Monday, October 13, 2008

The land of cool enchantment






My 23rd sobriety anniversary date is October 15 and, because I don’t have a suitable old postcard for the occasion, Old Postcard Wednesday will become Old Postcard Friday this week.

I didn’t go searching for clips of the Hamm’s Beer Commercial at You Tube. Instead one landed in my late-night world while I was glancing at dozens of clips under dozens of topics. With the first thumps on the tom-tom, this small home office off the kitchen illuminated by two blue handmade ceramic lamps I bought for my mother in the 80s at Portland Saturday Market, these days glowing with energy-conserving spiral CFL bulbs, was just a holding cell for the physical me in front of the computer monitor, that was no longer a computer monitor but, instead, morphed into the curved thick-glass, black-and-white television screen housed in a wood cabinet with the speaker section in front made of a thick burlap-type material that took on the smell of cigarette smoke and dust in the old house on Forest Street in Reno.

I was four, five, big six, and a night-owl even then. I loved the TV for the kid’s programs after school and on Saturday mornings, but most of all for the shows at night produced for grown-ups and not for me. My evenings began with The Huntley-Brinkley Report. I was often the sole viewer while my younger sister played in our bedroom or outside, and the woman who stayed with us while our mother worked in the casinos floated around in her dream world of finery and fame. She was with us for years even after our mother married our step-father, who also worked in the casinos, initially going by Auntie Lorraine and then later requesting that we address her as Mrs. Olson, in spite of there being no Mr. Olson until one day she wandered up the block to visit a neighbor and they locked us out of the house, telling us to wait on the porch. I led my sister back home and called our step-father at work to tattle on the babysitter. His instructions were to stay inside and lock the doors. I do not remember if he specified that Mrs. Olson should be locked out should she decide to return to our house, which she did, but when her bony fingers furiously rattled the single-pane glass on the front door I kept it locked and yelled out to her, “You’re fired, Mrs. Olson.”

The ease with which I directed our little lives that afternoon must have been helped along by scenes from TV, quite likely even a comedy sketch that I adapted for my own needs in crisis. Plus, my fury had been brewing in a stew of confusion after my honey-colored teddy bear, the one with me in portraits at age three, disappeared and I later saw it one day when Auntie Lorraine took us by her tiny apartment for the first and only time. There on her bed was my bear, along with some of our other lost toys. My memory lapses at that point and I don’t know whether I told my mother about the discovery (surely, she would have believed me and demanded my bear be returned) or whether I was silent because of something Lorraine said. Nevertheless, my actions were supported when the folks came home and I recall three angry adults bellowing at the back gate, all smoking in the dark, and then disbursing after Mrs. Olson received her final pay.

There were other day sitters and some who came in the evenings when our parents were out on the town, which was too frequently in their early marriage when they drank heavily and argued fought bitterly. Against that backdrop I was buoyed by cats, books, records, and TV. I go back to this vision of myself watching alone, although I know we enjoyed programs, like The Lawrence Welk Show, as a family including one Emmy Awards show when the announcer was prolonging the suspense for the award for best news show and I blurted out Huntley-Brinkley! just before he called out their names and my mother’s head snapped to the side to look at me and she asked How did you know that? and I said they were my favorites. She’d never heard of them.

But everyone who saw TV in those days and for decades to follow knew the Hamm’s Beer Commercials for the jingle and mostly for the Hamm's bear. This was a special world opening to me. I loved the song. I loved the happy bear. I loved the sparkling scenery, the beauty of nature and wildlife made vivid that it was in black-and-white was incidental and I loved the feel-good nature of the entire production of each of the Hamm’s ads. They enchanted and excited me. They mesmerized and calmed me. Even now I feel their effect in a part of me where the darkness hides, where the darkness lightens under their spell. It’s the same place that the power of alcohol later sought out.



11 comments:

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Lydia--what a creative, thoughtful post!
Love that you are celebrating--gasp!--23 years of Sobreity! WOW!
Peace

Naomi said...

So proud for you on the approach of another year of sobriety. Your writing here, once again, is very moving, leads me to admire and feel sad. I am close to your child, the child in me. Different specifics, yet similar.

Grateful for your sharing.

Yours, naomi

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

lydia - you should be proud of your strength and your achievement. You should also do a quick search on the internet for Temperance Postcards - i thought of this when you mentioned your achievement because my great-grandad used to give Temperance slide-shows and my gran signed the pledge when she was a kid (and never broke it)

My memory of babysitters/whatever is that the few we had as kids would spend all evening using our phone to talk to their friends. But that was a long, long time ago

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

What a milestone, Congratulations.

and this....
but when her bony fingers furiously rattled the single-pane glass on the front door I kept it locked and yelled out to her, “You’re fired, Mrs. Olson.”

HILARIOUS!!

Carlos Lorenzo said...

I am not of the sober kind yet but anyone who is, should be obviously wiser than me. I enjoyed reading about your memories. There were arguments in my family's past too but fortunately there was no alcohol, divorce or day sitters. What we basically have in common is those long days watching black and white TV which are connected to our child memories. I wonder what the 40s or 30s child memories are like without TV and cartoons. I was particularly moved and impressed by the way you connect the beer ad (the bear is very funny), the good memories, the quarrels, the day sitters and your sobriety. I think many people should read your post and stop to think.

Lydia said...

Lisa,
You are a pro writer so your compliment made me soar!
Yea, 23 years.... I remember BEING 23 so the passage of time is a mystery to me.


Naomi,
Your comments meant so much to me. They signify that we've not only connected as older women but also as children. How special is that? :)


DFTP,
Not proud, grateful! I have one friend from the treatment facility who has remained sober and we both realize how fortunate we are that our sobriety lasts.
I love the idea of trying to find some Temperance Postcards for my Old Wednesday Postcard posts.
You had young girls as babysitters; my mother always hired older women...


WW,
Thanks for your well-wishes and I'm so glad you got a laugh from that episode with "Auntie Lorraine, aka Mrs. Olson." She was really something and I'd make her a character in a novel if I had a novel in me (which I don't). :)


Carlos,
O, I don't think that you are less wise because you aren't the sober type. Not at all. People without addiction to alcohol should enjoy fully the pleasures of drinking moderately, sharing fine wines, etc. with friends over wonderful (and wise) conversations! Where the wisdom truly comes in is that so very important decision NOT to drive after drinking....
I appreciate that you appreciated the way I conveyed the story in reference to this anniversary.

Yes, I wonder too now what the memories of those raised in the 30s and 40s were. Radio. Probably lots more family time. My mother, who was a kid in the 20s, used to describe play, play, play - mostly outside!

distracted by shiny objects said...

I'm going to come back and read this--just got off of my 12 hrs and mbrain is tired. Couldn't leave without saying blessings on your anniversary. I know the work that goes into getting through one day, let alone 23 years. Considered yourself hugged :>)

GutsyWriter said...

Congratulations on the 23 years! I have an American friend in Belize who struggles, especially after her husband passed away on Thanksgiving last year.

Lydia said...

Distracted,
The hug was most welcome and I thank you for giving it before you took your much-deserved rest. I truly cannot imagine a 12-hour day in your profession. So, hug returned.


GutsyWriter,
Thank you for your kind wishes and for being here! Your friend has had such a loss; I'll keep her in my meditations. I'm coming over to your blog as soon as I get my next post published.

johno said...

Congratulations!!! 23 years!! FLIPPIN LONG TIME... may you have many years to come. Have a great anniversary week, with some good AA joyful recovery moment memories coming back to you xx :)

Lydia said...

Johno,
Thanks so much for your good wishes! It really is a "flippin long time" and your description made me laugh. Incidentally, I think your blog is one of the best out there with a sobriety slant. You remind me daily of things I need to keep fresh.

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