Wine, Like Water, Seeks Its Own Level

My sister Abby and I have had many psycho-babble sessions where we have discussed Mother’s penchant for the almighty drink. Sometimes my sister wishes to believe that our mother was not an alcoholic because Abby likes to think kindly of others even when faced with the facts. I am the one who interjects a dose of reality, laying out the facts as we lived them. These facts make it clear that, sadly for all of us but especially mother, our mother suffered from alcoholism (among other addictions and compulsions).

Cover of "National Lampoon's Animal House"

The bar was like Animal House

First, when we were six and eight respectively and living in the small town of Taylorville, Illinois, whenever we needed to locate our mother, we found her in – of all places – the local bar. The fact she was the only woman in the establishment was peculiar. Her “enhanced personality” was a major clue. She was merry and laughing, which was far from her normal demeanor. Abby and I enjoyed the “new and improved” Mother, but soon learned it would only last as long as the alcohol remained in her system.

Second, while in general Mother did not enjoy cooking, she absolutely loved making fruitcakes and consumed the liquor used to baste the cake. When I say consumed, I mean by the bottle. Looking back, I strongly believe that she drank at least as much, if not more, of the liquor than she put into the fruitcake. Fruitcake-making time was also a time that found her joy-filled. As I have since learned many alcoholics do, she hid the bottles from us. We cannot say for certain how much she drank, what else she drank, or what else she was hiding. We did realize later in life that despite the fact that Mother weighed between 200 and 300 pounds most of her adult life, we rarely saw her eat; she was a closet eater as well.

Third, after divorcing our father, she married Uncle/Stepdad Kenny, who in addition to being a con man, a band member, and a grifter, was a very active alcoholic. She then went on to marry Husband Number Three, Tom, who was also a very active alcoholic. You know what they say about birds of a feather.

Mother also worked in many bars, supper clubs, and various drinking establishments throughout her life. I have often wondered how much of these establishments’ supplies (aka their) profits she might have covertly consumed.

Passed Out DrunkWhen she moved to Iowa, she decided to begin drinking wine at night to “help her sleep”. I would often find wine spills the next morning when I visited and she would make some excuse as to how it spilled all over her carpet. It did seem to mellow her out, which was no easy task, but once the alcohol was out of her system, the old Mother came back with a vengeance.

My sister Abby still wonders if Mother actually had a drinking problem. I understand the mindset that can lead to denial but am much more of a realist. Mother had so many compulsions and addictions: alcohol, pills, cigarettes, food, and who knows what else. She sought to anesthetize herself. She was a desperately unhappy, tortured soul. As for so many unfortunate people who seek to numb away their problems rather than to face them, her life spiraled downward as her addictions became more severe, causing the other problems in her life to become more severe, causing her to fall further into addiction, and on it went.


  1. Denial is a tough nut to crack. I get sick of people romanticizing alcoholics, especially alcoholic writers. Most great alcoholic writers did their best work when they got sober, like Cheever. thanks for the link!

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