Ruby

Three things come to mind when I hear the word ruby (discounting the stone). I am embarrassed to admit one is the bad country song by Kenny Rogers, Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. The next was my dad’s dog and the last was a bartender. My dad only had border collies. The black and white versions to the untrained eye look exactly alike. He only had one dog that I ever remember and her name was Ruby. This dog must have been twenty-five years old. Or maybe not. There were probably five or six Rubys over the years.

Dad’s place was five acres on a slow moving tributary river of the Brazos in central Texas near the only highway in that county with only one neighbor close enough to see. The place had barbed-wire fencing around it but no chain-link to keep dogs in. The magic of dad’s method was to always have black and white female border collies and name them all Ruby. When Ruby died he would get another female border collie and call her Ruby. On the arrival of a new Ruby, I asked him if he tied or penned the “new” Ruby for a while so she would not run off or get run over. My dad would give a grunt and spit, replying that he did not want a dog that did not want to stay or dumb enough to get run over. Ruby was never “fixed” but I never saw any puppies. She was well fed but never fawned over. Through the limitations of memory I remember only one time Ruby needed serious tick removal. I do not know how many Rubys that stayed and were smart enough not to get run over but there was one always around for twenty five years or more. Maybe the Kenny Rogers was right after all.

Ruby the bartender. My parents were divorced when I was six or seven. On my visits with my dad my brother and I normally went to the home by the river. The rest of the time we stayed in the major city in which I lived with my mom and stepdad. On those occasions, my brother being four years older was busier socially than me so more often than not I was alone with dad when he visited. After eating at the Big Boy restaurant, we would head to a bar in a highly industrialized part of the city sitting right above the river. The river was a disaster and a metropolitan point of shame. My problem was that it stunk! Every time we drove over the stench enveloped the car. I still remember the smell very distinctly. My contemporary sensibilities will not allow me to use the phrase my dad used to describe it.

The bar was a small cinder block building with few windows supplying little natural light. The darkness was punctuated with the expected bright flashes from the pinball machines and the numerous beer-brand signs. Strangely, I do not recall any objectionable smell or pool tables. I always sat at the end of the bar and Miss Ruby took care of me with noshibles and soda. I have to admit that I felt quite mature sitting there. This bar, in contrast to the bar out in the country where the canine Ruby lived, was a construction worker bar. These men worked with my dad in glazing or carpentry in the metroplex. They seemed to sincerely like and respect my dad. Interestingly, rarely did the country and city worlds meet.

Everyone knew my dad and he was often called “Arab” (pronounced AY-RAB). The name was not meant as an ethnic slur but descriptive in nature (at least to those who placed the moniker). My dad was tanned darkly year round and was nomadic in his habits. Dad would take me there when our visit was too short to go to the country or he was working in the city. Dad would gamble on pinball or watch some sport with some kind of bet or another. I never recalled any loud disagreements or fights in that bar (unlike its country cousin). No one ever harassed me and anyone talking to me was under the severe gaze of Miss Ruby. She was wonderful to me. This little woman of 5’2” and barely 100 pounds was the center of the place. I do not know if she owned the bar or just ran it, but she was there every time I was. Her voice rasped from years of cigarettes and booze without any rancor or hatefulness. Ruby simply could look at a possible unsavory situation and say, “Go on, now,” and that was the end. While I was there, she would regularly come by, pat my hand, smile, and ask, “How ya doin, sweetie?” I had a fondness for Miss Ruby. After I learned to drive, I would drop-by to see her and was always greeted with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Ten years and multiple lives later, I asked my dad how Miss Ruby was. He very soberly with a twinge of anger told me that she was dead. One night after closing, she was locking up when two men grabbed and killed her during a robbery. This sweet, hardworking blue-collar barkeep was savagely beaten to death and thrown into the refuse-ridden river without a second-thought. I do not know if the men were ever caught or if Miss Ruby had family or even her last name, but I mourned her deeply. She was one of the kindest people to a skinny homely kid lost in the throes of divorce. At that time, she was one of the few on my dad’s side I was safe with.

The three Rubys. I really cannot stand the song. I laugh to myself every time I see a border collie automatically assuming the name is Ruby. Miss Ruby is enshrined in that part of my memory dedicated to those people God put in my path to protect, encourage, and comfort me during difficult times. Call them saints, angels, or whatever but I am so thankful for every one of them.

Dirk