When Melba Ayco was growing up in rural Louisiana, she was a curious child. She had two nicknames: Froggy, because she had large eyes, and “Mel-bad” because sometimes she got into mischief. If she broke something in her home, she never told her mother the truth.
“I was one of those kids where my philosophy was, she’s the mother, she knows everything, let her figure it out. So, I never told the truth!” Ayco said, looking back on her childhood.
When untruths were suspected, Ayco was placed in front of a statue of Jesus. Only then would she sputter out the whole story.
“Can you imagine my mother having to deal with that every single day?” Ayco said, feeling bad for putting her mother through this frustrating routine.
When Ayco was a kid she loved her mother dearly, but because she spent so much time with her mom, her father, Cyril Edward Crutchfield Sr., was her favorite parent.
Ayco remembers one afternoon when she and her mother were having a particularly difficult time. Her father invited her out to the garden to pull up weeds. But really, he was making time to listen to his daughter’s woes and complaints, without judgement.
He would ask Ayco what happened from her perspective. She would unload the unfairnesses that had been bestowed upon her that day by her mom. Her father would respond with what she took at the time as shock and disbelief. But, he would never say anything negative about his wife, Ayco’s mother.
After Ayco finished venting, her dad would ask her, “Now, Froggy, what can you do to make it better?”
Ayco said that her father, by taking the time to listen to her, made her feel like he understood her. By the time he would ask her how she — not her mother — could do things differently, Ayco was ready to reflect.
“It reminds me that sometimes children just need a voice," Ayco said. "They need for someone to just sit there and listen, and then to help them navigate."
Today, Ayco tries to employ similar skills with her students at Northwest Tap Connection in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. For Ayco, her father was a constant example of generosity and strength. “He gave freely of food from our garden to those in need," Ayco said. "During the days of Jim Crow, he stood tall in the community and his vehicle was accessible for anyone who wanted to vote."