March 30 will be forever stamped in my memory. On this day, I received my second COVID-19 vaccine. Regrettably, it was also the day that at the age of eighty-seven, my sister Willamae Kittrels Ferrell was ushered into the arms of God peacefully and quietly, in much the same way she lived her life. My sister’s recent medical situation was challenging and I realized during my hospital visit the day before her death that the end was near. However, we are never prepared to lose someone we love. During times like this, we are often reminded to reflect on the good times. While this is a personal story, hopefully, it will encourage some of you to embrace your family relationships as I resurrect the wonderful times that my sister and I shared, back in the day.
I grew up in a warm, caring and loving home. Fond memories of my sister bring to mind an abundance of experiences growing up in our North 43rd Street home. I remember the assistance she gave our mother in cleaning our home; the support she gave in washing clothes; how she painted and engaged in other projects around the home; and the hours she spent with our mother cooking are precious. Whenever I visited her Yeadon home for a holiday meal or a cookout, the influence of our mother was evident. It was obvious she learned so much from hanging around our mother in the kitchen. Her cooking was outstanding and her jelly filled cupcakes were a signature item. Visits to her home also revealed the loving relationship she had with her husband, sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren; a trait that was evident as children in the Kittrels household. During the twilight years of my parent’s lives, she willingly rotated chores with other siblings to meet their needs. Still, I cannot forget how my sister annoyed my father by braiding my hair as a little boy.
Some memories of my sister stand out in my mind more than others. I will never forget, as a young child, struggling to go to sleep after viewing a horror movie. Lying in bed, I heard the voice of my sister. “Lonnie, I am on the first step. Lonnie I am on the second step,” she said. The words continued until I heard, “Lonnie I am coming down the hall.” I was scared to death. I covered my head with my sheet as if this would protect me from the “big, bad boogeyman.” Then there were our walks around the block, these walks would start pleasantly, until we were out of my parent’s sight. At that point, my sister would let go of my hand and I would cry. This ended when a neighbor called my mother, telling her that she had watched my sister do this on numerous occasions and she could not watch it anymore. Up until recent years, my sister regularly commented on this because the spanking she received made this childhood prank one that she never forgot. Then there was the day, as an adult, that I purchased my first luxury automobile, a 1968 Mercedes Benz, and I visited my parents to show it off. My sister was there and true to her trait of speaking her mind, she asked why I purchased such an ugly automobile.
I suspect that some of you can relate to the role a sibling played in disciplining you. Willamae, because of our upbringing, occasionally stood in for my parents. Time may erase from memory things that you did with your siblings in the past, but certain subjects undoubtedly bring to mind heartfelt thoughts. Do you remember, as I do, going to the variety store with your big brother or sister? Can you recall the last time you attended the movies with a sibling? Church was clearly a family affair and we all went to church as a family. Do you remember mother passing mints from one to the other as you sat quietly and respectfully through church service? Can you still see your siblings nudging one another if one started to become unruly? Can you still see yourself sitting in the seat where you sat some fifty plus years ago for dinner?
Brothers and sisters did many things together; they went out, usually on Sundays, to visit relatives together; they went to school together; and they played outdoor games together. In many cases, older brothers or sisters made sacrifices by going to work in order to help pay for a younger brother or sister’s college education. Today, it seems brothers and sisters do little or nothing together. The fast paced, impersonal, and hectic life we live today has contributed greatly to the dysfunction in our families. Without a doubt, it is not the family-oriented life we lived and I thank God that I have fond memories of times shared with my family, particularly, my sister Willamae back in the day.
In recent years, telephone conversations with my sister would always end with her telling me that she loved me. During my hospital visit with her the day before she passed, her eyes were closed for most of the time I was there. However, she opened them as I was leaving and gave me one of those deep, penetrating looks. While not a word was spoken, I saw “Lonnie, I love you” in her eyes. To my dear sister Willamae, on this day, I want to tell you how much I love you; a love that began with those wonderful experiences we shared together, as brother and sister, back in the day.
Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146