It was just dumb luck that in 1985 I befriended Pat Newman., a septuagenarian woman who had connections in the community. I found her stories fascinating, and let her know, as I would hang on the tales she would tell. She was born in territorial New Mexico, Silver City, a daughter of a miner who had some success. It was there in that classic old west mining community where she found her husband. They moved to Salt Lake City to work peripherally in offices that serviced and dealt with Utah’s silver mining industry. They were well-to-do. Some of her stories involved her alcoholic past. She was unashamed to retell what might be to others embarrassing but downright hilarious adventures.
She gave me more credit than I deserved as a successful businessman. She invited me to join the Board of Directors of the Helping Hand Association, a small nonprofit organization that ran an inpatient treatment center for alcoholics. I jumped at the chance. I had been looking for other ways to serve my community. As Pat aged and became unable to drive she sold me her near perfect 1972 Sedan DeVille Cadillac for $700. For years I put that car to use not only dragging around indigents, but as a daily driver.
The Haven, was founded in 1969 by Pat Newman, Jane and Thomas Kearns McCarthy, and other altruistic minded people. It is a successful inpatient alcohol treatment service that has earned a good reputation. It started on Salt Lake’s mansion row, South Temple Street, in a large wonderful yet worn out Arts and Crafts house. One time Jack Dempsey had bought the stylish home for his mother to live in. The McCarthy’s, at the time, owned the controlling stock of Utah’s most prestigious newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune. Their family has a history of philanthropy, alcoholism, as well as a history of recovery and generosity to the recovering community.
For the first 10 or 15 years, the Haven, as a treatment center, enjoyed little interference from government regulations. To be sure, it was more than a flophouse, but the managers, counselors and directors involved in the day-to-day operation were often “winging it” and handled problems as they came up. They were talented old style counselors, often without much formal training, but a drill sergeant demeanor that often proved successful. Even though the home was once declared a mansion, it was crowded with seven women upstairs and nine men on cots in the unfinished basement. The main floor tried to maintain the integrity of its arts and crafts styling but the kitchen was compromised by expansions and renovations to accommodate a larger commercial commissary. The spacious living room remained relatively unaltered and proved to be a comfortable place to rent to Alcoholics Anonymous for their open community meetings.
My involvement with the Haven and its association with Alcoholics Anonymous has given me over 30 years of interesting experiences with characters that have had colorful lives. Because of the common thread of alcoholism in these people, the stories run the gamut from tragic to miraculous. I’ll be able to tell about a few of these characters in this series of “Bygones and Obsolete Stories” as featured here in the Canyon Country Zephyr.
I met Boyd, while he was drunk at the Guthrie Building, a beautifully styled surviving Victorian building that has been renovated into artist studios.
An artist there knew I might be able to help Boyd called me to intervene. I was taken with him immediately even though he was drunk. He was humble and apologetic and recognized he had gone too far again. I spent the afternoon with him and we developed a friendship. He was an itinerant artist and bum with no real interest in long term sobriety. He only wanted to get out of trouble again. This certainly didn’t stop us from being friends and I dropped him off at the St. Mary’s Home for the Homeless which was and is The Fisher mansion. Fisher Beer, now defunct, was the most successful local beer with its brewery on the banks of Utah’s Jordan River. The Fisher mansion was the other side or east bank of the River. At the time the mansion was a homeless shelter owned by the Catholic Sisters. Boyd was fun to be around and did like to go to self help meetings, So I picked him up often and took him to the several different meetings around the valley.
They had meetings at St. Mary’s [Fisher Mansion]. Those meetings were interesting inside that wonderful old building with men who had seen better days and hoped for better ones to come. One of his favorite meetings was Wednesday night at 8:30 at the at the Episcopal church on Foothill and 17th South. When I went to pick him up he was noticeably drunk and couldn’t stay in the house or he could be caught. He was glad to get away. Maybe my judgment was off but I took him to the meeting and he soon went into violent shakes, a genuine medical emergency. I got him in my car and drove quickly to the Veterans Hospital where I had hoped they would take care of him. He had a terrible night. I watched this man with violent shakes having a hard time get admitted to the hospital. It disturbed me in a variety of ways. In time his small body detoxed and he went back to what he knew best: bumming around.
Two years later he died at the flop house Marion Hotel on 25th St., often referred to as 2-Bit St. in Ogden Utah. Some say he was beaten up, some say he fell down the stairs.
As youngsters we were trained to duck and cover under wooden school desks in the event of Soviet nuclear attack. The Soviets were feared as the godless enemies that could bury us. Hedging their bets for the future, the federal government funded Russian language classes for us in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. We were taught the Russian language and to be afraid of their reported aggressive world domination culture.
During the Cuban missile crisis I was convinced of Armageddon. My wise Dad, sensing my fear, suggested that people have been predicting the end of the world ever since they invented the crossbow. His perspective and sensible demeanor was calming to this 11-year-old.
As an adult in the 1983, I became involved as a volunteer in the drug and alcohol recovery community. In the spring of 1989, I hosted a man and woman from Soviet Leningrad [now St. Petersburg] that had been freed from alcohol addiction.
It was a coincidence that while they were my guests, we watched the Chinese revolt in Tiananmen Square at my home on my television. History and times were changing fast.
In the 3 weeks they were my guests, I showed them around in my old but very much plush and puff $700 Sedan DeVille. We saw treatment and detox centers, gun stores, pawn shops, porn shops, wrecking yards, Zions and Bryce National Parks, a rodeo, automatic car washes, ATM machines, Gordon B. Hinckley, delivered Chinese food, Wendover casinos, farmers markets, butcher shops, shopping malls, yard sales and other highlights that proved our wretched excess in contrast to their oppressive scarcity.
We bonded. The “Perfect Moment” came in kind of a sappy “We are the World” kind of a event. We were in a municipal park with a live band. The air, light and mood was heavenly. The soloist in the band suggested holding hands and circling up. With a new Soviet friend on each hand, we joined in with the singer and sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” . That’s what did it for me! I saw that fearing the the evil Russians and Soviet domination, like all fear is temporal. A waterfall of gratitude for freedom and love washed over us. Imagine there are no countries; It’s easy if you try.
I am changed. I don’t dwell on Soviet domination, crossbows, contaminated spinach, bird flu, West Nile mosquitoes, Muslim jihadists, terror alerts, global climate change, cell phone cancer, SARS, and most other real and/or imagined threats. I prefer to concentrate on love, gratitude, beauty, kindness, hope, service and continue to have great expectations. Imagine that.
Clark Phelps lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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