My drinking years—the early days

I started drinking in 1964 when I was fifteen. I didn’t exactly decide to get wasted every weekend; I just didn’t consider the possibility that there might be an alternative. It was either drink or date, and I did my share of each. Every Saturday, I would have supper while watching the The Wild, Wild West, and then drive the three miles into town in my ‘56 Fairlane. When I had rounded up a few friends, we would go to a bootlegger’s, usually the one on Highway 51 a little past Della's Motel. I always bought gin and drank it straight from the bottle. I never had a mixed drink until my sister took me out on the town in New Orleans when I was eighteen. Because of my inexperience with liquor that didn’t taste like liquor, I got a whole lot sicker than I had ever been and felt like a fool in the bargain.

I was in two drinking-related wrecks in the same night. In the first, my friend, Penny ran his car off a dead-end road and into the wet earth of an embankment. This scared everyone aboard except him and me—I had survived so many close calls that I didn’t believe cars could hurt me—so they got out as soon as we got back to town, but I was still with Penny when he slid backwards into the high curb behind Dr. Reel's office. A few weeks later, he flipped that same car and was crushed by it. Mississippi roads back then were narrow, hilly, and curvy; bootleggers would sell liquor to anyone; drunk drinking was commonplace; and you could get your license at fifteen. All this together meant that a lot of teenage boys died in car wrecks.

When a popular kid died—most popular kids came from prominent families with money—their classmates would hit everyone up for the cost of a wreath, but when an unpopular kid died, he didn’t get a wreath. My friends and I weren’t the kind of people who got wreaths. We were the kind of people who wouldn’t have been missed had we died. Even if we passed a year—I flunked three years but made two of them up in summer school—we did it by the skin of our teeth. We also cut school when we could, and we avoided every sport, club, and organization that might have given us a sense of belonging. We did this because we believed that such things existed for the popular kids.

Another night, I hungout with four friends who were camping by the railroad tracks, and when I got ready to leave, I was so drunk that I had turned partway onto the tracks before they stopped me. On yet another occasion, I got drunk early, and drove home to find my mother and sister watching TV. I tried to walk into the house as if I was sober, but I bounced off the patio door like a bird and fell flat on my back. The next day, I found that my car was full of puke and bottles, but I didn’t remember where I had been or who I had hungout with. I did remember the hurt in my mother’s eyes as she helped me to bed.

My parents never said a word about my drinking except for the time that I put a dent in the car. My father had a good bit to say about that, but he would have said most of the same things had I not been drinking. His belief was that a real man could do anything drunk that he could sober. Of course, there was that night when he came home drunk (a rare event), missed the driveway, and ended up in a ditch. Staggering though he was, he set up a come-along to winch himself out of that ditch before daybreak.

I concluded at a rather early age that my parents thought I was a bit of a loser. My mother would often say: “Boy, you’ll never amount to anything.” I told myself at the time that she was saying mean things because that’s what I deserved. Now, I understand that she was probably taking her anger toward the father and the two husbands who had abused or abandoned her out on me, the only defenseless representative of my gender.

Psychological pain is like physical pain in that you can’t share it with anyone even when you try. I find it fascinating and terrifying to know that I am utterly and irrevocably shut-off from other people. We can reach, but we can’t touch. Yet, the reaching still matters, at least until we die when nothing matters anymore.

RIP, Nollyposh.

26 comments:

Lydia said...

Great post, Snowbrush. You had a difficult youth, I think, and you remember it with honesty and compassion. I did not know this about your past, something that we share.

It is very dear the way you send out little "heys" to Nollyposh.

Bubba said...

Well, I don't know about anybody else, but that definitely touched me. Very poignant.

ellen abbott said...

I never got into drinking until my mid-20s and then it was beer. the reason for that was that I was a pot head. Started smoking pot when I was 17. There were times though when I was drinking and smoking pot and one time in particular I woke up at home with no memory of driving home. My dad tried to introduce me to wine as a young adult but it gave me headaches. I didn't start drinking hard liquor until about 8 or 10 years ago when our son was deployed to Iraq. He served two times over there and is back home safe sound and whole but I still enjoy a drink every night.

Charles Gramlich said...

Had a few experiences much like yours. Not as much with hard liquor. You should read my "Days of Beer" as a more humorous take on such young drinking days.

Rita said...

We're all separated and shut off on a deep level from other people. But I totally agree...it's the reaching that matters. You touched me. :)

Mad Mind said...

I always think we spend our childhood and teenage years trying to figure out what's right, wrong, and acceptable.

My guess is you will have a wreath.

PhilipH said...

Bit of a tearaway were you Snowy? Sounds like it anyway.

Is your presend medical problem(s) a result of the early booze? It is often a cause of liver damage, as we all now know, but not knowing what the cause of your pain is I was merely wondering if drinking neat gin at 15 onwards might have been a contributory factor. If not, have you discovered the cause?

I started smoking at age 12 or thereabouts but not until I was about 16 or so did I ever try booze. And when I eventually got around to having a drink it was usually a half pint of brown ale or some other mild beer.

I hardly touch any alcohol nowadays other than the occasional Scotch at Xmas or a glass of red wine now and then. I just cannot drink much as I get a bit woozy on very little booze. Nor do I smoke any longer; gave up in 1972 with no help with patches and stuff. Just stopped. Never looked back. Best way. But I'd like to try a bit of pot should the opportunity arise.

Cheers (hic) Phil

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I knew many boys like that growing up in McComb. I can say that the loneliness and isolation also exists for those popular kids too...it's just not as evident on the surface.

Snowbrush said...

Thanks, everyone.

"I never got into drinking until my mid-20s and then it was beer. the reason for that was that I was a pot head."

Liquor holds zero interest for me compared to marijuana, but we didn't have marijuana back then. The first time I tried it was in 1971 when two Virginia girls picked me up hitchiking. They had driven all the way to Mexico for some pot.

"You should read my "Days of Beer" as a more humorous take on such young drinking days."

Unless it's a new post, give me a link. I don't mind people putting links on my blog.

"Is your presend medical problem(s) a result of the early booze?"

No, I had some sort of liver problem when I was 22 (the diagnostic tools by then weren't so good as they are today), but I appear to have gotten completely over it. My current pain problems are probably partly neurological and partly othopedic--I've given up trying to get a definitive diagnosis.

"I knew many boys like that growing up in McComb."

Which, as you and I know, is a little over 20 miles from where I lived. Drinking got a lot harder for kids after prohibition was repealed in Mississippi because bootleggers hadn't cared who they sold to.

Brian Miller said...

the reaching is important...a bit sad the thought process of your dad honestly...sadly many of the families i work with are in a similar place...and with parents taking out their feelings on their kids...keep reaching man...

Sarah said...

Wow thanks for sharing this story. Very well-written.

"Yet, the reaching still matters..."

so true.

The Elephant's Child said...

Your final paragraph says so much to me and for me. Thank you so much for finding the words to express something that it seems many of us feel.

yoborobo said...

I'm sorry you've had all this pain in your life, Snow. You keep reaching out there. I'm glad you do.

Zuzana said...

What I like most about this post is that here is no blame put on anyone, not even yourself. That is a rare occurrence - most people like to blame everything and everyone in their past for things that went wrong in their life.
By the way, gin is my preferred poison too.;)
xoxo

Myrna R. said...

You're so genuine and honest, and such a good writer. I love how you let us into your life.

Pain of any kind is endured in solitude, I guess. But, if there's any way to share it, you've done so by your words. Thank you.

(In your own way you continue to inspire me to write as honestly as possible. Thanks for that too.)

Kleinste Motte said...

The loneliness and sense of something should happen on the weekend is one of those things that just don't work out well if the friendship is not full of respect. All folks matter. The popular ones just appear better off.
The death of Penny was likely a hardship.
Good account o what went on back then.

Beau's Mom said...

My mom had munchausen by proxy and she made me ill to get sympathy and attention.

She successfully sent my sister away when she was 14.

When I was 14, she tried to give me away.

I had a baby brother who died...and to this day I have my suspicions.

I married a man who was cruel and would accidentally hurt me. I still suffer from the lasting effects of a broken leg...I figured I wasn't worth better.

It wasn't until I was 50 that Joe came along and he's still unsuccessfully waiting for me to believe I'm worthy of good instead of bad things.

Most of my physical horrors are the result of the things my mother made me drink and the ongoing mental anxieties that feeling unworthy gave me.

It never ends. NEVER

angela said...

children no matter where they are all feel the same and have similar experiences. and yet generation after generation the cycle continues. Lets hope that we are all breaking those cycles and are getting on with our lives without the hurt and pain. I totally understand yours and I know that we are the people we are because of the road we have travelled.

Stafford Ray said...

All I can say Snow, is that we learn if we live long enough, and you have Peggy. She alone seems what is keeping you hopeful! She is a gem.
BTW, re your comment at home about 'Big Jack' being autobiographical. It isn't. I was actually thinking of you!

All Consuming said...

"Well, I don't know about anybody else, but that definitely touched me." Yes, me too, very much. x

I really feel for the comment by Beau's Mom too. My heart goes out to you, for all the good that is. x

Phoenix said...

I was raised in a conservative Christian household where drinking was forbidden. No one in my house drank - well, not my parents, but of course my two older brothers did in rebellion - so I didn't have my first drink until 25. I've still never gotten drunk, but I'm beginning to like wine with dinner, which is nice. I don't think anything should be forbidden. It's the excess, not the drink or food, that makes people do stupid things.

Reading about your childhood was very revealing - and touching.

Thanks for sharing. And yes - it is the act of reaching that still counts.

ed pilolla said...

this drips with worth. you've lived enough life to know whether you are irrevocably shut off. but there's also a decision mixed in with the reality, seems to me.
it's an interesting question, how much we reach and how much we actually connect. the funny thing is, you are one of the most vulnerable bloggers i know. maybe you just call it honesty. there's an authentic connection here through your writing, seems to me.

A Plain Observer said...

Psychological pain is sometimes more difficult than physical. No one can understand it, no one can feel it nor compare it. It is your own pain.
There is a lot of honesty in your posts, and that is what I like the most and the fact that you say it as you see it, uncensored.
Sometimes we hurt our own kids or those we love with our words and our actions causing deep scars. Your mother probably didn't realize at the time the scar that her words were causing and when she didnt mean them.

Mim said...

gad - what parents can do to children is horrifying

Snowbrush said...

"this drips with worth."

Gee, Ed, you sure know how to make a guy's day. I've never had a nicer compliment.

"you are one of the most vulnerable bloggers i know. maybe you just call it honesty."

I am able to be as open as I am precisely because I'm not especially vulnerable. Sure, people can hurt me, but I've known bloggers who quit blogging because someone said something that made them sad, and I'm toward the other end of the spectrum. I'm going to write as I write no matter what anyone says. I'm obsessed that way.

Joe Todd said...

1964 was a very good year and pass the Beer Nuts please