Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck reacted a bit differently Thursday to the throngs of teenage girls who greeted them at St. Joseph’s Academy with repeated standing ovations as they recounted the story of how they met 27 years ago and formed a deep, but unlikely bond.
“Maurice would say, I love to talk, talk, talk, but I must say, I’m speechless,” said Schroff, a sales executive and author of the 2011 bestselling book “An Invisible Thread” about her relationship with Mazyck.
“Wow,” said Mazyck, when it was his turn to speak. “Wow,” he repeated, after a long pause as he surveyed the audience filled with girls.
“I’m glad I didn’t bring my son,” said Mazyck with a wry smile.
The 62-year-old white woman and 38-year-old black man wouldn’t have anything in common if he hadn’t approached her seeking money for food on 56th Street in Manhattan on the first Monday in September back in 1986.
Her decision to help the homeless boy, who lived two blocks yet a world away, and how she over time became his surrogate mother, led to a story that has touched many readers.
The story found its way to this all-girls Catholic high school in Baton Rouge thanks to Tess Mayer, then a senior at St. Joseph’s Academy, who was looking for a book to read for extra class credit last year.
Mayer’s mother, Stacie, had borrowed “An Invisible Thread” from the library— she has too many books she’s purchased but not read, she explained. She suggested that her daughter read it instead.
Tess, now a freshman at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., was captivated by the tale. She was amazed, for instance, at how the young Mazyck had never had Thanksgiving dinner before meeting Schroff.
“It made me realize that much of what we take for granted are the little things,” Mayer said.
After finishing the book, Mayer presented it to her senior English class. That set off a chain reaction. The book soon reached St. Joseph’s Academy Principal Linda Harvison.
For the past few years, the school has assigned every student a book to read each summer, a schoolwide read that reflects the school’s theme for the year. Harvison said she and a handful of other administrators read several books each year before settling on the right book.
“The minute I started this one, I thought, ‘This is a book we should all read,’ ” Harvison said.
This summer that’s what they did.
One student, Meagan Melancon, now a senior and a professed non-reader, was so moved by the book that she spontaneously sent the author an email. Schroff said it “gave me the goosies” and read the email aloud.
In it, Melancon told Schroff that “almost all, if not all, of my friends, loved your book” and invited her to come to Baton Rouge to talk.
“Are you free anytime between now and May?” Melancon asked.
Schroff said she was not only free, she was already scheduled to visit St. Joseph’s Academy — the high school had been in touch since March.
Schroff and Mazyck engaged in a teasing repartee Thursday. Now a husband, a father of seven, and the owner of a construction company, he still plays the wiseacre kid to her warm, but steely adult presence.
Schroff gave an emotional recollection of their first meeting. She at first rejected the 11-year-old boy’s plea for help, but something about his look and his plaintive, “I’m hungry,” drew her back.
“I couldn’t get the image of this child out of my mind and his sweet and trusting eyes,” she said.
Mazyck offered a darker, but funnier take on that first meeting.
A self-described “lost cause,” Mazyck was living in a rundown hotel where the only items in his fridge were a jug of water and baking soda that other residents used to make crack cocaine. Both of his parents had abandoned him.
He recalled on that Monday morning being gruffly rejected by Schroff when he asked for money. Moments later, he saw her stop suddenly as she was walking across a busy street, like a dog being jerked by a leash.
“She was in the middle of Broadway, which is like seven lanes wide, and cabbies were honking, ‘Get out of the street! Are you crazy!’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, she’s crazy,’ ” Schroff said.
Schroff walked back to him, offering food but not money. At first, Mazyck was hesitant.
“But my stomach was like, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” he said.
The two would continue having dinner every Monday for the next four years. Schroff, however, worried the boy was still starving on other days and offered to provide him food for school each day.
She said she was surprised with his main concern, that she put any food in a brown bag. She asked him why.
“Oh Miss Laura,” Schroff recalled Mazyck saying, “because if kids come to school they have their lunch in a brown bag it means someone loves them.”
St. Joseph’s Academy has picked up on the brown bag idea. This entire school year, every Tuesday, students are bringing brown bags with food for St. Vincent de Paul to give to hungry people that nonprofit serves.
Schroff also talked Thursday about how she arrived at the book’s title. She said she and her coauthor, Alex Tresniowski, who was not present Thursday, could not agree on the best title until she ran across the phrase, “invisible thread” on a birthday greeting card. They later discovered the idea came from an old Chinese proverb.
“I believe it wasn’t an accident,” she said, about meeting Mazyck, “that there was an invisible thread connecting us, and it was destiny.”
Copyright © 2014, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved