“Well, I wouldn’t have anything to do with them if it was me.” The voice was loud as I turned to see the man and woman having a conversation about biracial siblings.
They passed and looked me right in the eyes, almost daring me to say something. I smiled faintly. It’s been about thirty-five years now since I saw my own brother. My father was a tall light-skinned black man with light hazel eyes, curly reddish brown hair, and the most beautiful smile you ever wanted to see. I was his oldest child and when he and my mother broke up my father would only come and see me every other weekend.
I was thankful that I had those weekends; my father was what they called a ladies man. He was so handsome, and everyone that knew him and my mother on both sides of the family said he spit me out. The one thing that ran in my father’s family that let the old folks know that a child belonged to one of them was the nose. If they did not have the Gilmore nose then it was questionable if the child really was theirs. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that I was my father’s child, right down to the mole on my left upper lip which he shared, likewise to the famous Gilmore nose that was identical to his.
Every other Saturday I would dress up in my best dress and ruffled socks and patent leather shoes and wait on the porch for the shiny red Bonneville convertible to come around the corner. My dad would always have the top down because he knew how much I loved to ride with it down. Our Saturdays always consisted of the usual hangouts and then shopping downtown, where I would add another Barbie or Ken to my collection, doll clothes or some other type of toy. Then we would go to my Uncle Bennie’s place and hang out with other uncles and just friends of my dad’s.
This arrangement was short-lived when my father met his new girlfriend, my soon-to-be worst nightmare. Her name was Christy, a young white woman that was only twelve years older than me. My mother was furious and the family thought he had lost his mind.
She made it obvious that she did not like me much and was hell bent on getting and keeping all of my father’s attention.
As years passed my time spent with my father decreased. There always was some reason I could not spend the weekend—there just did not seem to be much room for me anymore. Christy’s main goal was to have a son for my father, which she thought would not only wipe me out of the picture but would also take the attention off of me to her and her child, especially a son to carry on the Gilmore name. I was seventeen years old when Christy had my brother Earl. I remember going over one weekend, the first one I got to spend with my father in years, and it was just to brag and show off the new baby. I was thrilled! Finally I could have a sibling, another half of me that was missing. I had no other brothers and sisters so I welcomed little Earl. But things changed quickly. I was not allowed to spend the weekends because of the baby, and instead of us all becoming a closer family I was excluded altogether. My father could not see what was going on no matter how I tried to explain it to him. Christy would just tell him I was jealous and to give me some time alone to calm down. For a long time he did not call or come by, and I finally got the message and did not try anymore, either. Neither did my father—he had a son now and that appeared to be all that mattered.
It was 1981. I was in the military overseas when I got the message that my father was dying of cancer and wanted to see me. The Red Cross flew me to the states. When I arrived at General Hospital there lay a fragile tattered man that once was bigger than life, handsome and strong. With tears rolling down my cheeks I walked closer to the bed.
“He is not going to know who you are. I don’t know why you came,” said a voice that was cold yet familiar. I did not look up. Christy was now older and worn down. She looked twice her age, no doubt from the drinking. She had become quite an alcoholic over the years and each line and crease showed her drunken stupor.
“Daddy, Daddy it’s me.” I could see his hand begin to move on the waterbed mattress that kept him afloat, and I reached for his hand and grabbed it. I could see the tears streaming down his face as I talked to him. “Daddy, don’t leave me. Please, Daddy, I need you!” We were both crying as I leaned on his chest. “ I love you, Daddy.”
As I lay there I heard his faint whisper that was raspy yet soft, “Love you, too…always.” and his eyes closed. I yelled for the nurse, not knowing what was going on. He was dead and I was hysterical, the nurse came running and so did Christy, screaming for me to leave, but I would not. She was acting like a crazy woman so the nurses asked her to leave, and after a protest she left the room. As they checked him out they just shook their heads, and one of the doctors told me to pray because it was over as he rubbed my shoulder. “I am so sorry.”
I stood there for a little while just staring at the Gilmore nose and the feeble lips that were tight like a prune. I leaned down to his mouth and I felt the dry brittle touch of his lips on my cheek. It was the kiss of death and the final touch of goodbye he could give. He was gone, we had said goodbye to each other. I kissed his eyelids and lips. He was flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone and no one could ever take that away from me, for I knew who I was: I was a beautiful light-skinned woman still carrying the Gilmore nose and name, the oldest offspring of this once-handsome, daring man that I would always love and remember.
As I walked out the room I paused at the door, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a young boy. As I stared at him I could see the similarities between each of us and it was obvious who he was—he was my half brother Earl. I bent down to him and as he looked me in the eyes I asked him “Do you know who I am?” He nodded his head with a slight smile. “Yes, you’re my sister.”
“You wanna know how I know who you are?” I asked. He said yes, and I smiled and squeezed his hand. “You got the Gilmore nose.” We both smiled.
“Get away from him, he does not need to be confused anymore than he already is.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
Christy squinted her eyes. “I said, leave him alone.”
“Christy, he is my brother and I have every right to talk to him.”
“Not anymore you don’t! I am all he has now.”
“It does not have to be like this if you just let me spend time with him!”
“No!” she yelled as she dragged him down the hall. All I remember is him looking back at me with a blank stare and then he was gone. I looked and searched for a few years for them after returning back to the base but they were nowhere. It was thirty-five years before I found Earl again and for me it was the happiest time of my life, even though we had missed all those years. It was not too late for us to bond and make a life with each other, which I thought was what our father would want. My mother had died years after my father and for me there was no one else that tied to my family. All of our uncles and aunts were dead, and even my father’s mother had died so it was just Earl and me.
There was a list of Earl Gilmores, sixty to be exact, but I emailed each one. Halfway through the list I got an answer: “I am who you are looking for but time has not been our friend. I don’t have a problem with you writing but I don’t think we should go any further with it. It is nice to know that you are alive and thank you for contacting me. Your little brother Earl.” The tears were dropping on the paper. All these years later I had found him, and after all these years he did not want to know me. I knew that he was a news reporter and I decided to fly in to see him. When I arrived at the news station I asked to see him and told the lady it was a surprise, I was his sister from out of town and we had not seen each other in years. She was happy to help; she walked me into this room where there were about ten people running around with cameras and microphones, TVs and all sorts of electronic equipment. There was a tall handsome white man standing about five feet in front of me, and from the back there was no doubt in my mind that he was Earl. He was built just like my father and he wore his reddish brown curly hair just like my father did when I was a child. “Earl,” I said. He slowly turned around as if he were caught in a warp zone.
We stared as if looking in a mystical mirror. “It’s me, your sister.” “I know,” he said. “How do you know?” I asked him, and we both smiled and said at the same time “The Gilmore nose.” We hugged and all the years seem to melt away as if we had never been apart. But reality sunk in when a voice stern and cold spoke.
“Earl, what the hell are you doing?” She was his wife. “Who is this woman? And why are you hugging on her?”
I extended my hand. “I am his sister.” She just looked at me like I had some foul disorder.
“Janice, I can explain.”
“You better explain why this Negro woman has the nerve to come here and say that you are her sister.” The sad thing was that his wife or no one else even knew Earl was part black. He always looked to be white, but I could tell we were from the same seed, and since I was the only family he had left besides his mother I guess I was the little dirty dark secret. Earl asked me to leave and he would contact me at the hotel before I left. I did as he asked. Hurt and filled with many emotions, I made my way to the hotel to await his call.
“Earl, my family does not know any…”
“Any what? You mean biracial people?”
“Earl you are white, your mother is white, and that is all that matters.”
“It’s not all that matters Janice, my father was black and the woman you saw is my sister. We have the same father.”
“But you can’t tell anyone this. You’re educated and accepted and we have a good thing going here. I love you, you know that. Why would you want to ruin this by telling people you have a black sister?” Janice crossed her hands over her chest with a pouting motion, something she always did to get her way.
“Janice, I am half black. I can’t change that.”
“Yes, but until now you never ever acknowledged it.”
“Whether you believe it or not I loved my father and his side of the family, and my sister is all I have left now.”
“That’s not true, Earl. You have me and all of our friends and family that love you in the white world. What is being black going to do for you now? What has it ever done for you, Earl? If you pursue this you are through in this business and with me. Do you hear me, Earl?” Janice walked out the office leaving Earl to make the decision.
After thinking about it for hours Earl called the hotel late that night.
“Sis, I think we need to let bygones be bygones. You have not been a part of my life for over thirty some years, and I don’t see where this will lead to anything that will be productive for either of us. You have lived in a black world all of your life and me in a white one. Thanks for coming but I would rather leave it alone.”
For the first time I was angry, angry at my blackness, angry at his whiteness and angry at the Gilmore nose. “Earl, I will respect your feelings and I will leave you alone. If you don’t want me in your life than I have to accept that. But let me leave you with something.” I crossed my caramel legs, switching the phone to my other ear.
“You might have lived your life in a lily white land but the land was cultivated, watered and plowed by a black man. He is and always will be the root of your soil, the seed that comes from you will always possess his blood and no matter how you want to forget where you came from—that’s your choice, dear heart—you will never change your blood line. I wish you well Earl, you and your wife.”
I hung up the phone wiped the tears from my eyes. “I am sorry, Daddy. I really tried…some things are not meant to be dug up.” I packed my bags and called for a cab to take me to the airport. As I was about to board the plane, I saw a biracial couple with their daughter and son. The kids waved and asked my name. I told them and asked the parents if I could give them a piece of candy. They smiled and said yes. I told them to love one another always, and no matter what people said or did to always remember where they came from, to remember their blood line. I held my head high as I walked off, and there was no thought about anything. I would always hold onto the memory of Earl, my father and the famous Gilmore nose.