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RATTLING THE FAMILY SKELETON
6 March 2006
I remember the day clearly. I had just come home from work and, as was my routine, before I put down my things, I opened the refrigerator door and pulled out my bottle of wine and poured myself a glass.
As I was pouring, I looked into the family room and saw David, who had been sitting on the couch watching television, looking over his shoulder, watching me pour my wine.
Suddenly this terrible thought flashed through my mind: what sort of role model had I become for my children?
I didn't drink a lot at that time, but I drank regularly, and when I had wine at night, I would fall asleep in front of the television (unlike now...ahem...). David was, at that time, in junior high school and I knew that he would soon be at an age when he would be tempted to drink and what was I teaching him?
I didn't drink the glass of wine that day, and immediately stopped my daily routine of drinking wine as soon as I walked in the house after work. In fact, I stopped having a nightly glass or two of wine entirely.
Sadly, my change of routine didn't seem to have much of an effect. David was sent home from junior high one day for getting drunk before class with his friend (whose parents owned a bar, and who routinely stole bottles of liquor from their stash to share with his friends). I only saw David drunk once, when he was on his way to Lake Tahoe with friends and he promised me over and over again that he had a designated driver. But liquor was part of his life all through high school. Ultimately, while he was earning money for college tuition, he got a job as a bartender in San Francisco.
And, of course, he was drunk when he lost control of Jeri's car and ran into that light pole, ending his life prematurely.
We both come from a long line of alcoholics, most of whom are either dead or in recovery--and alcohol has always played a central role in my life, so when I recently saw a brief alcohol-related meme, I thought it was ready made for me.
1. When did you first start to taste alcohol, as a child? teenager? etc
Alcohol was always a part of any family gathering and when I reached my teens, I was always included in the drinking group so I could begin to feel grown up. I suspect my parents felt that the best way for Karen and me to learn how to drink was to learn at home. I remember people laughing when Karen, as a young child, asked for a "whoop-ahhh," a sip of our father's beer, using the sounds that she heard him make when he drank...an inward "whoop" and an outward "ahhh." She loved those "whoop-ahhs."
I remember getting very, very, very weak drinks, usually a little bourbon with a lot of ginger ale. As I got older, I would also get a half glass of wine with dinner, and I always was served the liqueurs if there were any after dinner. It was a different era and nobody really thought anything about young people having a bit of alcohol with the grown ups, much like I suspect it is growing up in France. My big problem was that I learned to like the taste of alcohol. I'm one of those people who actually enjoy the taste of bourbon or scotch more than the feeling of being high.
As I got older and went away to college, we drank a lot of rum drinks and I discovered a particular love of gin, which I would drink room temperature and straight. My gin drinking was a big joke and, since I was under age, people would buy gin for me, which I kept in a little cupboard in the boarding house where Walt lived. It was "Mom's stash" (I was known as the house "Mom").
At this point in my life I could easily have become an alcoholic and was probably nibbling around the edges of alcoholism. I remember there was a day when Walt came home from work and found me passed out under a tree. There was another time when my parents and grandparents came for dinner and I was so drunk I can still see the tears in my mother's eyes when she said goodbye and told me to take care of myself. ("I felt I had to let you make your own mistakes," she told me recently when I mentioned that evening and my surprise that she never talked to me about my drinking.)
The day I quit UC Berkeley, I staggered into the dean's office so drunk I can barely remember what happened, except that I know I quit school.
I don't really remember when I decided that drinking as much as I did was not a good idea and cut back to a more reasonable amount.
2. During your high school years, did you attend many parties? Describe what they were like.
I didn't attend a lot of parties in high school and, it being the 1950s, I don't remember there ever being any liquor and of course no drugs, high school parties really did not contribute to my feelings about alcohol. I think that I'm probably very lucky that I grew up in the 50s and not in the 60s, given my addictive personality and proclivities.
3. Where do you like to go out for a drink? Describe the atmosphere, music, etc
We don't "go out for a drink." We never have. We're not "bar" people. The only time we ever spent a lot of time in bars was when the kids were performing and the only way we could visit with our children was to spend the night in a smoky bar. In the early days of Lawsuit, I would nurse a beer or a gin and tonic all night. Later, I realized that I didn't have to order alcohol just because it was a bar. I switched to Calistoga water. I think that was when I also decided to give up drinking, for all intents and purposes. Not for any moral or religions or health reasons. I just didn't feel like drinking any more.
4. Has alcohol ever made you do something embarassing?
Unfortunately, yes. The most embarrassing thing I remember as a result of alcohol occurred one a night when we had attended a Lamplighter champagne gala. In those days, after the show, the champagne was unlimited (that was before people realized that they were sending 500 people out of the theatre to their cars in questionable states of sobriety and they began monitoring the drinking a bit more).
We belonged to a babysitting co-op at that time and a very proper Englishman was babysitting for us that night.
I was wearing a purple lamé outfit with flowing bellbottom pant legs. And I had to pee. Badly.
I was also very, very drunk.
We pulled up in front of the house and the very proper English gentleman came out onto the porch to greet us. I stumbled out of the car, began to race up the steps to the bathroom, tripped on my beautiful flowing outfit, fell headfirst up the stairs, and peed all over myself.
Now if that isn't enough to make you sober, I don't know what is!
(I later found out some extremely embarrassing information about the very proper Englishman which helps me feel a little less like a fool, but still when I think of embarrassing things I have done because of liquor, that one stands out as a shining beacon.)
5. What is you favourite alcoholic beverage?
These days my beverage of choice is water. I went for many years without drinking any alcohol at all, but I do occasionally now have a drink again. I ordered a Cosmopolitan on my birthday the other day. I'd heard of them and they looked so pretty, but I really didn't know what was in them. I discovered it was almost pure gin, which, in the past, I would have loved. But it wasn't as delicious as I would have found it before.
Now, I don't mind a margarita occasionally or a gin and tonic on a hot day, and my friend Dick still makes a delicious rum punch. Sometimes I'll have a mimosa, but would rather have a glass of champagne and a glass of orange juice rather than mix them together--it always seems like a waste of good orange juice and good champagne to combine them. I drink wine once in awhile, but don't enjoy it the way I used to.
I don't mind people drinking and it certainly has been a huge part of my life, but when I order water or Calistoga when everyone else is drinking alcohol, it's not because I'm trying to be a party pooper it is truly because I prefer water.
If I'm going to fall down and wet my pants, I'd
rather have it be because I'm a klutz with a 63 year old bladder than because I was
falling down drunk.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Having champagne with Yves Montand at age 16 (me, not him)