Richie was unwell. He came home from the war with a monkey on his back: he was an alcoholic. When Nora and Richie were dating, he hardly drank at all. Of course, she couldn’t drink legally, so that may have been part of it. When they did drink, they were dancing and Nora never saw Richie drunk. And if he got rowdy his army friends took him back across the river to sleep it off in the barracks.
She’d never had to deal with a drunk Richie.
Drinking culture in America changed after World War II. As with so many things, we can blame capitalism. Ratified January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment prohibited making, selling, or transporting alcohol. It was passed in the hope that this action would prevent alcoholism, drunkenness, and violence associated with drinking. It may not surprise anyone that the majority of proponents for the temperance movement were women. But it wasn’t because women were prudes or wished to stifle the fun of the men. Women had no legal rights and no protection. They were considered someone’s property and responsibility, even if that stopped just short of selling them.
Women were the ones most often affected by the effects of alcohol, in that they suffered at the hands of drunken males. Women had no income of their own and no say in how the family finances were used. If a woman’s husband drank away all their money, she and her children were destitute with no hope of relief. It was not a crime to beat a woman and a woman who was raped was obviously asking for it, so rowdy drunkenness could quickly get out of hand, while the heightened emotions that result from drinking alcohol could lead to physical violence with the knowledge that no help was coming. Since women couldn’t control the men or the law, the next best thing was to get rid of the alcohol. In the name of morality and social reform, they recruited men to their side until there was enough support for banning alcohol and it was done.
The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment on December 5, 1933. It wasn’t because the prohibition of alcohol was a failure; alcoholism and drunkenness actually had been reduced in the time between the two amendments. But people not so concerned with the law saw a way to make money, and a black market for alcohol quickly came into being. Organized crime made so much money, it was able to bribe police forces. There was a breakdown in the rule of law. Then the Great Depression hit, and the US Government realized they could use the tax revenue from alcohol sales and create jobs making, selling, and transporting alcohol legally. Et voila! The 21st Amendment.
Women had earned the right to vote by then, so no more beaten or destitute women when alcoholism began to rise again. Ha, right. The Violence Against Women Act wasn’t passed until 1994. It was allowed to expire in 2018 and was finally reauthorized in 2022. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would constitutionally guarantee the rights of women to own property, marry and divorce who and when they wanted, be employed, be legally recognized as people with governance over their own bodies and lives? It has yet to be ratified. As a result, the rights of women in the USA are being whittled away every single day.
In order to get people to buy alcohol after the 21st Amendment was ratified, a campaign was undertaken to downplay the harmful effects of alcohol, a campaign that continued until the 60s. At the same time, alcohol’s public image was changed. Beer was sold as being less harmful and less likely to cause poor behavior than hard liquor. It was advertised as being suitable for home entertainment, sold as being more domestic, neighborly, and appropriate for family celebrations.
The idea of a genetic predisposition toward addiction/alcoholism was scoffed at. Much like mental illness, alcoholism was considered to be a character flaw. Not everyone agreed; Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935. But overall, in the 50s alcohol was considered normal and essential in every American household.
Nora and Richie were moving up; before long they would be part of the thriving middle class. Their house reflected that. It had every modern convenience: a dishwasher, air conditioners in the living room and bedrooms, automated washer and dryer, a TV set, an electric can opener, a freezer, and a refrigerator that made ice! They entertained at home and served cocktails. They joined Richie’s coworkers on nights out and drank with them. If Richie didn’t stop off for drinks with friends after work, he was sure to have a beer while waiting for dinner. Drinking culture in America wasn’t much different than it is today, but it was a new culture at the time.
Nora began to realize that Richie was always drinking. His household/yard chores were being neglected because he was drinking instead. Worse than that though, his mood and overall demeanor had changed. He was no longer the cheerful, easy-going companion she’d married. He was no longer an attentive father. Instead, he was short-tempered and remote. He wanted quiet and sent the children away when they tried to play with him. He became overbearing and expected immediate obedience. He was impatient with Nora and didn’t seem to care if she was around or not.
They stopped socializing because Richie had a tendency to get offended and start arguments. He started arguments at home, too, and always seemed to be shouting while demanding quiet from everyone else. He was hungover in the mornings and went straight for a beer when he got home. He hadn’t become physically violent, but his moods had the whole family living in fear of him.
Nora hated sharing a bed with her husband now. He reeked of alcohol; the bed smelled no matter how often she washed the sheets. He snored to wake the dead and thrashed around in his sleep. One night he managed to give her a black eye with his thrashing. That was the end of the line for Nora. Something had to be done. She asked Richie to speak with their pastor; he refused–his drinking was not the pastor’s business. She asked him to attend AA. Another refusal. AA is for alcoholics and he wasn’t an alcoholic.
Nora went out and bought twin beds. She had their shared double bed removed and the beds made up by the time Richie got home from work. She followed him into the bedroom and invited him to sit on a bed. She sat down on the other bed, facing him, and she told him she loved him. She’d never loved anyone else, never wanted to love anyone else. He was her husband, the father of her children. But she was not going to continue sleeping with a drunk. They would continue to share the room because they were still married and she loved him and didn’t want to be separated from him. But it was dangerous for her to be in the same bed with him.
Nora told Richie that as soon as he got help and stopped drinking, she would buy a full bed and get rid of the twin beds. If he preferred to keep drinking, the twin beds would stay. If he preferred to sleep alone, so be it. If the situation was the same when Larry grew up and moved out, Nora would move into his room. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to do any of this. She told Richie she still loved him and believed he still loved her. She loved sleeping curled up next to him; she’d miss that. But she was no longer willing to put up with the drinking.
The twin beds stayed for several years until Richie got the drinking under control. When I was little, I thought twin beds were natural progressions for married couples. You shared a bed until you were grandparents, and then you got twin beds. It made complete sense to me. I was actually shocked when the twin beds disappeared and my grandparents started to share a bed again. I asked Nora why they only had one bed now and she told me she loved my grandpa and wanted to sleep next to him, so she bought a big bed.
The twin beds never returned. But Nora’s cheerful, steady Richie did. They shared the same bed until the day he died.