When I compare my experience to those who came before and after me, my story is neither heart wrenching nor heartwarming. My stay at Maryhurst was brief and my circumstances where neither dire nor grave. Due to being stubborn and spoiled, I ran away from a good home. I was raised apart of a middle class, African-American, family. My father, at the time, was the executive director of Metropolitan Social Services for Jefferson County and a professor at Kent School of Social Work at University of Louisville. My mother taught LD (learning disabled) and EMH (Emotionally Mentally Handicapped) students in the Jefferson County Public School system. As a student at Sacred Heart Model School, I received a superior foundational education. Regrettably, as a youngster, I didn’t appreciate my educational experience or my family oriented environment.
My father and mother were hardworking. As most parents, they wanted me to have the optimum educational and life experiences. They worked hard to introduce me to as many varying cultural and educational experiences as possible to enrich my life. I went to camp Merry Ledges every summer as a child. We camped as a family in a different state park in Kentucky every year. They involved me in theatre, ballet and art classes. In the fourth grade I began playing the cello and took private lessons at the Louisville Academy of Music, run by Mr. French. I excelled at playing the instrument. I loved classical music and advanced to first chair in the Louisville Youth Orchestra. My mother and I attended ballets and musicals often. I was a regular at the Speed Museum from the time I was very young. Fear always struck my heart when I entered the paneled room on the first floor. It was reminiscent of an old Tudor manor equipped with a suit of armor that stood silently in the corner waiting to terrorize me every visit. I overcame my fear and the suit of armor and as I matured the suit no longer looked so big. My love of museums instilled in me by my parents as a young child has stuck with me to this day.
At the age of 12 my parents bought me a sewing machine and I began making all my clothes. I would sew by the light of the sewing machine, pushing the pedal very slowly, so as not to awake my parents. My goal was to have a new outfit ready for school many school mornings. I didn’t want to wear the same thing twice. I was no doubt running up quite a bill for fabric and notions. But I did not appreciate all that I had. How many children do? I complained about wearing a school uniform and asked to go to public school and my parents acquiesced. Sad to say, I was easily influenced by my newfound peers. I remember a school Counselor pulling me in the office and saying I had a chip on my shoulder. In response, I slowly turned my head, looked at my shoulder, saw nothing, looked back at my counselor and accused her of having something against my new friends. I continued my new noticeably different behavior. I strived to fit in with the wrong crowd and adopted a selfish disrespectful attitude.
At the age of 13 or 14 I received a scholarship to Interlochen Music Camp. I needed a black skirt and white shirt for the planned recital at the end of the summer session. I told my parents and my father made mention of the cost of material in an annoyed manner. I was offended. I felt that I saved them money and didn’t understand his response. As a result, I would not speak to him. He in turn told me that I needed to apologize for my disrespectful behavior or I would not be able to go to summer camp. I was stubborn and would not apologize. I felt that he should have apologized. In my opinion, my ability to sew saved them oodles of money. What I failed to realize at the time was that every child is a major investment of time energy and resources. They where giving there all and it is never easy as a parent as I now understand.
Well that is how I came to reside at Maryhurst. I ran away from home. I remember calling an 11-year-old friend and saying, ” I can’t go to music camp and they won’t let me work a summer job at Watterson pool, is there any reason I should stay here?” I remember my extremely young friends tiny little voice hesitantly trying to figure out an answer, she was 11 and did not know what to say. I was a missing child for quite some time. Once I was caught
I maintained my stubborn attitude. Remember, my father was over Metropolitan Social Services at the time. That included the Children’s Detention Center, where runaways were taken. What an embarrassment for my father. When the court system was trying to determine how best to help me, I stated that I did not want to go home. As a result, the judge placed me in Maryhurst, which at the time was a home for runaways and status offenders.
Two things still stick with me so many years later. One was the presence of one of the few people I know that are just a tad taller than I, Judy Lambeth. When I was a resident she was a youth counselor. She manifested sincere interest in the girls and made an indelible mark on the hearts of many who have come through Maryhurst’s doors. She went to great lengths to help in whatever manner she could. I remember her making a home visit to try to help mediate the next big hurdle in my life once I left Maryhurst. I was no longer a resident but her desire to help was genuine and her active care did not stop for former residents, while transitioning to the next chapter of our lives after Maryhurst.
The second memory has to do with what I learned from the Maryhurst experience. What sticks with me until this day is the fact that when new residents moved into the dorm there were rules by which they had to comply. One rule that spoke volumes was the protocol required when new residents entered a room. Every time we wanted to enter a room we had to ask the dorm supervisor in the room for permission. If the T.V. was on in the room we had to ask for permission to watch television, whether we personally were watching it or not. What did I learn from what seemed to be extreme at the time? I realized that so many things that we take for granted are privileges. Some privileges we enjoy are reaped through association or timing or any number of circumstances. What we never want to take for granted are the many and varied experiences that enrich our lives and define us. As we develop we should never forget to say thank you for the many positive experiences that we enjoy. That was a life lesson that I continually reflect upon.
Our lives are rarely exactly what we plan, but what comes our way that is positive should be appreciated and savored. Life is a precious privilege that should be enjoyed and never taken for granted. This lesson was brought home to me through that one, “extreme”, yet simple regulation that has stuck with me from my experience at Maryhurst. I am thankful for the caring dedicated individuals at Maryhurst that helped me through the tumultuous adolescent years.