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  • Over the holidays, I worked on re-purposing a downstairs room into our bedroom. It’s the only room in the house that will accommodate a king-sized bed, along with dressers, chair, etc. – the things we want included in our bedroom. It's time for us to graduate to a king-sized bed.

    I laid carpet in there, and built the bed frames. It’s actually two twin beds tied together, which makes a king. What’s cool about these frames is, they have remote controls that allow you to raise or lower each side, as you see fit. I completed the last piece of the bed frame assembly Monday morning, and next weekend, we’ll move into our new room.

    Before I did all of that, I had to clear the room out, to lay the carpet and to relocate some of the stuff that had been stored in there to other storage places in the basement. This included the big trunk that held all the files and papers I inherited from my Mom’s place, when she passed in 2012. Somehow, I’ve evolved into being the family historian, so all this stuff has come to me. There’s actually bits and pieces of family history stuff scattered among some of my other siblings, as well, especially my brother Chris, who lived about 20 minutes from Mom, her last five years or so.

    While taking breaks from the work I was doing, I found myself browsing through some of the files from the trunk. They were mostly in bags and boxes in there, and I’d had to take all of them out of the trunk in order to move it – it was still pretty damn heavy by itself, without all those files in it.

    I had quickly perused most of these files when I first brought them all home from Mom’s that September, after she left us. I was in no condition or position to do more than that, at the time. This time, I took some time to read through some of the papers.
  • There were a few files of my father’s journals. I’m never sure whether it’s okay to read someone’s journal who has long since died – Dad left us in 1996 – I mean, they wrote it for themselves, and what they wrote was never meant for anyone else but themselves. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, if they never wanted anyone else to read them, why didn’t they get rid of them? Why are they still here, with me, now? Why don’t I just throw them away?

    I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do that. I feel that I’ve been entrusted with these documents, and preserve them, I will. But, I finally concluded, what good are documents, if no one ever reads them? So, I read them. I’m glad I did.

    They gave me a snap shot of what life was like for my father during a critical period of his life. The entries I read were from the time, right before my mother finally found AA and got sober, after years of heavy and destructive drinking, along with a healthy prescription drug habit she’d picked up, courtesy of the doctors of the fifties and early sixties, who truly believed there was a drug to cure any and everything. None of them ever picked up on the fact that Mom’s problem might have been alcoholism. She was too pretty, too fine a woman to have that kind of a problem. Alcoholism awareness has come a long way since then, thank God.

    It was a very revealing snapshot, those entries. Wow! I certainly wouldn’t share them, but I will say that they gave me a very deep sense of gratitude, probably more than I’ve ever felt before, for the impact that her finding AA had on me, and the rest of my family. They revealed a man at the end of the line. He had deeply loved this woman that he’d met within weeks of leaving the Christian Brother order, got married within months of their first date, and proceeded to have 6 children with over the next 8 years, me being the sixth, then adding a 7th, five and a half years later.

    She’d told him on their very first date that she was an alcoholic, just like her Daddy. He, of course, did not believe her. How could such a beautiful, 20 year old lady of great intelligence be a drunk? By 1963, he believed. He was completely disgusted with who she’d become, trying to find some shred of the love he once had for her, which was still there, but buried far below all of the day to day crap he had to deal with, on account of her bizarre behavior and compulsions to drink.
  • I still have distinct memories of those days, of how very unhappy they both were. We moved in May of that year (1963), and I can remember being in the car with Dad as we pulled up to the new house, the car loaded with stuff, one of dozens of trips we made back and forth between the old house and the new, a most chaotic move, and Dad just losing it, breaking down and crying, hard, a man in complete defeat, wailing and bawling like a baby. It really shook me up. I didn’t know what I could do for him – I’d never seen him like that. It was most unsettling to me.

    Reading those journal entries made that memory make a hell of a lot more sense. The pain and anger that man were carrying around, while trying to raise a family of seven kids with an erratic woman he knew he could lose at any moment – I can’t believe he stayed. It was only because of us that he did. This became clear, reading those journal entries. He was pretty much done with her.

    She was, by then, chronically suicidal – he never knew, when she left the bedroom to go downstairs, if he would find her with her head in the oven, as he had on numerous occasions. He would have just let her go, and finish their agony once and for all, if he didn’t have to worry about the whole house blowing up, or one of the kids finding her, as my older sister once did, at age 11, overdosed and sprawled out on the living room floor with a suicide note beside her.

    Also found in the files were his letter to her when she finally went for treatment in 1964, at the hospital in Akron, Ohio, where AA first started, 30 years before. And the journal entries later that year, revealing, first-hand, the miracle that Mom’s recovery had wrought in their lives - in our lives. His gratitude is so palpable in those entries – he’s still in complete awe and wonder at how something so terribly tragic, the drama that was his life (our life), could have possibly turned around so dramatically, so unbelievably.
  • I also read many letters he wrote to prospective Alanon members, and letters he wrote to their alcoholic spouses, who may or may not have gotten into AA for their own recovery. Dad had a real way with words, and a way of explaining to the uninitiated how AA worked, and how Alanon worked. He would tell of the miracle that happened in his life, and how that same miracle was available to anyone who was defeated enough by the effects of alcoholism to allow that something much greater than them could help lead them out of that hell.

    Knowing, from the vantage point of where I sit today, 50 years later, knowing the ongoing miracle of it in my life – knowing how her recovery, and Dad’s involvement in Alanon, changed everything for my family, and eventually helped me to see a way out of my own addictive hell – I can only be filled with a wonder and a gratitude for how my life has turned out, knowing full well how it could have turned out, had she not gotten out, had I not gotten out, of the path we were both on, before we found recovery.

    It gave me a new appreciation for my father, and for what he went through – for the fact that he hung in there, for us, when it would have been a hell of a lot easier to bale out of that sick relationship, and leave her and us, to fend for ourselves.

    Instead, he stayed through the hell, he stayed long enough to witness the most amazing miracle he would ever witness in his life, and to be a witness of that miracle to countless others, for the rest of his life.

    All I can say is – thanks for staying, Dad. Things could have been so much different if you’d left.
    Pictures are of my father and my mother. In the last photo, Mom's on the left, her little sister Flossie in the middle, and her mother, Helen is on the right.
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