A Tale of Two Hons

Greetings!  Get your coffee, or your scotch, your Kool-Aid, or your whatever-you-drink; this is a long one. But a good one! Here we go…

Nature versus nurture is an age-old controversy with compelling arguments for both sides. In the landscape of our family, I’ve never been able to fence off a section predictable enough to even evaluate the concept. With our Dad at the helm, “nature” wasn’t exactly the standard template…in fact, “unnatural” would often be a better description. The “nurture” factor was often so skewed that to this day, I’d be hard pressed to flow chart the phenomena with any success (and I consider myself a student of people!  Harumph!).  What are the results when nature versus nurture is impossible to assess because you can’t quite pick up a thread, let alone follow one, in a wigged-out family dynamic?

I could run a hundred miles in any direction with that opening (either due to my utter inability to focus, or to my life-built coping skill of picking a direction and making it work no matter what). But for today, I only have one path I’d like to explore in this aspect, and that’s friendship.

I’ve mentioned in earlier entries that we were pretty isolated in our family unit…partially because we moved twice per nanosecond, partly because we didn’t want to expose outsiders to our “inside,” but mostly because you have to have friends to invite them over.  Wait!  Don’t tune out!  This is not an “oh, poor us” thing!  This is, instead, a weird introduction to the fact that we learned through our viewfinders, through which we never spied our parents make or keep friends (that would be nurture, aka environment, by the way).  We learned from Dad in a plethora of ways (been dying to use that word! Bam!) that people, often including us, were either a means to an end or expendable.  Of course, we had no idea what any of that psychobabble meant, because we were just kids!  We played among ourselves, we got away with what we could, we picked our noses, and fought when there were no parents around.  We kept dark secrets because that’s what we were taught, and those secrets did not extend beyond the walls of our various homes.  And outsiders rarely entered those walls.

I read an article by a guy named Gareth Cook that says, “the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.” ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/ )

But what if we never learned the value of that social environment, and, God forbid, suffered not at all due to broken, threatened or severed bonds…because we didn’t have those bonds in the first place. What about that?  The quote also implies we were shaped by our social environment. Home was our sole social environment (other than school) during our developmental years; that’s some scary sh-t, right there (insert shock-faced emoji here)!  Talk about a horror-based concept; Stephen King, eat your heart out. 

I’ve said many times, in many forums (yes, I’m this verbose at every possible opportunity), that in adulthood my friends taught me how to be a friend.  I believed that for me, it was a learned behavior.

Over the years, my Air Force friends showed me the ropes.  I learned to model their behavior and somewhere along the way, I figured out how to be a friend back, to reciprocate, and to desire the two-way street of real friendship.  How sad that I’ve assumed for years that I didn’t know how to do this naturally, yet how wonderful that I found people (or they found me) who were caring and patient enough to lead the way, to insist on staying in touch even after I’d not return calls or mail for months on end.  It wasn’t because I didn’t care.  I guess I just didn’t know how.  I’d learned that you could care, even love, yet simply walk away.  We learned to believe that when you left, the break was clean. I maintained that belief until my pesky friends, true friends, made those breaks a little messy and often just impossible.  Thank God for them all, but mostly for my decades-long Air Force partner-in-crime, Mary W.

So, those are the things I reckoned to be true. Until recently, that is, when I learned quite late in life that my logic and self-assessments were, at least in part, wrong. 

I was wrong.

My hard-boiled self-assessment ended up in a heap, all because of one soul.  That long lost friend whom I never forgave myself for losing.  But whom I’d, nonetheless, allowed myself to lose. 

I mentioned her in an earlier blog but didn’t give her the spotlight she deserved because it hurt too much.  Ironically, like my later BFF, her name was Mary (there’s something about Marys!). We met in junior high during that critical, confusing, awful time in adolescence when there are so many forks in the road that it’s all you can do just to stay on a path, any path.  We both had serious issues going on at home and when we linked up, it was instant and like magic.  We were inseparable for a couple of years and in my memories the timelines blurred but the sentiment remained pure.  We even had our own language.  We laughed till we hurt. She was my friend.  She was my soul mate.  She saved me.

Due to some joke no one can remember, we called each other “Hon” and lost our real names; my parents even called her Hon.  She was my other half. She was my Hon, and I was hers.

A quote by Anais Nin says it best: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” 

I felt like I first started to become myself with Hon. I got my land legs. She saw me for exactly who I was and liked me anyway! She taught me the value of laughter – huge laughter.  She made me feel funny, she saw stuff that I never saw in myself, and it was all good. She valued me. She showed that “unconditional love” thing my dad blathered about all the time, but never demonstrated. I blossomed with her in our bubble.  But bubbles are fragile.

Upon our sophomore year, she and her family moved to a nearby town.  We stayed friends, even after I also moved, farther and farther away to other states and out of the country, but we drifted. Then I joined the military and we got caught up in our own lives.  I was the one who let go.  I just assumed she was the first casualty of my never-look-back way of being a friend.

Fast-forward through my coming-of-age (40 years, and still counting).  I wanted to find her.  Mind you, I now have great friends…AMAZING friends who have made my life infinitely richer.  I had a fantastic career.  I’ve been married to the same man for 32 years and have two sons I love beyond love.  I had the honor of caring for my mother in her last years till her dying day; a massive blessing.  I wrote and published three books…by life’s biggest bucket list item. https://tammyseleyelliott.com/the-novels/

Yet I had a hole, a vacuum. My Hon.

So, I started searching.  My husband, Mike, and I scoured social media and used people-finder websites to try to find her. I sent letters to total strangers who had similar names and were about the right age. 

Nothing.

For someone who used to let go without a thought, this was a profound thing for me.  I was hurt, guilty, confused, and uncharacteristically regretful. This went on for years.

A few days before this past Christmas, I was telling my son one of my many funny Hon stories and after we finished laughing, I told him all I really wanted for Christmas was to find my Hon.

And guess what? The day before Christmas, I found an e-mail in my professional (author) account.  The subject was, “Hon.” 

She’d found me!  It was like nuclear fusion from that first contact. Just like that, the Hons reunited, and we haven’t looked back.

I felt whole for the first time in many years.  And I also felt like a fool.

Because I’d been wrong.

As it turns out, I did know how to be a friend.  To her, I was not only a friend, but a lifesaver, as she was to me. As awesome as those days were, neither of us realized the true value of the moments, days, and months, until years, decades later. 

I now know that I did know how to be a friend and I did need someone outside the walls of my home. I knew how to give and receive love.  I guess I wasn’t socially crippled, at least for that short, critical time.

Even though I did in fact let her go, like all things deep inside twe believe we’ve buried or discarded, her memory came back with a vengeance…only I thought it was too late.  Again, I was wrong.

We’ve been in touch daily for a couple of months now, and even had an incredibly emotional, hysterical, reunion.  I think I might have blown my spleen laughing. Our weird language is back and growing, as is our connection. With no effort. 

I sent her a text about halfway through this thing you’re reading now (I don’t even know how to classify this rambling mess): “I’m writing that friendship blog now. And in my true fashion, I’m making it insanely complicated.  I’m taking a long, convoluted road to get to you. But I guess it was a long, convoluted road to get back to you.”

And worth every mile.

What’s the point of all of this?  First, I wanted to share the unlikely and amazing story of the Hon Reunion, and I have a captive audience to do so (bwa-ha-ha-ha!!).  But also, to make it clear that I can’t blame some of the stuff on my dear old dad that I’ve so willingly laid at his feet.  He has such a proverbial pile there anyway; this one little thing won’t be missed!

I also wanted to prove to my husband that the term “I was wrong” is, indeed, in my verbal inventory.

But mostly, I want to reach out to anyone out there who has, for years, perceived yourself as having hard and unforgiving edges. I want to tell you this: you (whomever you are), might want to get a little closer and examine those edges.  They might be a little rounder than you believed; they might have some give.  You’re better than you think.

Nature influences, as does nurture.  But the biggest influencer of all is that person inside your skin who has been with you from the beginning, from inception.  You’ve been right there all along, before and after those “developmental years.”  Give yourself a break and something awesome might happen.

Also, never underestimate asking for what you REALLY want for Christmas!

You just might find your Hon.

Sleazy & Cheesy: No Father of the Year Here!

Language and semantics are fascinating. Although different places have unique phrases or words, some things are universally understood. Like, “What do you do?” Or “What does she do?” Or, as it applies here, “So, what did your dad do, anyway?” For him, as I’ve made clear in this blog, that’s a loaded question…but for most Americans, the question and term are referring to vocation, work, career, or job. I’ve had a couple of messages asking what dad “did,” besides unspeakable things to his children or being a colossal failure as a father.

While in today’s day and age, “stay at home dads” are not at all uncommon, it was not common during my childhood. When our dad stayed at home (which was very often), parenting was nowhere on his “Honey-do” list.

Since “career” is the broadest applicable term here, I’d have to say he was a salesman/conman – even split. When he was very young (pre-me), I recall hearing that he sold vacuums. Back in the day, when door-to-door sales were a thing, guys like him could find work anywhere. All they needed was a slick tongue and, sadly, to be good with the ladies who were typically the ones home when the salesmen came-a-knocking. He nailed it (and likely nailed a few potential customers who were sans husband during his call…but that’s fodder for another blog entry, I’m sure).

At some point, he discovered advertising, and that was his main gig in multiple forms. I think it scratched his itch for many reasons. Right out of the chute, it totally suited his fashion sense or lack thereof. There used to be a known stereotypical dress code for salesmen, especially in advertising. I’m pretty sure our dad wrote the fashion guide for every one of those hair-raising looks. If you remember Herb Tarlek in the TV comedy WKRP in Cincinnati, you get my drift. If you’re unfamiliar with the show or just want a good laugh, go ahead and type “Herb Tarlek WKRP” into the search bar for Google images. Really. Do it now! If you swapped heads on old pics of our dad and Herb, we’d never know the difference. Gaudy three-piece suits in every form of plaid…and when the coat came off, you’d almost always find a short-sleeved shirt with a tie. This combo screams salesman, particularly when the vest remained. I’m getting a little queasy just thinking about it, so let’s move on!

Dad had a few legitimate jobs selling ads for newspapers. Still, they never lasted long because he’d get out of whack and quit, or we’d suddenly move. Those two phenomena were often connected. I recall him selling cosmetics for a spell; that had to be a major boon for his libido. I remember thinking it was weird, and I remember Mom seemed quietly thrilled when it fell through. Go figure.

There was also the time when he and Mom scored a print shop; I suspect she wasn’t exactly a willing partner. This was back before digital technology, so everything still had to be typeset, then glued with precision onto blank sheets before hitting the presses. It involved a lot of work and it was predominantly advertising, of course. But the amount of work wasn’t an issue for him…child labor laws be damned! We all worked there as the only staff, and it seemed like all the time. Of course, it “went under,” as did most every business venture with which he was affiliated, but it certainly wasn’t due to too much overhead; he had five hard-working employees who would never file grievances or ask for benefits! He also briefly published some kind of slick magazine when I was a teenager…had offices and everything. Stocked with a built-in young employee/mistress, of course. He also had very affordable cleaners (my BFF Mary and I cleaned for what seemed like a lot of money, which was fair, considering how many overflowing ashtrays we emptied…and we had no supervision. Sweet!). But like the printing business (or as he would say, “biz”), it was short-lived.

He did a stint as a self-promoted public speaker, but that, my friends, is a subject for an entire entry on its own! Stand by!

Although he “worked” no more than fifty percent of the time (and that’s generous), he ultimately never did so outside the home again after a certain point. He’d sit at our phone and read self-scripted pitches to sell ads for other parties or his own farce publication of the week. Seared into my memory is him starting off each call with, “Hey, (fill in the name of a total stranger), this is ‘ol Ron Seley,” in his slick “I’m your best old buddy” voice. To this day, I can recognize the tone when I receive sales calls, and it never ends well for the poor person on the other end because it takes me right back to dad’s sleezy operations. The poor souls are just trying to make a living and are suddenly subject to a crazy broad with Daddy issues!

In fairness, I have to give Dad a posthumous nod for launching me into adulthood with a “business” we operated together when I was quite young. He somehow convinced the Salvation Army to let us use their logo on a small-time homemade magazine (I can think of no weirder collaboration unless he’d teamed up with Mother Teresa on a yogurt franchise). He was able to sell ads and make money under the guise of soliciting support for the charitable organization. I still have no idea what they got out of it, since he was the cheesy ad man, and I was the writer, artist, and advertising money collector for the entire publication. That’s right…at the ripe ol’ age of 20ish, I’d had no training in art or writing, and was utterly unprepared to drive solo all over the state (pre-GPS, mind you), sometimes to very remote businesses with unknown contacts. The writing and art were fun (albeit incredibly amateur in retrospect). Still, that other thing was a little risky for a young woman of limited resources, life experience, or means of fighting off some weirdo a million miles from nowhere who might or might not realize he’d agreed to pay my dad for a small ad promoting a tiny business (Dad’s sales closing skills were questionable at best).

Why would I thank him for this? Because I took those multi-hour trips alone, although it terrified me, and yet, I survived. This actually became my MO later in life, and it has served me well. Now, as a parent, I don’t know whether he was boosting me with confidence or shamelessly using me, but the result was the same. I learned to hold my nose and jump in, even in strange territory. Because of that short stint, I was able to rent my first apartment because Dad promised to pay me (yay!), and then get thrown out of the said apartment because I couldn’t pay rent because Dad couldn’t pay me (boo!). But that taught me to trust only in myself (to a fault) and thrust me into a way of life where I knew I could support myself…thus, I went to the recruiter (yay!).

Funny how crappy circumstances can make us grow. I owe him a huge debt for a pile of circumstances, which I now realize taught me in ways a classroom never could. So, shockingly and very strangely, in front of God and everybody (OK, in front of anyone who reads this blog, but close enough), I thank Ron Seley for setting me up to become a person I like and respect. He significantly lent to my long-term success by setting a series of horrible examples. I am forever grateful for having survived him and becoming me (imagine fireworks and triumphant music in the background).

So, what did my dad “do?” Mostly, as little as possible. But he inadvertently did something that made the world a much better place; he raised four humans to be nothing like him—four good people. Dr. Benjamin Spock, eat your heart out!

Our Bankrupt Birthday Memory Bank

Today is my sister’s birthday. She’s old. 

She’s REALLY old. I suppose if she wants to read this, she’ll need a magnifying glass to see it and someone to poke her every few minutes lest she nods off. They just don’t make strong enough Geritol for someone as old as her. She’s so old she…oh, sorry. Got a little carried away there.

Anyway, since it’s her birthday (did I mention she’s old?), and it was time to whip out a blog entry, I had the brilliant idea that I should dedicate it to our birthdays as kids. 

I had just initiated one of our delightful Messenger group chats on the subject to see what they could share when it occurred to me that I didn’t remember any of my birthdays as a kid off the top of my head. Not one.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my brother and I both have large swathes of nothingness in our childhood memory landscapes. If you’ve followed this blog, that probably doesn’t come as a big surprise, and I’m sure Freud would have a field day with all the reasons why that’s true. But really? 

No memory of birthdays?  

So, the conversation commenced…and these usually go on for some time and are quite hilarious as we remaining three of four remember, laugh, learn, and cringe. But today’s chat was really short because guess what? At first, none of us remembered anything! 

Group think, maybe? Trauma-based delayed hypnosis (OK, I made that up)? A childhood of crappy birthdays not worth remembering, perhaps? Who knows. 

The conversation lulled.

Then I remembered a little thing and a bigger thing…and my brother remembered a couple of things. 

And my sister remembered something; her memory was nicest, so I’ll share it first!

Sandi remembers that our neighbor Anna (this was when we lived in Bonner Springs, Kansas before I even started school) threw a party for her, and she got a little stuffed animal. 

I loved Anna…she also babysat me while everyone else was at school and had a baby duck that followed me around. And she had a Cinderella coloring book just for me. And apparently, I found out from my elder siblings during one of these blog discussions, she also slept with my father. Hopefully, not on anyone’s birthday!  

Anyway, Sandi kicked off the memory chain. My brother, Rick, remembered that when he turned five, his picture was in the newspaper holding a birthday cake he’d won. I hope it was on the front page since he doesn’t remember a single other thing about that or any other birthday until his 17th. That’s when our loving Pops told him to join the “Army,” or he’d send him to a reform school as a ward of the state (a version of this came up in a previous blog), and that he was “done” with him. I remember that day because it was not quite a “discussion,” and things got a little physical on my dad’s part as I recall. And mom and I cried a lot. However, all things considered, I’m pretty sure Rick would chalk it up as the best gift he’d ever gotten from Dad. He got to leave! Happy freakin’ birthday (and that is said with genuine mirth, not sarcasm), Brother! 

If I’d remembered that was an option, I might have asked for the same for my 17th birthday.

I recalled a card I got on my seventh birthday; it had a fishing pole with a cartoon fish on the hook announcing that I was seven years old in nice colorful letters. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of creepy. Maybe that’s why I remember it, although I don’t recall anything else about the day. Who knows, but that’s a pretty paltry memory bank for a childhood of birth celebrations.

Then I suddenly remembered my 16th and can’t believe I’d spaced it initially. Our dog, “Puppy” (you might recall that original and catchy name from a previous entry), died the first morning of my 16th year. That was shattering because we’d had her since I was pretty little, through many moves, and she and I were the only “kids” left by then… in the same house where Rick was off to the Navy (his last act of defiance, I suspect, since Dad told him to join the Army), but he was gone when Puppy died. I was devastated but went to school anyway. My gift was waiting when I got home, you might say. She was still in the back yard, and Dad told me to take her to the Humane Society to have them do what they do with dead animals. I had to roll her up in a blanket and put her in the trunk. It was the first time I’d touched anything dead, and can still remember how stiff she was. Yeah, that sucked. I’m not singing the blues (or “Happy Birthday to Me”) here, just telling the story as it applies to the subject. That’s the one I remember! Woo hoo! 

I don’t remember anything else about the day, but that’s probably good since you might be ready to eat your phone or computer at this point just to escape these stories! In the end analysis, I kind of wish I’d gotten an offer to join the “Army” if I’d refused to dispose of our sweet dog. But that was not in the cards, although maybe it was somehow psychologically tied to my random trip to the Air Force recruiter several years later, resulting in a 30-year career?

Yes!  So, my brother and I did get awesome presents in a round-about-way from the Man himself: military careers, which probably kept us both out of jail and gave us new lives and steady paychecks. Thanks, Dad!

But wait! We did remember some good stuff…just not individual or year specific. We remembered that Mom always let us pick our birthday meal and cake (money allowing). Our late sister, Rhonda, always asked for liver and onions (calm down out there and have the decency to gag quietly…she’s passed away, after all). Sandi’s was fried chicken, every single year. Rick drove the meatloaf train and requested peach cobbler for dessert (pardon me while I drool…Mom’s peach cobbler rocked!). I hang my head because I have no clue what I asked for, and I think that might be because all I really wanted was the cake. Well, mostly, I wanted the frosting. All of it.  

And we always got the traditional spankings, which in a family of six, could be time-consuming if not terrifying, since every family member spanked you for each year of your life. 

As the youngest, I lucked out because I had the fewest years and the others moved out before I was really racking up potential swats.

In closing, Happy Birthday, Sandi! I hope you have someone to read this to you since you will never be able to hold it far enough away to see the words. And I hope they don’t put all those candles on your cake because it will catch your old-lady chin-hair on fire. And don’t let them spank you because with the size of your family and your exorbitant number of years, you’ll still be getting spanked this time next year when you turn 103.

Beware of Wild Donkeys in the Septic: The Danger is Real

On this blog journey, I’ve focused mainly on Dad’s influence on our family, and I figure there will be lots more along that vein since the gist is “disfunction with a twist.” 

However, this blog is called “Somewhere Along the Way;” the way was long, and there were many other factors in our childhood that were as prominent, if not more so than dear old Dad. I discovered the most important factor this week when I had a virtual discussion with my siblings while preparing for this installment.

Sidebar: This will be a little incomplete because, as I’ve mentioned before, Rhonda (AKA Nonnie & “Sister”), our eldest, died of cancer in 2008. It was a bitter loss because we were so close. As this blog is devoted to the fun times, I’ll hear her contagious giggle throughout and try to weave her spirit into the stories. Although to be fair, she’d argue with us on every point because, inexplicably, her recollection of our childhood was always about 20-180 degrees off from the rest of us. Hear that up there, Nonnie? I promise we’ve got our stories straight!

So, when I asked my sibs what they remembered as far as the good times, our ensuing Messenger discussion was not only fun but pretty revealing.

I have a fond memory of when we moved into a house in Leavenworth, KS (same house mentioned in the “flagpole” blog). Using the boxes and packing materials as props, we created and performed plays for each other. The four of us played for hours. Might sound a little hokey, but as it stands out among hundreds of lost memories, it has significance to me. Make-believe is powerful and holds much grace. Besides, I’m sure Sandi was the director, i.e. boss of everyone (which is her thing), and Rick probably got all the boy roles, which explains why he still sees himself as the center of the universe. As sibling in charge, Rhonda just wanted us all in one place. And finally, even as a preschooler, I was way more interested in alternate realities; my early stage career must have scratched that itch. Sadly, there were no Oscar nominations, but make no mistake, there was magic, just for a while, in our little front room.

That was also the house where we learned to turn off the lights and hide from bill collectors (that was back when they actually came to your doorstep). You might wonder why I’d mention this in a blog devoted to kid fun? Because that sh*t was fun! It was so scary that we’d undoubtedly giggle as we dove behind chairs and held our breath till the knocking stopped. Ignorance was not only bliss; it was downright delightful.

That was also around the same era when my brother flicked the lid off a tin can, and I somehow intercepted it with my eye. Wait. That wasn’t fun. So, anyway…

A big-ticket item around that same time frame was our first and only real family vacation from Kansas to Colorado to see “real mountains.” I was not in school yet, but I remember it well. There were roadside outhouses a-plenty (see a former blog as to how that phenomenon traumatized me with a fear of falling in), hills that led to mountains which were incomprehensible to we Kansas kids, and legions of bologna sandwiches. We loved every minute. There were things even more memorable than the big ol’ We’re-Not-in-Kansas-Anymore Rocky Mountains. Things like my brother getting locked in a gas station restroom (I’m pretty sure we girls would have left him there had it been our choice). And later, he hammed it up by coming out of a campground outhouse with a toilet seat wrapped around his neck. We laughed outrageously at that one, and there is a black and white photo somewhere capturing the moment. Now all I can imagine is wanting to douse him in Clorox. I mean, really. A public toilet seat? AROUND HIS NECK? Kind of makes me wonder how he later ended up contracting cancer and COVID-19 (yes, those things happened, and fortunately he’s still here to tell the stories); that early experience should have made him immune to anything. We also have a black and white pic of our sweet Nonnie sitting in an outhouse doing her business as Sandi (the evilest – yes, that’s a word – Seley child by far) held the door open for someone unnamed to take the shot. No mercy when you have four kids with camera access for the first time in their lives! Just noticed the overt bathroom theme…that would probably mean something to Freud, but let’s find more fun!

After we moved to New Mexico, we discovered a kind of freedom we’d never known before. I think we lived in three homes over the course of a couple of years, two of which were trailers, one was a fall-apart adobe home (yep, that’s the place I learned to tell time on the backwards bar clock, remember?), all of which were on the Navajo reservation. We were still in the clutches of our in-home Darth Vader, but when he was gone, as long as our chores were accomplished, we were OUT OF THERE! 

We ran, jumped, hiked, dodged rattlesnakes (no kidding), rode bikes, climbed shear rock faces (as Sandi recalls we sometimes carried our probably-terrified cocker spaniel, Puppy, right up the cliffs), caught lizards, and often made it home seconds before our parents returned from work.

Then there were the incidents of Sandi nearly drowning in a freezing mudhole, a donkey getting stuck in our septic tank, and our questionable stint as cowgirls and cowboy during our one summer with horses no one else wanted.

Allow me to elaborate: 1) Sandi tried (“tried” is the keyword here) to jump a “puddle,” which, as she sunk in, was discovered to be a cold, deep mudhole. She remembers freezing as she waited for help; Rick recalls the incident as “hilarious.” 2) Dad, being about as adept at home improvements as Tim the Toolman Taylor, decided to do some work on the septic (AKA, cesspool) behind our rented trailer. As the story goes, he had someone put a couple of old VW van frames in the hole to keep it from caving in on itself, then loosely covered it with dirt. No one counted on the entrance of the wild donkey which appeared out of the desert and promptly fell in the hole (yes, you read that correctly). My brother says the donkey screamed like a little girl (as a guy with three sisters, he was familiar with the sound). After being led out with a rope, it ran off, so we assume its trauma was mostly emotional. 3) Same trailer, different day, Dad decided to become a horse owner with no experience, no training, and no saddles. But he had four kids to figure it out, so that made sense, right? I remember riding “Jughead” bareback with no clue how to ride. The other horse liked to run, and Jughead only understood hardcore trotting. 

We had no idea that when they decided it was time to go home, they’d go home – at the speed of their choice – and we just hung on for dear life. Pretty sure I jarred some teeth out, lost a chunk of my tongue, and had to change my underwear after a particularly tough “ride” home one day. Thank God Dad realized we actually had to spend time and money on those beasts. Thus, he re-homed them; otherwise, we all might have ended up in traction at some point. Fun stuff!

We did so much, we four, and almost always together. What I learned this week as I chatted with my sibs and jotted things down was this: my most meaningful and endearing childhood memories were those with just the four of us. 

That was our safe place, and it was good. 

Oh…and I learned that when your brother opens a can, duck! And always lock the bathroom door because you never know who’s outside with a camera. And when doing home maintenance, for God’s sake, keep your eyes peeled for wild donkeys!

Jumping Jacks, Prunes, and Powdered Eggs: Breakfast of Champions.

This day and age, it’s perfectly normal for parents to focus on and even obsess over their children’s nutrition and fitness. Somewhere between general health awareness and the swooping blades of helicopter parenting, it has become a thing.

In the sixties and seventies, it wasn’t so much a thing. Parents fed their children because failure to do so resulted in a lot of noise and poor behavior. They also expected their children to get their butts OUTSIDE to play or braced themselves for in-home destruction during inclement weather in keeping with kids’ natural activity levels as a means of “fitness.”

In this sense, I guess Dad was ahead of his time. First, I must say, even when we were very broke, we never went hungry. Ever…even if our fare was bread and cream gravy (which rocked, by the way), Mom always ensured we ate. 

Dad, however, in the dips and curves of his massive mood swings, managed to touch about every area of our lives (some more intimate than others, as you now know); food and fitness were no exceptions. 

Unlike the earlier referenced helicopter parents of the 2000s, however, Dad’s on-again, off-again infatuation with our food intake and/or fitness levels had zero to do with health and everything to do with his need to dominate and ensure we fell in line. Even if it hurt, even if it made us want to throw up, both of which were natural phenomena for us when he would suddenly become Jack LaLanne (for you spring chickens, replace that name with any male Fitness guru you follow on YouTube or whatever media you use that I’ve never heard of), or Julia (Julio?) Child (again, young ‘uns, choose your favorite Food Network chef).

These things always happened when he wasn’t working due to his issues with being a responsible adult. Thus, he compensated by overcompensating on the home front. I assure you, to a kid, we would have preferred he just got a job like the other dads.

I personally remember the fitness spinning to life when we lived on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico when I was somewhere around the 3rd or 4th grade. My sister specifically remembers that he made us a massive mandatory breakfast on Memorial Day, then dragged us on an 8-mile hike. I don’t remember the breakfast (that one, anyway), but I definitely remember the “family hikes” among the desert mesas. Erase that lovely Sound of Music family-up-the-mountain hike scene; this was not a candidate for a Family Weekly feature story. We had to be nearly in rank and file as we moved out into the desert. If we lost our minds and acted like children by running ahead or falling behind to look at a lizard or something, we were immediately chastised for “not wanting to be part of the family” (by the guy who would hole up in his bedroom for days on end, go figure). My brother remembers a few other things about one hike in particular, which is not shareable. Dad would have been thrown off the parenting helicopter by enraged socially conscious moms and dads, and rightfully so.

So, let’s stick with fitness before we bound into the serious Olympic breakfast spells. In New Mexico, he became entranced with running in place and jumping jacks, in addition to military-style hikes. No kidding, he’d make us line up and run in place, time us and, with his apparently calibrated eyes, ensure our knees were high enough as we huffed and puffed, praying for an end, fantasizing about being in some other home, or even the Bates Motel, for that matter. I’m sure Norman didn’t have to do counted jumping jacks or timed runs.  

Flip ahead in the 70’s calendar till we land squarely in our first home in Boise, Idaho, the sixth grade for me, which put the others in junior high and high school. Here we wound up on Welfare since Dad was on another stay-at-home-and-hide binge.

Because this was before food stamps, we had to go to a big warehouse and get “commodities,” i.e., generic food provided by the government. Good stuff…it included the only “canned bologna” I’ve seen before or since, thank God. If you didn’t slice it very thin, it was pretty vile. But I digress (what a surprise!). Of course, Dad wouldn’t set foot in the commodity warehouse because that’s where poor people went, so Mom would have to find time around her work schedule to go with one or all of us kids. Other than the gross bologna and weird not-cheese (this stuff made Velveeta seem gourmet), the food really wasn’t bad because it consisted of basic staples…bread, rice, dry beans, flour, sugar, butter, hot cereal, canned chicken, powdered eggs (blech!), etc. Oh, and prunes; oh boy. We tolerated the powdered milk because we were basically nice kids (and we would have been issued capital punishment on the spot if we complained).

What we were less grateful for was the fact Dad read somewhere that breakfast was not only the most important meal of the day but apparently must be multi-course and in battalion-sized quantity. Or maybe he made that part up. Either way, our commodity haul ensured he could thus provide for us, by force, if necessary.

Ready for this? And I assure you, I checked with my older sibs for accuracy because my memories of these epic before-school smorgasbords were so absurd, I needed to fact-check. Our memories (and gag-reflex responses) were intact and identical.  

We started out with stewed prunes (as soon as your nausea passes, you can keep reading). Then, we had to eat a brimming (and I mean brimming) bowl of whole wheat hot cereal.  Then, in he came with the scrambled previously powdered eggs and pancakes and toast. If there was any bacon to be had, that would come in with the last course too.

Stop rolling your eyes! I’m serious here!

Of course, we had to eat every bite and wash it down with the tastily hydrated powdered milk and, as my sister reminded me, whatever delightful juice facsimile we had from the warehouse. Almost all the products from there were in white packages with black print, so flavors are hard to recall since the flavor was mostly sugar. If we didn’t eat every bite – what am I saying?! – we ate every bite because there was zero tolerance for disobedience.   

Please understand, I am not complaining about being provided for. Nor am I complaining about the blessing of Welfare, without which, we might have gone hungry. I am not complaining about an overabundance of food (okay, maybe a little bit, because it really didn’t need to be 4000 calories all at once!). But in fairness, I was absolutely complaining about that nasty-ass bologna; as a card-carrying LOVER of Oscar Meyer baloney, I have to draw the line with that canned stuff, free or not.  

Actually, come to think of it, other than that, I’m not complaining at all. As always, I’m telling you a story of not-uncommon dysfunction, of four kids who somehow did well in school during periodic food comas. Four kids who, for intermittent times in their childhoods, probably could have succeeded in Marine boot camp although they wouldn’t have understood the first thing about playing on a real sports team. 

I guess it was a mixed blessing; if Dad had been consistent with our home “fitness,” we might have become true Olympians. However, if the mega-meals had been the norm, we would have all been candidates for Biggest Loser before we even graduated high school. But as it was just a random thing, we didn’t end up being morbidly obese. 

Wait! There’s the silver lining! I knew if I typed long enough, I’d find it!

And that concludes the ill-advised Ron Seley parental approach to nutrition and fitness.

What did I learn? If I was going to run, I should actually move forward; it’s much better on the shins, not nearly as boring as running in place, and I wouldn’t have someone yelling at me to “get those knees up!” And learned not to do jumping jacks, mostly because I just really hate jumping jacks. I also learned to get a job and keep it, so I wouldn’t have to eat canned bologna, powdered eggs, and plastic cheese.

The end.

Hanging a Right on Memory Lane

This blog has been a collection of mini trips down memory lane, which, until now, were figurative.

However, the trip became literal as I recently found myself running down that same lane (OK, I can’t with a clear conscience call that thing I do for miles on end a “run,” it’s actually a slog: slow jog). I had to go to Boise, Idaho, for a quick overnight trip, and the morning of my departure, I went on a jog, oops, I mean slog. Anyway, I went right through one of the dozens of multi-state neighborhoods we lived in when I was a kid. In fact, we lived on 20th Street in North Boise longer than anywhere else: four years. We moved in when I was in the sixth grade and fled (we rarely just moved) after my sophomore year. That was a very long time for us.

I went up 20th Street as part of my 4.5-mile trek and on the first pass, my natural guard when right up; I didn’t dwell on anything other than the changes in the neighborhood. But as I wound through subsequent streets, I considered it might be OK to just let the ol’ doors open and see what fell in. After a couple more miles or so, I retraced my steps, and as I approached “the street,” the doors creaked open.

My first sensation as I got within a couple of blocks was an echo of anxiety and dread. That’s because when I used to get to that point on my way home from school or wherever else I’d been, I’d wonder what I’d come home to. I was old enough, even in the sixth grade, to understand things would never be “OK” or normal. I understood the condition of our home life was about as stable as nitroglycerin. The catalyst to change was Dad’s mood. It wasn’t pitiable; it was simply a fact of life. I think we all developed a sense for it. I always knew as soon as I came around the corner; believe it or not, you could feel it. Right from the street.

And then I remembered stuff.

I remembered when my best friend Kris and I decided in the 6th grade that we definitely weren’t cool enough (a true assessment), so we should try smoking (a bad remedy). We agreed never to inhale, and we’d sneak off on “walks” when she spent the night, puffing on the nasty “Kools” in the darkness just to see if we felt any kooler. When Dad caught me, he told me to sit down and smoke with him. He said I had to inhale and, if I made it through a set number of cigarettes without getting sick, he would personally support my habit. Guess what? I did it. I inhaled, and I didn’t get sick. True to his word (kind of a miracle in and of itself), he bought my smokes. I continued to inhale, and it took me years to kick the habit. Pretty sure that wasn’t his intent, but the results cost him money he could ill afford. Yay, me! Small victories…

I remembered that was the house where I’d wake up with him sitting on the edge of my bed. We’ll leave it at that, but since he started darkening my doorstep at a much older age than he had with my siblings, I had the awareness to stop his shenanigans because I was old enough to know it was wrong and big enough to stop him. Geez, I wonder why I had insomnia for most of my life? Freud! Where were you when I needed you?

I remembered that house was the scene of the infamous dinner of pork and beans and peaches, which I told you about in a previous entry…as well as the hallowed place where he hit on my boyfriend (yes, you read that right). If you missed those gems, go here! https://tammyseleyelliott.com/2020/04/10/seley-household-20th-century-covid-19-training-ground/

I remembered him grounding me for a whole summer because I got a “C” on my report card. No kidding. I guess that would have made sense if he was a consistently strict parent. But that was also the house where he fixed my broken pot pipe, probably to curry favor for you-know-what, or so I’d think he was cool. And it was also the house where he introduced me to his very young girlfriend and made me hang around with her. She was closer to my age than his. Not real sure of his motivation there, but the guilt I felt on behalf of my mother was extreme. I’m sure she knew, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her, and of course, he made it seem like “our little secret” and made a big deal out of it. It was a big deal, alright, I realized as I trotted past the house again, but not in the way he thought. It made me hate me more than I hated him. It’s probably no mystery why his strict parenting didn’t exactly have the desired result; it, like everything else, was subject to his discretion. I sped up my slog (although still not exactly Olympic stuff) and conjured a better memory.

I remembered this was also the house where Mom and I had the nerve to “walk on the floor!” If you missed that little ditty, you might want to catch up! It was lots funnier than this stuff:  https://tammyseleyelliott.com/2020/05/09/laughter-our-snake-oil/

Looking around at the sunny day, I remembered coming home on similar beautiful days, many times, to closed curtains. That was always a bad sign, but not as bad as the times he also had blankets over the windows from the inside. Good thing…a little light might have gotten in!

Thinking that outside the house was often better than the inside, I remembered the backyard was lined with lilac trees in different colors. It was the first house we ever lived in with flowers and I’ll never forget the beautiful smell. Ever. 

They are still my favorite today.

I remembered John and Exie, the wonderful old couple from Tennessee who rented to us and lived across the street, becoming very much like grandparents to me. I don’t think they knew what was going on in our house; the grandpa guy was as big as a house and a years-long prison guard. He would have made quick work of Dad.  Dang it.  A missed opportunity.

I remembered Dad told me to mow the lawn in front of that house but didn’t show me how. I was about twelve, and I couldn’t get the stupid lawnmower to start. I got so frustrated because I knew there’d be hell to pay if I didn’t get that lawn mown, so I started crying right there in the yard. Big “grandpa” John, who never came over, appeared out of nowhere (not a small trick for a mountain of a man) and showed me how to start it, not leaving till I had it under control. I’m really glad I remember that. It was a sad day when he died.

Get a load of this! I remembered coming home one day, and Dad had some superficial cuts and bruises, and his arm was in a makeshift sling. He told me that the “bad men” he’d been affiliated with in the past had come to get him. He said he’d kicked their asses and sent them on their way. I have no clue what the takeaway was supposed to be on that one. Still don’t, other than I’m one hundred and twenty-two percent certain no one visited our house that day and that he didn’t believe his own story any more than I did.

I remembered that while we lived on 20th Street, Dad was so incensed that his only male child was becoming a man that he made his life hell. My brother had the nerve to try to be independent, get a girlfriend, and act normal. Dad forced him to leave or join the military before he even finished high school. I believe my brother’s choice saved his life. Navy “1,” Dad, “0!” Yay, Navy (as a 30-year Air Force vet, it hurt to type that)!

Although I’d gotten blocks past that house, I remembered we lived there the day of my sister’s wedding; a day Dad was supposed to walk a daughter down the aisle for the first time. He never knew that at 13, I watched as he staged a fall – not a real fall at all – then he faked injuries so he wouldn’t have to go to the wedding. My brother (yes, the guy Dad didn’t want to be a man) stood in for him and gave my sister away. While my sister, for reasons I now understand, was fine with the outcome, I hurt for her and was so disgusted with him, I sort of wanted to help him with a real fall.  Put your phone downno crime here!  I said I wanted to. Joke was on him. He’s long gone, and she’s been happily married for almost 50 years!

Ironically, that run/slog seemed to fly by. Memory lane must have a tailwind. There were lots more stories; a lot can happen in four years. But this is a blog, not a novella.  

What did I learn? If I were a faster runner, I’d write shorter blogs.