Dad, Mommy Dearest, and The Great Santini

Once upon a time, on the Navaho reservation outside of Gallup New Mexico, we lived in an old adobe house with a leaky roof. It was there that I learned that when it rained inside, the natural response is to place a pan or bowl on the floor to catch the water. I also became accustomed to the strangely comforting percussion sounds of the house-wide dripping.

It was our first exposure to living in a desert, having just moved from Kansas, and for kids whose parents worked all day, it was paradise. After our chores, we were free to roam the desert, and we learned all about rattlesnake avoidance, horned toads, and rock climbing. This was in the era before bike helmets, child vitamins, or electronic kid tracking; helicopter parents of today would wonder how we survived.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, it won’t surprise you that, in many respects, we were probably safer outside than beneath the leaky roof. The gaudy plaid-suited salesman who doubled as man of the house ensured that the great outdoors, dangerous rock crevices and poisonous snakes aside, was often a better bet. Besides his bad fashion sense, sometimes he just wasn’t very nice.

The little adobe house was the first place I remember Dad throwing his notorious fits, Great Santini style. It was all our fault, you know, for stuff like not getting the dishes clean enough. Poorly made beds were also grave offenses. Of course. Right?  Right. At least according to Dad, Mommy Dearest, and the Great Santini.

The kitchen indiscretions resulted in dramatic rants as every dish, glass, and pan in the house was yanked out (unless it was catching rainwater). Next, the poor suckers who were on dish duty had to wash, dry, and put everything away for inspection. Often, none of us kids could see the offending speck on the plate or saucer, but as you might have guessed, there was no appeal process. The bedroom delinquencies resulted in his tearing our rooms apart, bedding was ripped off, clothes thrown onto the floor – you get the picture. Then, like the kitchen, it had to be reassembled to his satisfaction. No biggie, it was just an occasional Seley family activity, kind of like doing a puzzle, only not as fun.

I remember little else from that house other than catching tons of tadpoles from the huge puddles when it rained, my siblings and I pretending we were the Monkeys (the band, not the primates) and performing on the little back porch, and my mom crying sometimes for reasons we didn’t understand. As always, I wasn’t privy to the thing that made my siblings cry, but they also weren’t privy to the funniest and most time-enduring thing that happened to me in that house.

Dad realized that at the age of seven-ish, I had no idea how to tell time and he harassed me for not being able to do this mysterious thing. Maybe he figured out it had something to do with our changing schools so much that I missed the magic tell-time lesson and felt badly. Regardless of his motivations, he took it upon himself to teach me right then and there. Unfortunately, the only wall clock we had was a funny bar clock. I’m not sure what was funnier about it, the fact that my parents didn’t drink much, let alone have a bar, or the fact that the numbers were backwards on the clock face, which was on a backdrop of a drunk leaning on a lamppost. Let me repeat, the numbers were backwards; they went counterclockwise (no pun intended). Yes, he taught me on that clock. It was just him and me; him impatient, and me anxious and terrified of some possible Santini action if I didn’t catch on. But, alas, it worked; I learned. I learned to tell time backwards.

 To this day, when I glance at a clock, I sometimes see nine o’clock instead of three o’clock, etc.

These are the things I learned from living in the leaky adobe house:

  • Unless you’re into water-percussion, live under a good roof.
  • Use a dishwasher, so you can remain blameless.
  • Never let a crazy man in a loud plaid suit inspect your bedroom.
  • And for the love of God, only use digital clocks (unless you want to show up six hours early or late because of a random childhood encounter with a backwards bar clock). 

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