I had this song stuck in my head for a long while. I guess it wasn’t actually a song but rather the melody of a song. It goes something like, “da da da, da da da da.” I somehow knew it was linked to my past but I could not place it to a time, a memory or a person.
Anyway, this song followed me around for a while. I didn’t know where it came from or why it started. Sometimes I would hear it in the morning, other times at night. Sometimes I would go days and weeks without hearing it, only to have it re-emerge when I thought it had finally deserted me. Its presence was not something I could predict or plan…it decided when it would be there. I just couldn’t shake it.
Finally, with the help of technology I was able to hum the melody into a telephone app that found the song and provided me with its details. Technology can be pretty cool sometimes. It can take a melody in your head and link it to a memory from your past.
But, before I reveal the mystery of the song in my head, let me tell you a little about my sister Nancie.
The author Mitch Albom wrote that, “Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.” I guess this is why I written this piece, to share my memories of Nancie, to celebrate them and to keep them alive in my heart and mind for just for a while longer.
I have over fifty years of memories of my sister. She was there shortly after I was born, and I spent the better part of my youth with her. Adulthood brought distance between us – but, when we were together it was as if we had never parted. Pam Brown wrote that “she and her sister shared the scent and smells, the feel of a common childhood.” I was lucky enough to share my childhood with my sister Nancie. If I could do it all again, I would change nothing.
My very first memory in life was dancing at my grandfather’s second wedding with my sister Nancie. I think it was a polka. We danced in circles, spinning, holding hands, laughing, smiling, and finally falling to the floor with delight.
I remember summers on the Manasquan beach, body surfing the big waves, fishing off the rocks, walking to get coffee for our parents at Carlson’s Corner, following her footsteps in the sand.
There were injuries, sicknesses and trips to the hospital with cuts, scrapes and one particular fish hook obtained at Holmdel Park that went in one side of her middle finger and came out the other side.
I remember us trying to catch chameleons on the beach in Bermuda with homemade traps…we were never successful but the fun was endless.
There were many family dinners at Cobblestones Inn & Mom’s Kitchen where we celebrated birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. Sometimes after a meal, we would go to the Asbury Park Boardwalk to ride the merry-go-round, ferris wheel or bumper cars – all of which are now long gone and forgotten.
There were hours spent in barns feeding and cleaning up after horses. I was always elected to take the loaded wheel barrow out to the manure pile which was located in a dark area out behind the barn, far away from life. I had no great skill or love for this task, in fact I was deathly afraid of the dark, but I would gladly do it anyway. I just liked being part of the team.
Together, we watched countless TV programs and movies. She liked westerns, detective stories and anything that was scary. These preferences followed her to literature where she loved to read anything by authors like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Harlan Coben.
Each fall we rooted for the New York Giants on Sunday afternoons. One year, Nancie and her grandson Scotty dyed their hair Giants’ blue. The Giants won the championship that year. A short while later my sister lost her blue hair after receiving a cycle of chemo and radiation therapy to treat her spreading cancer.
She could cook food with the best of them: brownies, cookies, biscotti, and banana bread were her specialties. After late nights out, I remember her cooking me pork roll and cheese sandwiches on hard rolls…the perfect cure for munchies or a hangover.
There were endless hours spent on house projects: painting, nailing, sawing, tearing down and then building anew; working together to create something better.
In the last few years, she loved to have a glass of white wine while sitting on her terrace talking about her family. She would tell me her concerns, worries and hopes for Frank, Dan, Grace, Scotty and Aayla. She loved to talk about her family – and could do so for hours.
Of course not all my memories of Nancie are great ones. There were boyfriend problems, skipping school, mood swings, rebelling against our parents as many did in that era, getting the car stuck in the mud, disagreements, fights and losses. Nancie was the one that told me my father had died. I was 12 and she was 18. She said “Daddy’s gone, there’s nothing we can do to help him – we just have to stay together.”
No discussion of my sister Nancie should exclude a section on animals. I once counted 23 different species of pets that my sister owned over her life. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few along the way. Most of what I know about animals I learned from my sister. Some of the most memorable pets included: Alfie the dog that she trained to do tricks, the attack geese that lived in front of her house in Howell and served as a top level security system, and a pig that one Easter bit me on the leg clear through my white pants until it found and broke my skin. Why did it bite me? I don’t know. But, I think about that pig every time I eat bacon. There were numerous horses from Misty to Shadow and of course Jack the mule. My favorite Nancie animal is still a small dog she brought home one day – a black scottish terrier and german shepherd mix (think big head and short legs) dog that we called Herman the German. Herman was that lovable but highly flawed pet that Nancie seemed to be attracted to. Herman would bark for hours – telling him to shut-up just seemed to encourage him. Herman would make you crazy with anger one minute and fill you with love the next. Yes, Nancie loved her animals and they loved her.
The last time I saw Nancie was this past Christmas. She was sick again, but had lived to see the birth of her granddaughter, Aayla. I remember her sitting on the couch on Christmas Day holding Aalya in one arm and her grandson, Scotty, in the other. She remarked with sadness that she would not live to see the marriages of Scotty or Aayla. She would not see Aalya walking down the aisle in a white dress or get to dance with Scotty all decked out in a tuxedo on his wedding day. I told her that I would be there to see these events and I would send her a full report. This is a promise that I hope I can fulfill.
Fifty years of memories is a lot. But, what is my favorite Nancie memory? Well, if you guessed that it’s related to the song that I mentioned earlier, the one stuck in my head, then you are correct.
The song was recorded in 1968 by George Fame after the release of the movie Bonnie & Clyde which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The song was called the “Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde.” It told the story of a gang of young criminals that tried to escape the poverty of the depression by robbing banks, and outrunning and outgunning the law. The song was popular in the summer of 1968.
I can clearly remember that summer. My sister was 13 and I was 7, and I was the pain in the neck little brother that followed around his maturing teenaged sister. We lived in Middletown, New Jersey, in a split level house on a rectangular property with a creek running behind it. In the backyard there was a large tree with an old tire swinging from a rope. That summer I would sit on the tire and my sister would push me under the tree and sing the Bonnie and Clyde song. When she stopped, I would say, “Sing it again Nancie…just one more time.” She always would.
I remember the opening verse, “Bonnie and Clyde were pretty looking people, but I can tell you people, they were the devil’s children.” I remember the sound of her off-key singing voice. I can feel her hands on my back as she pushed me gently under the tall tree. I can remember the glasses she wore that came to a point at her temples. I remember her brown hair with bangs that covered her forehead and framed her pretty face. I can see the outline of the red house where we lived and the concrete patio where our family ate our summer meals. I can smell the fresh grass that was manicured by my father each weekend. I can hear the crickets, grasshoppers and other summer bugs chirping down by the creek. I can smell the grape vines that grew in our backyard, their fruit full of moisture and sugar. I can hear Herman the German barking with delight, his short legs working hard to hold up his massive head – running to follow the path of the swinging tire. I can feel the soft summer breeze hitting my face and the sun warming my young skin.
I can see me holding onto the tire for dear life, my head tilted back and looking up into the sky. I was smiling, laughing, not thinking about the future just enjoying this time with my big sister. I remember it all…and I always will.
So why did I start after so many years to hear the Bonnie & Clyde song? I don’t know. I guess it was because I knew Nancie was sick and that soon she would die. I guess my mind was working overtime digging up memories from my past, our past, begging me to remember the wonderful times that we shared together.
I have a lifetime of memories of my sister. The sad thing about her passing is that we won’t get to create any new memories together. I’ll just have to settle for the old ones, many from long ago but always fresh in my mind.
How long will the song “Bonnie & Clyde” play in my head? I’m not sure. But, my sister, Nancie Piercy, will always be in my heart. “Sing it again, Nancie.” Just one more time…
Nancie Piercy died on March 7, 2013, after a two year battle with lung cancer. She was 57 years old.