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At the age of ten I went to live with my grandfather grandmother - their
ancestors settled the section of Vermont in which I was to grow up.
Grandfather was a retired farmer and lumberman; he nurtured me on a vigorous
pioneering tradition. I see, now, that my grandfather was the kind of
man who helped make America.
Little did anyone guess I was to be of the war generation, which would
squander the savings, the pioneering traditions and the incredible stamina
of your grandfather and mine. Ambitious but undisciplined - that I
was. There was a genius for postponing, evading and shirking; but a certain
dogged obstinacy persistence drove me to succeed at special undertakings
upon which my heart was set.
Especially did I reveal in attacking the difficult or the impossible.
Grandfather , for instance, that no one but an Australian could make and
throw the boomerang. No school work was done, no wood box filled and
little sleep was there, until a boomerang had circled the church steeple,
returning to almost decapitated him. Have accomplished this, my
So it was with my ambition to be a ball player, for I was finally elected
captain of the team at the little Seminary I attended after leaving country
school. Someone told me I could never sing, so I took up voice until I
had appeared in a recital, then, as with the boomerang, my interest ended
abruptly. I had commenced to fuss with the violin. This became
such an obsession that athletics, school work, and all else went by the
board much to everyone's consternation. I carried fiddling so far I
failed to graduate. It was most embarrassing, for I was president of
the Senior Class. So collapsed a certain legend of infallibility I had
built around myself. Repairing this failure, I attempted to enter a
leading technical school. Because of fierce enthusiasms I had
displayed for matters chemical and electrical, it was assumed I was destined
to become an engineer. At Boston, I failed the entrance examinations
dismally. My people were heartbroken and my self sufficiency got
another severe deflation.
Finally I commenced electrical engineering at an excellent military college,
where it was fervently hoped I would get disciplined. No such thing
happened. As usual I had good grades when interested but often failed
when not. There was an illuminating instance concerning my calculus
teacher. Not one formula would I learn, until all of the theory
underlying the subject was made clear. At the library, I pored over
the researches of Leibnitz and Newton, whose genius had made calculul
possible. Loving controversy, I argued much with my instructor, who
quite properly have me a zero, for I had solved only the first problem of
the course. At this juncture, and quite conveniently for me, the
United States decided to go to war.
We students bolted, almost to a man, for the First Officers Training Camp at
Plattsburgh. I was commission second lieutenant of artillery, electing
that branch rather than aviation or infantry. For when I lay in my
bunk at night, I had to confess I did not want to be killed. This
suspicion of cowardice bothered me, for it couldn't be reconciled with the
truly exalted patriotism which took possession when I hadn't time to think.
Later, under fire abroad, I was relieved to learn I was like most men:
scared enough, but willing to see it through. I was assigned to a post
on the New England coast. The place is famous for its Yankee trading
and whaling traditions.
Two far reaching events took place here. I married; had my first drink
and liked it. My wife was city bred. She represented a way of
life for which I secretly longed. To be her kind meant fine houses,
servants, gay dinners,cultivated conversation and a much envied
sophistication. I often felt a woeful lack of poise and polish.
These inferiorities were later to drive me cityward in quest of success, as
I suppose they have many a country boy.
War fever ran high, and I was flattered that the first citizens of town took
us to their homes and made me feel comfortable and heroic. So here was
love, applause, adventure, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious.
I was part of life at last.
My gaucheries and ineptitudes magically disappeared, as I discovered the
Siphon and the Bronx Cocktail. Strong warnings and the prejudices of
my people concerning drink evaporated.
Then came parting, with its bizarre mixture of sadness, high purpose, the
strange elation which goes with adventure having fatal possibilities.
many of us sailed for 'Over There'. Loneliness seized me, only to be
whisked away by my charming companion, Prince Alcohol.
We were in England. I stood in Winchester Cathedral with head bowed,
in the presence of something I had never felt before. Where now was
the God of the preachers? Across the Channel thousands were perishing
that day. Why did He not come? Suddenly in that moment of
darkness - He was there! I felt an enveloping comforting Presence.
Tears stood in my eyes. I had glimpsed the great reality.
Much moved, I wandered through the Cathedral yard. My attention was
caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone.
Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer
A good soldier is ne'er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
or by pot.
My mood changed. A squadron of fighters roared overhead. I cried
to myself, Here's to Adventure. The feeling of being in
the great presence disappeared.
Homecoming arrived at last. Twenty two and a veteran of foreign wars!
I fancied myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given me a
special token of appreciation? Leadership, I imagined, would place me
at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the assurance of a
great pipe organist at his stops and keys.
Soon enough, I was brought to earth. A position at half the army pay,
from which I was presently discharged as a poor and rebellious bookkeeper,
was the first salutation of unsentimental industry. My resentment was
so great I nearly turned Socialist; which in Vermont is downright treason.
Humiliation and more came when my wife got a much better job and commenced
to pay the bills. I fancied my new city friends were snickering at my
predicament. Unwillingly, I had to admit, that I was not trained for
anything. What then to do?
Characteristically, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the
finals I was too drunk to think or write. Though drinking was not
continuous, it frequently disturbed my wife. We had long talks, when I
would still her forebodings by saying men of genius conceived their vast
projects when jingled; that the most majestic constructions of philosophic
thought were so derived.
When the law course was done, I knew the profession was not for me.
The inviting maelstrom of The Street had me in its grip. Business and
financial leaders were my heroes. Reminiscent of the boomerang
episode, I became wholly absorbed and fascinated. Out of this tissue
of drink and speculation I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would
turn in its flight, and all but cut me to ribbons.
Both at work, and living modestly, my wife and I saved $1,000.00. It
went into utility stocks then cheap and unpopular. I rightly imagined
that they would some day have a great rise. Failing to persuade my
broker friends to send me out looking over factories and managements, my
wife and I decided to go anyhow. I had a theory people lost money in
stocks by not knowing markets, managements and the ideas at work in a given
situation. I was to discover lots more reasons later on.
We quit our positions and off we romped on a motorcycle and side car stuffed
with a tent, blankets, change of clothes, and three huge volumes of a
financial reference service. Our friends almost wanted a lunacy
commission appointed. Perhaps they were right. There had been
some success at speculation, so we had a little money though we onced worked
on a farm for a month to avoid drawing on our capital. It was the last
honest manual work for many a day. The whole Eastern United States was
covered in a year. At the end of it, strangely enough, my reports sent
back to Wall Street procured for me a position there, and the use of what
seemed to me a large sum of money. The exercise of an option brought
in more money and we had several thousand dollars profit.
For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had
arrived. My judgment and ideas were followed by many to the tune of
paper millions. The great boom of the late twenties was soothing and
swelling. Drink was taking an important and exhilirating part in my
life. Loud talk in the jazz places uptown - we all spent in thousands,
and chattered in millions. Scoffers could scoff and be damned.
Of course they didn't, and I made a host of fair weather friends.
My drinking had assumed more serious proportions, going on all day and
nearly every night. Remonstrance of my cooler associates terminated in
a row, and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in our
apartment. This, by the way, was large, for I had rented two, and had
the wall between knocked out. There had been no great infidelity.
Loyalty to my wife, and sometimes extreme drunkeness, kept me out of those
In 1929 I contracted golf fever. That is a terrible illness. We
went at once to the country, my wife to applaud while I overtook Walter
Hagen. Golf permitted drinking both by day and night. It was fun
to carom around the exclusive course which had inspired such awe in me as a
lad. I acquired the impeccable coat of tan seen upon the well-to-do.
With amused skepticism the local banker watched me whirl fat checks in and
out of his till.
Abruptly in October, 1929, the whirling movement ceased. Hell had
broken loose on the New York Stock Exchange. After one of those days
of inferno I wobbled from a hotel bar to a brokerage office. It was
eight o'clock - five hours after the market close. The ticker still
clattered. I was staring at an inch of the tape. It bore the
inscription PFK - 32. It had been 52 that morning. I was dome
and so were many friends. The papers said men were already jumping to
death from those towers of Babel that were High Finance. That dusguted
me. Going back to the bar I felt glad I would not jump. My
friends had dropped several millions since ten o'clock - so what?
Tomorrow was another day. As I drank, the old fierce determination to
win came back.
Next morning I called a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money
left, so he thought I had better come up. By the following spring we
were living in our accustomed style. Itwas like Napoleon returning
from Elba. No St. Helena for me. But I soon excelled as a serious and
frivolous drinker, and my generous friend had to let me go. This time we
We went to live with my parents-in-law. I found a job; then lost it
through a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully no one knew I was to have no
real employment for five years nor hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began
to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.
I became a hanger
on at brokerage places, less and less desired because of my habits.
Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity.
Bathtub gin, two bottles a day, and often three, got to be
routine. Sometimes a small deal would net a few hundred dollars, and I would
pay the bars and delicatessen. Endlessly this went on, and I began to
wake early, shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half
a dozen bottles
of beer would be required if I ate any breakfast. I still thought I
could control the situation. There were periods of sobriety which
would renew my wife's hope.
But things got worse. The house was taken over by the mortgage holder, my
law died, my wife became ill, as did my father-in-law.
Then I had a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of
1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in
the profits. I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.
I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take even one drink.
I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet
promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business.
And so I did.
Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight.
Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn't know. It hadn't even
come to mind. Someone pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it.
Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an ap
palling lack of perspective came near being just that.
Sticking to my resolve I tried again. Some time passed. Confidence
began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the bars. Now I
had what it takes! One day I walked into a place to telephone.
In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the
whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I
might as well get good and drunk then. I did just that.
The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning is unforgettable.
The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably.
There was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross
the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for
it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen
glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last. A
morning paper told me the market had gone to hell again. Well, so had
I . The market would recover but I wouldn't. That was a hard
thought. Should I kill myself? No, not now. Then a mental
fog settled down. Gin would fix that. So two bottles, and -
The mind and body is a marvelous mechanism, for mine endured this agony two
years more. Sometimes I stole from my wife's slender purse when the
morning terror and madness were on me. Again I swayed dizzily before
an open window, or the medicine cabinet where there was poison, cursing
myself for a weakling. There were flights from city to country and
back, as my wife and I sought escape. Then came the night when the
physical and mental torture was so hellish I feared I would burst thru my
window, sash and all. Somehow I managed to drag my mattress to a lower
floor, lest I suddenly leap. A doctor came with a heavy sedative.
Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative without the usual penalty.
This combination soon landed me on the rocks, and my wife saw something had
to be done and quickly. People feared for my sanity, and so did I.
When drinking, which was almost always, I could eat little or nothing.
I was forty pounds under weight.
-law is a physician. Through his kindness I was placed in a nationally
known hospital for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics.
Under the so-called bella
donna treatment my brain cleared. Hydro therapy and mild exercise
helped much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained, that
though selfish and foolish, I had also been seriously ill, bodily and
mentally. It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholism, the
will is amazingly weakened concerning drink, though frequently remaining
strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a
desperate desire to stop was explained. Understand
ing myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three or four months
the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and made a little money.
Surely this was the answer. Self-
But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The
curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski
jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the
finish, the curtain, so it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife
was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium
tremens. Or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year.
She would soon give me over to the undertaker or the asylum. It was
not necessary to tell me. I knew, and almost
welcomed the idea. It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who
had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount
obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge out into the dark,
joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I
thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What
would I not give to make amends? That career I'd set my heart upon,
that pleasant vista, was shut out forever. No words can tell of the
loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self
pity. Quicksand underlay me in all directions. I had met my match.
I had been overwhelmed. King Alcohol was master.
Trembling, I stepped from the place a broken man. Fear sobered me for
a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on
Armistice Day, 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the
certainty that I would have to be shut up some
where, or stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before
morning comes! In reality, this was the beginning of my last debauch.
I was soon to be catapulted into what I like to call the fourth dimension of
existence. I was to know happiness, peace and
usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time
Near the end of that bleak November I sat drinking in my kitchen. With
a certain satisfaction I reflected there was enough gin concealed about the
house to carry me through that night and the next day. My wife was at
work. I wondered whether I dared hide a full bottle near the head of
our bed. I would need it before daylight.
My musing was interrupted by the telephone. The cheery voice of an old
school friend asked if he might come over. He was sober.
It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that
condition. I was amazed. He had been committed for alcoholic
insanity. So rumor had it. I wondered how he had escaped.
Of course he would have dinner. Then I could drink openly with him.
Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other
days. There was that time we had chartered an airplane to complete a
jag. Another glass stirred my fancy. His coming was an oasis in
this dreary desert of futility. The very thing - an oasis!
Drinkers are like that.
The door opened. He stood there, fresh
skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was
inexplicably different. What had happened?
I pushed a drink across the table.
Not now he said.
Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He
Come, what's all this about, I queried.
He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, I've
I was aghast. So that was it - last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now
I suspected a little cracked about religion - he had that starry-
eyed look. The old boy was on fire alright. But bless his heart,
let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer.
But he did no ranting. In quite a matter of fact way, he related how
two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his
commitment. They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical
program of action. That was months ago and the result was self
evident. It worked.
He had come to pass his experience along to me -
if I cared to have it.
I was shocked but interested. Certainly I was interested. I had to be,
for I was hopeless.
He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose before me. The
sound of the preacher's voice which one could hear on still Sundays, way
over there on the hillside; the proffered temperance pledge I never signed;
my grandfather's good natured contempt of some church fold and their doings;
his insistence that the spheres really had their music; his denial of the
preacher's right to tell him how he must listen; his fearlessness as he
spoke of these things just before he died; such recollections welled up from
the past. They made me swallow hard. That war-
time day in old Winchester Cathedral came back again.
In a power greater than myself I had always believed. I had often
pondered these things. I was not an atheist. Few people really
are, for that means blind faith in an illogical proposition; that this
universe originated in a cipher, and aimlessly rushes nowhere. My
intellectual heroes, the chemists, the astronomers, even the evolutionist,
suggested vast laws and forces at work. Despite contra indications, I
had little doubt that a might purpose and rhythm underlay all. How
could there be so much of precise and immutable law, and no intelligence?
I simply had to believe in a Spirit of the Universe, which knew neither time
nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
With preachers, and the world's religions, I parted right there. When
they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and
direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a
Of Christ, I conceded
the certainty of a great man, not too much followed by those who claimed
Him. His moral teaching - most excellent. I had adopted those
parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult. The rest I
The wars which had been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious
dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted whether the
religions of mankind had done any good. Judging from what I had seen
in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible; the
Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed the
Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.
But my friend sat before me, and he made the point
blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for
himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him
incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself he had
admitted complete defeat. In effect he been raised from the dead;
suddenly taken from the scrap-heap to a level of life better than the best
he had ever known.
Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There
had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this
was none at all.
That floored me. It began to look as though reli
gious people were right, after all. Here was something at work in a
human heart which had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles
were drastically revised right then. Never mind the musty past; here
sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table, straight out of the here
I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. It went
deeper than that. He was on a completely different footing. His
roots grasped a new soil.
Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans, when we want Him
enough. At long last I saw; I felt, I believed. Scales of pride
and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.
The real significance of my experience in the Cathedral burst upon me.
For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God. There was a humble
ness to have Him with me - and He came. But soon the sense of His
presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors - mostly those within
myself. And so it had been ever since. It was simple as that.
How blind I had been.
At the hospital I was separated from King Alcohol for the last time.
Treatment seemed wise then, for I showed signs of delirium when I stopped
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then I understood Him, to do with
me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and
direction. I admitted for the first time, that of myself I was noth
ing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins of
omission and commission, and became willing to have my new
take them away, root and branch. My schoolmate visited me, and I fully
acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. We made a list of
people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. I expressed my
entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong.
Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to
the utmost of my ability. I was to test my thinking by the new God
consciousness within. Common sense would thus become uncommon sense.
I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength
to meet my problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for
myself, except as my requests bore on my useful
ness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that
would be in great measure.
My friend promised when those things were done I would enter upon a new
relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of
life which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus
enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new
order of things, were the essential requirements.
Simple but not easy; a price had to be paid. It really meant the
obliteration of self. I had to quit playing God. I must turn in
all things to the Father of Light who presides over
These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully
accepted them the effect was electric. There was a sense of victory,
followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never know. There was
utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of
a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men
gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound.
For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend the Doctor to ask if I were
still sane. He listened in wonder as I talked.
He finally he shook his head, saying: Something has happened to you I
don't understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is
better than the way you were. The good doctor now sees many men
have such experiences. He knows that they are real.
While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of
hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given
me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work
with others. My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of my
demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it
imperative to work with others, as he had worked with me. Faith
without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the
alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his
spiritual life through work and self
sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots
ahead. If he did not work he would surely drink again, and if he drank
he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it
is just like that!
My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusi
asm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems.
It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a
year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well
at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment.
This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink. I soon found that when
all other measureS failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day.
Many times I have gone to my old hos
pital feeling terrible. On talking to a man there, I would be
amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that
works in the tough spots.
We commenced to make many fast friends and a fel
lowship has grown up among us of which it is a wonderful thing to feel a
part. The joy of living we really have, even under pressure and
difficulty. I have seen one hundred families set their feet in the
path that really goes somewhere; have seen the most impossible domestic
situations righted; feuds and bitterness of all sorts wiped out. I
have seen men come out of asylums, and resume a vital place in the lives of
their families and communities. Business and professional people have
regained their standing. There is scarcely any form of human
misadventure and misery which has not been overcome among us. In a
Western city and its environs, there are sixty of us and our families.
We often meet informally at our houses, so that newcomers may find what they
seek. Gatherings of twenty to sixty are common. We are growing
in numbers and power.
An alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature. Our struggles with
them are variously strenuous, comic and tragic. One poor chap
committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not see what we
There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some
would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just
underneath one finds a deadly earnestness. God has to work twenty
four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.
Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia, nor even for Heaven.
We have it with us on this good old Earth, right here and now. Each
day that simple talk in my kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle of
peace on earth and good will to men.