OUR SOUTHERN FRIEND
A.A., minister's son, and southern farmer,
"Who am I," said he, "to say there is
IS AN Episcopal minister and his work takes him over
long drives on bad roads. His parishioners are limited
in number, but his friends are many, for to him race,
creed, or social position make no difference. It is
not long before he drives up in the buggy. Both he and
old Maud are glad to get home. The drive was long and
cold but he was thankful for the hot bricks which some
thoughtful person had given him for his feet. Soon supper
is on the table. Father says grace, which delays my
attack on the buckwheat cakes ans sausage.
I climb to my room in the attic. It is cold so there
is no delay. I craw under a pile of blankets and blow
out the candle. The wind is rising and howls around
the house. But I am safe and warm. I fall into a dreamless
I am in church.
Father is delivering his sermon. A wasp is crawling
up the back of the lady in front of me. I wonder if
it will reach her neck. Shucks! It has flown away. At
last! The message has been delivered.
"Let your light
so shine before men that they may see your good works-."
I hunt for my nickel to drop in the plate so that mine
will be seen.
I am in another fellow's room at colledge. "Fresh-
said he to me, "do you ever take a drink?" I hesitated.
Father had never directly spoken to me about drinking
but he never drank any, so far as I knew. Mother hated
liquor and feared a drunken man. Her brother had been
a drinker and had died in a state hospital for the insane.
But his life was unmentioned, so far as I was concerned.
I had never had a drink, but I had seen enough merriment
in the boys who were drinking to be interested. I would
never be like the village drunkard at home.
"Well," said the
older boy, "Do you?"
"Once in a while,"
I lied. I could not let him think I was a sissy.
He poured out two
drinks. "Here's looking at you," said he. I gulped it
down and choked. I didn't like it, but I would not say
so. A mellow glow stole over me. This wasn't so bad
after all. Sure I'd have another. The glow increased.
Other boys came in. My tongue loosened. Everyone laughed
loudly. I was witty. I had no inferiorities. Why, I
wasn't even ashamed of my skinny legs! This was the
A haze filled the
room. The electric light began to move. Then two bulbs
appeared. The faces of the other boys grew dim. How
sick I felt. I staggered to the bathroom. Shouldn't
have drunk so much or so fast. But I knew how to handle
it now. I'd drink like a gentleman after this.
And so I met John
Barleycorn. The grand fellow who at my call made me
"a hale fellow, well met," who gave me such a fine voice,
as we sang, "Hail, hail, the gang's all here," and "Sweet
Adeline," who gave me freedom from fear and feelings
of inferiority. Good old John! He was my pal, all right.
exams of my Senior year and I may somehow graduate.
I would never have tried, but mother counts on it so.
A case of measles saved me from being kicked out during
my Sophomore year.
But the end is in
sight. My last exam and an easy one. I gaze at the board
with its questions. Can't remember the answer to the
first. I'll try the second. No soap there. I don't seem
to remember anything. I concentrate on one of the questions.
I don't seem to be able to keep my mind on what I am
doing. I get uneasy. If I don't get started soon, I
won't have time to finish. No use. I can't think.
I leave the room,
which the honor system allows. I go to my room. I pour
out half a tumbler of grain alcohol and fill it with
ginger ale. Now back to the exam. My pen moves rapidly.
I know enough of the answers to get by. Good old John
Barleycorn! He can certainly be depended on. What a
wonderful power he has over the mind! He has given me
How I hate that word. Three attempts to enlist in the
service, and three failures because of being skinny.
True, I have recently recovered from pneumonia and have
an alibi, but my friends are in the war or going, and
I am not. I visit a friend who is awaiting orders. The
atmosphere of "eat, drink, and be merry" prevails and
I absorb it. I drink a lot every night. I can hold a
lot now, more than the others.
I am examined for
the draft and pass the physical test. I am to go to
camp on November 13th. The Armistice is signed on the
11th and the draft is called off. Never in the service!
The war leaves me with a pair of blankets, a toilet
kit, a sweater knit by my sister, and a still greater
is ten o'clock of a Saturday night. I am working hard
on the books of a subsidiary company of a large corporation.
I have had experience in selling, collecting, and accounting,
and am on my way up the ladder.
Then the crack-up.
Cotton struck the skids and collections went cold. A twenty
three million dollar surplus wiped out. Offices closed
up and workers discharged. I, and the books of my division,
have been transferred to the head office. I have no assistance
and am working nights, Saturdays and Sundays. My salary
has been cut. My wife and new baby are fortunately staying
with relatives. I feel exhausted. The doctor has told
me that if I don't give up inside work, I'll have tuberculosis.
But what am I to do? I have a family to support and have
no time to be looking for another job.
I reach for the bottle
which I just got from George, the elevator boy.
am a traveling salesman. The day is over and business
has been not so good. I'll go to bed. I wish I were home
with the family and not in this dingy hotel.
here! Good old Charlie! It's great to see him. How's the
boy? A drink? You bet your life! We buy a gallon of "corn"
because it is so cheap. Yet I am fairly steady when I
go to bed.
Morning comes. I feel
horribly. A little drink will put me on my feet. But it
takes others to keep me there.
I become a teacher
in a boy's school. I am happy in my work. I like the boys
and we have lots of fun, in class and out.
doctors bills are heavy and the bank account is low. My
wife's parents come to our assistance. I am filled with
hurt pride and self-pity. I seem to get no sympathy for
my illness and have no appreciation of the love behind
I call the bootlegger
and fill up my charred keg. But I do not wait for the
charred keg to work. I get drunk. My wife is extremely
unhappy. Her father comes to sit with me. He never says
an unkind word. He is a real friend but I do not appreciate
are staying with my wife's father. Her mother is in critical
condition at a hospital. I cannot sleep. I must get myself
together. I sneak down stairs and get a bottle of whiskey
from the cellaret. I pour drinks down my throat. My father-in-law
appears. "Have a drink?" I ask. He makes no reply, and
hardly seems to see me. His wife dies that night.
Mother has been dying
of cancer for a long time. She is near the end now and
is in a hospital. I have been drinking a lot, but never
get drunk. Mother must never know. I see her about to
I return to the hotel
where I am staying and get gin from the bellboy. I drink
and go to bed; I take a few the next morning and go see
my mother once more. I cannot stand it. I go back to the
hotel and get more gin. I drink steadily. I come to at
three in the morning. The indescribable torture has me
again. I turn on the light. I must get out of the room
or I shall jump out of the window. I walk miles. No use.
I go to the hospital, where I have made friends with the
night superintendent. She puts me to bed and gives me
am at the hospital to see my wife. We have an-
child. But she is not glad to see me. I have been drinking
while the baby was arriving. Her father stays with her.
It is a cold, bleak
day in November. I have fought hard to stop drinking.
Each battle has ended in defeat. I tell my wife I cannot
stop drinking. She begs me to go to a hospital for alcoholics
which has been recommended. I say I will go. She makes
the arrangements, but I will not go. I'll do it all myself.
This time I'm off of it for good. I'll just take a few
beers now and then.
is the last day of the following October, a dark, rainy
morning. I come to in a pile of hay in a barn. I look
for liquor and can't find any. I wander to a stable and
drink five bottles of beer. I must get some liquor. Suddenly
I feel hopeless, unable to go on. I go home. My wife is
in the living room. She had looked for me last evening
after I left the car and wandered off into the night.
She had looked for me this morning. She has reached the
end of her rope. There is no use trying any more, for
there is nothing to try. "Don't say anything," I say to
her. "I am going to do something."
am in the hospital for alcoholics. I am an alcoholic.
The insane asylum lies ahead. Could I have myself locked
up at home? One more foolish idea. I might go out West
on a ranch where I couldn't get anything to drink. I might
do that. Another foolish idea. I wish I were dead, as
I have often wished before. I am too yellow to kill myself.
alcoholics play bridge in a smoke-filled room. Anything
to get my mind from myself. The game is over and the other
three leave. I start to clean up the
One man comes back, closing the door behind him.
He looks at me. "You
think you are hopeless, don't you?" he asks.
"I know it," I reply.
"Well, you're not,"
says the man. "There are men on the streets of New York
today who were worse than you, and they don't drink anymore."
"What are you doing
here then?" I ask.
"I went out of here
nine days ago saying that I was going to be honest, and
I wasn't," he answers.
A fanatic, I thought
to myself, but I was polite. "What is it?" I enquire.
Then he asks me if
I believe in a power greater than myself, whether I call
that power God, Allah, Confucius, Prime Cause, Divine
Mind, or any other name. I told him that I believe in
electricity and other forces of nature, but as for a God,
if there is one, He has never done anything for me. Then
he asks me if I am willing to right all the wrongs I have
ever done to anyone, no matter how wrong I thought the
others were. Am I willing to be honest with myself about
myself and tell someone about myself, and am I willing
to think of other people, of their needs instead of myself,
in order to get rid of the drink problem?
"I'll do anything,"
"Then all of your
troubles are over," says the man and leaves the room.
The man is in bad mental shape certainly. I pick up a
book and try to read, but cannot concentrate. I get in
bed and turn out the light. But I cannot sleep. Suddenly
a thought comes. Can all the worthwhile people I have
known be wrong about God? Then I find myself thinking
a few things that I had wanted to forget. I begin to see
I am not the person I had thought myself, that I had judged
myself by comparing myself to others, and always to my
own advantage. It is a shock.
Then comes a thought
that is like A Voice. "Who are you to say there is
no God?" It rings in my head; I can't get rid of
I get out of bed and
go to the man's room. He is reading. "I must ask you a
question," I say to the man. "How does prayer fit into
"Well," he answers,
"you've probably tried praying like I have. When you've
been in a jam you've said, 'God, please do this or that,'
and if it turned out your way that was the last of it,
and if it didn't you've said 'There isn't any God' or
'He doesn't do anything for me'. Is that right?"
"Yes" I reply.
"That isn't the way"
he continued. "The thing I do is to say 'God here I am
and here are all my troubles. I've made a mess of things
and can't do anything about it. You take me, and all my
troubles, and do anything you want with me.' Does that
answer your question?"
"Yes, it does" I answer.
I return to bed. It doesn't make sense. Suddenly I feel
a wave of utter hopelessness sweep over me. I am in the
bottom of hell. And there a tremendous hope is born. It
might be true.
I tumble out of bed
onto my knees. I know not what I say. But slowly a great
peace comes to me. I believe in God. I crawl back into
bed and sleep like a child.
Some men and women
come to visit my friend of the night before. He invites
me to meet them. They are a joyous crowd. I have never
seen people that joyous
We talk. I tell them of the peace, and that I believe
in God. I think of my wife. I must write her. One girl
suggests that I phone her. What a wonderful idea!
My wife hears my voice
and knows I have found the answer to life. She comes to
New York. I get out of the hospital and we visit some
of these new-found friends.
am home again. I have lost the fellowship. Those that
understand me are far away. The same old problems and
worries surround me. Members of my family annoy me. Nothing
seems to be working out right. I am blue and unhappy.
Maybe a drink—I put on my hat and dash off in the
Get into the lives
of other people, is one thing the fellows in New York
had said. I go to see a man I had been asked to visit
and tell him my story. I feel much better! I have forgotten
about a drink.
am on a train, headed for a city. I have left my wife
at home, sick, and I have been unkind to her in leaving.
I am very unhappy. Maybe a few drinks when I get to the
city will help. A great fear seizes me. I talk to the
stranger in the seat beside me. The fear and the insane
idea is taken away.
are not going so well at home. I am learning that I cannot
have my own way as I used to. I blame my wife and children.
Anger possesses me, anger such as I have never felt before.
I will not stand for it. I pack my bag and leave. I stay
with understanding friends.
I see where I have
been wrong in some respects. I do not feel angry any more.
I return home and say I am sorry for my wrong. I am quiet
again. But I have
not seen yet that I should do some constructive acts of
love without expecting any return. I shall learn this
after some more explosions.
am blue again. I want to sell the place and move away.
I want to get where I can find some alcoholics to help,
and where I can have some fellowship. A man calls me on
the phone. Will I take a young fellow who has been drinking
for two weeks to live with me? Soon I have others who
are alcoholics and some who have other problems.
I begin to play God.
I feel that I can fix them all. I do not fix anyone, but
I am getting part of a tremendous education and I have
made some new friends.
is right. Finances are in bad shape. I must find a way
to make some money. The family seems to think of nothing
but spending. People annoy me. I try to read. I try to
pray. Gloom surrounds me. Why has God left me? I mope
around the house. I will not go out and I will not enter
into anything. What is the matter? I cannot understand.
I will not be that way.
I'll get drunk! It
is a cold-blooded idea. It is premeditated. I fix up a
little apartment over the garage with books and drinking
water. I am going to town to get some liquor and food.
I shall not drink until I get back to the apartment. Then
I shall lock myself in and read. And as I read, I shall
take little drinks at long intervals. I shall get myself
"mellow" and stay that way.
I get in the car and
drive off. Halfway down the driveway a thought strikes
me. I'll be honest anyway. I'll tell my wife what I am
going to do. I back up to the door and go into the house.
I call my wife into a
room where we can talk privately. I tell her quietly what
I intend to do. She says nothing. She does not get excited.
She maintains a perfect calm.
When I am through
speaking, the whole idea has become absurd. Not a trace
of fear is in me. I laugh at the insanity of it. We talk
of other things. Strength has come from weakness.
I cannot see the cause
of this temptation now. But I am to learn later that it
began with my desire for material success becoming greater
than my interest in the welfare of my fellow man. I learn
more of that foundation stone of character, which is honesty.
I learn that when we act upon the highest conception of
honesty which is given us, our sense of honesty becomes
I learn that honesty
is truth, and the truth shall make us free!