Back in March I was visiting my mother’s birthplace Opelousas, Louisiana and a few weeks later the place I was born, Spokane, Washington. The two cities are about as far apart as you can get, both in terms of distance and culture. My mother very rarely visited Louisiana after she married. I hadn’t been back to Spokane since my father’s funeral, nearly 12 years ago.
Although there are no similarities between my birthplace and my mother’s, it’s clear that we both have had our own reasons for being away from the places where we were raised. I can only speculate about my mother, but I always have had mixed feelings about Spokane. I was a successful student and athlete there, it was a safe place to be a kid in the 1960s and 70s, and it has a natural beauty that is difficult to match. However, it was a place I had to leave in order to find my path in life, the same way my mother left Louisiana for Los Angeles in the 1950s. It was there that she met my father, just like I met my future husband at Stanford.
The last time I drove into Spokane I was numb. My father’s sudden heart attack and untimely death had hit me very hard. This time was very different. I was coming as a successful academic, attending a conference at Gonzaga University. I found time to visit my old high school, Gonzaga Prep, which has been improved over time, but entering those hallways brought back a flood of memories. Like any teenager, I couldn’t fully appreciate the support and education I received during that time. Now as a grown woman with a family of my own, I can better appreciate the start that G-Prep gave me that has led me to become the person I am today.
This week was the 3rd anniversary of my mother’s death. I can’t help but wonder what she would think of my trips to Opelousas and Spokane. For me, it provided insight into the life she had led as a young girl in Opelousas and the life I had led as a young girl in Spokane. I wonder if she could appreciate whatever life lessons she had learned there? I feel so blessed to have a rich family history that is part of the broader mosaic of a black America that made its way from the South to the West and Northwest. But in the end, it’s not only where you are from that’s important, it’s where you are going…and I’m sure my path will lead me back to these places, as well as others that will leave an imprint not only on me, but my boys who will some day read these words and hopefully gain a better understanding of what these places meant to me.