Nancy Ann Neal Lee

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Nancy, like me, was the subject of merciless taunting in school. Because of her weight, and because we both were forced to hunt for the cleanest dirty clothes in the never-emptied hamper in the bathroom. My mother didn’t do laundry because she never bothered to get the washing machine fixed. So I know exactly what I went through and I can only imagine how difficult it was for Nancy. I’d ask her occasionally in our adult years, but Nancy wasn’t the kind to reflect on the bad times. See, she had this one quality that I and almost everyone else who grew up in that shithole neighborhood lacked. And that was grace. She never hurt anyone. Even though she had every right to be bitter and spiteful. She never hurt anyone.

She met one guy who cared deeply about her and there were no games. As if the two of them realized quickly upon meeting that that was the anchor they both sought. That had eluded them in the past. She and Ken got married and never stopped loving each other. I can’t tell you if they were good parents or not, but I CAN tell you that through good times and bad, Nancy never changed. Somehow, through her terrible childhood, through the relentless taunting and perpetually shifting earth beneath our feet, she had escaped drug free, alcohol free, and bitterness free.

Nancy and I had a couple of spit fights when we were teens.  Spit fights. Owned an Osmonds album or two, Grand Funk, and, inexplicably, “Head” by The Monkees. She sang. I have a recording of her, Paul and I doing “Never Ending Love”. I forgot that she got me and my band our first “paying” gig at a CB party. I talked about that elsewhere. She had rhythm. She could play “I Love Coffee, I Love Tea” on our living room chord organ. My father taught her how to play it. It was her go-to. All black keys! I wonder if she ever showed her church friends that song.

She talked on the CB radio and made so many good friends that way. Why was it so hard to meet friends in school but so easy thusly? I’m guessing that they didn’t judge her weight. Or her wardrobe. Or anything else. They heard her voice first, her smile and intelligent words second, and then they saw her body and didn’t give a shit. Her voice broadcasting from her bedroom cut through our house’s electrical thingie or something. All I know is that when Paul and I were trying to record our next cassette album, our rock and roll would be interrupted by BREAKER BREAKER THIS IS TOPAZ KQD8427 HOW BOUT IT PUDGE ?YOU OUT THERE ? Grrrr. We complained and we worked out a schedule whereby our “studio” time would not interfere with her CB time. She’d have her friends over and do the latest dances in our living room. Things like the LA Shuffle. KC and the Sunshine Band. Steve Miller. Slightly before disco.

And I do believe that some remnants of those halcyon days still ripple into our lives. One of her CB friends taught me how to play “Lyin’ Eyes” and do harmonics. One gave me cocaine. One of her girlfriends wrestled me to the ground in a delicious misunderstanding, making my husky plaid slacks fit poorly. But more than that, those times, I believe, gave her the confidence to forget those school assholes and remember that she deserved to belong. Deserved friends. Deserved fun. Deserved love.

And when she got married you sorta knew it wouldn’t be a tumultuous pairing, because she wasn’t that type of person. Unlike so many of us who grew up in Winchester, she wasn’t lost or scandalized, violent or drunk.

Many people knew her better in her adult years, but I can say that no one knows as much about what she went through in her childhood as I do. I can say also, happily, that she made it out and led a good life. Too brief, but who’s to say?

When people offer their condolences on Facebook and whatnot I remember the stories Nancy would occasionally tell about those people. She forgave them. She understood them.  But death or the perception of death somehow makes these folks forget what they did, as if death is the end of a game well-played. “Good game, Nancy. Sorry about mercilessly making fun of your body back then. No hard feelings?” Nancy wasn’t bitter, but I never said that I wasn’t. And the scars these little fuckers inflicted on me and her and probably you are ours to bear. Good game. Nice one. After all these years, let’s forget it and move on. To even talk about it would make us petty and strange. We’re the idiots. 

I always tried to make her laugh. And I always could. And she me. She knew me well enough to not talk about religion, even though it was a big part of her life toward the end. She sang his praises in health until the day she wasn’t healthy anymore. We never debated the existence of god or jesus, and maybe that’s another one of her graceful conscious choices. See, she prayed every day, and as far as I can see, god gave her a pretty inglorious ending. I won’t go into detail, but what kind of god would do that sort of thing to one of his best angels here on earth? She was terribly young and deserved better. Or maybe not. Her life was going to be a straight line of routine and comfort until the end anyhow. She was happy. What possible reason could there be to yank her from our world? There is no reason. There is no deity. There is no reason. No benevolent god would do this.

I honor her by making peace with the sasha. The tales of her goodness on the living earth are the best means by which to honor her. Call me cray cray but it seems to me that instead of picturing her with the angels playing Foosball and watching her stories, we best honor her by celebrating her humanity and wisdom. Her fidelity and grace. She’s not an angel. She was a woman and she died. My sister lives on in my memory, not in some hope we’re going to reunite at the big buffet table in the sky. With working washer/dryer.

I didn’t go to her funeral. Funerals are for the living. I made peace with Nancy after high school, and we sat and talked last summer in Gowanda and every time I was in town, on the phone birthdays and holidays and when someone died. It was how I want to remember her. I, her only brother, do not need condolences from people I haven’t seen in decades and probably won’t see again. In a very real sense, most of the family I knew in Buffalo have chosen to be or were chosen by me to be ghosts. What possible solace could they give? Was I going to go all that way to hold my tongue? I’m an adult and I’m not one to edit or censor myself. I have few friends, but the ones I do have have my eternal loyalty. The ones I chose and who chose me. I mourned, oh yes I did. Not being a religious person, I made the decision to do what I needed to do to get me through.

Play basketball with Holden and help with homework.

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11 thoughts on “Nancy Ann Neal Lee

  1. Bob says:

    What a nice tribute to your sisters’ beauty. We all deal with turds in “pretty” fancy wrappings. Ugly judgmental, and acerbic beings with a shiny frilly container.
    But the people we truly enjoy engaging are the ones with the beautiful souls. When it comes right down to it, isn’t that the only true beauty there is.
    I like that you are coping with your loss by engaging the present and those around you. I would have it no other way.
    Regarding the people that are not part of your day to day,,,,the ones you allow to have free reign in your brain, and seem to have some tendril into your well of daily energy?!,, Fuck em! They are INSUGNIFIGANT!!
    I wish you the ability to take a note from Nancy’s playbook.
    Do not let todays life load have added burden by that not worthy of your energy years ago.
    Fish Du Jour!

  2. Condolences. Very nice tribute. If you would like to immortalize your friend Nancy, consider our lifewall.org. Its one of the reasons we created it. You are a true friend.

  3. rhijulbec says:

    Those of us who know there is no great beyond, know full well that this place, this time, this life we live must be our statement to the world about who and what we are. It sounds to me like your sister said much in her time with you. So sad for your loss.

  4. Michelle E Baker says:

    What a wonderful tribute. Thank you for sharing. I can see my grandmother in her. (Agnes Elizabeth Neal Zimmerman) Also my mothers face. (Melda L Zimmerman McAdams
    ) People say I look Like Mom. If that be the Neal in me, I hope that the quailities this fine lady had are in the blood.

  5. Yvonne Lee says:

    That was very nice . Thanks for sharing uncle gil. I know your child hood was noteasy. Both of you had it rough. And your right about alot of these things. I wont bring faith into this but i will say i strongly believe we will meet again hopefully I cant. Think that i will never see my mother again…i will leave it at that. I love that u shared this. It touched my heart. Thanks uncle.♡♥♡♥

  6. Mark D says:

    My condolences, Gil. Your words are compelling and vivid… a great tribute to your sister’s life.

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