Hard-Won Wisdom, and a Helping Hand Edwin Lanier has been sober for more than 5 years. But it took a threat, and a helping hand, for him to change. As Lanier told his friend David Wright recently, he drank for many years -- and he nearly drank himself to death. Wright eventually took Lanier in, gave him a shower and clean clothes, and a place to start over.

Hard-Won Wisdom, and a Helping Hand

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And it's time again for StoryCorps, the project that's traveling the country, bringing people together to record their stories.

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INSKEEP: David Wright and Edwin Lanier, Jr. are good friends. They lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Lanier is homeless, but his childhood was very different. His father was Chapel Hill's mayor in the late 1940s and '50s.

Mr. EDWIN LANIER, JR (Resident, Chapel Hill, North Carolina): My daddy was elected mayor twice. I used to walk down the streets holding his hand. Everybody would stop, pat me on the head and said how you doing, little mayor. You know, I had a wonderful daddy.

Mr. DAVID WRIGHT (Resident, Chapel Hill, North Carolina): Your dad knew that there was alcoholism in the family…

Mr. LANIER, JR: Oh, yes, sir, I had alcoholism on both sides. But the worst came on the daddy's side. And when I was about 14, he says, son, look, you come from a long line of chronic alcoholics. He said I'm an alcoholic just waiting for the first drink and I refuse to take it. He said if you do, you'll get away with it for a while but it will destroy your life and probably kill you. He said be sure to remember that. And I said okay, daddy, I'll give it serious thought.

I gave it another thought when that Halloween, I went trick or treating with my buddy. And we passed a horseshoe of frat houses, and they was all out there partying. And one of them frat boys said, hey, you ever had a drink? And I said no, I hadn't. Those kids knew who I was. Everybody knew who my daddy was. He said, now, you drink this, it's going to burn. But you're going to like this. I never felt so good in my life. As long as I had alcohol in my system, I was what I always going to be: a self-confident, good-looking, witty human being. And it worked very well for 40-some more years in my life.

Mr. WRIGHT: It must take a lot of self-discipline to turn around.

Mr. LANIER, JR: Well, it took more than that. I had just been released from my 28th treatment for alcoholism. And the doctor told me when I left that I'll give you two weeks and I'll read your name in the obituaries. So I went to Chapel Hill, and I stopped at the cemetery where my mother and daddy were buried to tell them that I'm sober and that daddy is right.

So then I came down to a place I knew where there's an exit ramp where cars come around. I held a sign there: Homeless anything will help, God bless. That's where I met you.

Every time you came by you'd stick out a two-dollar bill and a can of tuna fish.

Mr. WRIGHT: You remember that day in front of the…

Mr. LANIER, JR: Yeah, the bank. That was a New Year's Eve and I had nowhere to go. I couldn't drink; everybody was partying. And you walked on over and said that, do you know me? I said yeah, you're the two-dollar bill man. He said, I want take you home with me for our New Year's Eve party, how would you like that? I said, I don't think that would work, sir. You got a wife? She's going to have a lot to say to you about bringing a homeless, smelly old man home with you. You said, my wife will receive you well.

I went to your home and had a shower and you gave me some clean clothes. And we sat down on table and I told you some stories about who I really was and who my daddy was. There was a lot more to me than you might imagine.

Mr. WRIGHT: I hope I was a little bit of a help along your path.

Mr. LANIER, JR: Well, you know, David, without your kindness and your family and all, I don't know, I wouldn't say I had gone back to drinking again, but I say it would have been rough.

INSKEEP: Edwin Lanier, Jr., with his friend David Wright at StoryCorps in Durham, North Carolina. Mr. Lanier has been sober for more than five years. He is still homeless by choice. StoryCorps recordings are archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can hear more StoryCorps interviews at npr.org.

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