Annabelle Wright lives in Chester but her world is different than most.
A neighbor spots her in the building’s lobby and is overjoyed to see her. “She is the best!” she tells Wright’s two visitors before letting her know about the washing machine on the fritz.
“If I meet somebody they seem to like me….I wonder myself,” Wright says flashing her razor sharp, sometimes dry, wit. “I love people. Some people aren’t as friendly as others, but I don’t have no trouble and get along with most anybody.”
For 103 years Annabelle Wright has seen the world around her change. But getting a glimpse into the centenarian’s life shows perhaps, Wright’s life is a bit of heaven on earth.
Her warm kindness engulfs you as if you did a belly flop on a cumulus cloud.
The sound of her laugh – an almost childish “hee-HEE!” – is more luminous than the headlights on the Commodore Barry bridge at night.
“I just have to think about Ms. Annabelle and smile,” said Audrey Guy.
Wright, a member of Spencer Memorial UAME, now known as St. Peter’s UAME Church, formed many lifelong friendships, including Guy and her mother, at the church.
Born in Fauquier County, Virginia on Jan. 6, 1914, as the youngest of nine siblings, Wright moved to
Chester in her 20s to work as a domestic, raising the children she cared for as if they were her own. She remembers Chester as “nothing like this” and was filled with stores, trolleys and buses.
Wright never married or had biological children but spoke of her nieces, nephews, extended family and children of the church as her “many children.”
“I was very disappointed in love life and after that I turned to the Lord and working in the church,” said Wright.
Her house is filled with religious artifacts and pictures of family. Her phone rings, a relative from Baltimore calling to say hello. Wright says she has had a lot of calls this day.
“But it doesn’t ring like it usually did,” she says. Wright is acutely aware of her age but moves with little aid and is sharply dressed in a navy skirt and pink (her favorite color) blouse.
Cooking elicits her delightful laugh.
Wright rules the kitchen at the church where others yield to her and at home where, for decades, on the weekend, she prepared dinner for 50-plus people to fix their own plate from a spread which usually included fried chicken, turkey, ham, potato salad, greens, cakes, and pies.
“It was no trouble. I love to cook,” said Wright.
She honed her culinary skills doing catering work but claims the key to good cooking is concentration and seasoning.
Today, she still cooks, and recently made copper pennies. She reads, does crosswords, plays Pokeno, sews, goes to the market with her friend, and her favorite television shows include game shows and anything with Steve Harvey.
Her devotion to the church is still an integral part of her life. She has served in a number of capacities including the Flower Club, Pastor’s Aid, the Steward Board, the Senior Usher’s Committee, Chaplain of the Board of Directors of the Usher Union, and holds court in the kitchen.
“There is nothing out here on the street!” Wright says when asked why she spends her time at the church. “There is nothing else but to go into the church and work for the Lord. If people stopped and thought, instead of out here fighting and killing and doing things as they are doing….and go into the church we would live in a nice world. It’s terrible out there. You are scared to go outside of your door day and night. These young people, it seems to me, they have no interest in nothing but robbing or shooting somebody. When we were children we weren’t allowed out like that. When night comes we were home. Now these kids stay out all night long.”
Wright walks out of her apartment, neither leaning on her walker she has folded into a makeshift cane or the protective guardrails on the walls. She sees another familiar face in the lobby who stops to say hello. Guy smiles though their embrace and promises to see her again soon.
“I make myself happy and I trust in the Lord,” Wright says. “If everybody would stop and think and be more kind to people, it would be a different world.”
Ms. Annabelle’s World. A bit of heaven on earth in Chester.