Today our area to the east has more AA groups than there were in the entire Central Florida AA area when our Intergroup Office was organized in 1972. As covered in a previous article, Lake Underhill and Azalea Park were the only groups in that area for some time. Then, commensurate with the start of the Big Book Study Group in the Rocket Beauty Salon, Union Park, another group began to meet at the Saint Joseph’s Mission on Highway 50 near Alafaya Trail.
Being a mission, the facilities were quite small. At first the group met in classrooms and had to sit in kindergarten chairs. There was never any heat in the winter nor air conditioning in the summer. Bob J., the group’s standby, had to obtain the key from the priest before each meeting. This sometimes was hazardous because the priest lived on the other side of Highway 50. I know, because Bob once forgot to pick up the key and I volunteered to go and get it.
The good priest had a heart for us AA’s. Aware of our discomfort, he offered the chapel’s sacristy for our meetings. There amongst the priest’s vestments and paraphernalia associated with the performance of Mass, six or eight AAs cuddled in the tight space, still cold but not as cold as in the classroom. During the closing prayer many prayed for an early spring. Some of the steadies in the group were Jenny S., Reuben A., R-Ralph. C. K. B., Joe H., and John D. (sometimes fondly referred to as the “Baron of Bithlo”).
St. Joseph’s became a full-fledged church, fronting Alafaya Trail. Today the Bar-None Group meets in the large social hall, capable of accommodating more than 10 times their number. There is always heat in the winter and conditioned air in the summer. Hot or cold notwithstanding, talk around the table has not changed. It is still passing on the AA message and sharing our experiences, strengths, and hopes with each other. An added bonus to this group is the presence of Reuben, who until his recent illness was one of the spearheads.
Basia and I paid our respects to Carmela during the chapel viewing of John D. in Clermont. As we approached the casket, off to the right was a relatively simple display of the triangle and circle AA logo carved out of styrofoam. What made it beautiful was that it was studded with flowers. It was a token of respect from the Clermont Groveland Group.
I was standing by John’s casket thinking how much difference one person can make when I was approached by Wayne, a friend of John’s from Clermont. We adjourned to the rear of the chapel and Wayne updated me on John’s activities during the past year, emphasizing the positive impact that John had on Wayne’s program. It was good to hear that John had not lost his touch in working with other alcoholics.
Then it was my turn. I told Wayne about the hair dryer experiences of the Big Book Study Group in Union Park, and about some of John’s friends in the Lake Underhill Group, Johnny J. and Robbie R. I told Wayne about John’s visits to Lowell Prison with California Mary and his flying trips to Avon Park with Marvin R. About carrying the AA message to the county jail in the downtown courthouse, and again to the 33rd Street facility. How he and Bob J. regularly carried meetings to work release prisoners on Hiawassee, their pockets bulging with cigarettes because they were a soft touch. Wayne also was surprised to hear about John’s early involvement with the North Florida Assembly, that he and Joe C. of Altamonte Springs held the first DCM meeting in the area. Also that John attended the very first mini-convention in Atlanta (now known as the Southeast Forum).
John and Carmela owned and managed a trailer park in Bithlo. Lome L., an AA friend of John, moved with his family to the park after his retirement from the Navy. John and Lome became inseparable AA buddies, doing 12th-step work and socializing together.
John had a dry sense of humor. Shortly after John and Carmela came to Orlando, Basia and I held a “hard times party.” It was held in April, commensurate with filing time for income tax. John came to the party unshaven and wearing the same raunchy garb he wore when he visited the IRS. He also carried a shoe box of check stubs, thinking he could con the auditor into thinking he was dealing with a country bumpkin and thereby get some sympathetic consideration. We asked, “How did it go?” “Not good,” said John, “the examiner gave me the consideration okay, but not necessarily sympathetic—and it took all day.
I picture John, a stub of a cigar crunched between his teeth on the side of his mouth, a hint of a smile and a glint of mischief in his Irish eyes. Now I know how much difference one person can make…and so does Wayne.
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