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A Decade In Memory

October 8, 2022

(After endless editing)

Every evening, we three piled into the back of our 1956 black Volkswagen Beetleto pick up our father, before there were train platforms. My father would come down the train’s steps, briefcase in hand, and we would surround him – sometimes with a flattened penny crushed when we laid it on the tracks to be run over by a previous train. Dad drove home, with Mom in the passenger seat. Upon arrivalback to our home, Dad would hang up his trench coat and hat, pour a drink andtake his Herald Tribune into the living room, tune in WPAT radio that played the light jazz and classics he liked to hear on the fully arrayed stereo he had assembled and constructed. He would call me “Doodle”, we children called him “Daddin” – for no reason I knew.

Once the Surgeon General said cigarettes were deadly, my father tried switching to a pipe. For a few months. But cigarettes returned and were constant. As were the two or three Highballs of undiluted scotch on the rocks – or, if he felt like it, a few Tom Collins’, each with a cloying Maraschino Cherry (that we children often stole from their jar, to my father’s anger.)

Before my mother was ready for her children to dine, I would sit on the floor, my usual place, beside my dad, and watch him, smoke, drink and read the Herald Tribune evening paper, having read the New York Times that morning.

Some nights were special. He would bring home gifts for the kids – the black and white cast Scotty Dogs with magnets attached to their legs, or “Matchbox” cars or fire engines. Perhaps a coloring book, or a story from work.

My mother would then call her children for dinner and my brother and sister came downstairs from homework, and we ate efficiently and cleared our plates and adjourned to watch TV or finish homework. After an hour of drinking, my father came to his chair at the end of the kitchen table, where my mother and he ate the main course, sometimes had wine, then the salad after – “In the French Style” and by the time of desert  frozen peach pie, fresh from the oven, or cookies and ice cream my father was always fully drunk.

The summer and the Vacation Month of August saw the venue of parental drinking then eating change to our covered porch, with a distant view of the Hudson River. The children ate in the kitchen most nights, but later, plates were brought out to a clear glass covered table for our meal, too. The constant was alcohol, and smoking in full force, as it was indoors. Spent cigarette butts were delightedly flicked far out onto the lawn, with the disdain of home ownership. 

In all seasons, every evening started with one question. Would he be happy or angry?

We never knew. As the years went by, my siblings ate less and less with us, and my father stopped going to the living room. He simply settled into the kitchen table and resolutely drank, and smoked, without the newspaper while I ate. In the late 1960’s it was usually just my mother cooking, me, and my father – who was never again a happy drunk. Things were not turning out the way he thought they would.

Our parent’s friends dwindled in those years as my father’s drunkenness often precluded friendships, for him and my mother. The children had few, if any, friends as there were no activities to share, at our home or to go to. 

When all five of us were under one roof between 1955 and 1965 our life together was a binary. House Devil living within our home and Street Angel social presence. Never the twain shall meet. Or not for long.

The decade from age six through seventeen saw me left increasing alone, as my parents coped. The odd reality was that by the time I left for college, I had never touched a drug, cigarette of any kind, not even a sip of alcohol.  I had not kissed anyone (well, one furtive attempt in a cloak room, with no response). I never had worn blue jeans, sunglasses, or tassel loafers – let alone the Nehru Jacket my brother spent his hard-earned money on, worn only once (while the Beatles Album that made it “cool”). Tattoos were only for those in the armed forces or Merchant Marines. I had been captain of the high school football team, but not a jock. I was captain of the “Its Academic” TV show quiz team but not a nerd. I played Nathan Detroit in our Senior Play of “Guys and Dolls” but I was not artsy. I was Class President but not political. I was Editor of the school newspaper, but not a writer. I had taken college courses but was not an intellectual. In short, my effort was to survive, by any means necessary.  Ever since I had been 4 or 5.

The memories of that decade between sentience and high school’s end are both incidental and instantly accessed. In recounting them, they are as alive as they were when they were etched into some recess of my history.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen B Ransom permalink
    October 8, 2022 3:47 pm

    Great that you threw yourself into your High School activities – your safe space – where you could shine!

  2. Jon Saltzberg permalink
    October 9, 2022 5:28 pm

    It seems like the point of this short piece is that you were a real Renaissance Man, not easy to categorize or define as being one thing or another; which is a good thing!

  3. larryfredlune permalink
    November 8, 2022 5:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing. What doesn’t kill is makes us stronger.

    The ability to float between social groups while contributing and remaining humble, is about as rare as finding a generalist aware of, and sincerely interested in, almost any topic a client or colleague might raise during the course of designing a a project.

    Nothing learned or understood is never fully useless.

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