I am the oldest of three daughters and I am the only surviving sibling. I grew up in the Bronx with my parents and my two younger sisters, Audrey and Allison. It was not a coincidence that all three of our names begin with the letter A. Not only did my mother do this on purpose, but she also had a very definite method in place.
I was named after one of her favorite movie stars of the 50’s, Ava Gardener. My middle name, Simone, was borrowed from the wonderful singer and activist, Nina Simone. My sister, Audrey Scarlett was named after another movie star – Audrey Hepburn. Can you guess where Scarlett came from? You got it! She was named after Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. My youngest sister, Allison, was named after Allison McKenzie – a character that actress Mia Farrow portrayed in the 60’s television soap opera, Peyton Place. Her middle name – Thomasina – has a more sentimental meaning. She was named after my mother’s twin sister who had died shortly before Allison was born.
My sisters and I were typical NYC kids – Bronx girls. We lived in an apartment and shared everything – bedrooms, toys, music and even friends. This was especially true with Audrey and I because we were barely 2 years apart. Allison was younger and, in the early years, she wasn’t “hangin” with Audrey and I and our friends…but she wanted to.
My sisters and I and our friends listened to the Jackson 5 and had their posters plastered over our beds was a rite of passage for almost all young black tweens and teens in the 70’s – I was going to marry Marlon and Audrey was in love with Jermaine. And there were Saturdays – the best day of the week for a kid! We had the cartoons in the morning and Soul Train on TV afterwards! We could buy a slice of pizza for .15 cents and a soft Italian Ice for a dime – a quarter went a long way back then. We had a corner candy store that actually sold penny candies and we’d all buy something different and share. We could walk to the neighborhood record shop to buy our favorite 45’s and come home and play them over and over again while Audrey and I would sing along and dance together.
In the summertime, we’d jumped double dutch with our friends from our neighborhood and played Run, Catch & Kiss, Kick the Can and Hot Peas and Butter and rode our bikes and roller skated without helmets or knee pads and we’d better be home before the lights on the street came on! We ran upstairs for ice cream money when we heard the familiar tune of Mister Softee’s truck as he turned onto our street. On a good day, we didn’t have to scatter up the stairs for money – if my mother or father wanted ice cream, too, they’d wrap the change up in foil and toss it out the window for us – 4 flights down.
On snowy winter days – long ago, we played in the small room we all shared at that time. We dressed and undressed our paper dolls and our Barbie dolls. We didn’t have a real life doll house, so we made one. We used the inside of a small book shelf that was in our room and cut out furniture shapes made out of colorful construction paper and taped them inside, decorating our doll house. Occasionally, we’d let Allison play with us as long as she didn’t try to take our dolls or mess up our “house.”
We rode the bus and trains to school every day once we got older – we’d never been on a school bus in our lives. Going to Alexander’s Department Store on Fordham Road to shop was an adventure and McDonald’s was a treat. We didn’t have cable and there were no cell phones, so we actually talked to EACH other.
And then on a cold day in January in 1981, Audrey died at the age of 19. She’d been diagnosed with Lupus two years earlier. I was 21 years old that year and the color in my rainbow that was Audrey -a luminous Fuchsia – faded to a pale pink. My oldest daughter, Janelle, was born two years later and I, too, gave her my sister’s middle name. She is Janelle Audrey and a new and dazzling shade of Marigold was added to my rainbow. My youngest daughter, Melissa Catherine, was born seven years later (her name is not connected to any family members or movie stars) and a brilliant shade of Azure was added to my rainbow. As I watched my children grow and saw the world through their eyes, the colors that belong to them remained vivid and rich and still do to this day. They are splashes of every color of my rainbow with glitter and diamonds. But the pale pink never returned to Fuchsia and I have learned to live with the colors that I have.
On a hot day in August, 2013, my youngest sister, Allison, died after a brief illness – one of many that plagued her over the past 10 years. She and I had more years together than Audrey and I did. We’d known each other as women, mothers and friends. Like many sisters, we had our differences over the years, but in the end we always found our way back to each other. Our last conversations were filled with laughter and a realization that we’d both grown up – a lot. I am grateful that we had those laughs and shared intimate parts of our lives with each other.
The deep Purple that was Allison has faded to a soft Lavender in my rainbow. As I watch her only child, my nephew, Greer, begin his sophomore term in college this year, the soft Lavender has become a bit brighter. Greer was her heart and soul and he honors her life and he adds color to mine. But the deep Purple won’t ever be back in my rainbow…it belonged to Ali.
I know that there are now two more stars in God’s sky at night – they shine – the stars that are my sisters, sparkling for me. I continue to move on with my life and my colorful and beautiful rainbow that has lost some hues – lost some luster. However, I am thankful for the brilliant colors that remain – the colors that belong to my children. The colors that belong to my hopes and dreams. I look forward to the colors still to come.