My husband and I went out for dinner the other night, and although I usually order a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, I began to peruse the drink menu, fascinated with all the flavored martinis. I have always had a love affair with the fifties era, especially since I experienced it first hand. I loved Frank Sinatra and would give almost anything to have seen him in person. His Palm Springs, California home backed up to the golf course at the country club, and once I rented a golf cart and drove slowly past, trying to act uninterested while hoping for a glimpse. Frankie was nowhere to be found.
I would have loved to have kept my mother’s beautiful Danish Modern tables and turquoise, orange, and cream Naugahyde couch and chairs. They would be so cool right now! Martini making was a big part of that era. So I ordered a martini; my nod to the past. I thought it looked so glamorous on the table too, next to my husband’s Bud Light.
When it arrived, the smell of Vodka was repugnant to me, and I realized I could probably still distinguish fresh Vodka from stale, that smell that comes from drinks left out on the end tables all night after a party. I can actually recall the steps it took my parents to become full-blown alcoholics. It didn’t take long. As a small child, I remember the beer cans spread around the coffee table, Hamm’s or Coors. My Dad would let me take sips and my parents and their friends thought it hilarious that I loved the taste so much.
When we went on short vacations, usually to the Motel Fresno in California (they had a great bar), they packed the ice chest and drank beers while they drove the highway up the middle of California cow country. I thought all adults did this. But I can remember my first anxiety attack taking place in the backseat of our car. I would always sit on the left, so I could peek over my Dad’s shoulder to see how fast he was going. As the speedometer crept past 60-miles-per hour, I was sure we would all die in some horrendous car accident, our bodies and suitcases strewn all over the highway. I felt so frightened, I couldn’t speak.
As we got older, my parents’ drinking habits became more sophisticated. When I heard Frank crooning “Love and Marriage” on the “hi fi,” I knew my Dad was undoubtedly standing in our tiny kitchen carefully blending martinis with the latest gadgets and good ingredients. Eventually though, it didn’t matter to them if they ran out of Vermouth. If no one bought the onion stuffed green olives, “oh well.” Finally the water went out with the ice cubes, and they were on their way. Straight Vodka became their drink of choice…for years.
With the drinking came the arguing. After awhile, my Dad rarely came home by dinner time. That didn’t bother us kids at all. We were all scared of Dad. Dad was the one who never talked to us unless he was mad. Then he’d yell at us and end every tirade with, “Savvy?” I assumed that was the way it was with most families. The mom was the nice, gentle one who took care of the kids and the dad was the quiet, gruff one who went out and made the money.
Sometimes we can look back at our lives and we know when it all started to unravel. I have divided my own life into the “before,” and “after” of this time. Before, things were “ok.” After, it quickly spiraled. I think of this time as “the beginning of tragic events.
Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.