My Seventeenth Year – The Times They are A Changin’

Unfortunately, my father lost his job five days before my 16th birthday in October 1971. His alcohol addiction had gotten so bad that he was making alcohol in his laboratory at work. Interestingly, I don’t think he was drunk at work. He was just finding a way to feed his habit without costing the family a lot of money. But then his boss discovered his still. He was allowed to resign rather than be terminated for cause, but it still took him more than a year to find another job. The notification of personnel action simply states “Employee gave no reason for resigning – – no other information available.”

My father was a very smart and likeable man but his alcoholism was ruining his life – and mine.

This may have been the year when my mother decided she wasn’t going to deal with it anymore. This would be why I drove my drunken father to the hospital one day (not sure what time of year it was but I think fall for some reason). I’m also not sure how I knew where to take him or why I decided to take him there – did he ask me to? Had we been before? I honestly don’t remember the circumstances other than the fact that I hadn’t been driving all that long and I had to go into downtown Richmond in heavy traffic and park in a parking deck that was several blocks from the hospital. I then had to get my extremely drunk, barely able to walk father to the hospital. Somewhere between getting into the elevator on the top floor of the parking garage and the time the elevator doors opened at ground level, my father passed out. Mentally and emotionally I am strong, but physically it was impossible for me to get my father from the parking deck to the hospital – another two blocks away.

That’s when a nurse who happened to be going to work or leaving work took over and I honestly don’t remember anything else. Did I drive home – did my mother come get me? I can’t remember. I do remember meeting a counselor in the hospital who suggested family counseling to help us cope with the emotional and psychological effects of my father’s alcoholism. It sounded like a good idea to me – but my mother refused. The drinking was his problem not ours and that was the end of that discussion.

You might be inclined to hate my mother and question her choices. I am sure she was doing her best to give me a better life than she’d had and it seemed my father was ruining everything she tried to achieve. Would we have been better off if we had gotten help when my father’s drinking first started? Absolutely! Would he have stopped drinking if we had done that? Probably not. I think everyone in a situation like this does the best they can with whatever coping skills are at their disposal. At this particular time, my mother had reached her limit. Don’t forget – she’s now facing the prospect of losing the house (her salary wasn’t enough to make the house payments) and many years of broken promises – she was not willing to hear that her response to my father’s drinking could have had anything to do with it. Let’s just say – it’s complicated.

When I turned 16, I was old enough to work and my first job was at the bowling alley on Saturday afternoons – handing out rental shoes and assigning lanes for open bowling. (And yes – spraying those stinky shoes with disinfectant when people with sweaty feet returned them.)

At the end of 10th grade, my year at the school where I finally felt accepted for who I was, we moved. We had to sell the house on Shore Drive and move to a townhouse apartment – 914 Lisson Crescent, Richmond VA. The good news about the move – I got lots of babysitting jobs and my bank account grew. Now I was changing stinky diapers and still spraying stinky bowling shoes on Saturday afternoons.
The bad news about the move – we were now in a neighborhood assigned to the high school where most of my former classmates from junior high went to school. Oh joy!

Adjectives for this year – disappointed and growing up fast.

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