My given name is Lydia Marie Wright. I entered this world in New Orleans, Louisiana, 5 days before Xmas to C. and J. I was their first born of three girls. My mother is an amazing woman who single-handedly raised me and my 3 siblings, when my dad made the poor choice to leave our family–on my 5th birthday. Although I didn’t realize it for decades, this incident had a huge influence on my life and the person that I was to become.
After my father left our family, we had to move in with my great-grandmother. My mother, a very beautiful woman, who married young and never had the opportunity to attend college, had few job prospects. She soon accepted a job as a cook for the New Orleans Catholic Archdiocese, where she remained for over 40 years. Although we were poor, my Mom always worked 2-3 jobs to make sure that we had food on the table and clean clothes.
Although she could have easily qualified, she steadfastly refused to apply for or receive any type of government aid (With the exception of the free lunch program that we had to apply for through the schools and were accepted automatically.). She is a proud woman and remains so to this day. She did the very best that she could with what she had, so she sewed most of our clothes. One perk of the job with the Catholic Archdiocese was a tuition discount at its many Catholic schools (Especially at that time, Catholic churches or schools were about as prevalent as 7-11’s came to be in other cities.). Wanting to ensure us the best education that she could manage, she did without to send us to the catholic schools where I spent twelve years.
Nurturing creativity was not a priority in my family–getting by was. As a child, I liked to draw, so much so that I responded to a “TV Guide” advertisement for an art school. The ad required that you draw a picture of the photo provided in the ad. I was about 11 years old and I remember putting all that I had into that drawing. I waited and waited with knots in my stomach for a response. A letter arrived and while it told me that I had “some” talent, it went on to say that I was too young for the school, blah, blah, blah. . . . It was on this day that my dream of pursuing and nurturing the creative side of me died. I was also an avid reader of books. I think as an escape from a world that for me, was filled with abandonment, confusion, a lack of overt emotional affection and fear of my environment, I loved books. I could be anywhere and anyone that I wanted to be. (My love of books remains to this day.)
In addition to reading booking, I also love to write. Although I dreamed of being a successful writer, the dream never went further than my writing my own “book.” As I sit here today, I can’t even remember what the story was about. All that I do recall is that I never intended to pursue it because I was not a “creative” person, Sadly, that is what I’d internalized from the response to my drawing, and I had no one to tell me otherwise. So, my career dreams turned to more practical careers such as a medical technologist, a nurse, or a child psychologist. I say dreams because to say “goal” would necessarily imply that I believed that my dreams were attainable, and I realize that I did not.
My mother always choose education as our means to escape the poverty in which we lived. As the oldest of what later became 4 children; I was not deaf to her choice. She was a single woman in the late fifties-early sixties, singlehandedly raising three, later four, children, and a ‘college fund’ was definitely not an option. This was in the days before charter and magnet schools and even back then, the New Orleans public school system was not up to her standards or anyone else’s really. So that we might go to the “better” schools (i.e., Catholic schools), my mom took the job as the cook. Since there were two of us, me and my sister, Mom received a tuition discount as well. We were only one of 2 or 3 black families in the entire school. I am quite embarrassed to admit it, now, but back then, I was not as proud as I have become of my Mom and all that she went through to provide us with a Catholic school education. No, as a selfish young girl, all that I was concerned with is that my Mom worked at the cafeteria in the elementary school that I attended. Each and every day, I dreaded lunch time for two reasons: (1) the free lunch card that we qualified for because of our family income, and (2) my Mom would be in the the cafeteria serving food to me, my friends and everyone else and everyone knew it. I was embarrassed by my Mom’s job and I was filled with guilt for being such a terrible daughter.
Anyway, I was a quiet kid and I mostly excelled in school. I was the model student in elementary school. The most memorable incident from that time was when my class took some sort of test and coincidentally, the boy sitting next to me and I got the same grade on the test. He was white and I black, so the teacher assumed that I’d cheated by copying his answers. I was forced to re-take the test by myself and to her chagrin, I scored higher on the test than the first time. This incident was another of those incidents that over the years has shaped me in ways that I never imagined. I went on to graduate from elementary school and gained acceptance into the same high school that my Mom attended; everything was going according to plan. I figured that she’d given up so much and worked so hard so that we could have an education, it was my duty to reward her efforts. To be continued…