I still remember New Year’s Eve 1969. I was 19. A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn., and the legal drinking age was 18.
I had never had a drink. I had seen others use alcohol. Some of them were heavy drinkers. But my close friends and I had visions of becoming professional athletes. And athletes had nothing to do with alcohol, did they? Well, we did not become professional athletes and we soon discovered that athletes not only drink, they promote the use of liquor.
So what did the guys in our neighborhood drink? Mostly quarts of beer. I did not see a can of beer until I came to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee. In my Memphis neighborhood kids drink beer from large bottles. None of these six packs you see today. They also drank cheap wines. Wines with names like “Ripple” and “Orange Rock.” I don’t even know if either of these brands exist today.
So it’s New Year’s Eve 1969, and my friends and I decide to celebrate like adults. We plan a party at Milton’s home. He lives less than a stone’s throw from me. We had seen some advertisements for Bacardi Rum — and we thought Bacardi Rum 151 was the best. So we were set. We planned to play cards at Milton’s home while watching Dick Clark on TV. The card game would be called “Drink or Smell.” The winner of each hand gets a drink, and the losers get to sniff the glass.
Well, I went on a winning streak that night. I had always been good at playing cards, but on this night I could not lose. Even when I tried to lose I could not. I kept winning — and I got drunker and drunker. Finally we changed the rules so that everyone else could have a drink. So it no longer mattered if you won or lost a hand. That was sure better for me. The party ended about 2 a.m. on January 1, 1970. Since I was less than fives yards away from my home, I walked or staggered across the yard to the front door of my house. I sneaked quietly in to the house. Everyone was asleep.
I was too drunk to climb the stairs to my bedroom so I slept on the floor in front of the television. I wanted to be able to hear the college bowl football games on TV, even if I was too sick to raise my head to watch. That was back when the bowl season ended on New Year’s Day. You had the Cotton, Sugar, Rose, and Orange Bowls all on TV during the day and night. The whole TV event started with the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.
At about 6:30 in the morning I was awakened by my mother. What was she doing up at this time of morning? “Get up,” she said. “We have work to do today.”
I mumbled, “But Momma, it’s New Year’s!”
“I know what day it is,” she said. “But you have a lot of work to do today and the earlier we start the better. So get up!”
I got up. I was very sick and had a very bad headache. I was miserable. She said, “The first thing we’re going to do is wash dishes and clean up this kitchen.” I noticed that whenever she said “we,” that meant ME. I was going to do the work, and she was going to supervise. So I washed the dishes, cleaned the refrigerator and the other appliances.
Then came the job I really hated. Cleaning the stove with Easy Off Oven Cleaner! There was nothing easy about it. The dirt and grime inside that oven required a lot a scrubbing with Brillo pads. I hated it. My two sisters came down to watch but my mother told them to go and play because “we” were busy. I again reminded her it was New Year’s Day.
It took over two hours to finish the kitchen. She said, “Next I want you to sweep and mop the floors upstairs and downstairs.” That would take another hour of “our” time. And what made it worse was that she followed and watched me sweep and mop the floors. She was quick to point out whenever I missed a spot.
I don’t know how I made it. I was very sick, my head still hurt, and Momma did not show any mercy.
After I finished she said, “We have one more thing to do. Wax the living room floor.” I never liked waxing floors. That always took a long time.
Finally, I finished all the work. And Momma said, “Boo Boo, you are not going to go out drinking all night, because you think you are a man, and then come into this house and lay around all day sleeping it off. Do you understand me?”
I now knew why I was being forced to do all this work on a holiday. I nodded my head in reply. “Good,” she said. “Go watch your football games.”
My mother never saw me drunk again. In fact I never drank anything around her. Years later my sisters asked me if I drank alcohol or beer. I reminded them of what happened on New Year’s Day 1970. And they had a great laugh.
Happy New Year to you all!
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