In her debut memoir, Konrad eloquently captures the complexities of her relationship with a larger-than-life sister whose towering presence—both literally and figuratively—molded the family in ways big and small.
Konrad, the baby of the family, was Willie and Rosie Smith’s third daughter, nine years younger than her mercurial sister, middle child Sandra. Her earliest memories are of Sandra’s doing things like throwing a fit after every shampoo. In hindsight, Sandra’s seesawing mood swings and “talent for manipulation” should have served as warning flags of trouble ahead. But the Smith girls, despite being African-Americans in the Jim Crow South of the 1940s, were brought up in Houston, Texas, by doting parents whose unconditional love glazed over glaring faults. As Sandra came of age, her bold and domineering personality smothered everyone around her, including the Smiths’ oldest daughter, Jackie. “I really didn’t have much of a social life and much of my time was dominated by concern for my sister,” Konrad remembers. “The agony that comes when a sibling acts out impacts everyone. In my case, I was particularly vulnerable as Mama always managed to draw me into it—up close and personal.” Overweight as a child, with problems of her own, Konrad was regularly roped in to mediate issues she did not yet fully grasp, the pawn between Sandra and her mother, Rosie. The memoir brilliantly captures the complexities of growing up in the shadow of a domineering figure whose grip on attention meant less room for everyone else to blossom. Konrad movingly chronicles Sandra’s steady downhill descent from star high school student to member of Houston’s underworld. Only when a devastating tragedy grounded Sandra did she remarkably turn her life around, with help from her long-suffering family and devoted husband, Charles. Eventually, Konrad served as caregiver to both her aging parents and to Sandra, whose life, with its highs and lows, Konrad believes, was filled with blessings of motivation and grace.
A moving testament to the power of unconditional love and its ability to get us through our darkest hours.