She was matchless, smart, kind, and loving, a thinker, a great mother, a friend, and a confidante. She was Ruth Elizabeth Johnson-Graham-Turner and my mother.
Mom was elegant in her own way with an understated style that required no extravagance or fluff. Her skin was of a light golden sunkissed complexion with a hint of olive. She had dark brown eyes and thick black wavy hair. Mom always kept her hair cut in a snatchback style, giving her five feet, five inches in height, an extra inch or two. She was a total package! In a simple blouse and skirt, she stood tall and could command attention without saying a word. She had serious charisma, everywhere she went, someone wanted to know who she was. Quick-witted too, often friends and relatives sought her solid advice.
Mom attributed this to the fact that the owner didn’t know that she was Black.
Mom was the first to do many things in her family. When she was a teenager, she worked for the Fruit Basket a restaurant that was on old Highway 99 that went through Madera, California. She was the first woman of color to work at the Fruit Basket. Mom attributed this to the fact that the owner didn’t know that she was Black. It was through this experience that mom acquired a love for baking desserts. This led her to enter the local county and state fair baking contests where she’d win first or second place for her cakes, pies, and famous lemon bars. Mom would say, “It’s all about the crust” which set her lemon bars and pies apart from all the others.
The 1940s and 1950s could not have been easy for mom as a young woman. Heck, today it’s still challenging for women of color and for women in general. However, when mom spoke of her young adulthood she’d repeatedly chose to share more humorous stories. She never dwelled on the negative and truly believed that one’s circumstances did not determine their future successes in life. A glowing example of her belief, she had no fear of doing the hard work required to have a fulfilling life and career. How ironic that she spent much of her life teaching children with learning disabilities how to read so that they too might be more successful. She inspired me and many others!
Mom and me.
As a little girl in Oakland, California, when my two sisters, Christina and Delores, went off to Brookfield School each morning, I had mom all to myself. Mom would wash me up, brush my teeth, and dress me. Then she’d sit me between her knees to comb my hair. While mommy combed my hair, I’d rub her legs. Mom had the smoothest and the softest legs. I was four years old, and this is the most intimate memory that I can recall of my mom and me when I was a child. I will treasure this memory as long as I am on this earth.
Mom had a way of willing things to happen that she really wanted.
At five years old, my mother’s mother reared me until I was eighteen. But, Mom was always in my life. She saw me through a lot of pain and glory. Thank God and the universe that the glory outweighed the pain we shared tenfold. She was there with me for every major event in my life: graduations, The Miss California Pageant, my wedding, buying my first home, etc., but the most important event ever was the birth of my baby. Mom was there big time!
My husband was on assignment overseas with the United States Air Force. Wanting to keep a close eye on me, Mom insisted that I stay with her and my stepdad during the last two weeks of my pregnancy. Mom had a way of willing things to happen that she really wanted. She said to me, “You are going to have this baby on Clavoid’s birthday.” Clavoid was mom’s big brother, they were very close and his birthday was on January 18. Dr. Ruff, my OBGYN, anticipated that my due date would be around the 18th, 19th, or 20th of January. You know, back in the day, there weren’t any prenatal sex determinators so everyone had an exciting surprise at their baby’s birth.
She said, “get up, get dressed, we’re going downtown to the mall to do a little shopping for the baby.”
On January 17, Mom woke me up at 6:00 A.M. She said, “Get up, get dressed, we’re going downtown to the mall to do a little shopping for the baby.” Not that we needed anything as the baby’s nursery was beautifully set up and fully stocked with all a baby needs and a lot more at my apartment. Regardless, what mom says goes, and so we walked up and down the mall at least four times. Mom looking at receiving blankets and all things for babies. After multiple visits to the same stores, she bought just one item, a one-piece footed sleeper, saying, “The baby will live in this.” We then walked over to Woolworths and sat down at the food counter to grab a bite to eat and chitchat with our friend, Ms. Jesse Williams, who worked at the counter.
Jesse was tall, curvacious, and just a very pretty young Black lady with a larger-than-life personality to boot. She stayed up-to-date with the local current events, good and the not-so-good, which made a visit to Woolworth’s food counter entertaining in more ways than one. Jesse would lean over the counter with her right hand placed underneath her chin to whisper the latest community gossip. After that, she’d take your order. She made the best thick and smooth rootbeer floats too, another reason to visit her. I was exhausted and so glad to be off my feet. After hearing Jesse’s funny commentary on the state of events, I enjoyed a chili dog and a rootbeer float. Mom had just a cup of coffee. We headed home. When we arrived, I walked through the house directly to my room and straight to bed.
She knew I was in labor.
Somewhere around midnight, at the first sound of my discomfort, mom jumps up. She knew I was in labor. We quickly dressed, grabbed the overnight case, and I gingerly got in the passenger side of mom’s car. I never knew mother to drive fast, but it seemed as if we were flying. Perhaps it was just the shape of the Grand Prix. … Once we reached Saint Agnes Hospital, and I was in a delivery room, mom never left my side even though I was in labor for 18 long hours. She was with me for the long haul. After which, I gave birth to my baby girl and mom’s eldest granddaughter on January 18, uncle Clavoid’s birthday as mom had predicted. I think to mom, my baby being born on her big brother’s birthday was a way to honor, celebrate and remember him too.
I heard the word “nice” and thought, designer, nothing but the best for my mother.
Mom never asked for much, but when I became more financially stable, I would ask her, what she wanted. One year she wished to have a nice leather coat. I heard the word “nice” and thought, designer, nothing but the best for my mother. I found a beautiful black YSL leather coat in San Francisco. It was high-style and screaming demon! The coat had bell sleeves, a full-length cut that swung down to the ankles. The leather was supple, soft like butter. I loved it! Now mom bragged about that coat to all of her friends, the teachers, and the staff that she worked with at Fresno Unified School District. But you know, I don’t think she ever wore the coat. She just bragged about it. Because it was not her style it was mine. A valuable and expensive lesson learned. I should have asked mom about her individual preferences instead of assuming she’d like mine.
She went on to describe a ring that her Asian friend wore.
Going forward, Mom became more specific. One day, out of the blue, while sitting at her dining room table where all important meetings and discussions took place in her home, she said, “I’d like to have a jade and gold ring to wear on my right hand, but it has to be simple and low-key.” I quickly said, “Mom I can do simple.” She went on to describe a ring that her Asian friend wore. It was a light green jade, slightly oval and set oblong in a 14-karat gold band. I walked all over San Francisco to find a ring similar to what Mom had described. I found it, as well as learned another lesson too, that simplicity is not inexpensive! Anyway, I couldn’t wait to give Mom the ring, when she opened the gold Gumps box, her dark brown eyes lit up bright and wide. I knew instantly that she loved it! Not only did she brag about the ring to all her friends at work she wore it every single day. Knowing this gave me such great pleasure.
One of my friends said to me shortly after mom passed, “Memories are the bridge that connects us to an everlasting relationship, whether we are still in this world or not.”
Mom and I had a lot of fun together. We could sit at the same slot machine all day and all night. Mom with her ginger ale, and me with my glass of champagne. Winning or losing we’d laugh and call out “jackpot” every time we pulled the one-arm bandit down. I have so many joyful memories that I will hold dear in my heart of the many adventures that just Mom and I shared.
One of my friends said to me shortly after mom passed, “Memories are the bridge that connects us to an everlasting relationship, whether we are still in this world or not.” I am so thankful and grateful that Mom walked on this earth, gave me life, and made a difference in other people’s lives. She was the best role model for her three daughters, who reared successful daughters. Ruth Elizabeth Johnson-Graham-Turner, 1929 to October 2022, will never be forgotten.
Be Bold and Bloom, the best you can be every day in every way no matter what the circumstances are. Be your SuperSelf
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