By Vincent L. Hall
What do Betty White, John Madden, Lani Guinier, Sidney Portier, and Sonia Lee Jordan have in common? They were all favorites and widely-known; except for the last one.
Sonia Renee Lee Jordan was my stepsister, and her transition is personal and painful. I could write a stage play about our lives, separate and apart.
Sonia had a dry wit, but she was funnier than Betty was. She never broadcasted a game on Fox Sports, but she called every contest as she saw it. She was not a law professor and national activist like Lani, but she held her own in this community.
Thespians, directors, and stage producers say that there are five primary stage directions in plays and dramatic venues. They include center stage, stage right, stage left, upstage, and downstage. Unfortunately, our family’s center stage suddenly faded to black.
Sonia never acted in any movie, but you still had to guess who was coming to dinner because everybody was welcome at her table; wheth- er the spread was hers or not. This loss pierces my soul because she was center stage in her family, in our blended family.
My dad had not been married to my stepmother Dollie very long before they started “blending” the families. She had four, he had three, and they would later have another. So it was Paul, Sonia, Rita, me, Lorna (Denise), Victor and Gina. Gregory Lynn came later.
We became the Negro/Black version of the Brady Bunch every other weekend or there-abouts.
James Brown was ushering out Negro, and we were settling into the “Black and Proud” era!
The first encounter that comes to mind was a field trip of sorts. I can’t remember where, but I recall thinking that the task was not doable. Paul was gone, but how do you get man and wife with six kids securely seated in a 1968 Volk-swagen Bug?
Sonia, who was already near six feet by this time, made the ultimate sacrifice and engi- neered the seating plan. She sat in the middle, straddling the hump on the VW ﬂoor. Three others sat with her in the back, and the last two sat in the jump seat. Before SUVs and hatchbacks, VW’s and station wagons had jump seats!
Volkswagen Beetles had a trunk in the front, a motor in the back, and a 3×5-storage area inside. All of us kids wanted to be in that tight spot. Sonia negotiated a settlement so that all of us got what we wanted. That was her role throughout life. She sacrificed and mediated, so nobody else ever had to.
Sonia eventually became the big sister, and I was the big brother after Paul passed at an early age.
Our job has been to “herd cats” and “keep the children” together over the years. Unfortunately, deaths, divorce, and detours have a way of dismembering familial relationships. However, Sonia’s will to keep our family unified remained undeterred. Sonia contracted COVID. No Shot.
I have been so damned angry since I was summoned to Charlton Methodist Hospital’s ICU! Angry at Sonia. Angry with myself. Angry with the rest of these antivaxxers. Furious with this whole two-year plague!
Amid all my angst and aggravation, I heard a word from a former pastor and good friend. Pastor Henry H. Batson III delivered a eulogy for another friend’s mother. His homily was simply titled; “Good Grief.”
My brother, Reverend Victor Hall, had just completed a whole series in December on grief. As a New York area pastor, he has a panoramic and detailed view of this pandemic. Nevertheless, something Batson said got through.
His thesis is that we must purposely mix some of the better memories into the roux of our grief. He was right. Rather than being draped in despair, I had to erect a canopy of comfort. We have shared
life, love, and the legacies of two families.
There is scientific evidence that 98% of the time, having the COVID vaccine saves lives. I relish our good days together, and this probably didn’t have to happen.
I hated to say goodbye to Betty, John, Lani, and Sidney, but “good grief” bidding farewell to Sonia ripped my heart out. I’m still not there!
RIH Sonia! But you know I got questions when we meet again. I get the jump seat this time!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.