What was the first step to my biological father’s alcoholic death at a Holiday Inn in Commerce, Georgia?
He wasn’t an alcoholic. He was a tee-totaler.
But the first description of him I got from my cousins who knew him was: “He was awfully hard on Scott (my father).”
His hair trigger temper was legendary and “like a volcano.”
He and his wife, my paternal grandmother, had three daughters before my father came along.
His father blew up. They scattered. Two girls married at 16 “to get away from that volcano.” My father was sent away.
His father’s father was a German immigrant who did well for himself with a bakery, buying a collection of houses around Atlanta’s up and coming Virginia Highland neighborhood.
My paternal grandfather became a captain in the Atlanta Fire Department, seen in the photo above at Station No. 4 downtown. He angled to become Atlanta Fire Chief, always a political position, but didn’t make it before he died of pneumonia after an appendectomy. Firefighters served as pall bearers at Greenwood Cemetery.
He “didn’t know how to deal with a boy,” my birth mother told me. They sent my father away to a bible school at Toccoa Falls.
He smoked cigarettes, throwing the butts into the furnace, made C’s and dropped out, lying about his age to join the Marines at 16. He went to Guantanamo, to Gitmo. Then on to the Pacific in World War II, to malaria at Guadalcanal and a shrapnel wound at Peleliu that probably spared his life.
His father died a few months after he signed up. The two never spoke face-to-face again. He did not return for his father’s funeral. And his oldest son did not return from Vietnam for his funeral.
There wasn’t alcohol in the Schmid home there on North Highland in Atlanta. But for my father there were the seeds of alcoholism: isolation, loneliness and rage.