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APRIL 13, 2012 12:46AM

Ballad of the Broken Bottle

Rate: 20 Flag



The other night I had a friend over and she spilled a glass of wine. It was late, and my laptop was still on the table, but I had a flash of anger that was beyond the event. Tonight a friend opened a can of ginger ale that , well, was a disaster and again I was angry for a moment before doing what I did in both situations – quickly clean up the spill.


When I was a very little girl, probably five or six but not seven, I was sent home from school because I was sick. My father was the minister at the Congregational Church in this small town, and I suspect he was called to get me. This may or may not have been the day that I was to recite two poems that I had memorized. I mostly recall getting through the performance and running to the girls room to vomit. Not from nerves, but from something we were not allowed in my family – illness.


I know the teacher was concerned as I asked to go on.I may have whispered, begging, to her to not call my parents the day of the poems. So let’s assume it was the same day.


 When I, youngest of four children, went to school my mother returned to her teaching career. Our home, the parsonage , was about six blocks away from the elementary school, with the church located about midpoint. It could not have been more ideal or idyllic – except for the fact that my father was drinking to the point of utter inebriation every day. I loved him fiercely, but so much was disintegrating.


Why did the ginger ale set me off? That day that I was sent home sick my father gave me money and said I should go to the store and buy some ginger ale. I was six, not seven, so I walked to the candy store at the other end of the street and purchased a bottle of ginger ale. And on the way home I dropped it. I dropped it. And on the way home I dropped it. Just like a sing song nursery rhyme.


I might have considered running away at that point, knowing what I would face. My father was furious – and sent me back to the store to replace the bottle, with no money. I walked back and asked the owner (Miss Elsie, if I recall) to give me another bottle because I had dropped the first one and broken it.


She knew our family, and I think she must have wanted to send a message, because she explained to me that I could not ask her to replace the bottle of ginger ale since I had dropped it, and so I was responsible for it. Although I told her my father said I should get another bottle of ginger ale, she remained firm.


I guess I must have vomited everything out at school, because I don’t recall any embarrassing throwing up (which would be cause for punishment). I suppose I walked home slowly, knowing that I would once again not meet expectations, and once again be a very slight and tiny glitch in my fathers other world.


This story is absolutely true, yet I am a six not seven year old narrator. My mother confirmed most of it when I was particularly confrontational with her . (My parents divorced and my father moved back to his homeland, Scotland, when I was 11). My mother confirmed coming home to me sobbing and my father confused and defensive about his actions.


I tell this story not because I want sympathy, although I accept it readily. I mean, really? I accept it – unlike pity. I would love for you to love little me. I needed it then and probably still do.


 I tell it because I went on to love my father, who physically and emotionally abused me many more times. Actually, I never stopped loving him. Hate the sin but love the sinner.

 For me, the greater action was to know this person and find out what I could. We never talked about that day, or the day he failed to show up to pick me up from Kindergarten graduation (for hours), or how he would ask me to wiggle through the window and under the altar to get the extra key to the church where it was hidden beyond his inebriation and behind his faith.


We became friends, I suppose. And maybe he always wanted that anyway.


I can be my own failure or success now. I can clean up the ginger ale, the wine, and the memories. I can carry my bottle, for better or worse.






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"Words like please and thank you
help us to be polite.
And these few words ought to be used
often day and night."

Good advice! father died in 1989, when I was 19, and we saw each other once a year at I know this sounds like I am forgiving my abuser, but it is a different story, and an introduction to other things I want to write. Thanks!
Damn Alison. Heartbreaking but beautifully said. OK, write the other things.
Thanks tr ig - i think I will! I'm glad you can see the beauty because i am trying hard to tell a story without heros or demons.of course, it's far easier to forgive when someone is dead.
I think we'd all love the little you.

"Hate the sin but love the sinner."
Wise indeed. So glad you became friends. Forgiveness is a gift for all involved. Beautifully told.
The immensity of her responsibility
needs to be dropped like a bottle.
Let her dad go back & pick up the pieces, tell Miss Elsie what for.
That's no lesson for a little girl ; I'm glad you grew to be his friend
some people are just so damn difficult
but they love their little kids beyond their means to express.
What Kim said.

I used to dwell a lot on similar stories about this parent or that one, but realized they were growing old, and I was too. Old enough, all three of us, that if we did not embrace a present together, our opportunity would pass. One aspect of forgiveness that I did not understand until my mother died was how it leaves you without regrets, no 'if only'. That's a big deal.
It is amazing what we carry with us from childhood. Sometimes I think that if parents only understood that, they would do a better job. But, alas, they were children too and should know. You have my sympathy. Nice piece.
There is much to analyze in this and you do much of it yourself. The layers of our needs and our memories collide and come out in actions years later. So interesting and honest.
On its own, spilling wine is reason enough to get angry.

I'm joking of course...but not about how much I thought of this essay. Well told, our 6 not 7 year old narrator.
...or how he would ask me to wiggle through the window and under the altar to get the extra key to the church where it was hidden beyond his inebriation and behind his faith.

Beautifully said. And little you has my sympathy. After my mother died a friend of mine couldn't understand the depth of my grief and despondency. She told me "Your mother wasn't a saint." - Exactly.
Have your friends pass a basic coordination competency test before you let them in the door. Which doesn't mean that you have to serve them a beverage if they pass. I'm sure all of us can empathize about certain childhood events that have a lasting effect well into adulthood.
I rated and ran this morning, but have been thinking of this piece all day Alison.
So many things to like, to pause on.
"I tell this story not because I want sympathy, although I accept it readily. I mean really? I accept it - unlike pity. I would love for you to love the little me. I needed it then and probably still do."

These snippets between the action so to speak, always allows me to feel we are sitting on a beach or have been at a cafe table for a long long time, and we have just stumbled on the stories of our childhood. Your writing is so endearing that way, you create that mood in this reader. Lots of layers here, glad to know there will be chapter or story II.
*allows* alone will do fine, smiley emoticon.
How strong the picture is in your mind still. Yes write it out share your story, cleanse your soul I will be here to read it.
For me, the greater action was to know this person and find out what I could. ~

Also amazing is how brave one is being, even when one feels shattered.
Yes, write the other things, please. Thank you.
I thought I might find a song here. Ballad Of The Broken Bottle: a good title.

You loved your Dad unconditionally. You climbed through the window to save his neck so he could save his flock. How dare you get sick, aim? I look very much forward to more stories from your pen, ur, your computer, your imagination! Welcome back, lass.