My father was an alcoholic all his adult life, and the disease took his life at the age of forty-one. When I was ten years old, I became exposed to alcoholism. This book describes what I saw, my reactions to it, and how each situation made me feel. Most importantly, this book illustrates how these factors shaped who I am today. It also focuses on the experiences of others in my life and how each coped with their own alcoholic family member. Included in this section is helpful advice from each person to those who may also be touched by alcoholism. I also share with the reader some of my poems that I have written to help me deal with my past and explain the significance of each.
Growing up, my first positive recollection is when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My sister had just come home from school, and I was more than pleased to illustrate to her what I had seen on a particular cartoon I had watched that day. I couldn’t voice effectively the beaver spitting out the bark he had gnawed off the tree, so I instead spewed air out and jumped up and down to demonstrate this. My sister just stood there in awe, trying to figure out what it was I was trying to communicate to her, and at the same time, making an effort to show interest.
My sister Cher is two years my senior, and we had a pretty textbook childhood relationship. There are no other siblings. We grew up with the normal things; birthday parties, sleepovers, Grandma and Grandpa coming to visit, family get-togethers, etc. The only thing that really stands out to me that was a little abnormal was the house we lived in. Up until I was about 4 years old, we lived in a very old house. It was a semi-detached blue and white house. It was known as the slanted house. My Dad told us that many years before he purchased it, one owner decided they would attempt to add a basement and so they jacked up the house in order to do so. History tells us that the jack failed before the footings and foundation could be completed, and so the house fell down, causing it to be slanted. This later became a humorous topic of conversation because my Dad later added a front porch; all passers-by informed him that his porch was crooked. To their surprise my Dad always corrected them by saying it wasn’t the porch that was crooked, it was actually the house! This was followed by alarmed looks and surprised snickers.
That wasn’t the only unique quality of this house. We also had no handrail and a rather steep staircase, plus a small room that only an elf could fit into, located underneath the staircase. We also had a rather interesting kitchen, if you closed your eyes and walked backwards while you were in it, you were sure to feel like you were in the funhouse……that slant thing again! We also never had any real windows in the house; they were all Plexiglas and very yellowed. For a while, when my Dad tried to do some renovations, we did not have a bedroom wall! All we had in place of the wall was a piece of painter’s plastic stapled to the ends of two adjoining walls. Thankfully he did this in the summer. He had to get the lion’s foot bathtub out somehow!
My parents separated when I was about 4 years old. My first negative recollection of my childhood was leaving my Dad in the middle of the night, and having to part with my favourite stuffed animal: a white plush lamb. Fortunately, once we moved from Etobicoke to Malton, Ontario; and basically next door to my Mom’s parents, things started to look up. I don’t sincerely recall any arguments between my parents before the separation, the only evidence I remember of any marital issues was when my Mom used to refer to my Dad as “the ex” with unusual emphasis.
Living close to my Grandparents gave all of us a very strong sense of comfort. My Grandma, although not an affectionate woman, was always very headstrong and supportive. She never took any guff from anyone, including us kids. And she wasn’t afraid to put you in your place, when you needed it. She was always a step ahead of you, knew exactly what you needed, and always held our best interests a priority. When I think about it, my Grandma was very much like a second Mother to us, seeing as my Mom worked very long hours. It wasn’t easy for Mom, even though she made it look like it was. I often wonder how she did it.
Grandma always had a really great imagination. She used to make us dolly strollers out of her bundle buggies and pillows from the back porch. She made a skating rink out of her back yard one winter, and she would always take us on bus adventures to malls, or just walk over to the local mall and visit the new dollar store. She always made a lot out of a little. We never went without anything; clothes, food, playmates. Anything the normal child should have, she made sure we also had.
My Mom also played her part. She made sure we had regular sleepovers with our friends, always kept our playroom full of toys as long as we kept it neat and tidy. When we were sick, my Mom was always there. She was very good at nurturing and making sure we were on the right track in school. Mom also taught us responsibility; we were each given a list of chores to do each day. She would have us write them down on the calendar, and when each week passed and all chores were checked off, we would get an allowance. She also had a clever approach to keeping the play room clean. She would offer to cook our favourite dinner (usually Spaghetti O’s), and she would set the timer on the stove to 30 minutes. If the play room wasn’t spotless after 30 minutes, we would be denied our Spaghetti O’s. It never came to that; we moved so fast the cat would run and hide!
Grampa also played an important part as a Father figure. He taught us about the world, since he would make us tune into the supper time news every night while we ate. He also used to have talks with us when we would accompany him to pick up my Mom from work on the nights when she didn’t take the bus. My Grampa was great at making things seem so simple in a world that was otherwise complicated. I remember specifically one car ride I had alone with him. I was about 8 or 9; and confused, frustrated with something adolescent. Grampa turned to me and simply said it was ok, growing up was never easy and that I would get through it. I was a strong, level headed girl and he believed in me; such words were never expressed vocally until that day, although I always knew how he felt about me.
I only remember bits and pieces of my Dad and his family until I was about 10. We did go visit him some weekends, but my memory only serves me after I was around 8. I remember spending a few weekends at my Aunt Shelley’s house with my 2 cousins at the time. We went over one year just before Christmas, and I remember helping her wrap gifts and I remember we all slept in her bed with her, just to have a bit of a slumber party. I also remember my Uncle Bill. He was always my favourite as a child. He was the most fun ever. He lived with my Dad for quite a while, and so when we did go visit him, my Uncle spent many hours with us girls swinging in the back yard, playing on the snowmobiles, climbing up on the roof of both the shed and the house! He also bought us walkie talkies for Christmas one year, so we would play hide and seek with them. We also made many winter forts in the back yard, and he also helped us make a make shift tree house in the attic. My Uncle Bill also introduced us both to his motorcycle; we both took turns riding it with him.
It’s interesting to note that most of my childhood memories are quite normal up until I was about 10 years old. In my opinion, children’s minds are tuned naturally to only withhold good memories. I think even if something to the adult eye would yield a negative experience, children’s imaginations come into play and portray every memory as positive. That is truly a great gift that children have. I have based this assumption on the fact that while all the above memories mentioned were relatively good, in the background there was a lack of a father and one entire side of my family, parental separation, rapid and abrupt change of environment, and some aspects of poverty.