Thursday, June 25, 2009

The sister I never knew

The sister I never knew was my father's first born child. She was a family secret. Had we known she was living a parallel life in New York City, not far from our home in New Jersey, we would have quickly sought to befriend her, or bekin her, as the case may be. Above any protests from our parents, more predictably my mother more than my father (more on this later), we -- my brother, sister and I -- would have welcomed her as family.

Anyway, in late 2006 with the indispensable help of an anonymous "Adoption Angel" we met on Yahoo, we three siblings finally tracked down our half-sister. My father's brother and sister were able to tell us very little other than that our father's first wife, Arlene, was "as bitchy as she was beautiful." "I've got good news, and I've got bad news," the Angel informed us. "First the good news, I found your sister." "Now the bad news, she died 3 months ago." This after thirty plus years of trying to find out as much as we could about our father's first born, and hopefully connect with her.

A lot emerged at this point. Nancy had friends in her later years who pitied her and who described her to us, postmortem, as a "desperately lonely" and "bitter" soul. After all, her father, our father, refused to claim her as his own. And to call her mother "bitchy" was a gross understatement. Arlene abused Nancy, both physically and emotionally, and she went through boyfriends and husbands at breakneck speed, with near total abandonment of her children. Nancy wrote about her loneliness: "The tenderness I see in the families of my friends is like some exotic fruit, the taste of which I'll never know." Nancy was briefly in a ridiculously inappropriate marriage. But for a period in the late 60s, it is safe to say that she was almost happy. At least she was intrigued. Crazily unlikely though it seemed to us at the time (2006), while we were drinking and carousing in the suburbs of NJ, she was making art (and occasionally love) with none other than the late great psychedelic rock icon, Jimi Hendrix. She was, apparently, a very good friend of his. Nancy is known to have spent time writing poetry, and perhaps even song lyrics with Jimi. In him she recognized a kindred spirit, desperate to use art to transcend the general rudeness, crudeness, and overall trashiness of life. Nancy was to sketch Jimi for his Cry of Love album. She went on to sketch other artists for album covers: Jimmy Witherspoon and Jack McDuff, Bill Evans. She also sketched Frank Zappa and shared her poetry with Richie Havens. Anyway, when Jimi died and artistic ethos of the 60s began to fade, Nancy struggled to remain positive about life.

Always, her art was her lifeboat. Through her art she kept herself afloat. Long after she sold her sketch of Jimi to the Hard Rock Cafe, Nancy was working on her memoirs. Nancy's poetic reflections on life, on Jimi, on Mike Jeffrey (Hendrix' slimy general manager, who was Nancy's main squeeze in the 60s), her thoughts on art, her childhood, family, and more, were the subjects of her writing. She planned to publish her "memoirs" until one day the crude rudeness could no longer be kept at bay and she died in her sleep. It was just three months before the family she longed for, the family who would have embraced her, finally found her.

1 comment:

  1. I just heard about Nancy in the book "The Year of Living Biblically" by AJ Jacobs (Nancy's neighbor) I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm curious as to whether or not her memoir will be published.