I come from a long line of alcoholics. Admittedly on my mother’s side, just “heavy” drinkers on my fathers side. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents drinking.
My parents were the “perfect” 50’s couple. Dad was the captain of his college swim team, Mom was the quintessential beauty queen. They met at a “mixer”, Dad’s fraternity went to Mom’s college for a dance. They were perfect. He was tall and athletic, she was petite with a sparkling personality. They married before my father’s senior year in college.
My father was raised by a tough disciplinarian who been sent off to military school, my mother was raised by a father who took care of her, she was his little girl. My mother thought she had found her Adonis, my father thought he had found his virgin beautiful bride. They couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.
They honeymooned in Bermuda, where on the second night of their honeymoon, my father announced that he had made a big mistake, and never should have married my mother. It took them 24 years to correct the situation.
On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother and my grandmother were all stone cold alcoholics.
By the time I was born, my great-grandfather had already died, and my great-grandmother was a full blown alcoholic even though she was bedridden. This was the mid 1960’s. Liquor stores still delivered. My great-grandmother would call and place her order, and it would arrive at the front door. Realizing that my great-grandmother was imbibing heavily, my grandmother tried to put a stop to it, she called the liquor store and told them no more deliveries. My great-grandmother hired a cab company to make the deliveries, where there is a will, there is a way.
Once my great-grandmother died, my grandmother began drinking heavily. My grandfather would drop her at our house, she would then go to the den and sleep the day away, only to awaken when my grandfather would come to get her. She was drunk, I don’t remember her being drunk, we just thought she was sick. She was drunk at 8 o’clock in the morning, and my grandfather couldn’t leave her alone, so my mother who had 3 small children had to babysit her.
At that time, being an alcoholic was like being a pariah. She was so bad she had DT’s, fell down constantly, and always had bruises. My only clear memories of her are the smell of Ponds Cold Cream mixed with Listerine.
My parents tried to deal with my grandmothers alcohol abuse, with force. They withheld alcohol, tried putting the bottles out of her reach,or hiding them. Somehow, even in her drunken state she always manged to reach them.Her catch phrase was, “I need to freshen my drink”, usually it was only half gone.
My family tried to bully her into getting sober, they wrote her nasty letters, denied her time with her grandchildren, threatened, yelled, cajoled, none of it worked. She drank and drank and then she died, at age 62, in 1970, I was 9 years old.
When the family was cleaning out my grandmothers things, they found hidden liquor bottles all over the house, in coat pockets, in shoe boxes, stashed everywhere. I guess she did a better job hiding the alcohol then my parents did.
We moved to the Northeast in 1970. I remember every night when my father arrived home from work, it was cocktail hour.
I was always fascinated by the bar set up that would take place prior to Dad’s arrival home from work. The choice of glassware, different size glasses depending on the cocktail of the evening, Manhattans, Whiskey Sours, Martinis, or Gin and tonic. The fruit slices, the olives, the bitters, the soda machine with it’s nitrous oxide cartridges. The shot glasses, the long cocktail stirring spoon with the twirly handle, all of it prepped and ready for Daddy to come home, change his clothes, gather his drink and cigarettes, and go sit in his chair, the one no one else was allowed to sit in.
Two stiff drinks later, we were called to dinner. Dinner was always an event in our home, held nightly in the dining room. Linen table clothes, linen napkins, napkin rings and good dishes.
Dad ruined dinner time almost nightly. If your elbow was on the table, he stabbed it with his fork, if you didn’t eat fast enough, you got screamed at, and if you didn’t finish everything on your plate, you sat alone at the table until he came, stored what was left over and served it, cold, for breakfast the next morning. Eat everything on your plate!
After dinner, the beer drinking would begin. Dad would consume one beer every fifteen minutes between 7pm and 11:30pm when he went to bed.
Some evenings were fine, some deteriorated, it was always a crap shoot, and none of us ever knew who the target of Dad’s wrath that evening was going to be.
Dad would get fueled up and begin to rage, and Mom would run and hide. It was easier for her, she protected herself, not her children.
I learned a lot from my family, I learned how to drink, a lot.
“Brenda and Eddie were the
And the king and the queen
Of the prom”