This page is dedicated to my dear friend, Charlie. As I write this a memorial service is being held for him in a little town called Parsons, KS, and it breaks my heart that I am unable to be there to say goodbye. If I could be, I would... and these are the things I would say...
Charlie was one of the most important people in my life of recovery. I'm not breaking his anonymity here because Charlie always told me I was free to give his full name and number to anyone, anywhere, any time. He was so proud to say that he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first thing I ever heard Charlie say was,
"Hi, my name's Charlie and I'm an alcoholic. I didn't have to drink today - and that's a miracle!"
More than ten years later it was also almost verbatim, the last thing I heard him say when I saw him at a meeting shortly before I left Kansas. At nearly 15 years sober, Charlie still viewed every day he didn't drink as a miracle, and he taught me to view my sobriety the same way.
I met Charlie in 1986, when I was brand new sober and still shaking, in Los Gatos, California. We called him "Texas Charlie" because of his drawl. Charlie was just about to celebrate 3 years sober when I came into the program and he was counting down the days til his sobriety birthday at every meeting. He was to continue counting every day until his next birthday up to the day he died - and usually when he'd finish his intro line, the group would respond in enthusiastic voice, "Yeah, Charlie, it's a miracle!"
When I met Charlie he was down on his luck... jobless, broke, hurting over a broken romance... But Charlie was still talking miracles - he just knew that one was right around the corner. As a newcomer, his absolute faith in that forthcoming miracle amazed me - I simply couldn't understand how he could be so cheerful when so many bad things were going on in his life. Charlie was my very first lesson in seeing someone LIVE the program of AA rather than just talk it. He truly lived one day at a time, always expecting a miracle, and always with his Higher Power right on his shoulder guiding his every step.
Every time Charlie spoke in a meeting he spoke of his Higher Power and all the miracles in his life. There are so many Charlie stories that I've kept along the years to pull out and remember when I got to a low point in my life. They are too many and too long to share here, but my favorite had to do with a time when he was once again 'down and out' in Texas. Flat broke... no money... no cigarettes... no gas for the car... He had to get across town for something or other, but with no gas he had a problem. Not knowing what else to do, Charlie walked to a noon meeting. He said the topic was the 3rd Step - "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him". Charlie said he prayed that 3rd Step prayer and turned it all over to his Higher Power, and laughingly said that when he did that it was a great relief because if things didn't go right after he'd turned it over, it would be his HP's fault, not his! When he left the meeting he stood on the sidewalk outside the meeting hall, wondering how in the world he was going to get across town to his appointment. When he looked down at the sidewalk, there laying right by his car was a $5 bill - enough money for gas to get across town and back and get a pack of cigarettes, too! Charlie said he never again doubted that his Higher Power would get him through anything.
On the night I celebrated my second sober birthday I was the speaker at that same little group in Los Gatos, and Charlie gave me my medallion. A friend sneaked a tape recorder into that meeting and that tape of Charlie giving me my medallion is one of my dearest treasures. I was listening to it not so long ago, never dreaming that I wouldn't hear Charlie's real voice again.
At two and a half years sober my then husband and I moved from California to Tulsa. I made a trip back for my daughter's wedding, and that's when I took the picture above. Shortly after that trip Charlie moved 'somewhere' in Kansas, but we didn't know exactly where and lost touch for a while. When my husband and I moved to tiny Chanute, Kansas, we found by looking for AA there that Charlie was living only 45 minutes away! That was another amusing story in itself as we had to call a friend in California to tell us where Charlie was living in Kansas, and he showed up on our doorstep not an hour later and took us to a meeting in our new town. The friendship resumed as if it had never been interrupted and Charlie was again a big part of my life and sobriety until I left Kansas a year and a half ago to start yet another new phase of my life and follow a different dream.
I chose the song "Take Me Home Country Roads" because Charlie was a free spirit - always on the move. Not long after we moved to Kansas Charlie began taking jobs that took him all over the country, and it seemed he spent more time away than at home. But he remained the same old Charlie, always believing in miracles, always with the absolute faith that his Higher Power would take care of him no matter what, always with a hand out to a newcomer, always with a hug and smile and time to talk to a friend. I will hate knowing that he's not at the other end of the phone line, but I will carry his memory and his stories forever. Nearly 12 years of "Charlie-isms" gathered in campfire meetings, card games, sing-a-longs, campouts, heart-to-hearts, marriages, deaths and births... And now I feel I have another little guardian angel on my shoulder, who may just even be closer than on the end of a phone line... I am grateful to have had such a friend.