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She'll Drink to That

Barbara Holland, at home with a beer and one of her cats, says booze is
Barbara Holland, at home with a beer and one of her cats, says booze is "the social glue of the human race." (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

She's a mother of three, grandmother of two, and the kind of feisty old dame who'd be thrilled to receive a book called "The Joy of Drinking" as a Mother's Day gift. She jokes that stores should sell "The Joy of Drinking" in a gift package with "The Joy of Cooking" and "The Joy of Sex."

She's in favor of joy but she feels it's under attack. She wrote the book as a protest against the decline of social drinking and the rise of broccoli, exercise and Starbucks.

"I was getting sick and tired of being lectured by dear friends with their little bottles of water and their regular visits to the gym," she says. "All of a sudden, we've got this voluntary prohibition that has to do with health and fitness." She pauses. "I'm not really in favor of health and fitness."

But isn't it good to be healthy?

"I suppose so," she says, "but it's largely a crapshoot. The ghost of my sainted mother hovers around, talking about how self-centered it all is. They're always thinking about themselves -- how far I ran, how much I can bench-press, how I ate three servings of broccoli. For heaven's sake, get over yourself."

She grew up in Chevy Chase in the '40s. Her mother was a children's book author, her stepfather a lawyer in FDR's Labor Department. Back then, she says, Washington was a serious party town.

"I distinctly remember Alben Barkley falling into my aunt's swimming pool," she says.

Barkley was Harry Truman's vice president, and Holland thinks maybe he was pushed into the pool. Needless to say, it happened at a party.

Was alcohol involved?

"Alcohol was always involved," she says. "I was really impressed growing up by the amount of drinking and general merriment that was going on among some fairly high-level people. And it doesn't seem to me that much of it is going on any more. I can't bear the idea of people lurking in the shadows text-messaging each other instead of whooping it up at the Willard and falling into swimming pools. It's all prayer breakfasts now. There's something about having a teetotaler president. That puts a damper on things."

Booze, she writes, is "the social glue of the human race." As soon as humans stopped wandering around looking for berries and settled down to raise crops, they started creating wine and beer and, not coincidently, civilization.

"Probably in the beginning, we could explain ourselves to our close family members with grunts, muttered syllables, gestures, slaps and punches," she writes. "Then, when the neighbors started dropping in to help harvest, stomp, stir and drink the bounty of the land, after we'd softened our natural suspicious hostility with a few stiff ones, we had to think up some more nuanced communication, like words. From there, it was a short step to grammar, civil law, religion, history and 'The Whiffenpoof Song.' ''

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