Rutland family

Eva Rutland, in a photo booth in Atlanta, circa 1928.

Op Images: Why I will always remember Mom with a smile

Published: Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 9A

I am lucky – I had my mother, Eva, for more than 60 years. When she died in March at age 95, it was time. In truth, it was well past time.

Her mind had begun to falter. Her body was worn out. She was ready to go.

The picture that sticks with me this year is my mother in her radiant youth, my mother before me, before a botched goiter operation in a segregated hospital left her maimed, breathing through a tracheotomy tube for the rest of her life. It is a picture of my mother before she married, bore four children, was widowed and before she went blind.

I think she was 12 or so when this picture was taken. The youngest child and only daughter of a black pharmacist and his schoolteacher wife, she was born in segregated Atlanta when, as she wrote many years later, "pot was still a cooking utensil, webs were for spiders and civil rights were for white folks."

The year was 1917. She was not unaware of the brutal caste system that assigned black people like her to the bottom rung of the social order. Nor was she oblivious to the unfairness and the dangers of Jim Crow. But she didn't dwell on it. She had a large, close-knit family and a supportive church and school community. Within that circle of upper-crust black Atlanta, "that ermine-trimmed, diamond-studded, velvety cloak of segregation," she called it, she was loved and protected. She was not bitter.

And she left for me, my brother and sisters, a legacy of acceptance for all. "People are people, black, white, Jew or gentile," she used to say, "all the same."

I'm hardly alone. Aging baby boomers like me are losing our parents at a rapid clip. It's time, as with my mother, well past time for many.

But it is, nonetheless, painful.

Merry Christmas, Mom. We miss you.

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