By Sarah Holloway
Back in the 60s, the people I knew enjoyed their alcohol whole-heartedly, sipping their highballs, martinis, and sweetly potent manhattans as soon as their workday was done, not to mention at parties and even at brunch or lunch (it’s five o’clock somewhere). Now, people say, “well, maybe just one,” and they order overpriced craft beer or god-awful light beer, and the slender women want an ice cube in their chardonnays or skinny margaritas, carefully recording the calories to their apps.
When I was young, I was in awe of how much fun my parents had when they were drinking, and trust me, they weren’t thinking “maybe just one” or about how they might look on Instagram—not just my parents, either, but their friends, my aunts and uncles, the neighbors, the grownups on TV and in the movies, pretty much everybody who was old enough to vote, drank with no worries beyond a headache the next morning and a little hair of the dog (that bit you).
It comforted me to see my parents get their martini on and go out on the dance floor where they appeared to be happy and in love, where Mom flashed carefree smiles, and Dad spun her around, his posture strong and self-assured, and where my Uncle Ray had rosy cheeks and launched belly-laughs like depth charges. I remember how my godmother and I swayed with our arms around each other’s waists as we sang along with Dean Martin (“Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”).
Nobody could outdrink my chain-smoking Great-Aunt Doris. Oh my, she was a wild one who had a one-bedroom, cinder-block house she called Chateau Pierre up on Spanish Lake where they took pitchers of martinis out on the pontoon boat for the cocktail hour. One time, my cousins and I were swimming off the boat, and Doris surprised us all by jumping overboard, fully dressed, shouting that it was too damn hot.
I’ll never forget how my dad and his friends, with their thick sideburns and comb-overs, would make up nicknames for each other once they had a good buzz on at parties. For example, Dad called Dick Watson “Watusi” or Dan O’Hara “Danny Boy,” and they would call my dad “Bowie Knife” instead of Bowen, and ask him if he’d been martinized, and they told each other slightly raunchy stories.
There was so much music: “Mack the Knife,” to which the men bobbed their heads and snapped their fingers, and the player piano at Aunt Irene’s every Thanksgiving, around which my cousins and I belted out hits from when our parents were young.
Sometimes they would let us kids mix their drinks and wink if we took a sip, while Mom and the other ladies shared neighborhood gossip and the cute things their kids had said, their shrieks of laughter sounding like something from a sixth-grade slumber party. Mom would ask me to get more dip out of the fridge and empty the ashtrays, and my aunts and Mom’s girlfriends would hug me and gush about my long, blonde hair or how I was getting such a cute figure.
It was all in good fun, and I never saw anybody throwing up or falling down, no, nothing like that because my parents seemed to know when they’d had enough, so they would get really happy with the booze, eat dinner, have a nightcap, and let some time go by before they kissed everyone goodbye, and we went, yawning, out to the car.
It wasn’t all good, though. I say that because of the time my uncle sent me down to his basement for another fifth of Beefeater’s, and my cousin Steve and his friend were there with an empty six-pack, and they grabbed me and took turns until I bit Steve’s ear to get away and ran upstairs to tell my uncle I couldn’t find the gin.
My sponsor tells me to pray for Steve every night, even though he never apologized for what he did, but I won’t. Almost everyone I’ve mentioned is dead, except for Steve, once like a brother to me, now living with his third wife in Dallas.