Eva Rutland: A Mother's Gift of Memory When Eva Rutland saw her four children go off to school in 1950s Sacramento, it was in a new era of integration. Her memoir of that time, When We Were Colored, is now being republished by her daughter.
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Eva Rutland: A Mother's Gift of Memory

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Eva Rutland: A Mother's Gift of Memory

Eva Rutland: A Mother's Gift of Memory

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

Our colleague Alex Chadwick has been away this week. He'll be back with the program on Monday.

BRAND: Before he left, Alex made sure we have this next piece ready to go in time for Mother's Day. He recently went to Sacramento to meet Eva Rutland - she's a writer - and her daughter, Ginger Rutland, also a writer. Here's Alex with their story.

ALEX CHADWICK: Ginger Rutland is having a bad day. This is her last one writing editorials at the Sacramento Bee newspaper before she takes a three month leave and these last few hours - yuck.

Ms. GINGER RUTLAND (Sacramento Bee): Why am I doing this? You know, there are days when I ask myself that question. Because I think my mother is amazing.

CHADWICK: She is saying this in the backyard of the old family home on a quiet suburban street, a place of memories, of hope and fear about what was changing - not Ginger's memories, she was too young. Her mother's memories. Eva's.

Ms. EVA RUTLAND (Writer): Am I the only one having breakfast?

CHADWICK: Eva Rutland at the kitchen table that morning in the nearby home of Ginger and her husband Don. Widowed a couple of years ago, Eva lives here now.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: Am I supposed to be still while you is taking these pictures?

Mr. DON RUTLAND: No, but the camera's not good enough to catch a 90-year-old woman eating breakfast, then we ought to get rid of the camera.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: I told you not to tell everybody I was 90 years old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: She's sipping a gloppy green nutrition drink. She's slender. She was elegant at dinner last night, in a gunmetal knit, the stylish color framing her still lovely mahogany-toned face. She's still vain. And on her this too is beguiling.

Ms. G. RUTLAND: I'm going to go put on my lipstick. Mom, would you like yours?

Ms. E. RUTLAND: It's in the side of my purse, you know?

Ms. G. RUTLAND: Okay. I'll get it, Mom.

Mr. RUTLAND: I called my wife last night. I told her about you. And I think she's jealous now.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: Oh, good. You must have lied quite a bit.

CHADWICK: Actually, you don't have to lie about Eva.

(Soundbite of song, "Once Upon a Time")

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) Once upon a time, a girl with moonlight in her eyes.

CHADWICK: The granddaughter of a former slave who sent all his children through college, Eva graduated from Spelman in 1937. She married Bill Rutland, a civilian with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Then a thyroid operation for Eva, botched.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: My vocal chords were cut. And that's why I put my hands up here now.

CHADWICK: She slips one finger beneath a silver disk pendant at the base of her throat. It covers the tracheotomy hole that has enabled her to breathe for the last 60 years. She must close it to speak.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: I was about 25 or 26. I had just had a baby.

CHADWICK: The Air Force moved Bill Rutland to Ohio, then Sacramento. He and Eva built a home, made new friends, got comfortable - as they could. This is a black family in the '50s. The country faces at last its terrible past and its uncertain future. Bill and Eva have four kids.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: That's when I realized that my children were beginning to go then to the integrated schools. And I realized it was going to be very difficult for them.

CHADWICK: Eva could see the future for her children. But her daily reality was growing dim. It's nothing, one doctor told her, your imagination. That diagnosis was wrong. Eva was going blind.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: You know, when you're a mother and you have four children, you're a pretty busy woman. Then when you get incapacitated, and you can't see or can't hear or can't move around as you should, then you're kind of at a loss. So you have to find something to do, and I think that's when I found my writing.

CHADWICK: She'd already sold pieces to Redbook and other magazines. In 1964, she published a family memoir as a kind of antidote to the public fear about change and race. She called it "The Trouble with Being a Mama."

Ms. E. RUTLAND: I wanted to make white mothers understand what we were going through. Because it was at a period when my children were part of an integrated society. Now I had never had that.

CHADWICK: Here's a sentence from your book. Integration in theory is a fine high-sounding utopia. In reality, I shivered as I watched my children unknowingly shed the warm cloak of segregation. Now, why did you write that?

Ms. E. RUTLAND: Because you had your own circle. You had your own friends in which you were very, very comfortable.

CHADWICK: What is it she's really mourning, I wonder. That time when she could see and talk easily, when she was so young and so beautiful, and her handsome husband would put his jazz favorites, Tony Bennett or Ella, on the phonograph, and take Eva in his strong arms and dance.

(Soundbite of song, "You Go To My Head")

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD (Singer): (Singing) You go to my head and you linger like...

CHADWICK: You wanted that discrimination to end. You could see it was a terrible burden for everyone in your family, but still, what was coming was unknown and mysterious and maybe scary.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: Well, it was new. It was absolutely new.

CHADWICK: This is what the leave from the newspaper is about for Eva's daughter Ginger: republishing Eva's book with a new title, "When We Were Colored." They have a company named for the former slave ancestor and patriarch Isaac Westmoreland.

Ms. G. RUTLAND: And I recognized that it is an important little story in the big history of this country, particularly the history of this country as it delves into race. They are the big sit-ins, the big marches, the lynchings and all that. But then there are these little stories of just individual families, just living.

CHADWICK: Eva Rutland went from memoir to romance writing. Harlequin has published 20 of her novels and she is still writing, working now on another memoir.

You move so casually, so easily.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: I may move easily, but I don't know where I'm going. Now I can't see anything. I'm looking right at you and it's like you weren't even there. It's driving me crazy.

CHADWICK: You've been the person who took care of - that's what your book is about, being a mother, being the person who's taking care of everybody.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: And now - and then you can't so you can't even take care of yourself. It's a mess.

(Soundbite of voice program)

Electronic Voice: ... inconveniences. What happened to people, nobody listens to an old blind grandma.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: Can you see it on the screen?

CHADWICK: Yes, I'd see it on the screen and I'm hearing it right out in this...

Electronic Voice: (unintelligible)

CHADWICK: She writes in the corner room of the old family home they still own. Eva Rutland, her hands flickering over the keyboard as a voice program recites her words. She's 90. She's blind, remember. She can't read a screen menu. She carries filenames and what's in them in her head. And that's partly why she amazes her daughter.

Ms. G. RUTLAND: One of the things that I'm in awe, frankly, is that she's - I write too for a living, and she's a better writer than I am, and that kind of bothers me, right? I think she's really - she's just better.

CHADWICK: Ginger Rutland, who has a daughter of her own, a young woman who is named for her grandmother, Eva.

Ms. E. RUTLAND: I'll tell you the truth. I was not trained to be a momma. All of my house wasn't kept as well as most of them. I didn't know how to handle the children. And even now, I look back and think about things I should've done. I was not a good mother.

CHADWICK: Well - but the kids turned out okay. Happy Mother's Day, Eva.

(Soundbite of song, "The Very Thought of You")

Mr. NAT KING COLE (Singer): (Singing) The very thought of you, and I forget to do...

BRAND: That story from our colleague Alex Chadwick, produced by Martina Castro. We have pictures of Eva and the family at our Web site, npr.org. And there's more to come on DAY TO DAY after this.

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