It is December 1974, and Patricia Best is preparing for the annual school Christmas play. She thinks of her father, Roger Best, who currently runs an ambulance and mortuary business. He does not have much work, as no one seems to die in Ruby. However, he is continually coming up with new schemes, and his newest is that he wants to open a gas station. He believes that if he is able to establish a franchise, they might pave the roads to Ruby, though he also knows that the older generations will refuse this as they like that Ruby is isolated and inaccessible. Roger had once hoped to be a doctor, but was unable to attend medical school. It is common belief in Ruby that Roger in some way caused the death of his wife Delia, but from Patricia’s recollection it seems to have been an accident.
Pat has been working a project: a collection of the family trees and histories of the citizens of Ruby. However, she has run into a wall because families - or specifically the women - will only tell her so much. Additionally, the oral histories she is able to obtain from the women lack the kind of documentation evidence that Pat would want to back them up. Though this project was initially a hobby, Pat has become deeply invested in the task. She painstakingly records the “nine large intact families who made the original journey” (188) from Haven to Ruby. These nine original families made up around 81 people, and were joined by fragments of other families making up 50 or so more. On this journey, the families were cast out of a town they sought help in, the town of Fairly, Oklahoma. This is an event they now call ‘the Disallowing’. Although the founding group was hostile to whites, this “horror” was “abstract” (189). “They saved the clarity of their hatred for the men who had insulted them in ways too confounding for language” (189) - that is, the light-skinned blacks who refused to offer them shelter for longer than a night. Though the residents of Fairly took up a collection for the journeying group and offered food and blankets, the founding fathers refused to take any of it. It was the women who secretly brought the food, though not the money or blankets, to distribute to the children. Lone DuPres was one of two orphans the group picked up along the way. She was adopted into the DuPres family and to this day serves as the midwife in Ruby, though in recent times her services have been shunned in favor of hospital births, which hurts Lone as she knows that some superstitiously still blame her for the Fleetwood babies. Pat speculates that K.D. and Arnette will not have many children, as Arnette’s mother only had two, and the Morgans themselves have not had as many children in the most recent generation as in those past.
In her tree, Pat marks each of the original nine families with the note, “8-R.” This stands for “eight-rock,” itself referencing “a deep deep level in the coal mines” (193). The 8-R families are very dark-skinned: “blue-black peole, tall and graceful” (193). Their ancestors believed the pertinent divisions to be those of slavery and wealth, but in the post-Civil War world they realized they faced another kind of discrimination: discrimination by light-skinned blacks against the dark-skinned. They were denied jobs and socially shunned: “the racial purity they had taken for granted had become a stain” (194). Zechariah Morgan long feared the dispersal of the 8-rock families through marriage to outsiders. Pat notes that the men of Ruby going to war and mixing with the outside world could and should have spelled the end of pure lineages in Ruby. However, the insularity of the community was only reinforced, because the young men who went out into the world found that the same color prejudice existed then as it had a half-century earlier.
Pat notes that her father, Roger Best, was the first to break the unspoken color rule by marrying her light-skinned mother, Delia. Pat writes to her father in her history that people don’t hate the Bests because of the circumstances of Delia’s death, but rather because “she looked like a cracker and was bound to have cracker-looking children like me” (196). She recalls that Menus, too, brought home “a pretty sandy-haired girl from Virginia” (195) to marry, and was pressured into giving her up. He lost - or was perhaps forced out of - the house he bought for the two of them to live in (the house where Dovey now stays in town), and has been an alcoholic ever since.
Pat writes in the history to her mother Delia. Delia died in childbirth. The wives of Ruby had wanted to drive out to the Convent to seek the help of a nun who had worked in a hospital, but the men made various excuses - seemingly to avoid bringing a white person into town, or asking a white person to help, or out of spite for Delia and Roger. By the time Reverent Pulliam could be convinced to go get help, it was too late. Delia and Ruby Smith, K.D.’s mother, are the only people to ever have died in Ruby, and Pat writes that the seeming immortality of Ruby’s citizens might somehow be to spite Roger and his mortuary business.
Pat reflects on the rift between her and Billie Delia. Like everyone in town, Pat believes her daughter is sinful and promiscuous, reinforced by the relationship she has observed between her daughter and the Poole boys. A year ago, they had a fight because Pat did not believe Billie Delia’s claim of innocence; the fight turned violent and Billie Delia fled to the Convent, where she stayed for two weeks before announcing to her mother that she was moving away. She wonders why she has always felt wary of her daughter. She notes that if Billie Delia had been 8-rock, she is certain the episode with the horse would not have been held against her. Pat does not know whether she has “defended Billie Delia or sacrificed her” (203).
Nathan DuPres, as is the tradition since he is believed to be the oldest person in Ruby, gives a speech before the Christmas play. Everyone believes Nathan to be rambling incoherently as he describes a dream he had about a bean crop that looks strong, but which an Indian tells him is the wrong color and crippled by polluted water. Nathan relates his dream to the Nativity story that is about to be performed, saying that it “shows the strength of our crop if we understand it” (205), but the danger of it if they do not.
Pat has a conversation with Reverend Misner. Misner is trying to figure out if something is wrong at the Pooles’, but Pat refuses to help, telling him that in Ruby people keep to themselves. Pat and Reverend Misner also disagree about the education of the young; Misner says that the young want to learn about their African roots, but Pat dismisses this, saying that Africa has nothing to do with the residents of Ruby today. Misner says that people need roots and context, that “isolation kills generations” (210). Pat asks him whether he thinks the elders of Ruby love their children. Misner responds that he thinks “they love them to death” (210).
Richard notes that the nativity play seems to be a re-enactment of the founding of Ruby. Just like the Holy Family was denied at the inn, the founders of Ruby were rejected during the Disallowing. There are not just one Mary and Joseph, but rather seven pairs. He asks Pat why, however, there are only seven, when there were nine original families. Pat brushes him off, but reflects that he is right to ask why there are only seven. She thinks that one of the absences reflects the Cato family, whose line was cut when Billy, Pat’s husband, died. She cannot figure out, however, which family the latest absence reflects. When she gets home, she asks her father about it, but he is circumspect: Roger does not see the intentional malice that Pat sees in the residents of Ruby. Suddenly, Pat decides to burn the papers from her project in the backyard.
This section develops concretely a theme that has been alluded to in previous sections: the idea of alternative histories, especially ones maintained by women. Though there is an official history surrounding the founding of Ruby that centers on the heroism, glory and moral rectitude of the founding fathers, there are other sides to the story that have only been maintained orally by women. The women to whom Pat speaks, who have kept the record of forgotten wives and disowned brothers, exemplify this. However, Pat, who is attempting to make a record and investigate these concealed stories, also exemplifies this theme. Evident in this alternative history is also the way in which the pride and heroism of the men has occasionally come at the expense of practicality: when the Disallowing occured, the men were so offended that they left behind the food offered to them by the residents of Fairly. The women, however, returned for the food in order to feed the children.
With the revelation of Pat’s eight-rock classification, the narrative continues to complicate: we learn that not only did Roger Best not contribute to the death of his wife, but also that she might have died because of prejudice against light-skinned blacks. We learn that Menus might be an alcoholic, and might have been swindled out of his house, not simply because of financial difficulty but because of opposition in town to his marrying a light-skinned outsider. Finally, we learn that the reason why the episode from Billie Delia’s early childhood has followed her around might be because she is the granddaughter of Delia Best, and therefore from a “contaminated” line.
The Disallowing, it becomes clear, is one of the central founding myths of Ruby. Whereas Steward and Deek’s vision of the nineteen Negro ladies is a positive founding myth, demonstrating what the brothers would want Ruby to be, the Disallowing is a negative myth, shared by the entire town and representative of what they have been denied in the outside world. Pat’s reflections on the history of Ruby definitively show that it is not just fear or defiance of a white world that motivates Ruby. In fact, more precisely defiance of a world beholden to colorism, where the light-skinned black person would reject the dark-skinned black person, fuels the isolationist tendencies of Ruby citizens.
Everyone has their own prejudices. Pat can perceive clearly the hatefulness of the eight-rock families and how it has led to such tragedies as her mother’s death and the alcoholism of Menus; however, she cannot see how she is wrong about her own daughter, and how the same hatred that she resents in the eight-rock families has poisoned her relationship with Billie Delia. Pat realizes that “ever since Billie Delia was an infant, she thought of her as a liability somehow. Vulnerable to the possibility of not being quite as much of a lady as Patricia Cato would like” (203).
Nathan DuPres’ oration before the Christmas play is one of a number of significant dreams in the novel. Though Nathan appears to digress randomly and everyone takes it for granted that his speech is incoherent, his dream is in fact very meaningful. He has a vision of a crop that appears strong and healthy, but which a Cheyenne Indian - alluding to the history of the land before the residents of Ruby arrived there - points out to him is the wrong color, red. The Indian also shows him that the water source nourishing the plants is polluted. Nathan suggests that the dream shows the “the strength of our crop if we understand it,” but how “it can break us if we don’t” (205). It is a clear analogue for the youth of Ruby. They are passionate and strong-minded, and could bolster Ruby if the adults are willing to listen to them. However, the generational conflict could also tear Ruby apart if the adults remain unwilling to listen to the youth.