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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas 1972

My readers who have been with me from the start will recognize the next couple of posts. I'm reposting them because I believe they show the extreme contrast between a non-alcoholic holiday and then one where alcohol has taken over completely.

Ghosts of seasons past…


We were a young family of four --my petty officer sailor husband, my 5 year old son and my 2 year old daughter. We lived in a small community in a townhome that once served as officer’s family quarters during WWII. It was a quiet narrow street that only allowed one car to traverse down its pavement at a time. A car in one direction was always pulling over for another car coming in the opposite direction. For the most part, our neighbors were carbon copies of us—young families who were just trying to make ends meet and have a good life.

We didn’t have a car. We were within walking distance to the business circle where there was a grocery and drug store. There was also a soda shop, hardware store and post office. Riley commuted with a shipmate to the nearby naval base where his ship was home ported.  Everything we needed was right there. It was our very own
Wisteria Lane

Although Riley may have been vertically challenged, he was strong and brilliant. He was set in his ways and routine. Getting him to be spontaneous was impossible. If he switched coffee brands – well that was spontaneous enough for him. He was a planner.

When arriving home after work he removed his jacket, took off his shoes, put on his slippers and then he would wait. He would stand in the hallway and wait. I would come out of the kitchen and give him a kiss, ask about his day. He responded, but he didn’t leave the entryway. He was waiting.

Brian would get up and come over to his father and give him a hug while being a little irritated because it meant he would have to stop whatever was holding his attention at the time. But, Alea… well... she would bounce through the room and almost literally climb her father’s frame to get into his arms. Once there, her little arms would wrap around his neck. Then, as though it were choreographed, she would trill his handlebar moustache between her tiny fingers. The wait was over. Riley could now head upstairs to get out of his sailor suit and into his real clothes.

There wasn’t a lot of bad weather, but when it hit us – it hit us hard. This particular holiday season we were dodging snowflakes on an almost daily basis. Walking to the grocery store was nearly impossible. And, it was almost Christmas and Santa had not done much shopping. We were spending quite a bit on taxi cabs to run our necessary errands. So, Santa’s budget was dwindling.

We were down to our last $50 when we finally made it to the drug store on Christmas Eve. They didn’t have a lot, but we spent the entire $50 on cheap plastic toys that parents now-a-days would ban from their homes -- A plastic dump truck, a few little cars, some pop-beads, a little doll, some coloring books and crayons, socks and two hats. We still had some left for candy, a couple of oranges and apples for the stockings.  We’re talking about nearly 40 years ago – so a little $$ went much farther then.

On our way home, we passed the Christmas tree lot. The lot was closing down and to keep from having to burn the left over trees, they were giving them away. We dragged one home along with our other goodies. It was still early and Brian and Alea were delighted with the short bushy tree. It was given a place of honor in the corner next to the big boxy black and white TV.

We drank hot chocolate, ate caramel apples, cookies and carrot sticks. We strung popcorn and made paper chains and hung them on the tree. Then we decided to put out a snack for Santa. Riley insisted that Santa was trying to trim a few pounds so we set out carrot and celery sticks instead of cookies.

Once the kids were tucked into bed, I started to work on wrapping the gifts. I wanted to have a large “Santa” toy unwrapped under the tree, but we didn’t have one. Thank goodness I saved the previous year’s wrapping paper. So I meticulously wrapped each gift and placed it under the tree in a way that made it look like there was a lot more than there was.

I had a glass of wine (a gift from the neighbors) and Riley had the rest of the bottle. We stared at the tree in awe over how festive it looked. We ate Santa’s snack as a reward for having done a good job. We were exhausted and no doubt the kids would be up early in the morning – at least Brian would be – Alea not so much. Even at two years old, she liked her beauty sleep. The true test of our success would be determined in the morning.

We were up early on Christmas morning. We were preparing our coffee when we realized we were out of milk. We absolutely could not be out of milk. Alea would surely have a terrible temper tantrum if she did not have her milk with breakfast. We thought maybe would could say it was a holiday so everyone would drink apple juice, but we knew that really wasn’t going to fly.

So… in the middle of a snow storm… on what had to be the coldest day in the history of the world… Riley bundled up his body and walked the three blocks to the store. I watched him disappear into the swirls of little white clouds.

Just as he was returning both the kids were making their way down the stairs. He looked awful – cold and frozen. Bits of the hair that had been exposed looked frosty. Riley stood in the entryway, removed his jacket and he waited. Brian passed Riley by with a “Hi Dad” and as he turned the corner, he yelled “Whoaaaa!” when he saw the gifts under the tree. Alea, climbed up to her father’s face and started to twirl his moustache. Instead of a giggle, I heard her cry.

She had this little whimpering cry as she looked down and saw she had broken the frozen handlebar off Daddy’s face!! She looked at Riley with tears in her eyes and she looked at me as though I should try to glue it back on. Riley told her, “It’s OK. Daddy can grow another one. You can help me cut the other side off. Let’s go see what Santa has brought.” My love for Riley swelled at that moment. I could love no man more than I loved him. He was my life, my love and the father of my children.

The gifts were opened and there were smiles all around. It didn’t seem to matter that they didn’t cost very much. Brian drove his truck from one end of the house to the other. He loaded the cars into the back of the truck and unloaded them at some imagined dumping ground. Alea immediately undressed her doll and re-dressed her. They both colored and played. Riley sat in his overstuffed chair and worked in his crossword puzzle book, looking up occasionally to check on the kids. I cooked Christmas dinner and enjoyed my sense of secure happiness.

Riley left his moustache just the way it was for the entire day. Then, just before bed, he and Alea went to the bathroom armed with a small pair of scissors and they ceremoniously trimmed the other side of his hairy lip.


Syd said...

A wonderful look at the man Riley. I hate the disease but know that the person who used to be is hidden somewhere within. It is hard not to love that person.

Ms Kay said...

Great post .

I'm ashamed to say that I've never really thought of Riley as a person in his own right before when I read your blog - simply the alcoholic in your life

That was wrong of me

What a shame alcohol took over !

Anonymous said...

Its such a shame alcohol turns people into someone almost unknown. my al didnt drink much at all yesterday we had it confirmed that hepatic en.... whatever is taking over faster than his liver is dying, he is going blind now too. It shocked him and he tried really hard to cut down, in the evening for the fist time in months we sat cuddling, i cried and cried with him, he was almost back, my gorgeous loving hubby. And i got scared because this is the man i dont want to loose. The other man, the drunk ive lost all feelings for, i hate the drunk.
Its good you have so many non alcoholic memories with Riley.

tearlessnights said...

If they weren't so great, it wouldn't be as hard to lose them... *sigh* this post made me sad for all the loss... and all they had to do to be that person and have that life was NOT DRINK.