One Author's Life


Reflections on Being a 'Little' Sister

July 18, 2014

On the day I met centenarians Sadie and Bessie Delany, the first thing I did when I got home was to call my sister Helen.

You would not believe these two women – these two sisters – that I met today,” I told her. “They are 100 and 102 and still having the same squabbles they had when they were children!”

I thought it was charming and hilarious. My sister did, too. “I guess that will be us if we live that long,” she said with a laugh – and a groan.

All writers bring their life experiences to their projects. For me, having a sister just seventeen months older meant that I was able to relate to the Delany Sisters instantly. I understood the dynamics of the “big sister-little sister” relationship and how important it was to Sadie’s and Bessie’s identity. The sister relationship is the heart and soul of the oral history I wrote about them, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.

Like the Delany Sisters, my sister and I were thought of as a pair. I remember being in my crib next to her little bed. In fact, I vividly recall her having a nightmare and that I climbed out of my crib to get our mother. (It was the first time I’d ever climbed out of the crib and I remember Mom’s surprise.)

My sister and I have two older brothers as well. In the parlance of our family, they were “the boys” and we were “the girls.” I suppose this united us even more as sisters; we stuck together in surviving two older brothers!

Naturally, however, my sister and I were competitive, too. There were times when we couldn’t stand each other. I’m pleased to say, though, that we haven’t had a big blow-up since a rather famous (in our family) quarrel on Thanksgiving Day 1994, and that’s a pretty good run, wouldn’t you say?