“I can’t stand Leroy’s language,” one woman gave as the reason for no longer attending my home group, where she had almost been a regular. I heard a few other complaints about this man whom I saw as a true friend and a good Toledo AA member.
Leroy T., now deceased, did indeed cuss a lot, though not obscenely. Most of us even found it amusing and were always glad to see and hear him. What many don’t know today is how he made a dramatic change in the closing years of his life and even toned down the cussing.
I was present when Leroy came to his first AA meetings in early 1973, accompanied by his wife Joyce, and mother-in-law Hazel (both had drinking problems). Leroy and Hazel appeared to be perpetually at war. Joyce was sweet and timid, and despite their wrangling I could feel that she and Leroy were at heart a loving couple. Of the three, it was Leroy who seized the AA program most enthusiastically and never stopped running with it. Joyce and Hazel participated, but not so fiercely and Joyce had trouble staying sober; vanilla extract even became her drink of choice.
Leroy was a toolmaker by trade and often used colorful cuss words to describe how poorly things were going at the shop or how frustrated he was when a certain job gave him trouble. He had emerged from the poverty of the Great American Depression, and it became apparent that he almost needed such words to express himself. Far from excluding him, groups invited Leroy to speak at open meetings and he did, indeed, present a story of real redemption through AA. He never drank again after his first meeting in 1973. And though he made it sound as if his tool making work was one frustration after another, he found a high-paying job in a Toledo auto plant and worked until his retirement with a good pension.
Along with attending many meetings, Leroy studied AA literature intensely and was especially devoted to the AA Big Book. We lived only several blocks apart and sometimes we’d have discussions about Big Book ideas. And one day in late 1977 he came over to ask my help with an article he’d prepared for The Grapevine. It was based on the professor and the paradoxes in the Big Book second edition, which said that things are not always what they seem to be. . The professor had explained paradoxes by noting that we AA’s “surrender to win, we give away to keep, we suffer to get well, we die to live.” Leroy, quite by chance, had discovered a paradox in his own life. His article needed tidying up and maybe even the elimination of a few cuss words, but it was a gem.
Here, briefly, was the story:
Leroy, Joyce, and Hazel had come home from a beautiful day that included a picnic and an afternoon AA meeting, which he described as “all three of us attending as sober and happy members after years of stormy three-way battles.” Driving onto their street, he could see that somebody had broken their mailbox, which had been upright when they left at noon. It was something to cuss about, but Leroy decided to report it to the police. After troubles with the police in their drinking years, the thought terrified him. But he realized that responsible citizenship required him to do it, perhaps to save others from the same vandalism.
The police officer showed up, took their report, and headed for his car. Then he turned around to explain that this was the first time the police had heard from them in years. Before that, they’d been in trouble so often that officers at the station came to recognize their voices on the telephone. He seemed to want to know what had happened.
Leroy took this opportunity to tell the officer about AA and its benefits. He said a wonderful feeling came over him as he watched the policeman drive away. Leroy saw the afternoon experience as a sort of paradox: “…some crazy driver or kid prankster had smashed our mailbox, and I was actually happy about it.” As he concluded in the article, which appeared in the May, 1978 Grapevine, “…I don’t dread problems any more, because I accept them as part of living. The paradox is that most problems are easily solved and even avoided now that we’ve lost our fear of them. More than that, almost every problem has a happy ending.”
As the years wore on, however, Leroy had to face a number of problems with lots to cuss about. H e had made his peace with Hazel when she passed on and he learned to face frustrations on the job. But one very serious problem he couldn’t solve was Joyce’s intermittent drinking, which seemed to be beyond his reach. It finally reached a stage where she was virtually helpless and left him with messes to clean up. Some people even urged him to divorce her. But just as he had old-fashioned ways of cussing, he held to the old-fashioned promise “to love and cherish in sickness and in health until parted by death.” He stayed the course, grimly and loyally, and felt real grief when Joyce passed away early in 1998.
Now widowed, and having worsening heart problems, Leroy persevered in AA. His language had never changed, but many of us had realized long ago that he was a kind, generous and gracious man who always had something useful to say in group discussions. He attended many meetings and then went home to an empty house which held good memories as well as unpleasant ones.
Then a miracle happened. At an AA meeting, Leroy met an attractive woman named Barbara who had been divorced eight years. It was love at first sight, and two weeks later they were married. Some of us wondered if Leroy had finally flipped and had set himself up for a crushing disappointment.
But the marriage defied the odds and worked out beautifully. Barbara, with almost ten years’ sobriety then, had two sons and eight grandchildren who took instantly to Leroy and made him the grandpa of their dreams. I remembered how my own grandchildren had liked him. For the next two years, Leroy and Barbara were a joyously happy couple, continuously marveling at the good fortune in having found each other and sharing the love of Barbara’s family.
Then a national tragedy, the Columbine school shootings in Colorado, threw Leroy into deep despair and serious reflection. For answers, he decided to go to church again, supplementing the spiritual things he’d learned in AA. He and Barbara began to attend services regularly and even took Bible classes. He explained this at AA meetings, but without the smugness of a Bible thumper or any pressure to convert the rest of us. Church attendance became a very positive development in Leroy’s life and he was even baptized at age 72.
One other change became very noticeable at AA meetings: Leroy cussed less often. When one woman noted this, he said, “Hell, I didn’t even know I was cussing.”
With nearly 28 years’ sobriety, Leroy died of a heart attack on December 11, 2000. I still miss him. Other AA friends still miss him. Barbara, her sons, and the eight grandchildren still miss him. And we all miss his real language: The Language of the Heart.