"The Makings of a Man"
Davis Eli Ruffin was born on January 18, 1941 in Whynot, Mississippi.
([“In response to your inquiry] Whynot is the name used by a little community in the southeastern portion of Lauderdale
County, Mississippi, on Highway 19 South between Meridian and the Alabama line. Mississippi state road maps show it. The Meridian
& Bigbee Railroad, a local freight line that carries mostly wood products between producers and suppliers in east Mississippi
and west Alabama, runs through it."...Buddy Bynum, Editor, The Meridian Star.)
According to him, his mother, Ophelia Davis Ruffin, had died some
ten months after giving birth to him, the last of the Ruffin children. She's had heart trouble, he said, and complications
had set in. God only knows what truly happened at that time and in that place. His father, Eli Ruffin, then married Miss Earline,
who had been a teacher there. Seemingly, they had known each other for a while already. From my knowledge of and conversations
with "Mama" Earline, who seemed to me like a very sweet lady, the marriage was probably a blessing for the children, as I
didn't get the idea from David that Eli was much of a father. David either inherited that trait or copied it, if the type
of father that he himself became was any indication. Apparently Jimmie was actually more of a father to Davis.
"Mama" is now ninety-some years old, and still lived in Meridian until
a few years ago. She now resides in a retirement home in a near-by town. I had kept in touch with her over all these years,
until she went there and beyond my reach. Between her stories and David's, I've tried to piece together the puzzle that was
his enigmatic past. (*Authors note: Earline Ruffin has since passed on).
For years, I tried to find some glimmer of truth about his childhood--all
we really know is that it was a mystery. I'll never know how successful I was, as it remains the secret which I believe set
him on his path of self-ruin. There been some vague insinuations about some kind of sexual abuse as a toddler, and older as
well. I was not there, so obviously I have no facts to quote, but suffice it to say that I believe he had a traumatic childhood.
I mean, who didn't, right? But he seemed to have never gotten over it. It had the potential of being the catalyst for a very,
very emotionally disturbed adult. That is, in fact, exactly what he became.
Too, there was the scuttlebutt about him going to jail at nineteen
for writing bad checks. I'd hate to think what horror could’ve happened to the likes of him there--might explain a lot.
I believe it was after he’d come to Detroit and begun to hang out with Eddie Kendrick.
There was another Eddie involved, as well--a wannabe player from Chicago.
He was a lot older than David. He talked and looked utterly "country"--homely, missing front teeth, and as was the case with
so many others, he clung to DR in hopes of catching the overflow of women. It was he who really pointed David down the Road
to Ruin, if you ask me. He made sure he had a good map and plenty of "supplies", at least. He kept DR surrounded with plenty
of his little girlies--he and his "main lady" both did. The two of them incredibly called themselves trying to "adopt" David
when he was seventeen or eighteen years old. Probably what they were really trying to do was to exploit his talents--some
might call it pimping.
In 1958, Vega Records made the first recording of what was supposed
to be David's voice--it wasn’t. It was called "You and I" with "Believe Me" on the flip, under the name "Little David
Bush." I wasn't real sure what Earline meant when she told me she "put a stop to all that", but I noticed that no further
recordings were made under that pseudonym.
While writing this memoir, I had the remarkable experience of listening
repeatedly to those originals with the intent of identifying and verifying for the owner, a collector and former musician
at Motown, if it was David Ruffin, in fact, singing. Unbelievably and without a shadow of a doubt, it was not. I know David's
voice. I also know Eddie Bush's toothless voice. The man who recorded those songs was Eddie Bush, not David. God only knows
why they perpetrated this fraud all these years--God, Eddie Bush and Gwen Gordy. She was a co-writer and, surprise, Berry's
sister. Wonder what that scam was all about? Perhaps it was an attempt to support the case that Eddie was trying to build,
in order to create the illusion that David was his son--no doubt it had something to do with money. Oh, I know! Maybe David
was shy! David Ruffin? Nah! Not even back then. I just know what I know--it was neither Little David Bush nor Little David
Ruffin. I wonder what they meant to do when it was time on go onstage? (*Authors note: A fan has since told me that he and
his friend spoke with Eddie Bush about this recently in Vegas where he lives, and he swears it was David, not him).
Since DR left home so young, a lot of what he should have learned
as a foundation was missing. It's as if he missed kindergarten, and was catapulted straight into the School of Hard Knocks.
According to Mama, his father (Eli), apparently a so-called preacher, "did not support" David. She said that, although "it
was Jimmie Lee who put the devilment in him" (whatever that means,) "none of them wanted him." She told me that Eli "gave
David to some singers in Texas" at the age of about fourteen or fifteen. (This may have been when Jimmie started calling him
"Permalube" for the way he was wearing his hair--probably his first 'do). Moreover, Mama said, "They took all his clothes
and put him in a big coat and left him in Texas." Luckily, she had taught him where he lived and how to get home. Somehow,
he found his way onto a Greyhound. Somebody gave him cookies and an RC Cola, and he got as far as Memphis. He wrote her from
there and she said she sent him money to get home. I wonder what it was like for him and how he lived while he waited for
the letter to get to her and hers to him. Both she and David told me about the talent shows he'd been in with the legends
Little Richard and Elvis Presley. It seems like this might've been during the time that he was stuck there in Memphis.
There were both some profound parallels and differences between David
and Elvis. What do I feel that David Ruffin could've possibly had in common with the "King of Rock 'n' Roll? H-m-m-m, let
me see. We know they were both very talented singers and showmen from the South--both country and both Capricorn. But what
else? Well, both suffered fatal drug overdoses, but one (the white one) died on his bathroom floor of prescription drugs (and
palace or ghetto, it's still a bathroom floor). The black one, on the other hand, died of an overdose of non-prescription
drugs on the sofa in a crack house. The first one (the white one), is revered, practically worshipped, and the other (the
black one), is berated and scoffed at for the way he died. What is wrong with this picture? Think about it, America.
Another thing Mama told me was that David used to get teased about
his looks. He and his older sister, Rita Mae, looked alike and favored "Mr. Ruffin" as Mama never failed to call him. They
were dark, while Jimmie and half-brother Quincy (the oldest) were lighter. Not only that, but based on their looks as the
grown men that they were when I met them, I imagine they were on the husky side. David, to the contrary, was "scrawny." She
said they taunted him, saying he wasn't part of the family and so on. Typical stuff that (some) kids say to each other, I
guess. It sounded like skin-tone bias to me.
According to David, his maternal grandfather, Levi Davis, was part
Native American. Of course, I'd never seen the gentleman, but David used to describe him, although I don't think he ever knew
him. I've since gathered from Earline that Levi's legendary "long straight, black hair" was more a figment of David's imagination
than anything else. Although Ophelia's hair did fit that description; I saw that for myself in the single photo that David
had of her. According to Quincy, though, it didn't "do her justice." Certainly, it showed that she did have very smooth, beautiful
dark skin and incredible cheekbones, so anything is possible. So after all, those chiseled features of DR's surely could have
been a reflection of that origin.
He had fine and delicate features--and incredibly smooth skin. In
the early days, he had no facial hair--at all! Couldn't grow any. He could never get sideburns to fill in, and he didn't shave,
or need to. He had five or six tiny hairs on his chin, which he'd have me extricate with my trusty tweezers. He had those
high cheekbones and an "Indian" nose. I always loved that nose.
Also according to David, he was ten months old when Ophelia died,
and he grew up relating to Earline as his mom. He was a sickly, puny little runt of a boy, Earline said. They'd both told
me that he'd had rheumatic fever when as a baby. Evidently in those days in the South, and maybe even more so under certain
conditions (being black), not a lot was done about it. She said that "Li'l Davis" used to sleep in bed with her and "Mr. Ruffin."
He whined a lot, and at night, he'd cry to her: "Mama! Mama! Turn over and hug me!" (Later, as a father himself, he'd had
the audacity to get on David Junior's case about whining when he was little. At least until Earline told me that, and I busted
him about it).
She talked about times when, as a baby, she'd have to "lay po' Li'l
Davis across my lap and pound him on his skinny little back" trying to keep him from choking on phlegm. She said she'd reach
right down his throat with her finger and "pull out the strings of mucus" which often threatened to strangle the very breath
out of his body. (And to think, that was the very same throat that brought us all so much pleasure in years to come!) Even
though she was, of course, "only" his step-mother, she loved him dearly from a baby on up, and took very good and special
care of him, probably more than anyone else.
Shamefully and pathetically, as time and space (and fame and fortune?)
intervened, David's contact with Earline waned greatly. To the best of my knowledge, it diminished to little or nothing. We
had, one November in '71 or '72, sent first for my mother--who had acquiesced by now--and then Earline, to come and spend
two weeks respectively with us in Detroit. Evidently, it was one of the closest times David had with her since he'd left Mississippi.
And, based on what I saw and heard--or rather didn't--it was more of a visit with me and David Junior than anything else.
In fact, after some time, I'd confided in her how David had been beating me. Her instantaneous response was, "I'd a been waitin'
behind the door for that sap-sucker!" I felt I had an ally. She was strong and wise and probably ahead of her time. I guessed
she'd been quite a match for her old "Mr. Ruffin."
Between David and me, I was the one who made sure she got her greeting
cards and gifts and pictures, and she'd often say to me, "Have you heard anything from that David? I haven't." She said that
on the rare occasion, before he moved to Detroit, when he would send her a few dollars, the note would invariably read, "Buy
yourself some Cokes, Porky Pig." Sometimes I still wrote that to her in a note.
One day, while she was still living in her house, I called and called,
but one answered the phone. I called fairly often, so this naturally concerned me. I did the only thing I could think to do
from Detroit, I phoned the Meridian police and asked if they would go check on her. By then, she'd already been moved out
and into a facility. I think first she was taken to a hospital, then to a "home". The doctors described her condition to me
as Organic Brain Syndrome. I asked for a definition, and it means that she just didn't comprehend anymore. Sometimes when
I spoke with her on the phone, she knew me; other times she did not. I'm afraid it's a battle that old age always wins. After
her "Li'l David" died in 1991, she just aged real fast. Judging from how she talked to me, that just broke her heart.
As for David, to me it's a hard-hearted man who'd just disregard--for
the most part--even the woman who raised him as her own. Of course, I didn't find out about that facet of him until we were
involved way deep--living together and with a son. So there hadn't been a time when I could have foretold the future by using
that as a barometer. I'm not sure it would have made a difference anyway.
I don't know if David was in Meridian or Memphis when Eli died of
heart trouble. He was fifteen and a half, Earline said. She was away, working as a teacher in "Newton County." When I asked
her if Eli loved David, or "Davis" as she mostly called him, first she said, "Huh?" I repeated myself, and her voice ominously
dropped an octave as she growled, "Mr. Ruffin didn't love nobody!" (A while ago I asked Jimmie what Eli was like and he said,
"According to Quincy, a lot like me." If by that he meant arrogant, self-centered, and obnoxious, I can understand what Earline
Evidently, it was after Eli died that Jimmie took David to live with
him. Earline put it that "Jimmie was the cause of Davis leaving me." She said that he wanted David with him in order to manage
his money, and that David was "bull-headed like Mr. Ruffin." (This I believe). Then, too, she said that David was "born gifted";
when I asked her if she meant gifted with his voice, she said, "with everything." She said he was gifted, too, when it came
to money, but that he could "always be too liberal"--and "Jimmie Lee was always jealous of David", and "picked on him and
fought him", and was "always mean and bullied him." (This, too, I believe). She said that once, when David was living with
Jimmie, it got so bad that the police were called.
I don't know about all of that--it could be the rambling of a mom
with a favorite. Yet, I can appreciate it--I would’ve drawn the same conclusions myself based on personal experiences
with the two of them later in life. "Mama" Earline closed that particular conversation with "Davis was a sweet, good baby,
and I miss him. Since he died, sometimes I just find myself just sittin' and cryin'."
David was a man who loved having women handy--I'm sure now that he
must have had five in every city and two in every town. Yet he didn't really like or respect them. Although, who knew
then what a misogynist was? And how could a man who seemed so fun at first, be so demonic when the dark set in? Retrospectively,
having raised my own son the hard way, I believe that David Senior was never taught that concept as a child. After all, how
can a boy-child learn love with respect (as opposed to love without it) for his mother--or for any women, for that matter--if
he doesn't see it lived in the home. Unhappily, this left David ill-prepared to be a daddy, and/or a good example. If David
Junior respects women at all, it's only by the Grace of God and his own determination; not because his father taught it to
*(Author's note, 08/07/07 : In Mississippi Tears
a book he wrote and published in 1999, Quincy B. Ruffin Senior [David's stepbrother and oldest of the five Ruffin children:
Quincy, Rosetta, Rita Mae, Jimmy and baby Davis] relates his experience as it applied to the Ruffin household in Mississippi.
He clearly describes how his life, at five years old, took a drastic nosedive for the worse when his mother, Ophelia Davis,
married his stepfather, the violent and controlling Eli Ruffin.
The family sharecropped, moving from one plantation to
another to another. Quincy was eleven or twelve by the time Davis/David was born. Mother Ophelia, who hadn't been well anyway,
got worse and died from lack of medical attention when David was less than a year old. David was sickly too. Big sister Rita
Mae, at six years old, was able to help Quincy to care for him. Rosetta had died an infant of one year and one day old. Jimmy
played alone, living with doubt and fear--according to Quincy.
The main weapon that Eli used to wreak devastation and
destruction was apparently an 8', rawhide leather whip--most likely just like the one he had seen used on the backs of the
men who farmed and sharecropped, and/or was perhaps even used on his back as well. One wonders how a poor black man in Mississippi
in the late 1930's came to possess such a thing. Perhaps it came directly from a forgotten hook or nail in a dim barn back
wall on the plantation. It had to have come from somewhere. In any case, with it, Eli whipped the chickens, the dogs and the
hogs as well as Quincy and Rita. According to Quincy, Eli also hit Ophelia and controlled her completely.
One can only draw their own conclusions as to whether or
not Jimmy and David were whipped. Quincy did say, however, that David managed to outsmart Eli from the time he was a little
bitty thing and avoid both the plow and the pain of the whip. But don't you guess he knew? Don't you guess he lived in doubt
and fear as well as did Jimmy? He saw what his brothers and sister and stepmother went through. He felt the pain in his spirit,
even if not on his little back. I'm sure it deeply affected both of them. And one would have to surmise that it was the
singular motivational force behind David leaving home at a very early age--fourteen, from what I've heard. Maybe he was afraid
his luck in avoiding Eli's whip would run out. So he ran out instead. His leaving to go on the road singing with a gospel
group was much to the dismay and heartbreak of his dear stepmother, Earlene from what she herself told me before she died.
She raised him. She loved him dearly; he was her baby.
I have a purpose for saying all this. I never read
Quincy's book until fall of '03, so at the time I first published A Memoir: David Ruffin--My Temptation, I didn't know
exactly what it was that had terrified David and impacted his life in such a traumatic way, although I knew it was something
dark. In time, I did come to know, however, that there was an important part missing from my memoir. I didn't know exactly
what was missing, but I eventually came to realize that the book was one-sided and out of balance. There was no redemption
for David--only what seemed like negative things. This site now proudly presents a newly formatted and expounded-upon
"Makings of a Man"--re-positioned to open the story--and the addendum "The Long Road to Salvation". In conjunction
with the original book, these additions complete the story, and are now revealed exclusively here as
Delivered From Temptation.
After reading Quincy's book, I see now why David was used
to living pillar to post and not really having a home. (Even our second "home" [this one on Parkside Drive] only
lasted four years. After that, he never really had a home again, making do with living here and there, much as Quincy describes
their childhood after their mother's death). I see now also how he learned--that is, failed to learn--to be a father. He had
no model. Now I see how he learned--that is, failed to learn--how to treat women. He had no model. I see how he learned to
beat our dogs and horses. I see how he learned to brutally whip our son with a leather strap. I'm just grateful he didn't
have a whip. I see how being deprived the counsel of that good and sweet Christian mother left a hole in his spirit regarding
women and life in general, most likely]. And I see how he didn't want much to do with God--except in his last years, so I'm
told; hallelujah--since Eli was a so-called preacher. Quincy never says that in his book, but David had always said so. In
that case, David probably wanted to go as far away as possible from what his father represented to him--the Name of Jesus!
And that he did. I believe he was coming back to God near the end though; I believe he wanted to and that he had to and that
he knew he had to. You can only run so long. He was a prodigal son returning to a Father who dearly loved him, even
after he had squandered his inheritance and gifts.
Having read Quincy's book has set me free from bitterness,
anger or resentment toward David and has filled me instead with compassion. Mind you, not with forgiveness, for that came
long ago. But true compassion--not only for him, but for all abusers. This is the crucial, absolutely vital area in
which society has inadvertently looked the wrong way and in the process, has dropped the ball. We, as a people, have wound
up putting a bandage on the cancer of domestic violence (which has become a worldwide plague of biblical proportions), instead
of addressing the issue: The needed healing of the spirits of the brokenhearted men who were meant to be the hub around which
the strong, healthy family is built and thrives, but who have instead become just a tossed-away blight on society. And that's
what has become of the brokenhearted. We must change this cycle starting now, if humanity is to survive)
You can order "Mississippi Tears" (isbn 1-885066-57-0) by money order for $10.00
plus $2.00 s/h payable to Quincy Ruffin at Q.B. Books, P.O. Box 682093, Orlando, FL 32868
P.O. Box 22949, Winter Park FL 32790.
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