Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cheers

L'empress, who comments frequently on these entries, wrote an entry in the first year of her journal,  called The Taste of Wine which describes her relationship with alcoholic beverages over her lifetime.  I come from a long line of alcoholics and it's amazing to me that I don't think I have ever discussed this about myself.  I had two aunts who were kind of the Junipero Serra of alcoholic.   Father Junipero Serra traveled up California in the 18th century, establishing Catholic missions wherever he went.  Towns grew up around the missions -- towns like San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, etc.  

My aunts did something similar, after Bill W. had founded Alcoholics Anonymous.  After a lifetime of drinking, they found the light and became sober and wherever they traveled up the state of California, they founded AA groups.

Alcohol was always a part of my growing up.  My father was alcoholic, though I don't ever remember seeing him drunk until his later years.  He may not have actually been alcoholic until his later years, but he was always a drinker.  He was proud of the fact that he never missed work because of drinking (a wonderful self-delusion of a lot of alcoholics).  He gave up alcohol for Lent every year to prove that he could go six weeks without drinking, and then had a gin fizz first thing on Easter morning.  Every night he had his "high ball," a tall squat glass of bourbon over ice.  He would take the first sip loudly.  "Whooop....ahhh."   From the time she was little, my sister would beg for sips and ask for a "whoopah."

Alcohol is the way my mother (who never has more than one drink) entertains.  Come to her house and the first thing she will ask you is "what can I get you to drink?"  I remember times, within the last 10 years, when she would tell me how concerned she was about her priest friend (who dined at her house frequently) because he could barely walk when he left the house and she was so afraid he'd hurt himself when driving drunk.  I would ask her why she served him so much liquor and she was astounded that I would even ask.  "Because he wanted it," she would always reply.  I'm so glad he died before he killed himself or anybody else.

In the 40s and 50s nobody thought anything about giving kids a taste of liquor at home, at least not in my parents' circle of friends.  I was probably in high school before I was served an actual drink.  It was bourbon with ginger ale, heavy on the ginger ale.  But it was to let me be a "big kid" and mix in with the adults.  But this was only for at home.  I don't remember anybody sneaking booze into any of the parties I attended in high school.  I don't think we even thought about it.

College was a whole different ballgame, though. I drank. A lot.  When everybody was turning 21 and legal, my friend Jeri and I were the ones who were the youngest of the group.  Our friend Kathy had a temporary drivers' license which was her ID and when she turned 21, she gave the ID to us when we went out somewhere where liquor would be served.  Jeri and I shared it and I don't remember it ever being questioned.  Jeri, who is much older than I, ceremoniously gave the ID to me when she turned 21.

But most of the drinking was done at parties, where we didn't have to have an ID.  I discovered that I really liked to drink (is it any wonder, with all those alcoholics in my family?)  I developed a real love of rum drinks, which our friend Dick used to make (and still does, actually).  And I especially loved gin.  I would drink gin straight, sometimes out of the bottle.

When Walt was living in a house ("Newman Inn") with several other guys, I was the unofficial housemother, cooking dinner for the guys almost every night.  They called me "Mom" and there was a closet in the kitchen pantry that always had a bottle of gin in it which was known as "Mom's gin." I tippled freely during the day when I was there.
There were things I was definitely not proud of during that period of my life.  I don't remember what upset me the day that I drank so much, Walt found me passed out under a tree in the back yard of Newman Inn.  I always drank too much at parties.  Walt once told me that I could handle 2 drinks, but my problem was that if I had 2 drinks, I thought I could handle more.

When Walt was at boot camp, we had a telephone conversation after I had spent a ton of my own money on his damn car (which hated me) and he bawled me out for being "taken" by some unscrupulous garage guys.  I was so upset after the phone call that I drank a lot.  It happened to be a night when I was supposed to be ushering for a big Kingston Trio concert and I remember almost nothing about that night, other than being so drunk I could barely stand up.  I have no idea how I got home.

When I had my own apartment, I invited my parents to dinner and got so upset at my father that I was sneaking liquor in the kitchen, thinking I was holding things together very welll, but I still remember the tears in my mother's eyes when she told me goodbye.
I wasn't a huge problem drinker, as we got older and started raising our family, though when opportunities to drink presented themselves, I never let them pass by.  One of my big embarrassing moments was returning from a Lamplighters Champagne gala, seeing our babysitter (we were in a co-op and he was a very proper British father) and literally falling up the stairs, peeing myself in front of this guy.  

The older our kids got, the less I drank, but I always had a glass of wine when I got home from work until the day that I was pouring the glass and glanced at David, sitting on the couch watching me, and realized what a terrible lesson I was teaching him (given that he died while driving drunk, I guess that was really true). I stopped having a nightly glass of wine that night.

In later years, after the kids left home, I discovered that whenever I joined Walt with a glass of wine at night, I would be very sleepy and fall asleep watching TV shows that I was looking forward to watching and hated "wasting" an evening.  I drank less and less until I reached a point where I almost never drink.   In fact, I've reached the point where my favorite drink, as I have said here many times, is water.  

It's not a big deal for me.  I drink now and then, but I never drink to excess because I hate feeling out of control--I am more worried about embarrassing myself than I am about having too much alcohol.  I drink more when we are on a cruise ship than I drink the entire year.  I may have a cocktail in the lounge at night and then wine or beer at a meal, though I also often choose water instead of alcohol too.

I remember the second to last Christmas we had with my father.   He was more drunk than I'd ever seen him.  He couldn't remember his grandchildren's names and he stumbled whenever he tried to walk. When I went into the kitchen, I found a tall tumbler filled with bourbon sitting inside a cabinet.  I poured it down the drain.  By the following year, he had given up drinking and the difference was of night and day.  We had the very best time I ever remember having with him, jamming on the piano with the kids.  That was his last Christmas and it's nice to have that to remember as the last one.  How many Christmases were wasted because of his drinking?

If I had to give up liquor for the rest of my life it would not be a huge sacrifice for me.

3 comments:

essiewb said...

Two things disturb me about this drinking memoir. First, it reminds me how casually we still take teen and young adult drinking, even though we know they are causing brain damage and increasing their chances of becoming alcoholics. Second, you have chronicled your relationship with alcohol thoroughly, but I don't hear you saying "I am an alcoholic."
Thanks for the openness without preaching.
Tempeh

Bev Sykes said...

I don't take it casually at all...I have one son (possibly two) who died because of drinking. My intent to show how casually it was taken in the 1950s, when I was growing up. As for not admitting I am an alcoholic, that's because I'm not. I have a drink once in awhile, I never drink to excess, I don't feel I "need" liquor. If I do have a drink, most of the time I don't finish it. I freely admit to being addicted to food, but I am not addicted to alcohol. I think there was a time when I could have let my drinking get out of control, but that was more than 30 years ago.

essiewb said...

Bev, I am sorry, I didn't mean that YOU take young folks drinking casually - I meant it as a societal problem. My 24 yr old daughter was invited to parties in high school where the parents allowed drinking.

We physicians define addiction as the state when the use of a substance causes any problem in your life - pretty broad, but a good way to make a red flag for a problem that has such huge health and legal issues, and is genetically linked.