And The Oscar Goes To….

I never thought I’d end up here.

I was supposed to be living in New York City by now, a famous comedic actress on Broadway. I was supposed to have received numerous Tony Awards for my stellar performances in various musicals as a singer and dancer, and accolades for the countless Neil Simon plays written just for me.

Everybody said I was supposed to be a star. All my teachers, my friends, my drama coach. I could cry on cue, deliver a line without mistake, and hit my mark every time. Directors were amazed at the volume of my speech, coming from this little body. I could belt out a song and not break a sweat. I learned how to pose and how to strut. If I didn’t make it on Broadway, it was a no brainer that I could be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. Amateur photographers would take my pictures for college portfolios, saying I could use them for my casting call rounds. I did summer stock productions from 1972-1974. I did go for a casting call once, in 1973.

Then I got married.

Dreams of youth have a way of crashing down around you. Reality sets in. I got pregnant shortly after the marriage. We were both children, raising a child. He was a student and I worked in a psychiatric hospital. My stellar performances were limited to sad, mentally ill women, and a two month old. Tough crowd.

As time went on and I became a single mother, I never gave up the dream of becoming a star. But motherhood has a way of knocking everything out of your knapsack and replacing it with baby bottles, toys and teething rings. My casting bag became a baby bag. I realized I had this little life I was responsible for, and I had to make a choice. It was getting crowded in my knapsack.

I never looked back. I am happy with the choice I made, that of being a mom. I was a star to five more children as the years went by. My talent now lies within them. They are writers, singers, songwriters, photographers, musicians, artists and comedians.

They are my greatest achievements, the result of stellar performances of determination, education and compassion. They are my Tonys, my Oscars, my Emmys. Their pictures decorate every wall of my house, every corner of my office. Because I chose them over myself, I will forever have them as statues on my mantle. They have done me proud, and my ambitions and dreams will live on in them.

I never thought I’d up here. But I am so glad I did.

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The Summer I Started Drinking Beer

This summer has been a very hot one, and I’ve found the only thing that quenches my thirst is a cold beer.  Not just any beer; it has to be Blue Moon with an orange slice in it.  I laugh at myself each time I raise a glass, or drink it straight from the bottle, as I was the last person in my family who would discover the joys of a cold, creamy ale.

I’ve always been a light drinker.  Sometimes people like me are referred to as ‘social drinkers’ but it is my opinion that many an alcoholic began their descent into addiction by claiming it was only ‘social.’   Truth is, just about every alcoholic I know did begin socially but then retreated to the solitude of their own existence, just to be able to get through the night.

I know; I grew up surrounded by them.

I started drinking when I was 18, the legal limit for New York State when I was a kid.  It was very big deal back then, because it meant I could go to the corner bar with my dad.  He liked scotch and soda, or when he felt like celebrating he would call them 7 & 7.

My first drink of choice was a rum & coke, with lots of ice (his idea, not mine) and it tasted  strangely familiar.  It felt like a grown up version of a McDonald’s drink.   It was good, but not as exciting as I thought it would be.  All I needed was a hamburger to go with it and it would have been the same as a regular night of the week.  

For the most part, I didn’t really drink much except for when I went disco dancing with my girlfriends.  Line dancing the “Hustle” and swooning over John Travolta, the Bee Gees and screaming at the top of our lungs like we were Long Island’s version of Donna Summer became part of the landscape.  It was a lot of fun and the rum & cokes would flow.

Shortly after the night life I got married and had a child, so my drinking party days were pretty much non existent for a couple of years.  My life changed as I raised a young boy on my own and had to be responsible.  My father would suggest a glass of wine during the holidays, but that was about it.  I was beginning to witness the results of all that social drinking that surrounded me, and I was wary.  My mother never drank for the very same reason.    In fact, I have only been falling-down-stinking-sleeping-near-the-toilet-drunk one time in my life, when I was 26 years old.

“Its a disease” she used to whisper, long before medical studies proved her right.  “They can’t help it; its in their blood, we’re Irish you know. Its in us too.”

I didn’t drink for years, not until my early 40’s.  Marrying into an Italian family, the red wine flowed, carafes appearing at every evening meal, including Sunday afternoons.  In fact, my teenage children were also encouraged to have a glass during dinner.  Luckily, they didn’t like it.  Their own experimentation would happen later, with hard booze and hangovers, none of which were condoned by their father or me.

I could never understand why anyone would drink something that tasted like iodine.  Vodka had NO taste to me, and Scotch burned like cleaning fluid on my tongue.  Every now and then I would have a Gin and Tonic, but that was a rarity too, mindful of the alcoholic gene lurking within my system.

The last few years have been spent enjoying an after dinner cocktail, something more sophisticated and reasonable like a cosmopolitan or a margarita, at least to my psyche.  My husband and I, quickly learning this was an expensive ritual, switched to wine.  He, to red, and me, to blush or white.  I could no longer tolerate the red.

Divorce is often a compilation of years of habits and routines, the result of something ending and a new chapter beginning.  I find now that I cannot bring myself to pour a glass of wine in the evening; it has become too sad and the reminder of what used to be.

I think of my father during those times and can picture his smiling face, a little tipsy from the six pack he had begun earlier in the day to begin the weekend.  He drank Budweiser and Schlitz during the summers of my childhood, and it was during this hot season of my 58th year that I discovered the joy of a cold, crisp brew sliding down my throat.

Today is his birthday; he would have been 82 years old.  I miss him everyday.  I get my sense of humor from him, and can hear him whispering in advice in my ear when I am working.

Tonight, as the sun sets over the lake, I will raise my Blue Moon high towards heaven and toast him, laughing as I whisper “Happy Birthday, Daddy.  This Bud’s for you.”

I just might have two.