Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Memories: Days of Wine and Roses

 

My mom and dad grew up around moonshine whiskey and home-brewed beer in Oklahoma, a dry state at the time. Liquor may have been illegal, but of course there was still plenty of it sloshing around. In fact, in one of my first memories —I can see it clearly even now, seventy-five years later— I was sitting with my sister in the backseat of our 1939 Nash Ambassador while my dad drove down a dirt road looking for a moonshiner he had heard about.

That kind of environment, unhappily, produces more than its share of problem drinkers, among whom I count most members of my family, aunts and uncles included.

And that meant that almost every holiday, all the Okie Forresters who had immigrated to California, my mom and dad, both sets of aunts and uncles, and one set of grandparents, came together, ostensibly to celebrate the holiday, but mainly to drink. My sister and I would lie awake in our bedroom listening to the sounds coming from the living room and kitchen. As the night went on, the sounds grew louder, sometimes erupting in arguments and occasionally punctuated by a crash of a lamp or drinking glass.

That heavy drinking also caused an occasional physical fight. I remember my dad and my grandad, both drunk with fists flailing away, fighting on our small back porch in downtown Los Angeles. They were going at it so hard that they shattered the banister as they fought their way down the stairs. An all-out fight among adults is a scary thing for a kid to watch.

I also remember a fight between my mom and dad on Christmas morning around 1944, the culmination of Christmas Eve binge drinking that lasted until dawn. Most holidays were ruined for me because my family drank too much.

Mom was so sensitive to alcohol that she slurred her words after her first drink of whiskey or after a single can of beer. God, I hated that. I usually sulked when she was like that, and I was embarrassed when it occurred in front of my friends. It was much later, after I had left our house in LA for good, that I realized that mom was an alcoholic.

Despite my family’s drinking problems, my sister and I were well cared for. My mom made sure that we had clean clothes and a hot meal on the table each evening. Mom was more than her alcoholism. She loved to read and do crossword puzzles, and she was a great letter writer with an elegant hand. (I have a handwriting award she won in the 8th grade, framed and on my wall.) My dad was a heavy drinker, but he could also hold his liquor, and he showed up for work in the oil fields every fricken day.

I once worked as bartender in a dive bar in Springfield, Oregon. You ever see a drunk fight a sober guy? It was almost always the sober guy who would land a solid blow, with a bare fist of course, to the face of the windmilling drunk. That solid blow sometimes broke teeth and occasionally even shattered the drunk’s jaw. Because of my family background, I almost always rooted for the sober guy. Besides, the drunken lout usually started the fight. (I had a small bat under the counter that I was supposed to use to break up really violent fights, but I never used it. Darned if I was going to get in the middle of a bar fight between a couple of drunks. Besides, I’ve seen two brawlers turn on a peacemaker.)

After my mom died, my dad — drunk, lonely and maudlin — used to call me late at night. By this time I was a grown man, a professor in Kentucky. I may have sympathized with dad, but I still hated those calls.

I’ve read that liquor has caused more divorces, homelessness, infidelity, fights, and fatal car crashes— more mischief and heartache — than all the weed and hard drugs combined. Cops know that domestic disturbance calls almost always involve liquor.

Drunks think they’re entertaining and witty. They’re not. They’re stupid and crass, and I avoid them when I can.

When I came across the following passage in Isaiah, I knew the prophet was a man of my own heart. Listen to Isaiah rant about the evils of drunkenness:

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have their harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord . . . . Therefore the grave is hungry and opens its mouth to receive them. Into it will descend . . . all their brawlers and revelers. (Isaiah 5: 11–14)

Isaiah may go a bit too far for me. Even I don’t really wish an early grave on drunken “brawlers and revelers.” At least I don’t think I do.

Postscript: In rereading this, I may have given the impression that my family was drunk most of the time. That’s not true at all. Outside of an occasional bender by my dad and mom’s slow descent into alcoholism, most of the heavy drinking occurred on arranged weekends and holidays.

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  1. Arahant Member

    KentForrester:

    Therefore the grave is hungry and opens its mouth to receive them. Into it will descend . . . all their brawlers and revelers. (Isaiah 5: 11–14)

    Isaiah may go a bit too far for me. Even I don’t really wish an early grave on drunken “brawlers and revelers.” At least I don’t think I do. 

    Isaiah isn’t wishing, merely stating a fact based on observation. My wife’s father’s family was large. I don’t remember the number of siblings. All but one died fairly young and of alcoholism or alcoholism-related diseases. They died in their fifties or sixties at the latest except for one sister who didn’t drink. I think she made it to her nineties. The mother of the family also didn’t drink. She made it to be a centenarian. The grave is hungry for drunks and alcoholics. Sad, but true.

    Have a friend whose mother was an alcoholic. Even when the mother was hospitalized and told that even a small amount of alcohol would kill her, the first thing she wanted upon coming out of the hospital was to stop at the liquor store. There is a reason it has been called “demon alcohol.”

    • #1
    • December 4, 2019, at 8:46 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  2. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks, Kent, for a very touching post.

    I have a very good friend who comes from a family of alcoholics and is herself an alcoholic. She attends AA meetings “religiously” six days a week, but still has occasional relapses. Although she is generally a very happy and well-balanced person, every few months she “falls off the wagon” and has a one day-binge of drinking. It is indeed a strange malady.

    • #2
    • December 4, 2019, at 8:57 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  3. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mr. She’s family is problematic in that regard, and it’s a rare wedding or family celebration that doesn’t end with a lively fight in the parking lot, sometimes with an eventual police presence (trying to keep the aggrieved family members apart is an art form in itself). My late father-in-law was a terribly sad case, a violent and abusive alcoholic who retired from Jones & Laughlin Steel as soon as he could (he was widely regarded as the best welder in the plant, and the man who’d take any risk necessary (and there were some) to get the job done). Following his retirement, he slowly drank himself to death, and in the early days of our married life I dealt with any number of threatening and sometimes frightening phone calls at all times of the day and night. My mother-in-law divorced him before Mr. She and I met, after the boys were grown, and when she had some time to think clearly, train for a job, and form her own life. His cognitive decline was alarming, and eventually, he was diagnosed with Korsakoff Syndrome and didn’t last long after that.

    I’ve also known alcoholics who were kind, gentle and funny when they were very drunk. But even for them, other effects weren’t so amusing or benign.

    Whichever way it takes one, it’s not a healthy lifestyle, for sure. And it eventually robs one of empathy, reason, and sometimes worse.

    • #3
    • December 4, 2019, at 9:44 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    Alcoholism is a disabling disorder in a society of social drinkers. Drinking is how we celebrate our successes and mediate our anxieties. Anything that effective is going to be popular, and everyone will want it. It’s sad that it is toxic for so many people.

    It’s a genetic issue that a small percentage of people are cursed with. I have nothing but sympathy for those who suffer from it, and the people I most respect and admire are those who have struggled with it and won through the sheer force of will. I know I am not strong enough to have overcome it had I suffered from it.

    I believe that doctors will someday solve this problem. In the meantime, we just have to pray they work faster.

    • #4
    • December 4, 2019, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Thank you for sharing this story, Kent. My husband and I have alcoholics in both our families. How we escaped that curse, I’ll never know. I’m glad you did, too.

    • #5
    • December 4, 2019, at 11:41 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  6. Mark Camp Member

    Thanks, Kent.

    [Whoever’s working on the ‘Best of 2019’ collection, save this one for the last entry. I think it may be in a class by itself.]

    • #6
    • December 4, 2019, at 3:06 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  7. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks, Kent.

    [Whoever’s working on the ‘Best of 2019’ collection, save this one for the last entry. I think it may be in a class by itself.]

    Mark, it’s awfully nice of you to say that.

    • #7
    • December 4, 2019, at 3:15 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Alcohol is deadly for so many people and families. It is a disabling disorder in a society of social drinkers. In other words, it somehow isolates those who can’t drink. That is, they feel isolated–as if they are being punished and not allowed to join the party everyone else is having.

    Drinking is how we celebrate our successes and mediate our anxieties. Anything that effective is going to be popular, and everyone will want it. It’s sad that it is toxic for so many people.

    It’s a genetic issue that a small percentage of people are cursed with. I have nothing but sympathy for those who suffer from it, and the people I most respect and admire are those who have struggled with it and won through the sheer force of will. I know I am not strong enough to have overcome it had I suffered from it.

    I believe that doctors will someday solve this problem. In the meantime, we just have to pray they work faster.

    Marci, thanks for your perceptive comments. Genetics may indeed have something to do with it, but I suspect we won’t find a cure for alcoholism in our lifetimes. 

    • #8
    • December 4, 2019, at 4:28 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  9. Kay of MT Member

    I think genetics does play a part in alcoholism. My 5th great-grandfather was put out of his church in 1824 for his drinking and cursing. He was put out again in the 1830s, one of his daughters had 5 children out of wedlock, a great uncle died of alcohol, one of my aunts was an alcoholic, her daughter is an alcoholic, another male cousin is an alcoholic, and one of my daughters. I went on a binge in my late teens, then remembered about my auntie who was in terrible shape, and stopped drinking. So I feel so lucky I managed to avoid the curse. One of my step-sisters was drunk one night and pulled the trigger of a shotgun with her toe and blew her head off. My dad never got over it, and died a year later at age 66. My step mother had 9 children by two marriages, and all of them now gone except for one girl.

    • #9
    • December 4, 2019, at 5:24 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    There were very few people in my family growing up who were not alcoholics. I’m the only one of four siblings who escaped it (in part, because I was the only one of the four who believed the stuff was stronger than I was, the only one who was afraid of it. )All three of my siblings are dead now. None of them made it to age 55. Directly or indirectly, alcohol killed all of them after destroying them.

    I think genetics does play a part in alcoholism. But there’s so much more to it. It might be some people escape it just by inadvertently ending up around sober people during some formative period of their lives.

    • #10
    • December 4, 2019, at 6:43 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    There were very few people in my family growing up who were not alcoholics. I’m the only one of four siblings who escaped it (in part, because I was the only one of the four who believed the stuff was stronger than I was, the only one who was afraid of it. )All three of my siblings are dead now. None of them made it to age 55. Directly or indirectly, alcohol killed all of them after destroying them.

    That is a sad story, Ansonia. In my family, alcohol didn’t lead directly to the death of any of us, but it ruined the fortunes and happiness of more than a few..

    • #11
    • December 4, 2019, at 7:24 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. Victor Grant 1865 Coolidge

    Thank you for a very poignant story. I have the same family background as many of the folks here. Not to put too light a spin on it, but when doctors ask me if my family has a history of of heart disease I always tell them my family dies of lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver long before we have established a history of heart disease. My father has been able to break a long family curse of alcoholism by becoming a pastor and teetotaler. I can’t say I have stayed the same course as him, but I am painfully aware of my family’s propensity for alcoholism and try to play it pretty safe when it comes to drinking. However, I am grateful that he taught me the dangers of alcohol growing up, which helped me to make better choices as an adult…following a few years when I first joined the Marine Corps, when I could have easily gone down that path. 

    • #12
    • December 5, 2019, at 6:11 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  13. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Victor Grant 1865 (View Comment):

    Thank you for a very poignant story. I have the same family background as many of the folks here. Not to put too light a spin on it, but when doctors ask me if my family has a history of of heart disease I always tell them my family dies of lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver long before we have established a history of heart disease. My father has been able to break a long family curse of alcoholism by becoming a pastor and teetotaler. I can’t say I have stayed the same course as him, but I am painfully aware of my family’s propensity for alcoholism and try to play it pretty safe when it comes to drinking. However, I am grateful that he taught me the dangers of alcohol growing up, which helped me to make better choices as an adult…following a few years when I first joined the Marine Corps, when I could have easily gone down that path.

    Victor, thanks for your response. It’s becoming evident that tales similar to ours are not uncommon among Ricochet members.

    That old saying, “Drink is the curse of the working class,” seems appropriate here.

    I’ve never cared for the inverted “funny” response, “Work is the curse of the drinking class” — an inversion that is funny only to those who have never suffered with disfunctional alcohol consumption in their family. 

    • #13
    • December 5, 2019, at 6:34 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

     This deeply personal remembrance is part of December’s theme: “Memories.” Stop by soon, before the days are all taken!

    • #14
    • December 5, 2019, at 7:07 AM PST
    • 1 like