In the late 1960s, my daddy was temporarily disabled and unable to work. My stay-at-home mama became the breadwinner in our family. With help from my maternal grandparents, we were able to keep our modest home. With help from a church friend, my siblings and I continued to be able to eat school lunches every day. After daddy returned to work, mama kept her job. Just in case. And then with help from an elderly black woman, I was able to learn an important lifelong lesson.
Her name was Aurelia.
Everyday for several weeks after school she was there to watch over my two younger siblings and me for the hour or so before mama returned home from work.
While I did my homework, Aurelia would stand over me and talk about my pretty handwriting and how smart I was. I was too naive to grasp the significance when she said she couldn’t “do that.”
Later that summer I enjoyed spending time with Aurelia while we hung clothes on the clothesline. We also spent time in the kitchen together where she taught me how to fry an egg by first sprinkling salt in the bottom of a hot cast iron skillet.
Too soon, it was decided we were old enough to be at home alone and our time together ended. But forty-five years later, Aurelia’s impact on my young life is still felt and, even now, when I fry an egg, I always think about how Aurelia couldn’t “do that.”
As a teacher, there are days when I see students taking for granted the paths pounded out before them and I want to tell them about Aurelia. I desperately want them to understand that there was a time not everyone was allowed to have a dream let alone live it. I want them to understand the importance of doing both well.
And then, I want to tell them the secret to a perfect fried egg.