This is a tale of the greatest love story of the 20th century, one that continued well into the 21st.
This is the story of Ruth Katherine Floyd’s love for her six children. And her 11 grandchildren. And of her great-grandchildren, whose numbers approached nearly two dozen.
Ruth Floyd was born black, poor and female at a time when it was downright deadly to be even only one of the three.
The date was May 27. The year was 1922.
That was only three years after 1919, when anti-black rioting and pogroms swept the entire United States. (For details about how perilous this year was for black Americans, read Cameron McWhirter’s book “Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.)
It was only one year after 1921, when there was an anti-black pogrom in Tulsa, Oklahoma and 11 black men, all slaves, were killed on a Georgia plantation. (See Gregory Freeman’s book “Lay This Body Down: The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves in Georgia.”)
So Ruth Floyd was born into a callous, sexist, racist, hostile world. That didn’t stifle, one iota, the love she had for all her progeny.
Her first child, Barbara Ann Kane, was born Aug. 11, 1948. Another daughter, Carolyn Elizabeth Kane, was born June 19, 1950.
Her first son, Gregory Phillip Kane, entered this world at precisely 4:13 a.m. on Dec. 29, 1951.
Yes, Ruth Katherine Floyd was my mother, one who loved me so much that she saved my life at least twice, that I know of.
The first incident is something that will forever remain between Mom and me. The second happened when I was 3, maybe 4 years old.
With my cousin Edward – older than me by six years – I was eating some crabs. Family lore has it that I must have eaten the unhealthy part of some crab called the “dead man.”
Whatever I ate, I ended up violently ill in West Baltimore’s Provident Hospital, where I had entered the world only a few short years before.
I was so sick that, for a while, it looked like I might exit the world from the same place. Mom was frantic, but not so disoriented that she couldn’t notice a swelling in one of my legs.
She became convinced that somebody at the hospital had me hooked up incorrectly to an IV line. She was further convinced that the mistake was what caused the swelling in my leg.
Hospital officials tried to convince her she was wrong, but this woman – who, at the time, had no more than an eighth grade education – would not be dissuaded. She insisted that hospital personnel unhook me and then hook me up the right way.
When they refused, she didn’t get upset. She simply undid the IV herself. Then she gathered me in her loving arms and proceeded to march out of Provident Hospital.
“Miss! Where are you going?” alarmed hospital personnel asked.
“I’m taking my child out of here,” she said calmly.
After that, hospital staffers were all, “Oh, we’re so sorry, Mrs. Kane! Please don’t go, Mrs. Kane! Can we please kiss your tush, Mrs. Kane?”
I’ll be darned if those people didn’t find a way to hook me back up to the IV, the right way this time.
Mom took no stuff from anyone, and cracked what was an iron whip on her six children, whom she had to raise alone.
Through most of my school years, I managed to bring home good report cards and make the honor roll. I did this not because I was super smart, but because Mom gave me no choice.
I brought home a bad report card only once. After reading me the riot act the way only Ruth Floyd could read someone the riot act – and Mom wrote THE book on the riot act – she told me, “Don’t ever bring home a report card like this again.”
I couldn’t believe the get-out-of-jail free card I’d just been handed. Just the riot act? No butt whipping? I resolved to bring home good report cards from that point on.
Those butt whippings and riot act readings were all inspired by Mom’s love for her children. I later learned that she had not only a mother’s love for her offspring but also that love devout Christians are supposed to have even for their enemies and those that “spitefully use them.”
On Nov. 25, 1996, my youngest brother – and my mother’s youngest child – was fatally stabbed in Easton, Md. My other brother and I both vowed that when his killer made parole, his ass was ours.
“Let go of your anger,” she told both of us. “We have to pray for him.”
She was referring to a guy named Tyrone Mills, the one that killed my brother. Of course, I wasn’t trying to hear it. But years of being conditioned to doing what Mom said finally kicked in.
I had one of those conversations with myself in which I ask questions and provide answers. (Yeah, I’m one of THOSE people.) The conversation went something like this:
Me: You know, you can’t kill Tyrone Mills.
Me: Why not?
Me: Mom wouldn’t approve.
Me: DAMN! OK.
It transpired that Mom meant every word of all her teachings about Christian love, forgiveness and forbearance. On Aug. 24, 2013, there were many tears shed at her funeral, where family and friends thought Ruth Floyd had died. But Ruth Floyd hasn’t died.
Ruth Floyd has gone home.