By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 3

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

Chapter 3.9

The Message Is Brought To Cleveland

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."

The Talmud

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."

Euclid Avenue, Cleveland

Sponsorship then was nothing like sponsorship as it is known as in A.A. today. Clarence said that in the 1930's, no one could just walk into the Ohio Oxford Group meeting from off of the streets. Nor were the meetings advertised in the newspapers for the most part, except for the large house-parties and team meeting rallies. A person had to be "sponsored" into the meetings, just as was the case for the more select country clubs and what were known as the "father and son" unions. A person would have to be brought in by another Oxford Group adherent. You couldn't just walk in.

Public Square, Cleveland

Clarence had little to show anyone other than himself. There was no A.A.'s Big Book. There were no A.A. pamphlets, no A.A. history, nor A.A. groups. There was, of course, Oxford Group's lecture, but it was not tailored for the alcoholic. Clarence therefore started out by walking the streets of Cleveland. He went into places where "rummies" hung out. He certainly knew many personally.

Public Square

Clarence wasn't afraid he would pick up a drink himself because his, as he put it, his "purpose was right." He said he could go "into the depths of Hell if my purpose was right." He went every place that he could think of. Everyplace where, a few short months before he himself had been. "I went into the joints and tackled `em," he said! "I walked right in and tackled some rummy and told him he ought to quit drinking. He ought to be like me."

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.

Newspaper Article

After the A.A. Association committee was disbanded, it became the responsibility of A.A. groups and of the "newcomer's" sponsor to see that his hospital bill was paid. The "prospect" was constantly "encouraged" until the bill was paid in full. ( See archival section for "Hospital Rules.")

Bill H. eventually "got" the program, and, as Clarence remembered, "stayed sober for the rest of his life."

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