Monday, January 26, 2009

Wild Turkey part II

Of course, when grandmother Todd started drinking bourbon, it wasn't called Wild Turkey yet. They didn't name it that until 1954 after some hunters went on a Wild Turkey hunt and the next year the hunters were asking for "that wild turkey bourbon." No, grandmother Todd started drinking Wild Turkey after they repealed prohibition and the Ripy distillery went back into business. The town of Lawrenceburg, where the distillery was located, had seen a some hard times during the 13 years of prohibition, not to mention the depression. Once the economy started to pick up and prohibition was repealed, it was considered a bit of Kentucky pride to drink bourbon, and specifically Wild Turkey if you lived within a 100 mile radius of Lawrenceburg. Having kin that worked at the distillery, Grandmother Todd was able to get jugs at cost and always had some on hand. She didn't drink in excess, but most days she had a nice buzz going on from about 3 o'clock on. Her drinking was what it is for most people, a way to numb the pain.

Granny Mary saw her mother go from quite hangover each morning before she left for school to happy drunk when she got home from school pretty much every day that she could remember. Granny Mary still did the chores, she took care of the kids, but she always had a little Kentucky sunshine inside her to make it through the day. If for some reason Grandmother Todd didn't drink, because they had run out of bourbon or for the handful of other reasons she wouldn't drink (needing to take a child to a doctor was a common one), she'd steel herself with coffee all day long and smoke twice as many cigarettes. By the end of the day she'd have found a way to have at least one shot of whiskey before going to bed. And for that reason, Granny Mary never wanted to drink. Never wanted to put herself through that kind of pain each day. And so she never touched the stuff...until the day she thought maybe it would take a different type of pain away.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wild Turkey

When Granny Mary first got married she thought there'd be but two men in her life - her father and her husband. The first three years with Harry were all she could expect from marriage. She became pregnant immediately after getting married - truth be told she was probably a few weeks pregnant when they got married but she didn't know that at the time. With a baby coming, there was little time for a honeymoon period. Mary's days were spend preparing to be a mother; and Harry's days were spent working at the factory. Each day she'd make him his lunch and send him off with a kiss and then spend her time making what she called the baby's nursery, but was really just a corner in the living room of their one bedroom apartment, ready. She'd found a second-hand crib from a neighbor down the street. She painted the living room a bright cheery yellow and she started sewing sheets and drapes and clothes. All of her spare money, of which there was little, was put into the home, making it better, nicer.

Harry worked long hours, coming home dirty and hungry. She always tried to have dinner on the table but sometimes, especially after the baby was born, she'd just get caught up with sewing, or chores or something. Harry didn't ask for much, as he liked to remind her, but he asked that his dinner be ready when he came home. The nights it wasn't, he'd get angry, flop down in the easy chair, arms crossed, while he glared into the kitchen, waiting. He wouldn't take a shower, he did that after dinner. He wouldn't play with the baby, he did that after his shower. He wouldn't do anything but wait. He rarely yelled; his preferred method of getting his point across was sulking. Like you'd just done him a great injustice and he couldn't believe how you hadn't considered his feelings. Mary's reaction to this was to try to console, to hurry and make dinner and then apologize over and over again the entire meal. She knew he worked hard and one of the few things he asked of her was dinner when he got home. If he had just said, once, it was OK, Granny Mary might have stayed with Harry. If he had just once accepted her apology; just once acknowledged that she worked hard too making the house a home. But he never did. And so Mary believed that deep down he really hated her and thought she was worthless.

After a couple of years and another baby, Mary thought she was pretty worthless too. She'd never had the highest of opinions of herself, and living with Harry made her feel like she couldn't do anything right. And so one day, she stopped trying. Instead of making dinner or even planning for dinner, Granny Mary dropped the kids of with the neighbor and went out to the tavern down the street. She knew Harry'd never look for her here, she rarely drank, so she went in and ordered what she saw her mom drinking all the time, Wild Turkey.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Milking The Blues

Sometimes, it doesn't take much to start one off into a downward spiral of depression and self loathing. It's different triggers that lead to what Grandmother Todd called The Blues, Granny Mary called sadness and Mom and I call depression. Sometimes you can actually pinpoint the moment it happens. Grandmother Todd went through a particularly harrowing blue period after an incident with a goat and some milk. It started off a great day, the kids were at school, the husband at work and Grandmother Todd was making her way through the household chores. She'd washed the breakfast dishes, put the washing out to dry, and mended a few socks. She swigged a thermos of black coffee on her way out to the barn to tend to Billy, the goat (sure, it was a female goat, but what are you going to call a goat other than Billy?).

Billy was eager to be milked and Grandmother Todd was eager to get back into the house out of the chilly January air. She pulled up the stool, corraled Billy and plopped down the bucket. Billy's milk filling the bucket slowly but surely, and Grandmother Todd let her mind wander as her hands worked through the repetitive movements of squeezing, pulling, releasing each teat. She thought about her other chores. She wondered what the children were learning in school. Then she thought about her own schooling, abruptly stopped at 14 because she had to work to help the family. She wondered what she'd be if she had stayed in school. Probably a school teacher because that's the most women from rural Kentucky could hope to be. But maybe a nurse. That would be interesting, being a nurse. Helping people. Having people depend on you for their lives. Grateful for the kind word, smile and aid you have given them. She'd be important if she were a nurse. But she wasn't a nurse, she was a lonely housewife with two kids who were becoming independent and a husband who wandered the town and the bars like a dog who can't remember where he buried his bone.

And that's all it took. That thought, the thought she had no control over her life. It flipped that switch like it had so many times before. Sometimes she'd come out of a Blue period after just an afternoon. She'd go back into the house, leaving Billy half milked, and crawl back under the covers. Not crying, not sleeping, just staring at the ceiling letting her mind race over all that was wrong with her. But the kids would come home, and she'd have to get up. Help them with the homework she barely undertood. Make dinner. She'd put on a brave face, and if she was lucky, The Blues would retreat into the back of her mind, to the bottom of her feet and stay hidden and forgotton, for now. But sometimes, she wasn't lucky, and The Blues stayed firmly put. Her every move would be shadowed by a thought of why. Why am I doing this? What's the point? Those times, everyone in the house just moved out of the way, waiting to let The Blues pass by.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Run Away From the Crazy

You know there's not much hope for you when you come from a long line of crazy women. My great grandmother Todd was only 60 when I was born. She had three children, her first when she was 19. She claimed she had at one time traveled around the world with her husband, a navy pilot. But in reality she'd been stuck at home on a base only making it to Paris once before she was consigned to the farm in Kentucky to raise the kids. She chained smoked and drank until the day she died at 83, and she managed to raise three kids through the depression without them ever once going on relief.

My Grandmother Mary was only 17 when she met her first husband - with whom she had two children in rapid succession. She thought she was in love, but in reality she said yes to the first boy from the base who asked her out. Getting married was the only way out of the house that had become mired down in alcohol and hatred. Her parents didn't fight as much as hurl accusations across the room - taking down whatever child was in the way. Harry reminded her of her dad before he retired from the Navy and took up chasing women as his occupation. And while Harry loved and doted on the children, he just saw her as the woman who didn't keep the house clean enough, wasn't bringing in any money and was never satisfied.

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