It started a while back. This new name I chose for my sister. Her given name is Robin and that’s what I have called her my whole life. Our cousin calls her Robbie and maybe it’s because our cousin goes by various names she gave Robin an additional name. By the way, I love you cousin Carolyn-Carol-Lorraine. Anyway, Robin and I were joking about her Robbie name one day and from that day forward she’s been Robbie Rob when I greet her on the phone or in person.
I don’t know if she realizes it or not but I say it with love and support and encouragement and a trace of teasing with the knowledge that it is my nick-name for her even if I borrowed part of it. I also get a jolt of joy that brings a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart because I’m the only one that calls her that and that’s what makes it special to me and I hope to her.
Growing up, I moved in with my Aunt Rosie while in high school and once I left for college, I left so much of my Denver life behind. Not because of any negative reasons, I was just on a mission and there was so much to take in at ASU and in the 80’s there was so little time to catch up on in the brief and expensive long distance phone calls that came about once a month. So, like with my memory related to all my family members, there is a gap in my recollection of events regarding Robin starting in high school and going all the way to the early 2000’s.
Our childhood though was full of adventure and I remember some of it. Robin is the baby girl of the family but I never looked at her that way because she could hold her own in any situation. She was a tomboy and rarely wore dresses or skirts or combed her hair for that matter. During our elementary school years, it was not unusual for her to just rock this wild afro for most of the summer.
We spent a lot of time outside then and had all kind of games that we played. Robin was in the mix of all of them. She was fast and tough and didn’t take nothing from nobody. I remember some of our little neighborhood spats on Hallet’s playground or after getting off the school bus where we’d have to literally pull Robin off of some poor child who thought she could teach Robin a lesson.
Our family, us kids mostly, for as far back as I can remember had a proven method of rubbing humiliation in each other’s face and informing each other when we did not rise to the occasion. We used two words to express this:
Robin became an expert at their use.
Allow me to explain. Whenever you told a joke that wasn’t up to par or were relaying a story about some incident that just was not interesting, my brother's, sisters and cousins let you know it by telling you, “You’re stale!” or simply “Stale!”. If it was something on TV or something right in front of us that someone did that was mediocre, we’d look at each other and say, “That was stale!”
“Shame!” was used in ways you might imagine. There were multiple situations where it came in handy. Here’s a few:
If there was a public flub like you tripping over a carpet coming into the room, whoever was nearby was certain to yell “Shame!” right into your face.
If you asked your parents for something or to go somewhere and they said no, “Shame” came loud and clear from your siblings almost drowning our your parents response.
If you attempted to get someone in trouble by telling on them about something super-petty and your parents read right into what you were doing and told you to stop tattling and go outside and play, get ready for “Shame!” to come rushing out of nearby mouths and into your heart.
Shame! wasn’t reserved for just people. “Dawg”, the dog that lived with my grandmother would always get shame and we’d let him know. For instance, after someone would go out the front door and Dawg would rush to get out but instead the door would close, leaving Dawg inside, whoever noticed it would likely declare "Shame!" It’s possible that I am giving Dawg too much of a human personality but I’m pretty sure he got shamed so many times, he perfected this attitude of “Oh, I wasn’t trying to do that anyway!” and walk away.
Robin got so good at it that she could multitask. She’d be doing one thing but see you fail at something out of the corner of her eye and utter a shame or a stale without skipping a beat. She still makes sure we know when we’re stale and when we’re shame. Thankfully I’m neither, so I’m not on the receiving end of it anymore.
It’s ironic that Robin was doling out so many stales and shames because she became known for telling these sad “Brown Cow” jokes that were so bad I think my parents forbid them to be told out loud so she’d have to whisper them to us. I don’t remember any of them exactly but they would go something like, “What did the brown cow say to the ear of corn?” and as you’d sit there and hope that maybe this one might be funny, she’d blurt out the answer, “Put a ring on it!” ( this was pre-Beyonce and refers to an ear ring not an engagement ring). And then she’d say “Get it, ear of corn, put an ear-ring on it!” and bust out laughing. I will admit sometimes they were so stale, you had to laugh with her.
Robin moved to Houston many years ago while I was still living there and we got to spend a little more time together, admittedly though not much more but definitely more than when she lived in Denver. I’ve gotten a chance to meet and hang out with her Houston friends and already knew most of her Denver friends because we grew up with them and THEY ALL LOVE HER DEARLY.
After moving to Houston, Robin began returning to Denver around her birthday and invite family and friends to celebrate with her at cook-outs in the park. I was not often able to get home for them because of conflicts with gigs I had for work but there was one in particular that I was able to attend and it had so many people that I remember it hit me like a slap in the face how much people love her. Maybe some people came for the food or maybe just for something fun to do but most of the people crowded into that park pavilion genuinely came because it was their chance to see and hug and love on Robin before she headed back to Houston. It was at another one of these Denver bashes that friends of hers from Houston actually came to Denver to celebrate with her. I did say she is loved.
Often when I call her and ask what she’s doing, she’ll be reading a book with the TV on in the background. (THE TV IS ALWAYS ON IN THE BACKGROUND AT HER HOUSE!) So I often tease her about the romance novels she reads, which she can sometimes be reading 2 or 3 at a time. I’ll usually ask her what the title is because they always seem so cheesy. She’ll tell me something like:
Love Don’t Wait,
Cuz Her Heart Is Never Late!
Her, Him and The broken heart!
Even though I’ve never read one and I might like them if I did, I still cannot resist giving her a hard time about the titles.
I think she reads so many of them because she’s a romantic at heart even though she has been tested and has had to be strong in so many ways over the years. Because of being challenged by what life has thrown her way, she’s gotten tougher but still remains hopeful and more importantly she remains fun!
Mmmm Hmmmm! is another thing I tease her about. When we talk on the phone she will toss a few of those out from time to time all slow and steady and grandmotherly:
When I tease her about it she laughs like “The Count”, the counting vampire from Sesame Street. It’s not that she tries to mimic him, that’s just her phone laugh and it mostly only sounds that way when we’re on the phone.
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah!
When we are face to face, it’s harder to imagine her as The Count but over the phone, it’s like Big Bird, Ernie, Bert and the gang are right there with her counting her Mmmm Hmmmm’s along with me.
Over the years in Houston I’ve slept on her couch many nights, enjoyed meals she’s prepared, watched TV shows she likes, shared some of my challenges with her and had a beer with her from time to time. I’ve come to know and love Sammy, her husband and protector. I feel safe in their home mostly because it’s like walking into an arsenal. It was one of my highest pleasures to be in Vegas at their wedding. I had pretty much been dealing with my own drama during her previous serious relationships and am glad that I get to enjoy her and Sammy when I can.
She has many grandchildren but most of them live in Denver. She has a special relationship with Neveah whom she calls her mini-me. Neveah lives in Houston and Robin gets a chance to spend lots of time with her. It brings me such joy to witness how she nurtures her and guides her and sets boundaries but has so much fun with her. Robin is an awesome grandmother and I am smiling as I type this just thinking about the ways their relationship will pay dividends for Neveah in the future.
I really like how Robin can take care of biz and have a really good time with friends and family. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to express it. In other ways she reminds me so much of my Mom. She looks like her, sounds like her, answers the phone like her, takes emotional gut punches and still keeps fighting like her and loves deeply like her.
I have two poems that Robin sent to me a while back to celebrate times that I won and was being honored. I had them on my wall in Houston so I would be reminded. I packed them away when I moved but recently found them again. They say so much about my little sister’s sweet side and they mean so much to me:
How does it feel to be number one?
On top of the world looking down on the sun.
No one inside, in front or behind,
no one but you and your powerful mind.
How does it feel to be where you’re at?
How does it feel when you’re out on the mat?
I know it feels good to you and to me,
so just keep it up and you will be
always number one instead of two or three.
If it doesn’t work out, it’s still a good start.
No matter what happens, you’re #1 in my heart
I Am Proud
I am proud to be a part of you
Learning from the things you do
If I could be there, I surely would
helping you anyway I could
But since I am not I am sending my heart
It doesn’t really matter that we are miles apart
You are a very big part of me
You have helped me to learn responsibility
When I feel I can’t do anything right
I think of you and I see the light
I reach down deep inside my soul
to try to achieve my ultimate goal
You are well on your way to achieving yours
Just turn the knob to the golden doors
I will always be proud to be a part of you
One day I am gonna make you proud of me too.
My eyes water every time I read “I Am Proud”
Today my younger, tougher, wild afro wearing back in the day Robbie Rob turns 56 and to that I say:
I am indeed proud of you!
I Love You!
Oh, and this!