OFTEN SEEMS to me that the Grapevine should have a feature
similar to the "most unforgettable person"
series in the Reader's Digest. Each of us can
tell, not only his own story, but also the stories of
outstanding AA members who have influenced him.
man I would pick as a "most unforgettable person"
died in Detroit nearly ten years ago. He had almost
no family, and many of his older friends have also passed
on. But the handful of AAs who still remember him may
recall his practice of sending AA-birthday cards to
members with Easy Does It neatly written below
the birthday messages. For this reason, I will call
him "Easy." It is slightly similar to his
nickname, which in turn was derived from his last name.
was nothing dynamic or spectacular about Easy. He was
somewhat moon-faced, with sparse hair and ruddy cheeks.
He had a wheezy voice, and ordinary speaking sometimes
seemed to cost him considerable effort. At times, too,
he appeared rather nervous and unsettled. But he always
had a way of bringing himself under control, and his
friends usually thought of him as a calm and relaxed
believe that I was impressed partly because Easy and
I represented the extremes of age. I once heard an authority
on alcoholism say that the very young and the very old
are difficult prospects for AA; both are hard to reach.
Well, I was one of the very young and had stopped drinking
in 1950 at age twenty-four. Easy had been past sixty
when he joined AA. Granted, that is not "very old"
in today's world. But it is unusually old for an alcoholic
who is still drinking. The hard fact is that few alcoholics
can live as Easy did, on Detroit's skid row, and survive
until their sixtieth birthdays. Most of them die much
was also the fact that Easy was destitute and alone.
His only family, so far as I knew, was a still-loving
sister and a long-estranged daughter. Anybody looking
at him, as he must have appeared when arriving at AA's
door, could hardly have been blamed for assuming that
Easy's recovery chances were very poor indeed.
heard him give his complete story only once, so I am
hazy about the details of his early life before drifting
to skid row. But I do remember that he had once worked
for the post office and had lost that job through drinking.
Thus, he was coming into AA at the very age when he
might have been thinking about retiring on a good pension.
I'm sure that this thought must have occurred to Easy.
I met him, in late 1950, he already had several years'
sobriety and had become one of the stalwarts of a group
in Royal Oak, Mich. People from other groups would mention
his name if they knew you were visiting the Royal Oak
meeting. He loved to stand near the doorway, greeting
people as they arrived. He was always neat and well-dressed
at the meetings, and actually appeared to be prosperous.
was surprised, a few months later, to learn that he
was the night clean-up man in a restaurant. You might
think that he would have felt some self-pity at having
to work so hard when he should have been in retirement.
Instead, he often marveled at his good fortune. He would
point out that he was permitted to take all of his meals
at the restaurant, which was a rather good one. He was
often mistaken for an affluent businessman while having
dinner in the late afternoon. Near the restaurant, he
had a clean furnished room in a pleasant bungalow, where
he was treated more as a member of the family than as
a roomer. His sister did his laundry, and AA friends
drove him to meetings.
explained that the night cleanup work really wasn't
difficult and that he often used the solitude to reflect
on things he had heard at meetings. In the early hours
of the morning, he would have coffee and whatever food
he liked from the kitchen. Once a year, he treated himself
to a pleasant vacation, going to Pittsburgh or New York
and staying in a good hotel. In later years, in Pittsburgh,
he met an elderly lady who became his sweetheart; but
for some reason they never married.
made friends wherever he went, and people felt drawn
to him. I am sure that the source of this attraction
was the peace he had found within himself. He often
told me of the secret life he had with the Higher Power
he had found upon joining AA. This Higher Power was
always with him, whether he was mopping floors in the
lonely morning hours at the restaurant or strolling
about a hotel lobby on vacation. If things went wrong,
he would talk it over with his Higher Power, and very
soon the pieces would come together again. I think this
was why he could regain his composure so quickly when
something upset him. He was not above being knocked
off balance; in fact, he was probably more sensitive
and vulnerable than most men. But his Higher Power was
always nearby to restore poise and serenity.
were some painful things that he had to accept. He made
a great effort to bring about a reconciliation with
his daughter, and he never really succeeded. This bothered
him for a long time, but he always talked it out at
AA meetings. Characteristically, he took most of the
knew him for twelve years, sometimes seeing him quite
often, and then again, not more than several times a
year. Once or twice, I dropped in for a late cup of
coffee while he was cleaning the restaurant. He always
had the power to raise my spirits and restore my faith
in the program. There was something in his simple gratitude
and fundamental honesty that set everything straight.
He also brought dignity to the cleaning work, and it
occurred to me that the restaurant owners were fortunate
to have such a trustworthy, steady man on the job.
in his seventy-seventh year, one of the great shocks
of his life hit him. He was told one day that his employment
at the restaurant was being terminated. Apparently,
the new manager was afraid Easy would die on the job,
and did not want to arrive in the morning to find a
dead body in the building. When Easy learned this, he
was so amused that he retold the story at meetings.
added that the manager had lectured him about wasting
his money on expensive vacations, when he should have
been saving it against the day he could no longer work.
Easy could not accept this kind of advice. "If
I had it to live over, I wouldn't change a thing,"
he would say. "I always had a feeling that my Higher
Power wanted me to have those vacations, and I'm glad
I took them. I think I did the right thing."
was now the fall of 1961. He made inventory of his savings
and discovered that he had about $1,500. By using great
care, he could live through the coldest months without
working. He talked it over with the Higher Power, and
decided to rest for the winter.
his Higher Power used another AA member to direct him
to an additional source of income. Easy learned he was
entitled to monthly Social Security payments. He was
also entitled to a substantial lump sum in back payments.
It was beginning to appear that he never would have
to work again.
he did work again, at least for a few months. Early
the next spring, a committee of AA members asked him
whether he would consider serving as manager of their
club in downtown Detroit. The job included a room, meals,
and a small salary.
talking it over with his Higher Power, Easy agreed to
give it a try. An AA drove to his rooming house and
helped him move his belongings to the club. But when
Easy arrived at the building, it was in such a shambles
that he almost cried. The bedroom was the worst. As
he went to sleep that night, a terrible thought struck
him: "My God, I'm back on skid row again!"
The only thing that restored his equilibrium was reminding
himself that his Higher Power had never let him down.
sure enough. He didn't. A group of club members organized
a working party and helped Easy clean the place up.
Others arrived with better furniture and new curtains
for his bedroom. Within a few weeks, the place sparkled,
and Easy's living quarters were as fine as those he
had enjoyed before.
where he was when my wife and I saw him for the last
time. He was the happiest man in the city of Detroit.
The clubhouse was really like a home, filled with kind
and generous friends. Every now and then, a deadbeat
would show up and put the touch on him for a five or
a ten, and Easy would laugh about these incidents. "If
it wasn't for AA, I wouldn't have anything to loan,"
he would say.
walked with us out to the porch of the clubhouse. He
nodded pleasantly to his neighbors and then turned to
us and said, "It's just like having your own home."
He stood there proudly, with his hands in his pockets,
as we got into our car, and then he waved to us as we
drove off. "Easy Does It!" he called
out, with a chuckle.
had the feeling that I would not see him again. But
there was no sadness in that feeling. Easy had lived
the good life and fought the good fight, and now he
was in retirement in his own home. He could only marvel
at his good fortune. We could only marvel with him,
sharing the warmth of his simple gratitude and fundamental