years old and strong, I was ready-an American Whittington
who knew a better way to get places than by walking. The
"clear the way" whistle of a fast freight thundering over
the crossing on the tracks a mile away was a siren call.
Sneaking away from my farm home one night, I made my way
to the distant yards. Ducking along a lane between two
made-up trains that seemed endless, I made my way to the
edge of the yards. Here and there I passed a silent, waiting
figure. Then a little group talking among themselves.
Edging in, I listened eagerly. I had met my first hoboes.
They talked of places I had never heard of. This town
was good. A fellow could get by on the Bowery all winter
if he knew the ropes; that other town was "hostile"; thirty
days for "vag" awaited you in another if you didn't hit
the cinders before the road "bulls" fine-combed the train.
Then they noticed
me. Somehow a new kid is always an object of interest
to the adventurers of the rails. "Where ye makin' for,
I had heard one of
them mention "Dee-troit" and it seemed as good an answer
as any. I had no plans, just wanted to get away-anywhere-just
"That Michigan Manifest
will be along any minute now; I think she's moving." The
tall hobo who had
grabbed me by the arm. "Come on, kid. We'll help you."
Suddenly I felt big.
I had gotten away! The two hoboes talked, the tall one
about getting work in Detroit, the other arguing for staying
on the road. Then the one who had boosted me up began
to quiz me. I told him I had run away from the farm. In
a sort of halting way he told me not to get the train
habit or it would get me until I would always want to
be moving. The rocking motion of the car as the train
increased speed became a cradle song in my ears. I fell
It was way past dawn
when I awoke. My two companions were already sitting up
and talking. The day wore on. We passed through small
towns. Soon the train was threading its way between factories
and huge warehouses, crossing tracks with brisk clatter,
coming into a large railway yard. Brakes went on. They
helped me off. We were in Detroit.
My hobo friends parted
at a street corner. The tall one took me along right into
town and got a room for both of us with "Mother Kelly,"
a kindly Irish landlady if there ever was one. "Sit tight,
kid," he said. "I'll see you through as much as I can.
Me to find a job."
He got a job. For
almost two years he looked after me. He was always vigilant,
steering me past the snares and pitfalls that are always
in the path of a growing boy. This hobo, Tom Casey, who
never talked much about himself except as a warning illustration
of "What not to do," made me start a bank account and
keep it growing. It is to him I owe the fact that I didn't
become a "road kid," that I never became a
Came a day when he left. The road was calling him, he
explained, although that never seemed to me to be the
reason. I never saw Tom Casey again, but from this man
I received my first lesson in the guiding and compelling
principle of the Good Life. "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
I was city-wise by
this time, uncontaminated to be sure, thanks to my friend.
No longer a "boy rube in the big town." I found a job
quickly enough but I missed Tom. I began to hang around
pool rooms and it was inevitable that I soon learned to
handle a schooner of beer and an occasional "shot." Jobs
were plentiful. If I didn't feel right in the morning
after a night with the "corner gang" I didn't go to work.
I lost jobs. My bank account dwindled, disappeared entirely.
My new barroom friends were little help. I was broke.
It was summer and
the park benches, hard and uncomfortable as they were,
appealed to me more than the squalid "flops" of the city's
slums. So I slept out a few nights. Young and full of
energy, I hunted for work. The war was on and work was
easy to get. I became a machine-shop hand, progressing
rapidly from drill-press to milling machine to lathe.
I could quit a job one day and have a new one the next
with more money. Soon I again had a good boarding-house,
clothes and money. But I never started another bank account.
"Plenty of time for that," I thought. My week-ends were
spent in my conception of "a good time," finally become
regular carousals and debauches over Saturday and Sunday.
I had the usual experiences of being slipped a "Mickey
Finn" and getting slugged and rolled for my money.
had no deterrent effect. I could always get jobs and live
comfortable again in a few weeks. Soon, however, I tired
of the weary routine of working and drinking. I began
to dislike the city. Somehow my boyhood days on the farm
didn't seem to be so bad at a distance.
No, I didn't go home,
but found work not too far away. I still drank. I soon
got restless and took a freight for a Michigan city, arriving
there broke late at night. I set out to look for friends.
They helped me find work. Slowly I began to climb the
industrial job ladder once more and eventually achieved
a responsible position as a machine setter in a large
plant. I was sitting on top of the world again. The sense
of accomplishment I had now told me that I had earned
the right to have enjoyable week-ends once more. The week-ends
began to extend to Tuesday and Wednesday until I frequently
worked only from Thursday to Saturday with the bottle
always in my mind. In a vague sort of way I had set a
time to quit drinking but that was at least fifteen years
away and "What the hell!" I said to myself. "I'm going
to have a good time while I'm young."
Then I was fired.
Piqued, I drank up my last pay check and when I got sober
again found another job-then another-and another in quick
succession. I was soon back on the park benches. And once
more I got a break when everything seemed dark. An old
friend volunteered to get me a job driving a bus. He said
he would buy me a uniform and give me the hospitality
of his home if I would promise to quit drinking. Of course
I promised. I had been working about three
when the bus line superintendent called me into his office.
"Young fellow," he
said, "In your application you state that you don't use
alcoholic liquors. Now, we always check a man's references
and three of the firms you have worked for say you're
a highly capable man, but you have the drink habit."
I looked at him. It
was all true, I admitted, but I had been out of work such
a long time that I had welcomed this job as an opportunity
to redeem myself. I told him what I had promised my friend,
that I was sincerely doing my best and not drinking a
drop. I asked him to give me a chance.
"Somehow I think you
are in earnest," he said. "I believe you mean it. I'll
give you a chance and help you to make good."
He shook my hand in
friendship and encouragement. I strode from his office
with high hope. "John Barleycorn will never make a bum
out of me again," I told myself with determination.
For three months I
drove my route steadily with never a hitch. My employers
were satisfied. I felt pretty good. I was really on the
wagon this time, wasn't I?
Yes indeed, I was
on the wagon for good.
I soon repaid my debt
to my friend for his stake in me and even saved a little
money. The feeling of security increased. It was summer
and, hot and tired at the end of the day, I began to stop
in at a speakeasy on my way home. Detroit beer was good
then, almost like old-time pre-prohibition stuff. "This
is the way to
it," I would say to myself. "Stick to beer. After all,
it's really a food and is sure hits the spot after a trick
of wheeling that job around in this man's town. It's the
hard liquor that gets a man down. Beer for mine."
Even then with all
the hard lessons of bitter experience behind me I did
not realize that thinking along that line was a definite
red light on my road in life-a real danger signal.
The evening glass
of beer led, as usual, to the night when I didn't get
away from the bar until midnight. I began to need a bracer
in the morning. Beer, I knew from experience was simply
no good as a bracer-all right as a thirst quencher perhaps,
but lacking action and authority the next morning. I needed
The morning jolt became
a habit. Then it got to be several jolts until I was generally
pretty well organized when I started to work. Spacing
my drinks over the day I managed not to appear drunk,
just comfortable, as I drove along the crowded thoroughfares
of the city. Then came the accident.
On one of the avenues
a man darted from between parked cars right in my path.
I swung the bus sharply over to keep from hitting him
but couldn't quite make it. He died in the hospital. Passenger
and sidewalk witnesses absolved me completely. Even if
I had been completely sober I couldn't have cleared him.
The company investigation immediately after the accident
showed me blameless but my superiors knew I had been drinking.
They fired me-not for the accident-but for drinking on
Well, once more I
felt I had enough of city life and
a job on an upstate farm. While there I met a young school-teacher,
fell in love with her and she with me. We were married.
Farm work was not very remunerative for a young couple
so we went successively to Pontiac, Michigan and alter
to an industrial city in Ohio. For economy's sake we had
been living with my wife's people, but somehow we never
seemed able to get ahead. I was still drinking but no
so much as formerly, or so it seemed to me.
The new location seemed
ideal-no acquaintances, no entanglements, no boon companions
to entice me. I made up my mind to leave liquor alone
and get ahead. But I forgot one boon companion, one who
was always at my elbow, one who followed me from city
to farm and back to city. I had forgotten about John Barleycorn.
Even so, the good
resolutions held for a time-new job, comfortable home,
and understanding helpmate, they all helped. We had a
son and soon came another. We began to make friends and
moved in a small social circle of my fellow-workers and
their wives and families. Those were still bootleg days.
Drinks were always available but nobody seemed to get
very drunk. We just had a good time, welcome surcease
after a week of toil. Here were none of the rowdy debauches
that I had known, I had discovered "social drinking" how
to "drink like a gentleman and hold my liquor." There
is not point in reiterating the recurrence of experience
already described. The "social drinking" didn't hold up.
I became the bootlegger's first morning customer. How
I ever managed to hold the job I had I don't know.
began to receive the usual warning from my superiors.
They had no effect. I had now come to an ever-deepening
realization that I was a drunkard, that there was no help
I told my wife that.
She sought counsel of her friends and my friends. They
came and talked with me. Reverend gentlemen, who knew
nothing of my problem, pointed me to the age-old religious
formula. I would have none of it. It left me cold. Now,
with hope gone, I haunted the mean thoroughfares of speakeasy
districts, with my mind on nothing but the next drink.
I managed to work enough to maintain a slim hold on my
job. Then I began to reason with myself.
"What good are you?"
I would say. "Your wife and children would be better off
if they never saw you again. Why don't you get away and
never come back? Let them forget about you. Get away-get
away anywhere-that's the thing to do."
That night, coatless
and hatless, I hopped a freight for Pittsburgh. The following
day I walked the streets of the Smoky City. I offered
to work at a roadside stand for a meal. I got the meal,
walked on, sat down by the roadside to think.
"What a heel I've
turned out to be!" I soliloquized. "My wife and two kids
back there-no money-what can they do? I should have another
try at it. Maybe I'll never get well, but at least I can
earn a dollar or two now than then-for them."
I took another freight
back home. Despite my absence, my job was still open.
I went to work, but it was no go. I would throw a few
dollars at my wife on pay-
and drink up what was left. I hated my surroundings, hated
my job, my fellow-workers-the whole town. I tried Detroit
again, landing there with a broken arm. How I got it I'll
never know for I was far gone in drink when I left. My
wife's relatives returned me to my home in a few days.
I became morose, mooning around the house by myself. Seeing
me come home, my wife would leave a little money on the
table, grab the children and flee. I was increasingly
ugly. Now, all hope was gone entirely. I made several
attempts on my life. My wife had to hide any knives and
hammers. She feared for her own safety. I feared for my
mind-feared that I was breaking-that I would end up insane.
Finally the fear got so terrible that I asked my wife
to have me "put away" legally. There came a morning when,
alone in my room, I began to wreck it, breaking everything
in sight. Desperate, my wife had to employ the means I
had suggested to her in the depths of alcoholic despair.
Loath to have me committed to the state asylum, still
trying to save something from the wreckage of my life
and hers, she had me placed in a hospital, hoping against
hope to save me.
I was placed under
restraint. The treatment was strenuous-no alcohol-just
bromides and sleeping potions. The nights were successions
of physical and mental agony. It was weeks before I could
sit still for any length of time. I didn't want to talk
to anyone and cared less to listen. That gradually wore
off and one day I fell into casual conversation with another
patient-another alcoholic. We began to compare notes.
him frankly that I was in despair, that no thinking I
had ever been able to do had shown me a way of escape,
that all my attempts to try will power (well meaning persons
had often said, "Why don't you use your will power?"-as
if will power were a faculty one could turn on and off
like a faucet!) had been of no avail.
"Being in here and
getting fixed up temporarily," I told him bitterly, "Is
no good. I know that only too well. I can see nothing
but the same old story over again. I'm simply unable to
quit. When I get out of here I'm going to blow town."
and new found acquaintance looked at me a long time in
silence and finally spoke. From the most unexpected quarter
in the world, from a man who was in the same position
I was in, from a fellow-alcoholic, came the first ray
of hope I had seen.
"Listen fellow," he
said, looking at me with ten times the earnestness of
the many good citizens and other well-intentioned persons
who had tried their best to help me. "Listen to me. I
know a way out. I know the only answer. And I know it
I stared at him in
amazement. There were several mild mental cases in the
place and, little as I knew about their exhibitions of
tendencies, I knew that even in a normal conversation,
strange ideas might be expected. Was this fellow perhaps
a bit balmy-a wee bit off? Here was a man, an admitted
alcoholic like myself, trying to tell me he knew the remedy
for my situation. I wanted to hear what he had to suggest
but made the reservation that he was probably a little
"nutty." At the same time
was ready to listen, like any drowning man, to grasp at
even a straw.
My friend smiled,
he knew what I was thinking. "Yes,' he continued. "Forget
that I'm here. Forget that I'm just another 'rummy.' But
I had the answer once-the only answer."
He seemed to be recalling
his very recent past. Looking at me earnestly, his voice
impressive in its sincerity, he went on. "For more than
a year before coming here I was a sober man, thoroughly
dry. I wasn't just on the wagon. I was dry! And I would
still be dry if I had stuck to the plan which kept me
sober all that time."
Let me say here that
he later went back to the very plan he told me about and
has since been sober for more than a year for the second
He told me his own
story briefly and went on to tell me of a certain cure
for alcoholism-the only certain cure. I had anticipated
hearing of some new treatment, some newly discovered panacea
that i had not heard of, something which no doubt combined
drugs and mental healing. But it was neither one nor the
other; it was certainly not a mixture of any kind.
He spoke of some 30
men in my town who were ready to take me by the hand and
call me by my first name. They would be friends without
canting or ranting. He told me they met once a week to
talk over their experiences, how they tried to help each
other, how the spent their time in helping me like me.
"I know it sounds
strange, incredible, maybe," he said. "I slipped, got
drunk after being sober for a year, but I'm going back
to try again. I know it works."
without faith in myself or anyone else, entirely doubtful
that the fellow really had something, I began to ask questions.
I had to be interested or go crazy.
"How do you go about
this-where do I have to go?" I asked.
"You don't have to
go anywhere," he said. "Someone will come to you if you
want them to." He didn't go into any detail, just told
me that much and little more. I did some thinking that
afternoon. Calling one of the nurses I asked her to get
in touch with my wife and have her come to see me that
She came during visiting
hours. She expected, I know, to hear me plead for instant
release from the place. I didn't talk about that. In my
lame way I told her the story. It made little impression.
"It doesn't sound
right," she said. "If this plan-and for the life of me
I don't quite get it from what you've told me-if this
plan is successful, why is this fellow back here himself?"
I was stumped. I was
too ignorant about the thing myself to be capable of explaning
it clearly to her. "I don't know," I said. "I'll admit
it sounds queer, the way this fellow is and all that,
but somehow I feel there's something to it. Anyhow, I
want to know more about it."
She went away skeptically.
But the next day I had a visitor, a doctor who had been
himslef and alcoholic. He told me little more about the
plan. He was kindly, didn't offer any cut and dried formula
to overcome my life-long difficulty. He presented no religious
no saving rituals. Later he sent some of the other ex-problem
drinkers to see me.
A few days later my
fellow-alcoholic was released, and shortly afterward I
was allowed to go home also. Through the man who had first
told me of the plan I was introduced to several ex-problem
drinkers. They told me their experiences. Many were men
of former affluence and position. Some had hit even lower
levers than I had.
The first Wednesday
evening after my release found me a somewhat shame-faced
but intensely curious attendant at a gathering in a private
home in this city. Some forty others were present. For
the first time I saw a fellowship I had never known in
actual operation. I could actually feel it. I learned
that this could be mine, that I could win my way to sobriety
and sanity of I would follow a few precepts, simple in
statement, but profound and far-reaching in their effect
if followed. It penetrated to my inner consciousness that
the mere offering of lip-service wasn't enough. Still
ignorant, still a little doubting, but in deadly earnest,
I made up my mind to make an honest effort to try.
That was several years
ago. The way has not been easy. The new way of living
was strange at first, but all my thoughts were on it.
The going was sometimes slow; halting were my steps among
the difficulties of the path. But always, when troubles
came, when doubts assailed and temptation was strong and
the old desire returned, I knew where to go for aid. Helping
others also strengthened me and help me to grow.
Today I had achieved,
through all these things, a
of happiness and contentment I had never known before.
Material success has mattered little. But I know that
my wants will be taken care of.
I expect to have difficulties
every day of my life, I expect to encounter stops and
hindrances, but now there is a difference. I have a new
and tried foundation for every new day.
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