Grandpa Pederson

My name is Louis and I’m a 79 year old alcoholic in AA

I guess I’ve always been an alcoholic. At least, I’ve always drunk alcohol. My mother used to put a few drops of whiskey in a bottle of warm water and give it to me when I was a baby. And that was a long, long time ago.

I quit school young and went to work on the horsecars as both conductor and driver. At that time, six tickets cost a quarter and so did a half-pint of rye. Every day, I had to make a hard decision. Should I pocket the first quarter I collected, or the second? On good days, I let the company have the first one, and I’d wait until I had sold 12 tickets before stopping the car at Dailey’s saloon. On bad days, I took the first quarter.

In any case, service on my car stopped while I went into Dailey’s. The horse didn’t mind waiting, and I didn’t give a damn about the passengers. The company did, though, and after a while they detailed spotters to catch me. They never caught me. I quit first.

Then I really hit the skids. I panhandled and I drank. I could roll my eyeballs so far up that when I opened the lids only the whites of the eyes showed. Everybody pities a blind person, especially one so young, so I made enough money to drink on. But one day I dropped a half-dollar a woman had given me, and I ran straight to the gutter where it had fallen. She caught on and began to holler for the cops. I kept running and took the next train out. In the city where I ended up, I lived on skid row and I drank. I slept in flophouses, in doorways, in jails.

For some reason, when I got to be 21, I decided to go to work. So I got a job on the railroad and stayed with it until I was 73, when I was retired. I was a freight conductor. Once I locked myself in my caboose, nobody could see me or know what I was doing. What I was mostly doing was drinking. I drank everything: whiskey, gin, canned heat, smoke, sneaky pete, embalming fluid, and musky. The sores are gone now, but I still have the scars.

I don’t know how many times in my life I have been arrested — 30 or 40, maybe. My first arrest was for panhandling. After I retired, I was arrested 17 times on charges of intoxication. I had a pension from the railroad and nothing to do but drink. My wife had died. My married daughter wouldn’t even speak to me. I lived alone and friendless except for the company of a few other drunks like myself.

When I was 79, 1 was arrested again. Only this time it was different. A probation officer asked me if I wanted to quit drinking. I said yes, and he went on to tell me about Alcoholics Anonymous and about the local municipal court alcoholic rehabilitation program. He asked me if I wanted to try it, and I figured I had nothing to lose, so I started going to meetings at the court.

I went to one meeting with a half-pint of wine hidden in my shirt. A gray-haired man named Jim said he was an alcoholic and had been drunk for a long time, but in A.A. he’d learned how to stop drinking and start living. He asked if there were any questions. I asked if this organization expected a man 79 years old, who had drunk all his life, to stop drinking just like that. Jim said if he’d done it, I could do it, too. I figured maybe he was right, so I reached inside my shirt, took out the half-pint, and gave it to the man sitting next to me. I haven’t had a drink since.

Right after I started going to A.A. meetings, things began to happen to me. Good things. The nicest people in the world became my friends. They’re my real brothers and sisters. Not long ago, at an A.A. meeting, I had a heart attack. They rushed me to the hospital and stayed close, and their friendship pulled me through, even when the doctors had given me up. I owe my life to these people. My daughter loves me now, and I get to see my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.

The years are going by —one day at a time— and I guess I don’t have too much longer to live. But I don’t care. The main thing I want is to die sober. Meanwhile, I try to help the younger people find sobriety and happiness the way I have. I tell them, “If I can do it, so can you.”

Related Reading:

Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety
The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease
Seven Days Sober: A Guide to Discovering What You Really Think About Your Drinking
Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism