My paternal grandmother was a drunk. My sister and I took advantage of that. We had her take us to the mall and buy us anything we wanted. The only price we had to pay was that we had to endure her “lunches.” They always occurred on the top floor of Macy’s department store. It was a fancy restaurant where she could order drinks. My sister and I had lunch in my grandmother ordered drinks. Gin and tonic usually so that her breath didn’t smell of alcohol. It really did smell, but my sister and I didn’t tell her because we loved the gifts she bought us when she was drunk.
Even now I think of my grandmother and the way she must’ve treated my father. Her lack of attention to my sister and me when she was drunk, her tendency toward anger when she was drunk, the way she drove us home when she was drunk – all of those let me know that my father must’ve feared her when she was drunk. My grandfather made excuses for her; he told us she was tired when she lay down with a hangover. He told us that we must love our grandmother no matter what she did.
She was easy to love when she was sober, but it was harder when she was drunk. She raged at us; she told us that my grandfather was bad. She told us that my father was bad. She lay in her bed and raged at us. We were scared. We didn’t know what to do until my grandfather got home. We exploited her by having her buy us anything we wanted, but we were afraid. We didn’t want her to drive; we didn’t want to stay alone with her. It was awful and it was painful. We didn’t want to see our grandmother that way.
I cry now for my father. It must’ve been painful for him to come home from school knowing that his mother would be drunk. I suspect that she drank every afternoon. She opted for gin and cooking sherry. She cooked fabulous meals with that sherry, but she nipped at it. “A few little sips,” she used to say and we didn’t argue. I wish now that we had argued, that we had made a bigger deal of her drinking. I wish that we had insisted that she seek help. I know that she was in emotional pain. I know that we could have done something. I know that we didn’t.