I grew up in a home teeming with women; my Dad, Mickey, and I were the only males living with my mother and four female siblings.
One of my sisters, Belinda, was ten years older than I was, which afforded me a certain exposure to culture, music, history and art. Dad was a jazz musician and an avid lover of big-band era music, as well as the blues. Belinda, meanwhile, introduced me to the British Invasion: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., and quite a few 1960s flower child bands. She even got lucky enough to “make the scene” (so to speak) at the original Woodstock concert. Plus, she took me to art exhibits, museums, and so on.
Once, Belinda took me to a high-end store of very plush and beautiful things. She took one look back at me as we entered the store and said, “Maybe you outta just stand right there until I’m done.” It was obvious she feared I might accidentally break something. However, Belinda was also unaware of my being taught to dance by our youngest sibling, Michelle. I glided effortlessly down the opening of the storefront, twirling as I went, and came to a dead stop within an inch of a spectacularly shaped crystal vase, tapping it with my finger and catching it just before it hit the floor. Man, she was mad!
Then came Karen and Denise, both within two-and-a-half years of my own age. We were closer in our ’70s cultural appreciation—for example rock bands like the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band. I recall when I was about to begin middle school my mother took me shopping for clothes she felt would be appropriate. Upon entering the house, when we breached the front foyer, she asked Karen and Denise, “Well, what do you two think?” They simultaneously replied, “Mother, you’ll not get our little brother killed in junior high.” With that, they gathered the clothing and receipts, took me back to the shopping mall, exchanged the clothes our mother had bought and proceeded to give me a makeover. When we arrived back home my mother’s first reply was, “He looks like a hoodlum!” Literally, my sisters had dressed me up like Marlon Brando, in The Wild One. “That’s the idea, Mother,” Karen said.
Over the time we spent together, my sisters imbued me with a sensitivity that I didn’t always know I was capable of. As I mentioned, Michelle gave me a love for dancing and also for poetry. I’ve written at least twenty poems over my lifetime, but only one was ever published. I still try to dance, despite being close to sixty years old and suffering with osteoarthritis. (Truth is I’m not as graceful as I once was in that store). And my mother, fondly nicknamed “Jet” by her dad, together with my Aunt Miriam used to get a kick out of coaxing me to imitate Elvis Presley (mom’s favorite). I’d break out with “Jailhouse Rock” or perhaps “Love Me Tender.” Out of all this and more, I became eclectically knowledgeable and developed a great passion for all things, especially a love of our human race.
Alas, my devoted mother and my sister Belinda both succumbed to breast and ovarian cancer from the BRCA gene. Now my little sister Michelle is fighting her own battle with these cancers.
While it can seem like my family has been affected more than most, I venture that a majority of people have been touched by the pain of breast cancer at some time or another. And this is where we ought to recognize the unity inherent in all of us as humans. We can be one in our fight against all cancers, physical and figurative, be it breast cancer, heart disease, fascism, hate, division, racism, tyranny, despotism, or even today’s present dealer of death: COVID-19.
Be kind to each another, one and all. For everyone you meet is fighting a great battle of their own.