There are three predominant themes to life in the South: Sex, Religion and Drinking. I’ve touched on each of these subjects and will do so more on the future.
For now, let’s concentrate on drinking.
That seems to be the through line in my posts so far. We spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol in The South. And, if we are honest, we spend a lot of time drinking in The South–or talking about why we don’t. Or those who do…
Southern culture, as I know it, is built on hypocrisy. We were trained at an early age to play a role and hide it if we deviated from the role. This always lead to conspicuous alcohol consumption.
Some of my memories around comments on alcohol:
- “I hear he/she has turned to drink.”
- “I saw him/her coming out of the liquor store in Nor Dan Shopping Center.
- “I saw so and so’s car at Earl’s Bar and Grill ast night.”
- “If I throw up, the dogs will eat it.”
- “Maybe if we use Glade air freshener, they won’t notice the smell of the bourbon we spilled.”
- “Maybe we can get some student nurses to buy us booze.”
- “Where did I leave my car last night?”
Therefore, we spent a lot of time focusing on these areas of thought about drinking:
- Drinking too much
- Lying about drinking too much
- Lying about not drinking
- Hiding from our neighbors that we were drinking.
It was both a very simple and very complicated situation.
You may surmise from my previous blogs that I was continuously drunk or, at least buzzed, from age 16 to 30. That is a somewhat true assumption. That is what one did at that time and place in Southern culture.
Remember, this was also before Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It was a different culture. Maybe not real smart, but that’s the way it was. Back then, we thought staying a little buzzed was the best way to get through life in a culture with a class and roles system so rigid that it made Britain look like an open society.
It was kind of a Southern “Mad Men” thing. The South was always at least 10 years behind the rest of the country…
I think the defining moment for me was when I was staying at my Mother’s house after my Father died. I was going to the bar for my third or fourth Bourbon and water, on a week night, when my Mother said: “I have never been around a man who didn’t drink. Every man I have ever known in my entire life drank too much.” I suggested she really think about the commonalities in that statement.
I’ll never forget one Sunday afternoon when, I was a small child, and my Father was laying in his hammock reading the Sunday paper and drinking beer. We had already done our duty and gone to the Southern Baptist Church for Sunday services.
My Mother screamed from the kitchen window to him in the back yard: “You aren’t drinking beer, are you? I see a can out there. We don’t want the neighbors to think you just drinking beer and reading the paper. It doesn’t look right on a Sunday of all days. People will talk! You aren’t drinking beer out there are you? If you are, at least put it in a plastic cup so people won’t know.”
My Father’s response was: “Goddamnit, Lou. If you weren’t screeching at me from the goddamn kitchen window, no one would know I was drinking my own beer in my own yard in my own hammock. As if it’s any of their goddamn business. Now, thanks to you, everyone from here to Timberlake Drive knows. If you are so goddamned worried about what the neighbors think, then shut the hell up.”
This says a lot about drinking in our part of the South. It was all about appearances.
Mind you, my Mother was fond of a little Mogen-David Concord Grape Wine or a few Brass Monkey’s or Amaretto or a few White Russians while they were watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” on Saturday evenings, but that didn’t count. She never bought the booze. She, therefore, didn’t drink.
I remember being with her in the Winn Dixie Grocery Store and my Father put a six-pack of Bud in the cart and wondered off. One of her Baptist Bible School kids came by, looked at the beer, looked at her, smirked and wondered off. This led to a two-week battle at home. The result was my Father had to buy beer only when my Mother was not present, so her character would not be besmirched.
To this day, at almost 78 years old, she will tell you with pride that she has never stepped foot in a liquor store. Ladies don’t do that…
She also will never talk about the Christmas my Grandmother made the mistake of allowing my Mother’s Brother Daniel to come by at the same time as everyone else for Christmas Dinner. He was the black sheep of the family. Honesty, he was pure trash. And the Bourbon was always open at Granny’s at Christmas…
My Mother was so upset she was being forced to interact with him socially that she had a few drinks herself that Christmas Day. That led to her telling him she bought him and his common law wife a special wallet that had a special pocket just for their food stamps. My Father, who had told him to stay away from the rest of the family and stop asking for money, threatened to kill him. Christmas was segregated along Class lines again after that…We went back to pretending he did not exist.
When I was in college, my Mother asked me to stop going to the liquor store for my Grandmother. Her Mother. Granny had an issue with allergies and coughs and thought a nice bourbon toddy, or two, would help her get through it. My Mother said an 80-year-old woman did not need to go through a half-gallon of bourbon every 2 months and to stop supplying her. My Grandmother called my Mother a meddling bitch. Then my Mother screamed at me for teaching my Grandmother to call her a bitch. I just couldn’t win…
When we were in High School, there was nothing else to do but drink. Especially in the Cultural Wasteland of Danville, Virginia. Especially before Cable TV and the Internet.
In college, we lived to drink and smoke and solve the world’s problems. We had fun. We felt sophisticated and free. There was not a damn thing wrong with it as long as we didn’t drive off the side of a mountain.
Honestly, I probably would not have drunk as much if it hadn’t been such a big deal when I was growing up. It was the perfect form of rebellion. I also had a wonderful time.
Drinking for fun is good. I’ve had some great times doing it. I’ve always felt, as long as your life was happy and you weren’t driving, go drink and have fun. Life is short, so enjoy it as you may.
I’ve also understood the down side of drinking when your life wasn’t happy and drinking became a destructive force. I always thought that drinking, in this case, was more of a symptom than a cause…I know some folks won’t agree with that, but that is my opinion.
To me, alcohol and drinking is just part of our way of life here in the South and in the world at large. The secret is to do it with joy and a little self-control. Then it’s seldom a problem.
The problem is when you do it in secret and to numb the pain. That’s the kind of drinking we all need to avoid. And to look out for our friends when they fall into that trap.
Drinking is a social activity. It greases the wheels of social interaction. So we have to have some sort of social responsibility, just not social judgement and hypocrisy…
Let’s just be honest, have fun and look out for each other.
I’ll drink to that….