I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Alcohol and me

When I was growing up, we had this bar in every home we lived in. Here's a picture of it, with Norma Jean and her doll on one side, and Mama and me on the other. This photo was taken in either Puerto Rico, where we lived from the time I was three until I turned six, or in California. I started school on Ramey Air Force Base when I was five, so I suspect we got the bar while we lived in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s. In any event, it traveled with us from home to home, until Mama and Daddy retired in Fort Worth, where it had a place of honor in their retirement home, called Windswept. Over the years I remember the barstools that are missing from this picture, and I remember so well the glass on the top displaying pictures of family and cartoons that had been arranged underneath, protected from spills and remarked on, reminisced over, for many years.

As a military family, I think alcohol and its pervasive presence in our lives was not unusual. It seemed that every one of my parents' friends drank, and some of them drank heavily. My parents would host gatherings in their home after a day of golf when we lived in Puerto Rico. (I lived there as a small child and then Daddy returned again to the same Air Base when I was a teenager. The bar came with us wherever we moved.) Most times when I would go to bed I would hear the party going strong. It was somehow comforting to hear my parents enjoying themselves so much. Of course, at the time I didn't know how much the alcohol contributed to their merriment.

Even when they were up late, Daddy never failed to get up with us and get us off to school. He was a morning person and was awake while Mama stayed in bed. She was definitely NOT a morning person but stayed awake long after Daddy had fallen asleep. I remember many nights at Windswept when the kids would come into their bedroom to talk to Mama, and Daddy was asleep next to her. She worked on her latest knitting project and counseled them about whatever was on their minds. Daddy snored away, the lights on and Mama and the kids talking at a normal volume. I had already grown up and left home, which is a natural consequence of having their six kids spread out over twenty years. As the oldest, the only time I lived at Windswept was when I was leaving a husband and trying to start my life over.

Windswept was located on Lake Worth, and my three youngest siblings grew up on the lake. This picture of Mama taken on the dock shows her drinking their favorite beverage, martinis. I also think that martinis were part of the military tradition, but I only have my parents and their habits to go by. I am positive this martini was prepared by Daddy from the libations they kept behind the bar. Because I never knew anything else, I thought everyone drank martinis every night. I would beg for the olive, because I liked the mysterious taste of the gin it was soaked in. But I couldn't ever understand what they liked about the taste of martinis, which seemed pretty awful to me.

But as I grew older, I found that I did like a glass of wine, and when I started skydiving in my forties, the skydivers all drank beer after a day playing in the sky. When you accomplish something in skydiving the first time, it is your duty to buy a case of beer to share with all the other skydivers. This ensured that at the end of the day, we would all have plenty to drink. I bought so much beer as a newbie that I learned to drink it, too. And I enjoyed it as much as anybody.

It's interesting to me that none of my siblings drink to excess, although our parents did. Norma Jean and I have exactly the same amount of wine at the end of each day, and I only occasionally drink beer these days, since it tends to be more fattening than wine. One sister doesn't drink at all, and the rest of them imbibe at special occasions but not every day. I think Norma Jean and I are the only daily drinkers. None of us drink hard spirits like gin and vodka.

I asked Norma Jean the other day if she knew what happened to that bar, a particular focal point in our daily lives over many decades. She doesn't remember. When Daddy died, Mama moved out of the house on Windswept and built herself a home in Texoma. The bar wasn't there. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think perhaps it was cremated along with my father. In my mind, it stopped existing when he did. All those years of entertaining guests and sometimes watching my parents getting really tipsy, it just seemed normal to me.

I have overindulged in alcohol myself at parties and even sometimes in my own home. I don't do that any more, because I've found that when I drink more than my self-imposed allotment, I don't sleep well and I feel sick, hung over, the next day. It's just not worth it, and I've learned that a second glass of wine will NOT give me what I'm looking for.

These days, my contentment comes from many other sources, but the ghost of my parents laughing and singing along to their favorite melodies still echoes in the corridors of my mind. Perhaps it's the corridors of my heart.


Anonymous said...

Interesting lifestyle. My father drank a beer occasionally, but my mother rarely drank alcohol. Scientists have wondered why they French (in France) don't tend to have heart disease although they eat lots of cheese and fat in their diet. The reason for this, they say, is the wine they drink daily with their meals. True or not true? Who knows!

I, myself, drink a maximum of 3 beers a week and do not have heart disease.

Anonymous said...

Both my parents were alcoholics but were quite functioning. I rarely saw them with out a drink but never saw them drunk though a friend once reasoned that I never saw them sober for a comparison. Mother died young and Dad in his later years became quite obnoxious and eventually quit. At the same time I realized I too had a problem and also quit which was 30 years ago. Been sober since.
I thought the martini reference interesting. When I became engaged to a Marine, the first thing he taught me was how to make a good Martini.
Arkansas Patti

Linda Reeder said...

My father was a logger in the forests of Oregon, and a hard drinker when the work week was over. He became a weekend drunk, but a fun drunk, I have to say. My mother did not drink, and she didn't think her drunk husband was much fun at all, especially when he bought beers for his buddies and came home with not much left of the pay check.
Dad quit drinking cold turkey after counseling from our minister. Life became better for all of us.
I never had a drink until I was an adult. I used to enjoy a glass of white wine before dinner, and I do like the taste of many finer beers, but I hardly drink at all any more because I get a systemic reaction to it, a never ending hot flash, followed by a headache and a general unwell feeling. I just sip Tom's glass now and then.
Son Jake makes home brew beers, and consumes his fair share of beer. Jill drinks beer when she's out here and we're around to mind the kids. My siblings are all moderate or non-drinkers, but my youngest sister died of alcohol poisoning.

Buz said...

I'm pretty sure the bar (minus the contents) was sold along with the house. I haven't thought about that bar in years, but I sometimes regret not having been in a position to buy the house.

I try to drink a glass (or a little more) of red wine every evening, but whenever the bottle runs out, I sometimes go for days (or even weeks) before finally getting around to purchasing a replacement. I've stopped buying beer. I can't say I never have harder spirits because I occasionally indulge in a margarita (which can be made in a variety of ways, with several different mixed possibilities), but any other mixed drinks are too rare for me to mention. I agree that gin and vermouth martinis are a bit too much to take, but they definitely contributed to my love for pimiento olives and cocktail onions (the latter of which I no longer have any good occasion to enjoy).

Whitney Lee said...

You know, the topic of alcohol keeps cropping up lately...
I know the sounds you mean, the lying in bed listening to the grown up noise and laughter. It makes me a bit nostalgic because that's a common background for lots of my own memories. One of the things that makes me so happy about spending Thanksgivings with my cousins is that I'm continuing that tradition for my own children to remember, though our laughter and enjoyment doesn't require alcohol (though it certainly is present).
I grew up with alcohol and it seems my parents did as well. If alcoholism has a genetic component then I was screwed every which way: it seems that all 4 grandparents had drinking problems, one parent does and numerous uncles and cousins on both sides...
What seems so strange to me is that my mother recently quit drinking for a bit, did the whole AA thing and now my MIL is in the same rehab facility I was in several years ago. With my mother it didn't last, but I'm cautiously optimistic with my MIL. Actually, all of this has brought my own memories of alcohol and my own journey to the forefront. I came to the realization that I have to let it all go as I can only worry about my own sobriety. Still, it seems that everywhere I turn lately I am confronted with alcohol. I have to wonder what is up with that? I was even offered samples of wine in the grocery store yesterday...The universe seems to be sending me a message-I just wish I knew what is was!

Sally Wessely said...

I would guess many of us must explored our history with alcohol at some time. In many ways, I could relate to yours when it came to parent having parties and listening to the sounds late into the night. Because my father was not the father I loved or admired when he drank, I chose not to drink.

Perhaps that is why I made a short trip in the Mormon Church. (16 year is not really a short trip.) I didn't want to deal with alcohol. I was naive enough to think I would never deal with it again. There's book there. Let's just say I knew a lot of closet drinker who had little fun with the drinking.

I left the Mormon Church and now indulge in a glass of wine occasionally. I lost my daughter to alcohol poisoning and a prescription drug overdose. She had just read "Drinking a Love Affair." She wanted to quit drinking, but would not go into treatment.

Alcohol is a complex family problem for many.

#1Nana said...

This one hit home for me. I grew up in California and the lifestyle was very similar to what you describe. I also remember falling asleep to the party sounds. My parent's drink of choice was the Manhatten and I learned to make one at an early age. I, too, thought that everyone had a liquor cabinet and drank every night because everyone in my neighborhood did.

Friko said...

We had alcohol at home, but neither of my parents drank daily or to excess. Like you, alcohol has been a routine part of my life but I too drink only in moderation, certainly not every day.

I like a sociable drink, or even a drink on my own, usually with meals. Getting drunk is nasty, I've been really drunk only once in my life.
Never again.

Nancy said...

I grew up much the same way. My father had 10 male cousins all around the same age so they were always together and drinking. I don't drink, except socially and then have found two is my limit, otherwise I can't sleep and feel awful the next day. Somehow that didn't seem to stop me in my twenties, however.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My father was an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. The drinking brought so much pain and sorrow to our family I vowed I would never drink.

Then I went away to college. I decided that just because my father had a problem with alcohol didn't mean I did as well. Yes, I had some benders and paid dearly for it, even into my late 20's and newly married, but only occasionally. I am not an addictive personality; I've never smoked and never tried any drug, NONE.

We like to have a cocktail before dinner. I like to make something exotic like a Mango Cosmo. But two is my limit and even that can effect my sleep patterns. I don't like the feeling of a hangover; whether caused by too much alcohol or too little sleep.

Trish Loter said...

I often keep a jar of pimiento olives is my fridge more to remind me of Nana Rita than anything else. Also anytime I see some Carnival glass goblets I think of her; at least in my childhood they were her preferred martini glass.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I sipped a martini once..didn't like it. I do like a Margarita once in awhile...more so in the summer..with chips and salsa of course. Oh and champagne..I love those bubbles:)
I think that many guys in the military drink. I know when we were first stationed in Colorado..it was almost a nightly thing..but we could not afford it.
I do not do well with most alcohol..sometimes it makes my knees and back hurt really bad and I never developed a taste for beer.
That bar must have been something else to make all the moves of a military family! :)

CiCi said...

Your parents must have been fun to be around, for their kids as well as their friends. My parents were not like yours at all. It seems strange to me to read this post and then to wake up to the possibility that some adults drank and had fun and some parents had drinks together and there was laughter that still makes you smile. Hearing your side of things helps balance out my side of things, do you know what I mean?

I really like reading your words about your childhood and your parents.

Linda Myers said...

My dad was in the military also. I remember martinis and happy hour. I always had an uneasy feeling when I'd listen to the party going on; I never knew how my mother would act.

My dad died of cirrhosis of the liver when he was 57.

I've had my own experiences with alcohol. I put it down on December 10, 1990.

Sandi said...

When I first read this post, I didn't comment as I wasn't sure what to write. It seems it hit home for most. I grew up thinking that drinking was the only way to have fun . . . which led to a pretty awful early adulthood. I've lost several people I loved due to the effects of alcohol abuse. I haven't had an alcohol drink since March 15, 1987. While I miss it at times, I'm pretty happy with my choices and especially raising my daughters to not depend on alcohol for a "good time"! However, I must admit I'm a bit jealous of those who can drink socially and responsibly!! Ah well, that comes under the "accept the things we cannot change" banner!

Stella Jones said...

Alcohol is a definite NO NO in my life. I hate everything about it and I feel very strongly that it should be banned altogether. It does no good whatsoever and if people need a drink to have a good time, then there's something wrong with them. All of that is in my opinion, of course. I have seen at first hand what it does to people and I don't like what I see.

Donna B. said...

My husband has an oak bar he has had since his adult children were young. It takes up space in our great room, where I would prefer to put a nice over stuffed chair with an ottoman...but he INSISTS on it taking up a space of tradition.

His only daughter has requested the bar when he passes...not sure if her brothers realize she put in her first request...

My husband has the occasionally scotch or martini... I rarely drink, and if I do, it is usually wine...maybe a Baileys Coffee or a White Russian for special occasions...

I remember my parents laughing while entertaining...the sounds of ice tinkling in high ball glasses and the laughter getting louder and the tinkling more often...

Interesting memories...

Rubye Jack said...

My family was also military and my parents did a lot of partying and drinking, and I remember nights of hokey pokey madness and laughter. As for me, I still enjoy a beer or a couple of glasses of wine occasionally. If I drink more I find myself depressed the next day and as you say, it's not worth it.