Patricia Smith Wood delivers a 'narrative nonfiction' account

Patricia Smith Wood delivers a ‘narrative nonfiction’ account of the life of her mother

“Raising Ruby” by Patricia Smith Wood

The Ruby in the title of the new book “Raising Ruby” was the mother of its author, Albuquerque’s Patricia Smith Wood.

The book, written in a familiar, personable tone, paints a picture of Ruby as a precocious, industrious, person with an exceptionally strong will, and able to overcome poverty and unexpected emotional traumas from an early age.

Ruby was born Aug. 12, 1919 to Jimma and Lester Scott and raised on a farm in north-central Texas. A little over a year later, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified giving women the right to vote. (The book injects major current events to give a parallel timeline.)

For her second birthday, Ruby ached to have a doll. Her father saved up to buy her an expensive bisque doll with a leather body. She proudly showed it off to a neighbor’s child who promptly knocked it to the floor, breaking its head.

The book said the incident left Ruby with “shock and grief (that) would be seared into her memory for the rest of her life.”

The book’s subtitle is “The Amazing True Story of a 20th Century Woman.”

Patricia Smith Wood

Asked why she used the adjective “amazing,” Wood explained: “I thought considering her (humble) origins, she became pretty sophisticated. She made friends easily.

“She always wanted everything to be beautiful around her. She wasn’t able to finish high school, but she had regular smarts.”

Her mother, Wood added, wanted a better life and made it happen, plus she was “tougher and more independent than most women I knew.”

The subject of dolls returns later in the book when Ruby and her husband, Jimmy, moved to Albuquerque after her husband’s retirement from a top position with the FBI.

The book describes Ruby’s renewed interest dolls as a path to understand her lifelong sense of “determination and purpose.”

Ruby began making antique reproduction dolls in 1977 as a hobby. It quickly became what the author called her mother’s dream career.

Ruby first mentored with a local woman, learning to construct, paint and kiln-fire bisque dolls. A skilled seamstress, Ruby even started sewing clothes for the dolls.

It got the point where Ruby was so proficient that she began to sell some of her dolls, taught classes in doll making, won blue ribbons for her dolls, and was so respected that she judged doll show competitions.

What made the older Ruby so happy was that her husband took an interest in her doll business, helping her with the paperwork and taxes, and accompanying her to doll shows and events. She worked with dolls for about 20 years.

Her husband’s support prompted her to think back on her life with him. “… When she thought about that 17-year-old boy she married in 1938, and the man he had become along the way, she felt warm, proud and happy for the way things turned out,” according to a passage in the book.

Ruby died in April 2018 at the age of 98.

Wood said her mom had long been telling her stories about her childhood, and she also quietly listened in to her mother talking to others about life on the farm, about her resolve to suddenly leave for Fort Worth, Texas alone at the age of 16 and her years waitressing to make ends meet in the city.

“At some point, I decided to write about my mom’s life. I had such a treasure trove of stories,” she said. And she had documents about her father’s work, including his time working on the Alcan Highway in Alaska during World War II.

Wood’s book is not strictly a biography, however. It contains conversations Wood imagined. She said someone referred to it as “narrative nonfiction,” a fusion of fictional and nonfiction elements.

The author’s brother, David, designed the book’s cover and organized the website raisingruby.com, which contains a photographic scrapbook of members of the author’s extended family.

Wood has also written four novels in the Harrie McKinsey Mystery series.

BOOK OF THE WEEK

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