The well-intended but extremely gossipy, disruptive and argumentative busy-body known to gospel audiences as "Sister Cantaloupe" is none other than 36-year-old, Trina Vondray Jeffrie.
Her comedic routine and outrageous costume (with a more-than-ample derriereresembling two cantaloupes), has delighted audiences from television to tours.
However, beneath the colorful costume and beyond the cackling and wise-cracks, lies a woman who has been through a life that would logically make her do anything but laugh. But ironically, after all the pain, Trina Jeffrievia Sister Cantaloupeis smiling from the inside out and helping audiences do the same.
According to Jeffrie, her mother became ill after giving birth to Jeffrie, which led to frequent hospital visits. Jeffries father left the family of fourincluding two boys and another girland took Jeffrie into his life, which soon included a new wife and children. This new arrangement gave way to strife, and soon, Jeffrie found herself unwanted and eventually given to an older aunt and uncle.
Confused and unhappy. Jeffrie "acted out" her frustrations and consequently stayed in trouble and on punishment. She found herself restricted from televisionwhich had become her favorite vehicle of fantasy and escape. Even back then, Jeffrie admits, "I loved Lucy and to me, Carol Burnett was the bomb!"
In grade school, Jeffries outdated clothes made her the laughing stock of the school. She recalled. "The kids would laugh and point at me because of the way I dressed. My clothes werent up-to-date." According to Jeffrie, she learned to poke fun at herself, so that "it wouldnt hurt so much."
Jeffrie learned that making others laugheven at herhelped make life more bearable. She also found joy in entertaining others. "One day, my third grade teacher gave the class a poem to memorize for an oratorical contest. We had a week to learn it but I came back the next day. Not only did I know the poem. I had gestures to match!" Following her outstanding performance, her third grade class gave Jeffrie her first standing ovation. Jeffrie was selected to participate in the contest and won first prize!
By seventh grade, Jeffrie was entertaining regularlyat school during class. She caused such distractions in her class, that her family took her to see a doctor. The diagnosis came back "overactive imagination." Her family was advised to keep her off sugar and chocolate. Her aunt had other remediesof a more physical nature.
At 12, Jeffries mother came back into her life. "My birth mother came to get me for the summer," she remembers. "I was twelve years old. I cried because I didnt know her. All my life, I had been told that she was crazy and that I was going to be just like her. So (when my mother came) I ran and hid for about an hour." After being persuaded by a friend to go with her mother, Jeffrie relented. The experience turned out to be refreshing. "She was so loving and giving; I found out where I got my sense of humor from," Jeffrie said. But the conditions with her mother were difficult. "My mother was poor. I went from wondering what I was going to wear to school to wondering what I was going to eat. We lived in the projects. It was a new experience for me."
Although the surroundings were stark, the love of her mother reinforced her self-image. Jeffries mother assured her that she had always loved her and never wanted to give her up. At that point, Jeffrie made a decision. "I was only supposed to stay for the summer, but I never wanted to leave my mom again, so I stayed."
Two years later, Jeffries mother became ill again and Jeffrie found herself basically on her own. With little to no supervision, Jeffrie quickly regressed. "I joined a gang," she stated. "I was in and out of trouble and my grades dropped."
One night Jeffrie crossed the line with a boy, and got caught by an aunt who was on the way home from church. "I was so embarrassed," she recalled. "She made me go in the house and pack my bags and she took me with her."
Jeffries aunt was a church musician. She made Jeffrie join the church choir. The environment proved helpful. "Thats when I began to seek God," Jeffrie stated. "I still wasnt perfect. Id get saved on Sunday and lose it by Mondaysometimes by Sunday night!"
A church memberMildred Simpsonbecame a mentor to Jeffrie. "She had five children, but seemed to always have time for me," Jeffrie said. "I later started calling her "Mom."
Perhaps Mildred "Mom" Simpson saw Jeffries unique gift, even then. She presented Jeffrie with a collection of readings called "Gods Trombone." Jeffrie enjoyed performing the readings so much that she would go to church musicals and request herself to perform on programs. This led to several invitations at local churches.
At the next banquet saluting her pastor, Jeffrie was asked to perform. "Oh, God! Give me something else to do," she petitioned. "I did not want to do the same reading," she recalled.
Jeffrie decided to perform a skit. "I went home and wrote it out. I got the look from the Carol Burnett Show when she was the "Bag Lady." I still didnt have a name for her. At the banquetwhile performingI asked the question, whats my name? I looked at the table, and there was a fruit dish on it with cantaloupe in it. I answered, Sister Cantaloupe from the church! It got such a wild response from people! They were falling out of their chairs! I loved the sound of people laughing. I had their undivided attention, and they werent laughing at me, they were listening to me!"
Jeffrie became increasingly popular throughout the Dallas church community. Although her reputation as a Christian comedienne was gaining her more and more bookings, there were still some that didnt buy her act. It seemed that she had completed the circle of opportunity in the community and would go no further. Some people felt that her skits and outrageous constuming were sacrilegious. Then, her mother died. Jeffrie was 21 and ready to give up. "I didnt see any reason for living. My career was at a stand still. I got my walkman radio, turned the music up and started to walk right out in front of a bus going downhill at about 50mph. I knew he wouldnt have time to stop." But Jeffries walkman was tuned to gospel station KHVN. "Drew Dawson played the song, "Stay With Me" by Vickie Winans." The words "I love you, please stay with Me..."ministered to Jeffrie. That day, she understood God had a bigger plan for her life. As Jeffrie grew deeper in her spiritual walk, the support of her church and pastor, helped her become more secure in her gift.
Trusting God presented opportunities and appearances that took her further than she could have imagined. Jeffrie performed at the Rhema Conference, appeared on the Bobby Jones show, and landed a record deal with Aleho Records. Her 1996 release, Go! Cantaloupe, Go! gained her national and international recognition. Later that same year, she was asked to be part of the cast of "Tour of Life."
These days, although shes extremely busy, shes still humble; realizing that her success and renown as "The First Lady of Gospel Comedy" is a result of Gods grace and mercy.
As she blazes a trail for other female Christian comedians, Jeffrie says, "I give God all the glory! Im just looking for that one person who might need some laughter in their home, or that person with the aching heart that only laughter can heal."
Although "Sister Cantaloupe" is not a real person, but she is real; and behind the costume and after all the laughs, audiences are uplifted in a way that pleases God. And that is...ministry.