By Maria Saporta
For the past few days, I’ve been spending time with my parents.
Although they have been gone for more than 20 years, their spirits shine brightly in Atlanta and within me.
Two recent events really solidified that fact.
The first occurred on Friday at the presentation of the AllianceFrançaise’s Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year Award to Marie-Claude Zajde.
Zajde is a delightful person and talented teacher who told me my mother’s spirit lives on at the Ecole de L’Alliance Française d’Atlanta, a school that my mother co-founded in 1963 and served as its executive director for three decades.
The second event was the estate sale over the weekend at the home of the late Dick Munroe and the late Luis Maza, dear friends of both my parents. The juxtaposition of the two events exposed the interconnectedness of our lives.
One example, Munroe served as board chairman of the Alliance Française for much of the time my mother served as executive director. Mama and Dick Munroe were best of friends and neighbors. Dick and Luis lived at 7thand Durant and my parents lived at 8thand Durant.
In a wonderfully eerie moment, as my daughter and I were about to leave the estate sale, someone asked Carmen if she had seen the numerous sketches that Papa had given to Dick and Luis over the years.
We went back upstairs to Luis’ studio, and we found dozens of Papa’s sketches – so we decided to buy a few as keepsakes.
The two events were dual reminders of the people who have left us, of the years that have passed us by and of how my parents’ generation of friends continues to live on in ways we may never fully appreciate.
After my mother died in 1999, I made a seed gift to the Alliance Française to set up some kind of scholarship in her name. The Alliance matched the gift and two other people made significant gifts. The first came from business leader Brad Currey, who had been moved by an article I had written about wanting to do honor my mother.
The other major gift came from Dick’s son – Jan Munroe – someone who has been a dear friend for decades.
In fact Jan, who lives in Los Angeles, had recently come to Atlanta to go through the house to get a few items he wanted to keep. One day when I got home, there was a framed photo of Mama and Dick on my doorstep. It was as if Mama and Dick had stopped by to say hello – courtesy of Jan’s kindness.
I told you these stories were intertwined…
We were able to raise a total endowment of $50,000 for a Nora Saporta recognition, and after much thought, I decided it needed to go towards celebrating the teachers at the Alliance Française. Hence the Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year Award.
In addition to receiving the award, the teacher receives a check for $1,111.11 – a tribute to my mother’s favorite number – 11.
So far we have honored four amazing teachers:
- Ghislaine Smith during the 2013/2014 school year;
- Catherine Masseron during the 2015/2016 school year;
- Emmanuelle Lenourichel during the 2017/2018 school year; and
- Marie-Claude for the 2019/2020 school year.
During the celebration, Samuel Vorhees, education director for the Alliance, said: “We need a lot more teachers like Marie-Claude. It’s because of teachers like her that this place exists.”
In a similar way, I’ve continued a tradition that I learned from Dick Munroe and Luis Maza. Every New Year’s Day, Dick and Luis would hold a wonderful party at their home with collard greens and black-eyed peas. Dick, who was from Quincy, Fla., taught my European parents as well as my sister and me about the Southern tradition for good luck and fortune.
Those New Year’s Day parties ended when Dick was seriously injured while riding a bicycle and died in 1991. That’s the exact same year I began my New Year’s Day parties with collards and black-eyed peas, a tradition I have continued in their honor.
During the estate sale, several people looked at all the dishes they had and the layout of house observing they must have had some great parties there. The house also was full of artwork – many of them painted by Luis Maza, a creative genius from Cuba who was a musician, an artist and a theater set designer.
Back in the 1960s, Dick and Luis opened the Pocket Theatre off Courtland, and there was wonderful memorabilia of that time and of Luis Maza Studios. The estate sale reminded my how they always attracted a great melting pot of artistic and intellectual friends who were full of life.
Luis Maza died in May – hence the estate sale – full of remnants of a special time in Atlanta and memories of Mama, Papa, Dick and Luis – and so many others who are no longer with us.