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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 20, 2012

My Uncle Hank...

Growing up in a very large family created special holiday experiences. I always thought that would be the way Christmas would be every year for the rest of my life. What we think when we are growing up doesn’t always turn out to be the reality when we reach adulthood and seems to fall farther from reality as we reach our senior years.

I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home. I can only remember one family member that may have had alcohol issues. Uncle Hank was the husband of my father’s sister – so my aunt’s husband. He was a handsome guy with dark wavy hair and blue eyes. He had a wiry build and rumor had it that he had been so injured during World War II that most of his body was held together with wire and screws. He seemed to be in pain most of the time, but was never daunted by physical labor. He fit in well with the other hard-working family members.
My aunt was head over heels in love with Uncle Hank. You could see it in her eyes. Everyone knew that nothing would ever come between them. But, he had a darker side to him as well. He was a firm believer that sparing the rod, boot, belt or fist would definitely spoil the child. He would demand silence and when his demand was not met; his children would cower in fear. Even so, his wife and kids were the world to him.
I cannot talk about the dark stuff without mentioning that he was also a very funny fellow. He could always tell a good joke and get everyone laughing. He knew when to keep it clean for the kids and a bit raunchy for the adults. Things were always light-hearted when their family came to visit ours. Christmas visits were always extra special.
One year my aunt wanted Santa to bring her a Hammond Organ. It was all she wanted, but she believed that it was not within their budget, so she never pushed Uncle Hank to deliver. That was the year that all the families converged upon my parent’s house to celebrate Christmas together. All total there were 23 kids in the house under the age of 18. My mother cleared out the office and one of the bedrooms and turned the rooms into a wall-to-wall mattress where the kids could fall asleep at will.
It was getting late and those of us who were not asleep were talking softly so as not to wake the other kids. The laundry room was just on the other side of the door. We could hear bits and pieces of conversation from the kitchen where the adults were gathered around the table telling stories of the past and happily cajoling each other. Uncle Hank was in the laundry room. He was crumpling up paper every few minutes he would let out a howl of laughter but said nothing. Occasionally, he would ask my mother to fix him another high-ball and bring it to him. My mother did as he asked. We counted how many times the request was made and granted – nine times. Nine high-balls in the space of two hours which really meant nothing to us children because what did we know after all?
Christmas morning we woke up to find Santa had, in fact, found his way to our house. We had to step over presents to get to our individual treasures. We were in Christmas heaven. Kathy went to Uncle Hank and gave him a big hug. His hands were shaking and he had an awful smell to him. His wife came into the room with a shot of whiskey and a cup of hot black coffee. He seemed to be in a much better mood after downing the little glass of golden liquid.
When it came time for the gifts to be handed out, the fathers each took turns pulling a gift out from under the tree and handing it over to the designated recipient. The system continued until there was only one box left. It was a box the size of a refrigerator and was wrapped in a patchwork of bits and pieces of left-over holiday paper. The box was to my aunt from Uncle Hank. This was the box that had provided so much laughter from him in the laundry room the night before.
My aunt started out by being careful, but that idea quickly fell by the wayside. She tore open the box and it was filled with newspaper. She looked at Uncle Hank and he told her to keep searching. Taped to the very bottom of the box was a Christmas card with a note that said her Hammond Organ would be delivered when they returned to their home. She hugged him and planted a sloppy romantic kiss on his lips. The kids giggled and laughed. My aunt cried. And the best part of Christmas morning was over.
There was breakfast and then food flowed freely from the kitchen for the entire rest of the day. We always had a sit-down Christmas dinner and that was no different this year. The whiskey also flowed into my uncle’s glass continuously. I had never noticed anyone’s drinking habits before, but that year I was acutely aware of how many times Uncle Hank refilled his glass. I lost track because it seemed his glass was never empty.
For me and the other kids, it wasn’t a big deal. Uncle Hank was happy and there was no strict punishment dealt during their visit. There were no angry arguments – as sometimes happen when the entire family convenes. It was just a good day creating good memories.
Uncle Hank died just a few years later. They lived in the mountains and his commute to town was over the winding highway. He missed a turn and his van ran over a cliff. My aunt and the two children were devastated. We were all told that he had fallen asleep and that’s what caused him to miss the curve in the road.
As an adult, I once asked my mother if Uncle Hank had been driving drunk. She responded “Why NO! Why would you think such a thing?” I said I was just wondering because he was such a good driver. I never told her that I remembered him drinking constantly during that Christmas holiday. After all, I was just a child. Maybe I remembered it all wrong. But, I don’t think so.

9 comments:

Syd said...

Bittersweet memories. I have them too. But I am glad that he loved his wife and children and was generous to give her the organ that she wanted. That was an unselfish thing. Hope that you and your family have a good Christmas. Tell Riley I said hello.

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up alcohol played a role in every holiday and family get-together on my father's side. Strangely, my mother's side of the family was completely abstinent. I don't remember my father ever visiting his in-laws. My mother took us kids to visit grandma and grandpa while Dad was away on a business trip. As kids we never thought a thing about that. Looking back as a recovering adult child of an alcoholic father, I see how going a day or two without a drink was not an option for Dad.

Anonymous said...

I have for the last time today walked away from my alcholic partner, for 3 years I have been minipulated to the point I thought I was the person with the problem. It's a strange development to take place I never thought I would ever be without him, I love him to the point where I will not stay and watch him die. He is an abusive alcholoic and also takes drugs and gambles. His selfishness over rides myself and my children thankfully he is not their real father they are young and will forget I hope. My brain came to this decision when I had to call the police Last night he had been out on the town for his Christmas work do, after 10 hours of drinking and cocaine use he was nasty and irrational he had a broken rib from an accident at work 2 weeks previously but hadn't got any medical attention I called the emergency drs and he ended up coming back from hospital in a very volitale mood. As usual I found myself reacting. I've had it with the if you loved me, if you wanted to be with me blah blah blah from his twisted mouth. I've done with being blamed for his drinking and my apparent insecurities. He will never stop drinking if he doesn't drink for 24 hours he shakes and sweats. He complains of pain in his stomach he can't remember anything. But what I will miss is how loving and contended as a man he could be when he doesn't abuse alcohol.

Zowie said...

Linda, I found your site the other night and what a relief for me to read about your strength in your struggles with Riley. I, too, am married to an A, for 12 years. My first darling husband passed away from a brain tumor and it is a grief that I will never overcome but that is another story.

I am an older woman, now 61, and I have been to a lawyer (that was a joke). I was told to move out and get a job so I won't have to be dependent on my A (ha, ha and good luck at my age). But to be honest I really don't want the hassles of a full time job again and I don't believe I could find a job in this small town anyway.

So, I am sitting here on Christmas Eve night all alone. He went to bed at 6:00 a.m.!! (I have no children and his children don't like to be with him because of his drinking). I do, however, have my little furry friend, a mixed Aussie, beside me. If it wasn't for him, I don't think I would make it some days.

My husband is not mean to me when he drinks, but he has taken all the fun out of living. He is constantly high when we go places and quite an embarrassment to me sometimes. I did not know he was an A. before we got married. Can you believe that? We didn't live together and I only saw him on Saturdays and, of course, he wasn't drinking then. Well, to make a long story short, I thought he was wonderful but after we got married it didn't take me long to figure out what was going on.

I do have a few things I do. For one, I like to camp, but the last time we went he got drunk, pissed himself and went to bed at dusk. What fun!!! So, you see, I feel so trapped. I have nowhere to go, no health insurance and very little money of my own. I'm stuck and getting more bitter by the day. I am so jealous when I see other couples out enjoying life.

Help!! I'm drowning!!

Linda, you are so blessed to have your family members.

Hope you and everybody on this blog had as good a Christmas as possible.

jo said...

good for you anonymous!!! wow., im so impressed. you will see how life changes after awhile. and i pray you dont take him back with his typical im so sorry i will get help they always say.

hi Zowie. you not alone. i am your age and here i sit. im just too old to live under aq bridge. and who can pay rent on a part time min wage salary? we deal.

i had a wonderful christmas day until we came home. the typical excrement hit the fan. i went to bed. lol. the usual blah blah. it never changes.

wishing everyone the best possible. make it so...they wont be helping!

Anonymous said...

Jo and Zowie... I am now 60 years old. I went out to look for a job at the age of 55. I was turned down by many, but I eventually landed a job I love. Doesn't pay 6 figures, but it is a cushion and does provide benefits. I have not left my alcoholic, but if I decide to - I will at least have that. We rarely go anywhere together anymore. He looks like hell, smells even after showering and his personality is such that he is not a welcome addition to any festivities.I don't want to have him along in public dribbling urine. His skin emits a fould odor that requires double laundering of his clothing. Smells like death. Sorry if I sound horrible, but I have given too much of my life feeling sorry for him. Now its time for reality. The job has provided more than money. I have built many friendships and have earned the respect of others and do I ever feel better about myself!!! Its easy to become complacent and sit and take it. I no longer sit alone. I am invited out all the time. I am also blessed with my grown kids and their families, but I don't want to be an albatross around their necks. They have had enough to deal with without my being a problem for them as well.We get together regularly but I try not to overpower their lives. You are the only one that can make changes in your life. That doesn't mean you have to leave him. That means you don't have to go down with him. Start building networks for the time when you are truly alone so that it doesn't knock you for a loop. Good luck!!

Zowie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zowie said...

lAnonymous - Just read your reply and thanks for your inspiration. Part of my new year's resolution is to get out more, join some activities, and yes, possibly look for a job. My A's New Years resolution is to stop drinking!!! I can't get my hopes up too much though. So, yes, I am looking to my future and I hope I do as well as you.

Happy New Years to both you and Jo.

Jonna P said...

Hi, Your blog is very illustrative and emotional. I can relate to so many of your points being made, or know others who do. Thanks for writing about your experiences, it forces us readers to 1. put your experiences into perspective 2. recap similar experiences of our own and face them.

Thanks!

-Jonna