Mass murderers and serial killers don’t wake up one morning and think to themselves, “You know, I have often wondered what it would feel like to kill someone,” out of the blue. These people are made – crafted – over a period of many years, beginning from infancy and early childhood.
I wanted to title this piece, ‘Ruth: The faith of a tiny giant,’ but I knew no one would stop and read it. That title might merit a Like from the Reader, but not many would actually read it. It doesn’t matter, Ruth is the reason there have never been mass murderers or serial killers in my family. At least, none that have ever been caught, anyway.
The type of person your child, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond turns out to be, begins with your ancestors and you. Let’s look at a brief outline of one unfortunate mother born in 1900. She begins her life in a home with a heavy-drinking father who has an ill temper when drinking. Her mother is a very timid woman, afraid of her own shadow. The little girl watches as her father gets drunk and beats her mother over every perceived insult.
When the little girl reaches her pre-teen years, her father begins to beat her also. The mother does nothing to stop the violence. The girl resents, even begins to hate her mother, maybe even more than she hates her father. She slips out at night to escape the cycle of drinking, nasty talking and beatings. This is when she begins to run with others in basically the same type of home environment.
The teens drink, commit petty crimes and engage in sexual activity. The girl finds herself pregnant with no idea who the father is. Not that it would matter, none would be responsible anyway. She has the baby, sometimes living at home, often living on the streets, leaving the baby girl to grow up mostly within the same environment she found necessary to escape from.
When the daughter is seven years old, the mother and child are told they can’t live at home anymore. The woman is on the streets with her daughter, selling herself and her child. The mother eventually dies from unhealthy living, while the child continues to live the best she can. She has had very little education, does drugs and has little hope of a future. She gets pregnant at the age of 17. Her child, a son, is taken from her by the state and entered into foster care.
The boy grows up shuttled from home to home. Sometimes abused, often neglected, the boy grows up insecure, barely able to read and resenting his parents for causing his grief. With no one to make him feel loved or to teach him there is a better future for him, the boy becomes a loner. He imagines what his real mother looks like. He hates her. He wants to torture and kill every woman he thinks resembles his real mother. A serial killer is born. Along the way, he marries and has two sons and a daughter. He gets caught, his wife becomes a single mother of three, his children are ashamed. The family goes forward, poor and unwanted in any neighborhood. What becomes of his children?
My great-grandmother Ruth Pendragon Rhodes Knowles was raped at the age of 13. She was a four-foot, nine-inch girl who would become a giant to her family, friends and community. Her loving parents took her newborn daughter and raised her as Ruth’s sister. Ruth married a good man, Jesse Knowles. They had one child, a son who died of leukemia at the age of 18 while serving his country in the military. Ruth’s daughter was told about how she came to be. Ruth and Marie became closer than sisters, having a bond like no other.
Marie married a good man and they had 13 children who lived past infancy. They took in children who roamed the streets during the Great Depression. Ruth had as many as 16 grandchildren at one time. She loved every single one of these children. Knowing her daughter would need help teaching these children about God, Ruth took on that role.
There was a time when I was four years old that my father found himself without work. Ruth invited my family to live with her in her small two-bedroom home. My sister and I slept with Little Granny in her queen-sized bed. Every night, Little Granny would have us kneel at the foot of the bed and say our prayers. She would kneel beside us, telling us to get into bed when we had finished, saying she would join us when she had finished. Many mornings would find her still on her knees.
“Little Granny, why are you still prayin’?” She wouldn’t answer until she had finished her prayers.
“I have many brothers and sisters who have families, I have many grandchildren who have families and there are many friends with families who need prayer and our government leaders need prayer. It takes a long time to pray for everyone.”
This tiny, delicate woman was burdened to pray for the salvation of her family, every last member. She also prayed for my children and my grandchildren and their children. Ruth’s grandfathers were Kings Henry II and George IV. Her family was The Plantagenets, the Belair Family Of Rhodes who had lived in Devonshire for centuries. Her parents came to America to escape the fishbowl of royalty. They did not, however, leave their faith or their British manners behind.
Ruth taught my sister and me how to properly hold a teacup, how to behave when entertaining company, how to properly bow before the Queen, Elizabeth II. More importantly, she lived a life of obedience to Christ and taught us to worship the only King who mattered. Ruth taught us about Christ and salvation. She gave us a reason to hope, to build families dedicated to God.
My great-grandmother lived a life before us such that we could see and understand who Christ was. She fasted whenever her heart was troubled. She never missed a Sunday going to church. My fondest memories as a child was attending Vacation Bible School at Little Granny’s country church.
Ruth understood that raising children to be productive citizens in the community was hard work, worth every effort. Her name and the name of her daughter and husband were respected in their communities. She taught us how to protect our name and why it mattered.
Ruth never thought herself to be too good to change hundreds of dirty diapers. She washed clothes outdoors in a wringer washing machine, taking all day to wash, hang and fold the dry laundry. She planted a vegetable garden every year. She watered, weeded and harvested the food. She taught us how to preserve the food and how to cook it.
My Little Granny had a wisteria vine growing in a tree at the edge of her driveway. I remember the early mornings and late evenings of spring when the breeze carried the scent of the wisteria flowers. I would sit on the front porch to pray so I could enjoy that heaven scent breeze. There were two large hydrangea bushes on each end of the porch. I was always fascinated by the huge balls of blossoms, sometimes blue and sometimes pink.
My great-grandmother taught her daughter how to raise her children to be pleasing to the Lord, which was first, by loving them. She taught her how to discipline her children in love. When these children grew up, they passed on what they had been taught by their parents. I passed on what I had been taught by my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Ruth is as much a part of me today as she was when I lived in her house a total of four years. I cried as if my heart would break when my family moved out and bought a house three miles away. I knew life would never be the same, no matter how often we visited Little Granny. As soon as one family down on their luck moved out of Ruth’s house, another one would move in. When I grew up, I wondered if she ever longed for a time when she had her house to herself.
My point is this, if you desire children who grow up to live a law-abiding life, one filled with the love and blessings of God, you have to make the effort. Even if life deals you a crappy hand, play it as if you were holding four kings and an ace. No matter how bad life gets, you are responsible for the choices and decisions you make. You don’t get to blame it on bad parents, being poor, being different or whatever you find handy.
You are not responsible for your life only. If you have a child – wanted or not – you are responsible for the adult he becomes. This makes you responsible for their children and the children of those children. Do not think God won’t ask you about your grandson, the serial killer. Remember, they don’t just happen, they are handcrafted. Someone is responsible.
My prayer is for every child on earth to have a Ruth in their life. She might be a neighbor, a Sunday School teacher or the cashier at the local grocery store. Children are our most precious assets and so many parents are doing a ‘piss-poor’ job of raising them. If this offends you, ask yourself why. No, it isn’t easy. You have to sacrifice time and pleasure. If you aren’t willing, give your child up for adoption. It may hurt you to do so, but it may just be the best sacrifice you could ever make.
There are always exceptions to every natural law. There may be times when a parent does all she can and her child still rebels. We may never know why, but
Ruth in downtown Mobile on shopping day.