|3.1 - Home...for just a brief moment||3.6 - On Our Knees|
|3.2 - The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run||3.7 - At T. Henry and C. Williams' Home|
|3.3 - Meeting the Doctor||3.8 - The Meeting at T. Henry's|
|3.4 - Back to Cleveland||3.9 - The Message is Brought to Cleveland|
|3.5 - In the Hospital||3.10 - Cleveland Begins to Come of Age|
There have been millions and millions of alcoholics stagger across the face of the earth. They've lived and died in alcoholism. They have died, and they have carried down in disgrace, families, friends and associates with them. They have caused carnage in this world, and they have died hopelessly. It's been a tragedy.
Out of all these millions of people, therefore, why? You tell me why just a few thousand of us have this opportunity. Why are you chosen for this? Why am I chosen for this? Why do I get this chance? Why do you get this chance and thousands and thousands and millions and millions of other people never had this chance and there are probably millions around who never will or never shall? Ask yourself this, sometime. It might put a new value on your membership here.
These are things we ought to check ourselves with once and awhile. I think it's a miracle that any of us are here. 'Cause no one ever gets here until he's hopelessly lost.'
The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more - except his God.
With an act of sheer determination, Clarence managed to make it back to his home. He was cold and numb, knee-deep in snow. He charged up to the front porch and looked around. A puzzled expression began to form on his face.
The screen door was still up, as were all of the screens on the windows. This, he surmised to himself, was the reason that he had been called, summoned in on his homing instinct. His wife needed him. She couldn't get along without his help and knowledge. The screens were all the proof that he needed. Everybody, he thought, knew that you don't keep the summer screens up all winter.
He pounded on the screen door which, much to his dismay, was locked with a hook on the inside. He shouted and continued to pound. He demanded to be let in. How dare she lock him out of his own home! He had forgotten he was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was forbidden to return there.
Eventually, Dorothy came to see who it was who was making all of this commotion. Upon seeing Clarence, she did not unlock the door. Rather, she spoke to him through the door. She kept the security chain on and opened the door as much as the chain allowed.
Clarence stood straight as he could and endeavored not to show her how cold he actually was. He pointed out to her that people didn't leave screen doors and windows up all winter long. He told her she needed a man around the house to take care of all these little details. He tried to utilize all his best sales techniques and ploys, plus good, old fashioned guilt, to convince her to let him inside. After all, he was freezing out there on the front porch. He also thought that if he were able to convince her at least to let him into the house, at least to let him warm up, he could then charm and talk her into letting him stay.
Dorothy was having none of this and would not budge an inch. She did, however, concede that she needed a man around the house. Clarence's hopes began to rise as his chest puffed out and his shoulders drew back. But this hope was deflated instantly when she told him she really didn't need one that badly. She also said that, even if she did, it certainly wasn't going to be him.
She did say, however, that she had a counter-offer to make to him. His hopes once again began to rise. Unbeknown to Clarence, many months earlier - after he had romped on the floor with Virginia's children - Virginia had found the need to call the family doctor. Her children had become very ill and since the doctors of that day still made house calls, the doctor came to her house.
After the doctor had examined the children, he and Virginia began talking. The conversation included her fears about Clarence. She told this doctor that Clarence was the best brother-in-law possible when he was sober. She related that, when she had had to go to Ohio to live with her sister, Clarence paid for all of her bills. These bills included an operation, there when she had taken ill. She told the doctor she felt that she owed not only Dorothy, but Clarence as well.
The two continued on, discussing the evils of drinking at great length and also "cures" that were available. Virginia's doctor did mention one very likely possibility. If Clarence was really willing to quit drinking for good, he knew of another doctor - this one in Ohio - who had had a great deal of success in working with alcoholics of Clarence's sort. Virginia's doctor related to her the sad story of his own brother-in-law, who had also been a seemingly hopeless alcoholic. He told her that this very same brother-in-law had not had a single drink of alcohol in almost three years. The doctor's brother-in-law had relied upon this same treatment that the doctor in Ohio had used so successfully.
As it turned out, Virginia's doctor was Leonard V. Strong. Dr. Strong's alcoholic brother-in-law was William Griffith "Bill" Wilson. The doctor in Ohio was Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith.
Virginia had written to Dorothy regarding this conversation and had given her sister Dorothy Snyder the name and address of the doctor in Akron. Virginia's doctor had given them to her on the off chance that Clarence might someday show up in Cleveland.
Dorothy remembered Dr. Robert Smith's name and asked Clarence through the slit in the door if he was now ready to stop drinking. "Yes, yes, " Clarence yelled, willing to say anything that might get him inside the house and into the warmth before he froze to death.
His hopes were once again dashed to the floor, however, Dorothy still refused to open the door, and would not let him inside. She told Clarence that Virginia had written her about this doctor in Akron who "fixes drunks," and that if he really wanted to quit, she would make sure he got to Akron to meet this wonderful man.
Clarence's mind was working on overtime. He was in desperate need of a drink. He was also in desperate need of getting warm. He figured that if he could just get into Dorothy's car for the long ride to Akron, he could then convince her to stop at a bar or liquor store and get him just one little drink. After that accomplished, he knew, his mind would be working better. Then, with the right fuel, he could convince her to turn the car around. She would then take him back home where they both belonged. After all, didn't he once sweep her off of her feet? He was sure that, with the right words, he could do it again.
Dorothy responded to the idea of getting her car. She brought their son to a neighbor's house and she and Clarence proceeded, towards what he thought was going to be Akron. During the ride, he could not convince her to stop anywhere, nor could he convince her to turn around. He became crestfallen when she pulled her car into the bus depot in Cleveland. She took her car keys and asked him to accompany her as she went inside. She purchased a one way ticket to Akron.
With that ticket, Dorothy handed him a small slip of paper. On it was the doctor's name, address and phone numbers: "Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, 810 Second National Building, Akron, Ohio. Office phone: HEmlock 8523, Residence phone: UNiversity 2436. Hours 2 to 4 PM."
She made sure that Clarence was on the bus when it left so that he could not cash in the ticket for money to buy alcohol. When the bus left the terminal, Clarence noticed that Dorothy also left. She followed the bus a few blocks to make sure that Clarence didn't convince the bus driver to let him off.
On the way to Akron, to while away the time, Clarence read a couple of newspapers he had found on the bus. The bus was warm, which, to Clarence was a little bit of heaven. Dorothy had given him a sandwich to eat. He was warm and fed, and the news in the paper was certainly exciting reading.
Yet suicide, quick or slow, a sudden spill or a gradual oozing away through the years, is the price John Barleycorn exacts. No friend of his ever escapes making the just, due payment.
But to the imaginative man, John Barleycorn sends the pitiless, spectral syllogisms of the white logic. He looks upon life and all its affairs with the jaundiced eye of a pessimistic German philosopher. He sees through all illusions. He trans-values all values. God is bad, truth is a cheat, and life is a joke. From his calm-mad heights, with the certitude of a god, he beholds all life as evil.
Clarence had been away from his home for almost a year and had quite a lot of catching up to do with current events. The headlines in the newspapers told of a series of indictments concerning "Cleveland's Bad Boys," Donald A. Campbell and John E. McGee. These two men were the most feared and powerful union bosses in the city. The indictments were the culmination of months of investigation by the office of the Safety Director of Cleveland.
The Safety Director's name was Elliot Ness. The same Elliot Ness of "Chicago Untouchable" fame. Elliot Ness, the crime fighter who helped destroy Al Capone's criminal empire, helped in put away the Purple Gang, and cleaned up Chicago. The newspapers also reported another of Elliot Ness' famous cases. A case that fascinated Clarence more than all of the political hoopla.
This was the case of the "Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run." Clarence had taken an interest in this case long before he had been "asked" to leave Cleveland. He remembered that this case, in particular, involved a series of murders which had taken place in the Kingsbury Run area of Cleveland. The area was a vast stretch of land around what was known as the "Roaring Third Precinct", near the Cuyahoga River. The river divided East and West Cleveland.
These gruesome murders, which began to surface around September 1935, involved the murders and dismemberment of several people. Most of whose identities were never determined. The police surmised that the killer would pick up a hobo or prostitute, befriend them, and take them to some unknown place. Police assumed the victims were taken to the killer's home, fed and then murdered.
These murders, it was also reported, began with decapitation. This while the helpless victim was still alive. The killer then would cut the body up into smaller pieces, and these pieces, often minus the head, would turn up in Kingsbury Run, cleaned and drained of all of their blood. The neatness of the amputations and the precision of the cuts led the police to believe that the murderer was probably a doctor, or at the very least, a person with trained, surgical skills. The coroner of Cleveland stated that the logical suspect would be a physician "who performs the crime in the fury of a long drinking bout or derangement following the use of drugs." These "bodies" would turn up approximately every five months.
As Clarence read these accounts on the bus, he saw that the latest body, "Victim #9," had been found sometime in July of that year, 1937. It was now December, and Cleveland was about due for another grisly murder.
Clarence was familiar with the "Roaring Third", due to its notorious drinking establishments. He had often frequented these establishments. He remembered that when he had seen the hobos and down-and-outers who were forced to live in the shanty towns hidden deep within the run, he had often said to himself, "Before I get as bad as them, I'll stop drinking."
Clarence drifted off to sleep briefly, remembering the glaring headlines of almost a year earlier. In February 1937, a body had been found washed up on Euclid Beach. It was found by a man from East Cleveland. He had told police he just happened to be walking by at that time.
Clarence woke up with a start. What had awakened him so abruptly was that the name of the passerby at Euclid Beach had disturbed him greatly. Not just disturbed him, but sent shivers of terror up and down his spine and throughout his whole body. He sat up, jumped with a start, and was in a cold sweat. No matter how hard he tried, he could not recall the name of the man who had just sent such utter terror into him.
Clarence finally arrived in Akron. Slowly he got off of the bus. He had convinced the driver that he was on his way to a doctor and needed some money to get there. The driver loaned Clarence some money, and Clarence quickly proceeded to the nearest bar to quench his thirst from the long bus ride and to calm his now jittery nerves.
Some of these human relationships and fallacies that we have been mentioning may seem formidable hurdles to you at the moment. But you will be surprised at how quickly they become insignificant if you stop drinking.
IF you stop drinking... Do you want to stop? Are you completely sincere in your desire to stop once and for all?
Put it another way. Do you finally realize that you have no choice but to stop? Are you convinced that you would rather quit drinking than go on the way you are?
When Clarence had run out of the money he borrowed from the bus driver and when there were no free drinks he left the bar. He felt somewhat bolstered by the effects of the alcohol. He slowly unfolded the piece of paper that Dorothy had given him. Straining to read in the unfamiliar sunlight, he read the address, 810 Second National Building. Looking at a clock in a store window, he saw that it was almost twelve noon. Plenty of time to reach the office by the hours of two to four P.M. He proceeded on to another bar down the street for, maybe, "just one more, or two."
Clarence reached the Second National Building a little before two. He went upstairs and walked directly to the doctor's office. He read the name on the door. It was painted in black and gold on the glass window. "Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, Rectal Surgeon."
Clarence laughed as he thought to himself, "My, that's a new approach to cure drinking." He paced the hallway. He hesitated, trying to decide whether to go or stay. He knew that his problem was most probably located in his head, but he thought that this particular doctor worked on this "cure" a bit lower than that. He paced for what seemed like hours; but, in all actuality, it was probably just minutes.
Doctor Smith arrived just after the stroke of two P.M. He shook Clarence's hand with a firm grip. That shook Clarence all over. Dr. Smith said, in a loud, strong, booming voice, with a distinct Vermont accent, "Young feller, you must be Clarence. You can call me Doc."
Clarence was taken aback. He thought to himself, "How did he know my name?" He didn't stop to think that Dorothy probably had called earlier. Which in fact, she had. She had called to tell the doctor that her wayward husband might be showing up at his office that day. She had warned the doctor that, if Clarence did indeed show up, he would probably be in a state of intoxication.
The doctor took Clarence through his waiting room and office into another, and smaller room. This room had a table and a couple of chairs in it. Doctor Smith, "Doc," asked for him to sit down.
When they were both seated, Doc proceeded to tell Clarence about the doctor's own personal story of recovery from alcoholism. Clarence, still suffering from the lingering effects of his last "just one more," heard something totally different.
It seemed, to Clarence's alcohol-fogged mind, that the good doctor was telling him all of the events surrounding Clarence's own sordid existence. "How does this man know all about me," he thought to himself? "He must have been following me."
Then Clarence remembered the articles about the Mad Butcher. Panic set in. The sweat began to soak through his pores, and he thought he was about to become the Butcher's next victim.
At just about that time, the doctor told Clarence that he wanted to put him away in a hospital so no one could get at him. The doctor had probably said that to him because he had sensed Clarence's panic, agitation, and paranoia. This was, however, at that very time, exactly the wrong thing to say to Clarence.
For at that very moment, the name of the man in Clarence's dream became very clear. Clarence suddenly remembered, the name of the man in his dream on the bus - the name that had frightened Clarence so much that it sent waves of terror throughout his whole body.
That man's name was Robert Smith! What Clarence couldn't remember, in his alcohol-induced fog, was that Robert Smith was the name of the person who had found a body and was not himself a suspect. And he certainly was not the same Robert Smith who was sitting directly in front of him.
The Robert Smith, the Doctor Robert Smith who sat in front of Clarence, sensed that this particular drunk sitting in the chair opposite him was about to jump out of his own skin. Dr. Smith sensed that Clarence was filled with unspeakable and unknown terror.
"No one could get at me," Dr. Smith had said. That was the problem: Clarence wanted, at that very moment, to be where everyone could get at him. Everyone except for the Mad Butcher.
Clarence bolted out of his chair, nearly knocking the doctor over. He ran through the office, bumping into patients who were waiting in the outer office. He pushed open the door and ran down the stairs and out into what he thought for sure was the safety of the streets.
He didn't stop until he was far away and hidden in the confines of a darkened tavern. His thoughts raced through his brain. They ranged from relief to rage, and everything in between. Relief that he had gotten away with his very life and rage over his wife, his loving wife, who he now thought was in cahoots with the Mad Doctor. The same doctor who, he thought, had been about to set him up for a painful and gruesome death. The rage intensified, as Clarence plied himself with alcohol; and then it subsided as he drifted off into another alcoholic stupor.
...the theoretical importance of the instincts of self-preservation, of self-assertion and of mastery greatly diminishes. They are component instincts whose function is to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death, and to ward off any possible ways of returning to inorganic existence other than those which are imminent in the organism itself. We have no longer to reckon with the organism's puzzling determination (so hard to fit into any context) to maintain its own existence in the face of every obstacle. What we are left with is the fact that the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion. Thus these guardians of life, too, were originally the myrmidons of death. Hence arises the paradoxical situation that the living organism struggles most energetically against events (dangers, in fact) which might help it to attain its life's aim rapidly - by a kind of short-circuit.
Somehow Clarence found his way back to Cleveland. Not back to his home, but to the East Side. He was an explorer. He would go anyplace, a bar room, an abandoned building, a deserted alley. He would explore and, quite often, discover things that were beneficial to his very existence, his survival.
At this particular point in time he was exploring the basements of bars. "I got a lot of free booze doing that," he recalled. There was one bar in particular that was located in East Cleveland that he chose to visit at least twice per week, sometimes more often when other pickings became slim.
It was one of the larger establishments, which contained a nice restaurant as well as a bar. Sometimes food was the focus of his quest, but, more often than not, it was beverage alcohol.
He had found his way into the basement of this particular East Side building through a delivery ramp that was never locked. Much to his delight, he had discovered a wide array of empty bottles. Beer bottles, wine bottles, Champaign bottles, whiskey bottles. Every kind of bottle, in all shapes, sizes and colors imaginable. Even some that he had never imagined existed.
If they contained at least a drop of their former contents, Clarence didn't care what the alcohol was, or what it looked like or tasted like. All the bottles had one thing in common, according to Clarence: They all contained at least a couple of drops of that precious elixir that he needed in order to live.
Sometimes he got lucky, and the bottle contained more than a few drops. Sometimes the bottles were almost full. The full bottles contained alcohol that had somehow spoiled, and a customer returned it. Clarence didn't care. Mixed with the rest of the contents of the other bottles, it all tasted the same.
In the 1930's, bars were required to dispose of the empty bottles by destroying them. This bar in particular, and many others, got away with leaving the empties intact. Probably by paying authorities to leave the establishment alone.
Clarence developed a twice-weekly ritual of dealing with the bottles. He had found a large, flat, metal pan with a protective lip, and when he had finished his ritual, he would hide the pan in the dark recesses of an unused corner. Into this pan he would pour the last remaining drops from the bottles. He patiently let each bottle drip slowly into the pan, making sure that he didn't lose one precious drop. If only he could have squeezed these bottles to speed up the process, he would have done so.
His pan would fill up with a murky, colored liquid, as he drained the bottles. When the pan was full, he would rapidly drink the mixture and begin the process all over again. "Boy, what a buzz you can get on that stuff," he once commented.
Clarence was "on the bum" for about a month and a half in East Cleveland. Ever wary of the Mad Butcher, and of what were known as the Nickel Plate Railroad Police. These police were, in reality, just a group of "paid goons," as Clarence called them.
Clarence was about six feet tall. He weighed one hundred and thirty pounds, soaking wet in his clothing. And this time in his life, he was relegated to living in hobo shanty towns, under bridges like the Kinsman Road Bridge - which was about two thirds of a mile up from Jackass Hill. Anywhere he could "flop," he would do so.
He could not remember any time in his life that he had felt so alone, so desolate, so afraid and so lost. Not only lost as to where he was at this particular time, but lost as to where he was going in his life. Lost even as where he had come from. He had lost his wife, his home, his son, a lucrative banking career, his health, his clothing, his self-respect, and he often feared even his sanity. Or whatever there was left of it.
Everything that had ever meant anything to Clarence was gone. Gone except for the ever-present, urgent need, and overwhelming, burning desire for beverage alcohol. There he was, just thirty-five years old, cold, wet, sick, and - most devastating of all - hopeless.
Two events occurred in the latter part of January, in the year 1937, that would eventually have a profound impact on the remainder of Clarence Snyder's life. A life that, unbeknown to him, had already been touched by Divine Providence.
The first event occurred during one of Clarence's exploratory sojourns, Clarence came across a discarded issue of a recent national magazine. While he was glancing through this issue, an article immediately caught his eye. The article appeared graphically to spell out what Clarence felt that he had become, all that he was.
The magazine was the Saturday Evening Post. The issue was January 15, 1937. And the article was titled, "The Unhappy Drinker." It was written by Frances T. Chambers, Jr., as told to Gretta Palmer.
Chambers was a self-professed alcoholic who had been "cured" by Richard R. Peabody, of 224 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Mass. Richard R. Peabody was the author of a book (extremely popular during the early 1930's), titled "The Common Sense Of Drinking." A book that many of the founding members of what was to become "Alcoholics Anonymous" had read with great interest.
The Peabody book was an outgrowth of an earlier study titled, "Psychotherapeutic Procedure in the Treatment of Chronic Alcoholism," This study had been read before the Harvard Psychological Society and the Boston Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.
The study was later published as the book, The Common Sense of Drinking. Coincidentally, after his book was published in 1931, Peabody moved from Boston, Massachusetts, to New York City. He moved to 24 Gramercy Park. Peabody's home was located in the same neighborhood as Calvary Episcopal Church, where the Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker was the Rector and was active in the Oxford Group. The same neighborhood as the Olive Tree Inn where Ebby T. had gone to. This Mission, on East 23rd Street was also where Bill Wilson had "taken the pledge."
In any event, Chambers - the author of the Post article - had worked with alcoholics in his private practice in very much the same manner that Richard R. Peabody had previously worked with Chambers. According to the article, Chambers took treatment with alcoholics. "Are you ready to stop drinking," he would ask. "No," the patient often answered - with a dare-to-make-me air.
Chambers related this example: "`All right,' I told him. `Call me up when you are.' As I hung up the telephone receiver, I fancied I could hear him pouring himself another drink, but within twenty-four hours he telephoned me to announce that he wanted to stop. Until that had happened, I could do nothing for him; It is my strong belief that no man was ever helped by being hoisted onto the water wagon by his friends or advisors. He must climb up of his own free will."
Clarence knew he was indeed unhappy. He also knew he desperately needed to stop drinking. He knew that the doctor in Akron was probably his only hope. This in spite of his overwhelming fear that the very same doctor might be the feared Mad Butcher.
Clarence ripped out the Post article and kept it with him at all times. Whenever he experienced doubts, he re-read it. Many years later, he mounted the article on pieces of colored paper and wrote beneath it: "My first intimation that alcoholism was a disease-my first ray of hope."
Thinking back on this, Clarence once stated that he felt that the article was a message directly from God to him. "James Snyder" was the name of the photographer from the New York Times who had taken the photograph at the heading of the Saturday Evening Post article. Clarence had thought, at the time, that this was proof that the article in the Saturday Evening Post did solidify Clarence's start towards sobriety.
Interestingly, this very same magazine would publish an article about Alcoholics Anonymous just over four years later, on March 1, 1941. That article would be the start for many more thousands of alcoholics to begin their journey on the road to sobriety. That national publicity would catapult Alcoholics Anonymous toward of what it has become today.
However, there were still some reservations about sobriety that were left in Clarence's alcohol-clouded mind. Fears and doubts. Fears about the doctor and who he possibly might be, and doubts concerning the possibility of success. The kind of success that had eluded him so often in the past and, with each failure, had become even a more remote possibility. So it took one more event to solidify Clarence's resolve to quit drinking for good.
That other significant event occurred deep within the woods of Kingsbury Run. Clarence, after reading the article about the "Unhappy Drinker," had been in constant turmoil over the sorry state of affairs his life had taken.
As he lay on the cold damp ground, in the midst of his so-called peers, "a bunch of bums (he called them)," he glanced around. He looked at the squalor, the ravaged faces, and the disheveled clothing. Fear and desolation sank in. The picture surrounded him on all sides and was even evident within his own body, mind, and spirit.
All in Kingsbury Run were in constant fear and terror of the Mad Butcher, the Railroad Police, and even of each other. All were mere shadows of their former selves, suffering from loss of the spark of life. The spark that kept them alive, or at least managing an existence.
They were indeed, the walking dead. The great unwashed and the great unshaved. This is what his life had become. Unless he did something soon, and something drastic, this is where his life, such as it was, would anonymously end. He would cease to exist with no one to know and no one to care. His clothing would be removed from his emaciated body, and his remains would be rolled into a ditch or shallow grave for the vermin to feast upon. Such was to be his legacy.
Clarence vaguely remembered the doctor in Akron somewhere deep within the recesses of his foggy brain. He remembered that the doctor had talked to him about "fixing drunks" so that they never drank again. He remembered the glow, and the radiance that the doctor had about him.
He wanted that in and for his life. He somehow knew the doctor was probably the one man, no matter how afraid of him that he was, that could put some meaning and purpose back into his meager and now meaningless life.
He attempted to stand up. He had a difficult time with this; but after considerable effort, he did manage to stand erect. Well, as erect as a man in his weakened condition could get, or even hope to get. All it took, he felt, was determination. He made an attempt to dust off his clothing. The clothing that was so imbedded with dirt and filth that his dusting simply caused a small cloud around himself. A cloud that, like a magnet, was drawn back to the very same clothing he was trying to clean. Discouraged, he gave that up shortly and tried to brush back whatever hair was left on his head. He then made a loud and bold announcement to those of his peers who happened to have been gathered in the vicinity.
"I'm through with this foolishness, I'm going to quit drinking," he said. After the laughter subsided somewhat, no one responded or even looked up at him. After all, he was just like them, a hopeless drunk. He repeated his statement to the gathered masses - even louder this time and with more conviction: "I'm through with this foolishness, I'm going to quit drinking !" The laughter and derision continued. Shouts of "sit down and shut up" were heard from the group.
One of the other drunks made an effort to stand. Clarence remembered him only as a "flannel mouthed Irishman," one of the leaders and a spokesperson of the group. This man placed his hands on his hips and laughed. His head was thrown back, mouth wide open, exhibiting a large, almost toothless grin.
"You quit drinking," the Irishman said. "You'll never quit drinking. Look at you. You don't have the guts to quit drinking." Clarence took a couple of unsteady steps forward, but not enough to be in direct swinging range of this other person. He put his hands on his own hips and yelled, "I'm gonna quit drinking!" The Irishman took a few more steps closer and pushed his face into Clarence's. "You'll NEVER quit drinking!" Spit was flying out of the Irishman's mouth. "You know that to quit takes determination. To have determination you have to have a chin. Look at you," he roared. He continued to laugh; and then said, "You've got a chin like Andy Gump. You're no damned good!"
The Irishman was no doubt sharing from his own experiences. He too, had probably quit drinking, with determination and with his large and chiseled chin many times in the past. Times too numerous to remember, with little or no success.
Clarence then got even closer, and yelled even louder. He threw caution was thrown to the wind. "I'm gonna quit drinking, I know a doctor in Akron that can fix me," he shouted. The Irishman yelled back, moving right into Clarence's face: "No one can fix you!" Clarence replied, "I'll show you." The Irishman laughed into his face, and said, "Show me."
The shouting continued for about a half hour. A small group of the drunks was egging Clarence on and the rest egged on the other man. Though it probably looked quite pathetic, the scene was probably also quite funny as well. Two drunken "bums," face-to-face, hands on their respective hips in the midst of a cadre of other "bums." Dregs of society, surrounded by the squalor that exemplified Kingsbury Run.
With the last little bit of pride he was able to muster, Clarence utilized almost all of the strength that was left in his emaciated body. He wheeled around, luckily without falling, and staggered away.
The sharp and stinging sounds of laughter, jeers of derision, and even some scattered applause were ringing in his ears. The sounds faded as he picked up his pace. His head was now held high as he picked up speed, proud of what he thought was his final decision. Proud, and deathly afraid of the unknown prospect that lay ahead. The prospect of possibly finding out who Clarence Snyder was without the aid of beverage alcohol. The prospect, frightening as it was, was that of living life without a drink.
When he got out of the sight of his erstwhile comrades, Clarence started to run. He ran as fast as he could in his present and weakened condition. It had taken a lot out of him to stand up to that Irishman. He began to stumble over debris, running as if his life were at stake. Running, thinking if he stopped, he might change his mind. Running to something for what seemed the first and only time in his life rather than running away from something. Somewhere in his consciousness he knew that it felt better to run to, rather than to run from.
The next couple of days were a blur for him. He continued drinking and running. Running and drinking. The drinking was not having the same effect on him that it had in the past. He continued drinking only because he felt that if he stopped, he would surely die. For this was the only way he knew how to stay alive. To stay alive, he had to drink.
He somehow managed to call the doctor seven or eight times during the next few days. He didn't remember when or how. He didn't even remember speaking with the doctor once. Doc Smith told him later on that it was at least seven or eight times.
He had gone to a phone and made all of those toll calls while on the run. He had probably had to break into someone's home to do this since he had used whatever money he was able to panhandle and find, for alcohol.
During one of the calls, the doctor had told Clarence to meet him at Akron City Hospital the next morning. Scared as Clarence was, this time there was no turning back. It was a matter of life and death this time. His own!
Clarence managed to scrape together enough money to make the bus fare back to Akron. He walked to the bus depot. It took hours. It was night time. It was cold and dark, but he had to get there. He bought his ticket for the bus which was leaving just after dawn. And he tried not only to stay awake, but also not to cash in the ticket for a drink. He stood vigilant, awaiting the departure to the unknown. Scared and alone.
When he arrived in Akron, it was in the middle of a blizzard. The temperature was sub-zero, and he didn't have an overcoat. All that he had was just the mismatched old clothing that had been picked up in various Missions and from those poor unfortunates in the "Run" who had succumbed to the cold and the ravages of their drinking. He didn't even have the money for the trolley, and since he couldn't find anyone in the midst of a blizzard to beg the money from, he "decided" to walk. He HAD to get "fixed."
"Akron," Clarence once said, "is the city of seven hills, and all of their hills are up. They don't have any down hills." His sense of determination was tremendous.
He put his head down, buttoned up his jacket as best he could, and put up his frayed collar. There were many times, more often than not, that he felt utterly discouraged. The hills seemed steeper and longer than he had ever remembered. The cold bitter wind was cutting through him like a knife. The blinding snowstorm battered at his body, often driving him backwards. Yet he walked on. His mind was set. His feet, numb from the cold and the frozen snow, were reluctantly placed one in front of the other. One step at a time.
He often fought the little voice that told him that the warmth of a local bar would bring him relief and that he could continue his journey after one little drink, maybe two. All he had to do was warm up on the outside as well as on the inside, the voice said; and he could then continue.
His "Andy Gump" chin pressed close to his sunken chest, determined to make it to the hospital. The hospital where an unknown fate, a "cure" for this devastating, debilitating, drunkenness that had consumed his every thought and every fiber of his being. No matter what, "I was gonna get fixed," Clarence recalled.
He finally made it to the hospital, numb, exhausted, frozen to the bone. His clothing was, by now, stuck to his body. He walked into the lobby of Akron City Hospital, strode up to the reception desk, pounded his fist on the counter, and - while demanding to see Doctor Smith - he passed out.
No person ever really lives until he has found something worth dying for.
Clarence awakened with a start. He was disoriented, to say the least. He was in a strange room with a group of people, all dressed in white uniforms, who were milling around him. "And for some strange reason, they're giving me a bath," he quipped in telling the story.
He was then wrapped in a shorty hospital nightgown, a little bit of a thing, with no back to speak of, and just a couple of strings to hold it together. He slowly reached up to his face, unable to make any sudden movements, and discovered that he was clean shaven. His hair, the little that he still had left, was cut short; and he even smelled clean.
His mouth felt as if someone evil had packed it full of old, musty, cotton balls. His tongue felt three inches thick, and he noticed that his head was throbbing. And the throbbing was getting worse as the seconds went by.
The muscles in his body felt as if they were contracting in a rapid succession and in no particular order. Some muscles he didn't even know he had were also acting in this manner. His stomach fluttered as if it were filled with a flock of Canadian geese who were migrating south for the winter. At times, the geese all changed direction and began to migrate north. It was at these times that Clarence began to vomit.
His eyes had a difficult time focusing on anything in the room as did his brain. As he surveyed the terrain, however, there was one thing that his eyes did manage to focus upon.
A bottle of "Rub" on the window sill. Rubbing Alcohol. "My ace in the hole," he had thought. He made a mental note. This note was out of necessity. A mental note of where the alcohol was, and how to get there. How many steps were necessary to get there if he were going to need it.
Recalling the experience, Clarence said: "I was always scared of the D.T.s (Delirium Tremens). I never had `em, but I saw some of my buddies who had `em. And I saw people who died with `em... I figured if I started seeing a circus; and if there is no tent, I hear music, and there is no band. There's my answer right there. The bottle of Rub. People get the D.T.s when they quit drinking. I was scared to death of `em, that's why I never gave `em a chance to set in." He was probably never sober enough to get the chance.
The knowledge of where the bottle was, how to get there, and how long it probably would take, gave him strength. It "gave me guts, my ace in the hole, that bottle of Rub," he said. He knew that he could conquer the world knowing that he was only a few short steps from salvation. Bolstered by his newfound strength, he wasn't too concerned when the nurse walked into the room.
Clarence remembered her as a very large woman. He remembered that her starched, bleached, white uniform seemed to be bursting at the seams. Her hair, kind of salt-and-pepper, was plastered back into a bun that stood out of the back of her skull as if it were a permanent growth.
Her white nurse's cap was adorned with a couple of medical looking pins; and it looked as if it were tacked to her head. Steel-rimmed, bifocal glasses, at least a half dozen chins, on some of which were situated little, dark brown moles, with long strands of black hair growing out of them.
She wore no make-up that he could see. She had short - probably bitten-off nails - white Orthopedic shoes, and stockings with leg hair clearly visible through them. This vision was Clarence's angel of mercy as he remembered her. He, at first, thought that this was the beginnings of the D.T.s, and was ready to bolt from the bed to the Rub on the shelf. He was ready to bolt, that is, until he saw what she carried in her hands.
In her short stubby fingers, she held a small, white, metal tray. This tray was the kind you found in older hospitals with the edges chipped off and the black metal underneath showing through. Spider-web-like veins of black and rust existed throughout its surface.
Two glasses sat on top of this tray. One large, and one small. The small glass was filled with what looked like about 30-50 mg of some sort of white liquid, similar to watered down milk. The other glass, an eight ounce drinking glass, he was sure contained "booze."
She walked over to his bed, ever careful not to spill her precious cargo. With a low, raspy voice, she said, "Mister Snyder." This was the first time in a long time that anyone had called him by his name.
"Mr. Snyder," she said, "I have some medicine here for you. You drink down this nice medicine here with the milk, and you can follow it up right after with this whisky." He looked at the two glasses and then back at the nurse.
Clarence had heard a lot about that "nice medicine" from his drinking buddies. It was probably Paraldehyde. Paraldehyde is a synthetic, non-Barbiturate, sedative-hypnotic, which is now considered to be potentially dangerous. It has a bitter taste; therefor the need for the milk. It also causes burning in the mucus membranes. In hypnotic doses, such as the one they attempted to give to Clarence, it can induce sleep in as little as ten minutes; and its effects would usually last from four to ten hours.
Clarence knew what that little glass held. "That stuff will knock you flatter than a rug, real quick," he thought. No way was he going to fall for that "nice medicine" line that the nurse was trying to hand him. He wasn't born yesterday.
He sat up in the bed, put on his most sincere face, looked the nurse right in her eyes, and said, "Lady, I come down here to quit drinking, not to drink. I'll thank you to take that stuff away from me."
He later stated that it was probably one of the worst and stupidest moves he had ever made in his life until then. This was because the nurse did indeed, take the tray away. He remembered that he "suffered the agonies of the damned." He began to sweat profusely. He felt as if spiders and other small insects were crawling all over his body and his insides in large numbers. He shook and convulsed, screamed and cursed. He threw up until there was nothing left in his system to throw up anymore, and then he continued with the dry heaves. He held on to the bed railings for dear life, but not once did he make an attempt to get to that "bottle of Rub" on the window sill.
He thought about the Rub, obsessed on it, wondered if it would take away this agony. But he knew, despite the pain that he was feeling, that if he took even one little sip, his agony would be prolonged. He knew that his life would probably be over. This, he knew, was his last chance at redemption.
The date he entered Akron City Hospital and refused that one last drink was the tenth of February, 1938. The next day, his first full day free from beverage alcohol, became Clarence Henry Snyder's sobriety date. The date that he celebrated for the next forty-six years. February 11, 1938.
What we want to do is get in touch with Him and turn our lives over to Him. Where should we go to do it?
At once the lad replied: "There is only one place - on our knees."
The lad prayed - one of those powerful, simple prayers which are so quickly heard by Him who made the eye and the ear: "OH LORD, MANAGE ME, FOR I CANNOT MANAGE MYSELF."
It was Valentine's Day in 1938. Clarence was feeling well enough to receive visitors. He had, as he put it, "gotten over a lot of my shakes, gotten them a little under control. I didn't get over `em by a long shot."
He recalled that, beginning with that day, each day, a couple of "the men who preceded me in Akron" came to visit, and each afternoon, Doctor Smith checked in on him. All of these men, about fifteen in number, who came while Clarence was in the hospital, were in their forty's to late fifty's. Clarence was only thirty-five at the time. These men would sit at his bed side, tell him the sad and sordid stories of their lives, and the depths to which alcohol had taken them. They told him of their lives as they were living them that day, and then told him that they had the answer to his problem. They stood up, shook his hand, and wished him well. They all said they would pray for him. At that point, they would turn and leave the room.
This went on for almost a week. Never in Clarence's life did he have this much attention. These were people who genuinely seemed to care for him. They wanted nothing in return, other than his continued success and physical well being.
After these visits, each and every afternoon, he would question Doctor Smith, who kept insisting that he just wanted to be called Doc, about what was going on.
Doc was known to have very long and bony fingers, which - Clarence quipped - "probably served him well in his profession." He would often poke Clarence hard in the chest with them as he spoke to Clarence.
During one of these visits Doc said to Clarence, "Young feller," [Doc had a nick name for everyone, Clarence's happened to be young feller.] "Young feller, you just listen." Doc said nothing further about Clarence's questions until the last day Clarence was to be in the hospital.
It was a Wednesday, and there was a definite chill in the air as Doc sat on the edge of Clarence's bed. Clarence was still a little wary of Doc. Still not sure whether or not he was the Mad Butcher. Doc stood well over six feet tall; and even though he was seated, he still presented an imposing figure.
Doc was known for his very loud neckties and argyle socks. Clarence remembered that he also wore a stick pin which had a lion's head on it. Clarence also remembered that this particular stick pin had a diamond in it. A diamond of which Clarence was envious for it spelled success.
After many minutes of strained silence, Doc finally spoke. "Well young feller, what do you think of all this by now?" Clarence replied, "Well Doc, I think that this is wonderful. All these fellows coming in to see me. They don't know me from a load of hay, and they tell me the story of their lives. They tell me what booze did to them, but I'm puzzled about something." Doc asked, "What are you puzzled about?" Clarence replied, "Every one of these men tells me the same thing. They tell me that they have the answer to my drinking problem; and on that note, they leave. They don't tell me anything. Now, I'm laying around here for about a week, I'm ready to get out of here. What are you going to do to me? What's next? What's the answer? What are these fellows holding from me? What is this?"
He was not at all ready for the reply that Doc gave him. Doc looked at Clarence seriously, pondering his next few words. He folded his massive arms in his lap and said, "Well young feller, we don't know about you. You're pretty young, and we haven't had any luck with these young fellows. They're all screwballs."
Clarence was not about to comment that he wasn't a screwball. All of the men who had spoken to him were much older. All seemed pretty responsible and sane. He looked at Doc imploringly and said, "What do I have to do to be ready? I weigh one hundred and thirty pounds, I've been on the bum for several years, and I'm unemployable. I have no more home than a rabbit, I have no clothes, I have no money, and I have no prospects. I have nothing. It's the middle of winter, and I'm in a strange town and you people say that I'm not ready yet? What more do I have to go through? How many more years of living hell?"
Doc looked at Clarence and shook his head up and down. "Okay young feller," he said, "I'll give you the answer to this." Doc turned his body on the bed to get closer to Clarence, pointed a long bony finger at him, and asked, "Young feller, do you believe in God? Not a God, but God!"
Clarence was ready for a medical cure. He was ready for surgery, any kind of surgery. Even rectal. After all, he was in a hospital, wasn't he? He was ready to sign a pledge, swear off booze, sing for his supper, and stand on his head if need be. He was, however, definitely not ready for God!
He had already been to the missions when he needed clothing or shelter. He even sang a little bit. He had listened to all they had to say about God. He had "agreed" with them and they gave him what he had needed. How many times had he turned his life over to Jesus Christ for just a pair of pants, on old and worn overcoat, a pair of shoes? Most of these items he had sold for alcohol anyway. He sold them when the need arose, as it always did.
Doc repeated himself. Louder this time and with a trace of annoyance: "Do you believe in God?" Clarence tried as hard as he could to evade this question, but one did not evade Doc. Especially when Doc believed in something this strongly. Clarence asked, "Well, what does that have to do with it?" Doc answered, "Young feller, this has everything to do with it. Do you or do you not believe in God?"
By this time, Doc appeared to Clarence to be getting ready to get up off of the bed and leave the room. Clarence was afraid that Doc wouldn't "fix" him unless he went along with this line of questioning. Yet there were still the vestiges of resistance. Clarence tried to evade the question once more. He tried to answer on a more positive, but non-committal note. He said, "Well, I guess I do."
Doc abruptly stood up, pointed his finger at Clarence, and yelled. "There's no guessing about it. Either you do or you don't!" Clarence became increasingly frightened. He thought that Doc was about to walk out and never tell him the answer to his problem. The answer that Doc had already given to him, but which Clarence was unable or unwilling to hear.
"Yeah," Clarence replied, resigned to the fact that he really wanted to get well and that Doc wouldn't help him unless he responded in the affirmative. "I do believe in God," he said.
Doc didn't sit right back down as Clarence had expected him to do. Instead he just stood there and stared at him. This time he really was frightened. This time Clarence thought that he had "blown my opportunity," as he put it, to rid himself of his drinking problem; and he began to think that he was relegated to a life of misery and despair.
Both the fear and the desire must have shown all over his face because Doc eventually said, "That's fine. Now we can get someplace." Clarence breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, however, he was not at all prepared for what was to happen next.
Doc said, "Get down out of that bed." Clarence was shocked. He asked, "For what?" Doc replied, "You're gonna pray." Clarence pleaded with him, for enough was enough, "I don't know anything about praying," Clarence said. Doc, still as stern as before and not willing to compromise his beliefs, said, "I don't suppose that you do; but you get down there, and I will pray. You can repeat it after me, and that will do for this time."
Doc then took Clarence by the hand and "hauled" him off of that "nice warm nest," as Clarence put it, and down to the cold, hard, concrete floor. Clarence, in his shorty hospital nightshirt, tied together in the back by a couple of strings. Doc, in a suit with a loud colored tie, argyle socks and a diamond stick pin with a lion's head.
What a sight to behold. Both men, on their knees, by the side of the hospital bed, in an attitude of prayer. Doc uttered some sort of a prayer, pausing every few words so that Clarence had the time to repeat them. Clarence didn't quite remember the words of the prayer exactly; but he did remember its being something like this: "Jesus! This is Clarence Snyder. He's a drunk. Clarence! This is Jesus. Ask Him to come into your life. Ask Him to remove your drinking problem, and pray that He manage your life because you are unable to manage it yourself."
After they had concluded this simple prayer, they rose from the side of the bed. Doc shook Clarence's hand and said to him, "Young feller, you're gonna be all right."
Clarence sat back down on the side of the bed. He was sweating profusely. But he was feeling something strange. Something he had probably never felt before in his entire life. He felt absolutely clean.
He also felt relieved of a great burden that had weighed heavily upon him for what had seemed, forever. He had just prayed that prayer, not like he had done so many times in the past. Not like he had prayed in Sunday School, in churches and in the missions. He had prayed this particular prayer like he really meant it - meant every word that had come out of his mouth. He prayed the prayer directly from the center of his heart and not from a brain befogged from alcohol. He had prayed that way because he had felt his very life had depended upon each and every word that came out of his mouth.
In all actuality - it did!
You cannot belong to the Oxford Group. It has no membership list, subscriptions, badge, rules, or definite location. It is a name for a group of people who, from every rank, profession, and trade, in many countries, have surrendered their lives to God and who are endeavoring to lead a spiritual quality of life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That same evening, Doc took Clarence out of the hospital. Clarence was a new man, dressed in old clothing. All the clothing he owned was the clothing he wore on his back, his old mission clothes. No overcoat to protect him from the elements. A mismatched suit that was way too large for him and that had patches on it of different colored material where it had worn out. A shirt with a frayed collar and ripped pocket, with a tie that Doc had given him that didn't seem to match anything except the loudness of its colors. He wore one black shoe and one brown one with socks that had no toes or heels.
He felt, at the very least, self-conscious. Doc said it really didn't matter because where they were going, no one was going to look upon the outside of him. They wouldn't be interested in his worldly appearance. All they would be interested in, Doc continued, was what was on the inside, in his spirit.
They walked outside, not as doctor and patient, but as two drunks. They got into Doc's car for the short ride to what Doc had promised him would be a rewarding evening. Clarence had, through experience, learned not to question Doc. But just to go along.
They drove to 676 Palisades Drive, in Akron. It looked like a millionaire's home to Clarence. It was, in fact, the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams. T. Henry and Clarace were prominent members of the Oxford Group in Akron, (see appendix A, "What was the Oxford Group").
There were oriental rugs on the parquet, wood floors. Beautiful oil paintings from both European masters and contemporary American artists adorned the walls. There were shelves on the walls which were lined with miniature figurines and bric-a-brac.
The expensive porcelain figurines and bric-a-brac caught Clarence's rapt attention. Still relying on his survival mode thinking patterns, Clarence thought, that if things got too uncomfortable, he could pocket a "few of these trinkets," and sell them for bottles of alcohol. He stored the location of the most expensive looking figurines in his mind for future reference. He continued walking further into the house, directly behind Doc. The further he went into the house, he noticed and stored the location of many more valuables in his mind. These included, for some unknown reason, a Grand Piano in the corner. It probably wasn't the piano that he was after, but the silver picture frames and more expensive bric-a-brac that were on it.
He then started noticing something else. He noticed all of the women sitting around the house in comfortable chairs. These, he surmised, were "high class" women. All were dressed in fancy, expensive Haute Couture. At least, that is what it looked like to Clarence, who had been on the "bum" and used to mission clothing.
These women were sitting and chatting among themselves and with the other well dressed gentlemen who also abounded. These men, he surmised, were definitely not "rummies." They were "Earth people, civilians."
His mind was reeling. He felt, for a moment, that Doc had taken him to a fancy brothel, a rich people's house of prostitution. But, there, sitting in one of those large, overstuffed, Victorian, wing-backed chairs, apart from all the others, talking to a woman that he later found out was Doc's wife, Anne Smith, was Dorothy. His own wife! His heart almost stopped there and then in shock. He had to hold on to something to steady himself. What he held on to was Doc.
It seemed that Doc had telephoned Dorothy to come to Akron for this meeting. Doc later told Clarence that she was reluctant at first, and had refused to come. Doc also told him later that he had then invited her to come to his home so that Doc and his wife could talk with her about this new "cure," a cure that Doc himself had taken. This new way of life that was so successful with him and the others to whom he had passed it on. Men just like Clarence.
Dorothy had still not been convinced. Not until Doc put Anne on the telephone to talk with her. Clarence remembered that Anne Smith had a way about her that could charm a troubled spirit like nothing else could. Later on, after the alcoholics' membership began to flourish, Anne Smith would meet with the wives at her home and they would have their own sort of fellowship. Dorothy gave in to Anne and stated that the only reason that she was coming to visit was because of Anne. Not Clarence.
Dorothy drove down to Akron to meet with Doc and Anne. She found them to be two of the nicest, down-to-earth people she had ever met. They instilled in her a hope that this new "cure" would work on her husband. Though she still held on to numerous reservations as far as Clarence was concerned, Dorothy had listened. She told Anne and Doc about Clarence's drinking history, about his promises to stop, and about all the fruitless "cures" he had tried over the years.
Doc promised Dorothy he would bring Clarence to a meeting attended by Dorothy only when he felt that Clarence was ready. She agreed to come when, and if, this event actually occurred. Doc told her that Clarence would probably be ready the following Wednesday evening. Dorothy didn't believe that this would happen but she was curious and wanted to "check out" these other people. She was also curious to see with her own eyes this "new Clarence" that Doc had told her about.
Doc had arranged for one of the other "rummies'" mothers to drive Dorothy to Akron the next week. This woman was Mrs. T., and she was a lot like Anne Smith. Friendly and with a spirit of serenity and genuine goodness that Dorothy hadn't seen for years.
Lloyd T. was an early member who had gotten sober in 1937 with Doc's help and was himself, a frequent visitor to the meetings in Akron. When the book Alcoholics Anonymous was being written, Lloyd was asked to submit his story for inclusion in the book. His story, The Rolling Stone, appeared in all sixteen printings of the First Edition.
On the appointed Wednesday night meeting at the Williams' home, Clarence just stood there. Dorothy just sat in her chair. Both of them with their mouths dropped open. They were staring at each other in complete shock and disbelief.
Dorothy had been told that Clarence would be there, but he was the last person she ever expected to see. She thought that Doc would never feel Clarence was ready for this meeting. But there Clarence was, and Dorothy did see something very different in Clarence.
Despite Clarence's obviously disheveled appearance, there seemed to be a newness about him. He stood straight. His blue eyes were clear and sparkling. True, he looked quite emaciated; but at the same time he also looked healthier than Dorothy had seen him in many years. He seemed as healthy as he had been, when he first swept Dorothy off of her feet at that dance, that now seemed so many years ago. Not so much healthy on the outside as he appeared to be healthy on the inside.
Clarence still felt self-conscious. His clothing, his physical demeanor. What would Dorothy think? Now that he really felt he was on the road to recovery, would Dorothy be willing, after all that they had been through, to travel it with him? Would it be travel or just travail?
Clarence was about as prepared for this encounter as he had been prepared to get down off of that hospital bed on to the cold concrete floor dressed in his shorty night shirt. About as prepared for this as he had to ask God to manage his life. He had trusted Doc before. Why not again? But still …
Just at that moment, Doc grabbed Clarence's hand and began to introduce him to the other people in the room. "Doc saved me again," Clarence recalled. Clarence met Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling (who had been instrumental in bringing Bill and Doc together), Henrietta D. (the wife of Bill D., whose story, Alcoholics Anonymous Number 3, is in the second and third editions of the A.A. Big Book), and T. Henry and Clarace Williams, whose magnificent house this was.
All welcomed him, shaking his hand, and saying that they all genuinely meant what they said. Clarence rapidly began to feel less ill at ease. Even Dorothy came up to him, took his hand in hers, and smiled. It was a smile that Clarence had not seen in years and had thought, prior to this night, he would never see again.
Bill V.H. wanted to speak with Clarence privately. Clarence reluctantly excused himself, exacting a promise from Dorothy that she would be there when he returned. He followed Bill in to a side room.
Bill took out his wallet, a worn, leather billfold, stuffed to overflowing with papers and cards. All of this was held together with a rubber band. Clarence thanked Bill in advance for what he thought was to be money, and waited for a couple of dollars to pass in to his hands. Instead, to Clarence's dismay, Bill dumped the billfold's contents on to a small marble table, atop which was a Tiffany lamp. Bill began laboriously to sift through all of these papers, stopping once and a while to take a closer look, and examine what was written on them.
At last he found what he was looking for. He held it up to Clarence as if it were made of a precious material. He slowly placed the item into Clarence's outstretched palm. He placed his other hand over Clarence's and looked seriously in to his eyes.
He then uttered only three words. Clarence always remembered that scene as if it had happened just the day before. The three words were, "Read and remember." Bill turned, picked up the contents of his billfold, and slowly walked away. Leaving Clarence with this piece of paper in his hand.
Clarence held the card up to read this very important message. The message contained on this small piece of paper had a great impact on the rest of Clarence's recovered life. A recovered life that lasted over forty-six years.
Clarence learned the message. He memorized it. He believed in it. He taught it to everyone who would listen to him. And, most important of all to Clarence, he lived it. It was a quote from the King James Version of the Bible. It was quoted from the Book, Second Corinthians, Chapter Five, Verse seventeen: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become as new."
Clarence began to cry. He really felt that the old indeed had just passed away, and that all things had become as new.
Guests at these House-parties are treated as guests; they meet on an equal social footing, whatever may be their social status elsewhere; gloom is conspicuous by its absence, and there is more laughter at an Oxford Group House-party than at many ordinary social gatherings.
Moved by the spirit of anonymity, we try to give up our natural desires for personal distinction as A.A. members both among fellow alcoholics and before the general public.
But why shouldn't we laugh? We had recovered and have been given the power to help others. Everybody knows that those in bad health, and those who seldom play, do not laugh much. So let each family play together or separately, as much as their circumstances warrant. We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.
The meeting was about to begin. Everyone began to take his seat. Clarence and Dorothy sat next to Lloyd T. and his mother, as was suggested by Doc. There were about fifty people at the meeting. Alcoholics from Akron, a few from Cleveland, and the balance "just plain old sinners who didn't drink," as Clarence put it. The chosen leader for that night was, as Clarence remembered, Paul S. ("Truth freed me" 1st Ed.)
Paul opened the meeting with a prayer for all of those in attendance and for those unfortunates who were still living in sin on the outside. Paul then read a verse or two out of the King James Version of the Bible. Clarence remembered that the particular verses, as well as everything at the meeting, had been "gotten from Guidance" before the meeting.
In the Oxford Group, Guidance was by the Holy Spirit and was received through "two-way" prayer. There was a prayer to God for Guidance and then listening for leading thoughts from God. The person who, through "Guidance," was chosen to lead the meeting would pray for God to "Guide" him or her as to what he should read or say at the meeting. Then there would be "quiet time" spent silently listening for, and then, to God's response. The Group would then read from a Bible devotional - usually THE UPPER ROOM. This was a publication of the Methodist Church South out of Nashville, Tennessee.
After the group at the Williams' home completed its prayer, Bible reading, quiet time, and reading from the Bible devotional, the leader would "give witness" (tell about his or her past life and what God had done for him or her). This witness lasted about twenty to thirty minutes. Then the leader "giving witness" would open the floor to those in attendance at the meeting. Those present would raise their hands; the leader would call upon them; and, then, they too would "give witness." But for a shorter period of time as Clarence described it, "They went on and on with all kinds of things. People jumping up and down and witnessing and one thing or another. Some of `em would get pretty emotional and carried away. Crying and all kinds of business going on." Clarence went on to say, "It sure was a sight to see, especially for this rummy. After all, just being on the bum like I was, and a total stranger to all of this mumbo-jumbo stuff."
Clarence said that when a new person was invited to the regular Wednesday meeting, he or she, one at a time, was taken aside, and had the tenets of the Oxford Group explained to him or her. A major Oxford Group practice involved "Guidance," and, as stated, "Guidance" at meetings took place during mandatory "quiet time."
Clarence told how when Doc explained to him about Guidance that, "The good Lord gave me two ears and one mouth. That should give me an indication that I should listen twice as much as I should pray."
New people were told they had to read the Bible - The KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible. They were instructed to do this on a daily basis. Clarence said that newcomers were also told to read THE UPPER ROOM daily and to read the SERMON ON THE MOUNT by Emmet Fox.
Clarence said the new people were then instructed on the Four Standards. These were Biblical principles the Oxford Group people had taken from the teachings of Jesus Christ found in the Bible. These "Four Standards" were also called the "Four Absolutes" - Absolute Honesty, Unselfishness, Love and Purity.
According to an early A.A. pamphlet still in print and is used in Cleveland, Ohio, the following is stated regarding the Four Absolutes:
"… The Twelve Steps represent our philosophy. The Absolutes represent our objectives in self-help, and the means to attain them. HONESTY, being the ceaseless search for truth, is our most difficult and yet most challenging objective. It is a long road for anyone, but a longer road for us to find the truth. PURITY is easy to determine. We know what is right and wrong. Our problem here is the unrelenting desire to do that which is right. UNSELFISHNESS is the stream in which our sober life must flow, the boulevard down which we march triumphantly by the grace of God, ever alert against being side tracked into a dark obscure alley along the way. Our unselfishness must penetrate our whole life, not just as our deeds for others, for the greatest gift we bestow on others is the example of our own life as a whole. LOVE is the medium, the blood of the good life, which circulates and keeps alive its worth and beauty. It is not only our circulatory system within ourselves, but it is our medium of communication to others." ( This pamphlet, The Four Absolutes, may be ordered from the Cleveland Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous.)
Clarence said the early Oxford Group people were told to live by these Absolutes to the best of their ability. They were told to judge their actions and thoughts by first asking themselves four questions:
1) Is it true or false?
2) Is it right or wrong?
3) How will it affect the other fellow?
4) Is it ugly or beautiful?
These questions can also be found in the pamphlet, The Four Absolutes. The early meetings ended with "fellowship time," a period of time which was set aside for socializing, exchanging telephone numbers, speaking with newcomers, and making plans. These plans were for social events, in which all participated, in the regular meeting for the next week.
It was the custom for the older Oxford Group people to participate in the "surrender" of the newer members. When Clarence had attended weekly meetings for a couple of months, he was taken upstairs to make his surrender.
Doc told him, "Young feller, it's about time you make your full surrender." Clarence was still unsure what this meant, but he knew that Doc never steered him wrong and that he had to listen to Doc in order to continue in his new life. A life now free from alcohol and the resulting misery that had always accompanied his drinking.
At Clarence's surrender, T. Henry, Doc, and a couple of the other Oxford Group members went into T. Henry's bedroom. They all, including Clarence, who by now was used to this kneeling, got down on their knees in an attitude of prayer. They all placed their hands on Clarence, and then proceeded to pray.
These people introduced Clarence to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. They explained to Clarence that this was First Century Christianity. Then they prayed for a healing and removal of Clarence's sins, especially his alcoholism. When he arose, said Clarence, he once again felt like a new man.
After Clarence's first Oxford Group meeting, upon leaving the hospital, Doc told Clarence to go back to Cleveland and "fix rummies" as an avocation for the rest of his life. Doc also told Clarence to make amends to all those he had harmed. Doc told him the most important things in life were to, "Trust God, clean house and help others."
At first, Clarence didn't have much luck attracting anybody to this new "cure." However, he himself stayed sober. He continued to attend the weekly meetings at T. Henry's in Akron. Soon after his later full surrender, Clarence had his first "baby." He now really had a message to carry.
A traveler once saw an old man planting a carob tree. "When will the tree bear fruit" asked the traveler? "Oh, perhaps in seventy years," the old man answered. "Do you expect to live to eat the fruit of that tree?"
"No," said the old man. "But I didn't find the world desolate when I entered it, and as my fathers planted for me before I was born, so do I plant for those who come after me."
After Clarence's first meeting, Dorothy invited Clarence to come home with her. She was so impressed not only with the meeting, Doc and Anne, and the other Oxford Group members, but also with Clarence. She felt, within him, a new spirit, a new man.
Clarence went back to Cleveland, as he put it, to "fix rummies as an avocation - for free." That was his assignment, his ministry. This way of life had been strongly suggested to him by his Oxford Group sponsor, Doc Smith. It wasn't so much a suggestion. It was an order!
Clarence recalled of these early days: "Now picture this kids. There was no A.A.'s Big Book, there was no A.A. groups. There was no nuthin! I'm alone in Cleveland, Ohio. Out of a country of a million and a quarter people,... there was no shortage of rummies... I felt that I'd never really be a good member of this bunch of rummies in Akron until I'd sponsored somebody."
Somehow, each and every time he did that, he met with resistance. Some of it was verbal. Some of it was physical. That, however, in no way deterred him from trying to fulfill the directions given to him by his sponsor. "I talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of assorted rummies, dipsomaniacs, drunks and what have you. Alcoholics," he said.
Clarence went into saloons, alleys, and abandoned buildings. He went even so far as to go back to Kingsbury Run and the "Roaring Third." He went to speak to, and with, the Associated Charities, the police, doctors, and the clergy. At first to no avail.
No avail, that is, until soon after he had made his "full surrender" in T. Henry's bedroom. On his knees.
Almost seven months after he had left the hospital, said Clarence, "I trapped my first one. I got my first baby into the hospital. I will never forget that experience if I live to be a thousand years old. Because it did something to me, and for me. I never figured I'd be a real Indian and win my feathers until I'd sponsored somebody successfully."
The Depression was in full swing. Many people had lost their homes. They just vacated them and left the area. Either that, or they had doubled up with relatives or friends.
There were scores of homeless people, a lot of them, "rummies," as Clarence called to people who were just wandering around. Many of these homeless people moved into the abandoned buildings, just as they do today. They went into these buildings to live and to gain some shelter from the elements. They went to these abandoned places to avoid the eyes and stares of others and the shame associated with their situation in life. Most of these people were men, but there were also many women who were placed in the same predicament. They, however, somehow didn't seem so visible. Many of the women had relatives or social organizations that took them in. More so, than the men.
Clarence recalled: "I was way over on Fleet Avenue, in the Polish section over there. Bohemian section. I went into one of these houses, and there was probably fifteen or twenty rummies lying around in various conditions. Some of 'em were up, and some of 'em were down. Some of 'em were passed out. Some of 'em were walking around."
He noticed, as he carefully surveyed the area, a very large man lying on the floor. The man hadn't passed out, but he also wasn't moving. This man was in a condition known as "alcohol paralysis." He was able to see and hear everything; yet he just couldn't move.
"Here was the perfect man for me to speak with," Clarence thought. He couldn't get up and leave. He couldn't take a swing at Clarence, and he couldn't really argue back or make too many excuses. He was the perfect prospect. A captive audience.
Clarence got down on the floor beside this man and proceeded with his sales pitch. Through this encounter, Clarence learned that this man's name was Bill H., and that Bill H. had been an auditor for the Sherwin Williams Paint Company. Bill told Clarence that he had been employed by Sherwin Williams for many years until the depression came on, and that they had then fired him. He also told Clarence he hadn't seen or spoken to his family in years. This, he said, was because he'd been "on the bum."
Clarence then asked him if he wanted to quit drinking for good. Tears were coming into Bill's eyes as he said, "Yes." This was the first prospect out of the hundreds with Clarence had spoken who had given him even the least bit of encouragement. Clarence was elated.
Clarence said, "So I asked him the next silly question." This man had been unemployed for years. He hadn't seen or spoken to his family for an equal amount of time. He was paralyzed, and he was living in an abandoned building during the depression. I asked him `Could you get a hold of any dough? Fifty bucks? I'll get you into a drying out place and get you sobered up.'"
Clarence didn't have to wait too long for an answer. From the dejected look on Bill's face, Clarence knew that he might just as well have asked Bill for fifty thousand dollars. Clarence too began to feel dejected. He had finally come across someone who wanted help and was willing to do anything to get it. Yet Clarence couldn't do anything to help him.
Just when Clarence was ready to give up and get up off of the floor, a broad smile slowly crept across Bill's face. He told Clarence that his elderly, widowed mother, who lived in Madison, Ohio, which was about fifty-five miles east of Cleveland, probably had the money. Bill said that if Clarence were to go out there and tell the mother that he had found her son, she would give him anything. "Anything," said Bill, "if she knows that you're gonna help me."
Clarence jumped up, told the man, who lay paralyzed on the floor, to "stay right there," and ran out. He borrowed a car from one of the other "rummies" in the Oxford Group, and headed out to Madison, Ohio.
The trip took over an hour and a half. The house where Bill's mother was supposed to have lived was a farm house about a half mile at the end of a dirt road that branched off from the main road. Since Clarence had borrowed the car and the road was quite muddy and full of rocks and depressions, Clarence decided to walk. He thought that it wouldn't be such a good idea if he got stuck and couldn't get out. Off he went down this muddy, dirt road, on foot.
In the not too far distance he heard the distinct sound of gunfire. "Boom, boom, boom, all over the place," said Clarence. In all probability, it was the hunting season, and the people with the guns, he surmised, were "probably some of Bill's pals or relatives. They're probably all jug heads, and they're running around there shooting at everything that moves."
Clarence had to decide quickly whether or not to continue up this road and risk his life and limb, or go back to the safe car and "let the whole thing go down the drain." He decided to continue on up to the house, ever mindful that the next step he took might be his last. He prayed, with each and every step that he took, for God to protect him. After all, wasn't he on a mission for God? Wasn't he doing God's work? The least that God could do was allow him to complete the task at hand.
He knocked on the door and waited. He knocked on the door again. Eventually, this little, white-haired, old lady appeared at the door. Looking at him as if to say, "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"
She looked around behind him and, seeing no car, looked him over from head to toe. She looked down at his muddy shoes and pant's legs and then back up to his sweaty face. She had an expression on her face which seemed to say, "You've got to be crazy walking in the woods. Don't you know that it's hunting season?"
All of this ran through Clarence's mind as he started telling her that he had found her long lost son. He told her he was going to put her son into a hospital to dry him out. Clarence told her that he, himself was "cured" of this very same terrible disease, and that all he needed from her was fifty dollars to cover the expenses at the hospital.
He told her that her son Bill told him she would be willing to give him the money. He then asked her what she thought of all this? She stared at him with a totally blank expression on he face. Oh, no, Clarence thought. She too was a drunk, and was also in a stupor.
This, as it turned out was not the case. If only it had been that simple. In fact, Bill had neglected to tell Clarence one very tiny, minute detail. Bill had forgotten to tell Clarence his mother was Polish, and that she neither spoke nor understood a single word of English. Somehow, Clarence learned the truth.
Clarence was dumbfounded. He knew what he thought were two words of Polish. Roughly translated, they were "Thank you," and "You're welcome." Clarence knew, sadly, that he could "thank you" and "you're welcome" for just so long, and then would run out of conversation.
But along came a seven or eight year old child, who Clarence presumed was the lady's grandson. The child spoke broken English that he had learned from going to public school for a couple of years. He also spoke fluent Polish. Out of necessity, this child became the interpreter. Very slowly, the whole story was retold.
The old lady started to cry and began to thank Clarence profusely. She kissed him, shook his hands, and hugged him. She chattered away endlessly in her native tongue, leaving Clarence unaware of the meaning of her words.
There were the depression years, and many people didn't trust the banks too much. This because many banks had closed and gone out of business. Many people kept their money at home, close to where they could get to it. They buried it in their back yards, in tin cans and in mattresses. Anywhere they thought it would be safe. Many felt that "no interest" was a lot better than "no money."
The mother excused herself and left the room. Clarence quipped that she had probably "cut a lump out of the mattress." When she came back into the kitchen where she had left Clarence with her grandson, the mother extended he trembling hand to Clarence. In it was a large stack of dollar bills that were tied together with a string. These were the old style bills, larger than the ones in use today. She started counting these dollars, in Polish. She was placing them into Clarence's hands, one-by-one.
She tried to insist that Clarence take more than the fifty that he had asked for. This she explained to him, was to cover any other expenses that he might have had to incur and for all of his troubles.
Clarence refused to take any more than the amount that he had originally requested. "Fifty is all I need to get your son into the hospital," he said. She kept insisting, pleading at times. She said that he was insulting her and her family honor. Clarence held steadfast.
He ran down that long road oblivious to the continued sounds of gunfire. He got into the car and started back to Cleveland. This trip that had taken him an hour and a half to get there, only took about an hour to get back. Clarence was flying, in more ways than one.
When he returned to Cleveland, Bill was still lying there. Just where Clarence had left him just a few hours earlier. After telling Bill he had seen his mother and that she had given him the money, he went outside to call Doc.
Reaching Doc at his office, Clarence told him that he had gotten his first "baby." He said he was going to drive him down to Akron and asked if Doc would meet them at the hospital. He had to repeat the message a few times. He was talking so fast that Doc had constantly to tell him either to repeat it or to slow down.
When he got off the phone with Doc, Clarence asked some of the other "jug-heads" to help him lift Bill up, and to put him into the back seat of the car. Away Clarence and Bill went. Clarence had "arrived." He was a sponsor. He had now gotten his "feathers." Looking back, Clarence remembered that Bill finally came out of the paralysis in the hospital and that they had a very difficult time with him.
Bill found it difficult to "swallow" the spiritual program that was being outlined to him. Clarence remembered that he and Doc had numerous verbal bouts with Bill. There was even a point in the treatment where Doc had almost given up on Bill and suggested that Clarence do the same.
Because Bill was Clarence's first "success," Clarence refused to give up. He tried even harder. He eventually convinced Bill to "accept that he needed new management in his life." He said, "Bill did get on his knees." Later on in Clarence's sobriety he didn't force anyone to accept anything. He merely told them that they were the ones who had come to him because their lives were "messed up." He told them that if they "didn't want what I had, they could go on their merry way and come back, if and when they were ready to go to any lengths to get well. To recover."
Bill managed to stay dry as Clarence remembered, for about two years. But, as Clarence put it, due to Bill's continued stubbornness, Bill began to manage his own life once again. Each time he did this, it was done with disastrous results.
According to archival material relating to the "A.A. Association," Bill had to be hospitalized on at least two more occasions. These records showed that on March 12, 1940, William J.H. owed a hospital balance of $34.07. In the records for November, 1940, Bill's balance was "Paid by the A.A. Association."
The "A.A. Association" was a committee that was set up for the purpose of recording hospital bills owed by "prospects" and members. "Prospects" were people who were prospective members, who had not as yet "taken their Steps." The A.A. Association committee was comprised of members of the Fellowship who collected money from prospective members, their families, and other members, and turned the money over to the "Approved Hospitals."
The Association often paid the bills of those less fortunate who were unable to do so themselves. The Association kept an ongoing monthly record of who owed what. These records often showed that patient - the "prospect" - was "still in house." What this meant was that the newcomer was still in the hospital when the monthly report came out.
Written in some of these reports were Clarence pencilled notation of the amount still owed. An example of this was; "Charles R. … 3/10/40... still in house." After that was written an entry of, "$61.28" in pencil. Some of the other notations contain the name of the sponsor and/or the group into which that the "prospect" went.
This committee was eventually disbanded in the early 1940's as the A.A. membership increased. In part, this increase was due to a series of articles published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in October and November of 1939. The membership increased even more as a result of A.A.'s first national publicity. This publicity came from an article in the Saturday Evening Post written by its a staff writer, Jack Alexander. The Post issue came out on March 1, 1941. Due to Cleveland's phenomenal success, a large part of the article covered the experiences of Cleveland members.
Bill H. eventually "got" the program, and, as Clarence remembered, "stayed sober for the rest of his life."
Ideas do have legs, and they travel fast and far, for they need no ships to cross the seas! Indeed they move with such speed that the idea conceived and born by the passion of one heart can shape and change the lives of millions, leading great nations on to destruction or destiny...
Soon after Bill H. came into the Oxford Group, Clarence began to experience some success in his life. Success not only in carrying the message of recovery as an avocation, but success in something equally as important. Finding employment.
Years back, when Clarence was still in the finance business, he had worked with numerous automobile dealerships. Many of whom he had helped to stay in business through some the worst years of the Depression. One of these car dealerships was the E.D. LATIMER & Company. Mr. Latimer had surmised that Clarence had all of the innate qualities for and had what it took to be a super salesperson.
When Clarence approached Mr. Latimer about a position, Latimer hired him on the spot. Latimer didn't ask about where Clarence had been working prior to that time, where he had been or what he had been, doing the previous couple of years.
In an amazingly short period of time, and much to Mr. Latimer's delight, Clarence began bringing in customers faster, and with more success than any of the other salespeople. Past or present, regardless of experience. Clarence had taken all of the old sales and service records from his predecessors and organized a massive list of all of the people who hadn't brought their cars in for service. Or had never brought them in at all. He also compiled a list of all of the customers, past and present, who were due to purchase a new car.
Utilizing these lists, Clarence routed out his course. He arranged his schedule around the locations. He got into his new, demonstrator car and visited each and every one of them personally. He did this mostly in the evenings to help insure that, not only the customer, but his entire family would be present.
He kept only one evening free. Wednesday evening was set aside for Clarence's Oxford Group meetings in Akron. In the fifteen months during which he attended Wednesday night meetings at T. Henry and Clarace Williams' home, Clarence may have missed only one or two.
Clarence was very shrewd in his sales practices. He showed a lot of concern. Yet he often berated his potential customers. He usually did this in front of their families where this practice had the most impact. He scolded these customers, often telling them, "You are not taking care of your investment."
He developed a reputation throughout the greater Cleveland area for really caring for his customers and taking a personal interest in them. "He," many said, "cared so much that he went personally to visit with them at their homes." This practice was something unheard of for an automobile salesperson.
E.D. LATIMER was touted as being "Ohio's Largest Ford and Mercury Dealer," and advertised, "You can always do business with `LATIMER'." But Personal care had never been Latimer's strongest selling point. Never, that is, until Clarence began working there. People came in droves to see Clarence at the dealership. Car owners, families, friends, even "rummies." For Clarence not only sold Fords and Mercuries, he "sold" sobriety and the Oxford Group. And Mr. Latimer didn't care what else Clarence sold, as long as Clarence was selling cars in the volume that he did.
He had not one, but two, demonstrator cars at his disposal and in his possession. One Ford and one Mercury. This special treatment was unheard of in those days. Usually even the best salesperson got just one demonstrator car for his personal use.
Clarence often said, "Now kids, think about this. Think about Divine Providence." After being "on the bum," with no home, no money to speak of, no job, his marriage down the tubes, Clarence had been introduced to a doctor who later turned out to be one of the founders of A.A. He had been introduced to this doctor indirectly through another doctor, who not only lived over four hundred miles away, but who "just happened" to be the brother-in-law of the other co-founder-to-be of A.A. The doctor in Akron got him "fixed." Clarence got his relationship with his wife back and was living back in his home. He was earning a good salary (twenty dollars a week draw on commission). Even more important, he had two cars that were always at his disposal. These cars were used every Wednesday night to ferry alcoholics back and forth to the meetings of the Oxford Group in Akron, Ohio.
"This just doesn't happen to ordinary people." As Clarence stated shaking his head as he thought of the incredible events that happened in his life.
Both of Clarence's cars began rapidly to fill up with "rummies": Clarence, Dorothy, George McD., John D., Lee L., Charlie J., Vaughn P., Clarence W., Bill H., Kay H., Sylvia K., Ed M., Lloyd T., assorted wives, husbands, and other family members. All drove to Akron on a weekly basis. The "Cleveland Contingent," as they were called, hardly ever missed a Wednesday night meeting.
When they did miss a meeting, it was due to extremely hazardous driving conditions which had been produced by inclement weather. The Cleveland Contingent stayed home, only after praying and receiving "guidance" about traveling that particular night.
Sylvia K. was one of the "babies" of Clarence and Dorothy." After living with them for a while, Sylvia returned to her native Chicago, and helped start A.A. there. Her story, "The Keys Of The Kingdom," is in the Second and Third Edition of the Big Book.
Clarence was one of the few people who were instrumental in helping to bring women into A.A. He argued strongly for their inclusion into the Fellowship when they were often unwelcome. Many of the older, male members of A.A. felt about women that "they were nothing but trouble. Even Bill and Bob were scared of `em and the trouble they often caused with the old bucks," said Clarence.
Bill V.H., in a letter to Clarence, written January 7, 1951, made reference to the problems with women, even wives. Bill wrote, "You remember Roland and his good looking wife at King School don't you? Don't get too excited..." King School was the location of the first meeting in Akron that followed the alcoholics break-off from the Oxford Group. The break occurred after the original book had been published in April of 1939 (according to the United States Copyright Office, the actual publication date was April 10, 1939).
In the late 1930's, most of the members of the Cleveland Contingent were Irish and belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. Clarence remembered, they were "getting a hard time of things with the Church." The problem, as Clarence remembered, was the Church's concern with the tenets and teachings of the Oxford Group - essentially a Protestant, Evangelical fellowship.
At the early A.A. meetings, leaders read aloud from the King James Version of the Bible. They "witnessed" and confessed their sins openly, one to another. Clarence said this did not "sit too well with the Catholic Church." On numerous occasions, Clarence had to sit down and meet with Roman Catholic alcoholics and the hierarchy of their Church to explain to them that alcoholics were not intentionally violating the Church's teachings.
He remembered telling Roman Catholic alcoholics and the Church hierarchy that the groups were, instead, helping these members of the Church, who, due to their excessive drinking, had become non-productive members of society. Outcasts as it were. He remembered explaining that they, the "alcoholic squad" of the Oxford Group, were working with these drunkards and, through this life-changing program, this "First Century Christian Fellowship," were turning them into "good Catholics." Good Roman Catholic, and productive and income-earning citizens. He also pointed out that many a marriage was being salvaged, thereby keeping members of the Church from getting divorced and risking excommunication. "The Church didn't buy this line, not one bit," said Clarence.
Clarence remembered that the problems with the Church grew in direct proportion to the ever-growing numbers of people in the Oxford Group from the Cleveland Contingent. Clarence often spoke with his "sponsor," Doc, about this increasing dilemma.
According to Clarence, the Roman Catholic members were being warned by their Church not to attend the Oxford Group meetings. No matter how hard Clarence begged, pleaded, and cajoled church leaders, he could not dissuade them. The Church officials, as Clarence remembered, were threatening the newly "fixed rummies" with excommunication. The "rummies" felt this was putting in jeopardy not only their spiritual lives, but also their continued physical well being.
The overwhelming problem as Clarence saw it, was that if the alcoholics left the Oxford Group, they stood a strong chance of returning to their alcoholic drinking. Then, to eventual insanity or death. On the other hand, if they stayed with the Oxford Group and maintained their new found sobriety, they would surely be excommunicated from their Church. Then, they resumed, according to their beliefs, they would lose all hope of ever going to Heaven when they died, or even of having a personal contact with God. A personal contact, which, the Oxford Group stressed, was their only means of maintaining their sobriety.
The Roman Catholic alcoholics were thus in a double bind. Stay with the Oxford Group and be denied the Kingdom of Heaven, or leave the group and be denied their new found sobriety. The sobriety, which, in fact, had returned them to their God after years of alcoholic Hell. No matter which way they turned, Clarence felt, they were lost. And they turned to Clarence for help. This placed him in an equally and confusing dilemma.
Doc was very stringent and outspoken in his loyalty to the Oxford Group. Mostly because the Oxford Group had saved his life, Clarence's life and the lives of all the other "rummies." Not to mention the restoration of all to their families, homes, jobs, and to new lives made out of old discards. Doc felt that since there was nothing else to offer these alcoholics that differed in any way from what they now had in the Oxford Group, he could offer Clarence no solution. No solution other than to keep talking with the Church officials in an effort to change their minds and hearts. "Otherwise," Doc told Clarence, "if the Church did not change their minds, the men had but two choices. Remain with the Oxford Group and probably risk excommunication, or very simply, leave the Church."
Neither of those choices was acceptable to Clarence or to the Roman Catholic members. But Clarence could not offer any alternative choice to them. He was, himself, in a major bind. He felt he had to listen to his "sponsor," the man who had saved his life. He also felt that he needed to pray daily, incessantly, for "guidance" concerning what should be done about this problem.
Events in the following months produced what was eventually to be another choice - a choice that Clarence and the Cleveland Contingent had been praying for. A series of events, Divine Providence, that none of them had any idea existed.
The resulting choice produced the beginnings of a program of recovery. A program that was similar to that of the Oxford Group, yet very different. An option that would be open to all who still suffered from alcoholism. A choice that would eventually become known around the world as Alcoholics Anonymous. A fellowship for, and by, those who had an honest desire to quit drinking.