Dicky Turner was an illiterate fish hawker from Lancashire and one of us. I stopped using the word alcoholic awhile back, not because I know what I’m doing but because it feels self-punishing. Do not mistake this for denial, but rather a search for a more proactive label.
Could it be Teetotal*?
The first time I heard this word was in my parents’ kitchen one Christmas Eve many years ago when an elderly neighbor came by and declined the glass of cheer my mother offered. “Oh no thanks. I’m a teetotaler,” Mrs. Wimbly screeched, her characteristic gameshow host smile stretched across her bony face. She wore the smile in striking contrast to her personality, which, if I had to personify it, might be one of the apple trees from The Wizard of Oz. She was a tough one to love, and she didn’t give a flying you-know-what. Mrs. Wimbly was unapologetically who she was, and only many years later do I appreciate this and wish I could invite her over for a cup of tea and a thousand Lucky Strikes, as she was also a smoking fiend, another possible tip off that she too may have been one of us.
A more recent use of the word Teetotaler came in a comment by a lovely reader I’d always felt must have stumbled across my blog accidentally and then was too polite to leave. Though it turns out she too does not drink for her own personal reasons. I do tend to think of teetotals as people who develop an early preference not to drink, rather than those of us who tried it – and how – for many years before being more or less forced to let it go. And by let it go, I mean having it pried from our stubborn, severely dehydrated hands.
And that may be why I like the word Teetotal so much. It implies the plucky, can-do attitude of someone who frankly doesn’t care what everybody else is doing. Alcohol isn’t for everyone, and it’s certainly not for me.
The origin of the word brings us to plucky Dicky Turner, who was part of the Seven Men of Preston, early movers and shakers of the temperance movement. By 1833, temperance societies were cropping up everywhere, and at one meeting fish hawker Dicky uttered in response to moderation “nothing but the tee-total would do”. Or else he said in strong accent “I’ll be reet down out-and-out t-t-total for ever and ever”. Which, I tend to bet it’s the second, or maybe hope is a better word.
Reading a little about the history of the teetotal movement reminds me of the excitement I feel in the sober blogs. This was all happening close to two centuries ago, and more than a century before AA was founded, and these people were fired up about not drinking and eager to find others to share in the joy of their newfound lives.
The most recent time I heard the word Teetotaler was in my parent’s kitchen again. Mrs. Wimbly is long gone, god rest her sour, vibrant soul, so this time it was a family friend asking if I was “another one of those teetotalers”. Out of 10 adults gathering, 3 of us were teetotalers. This is remarkable and, I realize, possibly temporary, as not everyone sticks to the movement long term.
“Yep, I sure am,” I said proudly flashing my own gameshow host smile and doing my best not to throw in jazz hands.
“So what’s that all about?” my friend asked.
“Hangovers, mostly.” Every adult understands Hangovers. They are hard to argue with.
“It just wasn’t good for me. I’m much happier without,” I added.
This led to a branch-off discussion about how sensitive this person is to whiskey in particular, at which point she excused herself to grab a beer. Not everyone wants to be a Teetotal. It’s an exclusive club, and maybe we drink tea or sparkling water or nothing at all, but a great number of us are full of good cheer and I am one proud member.
* please note teetotal, teetotaler and tee-total are used interchangeably in this post but all mean the same thing, much like alky, alchy, and drunk.