Till death do us part

Published 9:29 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The phrase, “till death do us part,” is typically used in marital ceremonies to define the sacred bonds between husband and wife. I will take the liberty in this column to share with you the anger and animosity that two sisters harbored between them that was only broken by the mighty hand of death.

I have written about these sisters in my book titled, No Cross-No Crown, published over a year ago. I was reminded of the tragedy of these two sisters after having recently watched the very popular, 1962 movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The movie was about two sisters who had previously been actresses but were now old, forced to accept that their careers were over. The sister who had been the more popular actress (Blanche) was confined to a wheelchair, resulting in the other sister (Baby Jane) being her caretaker. The movie redefined sibling rivalry as Baby Jane torments Blanche, intercepting her letters and ensuring that no one from the outside world would have contact with her.

The sisters I am referring to, however, were born in Atlanta during this country’s period of segregation. By today’s definition their family would’ve been considered one of the city’s wealthiest families. One sister was fair-complexion; the other system was very dark skinned. These two sisters were born nearly 90 years ago. Their parents during this country’s period of segregation owned Atlanta’s only hospital that catered exclusively to black patients

I met the sisters by accident. I visited their home to pick up two Chinese diplomats who were there because of a special cultural exchange program. As I arrived I discovered a long winding driveway that opened up to twin magnificent homes that would have been the pride of any luxurious community.  Only one of the homes was occupied.  In that I knew the mayor’s aunt quite well, I quickly solicited her assistance in persuading the sisters to lease me the vacant home. 

I learned a lot about these two sisters. In their household, distinguished visitors such as Alex Haley, author of Roots, Mayor of Atlanta, the city’s African-American baseball legend and many more prominent figures would attend social functions.

These sisters, however, concealed a deep resentment and dislike for each other that from my perspective they carried to their graves. You see, the fair-complexion sister was perceived by the dark-skin sister as receiving special treatment during their youth from the other relatives.

After college, the fair-complexion sister decided to stay home and help run the family business while the other sister left to secure a degree in Psychiatry from Harvard.

I met the sisters when they were in their middle 60s.  Because of the considerable fortune they amassed, the dark-skin sister began to harangue her sister implying that she was inept and unable to manage the family’s money.  This caused the fair-complexion sister to drink heavily after such confrontations. You know what? God became the almighty arbiter and solved the problem.  As the fair-skin sister prepared for bed one evening, she apparently fell dead, right on the kitchen floor. 

I was a pallbearer at the funeral.

As I looked out into the church during the funeral I focused my attention on the dark-skin sister and silently thought, these two sisters spent their entire lives despising each other.

The surviving sister now had sole possession of the family’s fortune. She discovered immediately, however, that money truly does not buy happiness or good health. Afterwards, her health immediately began to deteriorate and just a few years later, she too, passed-with a lot of money for someone else to enjoy.

This was the end of their story. Are you at odds with a family member? Would it truly hurt you to extend a hand of reconciliation? Do it today.

Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses , including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at gdowell@live.com