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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Sisterly Love

Me and you, us never part. Makidada. Me and you, us have one heart. Makidada. Ain’t no ocean, ain’t no sea. Makidada. Keep my sister away from me.

Nettie and Cellie from the Color Purple

There is one earthly gift that has benefitted me down through the years and that gift is my sister. A gift may be a strange way to describe a sibling, but it is true. I was an unintentional arrival for my parents. As I mentioned in former postings, it was my arrival that prompted my parents to marry, making my father an instant step-father and husband. While my mom knew she had her hands filled with three children, she very intentional decided to have one more. You could say she was providing me someone to play with. I believe my mom knew that in life, it is a blessing to have someone who can relate to you when you are an adult. My mom had one sister…and so do I.

Mae and I are 19 months apart. We grew up close and had lots of adventures together. My mom tells the story of us making our way to Nelson Park when we were little girls (under age 6). We wanted to go to the park. My mom was trying to catch up on her sleep from work and my next door neighbor who would watch us wasn’t able to take us. So we set out on our own. It was spring so we dressed in our snow suits and sunglasses, grabbed the stool that my brother made in wood shop and headed out. We had to take the stool because we weren’t tall enough to reach the buttons in the elevator. We crossed three streets to get there. Now this was back in the day when folks would watch out for children and since everyone knew you, they would make sure nothing bad happened to you. Well as you can imagine, my mom woke up to an empty apartment and panicked. After checking with the neighbors, she went downstairs to see if anyone had seen her children. It didn’t take her long to find us at Nelson Park, enjoying ourselves on the swings and sliding board. Watching her tell the story would take her right back to the fear, relief, and anger she experienced that day.

After my sixth grade year, Mae and I went to different schools. My parents were struggling with the private school payments so we both switched to public schools. The New York public school system allows some school choice and my mom worked for the District Office (board of education) so we had a few more options. Even though we had different experiences, we remained close. One year we had the opportunity to go to our one and only sleep away camp experience – Camp Oneg. One of my mom’s co-workers was involved in the camp and invited us for a 2-week stay. This is a Jewish camp so the experience was quite new to us. We enjoyed learning the Jewish prayers before meals holding the little piece of bread. Everyone treated us just like the other campers which was wonderful. Mae and I taught the campers in our cabin a patty cake that we enjoyed from a song we learned from our dad. He taught us the song by slapping his thigh and shoulder in a similar motion to a person playing the spoons. We just adapted it.

Hambone, Hambone, where you been? (hand slapping)

Round the corner and back again. (hand slapping)

Hambone, Hambone where’s your wife? (hand slapping)

In the kitchen cooking rice. (hand slapping) Hambone! (Thunderous hand slapping until someone messes up.)

By the end of camp, everyone knew that patty cake!

Even though our lives took different turns, one thing remains consistent - we make sure the “misters” in our lives don’t interfere with our relationship. We stood next to each other when we got married. When I needed help after having my third son, she is the one who organized someone to stay with me to get through the first month (She stayed for two weeks). When I wanted to send my youngest to private school since his birthday was too late to start kindergarten, she sent financial help. When she was in the operating room having her daughter, I was there with her. Down through the years we have always just been a phone call away. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but that’s what loving someone is all about. As much as we have meant to each other as children, we are really appreciative to have each other now. Makidada is Swahili for little sister. I am so grateful for mine. Happy Birthday Mae.

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