Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, October 17, 2014


Booze has had a long and storied history, and probably not the most fortunate one for mankind, though I know some would disagree. It appears even the denizens of the Stone Age were bottling up fermented spirits and beer was quite as popular in ancient Babylon as in our modern Babylon of indulgences. Alcoholic beverages were an early mainstay on these new American lands dating back to the 16th century. Sugar from the Caribbean went north to New England where it was distilled into Rum, mon, and then to the ports of West Africa where the revenue went to purchase slaves to come back to the Islands and grow sugar.

Booze had its place in my own family as well when I was a youngster. My family didn't make it, but some did consume their share. My maternal grandfather was certainly a devotee of the elixir and since I lived or stayed with my grandparents for much of my childhood I was certainly exposed. (That is my grandfather's picture on the left and it is not soda pop he is hoisting to his lips.)

My grandfather held to many manly pleasures. He smoked cigars and he chewed tobacco, habits he quite willingly shared with friends. He would offer the fellows he met when out and about a chaw of Red Man, or as most preferred, some swigs from the pint bottle of Canadian whiskey tucked beneath the driver's seat of the car.

How do I know about these generous habits of his? It's because I spent a lot of time on the road with him as a lad. He was closer to me than my father. One of the great pursuits of his life was the fox hunt and he took me to many, and he met many a thirsty friend on these outings and they downed many a swig.

He didn't ride in the hunts anymore by the time I came along, as he did in his younger years. (That is he mounted left with his friend, Bill Hall, back when he rode horses.) He drove the hunts in his Ford now instead. After driving about following the hounds we would finish the day at some country dive, a plain looking stucco bar out in the nowhere of a Chester County woods. Inside it was dark and smelled of beer. My granddad sat at the bar with the men and I shuffled off to play the coin-operated shuffleboard bowling game.

Back at the house on Washington Avenue in Downingtown was a shelf in the kitchen cabinets devoted to his stash of "Adult" refreshment. I don't know if he had a favorite; there seemed to be a variety of brands. I do remember that many of the early toys he handed me were promotional doodads of the distillery trade. There were all kinds of such trinkets, stirs topped by the number 7 for Seagrams Crown 7 and a number of objects and stirs
adorned with red roosters from Schenley. I had some plastic seals
balancing balls, the Carstairs' White Seals, to be exact. Probably my favorites were the two Scottie Dogs representing Black & White Scotch.  I had a number of these in varied forms, especially little magnets, the one dog white and the other black.

What about the rest of my family? 

As far as I know my maternal grandmother didn't touch the stuff. (My paternal grandparents died early, my grandfather before I was born and my grandmother before I was five; I barely remember her. I do not know their drinking habits, other than I was told my Grandfather downed a case of Coca-Cola each week.)

My mother drank, but not much. She was a small woman and alcohol could hit her quickly. She was 5 foot 1 and weighted 98 pounds during her younger adult years. I remember as a child occasions where she had a drink, and that she preferred Tom Collins. A Tom Collins was made with gin, lemon juice, syrup, club soda and a dash of bitters over ice. I really don't recall ever seeing my mother tipsy. When I was grown and she was older, she switched to Whiskey Sours, which she liked very sweet.

My father drank. Who knows just when he began, but someone who gained the name "Wild Bill" in their teens and was a high school dropout, tough guy and something of a lay-about probably tried a few adult-restricted things before being of full age.

I know he was in a Manila Jail for drunkenness during shore leave while in the Navy, but only from oral history. I did not know much about my dad during my preschool years. I was not yet three years old when he sailed into the South Pacific to fight World War II. The photo to the right is labeled, "Leaving for Shore Leave in Manilla, 1944". The two below are titled, "Returning from shore leave in Manilla, 1944".

When dad mustered out and returned home there was certainly drinking in the house when his friends and/or relatives visited. A lot more guzzling was done at the clubs he belonged to, especially

the Eagles. He and his two brothers were all members and sometimes I was along when they visited the Coatesville Aerie. All
in all, I never saw my dad in any apparent drunkenness. It was my favorite uncle, the middle brother, Uncle Ben who would slip into the slurred speech and become loss to drink. Not only himself, but my Aunt Dot shared the affliction. Even so, I believe it was my dad's youngest brother, Uncle Francy, who enticed me into trying a beer one day at a get-together at his home. I was still in grade school and I didn't like the beer at all. (Pictured left to right: Uncle Francy & Uncle Ben.)

My other early encounter with spirits was by accident. I was staying at my grandparents, which was usually where I was sent when my dad got home from the road on weekends. I went to the kitchen to get a drink of "watty". I'm not sure how to spell it, because it wasn't a real word. It was what I called Upper 10, which was a soda I greatly liked as a child. The soda was clear and I supposed when I first was exposed to it I began calling it "watty" because it kind of looked like water. It was fairly popular, at least around my parts in those days, often used as a mixer. It was a carbonated lemon-lime soda very much like 7 Up or Sprite.

I got the large bottle of "watty" from the icebox (a Frigadaire refrigerator, but we still referred to it as an icebox) and found a glass on the kitchen counter near the sink. I poured it and then took a swig and … yuck! What was wrong with this stuff! My grandmother took it away with the remark that I must have gotten one of my grandfather's "not quite empty glasses". There had been some whiskey left at the bottom and even under the soda was so tainted I rejected it. "How does he drink that stuff?" I asked.  I swore I'd never drink something that tasted like that. Yeah, right!

My grandfather was drinking heavier and when he did he got nasty. He would flop down on a daybed
in the dining room and curse and yell at people who floated through his mind or at me if I came too close. I loved my grandfather. He had been closer to me than my father for many years, but the drink drove a wedge between us and I was hurt by his drunken rantings. It eventually took his life and he died from a ravaged liver at 57 years of age. I was 15 when he died.

Despite the prevalence of "adult beverages" about during my childhood, I was not inclined toward them. In my late teens I did sip some whiskey diluted in Coke or some such soda at my friend Richard's house on the Saturday nights when my folks and his went to a bar for the night. His dad had a liquid cabinet and kept it locked, but Rich knew where the key was hid. These were the same days we were stealing cars and taking joyrides. Beyond that mild indulgence I really didn't start drinking until in my twenties and it started with dinners out with my parents after I married.

There was a somewhat upscale restaurant not far from the house. It
was called the Black Angus and I was introduced to the Whiskey Sour there. I have had many a Whiskey Sour since in various eateries and I will say the Blank Angus made the best. They also stuck a pineapple stick in the drink, which I enjoyed a lot.

Still, for a couple years my drinking remained confined to a couple Whiskey Sour when out to dinner, and I really didn't get out to dinner all that often until Philadelphia in the 'Sixties. Yeah, in that same basement room meeting with our arty friends where I began smoking is where drinking moved to a centerpiece of my social scene. There was always a never-ending pitcher of Screwdrivers sitting on a battered circular table at the center of our get-togethers. It was from that point that all social scenes were structured around one kind of potent potable or other. 

We're not talking about sipping a snifter of brandy over the course of an evening. We're talking a constant flow of what might be handy at any given movement, be it whisky, rum, vodka, Scotch, beer or wine. There was no discrimination here.  Well, I didn't drink beer and didn't like wine, but others did so it was welcomed. 

Thing was, it never effected me. I never felt buzzed, let alone drunk. I never slurred my words, staggered, got sick, blacked out, stumbled or fell. I never had a hangover, always knew everything that happened during and after the night before. Bill, the guy on the right of the above picture complained one night as we headed to the nearest State Store to restock, "I don't get you, Meredith, you drink me out of booze and you don't get drunk."

"I guess I sweat it out," I told him.

Not so much with him, though. Many of those evenings ended with
me helping him down the hall to his apartment or carrying him to his bed for his wife after he passed out across the card table. There were times I dragged him out of a bar before the fight started. One time I had to force him back into the car in South Philly when he had gotten out to show some kids how to play street hockey. He had played semi-pro hockey somewhere along the line or so he claimed. One of the mothers watching from a porch didn't know anything about his background qualifications to coach her child and went in to call the cops.

The wife and I bought a bar for our apartment and stocked it well. This seemed the height of sophistication at the time. We always had a cocktail with dinner and beyond, even if we didn't go out. I had several books on mixology and one night nearly killed my wife attempting to make her a Manhattan. It seemed simple enough. The book said, one-part dry vermouth to 8-parts whisky, a dash of bitters all shaken with ice, except I didn't know what a "part" meant. I assumed it meant a jigger, so I mixed a jigger of vermouth and 8 jiggers of whisky, shook it up and she downed it.

It hit quick and hard. She felt sick and staggered off toward the bathroom in our West Philadelphia Apartment. A moment later I heard a crash. I rushed in to find her unconscious on the floor. She had passed out and hit her head so hard during the fall that it broke the toilet tank. Isn't booze fun?

None of our friends or us thought fun could be had without something to wet the whistle. It was a staple of the friendships.

This was a period when I was an Atheist and a hedonist and believed the purpose of life was to have fun. And a lot of it appeared to be fun, but it was very temporary. The so-called fun
wasn't very lasting. We'd have our parties and then go to our jobs and count the moments to the next party and then booze through an evening. I guess I had more fun than the others, actually. After all, I knew everything going on around me, even when others were getting foggy and talking nonsense. I didn't embarrass myself and I didn't wake up in pain. But I did wake up feeling a great emptiness most of the time. 

When I got saved I lost those friends. I didn't drop them, they just decided we weren't as much fun anymore, I guess. We all just drifted on to new lives. It didn't mean I stopped drinking. I still had a cocktail or two when we went out to dinner. It just reverted back to where it began, no excess.

I never liked it very much. I wanted a reason to not drink. When I got on medication for arthritis I got that. I can't have any alcoholic beverages on doctor's orders, which is fine with me. I simply stopped it cold turkey (not referencing the bourbon here) as I did cigarettes and I had the same reaction, none. No shakes, no headaches, no yearnings and no regrets.

My last big binge was in 1999 in a Vail, Colorado, I
admit to that. I had traveled there with four others from the bank where I worked for a user conference. It was put on by a systems corporation and held in a resort. One day I went with Rick on a jeep excursion up Mount Vail.

The conference was scheduled to end at noon on Wednesday and three of our fellow workers flew home that afternoon. But Rick
and I had signed up for special courses and were staying over another two days. We agreed to meet for dinner that Wednesday evening, but he got delayed and it was after eight o'clock when we hooked up. We went to the restaurant in the resort, but he suggested a stop at the lounge bar first. We never went to dinner. We sat at the bar and drank. He had his Fat Tire beers followed with Grand Marnier chasers and I had Whisky Sours with Grand Marnier chasers. We did this until they closed the bar at 2:00 the next morning. The bar bill was $183 and Rick picked it up. I don't know how he explained it on his expense account.

We weren't through. We went to Rick's room and raided the mini-bar there, mixing those little bottles of spirits with whatever was
handy in the fridge, orange juice, coke, you name it. Rick was spinning his plans for getting rich by now, something to do with a special bait box he planned to design. He was telling this story over and over. Somewhere around five I told him I was tired and had to get a couple hours sleep before we had classes in the morning. He didn't want to end our day, but we'd pretty much cleaned out the mini-bar, another expense for him to explain, so I left, went back to my room and dozed until 8:00. At 8:30 I was in the meeting hall for a day of classes. Rick never showed up. I didn't see him again until we left for the airport the next day.

I have no desire to ever repeat such an event. I like it much better being alcohol free…and it is cheaper, too.

Stay sober, my friends,
and get the monkey off your backs.

This was the second of a series: "Cigarettes, Whisky and Wild, Wild Something."

1 comment:

Geo. said...

A succinct and kindly synopsis of libation history. I am one of those folk who can't stomach whiskey. Even when I was young and had the digestive powers of a goat, I'd smell it on myself for days. Brandy, gin, vodka had no such effect --but whiskey has always made me ill. An allergy of some sort, I guess.