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FROM FARM TO CITY
tells how A.A. works when the going is rough.
A pioneer woman member of A.A.'s first Group.
COME FROM a very poor family in material things, with
a fine Christian mother, but with no religious background.
I was the oldest in a family of seven, and my father
was an alcoholic. I was deprived of many of the things
that we feel are important in life, such as education
particularly, because of my father's drinking. Mine
was far from a happy childhood. I had none of those
things that children should have to make them happy.
We moved in from
the country at the age when girls want all sorts of
nice things. I remember starting to city school, coming
from a country school, and wanting so very, very much
to be like the other girls and trying flour on my face
for powder because I wasn't able to have any real powder.
I remember feeling that they were all making fun of
me. I feared that I wasn't dressed like the rest. I
know that one of the outfits I had was a skirt and a
very funny looking blouse that my mother had picked
up at a rummage sale. I look back and remember these
things because they made me very unhappy, and added
to my feeling of inferiority at never being the same
as other people.
At the age of sixteen,
I was invited to spend the summer with an aunt and I,
very delightedly, accepted
the invitation. It was a small town—Liberty, Indiana.
When I came to my aunt, she knew that I had had an unhappy
childhood, and she said, "Now, Ethel, you're welcome
to have boy friends in our home, but there are two boys
in this town that I don't want you to date, and one
of them comes from a very fine family, one of the best.
But he's in all sorts of scrapes because he drinks too
much." Four months later, I married this guy. I'm
sure his family felt that it was a marriage that—well,
I was a girl from the wrong side of the tracks—definitely!
I felt that his
family were accepting me because it was good sense.
I could do something for their Russ. But they didn't
do anything for me to build up my ego. And Russ didn't
tell me he'd stop drinking, and he certainly didn't
stop. It went on and grew worse and worse. We had two
daughters. I was sixteen when we were married and he
was seven years older. I remember one instance when
he took off and went down to Cincinnati and was gone
for a week on a drunk.
Finally, it got
so bad that I left him and went back home and took my
two children with me. I didn't see him for a year, or
even hear from him. That was seven or eight years after
we were married. I was still bitter because I felt that
drink had completely ruined my childhood and my married
life, and I hated everything pertaining to it. I was
about twenty-five then, and I had never touched a drop.
I got a job in the
woolen mills in Ravena—very hard work. I looked
much older than I was, I was always large, and I went
back to work in this job. I kept my children with me.
At the end of a year, the children got a card from their
father, which I still have and
FARM TO CITY
He said, "Tell Mommy I still love her." I
had gone to an attorney to see about getting a divorce
during that year.
Then he came into
town on the bum. He had taken up light work, and he
had a safety valve and a pair of spurs and the clothes
on his back, and that was all. I welcomed him with open
arms. I didn't realize how I still felt about him. He
told me that he would never drink again. And I believed
him. As many times as he would tell me that, I still
believed him. Partially so, anyway. He got a job and
went back to work.
He stayed "dry"
for thirteen years! Dr. Bob often said that it was a
record for what he felt was a typical alcoholic.
We built up a splendid
life. At the end of those thirteen years I never dreamed
that he'd ever take another drink. I had never taken
one. Our oldest daughter got married; they were living
at our house. Our other daughter was in her last year
of high school, and one night the new son-in-law and
my husband went out to the prize fight. I never was
concerned anymore, anywhere he went. He hardly ever
went to anything like that without me. We were together
all the time, but this night I got up and saw it was
late. I heard my son-in-law coming upstairs, and I asked
him where dad was. He had a very peculiar look on his
face, and he said, "He's coming." He was coming,
on his hands and knees, up the stairs. As I look back,
I was very broken up about it. But I don't believe now
that it was with any deep feeling of resentment that
I said to him, "The children are raised, and if
this is the way you want it, this is the way we'll have
go, I'll go, and what you drink, I'll drink." That's
when I started drinking.
We were the most
congenial drinkers you ever saw. We never rowed or fought.
We had the grandest time ever. We just loved it. We'd
start out on the craziest trips. He'd always say, "Take
me for a ride, Ma." So, sometimes we'd end up in
Charleston, West Virginia, or here or there, drinking
all along the way. These vacations became quite something,
and he always had two weeks vacation the first two weeks
of every September.
One year we got
as far as Bellaire, Ohio. We always started out on the
Saturday before Labor Day. I'm pretty near afraid of
Labor Day yet. One Sunday afternoon, the only time I
ever got picked up for drunken driving, I got picked
up in Bellaire. They threw us in the jail. I wasn't
nearly in the condition I had been in many times to
be picked up. I really wasn't very high. They called
the Mayor in so we wouldn't have to stay in there over
the holiday. He took his one hundred and seventeen dollars
and let us go, and we proceeded. That to me was the
greatest humiliation, to think that I'd finally landed
in jail. My husband said that I said, "Can you
imagine them giving us that jail fare?" And he
said, "What jail fare?" And I said, "Well,
they brought a pitcher of coffee, and a sandwich wrapped
up for me." And he said, "That wasn't jail
fare. They didn't give me anything to eat. Somebody
must have taken pity on you and gone out and got it
for you." And another thing, it's a wonder they
didn't throw us back in because I could become very
dignified and sarcastic. As we left, and they were escorting
us across the bridge into Wheeling, I,
great dignity and sarcasm, told them if their wives
were ever visiting in Akron, and they, too, were looking
for their route signs as I was, that I hoped that I
could extend to them the hospitality that had been shown
to me in Bellaire.
The next time vacation
time rolled around that was a bitter lesson to us. Of
course, this year we were drinking heavier and heavier
and we decided on staying home and being sensible, doing
a little drinking, and painting the house. So, on that
Saturday before Labor Day, I got drunk and set the house
on fire—so we didn't have to paint it. I think
that was the last vacation before sobriety.
I hated myself worse
and worse, and as I hated myself I became more defiant
towards everything and everybody. We drank with exactly
the same accord that we finally accepted A.A. We comforted
My defiant attitude
became worse. There was a very religious family that
lived down the road from us, and we were on the same
party line. I'd hear them on the phone having prayer
meetings and so forth, that sort of talk over the phone,
and it completely burnt me up. They used a sound truck
some. It would stop out in front of our house, and I
still believe those people sent it! They'd sit out there
and play hymns and I'd be lying in there with a terrific
hangover. If I'd had a gun I'd have shot the horns right
off the thing, because it made me raving mad.
It was just about
this time, in 1940, that we met up with A.A. Russ read
a piece in the paper, and he kind of snickered, and
said, "See here, where John D. has found something
to keep him from drinking!" "What's
I said. "Oh, some darn thing they've got here in
the paper about it." We talked about it afterwards,
and we felt that there might be some time we'd need
it. It was a thought that there might be some hope for
One morning after
a terrific drinking bout, I was in a little bar near
our house, and I shook so that I was very much ashamed,
because I was getting the shakes worse and worse. I
sipped the drink off the bar because I couldn't hold
it in my hand, but I was still a lady, believe it or
not, and I was deeply ashamed. There was a man watching,
and I turned to him and said, with a defiant air I carried
with me all the time, "If I don't quit this I'm
going to have to join that alcoholic business they're
talking about." He said, "Sister, if you think
you're a screwball now, all you have to do is join up
with that. I'll get you the password, and I can find
out where they meet because I know a guy that belongs.
But they are the craziest bunch! They roll on the floor
and holler, and pull their hair." "Well, I'm
nuts enough now," I said to him. But right then
the hope died that had been in my heart when we read
about John D.
Time went on and
the drinking got worse and worse, and I was in another
barroom, down the road the other way, a small one, and
I took my glass—that morning I'd been able to
lift it from the bar—and I said to the woman behind
the bar, "I wish I might never take another drop
of that stuff. It's killing me." She said, "Do
you really mean that?" I said, "Yes."
She said, "Well, you better talk to Jack."
(Jack was the owner of the place. We always tried to
buy him a drink, and he always told us he had liquor
said to me, "You know, he used to own the Merry-Go-Round.
He used to drink, and then he found something that started
up in Akron that helped him quit drinking." Right
away, I saw it was the same outfit this other guy told
me about, and then again hope died.
Finally, one morning,
I got up and got in the car and cried all the way down
to the M.'s—the people who owned the bar—and
told her I was licked and wanted help. I thought, "No
matter how crazy they are I'll do anything they say
to do." I drove these three or four miles down
the road only to find that Jack was out. (This was funny.
They owned this joint, she ran it, and he sold for a
brewery. That was his job. And he'd been dry a year.
I don't think Jack was hospitalized. I think his entry
into A.A. was through spending some hours with Dr. Bob
at his office. He brought many people into A.A. through
his barroom.) Mrs. M. said she would send Jack over
as quick as he came in.
He came with two
cans of beer. He gave my husband one and me one about
ten-thirty on the eighth day of May in 1941. He said,
"There's a doctor here in Akron. I'm going in to
see him, and see what can be done." Dr. Bob was
in Florida, but Jack didn't know that.
That was our last
drink of anything alcoholic. That nasty little can of
beer! At two-forty-five that morning I thought I would
die. I lay across the bed on my stomach with nothing
but pain and sickness. I was scared to death to call
a doctor. I thought when people did what we did that
they just locked them up. I
know that anything was ever done for them in a medical
way. So I stayed awake.
Men from A.A.
started coming out to the house the next day. I paced
the floor with a bath towel around my shoulders, the
perspiration running off me. An attorney sat at the
side of the bed where I was lying, and he sat on the
edge of his chair and looked as innocent as a baby.
I thought, "That guy never could have been drunk."
He said, "This is my story,"—real
prim. And I thought, "I bet he's a sissy. I bet
he never drank." But he told a story of drinking
that was amazing to me.
Jack brought the
Saturday Post with Jack Alexander's story. He said,
"Read this." Jack didn't seem to have too
much of the spiritual understanding. He said, "I
think this will tell you more. This is based, really,
on the Sermon on the Mount. Now, if you've got a Bible
around..." One of our gifts from the family was
a very lovely Bible, but we'd let the bulldog chew
it because we weren't too interested in it. I had
a little Testament, which was very small print. When
you have a hangover and can't even sit still, try
to read small print! Russ said, "Mother, if this
tells us how to do it, you'll have to read it."
And I'd try, but I couldn't even see the letters.
But it was so important that we do the things we were
told to do! Jack said there was a meeting in Akron
every Wednesday night and that it was very important
that we go. Jack said, "Now you start and go
to these meetings, and then you'll find out all about
it." I don't think that there was anything said
about religion. I didn't know anything about the Sermon
on the Mount.
I had the Big
Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) that
FARM TO CITY
been brought to me. Paul S. had just called me,
and I remember he stressed reading the Big Book.
I was reading it for all that was in it, and I said
to Russ, "We can't do this. We couldn't begin
to." And Jim G. had such a wonderful sense
of humor, and when he came I was in tears, and I
told him, "I want to do this, but I can't.
This is too much. I could never go and make up to
all the people I've done wrong to." He said,
"Let's put the Big Book away again, and when
you read it again, turn to the back and read some
of the stories. Have you read those?" No, I
was all interested in this part that told you how
to do it. That was the only part I was interested
in. And then he got us to laugh, which was what
we needed. When we went to bed my sides ached, and
I said to my husband, "I thought I would never
laugh again, but I have laughed."
I said to dad, when the A.A. people kept coming
with these lovely cars and looked so nice, "I
suppose the neighbors say, ' Now those old fools
must have up and died, but where's the hearse?'"
night Jack M. said, "You meet me at the Ohio
Edison Building, and I will take you to the meeting."
And we went down through the valley, and I remember
ed reading about the Ku Klux Klan and how they burnt
crosses, and I thought, "God alone knows what
we are getting into this time!" I didn't know
what they were going to do because he didn't tell
us much. So we came to King's School. And they introduced
me to Miriam and Annabelle. They told Annabelle
to take me under her wing, and I shall never forget
how she sort of curled up her nose and said, "They
tell me you drink too." I often think how
could have turned some people away, because there
were no other women alcoholics there then. And
I said, "Why sure, that's what I'm here for."
And I was glad, and I have been ever since, that
I said that. And I wasn't resentful toward her,
a young fellow who led the meeting and that was
a beautiful thing to me. He talked about his wife
taking his little boy away from him because of
his drinking, and how he got back together with
them through A.A., and we began feeling grateful
right then that all these things hadn't been taken
from us. They opened with a little prayer, and
I thought it was very fine that we stood, all
of us together, and closed with the Lord's Prayer.
I'd like to
say here how important it was to us then that
we do all the little things that people said were
important, because later when Russ was so sick
that I had to hold him up, they had a meeting
out at the house. When we closed the meeting with
the Lord's Prayer, Russ said, "Mother, help
me stand." This was after his illness. We
were in A.A. three and a half years when he was
taken from me. We had never missed a Wednesday
night at King's School for a year. We had that
I always feel
that our God consciousness was a steady growth
after we became associated with A.A. And we loved
every minute of that association. We had big picnics
out at the house with A.A. We had meetings at
each other's homes and, of course, that was a
grand place for people to get together out there;
they seemed to think so too.
I give a great
deal of credit to Doc and Anne for changing our
life. They spent at least an evening a
in our home out there for weeks and weeks.
Sometimes saying very little, but letting
us say. Russ used to be very much pleased
because he'd say, "I think Dr. Bob thoroughly
enjoys coming out here. He can relax and it's
time they didn't let us know that people ever
had trouble. I mean slips. I remember sometime,
it was possibly six months after we had been
going steadily to King 's School, that we
were coming home from a meeting and saw a
car along the way, and a fellow in back drinking
a bottle of beer. And Russ said, "I would
have sworn that was Jack M." The next
morning his wife came dragging him in before
Russ went to work, while I was getting breakfast.
It had been Jack M. We wept and Russ didn't
go to work.
been sober about a year and a half. His wife
was cussing him, raving at him, "I just
brought him over to show you what kind of
a guy he is! He wants to go to the hospital,
and I'm not paying for the hospital again!"
We were so mad at her because she talked to
him that way. Russ said, "Don't do another
thing today but help him. Do something for
him! If he thinks he needs to go to the hospital,
I'll pay for him." She said, "He's
not going to the hospital, whether you pay
for it or I pay for it, he's not going!"
spiritual strength I had found, because of
A.A., I finally felt that I had made a complete
surrender, that I had really turned my life
over that summer. I thought I had done that
until Russ' second collapse, and the doctor
told me very candidly that he wasn't long
for this world. I knew then that I hadn't
made a complete surrender, because I tried
to bargain with
God I had found, and I said, "Anything
but that! Don't do that to me!"
a year longer than they expected him to live,
and in that year he was in bed for at least
six months. I can't express what A.A. meant
to us during that year. Before the end finally
came, I had, I guess, made the surrender because
I finally had been able to say that I would
not mind too much. And I realize that there
was one salvation for me. Thank God I had
no desire for a drink when he died.
were two women in the St. Thomas Hospital
at that time in a room. (Russ was buried on
Friday, and on Sunday afternoon Hilda S. had
invited me there to dinner Sunday night, and
I didn't think I could do it. I knew Doc and
Anne were going to be there, and all of them
thought it would be good for me, but the first
thing I did was to go to St. Thomas and try
to talk to those women.) I sat down on the
side of one of their beds, and I started to
weep, and I couldn't stop, and I was so started
to weep, and I couldn't stop, and I was startled,
and I apologized again and again for it. And
that woman told me long after that was the
surest proof to her that this program could
work. If, on Sunday, I could be there, trying
to think of something that would help her
with this problem, then we must have something
that could work. I felt it certainly must
be very depressing to her that I should sit
there by her bedside and cry.
that one of the things that I still have to
guard against is that I used to be set in
my way about what I considered the old-time
A.A. I have to tell myself, "Other things
are progressing and A.A. must too." We
old-timers who get scattered and separated
and then witness the construction of services
to get in more
and to make this thing function, we think
that A.A. has changed, but the root of it
hasn't. We are older in A.A., and we're older
in years. It's only natural that we don't
have the capacity to change, but we ought
not to criticize those who have.
another thing I would stress. I think it's
awfully hard on people, especially if they're
new people, to hear these long drawn - out
talks. I don't ever remember that I was bored
myself when we first came in, and they came
out to the house and talked to us about these
things. I ate up every bit of it, because
I wanted to find out how to stay sober.
I stop—I always was a great talker—I
want to say that nobody will ever know how
I miss Annie's advice about things. I would
get in the biggest dither about something.
I hadn't been in too long when one of the
men's wives called me one Sunday and told
me she didn't think I had any part of the
program. Well, I wasn't sure I did, and it
was awful foggy, and I wept and asked her
what she thought I ought to do about it. She
said she didn't know, but that I sure showed
plain enough I didn't have any part of it.
I didn't think I was going to get drunk right
then, but I remember how comforting it was
then, but I remember how comforting it was
when I called Anne and told her. I was crying,
and I said, "Alice says she knows I don't
have any part of the program." She talked
to me and laughed about it and got me all
over it. Another thing that was helpful to
me. I used to think I was cowardly because
when things came out pertaining to the program
that troubled me, I said to her many times,
"Annie, am I being a coward because I
lay those things away on the shelf and skip
it?" She said, "I feel you're just
being wise. If it isn't anything that's
to help you or anybody else, why should
you become involved in it, and get all disturbed
you are. That's my story. I know I've talked
too long, but I always do. And, anyhow,
if I went on for ten or a hundred times
as long I couldn't even begin to tell you
all that A.A. has meant to me.
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