Monday, December 21st would have been my eldest sister’s 78th birthday. She was called home to be with our Lord on January 27th. Because our birthdays are very close to each other, we made a commitment to call each other around Thanksgiving and share birthday wishes.
I will miss her voice and hearing her say “oh wow”, which was her favorite comment for everything that happened in her life and ours. Our relationship wasn’t the best. I’m not sure if it was because of the age difference or not. She graduated from high school before I was 2 years old. She and my sister Gretchee were from our mom’s first marriage. Celeste was definitely avant-garde, finding her passion for theater and dancing at Karamu House, an African American theater in Cleveland, Ohio. She was cast in numerous plays and dance recitals there before she was 10. In 1964 she moved to Brooklyn, New York to pursue a career in the performing arts.
Like many people who go to New York, my sister was very talented. However, she struggled to find work in her chosen field. She looked for roles that gave voice to our African heritage and in the ‘60s and ‘70s, those works seldom made it to Broadway. In 1987 she was cast as the mother in Death and the King’s Horseman which had a short Broadway run of 6 weeks. After that, she went to Chicago to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre and was a resident artist at the Goodman Theatre.
I never was able to see her in a play, though I wish I had. After our mother died in 2009, she moved back to Cleveland to be closer to most of our family. She was able to watch her nieces and nephew grow up, sharing in high school and college graduations, birthdays, and Christmas holidays that she missed for her younger sisters, being so far away in New York. We began talking regularly on the phone, filling in the gaps of what happened while she lived in New York and how I made it from Cleveland to Tennessee to Iowa to Michigan. We missed a lot of sibling time because our lives were so different.
I honor her legacy this Christmas. She was a pioneer in theatre, willing to share the story of our African heritage rather than be cast in the traditional roles which were available. She left home at 21 to follow her dream at a time when most women were beginning to fight for equal and civil rights. She was inspired by her younger sisters to earn her undergraduate degree at the age of 45. She was vivacious, dynamic, outspoken, and very creative. I miss the conversation we would have had this month. And I know she is celebrating this Christmas with the angels.
For those of us who are mourning the loss of one we love, whether they were called home this year or before, know that they are celebrating this Holy holiday with the angels of our Lord. Rejoice, because our God holds all of us in the palm of His hands. Hallelujah! And Amen.