In 1997, my mother, Ruby, painted an elaborate book with pages that were about 3 feet tall, called “The Holiday Dragon.” It was filled with original artwork for my cousins Gabriella, Samantha, and Monique. This is the story of how it came together. There’s a video of it too!
According to my Aunt Vicenta, “We saw this commercial on TV where you could order a book for your kids and they would include the child’s name and the whole storyline would be based on your own kids and Ruby said, ‘I can do that.’ Of course she could, so I said, ‘Okay…’ and so she made this big, beautiful book instead of the little book that I was going to order on TV.”
Here is what my cousin Monique had to say about the book while also sharing some memories about my mom: “Whenever I think of her, I think of this cute little island girl, always doing something artistic, always doing little skits. We were cleaning recently and my mom said she had the book with all the photos and we were like, ‘No way’” so we all kind of just stopped cleaning, pulled it out and were just laughing going through it all. It's such a funny idea.
The story is that there is this huge dragon that comes to your house talking about all these different holidays. It was a cute way to write down traditions that we had at the time. It’s very personal and kind of like a family history in a way. I’ve read the book and there's stuff in there that I don’t even remember from when I was a kid. I mean, I was only a couple years old when we got it. At the time, it was like twice the size of me, but as I got older I understood it more and more and always loved it. The artwork is crazy and there are so many cutout pictures of our family. It's so creative and so sweet and that’s how Aunt Ruby was. I remember getting postcards and letters from her too. She could really express how she was feeling through her artwork. Whenever I was around her, I’d just want to laugh. Because she was so easy going, she made me feel the same way. She was so comforting to be around, and was very humorous and smart too. So quick with her jokes. Very witty, and just loving...All the time.”
As told by Samantha Sartor:
Aunt Ruby is literally the wildest person I know. When I picture her, I see her running around the backyard in a coconut bra and a sarong that’s glittering in the sunlight, tending to her garden. We loved visiting her in Syracuse, traveling down from Canada during the summers. I looked forward to it every year. My sister Gabriella and I would go together and we did stuff to occupy the whole week. I remember as soon as we’d pull into the driveway, she would come running out. Every single time. She always gave us a really nice, warm welcome embrace. You could count on that.
There were cute little restaurants that she would take us to whenever we would visit. Because we would usually spend the most time there in the summer, we were always by the pool. I loved being at her house. Aunt Ruby has a special spark, she really does. I feel like as soon as I would be at her house, it was almost kind of like you’d immediately start joking around. I was always silly with her and I used to laugh so much. She was super playful, the kind of person that was always making you laugh. She was full of creativity, imagination, and a lot of love.
Even though she lived in Syracuse and we lived in Canada, she would keep in touch throughout the year. I used to get these thick colorful envelopes with crazy cursive handwriting on the front and you’d know right away that it was from Aunt Ruby. When you opened it, there would be printed out pictures with sticky notes on the back of them. She also used to include a few sticks of gum in their aluminum foil whenever she would send me a letter. I believe it was Winterfresh, but we just used to call it “blue gum.” She would keep it in a drawer in her kitchen and we were crazy about it. Sometimes there were other things, like these tiny perfume samples, too. I remember for my 21st birthday, she put in tiny seashells. She wrote the number 21 inside and I still have them on my nightstand. When I think about what it would be like going on vacation in the Caribbean, that’s the feeling I would also get when we went to Aunt Ruby’s.
by Takahashi Noriko:
I met Ruby and Ray at Syracuse University in the late 90s when they regularly volunteered to teach a weekly conversational English class and that’s where it all started. Coming from Japan, it’s customary to add a “san” to the end of someone’s name, so Ruby and Ray have always been “Ruby-san” and “Ray-san” to me.
When I was in Ruby-san’s class, my younger brother came to Syracuse from Japan for the summer vacation. Ruby invited us to come over to their house. My younger brother, who didn’t speak much English at the time, was worried about having to speak English, but I told him that Ruby-san is my English teacher and that she speaks English that was easy to understand so it would be okay.
I told him that whenever I go over to the Adams house, Ruby would feed me a light meal. Sometimes delicious food was lined up. I used to go to her house to learn some of Ruby's recipes. As soon as my brother and I walked in that day, we were taken to the dining room and there were so many delicious “Ruby recipes” lined up. My younger brother was impressed with the home-cooked food in a foreign country that he ate for the first time. Like I mentioned before, he was worried about speaking English there, but he had a good conversation and was made feel very welcome by Ruby-san and Ray-san's gentle eyes and their slow English.
After we ate, Ruby said, “I have a plan!” These were my favorite words. I told Ruby-san this all the time. She said that there was a canal in their neighborhood and that we could all go there together and go for a walk. I still remember how the conversation went. I said, “How long does it take to go there?” Ruby said, “It's close by, about 10 minutes by car.” I wasn’t sure what she was saying. 10 minutes by car seemed pretty far away to me. But Ruby said, “No, 10 to 20 minutes by car is close. ” This was the day I learned the difference between how Japanese people and Americans view distance, because in the United States traveling by car is commonplace, while in Japan traveling by bicycle is commonplace.
So we eventually got in the car and drove to the nearby canal, which really was less than a 10-minute drive. The spacious canal was a place of relaxation for the neighbors. There was also a history museum, where I read a commentary with an English dictionary in one hand, listened to Ray-san’s commentary, and in our “petite” English class right there,my brother's head almost exploded. Even 20 years later my younger brother has still intense memories of that day! I love Ruby and Ray!
Lost Phone: When I was living in Brooklyn, McGolrick Park was just a few blocks from where I lived, and I would go there quite often. I was skateboarding there one afternoon and I think my phone must have fallen out of my pocket. After I realized it was missing, I looked everywhere for it, and just when I was about to give up, I saw this girl standing towards the middle of the park with what looked like my phone in her hand. I gently approached her and asked if she had found it, and she said that yes, she had and that she was actually just on the phone with my mom which took me by surprise. Like so many others, I have a spot on my phone reserved for my parents, and this girl who found my phone called that number and after talking to my mom, she decided to wait around for a bit to see if the owner would show up. It was one of those moments that restores your faith in people when you need it the most. I remember being so relieved that I didn’t have to buy another phone.
When I got back to my apartment, I called my mom and she was just as thankful that I connected with the girl that found my phone as I was. After we talked about the details, she started to break into laughter and told me that almost the first thing that the girl said when she called was, “I found this phone and I already have one, so I don’t need it.” My mom and I thought that was just about the funniest thing we ever heard and we must have joked about that line for a year straight. It never got old. With today being Mother’s Day, I was thinking of some of the things that used to make us laugh, and this was is a story that always brings a smile to my face. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there. I hope you have a great one with the people that are unmistakably a part of you.
As told by Gabriella Sartor:
When I think of Aunt Ruby, I think of the words funny and creative. She was so creative that she painted our nursery before I was even born. I also think of all the wild times we had together. Every summer, my sister Sam and I went down from Canada to Syracuse for a whole week and she always had so much for us to do. We’d go to the Erie Canal in Camillus where we would dress up like pioneers and get to see what life was like in the 1800s. There was lots of walking around, going to different parks, and we swam a lot in the pool, too. We were really never inside until it got dark when we’d eat dinner.
Now that I am older, I would like her food more, but I remember Aunt Ruby would make homemade mac and cheese and I wouldn’t eat it if it wasn't Kraft dinner. She always made nice homemade mac and cheese with real cheese and put it in the oven and it was all crusty on top, like how you would want it now as an adult, but we didn’t appreciate it back then. She also used to make this watermelon salad that we thought was a little weird, but now we make it all the time.
After dinner we’d brush our teeth, get into bed, and then it was story time. Aunt Ruby would make up these crazy bedtime stories for us where it would get very theatrical. The funny thing about these stories is that when you think about bedtime stories, you think about stories to calm kids down, but these stories just wound us up. She would act out the parts and try to make us laugh. One time Uncle Ray even came in and said, “What are you doing winding up the kids?!” He was half joking for sure, but it was true, we had a hard time going to sleep after that because we had so much energy. I loved those stories.
Another thing I liked to do back then was to go behind Uncle Ray’s reclining chair where Aunt Ruby kept this library of children’s books. I liked sitting in Uncle Ray’s chair and reading those books at her house. She had all the Shel Silverstein books and now I own them as well. I have this little shelf right over here where I keep mine. She’d give me books sometimes too. One of my Harry Potter books even has her writing in it. When I think about those summers, it's always the stories that come to mind first.
Introduction by Mark Adams
"One of my favorite stories about my mom and cooking that wasn’t in my monograph: My mom did not have much experience with Italian cooking when she came to America in the 60s. My father asked if she would make spaghetti. Mom not knowing what the red sauce was she covered the spaghetti with ketchup; dad smiled and said it was good. Not long thereafter, mom learned and made great Italian red sauces for pasta."
I followed up with my father about the above story and asked him if he could describe the meal and he said, “Well, Imagine having plain pasta with ketchup. I mean it's edible but it's not gonna get a 5 star review. That being said, at least it was filling, I mean I couldn’t cook either and she tried her best. By the time we were married a year or two, she was cooking quite well and as the years went by and she learned more, she got more daring and more creative and ultimately, she became a real gourmet cook. One of my favorite foods that she would make ended up being her spaghetti with meatballs, and sauce which was made with real tomatoes of course. As for the ketchup, that was pretty much reserved for hamburgers and hotdogs.”
When I was about 10, my mom took me to Hills, a local department store where there was supposed to be an Easter egg hunt in their parking lot which was open to the public. When we arrived, however, all the Easter eggs were gone, even though it was supposed to still be happening. Most people would get in their car and go home, but not my mother. She wouldn’t accept that the event was done and asked to see a manager. I don’t know what she said, but within a few minutes, a man came out, dressed in one of those oversized Easter Bunny costumes and strolled towards us in upbeat fashion to hand me a giant plastic egg filled with jelly beans, that iconic green grass and a few chocolates.
I think of this from time to time, especially around this time of year and always think about what the interaction between the manager and the person dressed as the Easter Bunny must have been like. I’d like to think that the employee was having a smoke break when the manager approached him and said something like, “Hey Bill, we’re gonna need you to put the costume on for just a couple minutes. There’s this lady in the parking lot that isn’t gonna leave until her kid gets an en egg. Would ya mind?“
by Mark Adams
“Allow me to introduce my Amma, mother. My Love for food and cooking begins with my mom, my first teacher” (Padma Lakshmi, Taste the Nation (2020).
My mom was singularly responsible for my love of food and cooking, of being an adventurous eater, and appreciating the art and craft of cooking. Last year in quarantine I wrote a monograph about mental health in the restaurant industry that included a couple paragraphs about my mom. Gratitude to my brother Matt for doing the Ruby Tuesday blog about our mom and inviting me to share this prose this week.
My mom, an immigrant from Trinidad came to America in the mid-1960s, and was an incredible home cook. At least one of her grandparents came to Trinidad from India, as an indentured laborer; one came from France and was an overseer of a sugar plantation. Another was a shopkeeper who sold his handmade coconut cakes and tamarind balls at the entryway of his small general store, where the family lived upstairs. My father, born and raised in Syracuse, New York, enlisted in the Marine Corps in the spring of 1961, and was stationed in Trinidad shortly after the assassination of JFK in November 1963. He met my mother in September 1964. I have a black and white photograph of one of their early dates, they were seated at a white linen covered table, my mom wore a corsage, my dad, a skinny tie and custom made, slim fit two-piece suit.
Diverse and delicious food was the centerpiece of our family life in Upstate New York. Her curry chicken and potatoes with buss up shut roti, was our comfort food. My favorite breakfast was bull johl with sliced avocado (zaboca) and fried bakes, the bull johl made with salt cod (bacalao) that came in small wooden boxes. I didn’t fully appreciate her cooking and food until I was an adult. She suffered a severe, debilitating depression for most of my adolescence, part of my origin story of becoming a psychologist, and my own legacy and longstanding struggle with depression. After college, she gave me a Revere Ware covered saucepan from her first collection of pots and pans. I still regularly use and cherish that stainless steel, copper bottomed pot. In another time and place, I could see my mom having a food truck.
True to her aesthetic, in 1995, the year her mother died, my mom made a DIY kind of foodzine cookbook, “Caribbean Cuisine,” with pages of stories, recipes, photos, drawings, and quotes each fastened together at Kinkos with a plastic spiral binding. She was also a painter and wrote in the introduction: “Pay attention to colour, variety and presentation are extremely important!”
I wrote a bad but earnest poem for Mother’s Day when I was in graduate school about my visits home, about our talking in the kitchen while she cooked, about eating her food, about our particular mother and son relationship, and about participating in the deep history of mothers (and grandmothers) cooking for their families. “For all his education, in the darkness of his room, he wondered at the generous spirit of this woman that was his mother.” My mom framed the poem and hung it in the hallway.
There is something deeply emotional about someone cooking for you, of being served food lovingly prepared, a seemingly basic yet profound and poetic expression of love and care; of visiting home and being greeted in the kitchen by my mom cooking, “I made your favorite, come sit and talk with me.” One of my greatest joys as an adult was to cook for my mom. The last elaborate meal I prepared for her (and my dad) was a classic French salad with a simple Dijon dressing and a slow roasted pork shoulder with ginger scallion noodles from the Momofuku: A Cookbook (2009). Today, my mom is afflicted with dementia and mostly doesn’t remember how to cook. The kitchen in my parent’s home, the home where I grew up, feels like an abandoned garden.
Full Monograph: Here Comes a Regular: A Psychologist’s Perspective on the Restaurant Industry in 2020
I’ve been pushing myself to the limit so there is no new Ruby Tuesday this week but there are some exciting posts in the works. Next week, there is a special guest taking over the blog and I have a bunch of interviews completed that will be posted soon as well. For now, please enjoy this photo of my mom hanging loose with her good friend Hello Kitty.
In late 2008, I started working on a feature length documentary about Improv Everywhere. I thought it would take me about 6 months to finish. It ended up taking over 4 years and that’s only because I had a group of talented people helping me out. Both of my parents were incredibly supportive the whole time but funny enough, it was my mom who told me about Improv Everywhere. In a letter she sent me, she included a newspaper clipping about the up and coming group and I was immediately intrigued.
Shortly after receiving the letter, I had begun taking improv classes at the UCB theater and that’s where I met Charlie Todd, the founder of the group and I began participating in his events. As I got more involved, I began producing the videos with Charlie and it was then that I decided to also make a film about what we were doing. Although the film didn’t come out until 2013, my parents' support never wavered. When the film premiered in Syracuse, it was a lot of work to put together, but of course my mom helped out.
In addition to my mom inviting all of her friends, she even picked up the phone book and started cold calling random organizations inviting them to the screening. I even recorded a clip because I found it so endearing.
Although we didn’t fill the theater, people began to pour into the venue about a half hour before showtime and sharing this with experience with my parents was one of the highlights of my career. After the film was over, I asked my mom what her favorite part of the movie was and she said that it was when my name came up on the screen which really made me laugh. She was so proud and I'm thankful that I got to share that with her.
"Ruby Tuesday" is a place for friends and family to share stories about my mother and show how she has impacted their lives.