Addiction Story #15, Moonflower: Beer Nuts in Hand vs. Walnuts in French Berry Bowl

As I navigate life’s road without sweets — a heavy sack I‘ve carried and a journey I’ve postponed for decades —I’m recording my struggles in real time. Here’s what came up when I put down the Beer Nuts; #15 in my flower-titled story series about sugar addiction.

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Limoges berry bowl, 5 1/2" wide, from about 1907. I don’t have this sweet pea and fern pattern, but own a few mismatched dainties from a Montclair yard sale at a nearby historic dream house. Link from this shop on Etsy.

don’t know if I have ever eaten a Beer Nut in my life before this week.

But when my husband, Dan, went to the liquor store the other night during this dark, dreary pandemic, he came home with what he went for, plus a 12-ounce can of Beer Nuts Original Peanuts (“The Unique Sweet & Salty Taste,” an Illinois brand dating to 1937).

Since teen Skippy is visiting Mimi and Poppy for another week (a logistics advantage of remote schooling) and Figgy has her own apartment, we don’t have Tate’s Bake Shop Cookies, Clif Bars or Sour Power Rainbow Belts around the house at the moment. By yesterday, heading into the weekend, I didn’t see any treats or sweets. The cupboards were bare unless you count Moroccan Mint Tea or raisins.

Except: That can of Beer Nuts on top of the fridge.

ope, I don’t like Beer Nuts, even if the label does say “Good Times, Great Nuts.” But while waiting for the electrician, who did not come, and the iPhone 12 Mini, which did not unfreeze, I grabbed some anyway, and ate them standing up.

And now I will delve into that.

hese nuts are served at bars, right, in addition to man caves and on Super Bowl Sundays?

I don’t frequent bars, though I have gone to local Tierney’s Tavern with Dan and friends to meet for a quick dinner, hear live music downstairs or celebrate someone’s birthday (first Patsy’s, then Michael’s) at lunchtime. I gravitate toward cocktails in upscale places, such as a fancy hotel in Maui, on our Hawaiian honeymoon in 1991, when we ordered Coco Locos poolside. I was wearing a white one-piece swimsuit. The straps were twisted from white cotton sailor’s rope and attached to the suit with little gold seashell buttons. A larger gilded, stitched seashell graced the front. I had a suntan.

I weighed about 75–80 pounds less than today but with the grace of God and my recovery program — and writing hard, which I have been doing in these flower-titled essays — I am peeling back some pounds, slowly but surely.

a-boo is a legendary restaurant with a pretty pink bougainvillea-covered wall on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I have been there on two Florida trips—first with Dan, and then with Sis. I was drawn in by the flowers, like a bee to honey — and then by the relatively affordable pleasure of a meal vs. a merchandise splurge in that exclusive seaside shopping pocket. The desserts (back when I was eating desserts) were top-shelf and so was the liquor. It is said that the Bloody Mary was invented there, and I tried Dan’s.

In high school, my friends drank a little, experimenting, like many kids in our small town. Something in me was afraid of that, and I stayed home Saturday nights, safely sheltered.

During college, I enjoyed cups of punch served at Rutgers Daily Targum parties. “Rosalita” played, we all danced and the red drink was sweet. I didn’t taste the vodka.

At weddings, I might seek a Baileys Irish Cream over ice, or Kahlua and cream. I think you can see where I’m going here. Dessert in a glass is more what I’m after. On my first “coffee” date with Dan in 1986, at a place on the West Side called Giggles, I ended up ordering a Baileys Irish Cream Milkshake with my burger.

Sure, I have enjoyed occasional farm-to-table meals with handpicked wine pairings, but in the end, alcohol doesn’t really lure me or agree with me. Sugar was my master.

here are some things I cannot write about here. Not here, not now, not yet, maybe never.

Alcoholism, a vein of liquor in my family….can’t/won’t write about that. Not even if it derailed lives and the bedrock of security, something kids should be entitled to. Not even if my mother denied it. And certainly not when my sister and brothers, my aunt and uncle, my many cousins, my Irish second cousins and their children, are all very much alive. The stories I hold in my heart and mind may or may not be the same stories they hold in theirs, and I would not want to share them in a public place, not at this juncture.

Yet we all know a dependence on drink is genetic, and I have seen it try to ravage someone I love. Several people I love. I have stood by and I have watched.

he’s a Carrie Nation,” my mother would sometimes say about me, smiling dismissively, when I was in my late teens. I think it was when we were at a gathering and people were drinking.

I can see her now. Her cavalier attitude, easy smile, flushed Irish skin, Clairol-brown hair that she had set on pink plastic rollers. Tiniest bit of Maybelline mascara, from a red tube. Brown skirt. Buttery, cocoa-colored waist-length suede jacket that Sis and I considered unusually cool for our mother.

She was smiling, holding a drink, likely a Manhattan (in that moment). I don’t think she meant for her comment to hurt me. I think she did not want others who were drinking to feel there was anything wrong with their choice.

“What’s a Carrie Nation?” I said.

Mom said she was a woman who thought drinking should be illegal.

I was caught off-guard.

I had never said that, or thought that — had I? — and I still don’t.

wasn’t until the other day, thanks to Wikipedia, that I read about Mrs. Nation in detail, and boy, was that scary. First of all, the Kentucky-born woman looks old and mean. I aim for feminine and pretty (when I can get my act together), gliding on Trish McEvoy pink Lip Perfector Conditioning Balm twice a day.

I can’t lie. Just seeing this photo and reading this text frightens me. What was my mother thinking?

How could she compare me — her naive young daughter, coming of age — even remotely to this dangerous, violent woman who wielded a hatchet in bars? Mrs. Nation had lived and died before my mother was even born.

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Image of Carrie Nation and italicized text below from Wikipedia.

Caroline Amelia Nation (25 November 1846–9 June 1911), often referred to by Carrie or Carry Nation,was an American activist who was a radical member of the temperance movement, which opposed alcohol before the advent of Prohibition. Nation is noted for attacking alcohol-serving establishments (most often taverns) with a hatchet.

Nation was also concerned about tight clothing for women; she refused to wear a corset and urged women not to wear them because of their harmful effects on vital organs. She described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like,” and claimed a divine ordination to promote temperance by destroying bars.

More grist for my mill: Mrs. Nation opposed tight clothing for women. I am a fan of cashmere pullover sweaters, sleek Wolford tights and smooth organic cotton dresses with V-necks and a bit of stretch.

o, basically, Mom, even though you left us when I was 20, maybe you barely knew me at all — me or the woman I would turn out to be. Maybe you didn’t know yourself. I think you may have slipped your mother’s coat over my trusting shoulders. Older Alice was in fact opposed to and worried about your father’s drinking. She shared a story with me, a story of being a young wife and mother, on my frequent visits to her Dumont apartment.

I cherished my time with your mother, especially because her daughter/my mother was gone. We shared that loss. She sat in the old rocking chair, smiled mischievously, kept a supply of Nabisco Social Tea cookies, long after you and Grandpa had moved on to the heavens.

Older Alice probably bore the brunt of alcoholism more than anyone else, though you and your three younger brothers must have suffered greatly, too.

I am sorry for that.

We all have stories we share and truths we hold close. We try to protect ourselves and others, but in the end, is it protection or avoidance? Leaving the lights off in the dark, trusting others will find their way.

Pull the shades down.

I am an addict — not an alcoholic, but a close cousin. And I know that when I consume my substance, especially with abandon or frequency, I walk on shaky ground and do not make sane decisions for myself or my family.

I know you (his only daughter, his firstborn) loved Grandpa, Mom. I did, too.

ack to the Beer Nuts, and a Saturday afternoon in February whiled away writing this story.

I decided that instead of grabbing a nothing snack that I don’t even like (just dumb coated peanuts; sorry, Beer Nuts fans), I can serve myself California walnut halves in a lovely little Limoges berry bowl — and enjoy them, one by one.

The delicate bowl may be chipped, the apricot glaze or gilding worn. It may be the last existing piece of an heirloom set that belonged to a woman I never knew. Did she serve June strawberries in it to her daughter, or her mother?

She surely saw its beauty, and I do, too.

I sat down and ate the walnuts, and they were delicious.

Today’s lesson: Forget the Beer Nuts and other foods that lure you just because they look like a snack and are present in your house or car. Stick with real, nutritious foods that taste good — in planned, moderate portions.

I published my first story about sugar addiction, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#16, Sweet Pea.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.

Alice Garbarini Hurley has been writing since sixth grade and lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She worked on staff at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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