AYER -- Mary Wright, 85, knows a thing or two about raising kids.
She's seen all nine of her sons and daughters leave her nest, even sending off a granddaughter on her own.
It's been nearly 20 years since Wright and her granddaughter, Rayshelle, were featured in a 1995 Public Spirit article about grandparents raising grandchildren. The young girl was not even walking when she came to live with her grandmother at 30 Pine Ridge Drive.
Foster care was looming for young Rayshelle after the state intervened in her household -- so long ago that she doesn't even remember. But as the matriarch of the family, Wright stepped in.
"I said, 'No, she's mine, I'll keep her,'" said Wright, sitting on the living room couch in the same house in which she raised Rayshelle and her other children.
Now 23 years old, Rayshelle has graduated from Bridgewater State University, has a job and is living in Dorchester.
Rayshelle's takeaway from the past decades seems to be that you don't always need two parents. For her, being raised by her grandmother was great.
"I don't have anything to compare it to," she said, so having her grandmother as a parent was normal. She had friends growing up in Ayer and visited her aunt and uncles on the weekends.
For Wright, there were no major obstacles in raising her tenth child.
"I always had the Lord on my side," she said. "Obstacles, you get over them, and you just move forward without looking back."
The state set up guardianship for Wright, but she laid down some conditions.
"You can't tell me how to raise her because I raised nine already, and you can't just show up anytime at my house," she told them. "You have to call and make an appointment because that's what I have to do when I'm coming out there."
One woman even came back from the state department and asked her if she wanted to take in more children, Wright said.
The answer was no.
"I don't know who y'all are getting these children from," she said, laughing. "I said one more, I'll wake up dead."
Rearing a child after nine of her own gave her something to do after she retired. She was a widow when she took Rayshelle under her wing -- her husband, who retired at Fort Devens, passed away in 1972.
Now, Wright said, Rayshelle is a very good girl.
"She's smart, she does her own hair, she does everything for herself," she said. "And I hope I put the foundation in her to go to church -- I raised her in church."
Last weekend, dozens of Wright's direct descendants, who total 67, came to celebrate the mother and great-great-grandmother.
Wright wasn't allowed to do any cooking or cleaning, but still managed to cook a dinner of chicken, stuffing, collard greens, sweet potatoes and rice.
"I enjoy my family when we're together, because if you don't have family, you probably don't have anything," she said. "Yes, sir."
They can boss her around now, she added jokingly, but she'll be so glad when they go home.
"I'm hesitant, because I tell them, 'You're not cooking all this stuff in my house,'" she said.
The family set up a tent and grilled in the yard outside, building an entire program around celebrating Wright and the family she has raised.
"We decided we didn't want to go to a park, we wanted to come home," said Linda Wright Fuller, Wright's daughter. "We wanted it to be a true homecoming at 30 Pine Ridge Drive, where most of us grew up."
Growing up, Wright told her children to be as good as the best, and better than the rest.
She wanted for her children what most parents want -- to give them everything they didn't have. But she also wanted to give them education and a lot of common sense.
"You know you got to have the common sense, she said. "Education without common sense is no good."
Another important factor of Wright's child-rearing was church.
"That's a seed that you have to plant in a child," she said. "Because when they grow up they'll find out that they need that. But now they don't need it because they're having a good time."
Wright said she learned not to let too much upset her. When her hair turns gray, she said, it's going to be from age and not worry.
"Worrying won't get you anything," she said. "If you can't change it, you can't change it. Just put it in the hands of the Lord. He'll take care of it."
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