Grapevine Vendor’s Family Still Struggles With Cancer

Vendor Profile by Bernadette Janes 

   It is certain that many of the people buying The Homeless Grapevine from a bearded elderly man outside of the West Side Market regard themselves not merely as his customers, but have also become his friends over the years. Yet few of those surrounding him may know that his engaging and forward-looking attitude stems from a history rife with great personal victories, victories won against towering misfortunes encountered  throughout the deeply humble and difficult years of his youth.

    Arthur Price started life on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio in 1927, in a family of three sisters and two brothers. A sad truth unknown to him and his siblings in those early years of their lives was that in the future the family would prove to be stalked again and again by deadly intergenerational bouts of cancer. Arthur’s mother, a hardworking full-blooded Cherokee woman, whom he loved deeply, was the first in the family to die of cancer in 1942. 

   Her death tragically ended forever the tranquillity of her family’s life, for Arthur’s father soon found himself unequal to the responsibilities of lone fatherhood. He announced to the children that he would no longer care for them, and directly put them out of the house. The youngest ones, including Arthur, were sent to a public Children’s’ Home, while the older ones were abruptly forced to set out and find their own way, without shelter, provisions or funds, in a cold and uncaring world. At the Children’s’ Home, Arthur and his sisters were ill treated and hardly fed enough to help them grow.

   After two years, Arthur, then in his teens, left the Children’s’ Home and, together with a long-lost brother, sold newspapers on the street, barely earning enough to keep themselves alive. Eventually, Arthur’s brother sought better-paying work, leaving Arthur to sell the papers alone. By working long hours, and through sheer strength of will, he survived and continued with the papers for another year. It may have been during that hard period that something began developing within him, which slowly matured and ultimately became the optimistic outlook, which still marks his character today. His one regret was that while others of his age were attending high school and college, Arthur could not afford the luxury of formal education. Homeless at times, he had no choice but to work every day to pay for food and whatever lodging he could find.

   However, he had a very good mind, and as he grew into his twenties, he learned other trades that offered more comfortable ways of living. For several years, he worked installing fire hydrants for the city of Columbus, and was later hired for work at the rough and busy loading docks. Always a conscientious worker, he prospered, married, and started his own family. One thing Arthur is most proud of is his 51-year marriage to Clarabelle, the wife he refers to as “my angel.” When he speaks of Clarabelle, the expression in his blue eyes seems to soften, and one immediately senses the love between these two who have been through so much together. Arthur and Clarabelle still own the home in which they raised their three daughters (two were twins) and their two sons, one of whom still lives there with them. 

   Sadly, however, the family’s deadly cancer genes recently rose up again and took the life of one of their daughters. Still mourning her death, Clarabelle often whimpers in her sleep at night as the daughter returns to her in dreams. Arthur wakes to comfort her and quiet her back to sleep, but before his own slumber returns, he resolves once again, as he does every day, to continue saving up money from his Grapevine sales to buy the largest and most elegant stone he can find, to place as a tribute on his daughter’s simple grave. “If it is the last duty of my life!” he exclaims, with his fist pounding the table in the earnestness of his determination.

   Even though, as time passed, Arthur’s own way of life improved, he never lost his sympathy for the poor, the racially mistreated or the downtrodden, with whom, throughout his early years, he had shared the struggles that define their lives. He joined the Volunteers Of America, contributing and doing whatever he could to brighten their situations. For eight years, he also entertained as Santa Claus for poor children at the site of the old May Co. Dept. Store, a function he enjoyed as much as the children did.

   Yet, just a few years ago, another of life’s crushing misfortunes descended upon Arthur. Once again, cancer appeared in his family, but this time, Arthur himself was to be the victim. By the time it was discovered, it was too far along for treatments to be effective. The only remedy would be drastic surgery to completely remove his bladder. True to his habit of facing reality unblinkingly, Arthur went through the surgery in his usual no-nonsense way, and now wears a bag strapped to his body. He doesn’t complain about the inconvenience, just goes about his activities as he always has, thankful to be alive and still able to work. 

   Now 79 years old, Arthur does his best to keep the Homeless Grapevine going, not only because of the money he earns, but more importantly, because he believes in it and recognizes its importance in the lives of homeless people in our city. His enthusiasm for it is contagious. Working faithfully at it for three shifts a week, his presence is a great encouragement to others. It proves that one’s difficulties and even one’s tragedies in life can be dealt with and temporarily put aside, providing breathing space to emerge from the darkness and do something to benefit not just oneself, but others, and possibly a whole community.

   Arthur’s way of always looking at the bright side of life is reflected in everything he does. Clarabelle rarely complains about anything, but on the few occasions when she wishes things were different, Arthur reminds her of how fortunate they really are. “Look,” he says,” we are in our own home, we’re not out in the cold and wind, we’re not out getting wet in the rain, and to top it all, we’re still happily married after 51 years!”

   As he speaks, she begins to smile, for she knows her husband is a man to be utterly proud of, a man who has overcome, by sheer grit and spirit, every obstacle placed before him, including a life-killing cancer, a man whose philosophy of life, even if he doesn’t articulate it, is expressed in his actions every day. If he were to explain it, it would not be in high-sounding language. It would be, simply, respect for life, respect for himself and for all people, love for his family, his community and his nation. These elemental values take on a lofty eloquence when enunciated in such down-to-earth terms by a man like Arthur, a hard-working, unassuming individual, and by any and every measure, a truly extraordinary man.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006