She's sitting on a bench outside the nursing home smoking a Tareyton. Mom wears her classic get-up: Loose, old, yet elegant vanilla slacks, her dun-colored rain coat and, especially since the hair loss, a light blue silk scarf with a faded floral design. She left her glasses inside but that's okay, she'll see them when they come over the fence across the Main Street, which is more of highway now but still crossable; people slow down for her. She walks with a certain haughtiness and dignity. That haughtiness disappears after one tall can of Miller High Life, but she can only get beer on her side of the highway, at the convenience store a block away run by a "very nice Indian man," she says.
She is patient. Some times it takes all morning before one or two come over the fence. She's waiting for golf balls. The home sits directly across from the Oysterville Marina Gold Course. The fence is about eight feet high, but the golfers here are mostly amateurs and it's surprising how many balls get shanked right over the fence. With luck, they bounce across the highway and Mom doesn't have to risk her neck to get one. But she still has to walk across the busy road and stand by the fence waving at the golfers. Some know her. They give her a dollar for each ball she returns. It's the mid-1980s and that's enough to get one tall Miller High Life.
Her best day came in early June that year when there was some fundraiser tournament. She returned eight golf balls, enough for a pint AND a tall beer and still enough for the next day's eye-opener. She got very drunk very quickly: It never used to be like that; not back in the little house on Second Avenue where she would sit with Annie Mae in the tiny apartment back of Dad's shop and drink Four Roses in big kitchen tumblers, all day. The nurses, who loved her, pick her up off the pavement outside, put her in a wheelchair and roll her back to her room where they minister to her cuts and bruises saying, "Oh, Sally, look what you've gone and done to yourself again, tsk tsk."
She always fell when she got really drunk, that much I know, because I would find her on the kitchen or bathroom floor after school. I'd clean her up and carry her to bed. It was important to have her in bed before Dad got home, because then there'd be hell to pay -- especially if he was only half drunk. Otherwise, there'd be the usual harangue about what a rum-dum my mother was, even as he sat there in a drunken rage himself drinking one Schaeffer after another until he went out to his shop; later he'd be snoring in the dim light, sitting in the old leather arm chair his daddy once napped in.
One thing about him: As drunk as he got, that man never stumbled or fell down. He was built like the tanks he commanded at the Armory; he quit the National Guard three years shy of full military retirement, because he believed Mom was fucking the Colonel. He believed in it so strongly that when I was born, it took weeks before he would accept me as his son. My Aunt Charlotte said that was a no-brainer because one look at my hands and you knew I was his kid. "You had his hands and his big carpenter thumbs," she said. I also had his liver, but that's another story.
When he was being a beserker, I was suddenly not his kid. He tried that queer talk on me he pulled on my brother to humiliate him; my poor brother: On the short side, short-sighted, with delicate features. Ah, but don't corner that kid. He could be feral. One beserker night when Dad cut the wires to all the appliances and lifted and dropped the huge cabinet Magnavox so it cracked, then grabbed a carving knife and took Mom and Sister hostage, my brother confronted him. Dad wanted me to cross the room and join his prisoners. My brother, facing a madman with a knife, collared me, and told my father that if he came anywhere near me, he'd have to use that knife on him. Dougie was ferocious and he meant what he said. There was a stand-off and Dad backed down. He lay the knife on the cedar sideboard. He let Mom and Sister go. He asked Dougie to please let me hug him; he started crying. The next morning I was sitting on his lap at his big oak desk. He was sweet and I remember the stunned look he had on his face; he couldn't remember what he'd done but he knew it was bad because of the TV. There was red stuff on his tee-shirt. I asked him what it was. "Paint, son. It's just paint." I believed him. He was my dad again and not a crazy man. It was paint.
Mom got two golf balls that day, the day I started writing about. That was pretty good. The guys on the course knew her. They called her "Golf Ball Sally" and, one of them, probably a little drunk gave her five dollars for one ball. "A tip for Gold Ball Sally!" he declared in his banana yellow Alligator shirt. That was her name, Sally. She married Albert. They were Bert and Sally. They had three children: Douglas, Roberta and me, Franklin Albert. Good g-d they tried their best. Me and Roberta are still here. That means they are, too. Even Dougie, who sought his escape from Dad in Vietnam. It was not a wise escape route.
– August 23, 2014