Convention-goers share their spirit in Twin Cities
by Nancy O.
I think we can all be proud of the
impression we made on the people of Minneapolis during our international
convention. These are some stories I heard:
One Al-anon member told me that she had come with a group on a special "package deal" which included breakfast in the hotel each day. On Sunday, because of the closing session starting at 9 a.m., their breakfast had been planned for 6:30 rather than 7 a.m. as on the previous mornings. When they arrived for breakfast they discovered that the tables had not been set, nor did the restaurant appear to be prepared to serve their breakfast. So what did they do? Did they go down and raise hell with the management? Hardly. They pitched in and helped the waitress. They set the tables, helped carry in the food, etc., and all with good spirits. The waitress was overwhelmed. "Any other group would have got me fired over this. I have never met nicer people than you A.A.s."
Apparently we made a good impression all over town. Here is a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Rochelle Olson and Dan Wascoe Jr.
Star Tribune ©
Sunday, July 2, 2000
Iced coffee and goodwill were in abundance for the Alcoholics Anonymous convention-goers who brought not only their business but a special congeniality to Minnesota.
About 50,000 people came to Minnesota for the convention. Their impact on business was obvious at the overflowing restaurants and busy shops in downtown Minneapolis Saturday. For their part, convention-goers said they couldn't be happier with the friendly reception -- or the numerous coffee shops.
"You have to understand how crucial coffee is to one-day-at-a-time," said Jason M. of Oakland, Calif., who sipped his coffee cold as he referred to the A.A. credo at an outdoor table at Caribou Coffee on 11th and Nicollet Av. Added John G., of Berkeley, Calif.:" We're used to having something in our hand that we're drinking. Now it's coffee."
Caribou Coffee district manager Jim Battocletti reported that, compared with a normal weekend, business at the store is up fourfold. "They've been keeping us busy from the minute we open until we close."
The action wasn't confined to downtown Minneapolis. Maureen Cahill, Mall of America spokeswoman, said cars and shuttle buses bearing A.A. convention-goers streamed to the mall.
"Our booth at the [Minneapolis] Convention Center was inundated with questions about how to get here," she said.
Lynn and Harry C., of London, planned to stay an extra couple of days to see the megamall. "It will cost me a fortune," Harry quipped.
Both dubbed Minneapolis a lovely, clean, friendly city.
Brenda B. of Baltimore went to the Mall of America but didn't buy a thing. "I didn't really come to shop," she said. "I came to grow spiritually and meet people from all over the world."
She and her husband also planned to stay after the convention, but not because of the mall; instead, they plan to make a trip to the Mille Lacs area to fish and gamble.
Jason M. and John G. stayed at Mystic Lake Resort and Casino in Shakopee. John G. confessed to losing a "good amount" but quickly added, "Nothing I couldn't afford."
Darnell D. of Chicago said his lone complaint about the Twin Cities was the $30 cab rides to his St. Paul hotel.
Those behind the counters at businesses were smiling about the convention-goers. Joanne Atsidakas, a server at Peter's Grill in downtown Minneapolis, said the restaurant's business nearly doubled. But the impact went beyond numbers. "Their spirits are so high," she said. "A lot off them ask my name and call me Sweetheart."
Expressing similar sentiment, Robin Kirschner, candy and confections manager at Dayton's Marketplace, reported brisk sales of Frango chocolates. She said convention-goers were patient and kind, even in long lines.
"It has been wonderful," Kirschner said. "To me it has been one of the nicest groups of people we have worked with."
Joan Hummel, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Office of Tourism, said the convention's full economic impact will be tough to measure, but because hotels were booked throughout the Twin Cities and beyond, the impact would be widespread.
Kevin Hahn, sales clerk at Lewis Pipe and Tobacco on Nicollet Mall, felt the impact immediately. He opened the shop early to accommodate swift sales of hand-rolled cigars.
"The truism is recovering alcoholics drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot. We're seeing half of that," he said.
City tours and excursions proved popular, too.
Sam Thompson, president of Metro Connection, a convention service company, said demand for tours -- including dinner cruises and bus tours -- was high and space was limited.
"We could have sold a lot more," he said.
Another shortage was for foreign language guides, but goodwill has gone a long way, he said: "Our guides are getting a lot of hugs."
So, we made a good impression in Minneapolis. But before we all get swell heads about it, one convention goer reported to me that the tour guide on the bus tour of the city said "You are a nice friendly lot, but you sure are noisy."
The theme of the International Convention
of Alcoholics Anonymous was Pass It
On into the 21st Century. According to Valerie, the Convention coordinator at
WSO, 48,000 people attended the convention held in Minneapolis, Minnesota
between June 29-July 2, 2000.
The Minneapolis Convention Center housed registration, hospitality, Archives
displays, and meeting rooms. Big Meetings of all those who attended where
held in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome under 10 acres of Teflon-coated
fiberglass held up only by air like a giant balloon. These meetings included
the kick-off ceremony on Friday night, the Old Timers Meeting on Saturday
night, and the closing (Spiritual Meeting) on Sunday.
Minneapolis has air conditioned SKYWAYS, a unique 5 mile system of elevated
walkways going from building to building that connects most of the downtown
area and downtown convention hotels. But most convention members Walked the
Walk to the Metrodome each day. A special Big Book Blue Line was painted onto
the sidewalks of Minneapolis from the Convention Center to Metrodome stadium.
Like most things in AA, none of us had to walk-the-walk alone. Volunteers
from the Host Committee were strung along the entire route to guide us along
and cheer us on. After the Big Meetings in the Metrodome, we were able to
Dance-the-Dance in the Dome on Friday and Saturday nights.
I flew to Minneapolis on Thursday, June 29. My plane left from the
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport in Pennsylvania. When I went to catch my
connecting flight in Pittsburgh, the long line of people waiting to board
looked, somehow, like A.A. members. Why did I think so? Because they all
looked happy and cheerful and excited, not a bit bored or irritable like many
When I walked up to the end of the line I said "this looks like a bunch of
drunks." The howls of laughter which greeted my remark made me feel that I
was immediately in the right place. I got smiles, and hand shakes, and yes
even hugs. I was immediately at home with a group of people I had never laid
eyes on before. And that is the way it was for the next four days. I met no
strangers, only good friends I had not previously met.
After checking into the Radisson Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, I went
immediately to the Convention Center to register, traveling there on one of
the shuffle buses which had been arranged to take us back and forth during
Getting into the convention center to register took a bit of time. One could
not get through the door without shaking hands with the official greeters.
Their enthusiasm never died. They were shaking hands after the closing
meeting as if it was the first day of the convention.
Friday morning meetings were held on: Young, Sober and Responsible; Pioneers
in A.A.; Peace and Serenity; Progress Through Pain; AA and Treatment
Facilities; Let's be Friendly with Our Friends; Is AA Reaching Minorities?;
Tolerance and Trust; Let It Begin With Me; First things First; Courage to
Change; Letting Go of Old Ideas; Fear
as a Stepping Stone; AA Meeting in Japanese; Ego Deflation in Depth; The Joy
of Living; A.A. and the Clergy; AA/All-Anon/Alateen Meetings; Doctors in AA;
Carrying the Message into Correctional Facilities; General Service: AA
Politics?; Faith in Action; Pacific U.S. Regional - Meet Your AA Neighbors;
Feliz, Alegre y Sobrio; AA Around the World Call Up - I; Partners in A.A.; At
the Turning Point; Le Language du Coeur; Sobriety is Progressive Too; Victory
in Defeat; One Day at a Time; A New Freedom; How It Works; Easy Does It - But
Do It; Freedom Through acceptance; Emotional Sobriety; Let Go and Let God; AA
Meeting in Japanese;
Gratitudine in Azione; Freunde in Aller Welt; There is a Solution; Sober
Awhile - Now What; Carrying the Message Through Public Information; AA
Grapevine: Our Meeting in Print; Southeast U.S. regional - Meet Your AA
Neighbors; Working With Others; Time to Start Living; una Neuva Libertad;
Reaching the Alcoholic with Special Needs.
Because of my interest in AA history I chose "Pioneers in AA." Bob P.
chaired the meeting. He was at one time the head of GSO. His story is the
last one in the Big Book: "AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety."
Bob told us he had an extremely serious operation 18 months ago. He was not
expected to live. The doctors told his wife that his survival was a miracle
and that it was because of his great attitude. The doctors asked his wife
where he got that great attitude. We know the answer to that.
He told us that at the 1985 convention in Montreal, he was supposed to
present Ruth Hock (Bill's first secretary who typed the Big Book) with the
five-millionth copy of the book. He discovered he did not have it with him.
So they looked all over for a Big Book to borrow. They finally found one and
he presented it to her with the assurance she would get the real one later.
Bob said Ruth loved that. She said "Oh that's soooo alcoholic."
The speakers were: Ruth O. of New Jersey, Jules P. of California, and Bob S.
of Texas, a member of Al-Anon.
Bob S. spoke first. e said he was the only person still alive who was
present when Doctor Bob and Bill Wilson first met. It was Dr. Bob's son,
Smitty. He was 17 at the time. He went with his parents to Henrietta
Sieberling's house for his father's first meeting with Bill. In the car his
father said "I'm giving this bird 15 minutes." His mother did not say to
Bill, "will you come to dinner next Tuesday?" She
said "why don't you come live with us?" Bill said without hesitation "OK!"
Smitty said that there were never two people as different as Bill and his
father. If it had been up to Dr. Bob AA would never have got beyond Akron.
If it were up to Bill they would have sold franchises.
But they had two important things in common. They were both open minded
about spirituality, and they both had a desire to be of service to others.
Smitty talked about how his parents brought alcoholics to live in their home.
Dr. Bob would take them up to the bedroom and then give them some medicine.
It was paraldehyde. "When my teenage sister and I opened the front door and
smelled paraldehyde we would say 'Oh, oh, we've lost our beds again.'"
He told about the first man they tried to sober up. His name was Eddie Riley
and he moved in, I think he said with his wife and kids. One day he chased
Anne Smith around with a knife. Dr. Bob considered Eddie his first failure.
But at Dr. Bob's funeral a man walked up to Smitty and said "Do you remember
me?" It was Eddie. He was living in Youngstown, Ohio, and was sober one year.
Smitty said his father had a wonderful sense of humor. When Smitty took the
woman he married to meet his parents for the first time, Dr. Bob looked her
down and said of this tall, slender woman, "She's built for speed and light
housekeeping." Smitty said his wife was sober 19 years when she died. One
day Dr. Bob told his son "Flies carry germs. So young man, keep yours
Smitty said the Oxford Group members communicated with each other all the
time. His mother was always on the phone with one or another of them. And
that, of course, was true of the alcoholics in the Oxford Group as well. But
things were not always sunshine and joy. There were people in A.A. in the
early days with big egos. "Can you imagine?" he asked. "There were actually
alcoholics with big egos
in the early days?"
Smitty ended his talk with a big plug for the traditions. "I say thank God
for those traditions." He got a standing ovation.
I don't remember much of what Jules P said, perhaps Barbara will. But he was
The last speaker was Ruth O. When Bob P. introduced her he said that in
planning the convention in 1995 he had a bright idea. "Well, it seemed like a
good idea at the time." They would let every alcoholic with 40 years put
their names and sobriety dates in a big bucket, and the first 15 called could
get up and talk for five minutes.
When Ruth O. got up to talk she talked on, and on, and on. She joked that
they had told her that this time they were going to have a trap door to use
if she talked too long. But she was a fascinating speaker, sober 52 years.
She lived in the Bronx when she came into A.A. and was the only woman in her
group for a long time. The men were apparently not too kind to her. They
were rather gruff. One of them asked her one day how long it had been since
she had a drink. She said proudly: "50 days tomorrow." The man sitting
behind her hit her on the shoulder and said gruffly, "It's 49!" She must
have told that story often because the day before she celebrated her 50th
anniversary the phone kept ringing. When she answered a gruff voice would
say "It's 49! It's 49!"
But Bill Wilson was kinder. The first time she met Bill he kissed her on the
cheek. "I haven't washed that cheek since," she said. And somehow I
Our choices for the early afternoon meetings were: Lesbians/Gays in AA; Women
in AA; Humility: A Power Greater; Turning It Over; La Consicence de Groupe,
Informee; Living Sober; AA and Native Peoples; Sponsorship: Leading by
Example; Young & successful - Who Needs Meetings?; Tools for Sobriety;
Twelfth Step: Love in Action; Estructuras de Servicio General; AA Meeting in
Japanese; Solo per Oggi; AA Traditions and AA Events; Die Zwöf Schritte;
Unity Through Humility; Willingness: The Essence of Growth; AA's History of
Love; A Daily Reprieve; East Central U.S. Regional - Meet Your AA Neighbors;
In All our Affairs; Twelve Concepts: The Structural Framework; and
Twelfth-Stepping the Old Fashioned Way.
I had no problem choosing, my old friend, Mel S, was speaking at the
Twelfh-Stepping the Old Fashioned Way meeting. I hadn't seen Mel in years.
Mel had his last drink on May 23, 1965, in a bar at an officer's club in
Virginia. He had entered the Army Air Core in 1939 as a private. He wanted
to be a pilot. He retired 27 years later as a full Colonel. He told of the
many escapades involving crashing air planes when he was drunk. But he always
somehow managed to get out of trouble.
But finally, in 1965, he was ordered to fly his plane to Washington to
deliver some top secret papers to the Pentagon. He drank and was in a
blackout. He got a call saying that the papers had not arrived at the
Pentagon. Where were they? Mel couldn't remember. He had no idea what had
happened. He was desperate. This meant the end of his career. He would be
court marshaled, he might serve time in prison. In desperation he called the
chaplain and told him his predicament. The
chaplain told him to stay where he was, he was sending someone to get him.
Two men showed up, one of them an Army Warrant Officer. They took Mel in tow.
The warrant officer took him to stay in his home. It was a small, modest home
and they didn't have a guest room, but they had an unfinished basement and
they put a cot in the basement for Mel. He lay there detoxing, and in terror
of what the future would bring, Then he heard a noise on the stairs, and his
host came down carrying a big roll under his arm. He spread the roll on the
floor next to Mel's cot and said "I'm going to sleep here tonight. I know how
you feel." Mel had trouble telling the story, he was so filled with emotion.
Mel was madly trying to think of excuses to make up to get out of this very
serious trouble. But the two A.A. members told him that he had to do two
things: don't drink, and tell the truth. So Mel told his superiors the
truth. He had been drunk and he had no idea what had happened to the top
secret papers. An investigation was begun, and Mel tried -- on the advice of
his A.A. sponsors -- to leave the matter in God's hands.
Then one day he got a call. It seems someone at the Pentagon had found the
papers. They had been locked away in a safe the whole time. So Mel's
superiors told him that since he had, indeed, delivered the papers to the
Pentagon as he had been ordered to do, all charges against him would be
In all the years I had known Mel I had not heard his story before. I was
Our choices for the late afternoon meetings were "Young People in AA;
Gratitude in Your Attitude; AA Loners and Internationalists; AA and Court
Programs; Carrying the Message Into Treatment Facilities; El Anonimato al
Nivel Público; Archives: A Collective Vision; Intergrupos y Oficinas
Centrales; Freedom to Choose; History of the Big Book; Spiritual Journey;
Resentment - the Number One Offender; AA and Cyberspace; Carrying the Message
to Older Alcoholics; Notre Methode; AA Meeting in Korean; AA Meeting for the
Deaf and Hard of Hearing; AA in Western
Europe/Scandinavia; AA in Central/South America; Viviendo Sobrio; AA in
Asia/Oceania Zone; Western Canada Regional - Meet Your AA Neighbors; This
Matter of Honesty; Prayer Under Pressure; and A Daily Inventory.
Again I had no problem choosing; a friend from the Washington, D.C. area whom
hadn't seen in 20 years, Hal Marley, was speaking at the meeting on
gratitude. I am very glad I had that last opportunity to see Hal. He died
earlier this year.
The highlight of the opening meeting that night was the flag ceremony. The
first flag to appear was carried by a Native American in full traditional
dress and carrying a large pole covered with feathers. Then, as the name of
each nation was called, an A.A. member from that country entered carrying the
country's flag. They were called in alphabetical order, ending with Zambia,
followed by the flags of the host countries: Canada and the United States.
Over 75 countries were represented.
As each country name was called the members from those countries rose and
cheered loudly. But many of us cheered along with them. Especially when the
Russian flag appeared.
The flags were lined up in front of the stage and remained there throughout
Saturday turned out to be a day for miracles. Miracles were happening all
over Minneapolis from the beginning, but I first began being acutely aware of
them on Saturday.
The trip was costing me much more than I could afford, so I wanted to save
money where I could. I had hoped to save some money by having my coffee in
my room each morning. But the coffee pot didn't work. I told them at the
desk Friday and they said they would put a new one in. They did bring up a
new one. But it, too, wouldn't work. So I bought a $1.50 cup of coffee in
the lobby, as I had the day before.
The man selling the coffee was reading a book by Dr. Abraham Twersky, so I
said "Oh, are you in the program?" He said he was not but he was staying
sober by another method. I then started telling him that I knew Rabbi
Twersky, and alcoholism treatment specialist.
A man was also buying a cup of coffee. He was not wearing a badge and at
first I didn't even know he was there for the convention. He had just come
down for coffee -- perhaps his coffee maker wasn't working either -- and had
not bothered with his badge or anything else. But he was carrying a large
file of papers.
He, too, was an A.A. member. We sat down to drink our coffee together in the
lobby and I started telling him about A.A. History Buffs. He said "I feel
something I should say to you." Then he opened his file of papers and pulled
out all sorts of wonderful historical documents. He gave me a copy of Ruth
Hock's letter to Bill Wilson, recalling the early days of A.A.
Our choices of meetings Saturday morning included the same wide variety of
meetings, but I wanted to go to the one called "Archives: A Collective
Vision," because I knew that Charles K. would be speaking there and I wanted
to meet him and, Doug B., both on-line friends.
Afterward, I went off to try to hear Clancy I. of California. Clancy's
meeting was too crowded and I couldn't get in, so I went back to the
Convention Center and wandered into the first meeting that I came upon. The
meeting was already in progress. I soon discovered that it was a Gay and
Lesbian meeting, and a woman from San Francisco was speaking. Her name was
Another of those little "coincidences." I had recently befriended a lesbian
woman alcoholic here in Pennsylvania. When I heard "Peacock" I immediately
knew I must buy her tape for my friend.
She gave a magnificent talk. I was not taking notes but I remember a few
things she said. She said that Clancy I. was her sponsor. She called him to
ask his permission to speak at a Gay/Lesbian meeting and he responded "Now,
you know how I feel about special interest groups." "But I really want to do
this, Clancy," she replied. There was a very long pause and then he said: "I
have good news and bad. The good news is that you may speak at the
convention. The bad news is that I
will be speaking at the same time." She responded "That's OK, honey, we
won't attract the same crowd." Her audience roared with laughter.
After hearing Peacock I wanted to catch the 3:30 meeting "Pass It On - Into
the 21st Century." Searcy W. of Texas was speaking at this meeting. He was
Ebby's sponsor. Bill had sent Ebby to Searcy in Texas and Ebby stayed sober
there for some time.
But first I needed some food. After I had some food I decided to go back to
my hotel to rest. I totally forgot that I wanted to hear Searcy. Another of
those little coincidences?
Back in my room I found I couldn't nap, I was too restless. So I decided to
try to reach another of the history buffs who was staying in the same hotel,
Tex Brown of Illinois. I phoned him and asked if he would join me in the
lobby. The inspiration to call Tex lead to the most exciting part of the
convention for me. Tex was then 83 years old and sober 53 years. He had
written me before the convention saying "I just happened to stumble into the
history forum. I read the post saying that you will be staying at the
Radisson Plaza. So will my wife, Barb, and I. ... I thought that I might
like historians better than archivists. I guess I need to see what the big
boys are like."
Tex got sober Feb. 6, 1947, in Skokie, IL. He was then the editor of the Area
20 (Northern Illinois Area) service letter, "NIA Concepts." His delightful
wife, Barb, has been sober 21 years. I found Tex a charming, humble, serene,
humorous fellow. He told me some wonderful stories about the early days in
the Chicago area.
Then he scooped me up and took me along with them to sit in the oldtimers
section for the oldtimers meeting at the Metrodome Saturday night. He seemed
to know everybody and made sure that he introduced me to them all. Among
those I met was Mel B. who has written so much wonderful AA history, and Dr.
And what an inspiration all the oldtimers were. Those with more than 40
years sobriety had been asked to put their names and sobriety date in a
Fishing Hat located at the Convention Center before 1 p.m. on Saturday.
All the meetings in the Metrodome were simultaneously translated into
Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Swedish. Special
arrangements were also made for the hearing impaired. And the HP made sure
that the oldtimers meeting would be truly international. Among the names
pulled from the hat were Mosku from Finland, sober 46 years; Collin from
Australia, sober 54 years; and Manual M. from France, sober 40 years.
A little extra time was allowed for the oldtimers from Finland and France
because they were accompanied by interpreters who repeated in English what
they had said. Collin from Australia complained that they hadn't supplied
him with an
interpreter, and there were moments when I wished they had. His Australian
accent was sometimes hard to understand.
Shortly before they started drawing names out of the hat, I was puzzled to
see a procession of about 30 members of the hospitality committee, wearing
their distinctive white caps, march down the center isle. They then stood in
front of the line of flags below the stage. They drew 15 names out of the
hat, and as each name was called, two of these host committee people would
get on each side of the oldtimer and help him or her onto the stage. All of
this could be seen very clearly on the large screens around the Metrodome and
it was such fun watching them being escorted up. One of them was wearing a
white tuxedo. Another, whose escorts were two young women, started swinging
them around and dancing with them on the way up.
To make sure that they didn't have another Ruth among these oldtimers, a man
sat on the stage with a large rectangular sign that said APPLAUSE. When
three minutes were up, if they hadn't stopped speaking, he would walk up
behind them with the sign and the entire convention would break into
The first called to speak was Otto W., 40 years and two months sober. Otto
told how he was visited by two A.A. members while he was locked up in a
mental ward. "They had something I wanted and I was willing to go to any
lengths to get it: MATCHES!" All of the oldtimers showed this kind of humor.
Marie M., sober 44 years, four months, said a woman had called her and said
she was an alcoholic from AA and asked if she could visit her. "Well, I did
not want any alcoholics coming to MY house." So she said she would go to the
A.A.'s house instead. She rang the door bell and when the A.A. contact opened
the door she announced: "I have two black eyes (as if she couldn't see)."
One of the most inspirational, to my mind (and not because her name was Nancy
and she was from Pennsylvania) was Nancy F. Nancy, sober 55 years, said
there isn't anything you can't do if you want to after you get sober. "I went
to college at 70 ... and graduated at 80 ... cum laude!"
David Mc. M, sober 43 years, who followed Nancy, said he was 21 when he got
sober and was told he was too young to be an alcoholic. He said he hasn't
grown up yet, "but when I do I want to be just like her," pointing to Nancy.
The last speaker was a tall, handsome black woman, Louise R., sober 40 years,
who said that they told her if she kept coming around she would get what they
had. So she kept going to meetings and waiting for them to give her whatever
it was they had. Finally she asked "when are you going to give me what you
have?" They asked her how long she had been coming to meetings, and if she
had a drink during that period. She had not. "So you have what we have."
"Here I was walking around with it," she said, "and I didn't know I had it."
She said they also kept talking at meetings about how anybody who didn't have
one should buy the Big Book. It cost $3.50. Well, she didn't WANT to buy no
BIG Book. She didn't want to READ no BIG book. Finally they announced at a
meeting that anyone who didn't have a Big Book could have one and pay for it
when they could. "They think I can't AFFORD the Big Book." So after the
meeting she walked up to the man and said she wanted the Big Book. She
slapped down a five dollar bill and said "Keep the change."
All of the oldtimers were very inspiring. They wasn't a dull one in the lot.
Murray M., our history buff from Dublin wrote: "The old-timers meeting was
very special. You could not but be moved by their expressions of love and
gratitude. The humour was unequaled and I think the entire 15 would have
stayed there sharing for hours if time allowed. The member in the white
tuxedo might have summed it all up when the occasion got to him."
Sunday morning my coffee pot worked just fine. Guess there was no special
reason God wanted me down in the lobby for my coffee. I scooped up my new
friend, Rich (who had given me Ruth Hock's letter to Bill) and his roommate
and took them with me to the handicapped second on the Metrodome floor. This
was near where I had been sitting with Tex the night before. I wanted to
take Rich to that section because I wanted to see Tex again and introduce
Rich to him. But we didn't find Tex. He told me in an e-mail that he and his
wife had been late arriving. He had looked for me, too, because he wanted to
give me some newsletters from his area.
At this closing meeting the 20 millionth copy of the Big Book was presented
the fellowship of Al-Anon. There are 30,000 Al-Anon groups world wide.
There were three very inspirational speakers. One of them was Nancy K, the
lead singer for a group called "Sweet Water" in the '60s. Sweet Water was
the first group to take the stage at Woodstock. "But they cut us out of the
movie," she sighed. We roared with laughter. "You know, only A.A.s laugh
when I tell them that. Everyone else says Ahhhhh, poor thing." Nancy got
sober in 1976 in Los Angeles. She is a member of Clancy I's Pacific Group.
"I wore a bikini to my first meeting," she said. But someone told her she
would look better if she were wearing a towel. If I remember correctly, she
had a bad accident, her vocal cords were
damaged, and she lost her ability to sing. She later became an English
teacher. But eventually her voice returned and she was reunited with some of
the Sweet Water group. There are three still alive, "fatter and with less
hair." They entertained outdoors at the 1995 convention, but they forgot to
advertise, so there wasn't the kind of crowd they'd hoped for. I think it
was Nancy who said AA is like taking wedding vows. "For better or worse, in
sickness or in health, till death do us part, I am a part of AA."
John K. got sober on St. Patrick's Day. (How's that for a miracle. An
Irishman getting sober on St. Patrick's Day?) He told us of attending a
funeral of a boy who had died and the preacher said "the only way we can
change the world is to change ourselves, and now is the time, because for the
boy in the box it is too late." John's daughter smashed up his new car. She
hit a Mercedes. John's sponsor drove him to the scene of the accident and all
he could think of was himself. Why did she have to smash MY car? How will I
get to work, etc. His daughter was still in the car, and his sponsor said,
"Aren't you going to check on her?" He went over to the car and his daughter
said "Oh, daddy, give me a hug." "I had to be prompted by my sponsor to hug
my daughter," he said. John asked us to remember that each alcoholic is a
multifaceted, wonderful person. And the only one that doesn't seem to
recognize it is himself.
One of the highlights for me Sunday morning was the sobriety countdown. They
said this was our 65th anniversary, and asked any one who had been sober more
than 65 years to stand. "Has anyone been sober longer than Bill?" No one
stood. "Has anyone been sober 65 years? Please stand -- it you still can."
Sixty-four years? Sixty-three? When they called "Fifty-five years?" One or
more stood. "Keep coming back," everyone shouted.
The persons with the longest sobriety at the convention had 55. When they
got down to 24 hours, two or more stood.
I'm not one who cries easily, but there were many times during the convention
when I fought back tears. But as we concluded, and the children of Minneapolis came up and sang for us We Are Family I began to cry. And then when we stood and joined hands to say the Serenity Prayer, I broke down completely.
We were coming back from the Sunday meeting and Rich and his roommate asked me to join them for lunch. We walked around looking for a restaurant but they were all mobbed, with hundreds of people lined up outside to get in, so we went back to our hotel to have lunch.
While we were strolling around we ran into a man who had a bunch of pheasant feathers sticking out of a sack. Rich started chatting with him, and this man gave us each a feather. I did not want a feather, took it to be polite, and planned to throw it away as soon as I got back to my room. I stuck into the opening in my handbag.
Then we had lunch at our hotel and Rich stuck his feather in the vase of flowers on the table. At one point the waiter came over and started to take the feather away. I said "Don't take that. it belongs to my friend."
Shortly after lunch, Rich and his roommate left for the airport to return home. But I was not leaving until Monday morning. I was tired and decided to spend the rest of the day in my room reading. But I began feeling strangely restless, so I decided to go down to the lobby and find a comfortable chair in which to sit and read. So I was sitting in the lobby and I got chatting with a woman who is in Al-Anon. She and her husband, an A.A. member, were both at the convention.
She asked me where I got the feather, which was still sticking out of my handbag. I had "forgotten" to throw it away. I told her that some man we met on the street had given them to us. Then she showed me her feather. I said "Oh, you must have met the same man we did." "No, I did not," she answered, with tears in her eyes.
Then she told me the following story. Her son, who was also in A.A., died suddenly about six months earlier. The day I met her would have been his A.A. anniversary. When she and her husband came to the convention they felt they were bringing him with them. And she saw many signs that his spirit indeed was with them.
After sobering up he had become a nurse. He worked as a "traveling nurse" and worked at one point in New Mexico with Native Americans. At the convention the first night they were sitting in the handicapped section and a group of kids came by with signs saying they were from New Mexico and smiled and waved at her and her husband. She thought it was a sign from her son.
Then the flag ceremony began and the Indian appeared with his big staff covered with feathers. She thought of how her son had loved Native Americans, worked with them, and had at one time called his Dad to say "They don't have an AA group here. How do I start one for them?"
Her son (whom she described as a very spiritual, gentle, and artistic young man) loved feathers, collected them, and made things from them.
"Then today," she said, "we went up to the third floor for lunch and in the vase of flowers on the table was this feather. We knew it was another sign from our son."
Well, I never did throw away my feather. In my bedroom on the 16th floor of a senior high rise, my window looks out on Pennsylvania's "Endless Mountains." I begin my prayer each morning at that window saying "I look to the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord."
I have a small book case beneath the window. It is filled with my prayer books, spiritual reading, etc. On top of the bookcase stands a crucifix, an open Bible and a candle. One more thing has been added. Next to the candle now stands a small vase of flowers. A pheasant feather shoots up from the center.
I am reminded daily of the little anonymous way God works miracles in our lives.
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