December 23 is my Mother's birthday. She and Aunt Mildred, her younger sister were both born on 12/23 but two years apart. I don't know when it became a tradition but Aunt Mildred and Uncle Lawson came out to our house on Christmas Eve and birthday presents were exchanged. For as long as I can remember, Mother's relatives who lived near came to our house on Christmas Eve and it became an impromptu party with home made eggnog. That was the only time liquor was allowed in our house when we were kids, except for the fruitcakes Mother made each Thanksgiving. And it was the only time my parents indulged in alcohol.
I was about 13 years old that Christmas Eve that Uncle Jimmy, Daddy's brother in law said, "Coy, I can drink you under the table." Everyone laughed and I paid little attention to what they were doing until Aunt Judy and Uncle Jim got up to leave. My father tried to stand up but fell back in his chair. Everyone laughed, but I was mortified. My father, the strict disciplinarian, the authority in my life who always taught us to do the right thing, was a pathetic, almost helpless man who had to be supported as he made his way to bed.
I ran into the kitchen and cried. Disappointed was a mild term for what I felt about my manly father. Mother explained that he was fine and there was nothing for me to be upset about, but she had no way of knowing that a 13 year old, seeing her father out of control for the first time ever, was frightened. Perhaps because I had heard him and Mother talk about our next door neighbor who drank up all his money and abused his wife, I assumed that any man who drank alcohol at any time or became inebriated, even if was due to a joke between friends, was a terrible person.
We had those parties for many, many years, but never again did my father have more than a couple of cups of eggnog. Over the years Uncle Rudolph and Aunt Red came out to the Christmas Eve gatherings. He was the uncle who was frugal and good as gold to his wife who suffered from a bad back. She said she had to wear a "corset" and had to sit in a straight backed chair, wear sensible shoes, and her husband waited on her and did almost all the house cleaning. My mother and father said he was one of the best men they ever knew. He called Gay and me P-jinks. He often slipped us a nickel as he teased us. He made two little shy girls feel special. Isn't it funny how little gestures from a grownup can change the way a child feels?
Today would have been Mother's 102nd birthday. I hope she and aunt Mildred, Uncle Rudy, and their spouses are all having a cup of eggnog laced with a little whiskey and I hope Daddy feels free to have more than two since I'm not up there watching and judging him. I raised my own cup with a little brandy just before bed tonight. Here's to you, my parents, and thanks for all you did, the sacrifices you made so that I'd have a good life.