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!

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!