For the Love of Nonnie

I’ve gone delinquent, if not rogue, on my writing responsibilities; thus, this entry is quite overdue. Besides leaving our mountain for a solo road trip, I’d already stepped away from the novel I’m writing…it and the characters decided to take off in a very different direction than I’d originally planned. It happens. It’s interesting (although very inconvenient) but is a phenomenon not suited for this blog. Why did I even bring it up? Because if I didn’t stray from the subject matter, you might think I was an imposter.

Speaking of the subject matter, for this entry, it is my dear, late sister Rhonda (AKA, “Nonnie” to my brother Rick and me because we couldn’t quite say that complicated other-two-syllable word when we were little squirts, and “Sister” to my other sister Sandi because, well, Rhonda was her world – and I apparently never quite made the “sister” cut; more on that later). 

My last blog was about birthdays, and I wrote it on Sandi’s birthday (I might have mentioned that she’s very old). Since then and during my break, we faced yet another of Nonnie’s birthdays without her; she would have been 66 on October 8th. What I’d give to harass her about being the most ancient of our brood, but she never made it to 54, thanks to a form of cancer with a name so long I’m sure it would damage my keyboard. If she was here, she’d point out that since she left us at 53, that technically means I’m older than her, even though I’m the baby. 

Preposterous. And the fact that I turned 60 between the last blog and this one is hardly worth mentioning.

Anyway, as always, I conferred with my siblings about this business of Nonnie’s birthday by asking what their favorite memory or memories were. Usually, I take their feedback and weave it into the storytelling. This time, I’m sharing the conversation straight from Facebook Messenger:

ME: 

[What are your favorite memory or memories of Nonnie?]

SANDI: 

[All of them]

[Anything that made her laugh]

[When we slept together and I felt protected because I held onto her night gown]

[Learned to drive ❤️]

[Together]

[Playing football and having her block for me]

[Hearing her say “little Mom” and “little Cricket”] 

(Cricket was Sandi’s nickname…I can imagine all kinds of reasons for that, but I won’t elaborate because she’d beat me up.)

ME:

[Sigh. So sweet! You two had such a special relationship.] 

(My code for, I wish I’d been a “sister” too, and why was she your favorite sister? What am I, chopped liver? She obviously didn’t catch my drift because she continued with her very sweet thoughts about her sister, her other sister notwithstanding.)

SANDI:

[Watching her at the zoo because she loved it so much]

[Going to the Balloon Festival with them in Albuquerque]

Enter Rick.

RICK:

[On a long meeting right now…will jump in when I escape.] 

(That’s code for he was out messing around on the beach where he “works” in Florida, and he probably got a phone signal when he stopped at some beach bar for another beer, so he tossed us a bone. Oh, and notice that he uses punctuation; someday, we will introduce the concept of using periods and such frivolity with our older but not necessarily wiser sister.)

SANDI:

[👍]

ME:

(Emphatic eye roll…but what I typed was:)

[Thanks!]  

(He would expect nothing but a disingenuous response from me; we are very much alike.)

TIME GAP

RICK (probably several beers later and after de-sanding his feet):

[When we were in elementary school, she was a great protector. Every time I ran my mouth too much around the big kids…I know it’s hard to imagine, but it happened, she would never let them hurt me.

When we were older it was always fun to mess with her when we played board games because she always took the rules so seriously. As adults, it was seeing her scorn and hearing her say “potty mouth!”

Mostly it’s just the way she loved us so unquestioningly. She just did and you felt it all the way through.

Damn, I miss her.]

ME:

[She hugged you, and you just felt it permeate you. And I loved her Scooby Doo giggle…]

RICK:

[Yup.]

SANDI:

[👍]

(…Because that’s easier than writing actual words…it’s kind of like not using periods.)

It is clear, Nonnie was our protector. If you follow this blog, then it’s probably self-evident that our mom had her hands full, mitigating our dad’s actions (or inactions). She worked so we could eat, even though Dad managed to burn through much of her salary. During all this, Nonnie was like a second Mom to us. 

She was undoubtedly the head of the kid quartet, although she wasn’t outspoken, didn’t sport a lot of charisma, and didn’t smile nearly as much as we would have liked. When she did smile? It lit up the room. When she giggled, well, as I mentioned earlier: think Scooby Doo. 

It was delightful. And as you might have gathered, when she hugged, she hugged.  I can still feel it; I can still smell her hair. I can still feel her love; in fact, it’s running down my face right now. It hurts in a way I could never articulate, but it feels as beautiful.

She was arguably the first to have her childhood stolen at our father’s hands, and most certainly endured it for the longest if you knew the more intimate histories of his “pairings” with his own offspring, which I will never share in this forum. Maybe that’s why she took on the role of protector. Because it was something she could do, something she controlled to the best of her ability.  

All we know is that she was possibly the hardest working, most steel-hearted, hard-loving, and devoted human we’ve ever known. Unfortunately for some still-living humans, she was only too happy to share – or enforce – her steadfast nature on anyone around whom she felt might be deserving. If she liked you, your life was better. If she didn’t like you, well, you’d remember her as well. Instead of Scooby Doo, think of the most stubborn stereotype of a mule, and you’ve got it. Rick mentioned “Potty Mouth” in his memories. Get a load of this. While Nonnie could, and did, drink men twice her size under the table (and did so repeatedly during her stint in the Navy), she was shockingly chaste and was appalled and disgusted by swearing (kind of hysterical if you’ve spent more than five minutes with yours truly or my brother). She whipped out her worst label, “Potty Mouth,” with the speed of a gunslinger to squelch swearing by anyone but her husband (he must have had a prenup on that one). She was even known to get up at restaurants where rude patrons might be cursing a bit too loudly, to brand them with the ultimate shame name, Potty Mouth, of course, as she tuned them up on their abhorrible manners. Damn skippy, Nonnie…you nailed their sorry asses right there in front of God and everyone! Shit, that was good stuff! 

And yes, I can hear you from here, wherever you are. I am, and always will be, a Potty Mouth. What’s that I hear? A Scooby Doo giggle!

Nonnie’s favorite color was purple. She loved elephants. She loved anything peanut butter; she even ate peanut butter and bologna sandwiches as we stood by and gagged. She loved liver and onions. She loved the annual Albuquerque balloon festival, which fell on her birthday every year. She loved John Wayne with such a passion that her home looked like a Duke museum: she understood that he was the original stud. She loved her husband and her son, she loved us, she loved our mom so much I’m surprised it didn’t squish the dear tiny soul. She even loved our dad, who scarred her so deeply that I still hold him at fault, to a degree, for her early demise. She just loved; she was love.

I guess you expect to outlive your parents. You pray your children will outlive you, and you know it could go either way with your spouse. These are things inside of you, whether you consciously think about them or not. But for me, I guess I thought my siblings would always be there. They were already around when I got here, and I never imagined life without them.  

Her death was devastating to us, the remaining three. We are supposed to be a quartet, not a trio; it’s not the same, not squared off without her.

But even now, we still feel her love and her protection. I don’t know how she does that, but I am eternally grateful. 

Happy 66th Birthday, Nonnie! I love you and miss you…and you are STILL older than me!

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