My six brothers, one sister, my mom, and my dad all stayed busy doing their own thing. We lived in a moderate home in the Westend of Louisville, KY in the 80’s.
Dad was the bread winner. He was tall, chocolate, and very intelligent. He was also my “Mr. Telephone Man” (New Edition) He worked for AT&T.
Mom was a stay-at-home mom. She stayed at home cooking and talking on the phone. Sometimes she did both at the same time. When she wasn’t doing either of those things, she filled her days with yelling at my brothers or doing our hair.
My older brothers were my hero’s! Take that back, my two oldest brothers were my hero’s. One was chocolate with a small black afro, and one was cream with dusty sandy brown hair. They both were so ridiculously popular and handsome, which the girls in the neighborhood and at church just couldn’t get enough of. I loved getting the personal attention and favors from the older (teenage) girls who were just nice to me because they liked my brother(s). My third oldest brother was the comedian. He was a little chubby, goofy, and never took anything seriously.
My sister and I are in the middle. We have three older brothers and three little brothers. Our three little brothers were coined, “the little ones”. I guess mama and daddy thought it was easier to give directions if they just ended everything with “for the little ones”. They would say things like “While we’re out, make sure ya’ll clean up and keep an eye on the little ones”. The “little ones” were Kevin, Kurtis, and Kris. Kevin (chocolate smooth silky skin, wavy hair), Kurtis (mocha toned skin, dusty brown hair), and Kristopher (milk chocolate skin, thin wavy hair).
None of us looked exactly alike but we all had similar features. I was always explaining that to people. NO ONE at school ever understood that. My sister and I are a year and a half apart.
She was born in the sweet summer of 79’ and I was born in the cold winter of 1980. I always admired my big sister because she was so outgoing, so confident, and so beautiful. She looked just like our mom. Long thick black hair, curves in just the right places, and smooth flawless creamy skin.
I however am a mix between both our maternal and fraternal grandmothers. I have long thin reddish-brown hair, long legs, small frame, almond with red under-stoned shiny skin. My mother always dressed us alike when we were little. Some of the patterns she found she made by hand. Neither my sister nor I every liked it.
As we grew older my mother finally gave up and realized we were individuals and not twins. I was a small petite little thing that dressed like a lost member of TLC while my sister was an early bloomer and looked like she could join En Vogue. We both however was equally loved on by our parents and brothers.
It’s funny the things you face when you step outside of the protective walls of your immediate family home. The way you see yourself and your family may be drastically different from the way the others (even family) see you.
I remember one Christmas the Cabbage Patch dolls were the most popular toy for girls. If you recall the Cabbage Patch Dolls came in every ethnicity and occupation. They were the original American Dolls. I was obsessed with them.
Even though my dad had a great job; we didn’t have a lot of extra money. With eight kids and a stay-at-home wife my dad sometimes struggled at Christmas. We never minded because we knew that just like every other Christmas, our grandparents would have plenty of gifts under their trees.
First stop was always my Granny’s house. She was my paternal grandmother. She was a widow, but she did not live alone. My Granny (small framed, pale honey complexion) had a full house. Her little sister, Aunt Jean (chocolate round face, smooth skin with wavy black hair), niece, daughter, and granddaughter (who looked exactly like my sister but with shorter pig tails) lived there too.
Just like every other Christmas Granny and Aunt Jean had presents under the tree. The boys dove right in and grabbed their typical boy gifts (footballs, basketballs, toy trucks, and robots).
I saw three large rectangular gifts wrapped in different color paper and knew immediately what we (the girls) got!! I screamed and grabbed the first one. I ripped the paper and saw the most beautiful yellow with green stamped pattern.
A Cabbage Patch Girl!! She was beautiful. She wore a sunflower shirt under a pair of blue jean overalls and had big eyes, cream skin, and brown yarn hair!! I was so overwhelmed with happiness I almost cried. I didn’t even notice my sister and cousin open their Cabbage Patch dolls. I was just too busy loving on mine!
Then without notice I felt someone reach down from above me and just rip her right from my arms!! I screamed. I thought it was my goofy comedian big brother messing with me again. When I looked up, I was in shock and confused to see that this person hoovering over me was my Granny!
She sharply unapologetically snapped “Gal, that one ain’t yours!” I felt the tears building up in my eyes because I literally felt like my real baby was being taken away from me.
Before I could utter any words, she took my cousin’s doll and swapped it with mine. You see my cousin’s doll was
chocolate with black yarn hair and a pale-yellow dress. My sister’s doll looked like mine but had a dress on.
I didn’t understand and couldn’t articulate my feelings in that moment. I had a million questions. What did she mean? Why wasn’t that my doll? Why did “I” have to have this particular doll. I had already bonded with my doll. This doll is ok, but she’s not mine. I sat there and just looked at the other kids playing and decided not to say one word. I felt hurt and betrayed but knew I had better not say anything that would sound ungrateful for this very expensive gift.
I loved my Granny. It would be years before I fully understood my Granny’s struggle with colorism.
In Louisville, KY we bear the burden of being the southernmost Northern state and the northernmost Southern state.
Generations of black families from across the south migrated north to create a better life.
Along with their migration my grandparents and many others brought with them the stigmas of the deep South and the long-lasting effects of slavery on the modern black family.
Generational favoritism and the curse of colorism can stain our Black History if we let it. My parents however didn’t allow that seed to grow in our home. We grew up loving ourselves and overly confident in the beautiful shades of melanin our parents created.
Happy Black History Month