By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Chapter 1
I Was Born At A Very Early Age

An individual becomes an alcoholic for three main reasons:

1. As a result of inheritance. He possesses a nervous system which is non-resistant to alcohol. (In no sense is a direct craving transmitted from parent to offspring.)

2. By reason of his early environment. Through the ignorance of his parents or from their own nervous constitution, the alcoholic was either spoiled or neglected. He was not brought up to face the world courageously. He is lacking in self-reliance, no matter how physically brave he may be or how bold he may appear on the surface. Psychologically, he is unable to stand on his own two feet. As a result of this, he unconsciously craves a stimulant-narcotic.

3. Because of the effects of his later environment. That is to say, school, college, economic and social competition, marriage, and, for one generation at least, the World War.

Richard R. Peabody, The Common Sense of Drinking, 1930, pp. 185-186

Cleveland, Ohio, December 26, 1902

It was a cold, gray, winter morning. The forecast had called for snow with brisk west to southwest winds. Christmas had just passed without much incident. The Salvation Army had just had their annual Christmas dinner at the Grays' Armory the day earlier.

Gray's Armory

More than 2,500 of the city's homeless and destitute were fed what may have been their only hot meal in weeks. The morning paper said there were "Pathetic Scenes Witnessed About Big Tables." The Cleveland Plain Dealer was full of articles concerning suicides, hangings, and deaths. Page one told of a saloon fight that ended when the proprietor had shot a man to restore order in his establishment. Page Five spoke of "forty cripples at a dance."

Clarence's parents

Jenny Patterson Snyder, who had been born in St. Clarksville, Ohio, took much pleasure in reading and hearing about other people's misfortunes. On this particular day she had plenty to read about as she awaited the birth of her first daughter. Charles Henry and Jenny Snyder had already been blessed with two fine boys - Richard Harvey and Charles William. Jenny was a determined woman. She had made up her mind to have a girl this time. When she made up her mind that if something was going to be done, it had better be done, and her way - or else!

As was the custom in those days, much time and money was being spent getting the layette in readiness for the soon-to-be coming arrival. About six weeks prior to this particular day, Jenny had fallen down some stairs in her home and had broken her leg. The fall left her bedridden and in a cumbersome plaster cast.

She was left with plenty of time left on her hands. With those hands she had knitted pink booties, pink dresses, pink hats... Everything was a beautiful shade of pink. All to be presented upon the arrival of her new baby daughter.

Clarence on bottom step, parents in background

The doctor was hurriedly summoned to 64 Breck Avenue (later called 1280 East 89th Street in Cleveland), the house that Charles had built only a few years earlier. Charles had been born in an old farm house on Route 113 in Amherst Township, four miles west of Elyria, Ohio. He had come from a large family. He had three brothers and four sisters. A couple of years earlier, Charles' parents had celebrated their sixty-first wedding anniversary which was written up in the society column of the local Elyria newspaper. It appeared that "Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Snyder of South Ridge" really did it up big. Five of their eight children were there with their spouses. Also present were sixteen grandchildren and five great grandchildren. The Newspaper article said, "The table where a seven course dinner was served was beautifully decorated with carnations and ferns. Several musical numbers were rendered."

When Jenny gave birth at the Breck Avenue house, it wasn't too difficult a birth. But when the doctor congratulated the proud parents upon the birth of yet another son, the matter was of great concern to Jenny. As Clarence later stated, "I don't think that she ever forgave me for that. She never fully recovered." It was on this note that Clarence Henry Snyder was born, the day after Christmas, in the year 1902.

He was the ugly duckling, the scapegoat, the black sheep of the family for the rest of his time at home. His mother had sustained massive disappointment when he was born. He was, however, very close with his brother Richard, who was one and a half years older than Clarence. Clarence and Richard, whom everyone called Dick, were so inseparable that later on, as they were growing up, if someone picked a fight with one brother, they had to contend with the other. The two brothers were a formidable duo. Since they belonged to one of the families of German descent in an all Irish neighborhood, the brothers stuck up for each other quite often.

Clarence in middle

Just before Clarence's second birthday, his mother had left him downstairs in front of the Christmas tree as she went about her daily household chores in the upstairs bedrooms. While she cleaned, she would walk over to the top of the staircase and call down to Clarence to see if he was okay and out of trouble. The two older boys had gone out shopping with their father, leaving Clarence and his mother at home as they shopped for their Christmas dinner.

Each time Jenny called out to him, Clarence would laugh and call out to her in baby talk, "boken, boken." This routine went on for quite some time until Jenny had finished with her cleaning and started back down the stairs to the living room to join her son. When she had reached the bottom steps, she abruptly stopped. Her mouth dropped open, and she released whatever she was holding in her hands. The load cascaded down the steps with a loud crash, startling Clarence. She appeared to him as if she were frozen, unable to speak or even move. One of the older boys had received as a Christmas gift, a tool box, complete with tools. Clarence had somehow figured out not only how to unwrap this gift, but how to open it as well. He had taken a hammer out of the box and proceeded to demolish every Christmas ornament within his reach. He did this with a glee and purpose that only a two year old could possess.

There was chaos and debris all over the living room. Bits of colored glass, unrecognizable pieces of wood. Many had been parts of family heirlooms. Most of the broken items were irreplaceable, having been passed on from generation to generation. Then, in a blind rage, his mother flew down the stairs, wrenched the hammer from his little hands and, as Clarence recalled with a laugh, "I guess I got boken for that also."

Clarence's mother had a hairbrush, which consisted of a stone back piece which was covered with carvings of images of little fish. Clarence recalled "I had imprints of fish all over my bottom and every place else that she wailed me with that thing. I can still remember that hairbrush. It's etched into my memory like the fish were etched onto my body." Clarence said that much later, when he grew older, "I stole that damn thing and threw it away. It was a means of torture."

Clarence's father was self employed in the carnival and park entertainment field. He ran concessions and rides at Luna Park in Cleveland. Clarence and his brothers were never at a loss for a place to go for fun and entertainment. Best of all, as Clarence remembered, they never had to pay either an entrance fee to the park or for any of the rides.

Luna Park in Cleveland

Clarence attended a local kindergarten and first grade. For some unknown reason, ("I still can't remember why," he related) he skipped the second grade and went directly into the third. He got along with everyone in the school. He made many childhood friends and ran around after school with his brothers playing popular games of the day.

With his extremely bright and logical mind, Clarence did well with all of his studies and in all classroom activities. He was an outgoing, happy, and well adjusted child. Until something happened that changed his whole school career and life around. Something so devastating to him that it had a profound effect upon the rest of his childhood, adolescent years, and well into young manhood.

Clarence at age of 10

The event occurred in September of 1913. Clarence was in the fifth grade. His favorite brother, Dick, contracted a childhood disease, the nature of which Clarence didn't remember. This particular childhood disease occurring in an era of inadequate medical care and knowledge - proved fatal. Clarence fell apart. He was devastated and fell into a tailspin of depression.

He and his inseparable brother were, by a cruel twist of fate, separated. They were separated forever. The funeral on November 3, 1913, was a day of disaster for Clarence. He did not want to attend it. He cried. He screamed. He was depressed, and he refused to say good by to the only person in the world with whom he had felt the most comfortable and best. In one month Clarence would be eleven years old. A time that was supposed to be special in his young life. His brother, his friend, and his confidant would not be there to celebrate or share it with him. He felt that life was almost not even worth living.

Clarence in front row, center

His studies went downhill in a rapid and steady spiral. He became withdrawn, extremely depressed, and lost most of his former self image and confidence. A confidence that had been so often bolstered by the closeness and friendship of his older brother.

Clarence's father tried to comfort and help guide him through this trying time in his young life. But his mother had not overcome her disappointment at Clarence's not being a daughter. Her not yet being resolved over the death of her son Dick made things worse. Jenny was not supportive at all. She was lost in her own grief and, as ever, distant towards her unwanted son, Clarence.

The two brothers - Clarence on the left

As fate would have it, a couple of years after Dick's death, Clarence's father was called to go with his concessions. He traveled constantly around the country. After that, the only contact that Clarence had with his father was by mail. In a letter dated June 17, 1915, and postmarked from Lansing, Michigan, Clarence's father described what was going on and of the new additions to the amusement park: "We have a lot of shows, an Eli Ferris Wheel, and a 3 abreast merry-go-round." He also wrote, complaining of something amusement parks always dreaded: "We also have plenty of bad weather. We could not show Monday night here on account of rain, and is raining here now, and don't think we can show tonight." He continued to write in the letter that he expected to be in Flint, Michigan the following week. He wrote Clarence: "...Tell your Ma, that I do not want any laundry sent me till next week." Included with the letter to Clarence was a book of passes to the Aikes Amusement Co. This little booklet had been issued by Chas. H. Snyder and signed over to "Clarence & Strand Theatre." The rides that were listed inside carried such names as, "Carry-us-all," "Fifteen-in-one," "Motordome" and "Musical Comedy."

In another letter, this one dated Saturday, September 14, 1918, 4:00 PM, and postmarked Weston, West Virginia, Clarence's father chastised him for not writing. He wrote, "I sure expected a letter in Clarksburg, but got none. If you want to make a good business man of yourself, you must answer letters promptly."

His father always stressed that Clarence should be a good business person and always be the best at whatever he did in life. In another letter dated September 9, 1918, and postmarked Wheeling, West Virginia, Clarence's father wrote, giving Clarence business directions. The letter started off, "Well Hello, Mgr. Clarence." It continued, "You can give Ma $26.50, and pay the charges on the canvass and the small register when it comes."

At the age of sixteen Clarence was managing his father's concessions at Luna Park. This was a formidable responsibility for one so young. His father wrote on the back of the envelope that along with managing the business, Clarence should "pay good attention to school." His father, being a consummate business person, always signed his letters to Clarence, "C.H. Snyder" or, "C.H.S." He never concluded his correspondence with "Your father," or even, "Dad." There was never any love either expressed or implied. Only business and a request for a "report of what you done etc." But Clarence acquired a drive for pleasing his father an being a "good business man" which lasted throughout his life in all of his dealings. Despite his later drinking, Clarence always drove himself towards perfection in business. A perfection that his father had always demanded of him. Eventually, even in recovery, perfection permeated Clarence's thoughts and actions. Clarence had very little tolerance for failure, in himself and in others.

The Cleveland school system had, at that time instituted, Junior High School. Clarence, however after graduating from public school by the "skin of my teeth," went directly from eighth grade into High School. He hadn't had the opportunity or advantage of taking preparatory courses in advanced math or English. Nor had he been able to learn at the pace of his peers in school. When he did transfer over to Cleveland's East Side High School, he felt not only at a loss, but very much out of place. He felt as if he didn't belong there. His self image and confidence had not yet fully recovered enough for him to inform his teachers that he had not gone through Junior High School, had not taken any preparatory courses and felt that he couldn't keep up with any of the other students in his classes. All this seemed overwhelming to Clarence at the time, and he began to withdraw even further into his own little world. Withdraw so that he could at least begin to feel a little bit comfortable with life itself, no less with school or with those around him.

This withdrawal was interpreted by his teachers as a sign of ignorance. Some took it as rebellion. Many branded him and ridiculed him as a "first class dummy." Some teachers placed a chair in front of the classroom in a conspicuous position and demanded that Clarence sit there. This was done to show other students the results of being rebellious, and it set Clarence up to ridicule. He related, "I wasn't any great shakes of a student in High School, so I failed almost all of my classes." After three years as a freshman, another devastating event began to develop which, once again, had a profound impact and altered the course of Clarence's young life.

He was about seventeen years old when his father contracted tuberculosis. This forced his father to quit his traveling and remain at home, something that, for a long time, Clarence had secretly been wishing for. However, not in this way, and not with the fatal results.

Once more in Clarence's life, due to the lack of knowledge by the medical profession, Clarence watched his father suffer, just as he had done years earlier with his brother. He watched for many months as his father's health declined. He watched until his father eventually succumbed. When his father did pass on, Clarence was afforded the opportunity to quit school and venture out into the world of full time employment. Clarence saw no promising future in continuing on with his education. With the urgent and overwhelming need to support himself and help with the family expenses, he decided to leave school. He dropped out and started on his journey into the world of life and adulthood. A journey that fate had assigned to him, not one of his own making or choosing.

Looking back, Clarence remembered that one of the most important events in his High School days was his meeting a young woman and embarking on his first real romance. Clarence was no stranger to the members of the opposite sex. Years later, he remarked, "For some unknown reason I always took a liking to the girls."

He remembered that once, when he was about five years old, he had "eloped" with the little girl from across the street. Clarence and his brothers, Charles and Dick, were going to Luna Park one Sunday evening to go on the rides and play the games at the concessions which their father ran. In accordance with his mother's custom on Sundays, Clarence was all dressed up in white. A white peanut hat, knee socks, knickers, shirt, and patent leather shoes. On Sundays, he was allowed out in the morning to play in his regular clothing, but by the afternoon he had to return home to bathe and get dressed up in his all white outfit. Then was ordered by his mother to stay spotless and clean until it was time for him to retire to bed for the night. "God forbid that I got one spot on my uniform of the day," he remembered. If this happened he would have to answer to his mother and her stone backed hair brush, and he dreaded that.

Clarence remembered that, on this one particular evening, Florence Drew, his sweetheart from across the street was going along with the Snyder family to Luna Park. Florence was the daughter of the family butcher. The Drews were long time friends of the Snyders. After Florence Drew and the Snyders had arrived at the park, gone on some of the rides, played games at the concessions, and eaten lots of cotton candy, Clarence and Florence had disappeared. They vanished from both parental and sibling supervision. They had strolled over to Rockefeller Park to play with a "cute little dog." Until well after dark, they played with and "tormented" this dog, oblivious to the passage of time. Then, they realized it was late and began to make what must have seemed to them the long and scary trek homeward. Home being many blocks away.

By this time Clarence's parents had sent out search parties. Florence's parents had called the police. Both sets of parents had scoured the neighborhood and park. All to no avail. Both families were fraught with terror, fearing the fate that their respective children might have suffered. They were also very angry and discussed among themselves the fate that their wayward children would suffer if and when they finally did arrive home.

Clarence's white, spotless Sunday outfit had been through the sand and dirt of the park. It was covered with muddy little paw prints and it was, of course, no longer white and spotless.

Clarence managed to find his way home and walked Florence to just outside of her door. However, out of fear for himself, he ran away before Florence knocked. He, himself stayed out even later, knowing the state of disarray that his clothing was in. A state that he said, "was no means in comparison to the mess my mother made of me when I got home." Florence got her spanking from her parents across the street, but it was nowhere like near the beating Clarence suffered that night. The beating was administered by his mother with her stone backed hair brush. That same brush that, once again, as it had so many times before, and had so many times after, etched its impressions of little fish all over Clarence's body.

Clarence was not at all unfamiliar with work. When he was five, he had a paper route. A few years later, he delivered orders for a local butcher shop (not the one owned by Florence's parents) on his bicycle. A bicycle that he had purchased with his own money. Clarence was very industrious and continuously looked for ways to earn money. Always looking for an angle, he was willing to try anything.

He even worked for a period of time as an usher at the Metropolitan Theatre in downtown Cleveland. This was in the days of the five and ten cent movies. Cliff-Hangers and daily newsreels. Clarence recalled, "The Metropolitan was a high class joint. They had the nerve to charge thirty cents when everybody else was charging a nickel." He had gotten his friend a job there and they both worked for the manager, Bill Friedman at the theater. On many occasions they would sneak their girlfriends in for nothing and then would "schmooze" in the box seats after everyone was seated and the movie had started.

Being industrious, Clarence found out that the Board of Education was paying twenty cents an hour for tutors. Clarence got a job reading school work to a blind boy named Larry. Much of what Clarence had missed in High School, he later learned through this job. He also began taking violin lessons, paying for them with some of the money he had earned on his various and sundry jobs. Clarence became very close to Larry and his family. All Remained close for many years to come.

Clarence enjoyed driving cars and did so at every available opportunity. Larry's family would let Clarence drive them all over Cleveland and the surrounding areas and it was on one of those outings that another profound event occurred in Clarence's life which once and forever altered the course of his very existence. On this particular outing, Clarence had his first introduction to "John Barleycorn."

It was at this first introduction that Clarence experienced his first of many, for-years-to-come, drunken episodes. In his youth, Clarence was to have only three such episodes, and each ended with his getting both drunk and into trouble.

On this first occasion, Clarence had driven Larry's parents and Larry to their family reunion in Toledo, Ohio. There he was offered a drink. He didn't like the taste so much, but he did like the effect the drink was having upon him. He then proceeded to get quite drunk rather quickly on all the free flowing booze that was made available. By the time that the party was over, Clarence was unable to find the car that they had arrived in, and was unable to negotiate the long drive back to Cleveland.

This did not at all please Larry's parents, nor Larry for that matter. From that day forward, they wouldn't let Clarence drive them around any longer. Despite the disastrous events of that day, Clarence remained close friends. Much later on, they were even able to laugh about it.

The second time that Clarence became involved with alcohol, it was again at a family reunion. This one in Alliance, Ohio. The parents of a young woman Clarence was dating offered to take him to their family reunion. This was as long as he did all the driving. They were a friendly and outgoing family. Clarence enjoyed the company not only of the young woman, but of her parents as well.

When the group arrived at this reunion, there was dancing, party games, home cooked foods, friendly people, and much to Clarence's delight - plenty of home-made, Dandelion Wine. In fact, an unlimited supply.

Clarence loved to dance and despite the disastrous effects that alcohol had caused him on the previous outing, he tasted the sweet wine. He recognized it seemed to make the dancing more enjoyable. The more he consumed, the faster he drank, and the more he liked the effect the liquor was having upon his personality. It made him feel more at ease, less self conscious, and eventually, invincible.

He became totally different, and he felt, better person. So much so, that he made a play for his girlfriend's mother. The mother was flattered and enjoyed the attention being lavished upon her by this young man. However, the attentions didn't sit too well with the girlfriend, or with her irate father. Needless to say, the ride back to Cleveland was tense and very long. Clarence recalled, "I guess that episode contributed to the ending of that relationship real quick." Clarence chuckled as he related that story. He thought that many of the events of his past, despite some of the pathos, had their humorous side.

Ever since his young childhood, Clarence went to Sunday school. Not because his parents were religious people. It was a way they kept him out of the house, occupied, and out of trouble. He said he never felt comfortable with any of the other children who had attended this school with him. He stated he felt everyone looked at him as different. He himself felt inferior to, and different from them. He was sure that the way that his mother had treated him while he was growing up, had a great deal to do with his distorted perceptions at Sunday school.

Clarence decided that since he wasn't a good student, the other children would have to look at him differently if he could excel in something - anything. He felt he then wouldn't feel so different and so inferior.

He began to develop a strong and growing interest in sports. He was slow at first, but he began to excel. He rapidly acquired an expertise at the sports he did try, especially those he liked. At first, it was baseball. Then, as the seasons changed, he was on to master basketball. Later on, he got the opportunity to play semi-professional sports. That is until his professional career as full-time alcoholic interfered. Earlier, however, he used sports, and his obvious innate ability at them, to improve his flagging self image and his low self esteem.

He also sought to improve upon his dancing. He felt he was such a "natural dancer," that he took only two lessons at the Zimmermans Dancing School. But he then decided he was wasting both his precious time and hard-earned money. Money he felt could be better spent on women and other "fun" activities.

One early winter day, while practicing basketball for a YMCA Church league, Clarence noticed a very attractive young blond woman on the sidelines. She appeared to be watching him intently. Never one to miss an obvious opportunity, especially when it came to women. Clarence rushed over to the woman to inquire when he could go out with her on a date. He knew that if he could take her to a dance, he could impress her with his dancing abilities. He was sure he would then be on"home ground." He would feel comfortable and would very much be in charge of the situation. After only five minutes of conversation, the young woman told him that she lived on the south side of Cleveland and she would love to go to a dance with him.

Clarence picked her up to go to the dance and they took the streetcar. They talked all the way to the dance. Clarence charmed his way into her heart. Always the salesman, he sold himself to this new person.

The two had a lovely evening, dancing, talking, and holding each other tight as they whirled about the dance floor. All was lovely until it was time for Clarence to take the young lady home. Then it turned out to be an exceptional evening.

When they arrived at the girl's home, she invited Clarence in to spend some more time with her and to talk. In the ensuing conversation Clarence discovered she was a preacher's daughter and that she had a genuine interest in sports. This was wonderful. So Clarence had found out how much she loved to dance, that she loved sports, that she enjoyed being held close, and that she laughed at his jokes.

However, when she produced a gallon jug of wine from the cellar, he decided he had found a match made in heaven. Both drank until way after midnight, finishing off the entire jug. Unfortunately for Clarence, the relationship had to end.

In fact it ended before it really had a chance to take blossom. The girl's father discovered them. Both were extremely drunk, and all the father's wine was missing. Wine he used in Holy Communion. The father was perturbed, to say the least, and asked Clarence to leave. Never to darken the man's doorstep again and never to speak with his daughter.

The taste of alcohol wasn't as important to Clarence as how it made him feel inside. It produced in him a profound personality change that transformed him and made him no longer feel inferior. He no longer felt different. He had used sports to assert himself and to become an equal. Equal to his peers and to others, often playing to the point of exhaustion. But he found that alcohol made him feel more than equal. And he readily asserted himself while under its influence. This without the strenuous physical labor. He had discovered the easier softer way. This was the beginning of his descent into the spiraling abyss of active alcoholism.

It was at another dance - this one in the month of January - that he met someone who was to become very special in his life. Her name was Dorothy. Clarence swept her off of her feet and danced his way into her heart, and she into his. In about three months they were married.

Clarence had always been reluctant to discuss his first two marriages. Therefore many of the dates and events are now lost to history. However, with this, his first marriage- the marriage to Dorothy- does our saga begin.

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