Alcohol and I have had a long and…interesting…relationship. We didn’t usually have liquor at home when I was growing up (at least to my knowledge), but I sometimes carried drinks from the kitchen to the living room when our relatives got together. I thought that the bourbon in those glasses smelled nasty, and when I eventually tried sneaking a sip from some unsuspecting relative’s beer, it tasted weird to me. I figured, heck, no worries for me in that department! (Uh-huh.)
My first up close and personal interaction with alcohol was at a Thanksgiving dinner when I was about 9. It was a special holiday dinner because my mama’s only sister and her family were in town. They lived in Virginia and rarely came all the way down to South Carolina to see us, and who could blame them…it was a long drive from their home…which was beautiful…and had a dock…and was near a BEACH. Their lives seemed so much more interesting than ours. I thought they were downright sophisticated, and it was always like a party when we saw them.
Aunt M is a feisty redhead with amber-colored eyes. She’s tall (at least compared to her little sister…my 4’11” mother), and is articulate and outgoing. She loves to laugh, plays a mean game of Scrabble, and I called her Aunt Tootoo when I was little. (I apparently couldn’t pronounce ‘Scooter’, the nickname that everyone called her.) Her husband, Uncle J, is a sweet, larger than life character who tolerated and teased us kids and gave us lots of life lessons, while still having fun. My cousin K was the same age as my sister–we were jealous of her because she was thin and cute and we thought she lived a perfect life. Having them all at our house for dinner was a BIG DEAL.
The scene of the crime was the dining room table, loaded with the remains of a traditional turkey dinner (most of which came from a local cafeteria-style restaurant). As some of the dishes were being cleared and a few seats opened up, I moved from the kids’ table in the living room to the grown-up table (where I knew I really belonged). There were a few stragglers there, sipping rusty-pink colored wine from small, cut crystal glasses and talking about grown up things…and I felt that I was finally in my element! Before long, my uncle poured a finger or so of wine into one of the glasses and pushed it over until it was right in front of me. Our eyes met, and he toasted me, his blue eyes sparkling with just a little bit of the devil in them. I glanced around to make sure I wasn’t already in trouble, but I guess everyone was feeling strangely European that day…they acted like 9 year olds always had wine after dinner at our house! I sipped the stuff, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t at all what I expected…it was semi-sweet and kind of bubbly, and I emptied my glass. I had just been introduced to the phenomenon known as Cold Duck, a trendy mix of burgundy and champagne…a combo that I now know is just wrong. (Can you say, ‘Hello, hangover”?)
I probably only had an ounce or two of the stuff, but before long I was talking…a lot. I have no idea what I got so worked up about, but soon I was just mad, and then I was crying (God knows why). I looked up and realized (to my eternal mortification) that everyone at the table was laughing…hard…at me. Now this just launched me into a vortex of embarrassment, sobbing and angst that no one under 18 should ever have to endure. My ‘drunk drama queen’ alter ego was forged in that fire, and she wasn’t even offered a piece of pumpkin pie before she was sent to bed to sleep it off.
And so my adventure with demon rum began. I didn’t drink again for many years…I mean how many opportunities does a 10 year old really get? I wasn’t even one of those kids in high school who experimented much with drugs or liquor. Nope, I put it all off until my 18th birthday, which was the legal drinking age back then. I started college in the fall of that year, majoring in Journalism, and excitedly moved into a dorm. Within a few weeks I added a second major: Partying.
I guess my college years are best summed up by two words: Five Points. That was the party district in Columbia in those days, and it’s where I spent most of my time. Suffice it to say that my Honor Roll days were behind me…and my bathroom-floor-sleeping nights had begun.
Now, every night wasn’t spent in the bathroom, but there’s one that definitely was. I had been drinking beer all afternoon and into the evening at a bar in Five Points, and I managed to make it back to the dorm, but only as far as the communal ladies restroom. That tile floor just felt so GOOD…and I just felt so BAD. I must have been there for hours, when I was suddenly woken up by a foot pushing me…hard. I heard a thundering, “Get UP heifer!” and looked up to see a large black woman, books in hand, surrounded by other girls in various stages of getting ready for class, and I was, once again, mortified. (Hmmm….notice a pattern developing?)
I’m won’t beat myself up over this little story, because I know that most of us go through similar rites of initiation in the world of being a ‘grown up’. I’ll just say that I attacked that task with a particular vengeance and a certain…dexterity. I made mistakes and learned from them, and I like to think that, over time, I’ve developed my own personal approach to alcohol–I treat it with respect, and it lets me sleep in my own bed.
Here is a picture of me, years later…and that’s not Cold Duck in that cup…but it’s not Diet Pepsi either.