Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

One of my favorite childhood memories, in terms of my dad’s drinking, (yes I know how strange that may sound) was the sense of celebration when he got home. After the opening of the suitcases and the giving of presents was done and supper was started, he would go to the neighbors and invite them to “Stop in and have a drink with us, I just got home.” I remember going with him one time, young enough to be holding his hand and knocking on the same doors I would knock on a few years later to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Somehow it felt special to be part of the invitation crew.

Dad circa 1929

If there was any orientation or any preparation needed for living at the Union Villa, it was simply living at home. There would be people who cursed and used bad language at the bar. Dad was a sailor, check and check. There would be people drinking to excess and being drunk. Dad was a sailor, check and check. It was called ‘Celebrating.” In addition there were all the times I accompanied them making the rounds to the local bars, including the Glen Cove Hotel and the Union Villa and several other bars that are no longer in existence. Check and check again.

One thing that made this all bearable for me, especially after I was a teenager, was that I knew there were people who were mean drunks, I had witnessed it first hand, but not from him. Surprisingly, I never felt unsafe. Mom did all the driving, but she also drank. I marvel now, that there were no accidents (or tickets, as far as I know).

Jack and Maggie did not fight, and I am pretty sure she was never embarrassed by him either. There was one time that still makes me sad to think of it. We were out at a restaurant and there was some kind of local community meeting. They were attending the meeting after dinner, and he had already started to drink with dinner. Maybe he had already started before that. At some point during the meeting he got the microphone, but between the hiccups and slurred speech, it just wasn’t pretty. Somebody said (out loud) “get that microphone away from that drunk.” and Mom, was not embarrassed by him, but for him. I still wince to think about it.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels

I have talked about some of this in an earlier post and said that dad drank when he came home (celebration) and when it was time to leave (the goal of feeling “no pain”) and mom would say of those times that she “poured him” onto the train or plane. It was how they celebrated and how they coped. Yet, neither of them were inclined to sit alone and cry in their beer. Drinking was always a social event.

Dad “celebrated” when I graduated from High School, I was the first person in my immediate family to do so. I did not see him before graduation, but after the ceremony, it was clear he was celebrating. I wasn’t worried about any of my friends noticing, but in the picture that someone had taken of him, he was clearly “three sheets to the wind.”

It is not that I never got upset. I learned at an early age that you cannot reason with someone who has had too much to drink or have an intelligent conversation with them. We played a game of sorts when I was in high school. I was old enough to stay at home when they went out, this was in the winter when the bar was closed. I put two Alka Seltzer packets on my mom’s pillow and three on my dad’s. When they came home, they played along. Mom would say, ‘Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my coat, and Dad would say, “Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my jacket.” I coped too.

Photo courtesy of Lynda Ames

We had drop in company when the bar was closed, and it was often invited. I am pretty sure that the fellows who came to visit knew that the drinks were free, and the conversation, jokes and laughter would flow too. In addition, they were good paying customers during the season the bar was open, as well as people who were considered real family friends. The most frustrating thing that happened during that time was the time that one of the guests got so sloppy drunk that he fell into the Christmas tree, knocking it to the floor, hitting it hard enough that the oranges in the Christmas stocking were smashed. I was not happy, to say the least and while it could have ruined Christmas for me, I loved Christmas too much to give it up that easily.

Several years ago, when my children were 8, 9 and 10, they came home from a family visit with their grandparents and my former husband. One of the kids shocked me by saying, “Daddy said Grandpa Jack was an alcoholic.” It does take a lot to make me angry. I was on the phone fast and I was furious. It may, or may not, surprise you to know that I never even considered that as an option. Maybe it was all the euphemisms. It never occurred to me that all of that drinking was something other than normal. It was normal in our house.

I talked about this with my brother shortly after that, and again a few years later and he suggested, and we concluded that mom and dad were “functional alcoholics” and that seemed to fit. After all, in spite of everything else, they worked hard and dad did not drink during the busy season, and mom did not drink at all, not that I was aware of, when dad was drinking at the bar. In spite of this, I believe that my parents were fairly well respected in the community. They worked hard, they contributed to the community and the local economy. And, they were sociable!

Some might ask why would I tell this particular story, or include it in the collection? For one thing, because this too, was part of life at the Union Villa, life in a barroom in a beach town in the 1960’s. Maybe something in this story will help someone else. I write about my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else in my family or my father’s or mother’s families either.

I do not write this with any intended disrespect or desire to tarnish my parents’ memory. It was what they did, and not all the time, it was not who they were. I loved my parents and love them still. I am glad, grateful that they were my parents.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I was a light social drinker in my 30’s. My husband still likes to tease me about the time I only had one glass of wine, but I kept refilling it and could not for the life of my touch my nose to my face without using my other hand to help. It was New Year’s and we were at home. Wine, cheese and crackers were our New Year’s tradition, until he became diabetic. I am not inclined to drink alone either, now our New Year’s tradition, when we remember is crackers, cheese and lights out before midnight.

When I was leaving home to assume my first appointment as pastor, my pastor told me that I would hurt my own witness if I drank at weddings, etc. Methodism is a dry denomination, (It’s in something called The Social Principles) although not all United Methodists know that. I haven’t had wine or anything else since, except for a few Anglican Communions in seminary. It is always a little startling if you are expecting grape juice, but get a warm feeling all the way down to your toes.

After I had been a pastor for a few years we were invited to a church family’s Christmas party. We walked in and I saw beer cans seemingly everywhere. Pretty sure I blushed. I thought I had not done a good job of teaching my own flock, but it was lovely of them to invite us and we had a good time and drank diet soda.

I know that alcohol can destroy lives and I don’t take that lightly. I often wondered why no one ever confronted me in my youth because all that alcohol my parents sold paid for much of what we had. For me personally, I think moderation may be more important than abstinence. I am much less comfortable around people who have been drinking than I was as a youth. There have been some special people in my life, both friends and parishioners who have worked very hard at their sobriety and I am proud of them.

Mom and Dad behind the bar at the Union Villa circa 1963

The waitress fishes in her apron pocket, pulls out a quarter and slips it into the coin slot in the juke box. I can almost hear the sound of the quarter as it slides into the coin box. She pushes the buttons, the machine retrieves the record and she sings along with Ray Charles, “I can’t stop loving you, it’s useless to try…” Dad grabs a bar towel, soaks it in the water and cleaning solution, wrings it damp and wipes off the bar in circles. He stops, looks at the remnants of the evening crowd and winks. He grabs the bell pull, gives it a tug and along with the ringing of the bell he cries out, “Last Call for Al-co-hol.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

{Song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” written by Don Gibson, Produced by Sid Feller, release 1962}

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

I would love to hear from you. If you read to the bottom of the page there is a place where you can comment and sign up to follow The Beach Girl Chronicles. Thanks for reading!

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

11 thoughts on “Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

  1. Michele, you had quite a childhood! Your parents were human – they had their good points and their faults. We all do. They must have been a good mom and dad because you seem to remember them fondly in your posts.

    I like an occasional glass of wine now and then (I am a Lutheran and it is allowed). I think as long as it does not negatively impact your relationships or other aspects of your life (and of course if you don’t drive) it is OK in moderation.

    After my mom had a stroke when she was 87 and she had to go to an assisted living facility, I would go visit her every day and usually helped her get a shower and get onto bed but she especially loved it when I would spring her out of the old folks’ home in the late afternoon and we would go to the local tavern for a Bloody Mary and a snack. She slept well on those nights! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laurie. I updated this a little bit so I could share it on #MLSTL but have been having strange trouble with the website so I didn’t know it had actually republished, lol. I have nothing but love for my parents, telling this story is a barebones, this was life at the Union Villa and life around alcohol. kind of thing. It was honest. I wanted to tell the truth, no pity, but also no whitewashing. Methodism is a dry denomination, but not all Methodists know it and in a more enlightened time? some UM Churches are offering both grape juice and wine for communion. I always appreciate your comments and our conversations. Thanks for taking the time to read and great about you breaking your mom out to a visit to the local tavern. Blessings, Michele

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  2. Wow, what a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it. My father was an alcoholic who left when I was like four and I didn’t see him again until I was 26 and we were on and off until he passed away when I was 29. My mom who raised me was an alocholic and was an addict – both street drugs and prescription drugs who passed away when I was 23. My kids never met my mom and were like almost three and 18 months when my dad passed so they have no idea who they were.

    The thing is even though they faced their own demons in their lives. I still love them and forgive them because “Hate is baggage, life is too short to pissed off all the time, it is not worth it”. Just something I learned and even though they have passed, it is important for me to love them for who they are.

    And just to tell you my favorite church to attend is an United Methodist Church in Las Vegas- Desert Springs UMC. I go whenever I am in Vegas. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your story. I am glad you were able to forgive. Forgiveness benefits the one who forgives, perhaps more than the one who is forgiven. I am not quite sure who you are because your name does not link to a current site, at least not one that came up. I have a friend who is a member of the DSW UM Conference. It is a small world. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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  3. Michele you have a very pragmatic approach to your parents’ drinking. My dad was also a functional alchoholic, and I hated it as a teenager. He wasn’t a mean drunk but it impacted lots of areas of my life and I had very little respect for him – especially in the later years – and all the excuses etc just bugged me.
    I’ve chosen not to drink and I married a non-drinker. I don’t see social drinking as a big deal, but social drunkeness turns me right off. Fortunately fewer people drink or get drunk in my social circles these days, so I rarely come in contact with it. It’s interesting to see your view on a similar life event.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Leanne. I know this has come up a lot as I have several stories about life at the Union Villa, and alcohol and my parents. Still learning ways of connecting things. I choose not to drink, partly for professional reasons. But it may be that I have the gene and it is worth avoiding. Moderation in most things is good. I choose abstinence. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on a painful read. Blessings, Michele

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  4. Michele, wow. I agree with Leanne, very pragmatic. It’s a hard life growing up with an alcoholic, I am sure. My parents were amazing. I am blessed to be able to say that. My ex-husband, on the other hand, was an alcoholic and destroyed our family. Such an awful disease and so intertwined with “celebration” that it’s often impossible to untangle. I worried we are going to see much more alcoholism as I watch the wine culture of young women. Ugh. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debra, thank you for taking the time to read and share your comments. I was fortunate in many ways. I never doubted that my parents loved me and I sure miss them to be sure. But in truth all that alcohol leaves a mark in one way or another. I don’t drink and I don’t miss the smell of beer and cigarettes but I sure remember what they smelled like.

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  5. Hi Michele thank you for sharing your story at #MLSTL as sometimes it can be difficult to write about the not so good things in our childhood. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran who was called up to go. This resulted in him suffering from PTSD which has only been diagnosed and recognised over the last few years. We used to enjoy an evening pre dinner drink whilst preparing dinner together, however, a few years ago, those pre dinner drinks turned into 4,5,6 drinks per night for him. I understood as there was much going on in his life at the time, however, one day he came home and told me he had booked himself into a detox program. It was for 3 weeks in a hospital and he hasn’t touch alcohol since. That was two years ago and he is still going strong. I’m so proud of him. Thank you again for sharing and enjoy your weekend. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sue, and thank you for sharing your story about your husband. There is certainly vulnerability in the writing we do, sometimes more than others. I am glad to hear he is doing well. My father did not stop drinking totally until his cancer was diagnosed and it was clear he as terminal. I have gotten so much from #MLSTL and just the general reading and sharing. I have gained so much to think about and new relationships that I value. Thank you for all that you are doing. Michele

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