The Color of Water
Chapter 25 and Epilogue
Chapter 25—Finding Ruthie
James discusses the sense of aimlessness he experienced in college and in the professional world. He remained certain of his passion for both writing and music, and eventually realized they were not mutually exclusive professions. His mixed race kept haunting him, manifesting itself in his behavior in the workplace and in his personal life. After floundering around in various jobs, never completely satisfied, James realized that his professional crisis related to his identity crisis. At that point, he began to entertain the notion of this memoir. In 1993, Ruth finally returned to Suffolk, Virginia, along with James, Judy, and Billy (James's siblings). She reunited with her friend Frances, reestablishing a friendship that endures to this day.
James recognizes that of all the extraordinary elements of Ruth's life, her children are what most define her, and are her crowning accomplishment. Accordingly, he catalogues their names and their accomplishments, as a tribute to his siblings as well as to his mother. Each year, despite the hassles of traveling, James and all his siblings flock to his mother's house for the holidays, spouses and children in tow. The chaotic environment of James's childhood is recreated in these festive gatherings.
James's co-worker David Lee Preston, son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, invites James and his mother to his traditional Jewish wedding. Ruth agrees to attend the wedding on the condition that her daughter Kathy join them. Ruth enters a synagogue for the first time since her childhood. James recognizes that despite her conversion to Christianity and her bitterness toward her Jewish family, Ruth still acknowledges Judaism as a significant component of her heritage, and is wise enough now to have come to terms with it.
After recreating the past for twenty-four chapters, James returns to the present in this last chapter and epilogue, outlining his motivations for writing the memoir in the first place. While his mother once tried her best to sweep issues of race and identity under the rug, James began to see them as a potential barrier to his future happiness and self-knowledge. His background became the essential puzzle to solve before his life could go on. Ruth, in her return to Suffolk for the first time since her childhood, also determined to put the past in context and to make peace with it. James wraps up the memoir by tracing the parallel resolutions of his and Ruth's pasts.
James describes his siblings and their professional and family lives in order to pay tribute to Ruth's remarkable feat: raising twelve accomplished children. The chaotic environment of James's childhood household is recreated with the children of his siblings. It suggests the cyclical nature of life that James and his siblings return to gather under Ruth's roof once again, bringing closure to James's stated purpose for the book. The epilogue also adds to the sense of closure and of having come full circle. Ruth's entrance into the synagogue for James's friend's wedding marks her ability to accept her heritage, while sticking to her own, different, path.