Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Safe at Home

I grew up in a family where a little drink now and again was acceptable. I remember bravely trying the beer at the bottom of my mother’s glass when I was 4 or so only to affirm and occasionally re-affirm my dislike of the brew. I don’t mind that others do like it, of course. It’s just not for me. I mean, why not just eat raw bread dough and be done with it?

As much as I hated and still hate beer, I like wine a bit more. I once captured a case of Sutter Home Reserve Red Zinfandel which I cherished lovingly until it was gone and even kept the wooden box around as a reminder for a while. That was some good stuff, raspberries and pepper, mmm-mmmm!

At the time I was pleased with my purchase, recommended by a friend who worked at Sutter Home in the Napa Valley. Later I learned that it was a coveted year and I had wasted it on evenings of grilled steaks in the backyard with the Hubs. I with my untrained palate and all felt a vague sense of unworthiness since other people who knew what they were drinking were devastated to learn that the case was long gone. I shrug.
I remembered buying really excellent Cabernets in the 90’s and watching them go out of my price range. Seriously, I’m not going to pay that much for wine. This is why I will always be small time when it comes to wine tasting. But I do so enjoy the local fruits and the ability to take advantage of living so close to fabled wine valleys. They call where we live the “Carneros” district. I think that means the cow pasture. If it doesn’t, it should.

Mom and Dad would order a glass of Rhine wine for me at dinner sometimes starting when I was 11 or so. The waitresses would roll their eyes, but it wasn’t exactly banned if your parents ordered it for you. I never had more than one glass, often unable to finish that one. I remember the wine, called Wedding Veil, and thinking some ominous thoughts associated with that.

My parents, when speaking to each other in normal tones, liked to remember their days in Washington, D.C. when Daddy was stationed at the Pentagon. They indulged in gourmet dining, the ballet, and the opera while they were there, before my brother and I were born. I calculated that this coincided roughly with their romantic dating phase which ended pretty abruptly never to resurface except in fond memory of dancing and cherry blossoms. They wanted us to appreciate good food, good wine, good entertainment, good literature, good music and of course good manners.

That may seem a little shocking in our health-conscious times now, I know. It wasn’t that unusual to give a kid a sip now and again in the 1950’s and 1960’s though.

It wasn’t that they were unaware or unconcerned about the negative effects of alcohol, rich food and such. It’s just that they never drank enough to even be tipsy, except the one time my Dad agreed to have dinner with my prospective in-laws during the Hubs-1 era.

That day he had tee martoonies and I was shocked, a little amused, but mostly shocked. He laughed, he giggled, he talked and then he went home to my mother who had refused to attend, something that should have shocked me but by then was actually expected. I don’t know what the conversation was that day. I’m just glad I missed it. Did you meet my mom, the Queen of Swords? Yeah, that was one more “everybody duck” moment in our happy home.

Mom liked her beer, sometimes wine and sometimes some kind of variation on a whiskey sour made with store brand grapefruit soda. She would have a drink in the evening. It wasn’t lots of drinks. It was a drink. It seemed normal. Now I realize she should never have had it with untreated major depression. Alcohol is the opposite of what she needed.

Alcoholism never occurred to her. I think she was pretty sure it ran in other people’s families. But you never knew. She had a momentary terror when she discovered my brother as a baby making nightly forays to the refrigerator to chug wine. She dashed immediately to the pediatrician with the little sot, apparently with visions of infantile dry-out clinics and baby delirium tremens. The doctor, they told me, laughed out loud and explained that my brother the great explorer was teething and the wine made his gums feel better. Welch’s Grape Juice was the approved substitute and after that, even with all his teeth, my brother was seldom without grape juice.

One thing I did appreciate about my parents’ more relaxed attitude about drinking was one of the more reasonable house rules starting when I was in junior high. By the time I had the idea to ride in cars with boys but of course was not allowed to, there were enough of my schoolmates’ older siblings who had been in terrible drunk driving accidents.

In Portales, New Mexico in the 60’s and 70’s driving was one of the few forms of entertainment. We lived in a “dry” county but that didn’t stop kids from driving the 20 miles up to Clovis to attempt to purchase beer and wine with faked ID’s or an older degenerate friend. By the time most kids wanted to experiment with alcohol, I knew that Coors Lite was the junior high beer and that I didn’t want to be anywhere near kids who had been drinking and driving.

“Now, if you want a drink,” Mom pointed to the built-in bar in the family room of the house we leased across from the hospital, “there’s the bar. Make a drink. Stay at home where you’re safe.”

One evening I took her up on her offer. Mixology was not something I read about when I read nearly every book in the library that one summer. It just wasn’t interesting. So, when I determined to create my masterpiece, I started from scratch. I settled on rum, which my parents did not care for particularly so it must have been a gift, mixed with 7-Up for its fun fizzy effects and grape Kool-Aid, all on the rocks.

I note this recipe to you in the earnest attempt to help you learn from the mistakes of others. It was quite dreadful, really. But it was mine. I gulped down my creation and retired to a luxurious bubble bath worthy of Cleopatra where I sang “Winchester Cathedral” at the top of my lungs in a falsetto that turned my throat into road-rash. I didn’t drown. I was safe, at home, just like the 9 of Pentacles, surrounded by only local hazards.

Sometime during the evening I donned a bathrobe, found a clean cotton mop-head to use as a wig and performed “Winchester Cathedral” for my parents who laughed until they cried and guided me wisely to bed to sleep off my over-indulgence.

That actually did the trick. I really didn’t want a drink again until after I was 21 although I took a swig of Annie Green Springs now and again. There was no romance in drinking for me.

I do still like to sing in the bathtub though. And that still makes people laugh, especially the people next door.
Best wishes.


  1. My parents had a similar attitude towards drinking, and I think it took away a bit of the mystique for us, which was probably a good thing. That said, I love California wines!

  2. This is where I think the States goes wrong with alcohol. Making it so special, so adult, so wicked, is a big part of why people go overboard and do stupid things with it. Not just kids, either! Your parents sound incredibly sensible in that regard, and your temperate approach to the whole thing is a testament to that.

    For me, partying is to do with an attitude of celebration, and good company. Alcohol rarely adds to either of those.

    Hope you had a wonderful Lughnasadh, with or without the beer :)