In my column this week, I pay tribute to the late Mrs. Ruby Register Shaw, White Springs, Florida. “Miss” Ruby lived a good, long life having passed her 90th year before her demise on March 4, 2020. She saw many changes in her life and, yet, she held on to those qualities that, to me, are the most prominent qualities of a life superbly lived: kindness, generosity, a loving and giving spirit, genuine warmth and sharing.
Ruby shared so much of the great food for which she was renowned including her famous “peanut brittle.” When my father passed away nearly 27 years ago, she hugged my neck the following week at church and quietly asked “Is there anything I can do for you? I am praying for you.” I thanked her and said: “Some of your homemade peanut brittle would be great when you make another batch.” You know in the Deep South, food is the panacea for anything we suffer, including grief.
Ruby made that peanut brittle for me the NEXT DAY, and a big batch of it, and we ate every bit of it, in less than 48 hours and, as always, it was good to the last bit. I thought less of my sorrow and more of that great peanut brittle and of Ruby’s generous spirit, as I enjoyed it.
Ruby probably never considered while baking, stirring and thinking about others, that while she presented us with the marvelous fruits of her culinary expertise, she was sharing herself, her heart, her giving spirt, her love.
Ruby was famous for her peanut brittle, famous for her superbly baked pound cakes, famous for her homemade spaghetti sauce served over wonderful spaghetti. She was a good seamstress, a more than fabulous cook and she lent the community and the world so much of the generous largesse of her heart and talents; so much in fact, that she was nominated for and received the State of Florida’s prestigious Folk Heritage Award in Tallahassee from the Florida Department of State. It was a wonderful night, and I was privileged to be in the audience when Ruby received that award. It was an award, not only for her, but it was one also for “her” part of the world, “our” part of the world; that celebrated her kindness, her warmth, her generosity, and so many times, we not only counted on her, we depended on her for an expression of that kindness when the world could become less than friendly. She never failed to help us through rough patches or celebrate more fully the great events of life with her seemingly infinite and boundless capacity for sharing and giving.
In today’s world, we click on the television and what we see does not add value to our lives in the way of much that is positive or warm. Rather, it’s more like an event that happened more than 2000 years ago, when the late Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by a group of his “friends” on the Ides (15th) of March. And we hear the enemies of so and so stating in less articulate ways what Brutus, one of Caesar’s friends, who threw a dagger that day stated in William Shakespeare’s famous play “Julius Caesar:” “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more.” It sounds lofty anyhow, for treachery that is.
Not an ounce of that treachery in Ruby, not an ounce, just well-wishing and sharing and everything positive. To encounter Ruby Shaw and to be hugged by her was an event, a blessing, and in that hug, we felt the world would be a better, more gentle place, and it was, because Ruby was part of our world.
In the end, her legacy is one of generosity, a generous spirit, and to describe Ruby, I turn the Holy Bible, the King James version, and this summation is one that far surpasses anything I could share: from the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs: Chapter 31:10-31 King James Version (KJV)
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
To the family and loved ones of the late Ruby Shaw, please know you are in our prayers today and in the days ahead. Sometimes when you feel a bit down thinking of her no longer being in your life, turn it around, and, for a minute, taste that homemade peanut brittle, remember the aroma of a pound cake baking in her oven, and truly, with all your heart, thank God, you had that kind of unconditional love bless your life.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.