We are in week three of a five-city Northern California tour and 15 days away from jumping on a plane for Atlanta, GA to perform Our Experience Has Taught Us during the same week as the 14th International Conference.
Today we performed in San Jose, CA. Santa Clara County puts the "Fellowship" in Fellowship of the Spirit, let me tell you! Ever since they did their own production of In Our Own Words in 2011, I've greatly admired the unity and commitment to intergroup and general service I witnessed there. So I was very excited to bring our little troupe to perform in San Jose this weekend.
During my internet trolling, I mean research, I came across a Flickr photo album of black and white photos of Sybil C. and her brother Tex A. taken in the 1940's and 50's. It was created by Tex's grandson, Mark A. The flickr album is down now, but it was a real treasure trove! There were photos of Tex and Sybil outside The Hole in the Ground, the meeting place founded by Tex in the early 1940's. The Hole in the Ground was the second or third A.A. meeting in California (depending on whether you ask archivists in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but that's a story for another day). I've heard different stories, but most sources agree that Tex started the meeting in late 1941 or early 1942 because there were no highways in LA at the time and he was tired of taking the long drive to downtown for the Friday night meeting. This was also during WWII when gas rationing was required by law, and as someone recently proposed on the AAHistoryLovers website, rationing may have been a major factor in the rapid spread of new AA meetings at the time. In fact, Bill W. wrote a letter to the government requesting that AA members be excused from the rationing limits in order to continue their 12-Step Work.
Through his Flickr profile, I realized that Mark A. lived in Los Gatos, CA and we had just confirmed our San Jose shows. After some more internet trolling, I mean sleuthing, I found a contact email for him and invited him to the show. Mark told his father, Tex's youngest and last surviving son, who lives in Nevada and they came to see the play today along with another one of Tex's grandchildren. It's always been such a pleasure to meet someone who knew one of the old-timers portrayed in the play, usually one of the LA folks like Sybil or Bob C. or Tex.
Tex's son had some wonderful stories about his father. First and foremost he made sure we knew that Tex always wore a suit. He wore a stenson, so we got the hat right, but Tex was always in a well pressed and tailored suit. He had a couple of yarns about the Athletic Club and the restaurant bar that Tex operated after he got sober. And he told us that Tex was a man's man (but also very popular with the ladies), big-hearted, warm and friendly. So we got that right.
I got a little choked up during Tex's final scene today, when he says goodbye to Sybil and passes out of this world. Bill W. is reciting the beautiful letter he wrote to comfort Sybil C. during her time of grief and a simple guitar instrumental of The Streets of Laredo is playing:
"My dear Sybil, your letter has stirred me more than anything in recent years. The real test of our way of life is how it works when the chips are down. Though I've sometimes seen A.A.'s make rather a mess of living, I've never seen a sober one make a bad job of dying.
“In God’s house there are many mansions. And somehow or other, I see Tex sitting out on the porch in the sunlight of one of those mansions, talking with another drunk, and I believe that’s okay. When my time comes, I wish to do the same.
“But I will tell you, Syb, that life is nothing but a long day in school, and some of our lessons are hard, and some of our lessons are easy. And it doesn’t matter much what happens to us. It is what we do with our experience that counts. Keep on passing along what you have learned, for what more can one alcoholic ask of another? Affectionately, Bill”
I look over and Tex's grandson is wiping his eyes with a hankerchief and I'm reminded again that these were real people who lived and breathed not very long ago. Tex A. was just another drunk like me, and possibly you reader, and he had a full and impactful life, and not just in the rooms.
Tex, thanks for starting The Hole in the Ground. Thanks for always putting service first. Thanks for taking care of your little sister and for sponsoring so many men. We'll get you a nice suit next time, I promise.
***UPDATE JUNE 16, 2015***
I received a lovely note from Mark A. and wanted to share this one part that affected me greatly: "My father was obviously touched by the parts of the play that regarded his father and aunt, but the story of A.A. is the story of many families. Throughout my life, I have heard stories about Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, and regard them, in some way, as part of my extended family -- I sense my father certainly does. And because of A.A., I grew up in a home of sobriety. I am very grateful for that -- and I am grateful to every member of A.A. who has striven for sobriety. It is all the members -- Bill W., Dr. Bob, Tex, Sybil and every member -- who have made A.A. what it is. I know that there are many sons, daughters, wives and husbands who have benefitted from the work of A.A., who themselves are not members, but who have loved ones who are. The play, I believe, certainly captured the larger story of A.A."
For some of Mark A's online resources about Sybil and Tex, click here.