giving her.
When we got inside her house, I hooked up the stereo as she said, “That’s good, because I just ordered some Hank Williams CDs in the mail last week!”
I was confused. “Did you already have a CD player, Mama Ruby?”
“No, but I have one now!” She knew she was getting one for her birthday before anyone else did. It could be frustrating, but over six years since her death, I look back on her intuition and cunning fondly.
Happy birthday, Mama Ruby, wherever you are.