Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Rites of passage

Photo by Beth Grant, Creative Commons

Over the years, I was subjected to some pretty inappropriate attempts at child-rearing. It was all part of that misguided notion among parents in the 1960s that kids should be taught to do adult things while they still lived at home. Like drinking, smoking, gambling -- those sorts of things.

For example, I started drinking coffee at the age of five. By the time I got to public school, I had developed a three cup a day Instant coffee habit. I always tried to fill the coffee cup over the brim like the Maxwell House coffee commercial. It would never work, of course, because the people who make those commercials lie. Coffee spills into the saucer instead not matter how often you try this particular experiment. Didn't matter to me. I preferred to slurp my coffee from the saucer anyway.

Hey, I was a kid.

As on most farms, coffee was served at all hours and I drank my last cup before I went to bed which was anytime I wanted to go. Bedtime wasn't enforced in our house. You just dragged yourself to bed when you felt like it. 

The late night coffee drinking accounted for my insomnia. Rarely was I able to fall asleep until about three, so that led, in the summers at least, to my ritual of staying up watching old horror movies and talk shows. Which resulted in my obsession with Dick Cavett at a young age. (Dick, honey, get me out of here!) Not to mention my irrational fear of werewolves.

Another thing relatives liked to teach kids was how to hold their liquor. Even at the tender age of six, I was allowed to have a little belt of Gramps' rye and coke, which I absolutely adored.

The first time I got drunk was at Christmas when Gramps allowed that six was old enough to serve alcohol  to company. Everybody thought it was cute. It didn't take long before I was able to expertly mix drinks. One for an adult, a shot for myself. I must have had six shots of straight whiskey that first night and nobody noticed. And so began my journey into Robert Downey Jr. land.

Every Friday, we went to my aunt's place, the unofficial speakeasy down the road. My Auntie was famous for her Hillbilly buffet:  salami, summer sausage, tube cheese and crackers all washed down with cases of Labatt 50. The adults didn't leave me out. Even at age eight or nine, I was allowed a couple of belts of rye. It was at my Aunt's place that I first learned about the "teach a kid to drink at home and he won't have problems later" mythology.

At age 12 -- I will never forget this -- I suggested to the rents that I might like a beer. They all laughed uproariously and snapped a cap for me.  I was instructed to drink the whole thing. I didn't like the taste of beer at all, but I would be damned if I would be laughed at. So down it went. Over the years, I got to like beer a lot. I credit my hillbilly relatives for this.

Substance abuse was taught at home like it was some kind of right of passage.

You want to smoke? Okay, here's a cigarette. But, you have to smoke the whole thing. No wonder so many kids started smoking. Parents were like crack dealers back then. They got you at first drag.

Fortunately, smoking was never something I could get my head around. Like eating head cheese. But man, my relatives loved their roll-your-owns. With six adults in the house, all of whom were smokers, the place smelled like the saloon on Gunsmoke.

I was never taught any useful habits like studying or food prep. Nobody cared if I got good grades or not. Maybe it's because they didn't know better. I think it's because they didn't care. I wasn't going to amount to anything anyway.

My mom scoffed at book learning. She was proud of the fact she dropped out of school in grade nine and suggested that I get a job working as a bank teller. Now that would be a career.

Fortunately, Gramps handed me an old Underwood typewriter that he'd been given by somebody whose car he fixed. That's when I began to write.

Bet none of them would have figured I'd be using the typing skill I learned on that Underwood to tell you these stories today. They probably figured I'd be dead from second hand smoke.


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