The Good Shepherd Church on Oleander Drive in east Orange County was the location of a gigantic New Year’s Eve party held in 1970. Darn near the entire AA population, including Al-Anons, attended. But then there were only a dozen active groups at that time in our three-county area. Ted W., his Al-Anon wife Hilda, and their daughter spent the entire day decorating the place for the event. A live band put energy into the occasion. Robbie R., who walked with the help of two canes, put them aside to dance, knowing, as he said, “Tomorrow I’ll be sorry.”
A highlight of the evening was the play put on by the Al-Anons depicting the life of “Sorry Sue.” Maggie P. was the star. She came on scene with her hair up in curlers wearing a sloppy, tattered dress, looking like the “wreck of the Hesperous.” “Sue” then found Al-Anon and went through a magic transformation. During ensuing scenes her garb changed, as did her confidence and appearance, until finally she was a ravishing beauty, at peace with the world. We laughed at the last image as much as the first. The humor, of course, was in the suggestion that everything turns out perfect once a person comes to Al-Anon.
There were other parties. Remembered by some were the Christmas parties at the club when it was located on Court Street. Also remembered was the party on the third floor of the First Presbyterian Church, where Alcoholic Al entertained children and adults alike. A1 was a professional magician who worked on luxury liners until his death in the late 1970s. There were also affairs at the Pinecastle Women’s Club and the Winter Park Civic Center. But the New Year’s Eve party of 1970-71 was the biggie. It became an annual event after that one.
Some years later a group began to meet at the Good Shepherd Church. As was typical in those days, the group was shifted from unheated portable classrooms to the spacious social hall and then back again. At one time the group even met in the kitchen of the social hall, bringing in a table where they would be close to the coffee pot. One time, after being relegated rack to a small classroom, the group found the air conditioner not working. Undaunted, the members took their chairs and moved the meeting to the sidewalk, but left the door open to provide light. Some early members were Chuck B., John (Bithlo) D., Reuben A., Jim (Big) O’, Lome L and Jenny S., who you could always count on being there. John and Jim were heavy cigar smokers, while Reuben consumed packs and packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. The sidewalk meeting was the only one where non-smokers didn’t object to heavy smoking. It kept the mosquitoes away.
A group finally formed in Bithlo, meeting in the Baptist Church. The church banned smoking, but alcoholics don’t give up easily. A half horn after the start of the meeting, a recess was regularly called, and everyone would vacate the church for a smoke. Then they would return to finish the meeting.
Until recently, we treated smoking as if it were an undeniable right, especially for us alcoholics. “Didn’t we give up drinking, and they expect us to give up smoking too?” The Magnolia Group, in downtown Orlando, was the first to be declared non-smoking, although not by choice. They were told by the church, “No smoking, or find yourself a new home.” That group’s attendance dropped by 50% in a week. Gerhard W. objected to the smoke at meetings vociferously. He sat near open doors, fanning himself with a hand-held battery-operated fan. When he tried to explain his physical discomfort caused by having to breathe secondary smoke, he was, unfortunately, often put down.
The Goldenrod Group was also formed in the 1970s. Joe and Rose R. named it for the road where it was located, Goldenrod near Colonial, at the Assembly of God Church. When the group moved to Forsyth near University, it retained its name.
The East Orange Group, meeting at the East Orange County Community Center, has the largest address number, 12050 East Colonial.
Bill D., who had so much to do with improving operations in our Intergroup Office, was instrumental in starting the Aloma Group, meeting at the Redeemer Lutheran Church. You might better know Bill as the artist of the book of AA cartoons stocked in our Intergroup Office.
The Oviedo Group started in the early 1980s, when that town had but one traffic light. Founding members were Doug B., Bithlo John D., and Reuben A. Other early members were Dan L., Lettie L., and Josh D.
Although not considered history yet, the past 10 years showed a great deal of AA growth to the east. A club facility was organized, groups formed at two hospitals, at UCF, in the Behavioral Center, and at a barbecue restaurant.
When Doug B. first came to the Central Florida area, he traveled nearly 100 miles round trip from his home near Geneva to the Winter Park meetings. Slowly but surely AA grew, bringing meetings closer and closer to where Bill lived. Finally, he and Bill K. found it practical to start a meeting in the Geneva area. We don’t see as much of Doug as we used to, but I am sure Doug is pleased with the present arrangement. We know that, for him, attending meetings is a lot less costly.
Now for a historical note: The blinking light that has for years greeted one’s entry into Geneva has been upgraded to a full-fledged four-way red-green-amber traffic light. Talk about progress!
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