Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rite of Passage

Photo by Getideaka
By Terri Sullivan

There is no right answer to this question!  It must be a trap!

My mom had just walked in through the garage door of our well-appointed four level split level house.  She’d set her briefcase and her purse on the dining room table, kicked off her pumps that matched her outfit and asked me if I wanted to join her for an end-of-a-long-week cocktail.

This was odd on SO many levels.  My mom rarely drank, and then usually only at parties.  My dad’s father died of complications due to alcoholism, so he wasn’t much of a drinker, either, except socially.  I couldn’t recall either of my parents just sitting down to drinks at home.

She walked over to the standing bar that matched her monstrous Black Forest dining room set that seated 12 (with both of the leaves put in.)  She unlocked and opened the front door that tips out flat to become the “bar.”  She took a couple of chimney glasses out of the bar and into the kitchen and filled them with ice.  I stayed firmly planted where I was:  In the “formal” living room in a wing-backed rocker reading whatever was my favorite fantasy author at that time.  It was something by probably Piers Anthony in 1977.

The formal living room is in the front part of the house.  At this time of day, it was comfortable and peaceful, with the late afternoon sun shining through the sliding glass doors on the far side of the dining room and the living room bathed in cool, blessed shade.  It was furnished with a sofa, two wing-backed rocking chairs, and the hand-carved coffee table and end tables with scenes from Germany and a clock that worked laid under glass (which I had broken once when I was flipping a can of furniture polish and catching it…and missed.  To this day, my mom thinks I tripped and fell and broke that glass trying to stop my fall.)  Between the two chairs was the fireplace that we actually used in the winter time which had the black scorch marks on the hearth to prove it.

Mom came back into the living room, glasses in hand. and set them on the bar.

If I say yes, she’s going to think I’m a teen-aged alcoholic!  But what if I say no, and she thinks that means I already know how to drink and I’m faking her out because I’ve already become a teen-aged alcoholic?

Finally, I resorted to the truth.

“Why are you offering me a drink?  Is this a trick question?”

“No, it’s not a ‘trick question.’ I’m going to have an end of the week before dinner cocktail, and I’m inviting you to join me.”

“All right, then.  I’d be happy to join you for a drink.”

There…that was a good answer.  All grown up and nonchalant and everything!

My mother grabbed a bottle of Seagram’s Seven and poured one chimney glass between a third and half full.  She poured about 12 drops into the other one.  She topped both glasses off with Seven-up, and it came as no surprise to me that I got the one that was bourbon and SEVEN.  She sat down in the other chair, lit a cigarette, and sipped her drink.

So, I lit a cigarette and sipped mine, too.  I’d been smoking in front of my parents for more than a year, even though I was only about 15 at this time.  They’d caught me stealing their cigarettes when I started stealing packs instead of just the occasional one.  They made me smoke in front of them, and then insisted that I stop sneaking around, which was dishonorable, and that I start paying for my own.

The chimney glass felt cool and foreign in my hand.  Beads of moisture trailed lazily down the sides.  The bubbles tickled my nose and the scent was crisp and clean cold like…well, like the bubbles from soda pop smell.  My drink tasted mostly like Seven-up, which I liked ok, but underneath that was this sort of acrid, slightly bitter taste that burned my esophagus going down.  Not totally unpleasant, but not great either.  I’d be damned if I was going to say I really didn’t like it much, though.  That didn’t feel very grown up to me.

“When I was about your age, my dad came home from work one day and poured himself a drink, and poured one for me, too.  He said he wanted to be the one to introduce me to alcohol, and that he had a couple of rules he wanted to give me for how to drink responsibly.  I’m making that a tradition and passing his advice on to you.”

Whew.  Blessed relief!  This isn’t a trap, after all!

“The first thing he said to me was, never drink in a group of strangers.  Always have someone with you that you know and trust if you are going to be drinking so that you don’t get yourself into a dangerous situation with no one to help you get out of  it.”

“Makes sense.  I mean, if you get drunk, you need someone else to drive you home, right?”

“Well, there’s that…but a woman drinking could also find herself too inebriated to realize that she’s in a situation where a man could take advantage of her until it’s too late.  More rapes happen that way than you might think, particularly at frat parties on college campuses..”

“Wow.  I didn’t even think of that.”

“The second thing my dad said was ‘never drink alone.’  Hence why I invited you to join me.  Your father’s not here, and I’ve always tried to obey that rule.”

“Why is drinking alone a bad thing?”

“If you are drinking alone, and it becomes a habit, it could indicate that you are a) developing an “over-fondness” for drinking, and/or b) you’re hiding it, which means you already have a problem.”

“Good points, both.”

“And finally, ‘never take a drink if you feel like you need one.”

“What does that mean?”

If you feel like you NEED a drink, it’s a definite danger sign.  Drinking never solved any problems, and using alcohol to hide from them, or dull your senses, or “make it go away” is not only cowardly, it’s foolish.  It doesn’t make anything go away, it doesn’t fix anything, and while you’ve got a raging hangover and you’re sick as a dog, your problems will still be there waiting for you.”

We enjoyed the rest of our one drink in companionable conversation about other things and I spent the first of many days to come as my mother’s equal, as well as her child.  I took that advice to heart, too, from that day to this.  To my mother’s cautions I would add in this day of date rape drugs…never set a drink down and then pick it up again later.

I’ve had a lot of years since then to test mom’s advice. I found it sound and passed it along to many of my friends and family. The thing is, for me, it was kind of a moot point.  I’ve never been drunk because I get sick before I get too drunk, and if there is such a thing as throwing up-phobia, I have that. I don’t like the taste of most hard liquors, and I don’t like the taste of wine, cold duck or Champaign, so, I don’t drink.  But still, it was good advice.


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