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Informal History of The Stratford Men’s Group
a cliché in Alcoholics Anonymous that “all
you need to start a new meeting is a resentment and a coffee
pot.” The Stratford Men’s Group is a proud example
of that hallowed AA tradition.
Easter Sunday, 1969, there were some chocolate bunnies at
the 4 o’clock AA meeting held at Christ Church on
Main Street in Stratford. After the meeting, the chocolate
bunnies went missing and “Old Chris” accused
a fellow-member, Joe Moran, of taking the bunnies and eating
them. Enter the resentment.
loudly denied the accusation and after simmering for a few
days, he approached Monsignor Murphy, the pastor of the
Saint James Roman Catholic Church – the church directly
next to Christ Church – asking if he could start an
AA meeting for men in the school basement on the following
Monday. (Joe never attended the Sunday 4 o’clocker
Murphy agreed and on April 14, 1969, the second necessary
element, a coffee pot, was found and the first meeting of
the Stratford Men’s Group was held.
Joe had what’s been referred to as “something
of a reputation” in the local AA meetings, so people
were not exactly flocking to the new men’s meeting.
In fact, if the oral history we have gathered is really
true, Joe spent the first few Monday nights all alone in
the basement with the coffee pot and his wife, Mary, who
had come along to make sure that she would get her coffee
pot back at the end of the meeting.
Joe enlisted several members and they quickly established
the format and the style of the meeting. For one thing,
the leader was rotated each week – with the ‘chair’
frequently being given to the person who was the ‘thirstiest’
or who had experienced the biggest problem during the previous
week. From the beginning, the originals members were not
bashful about offering each other advice – either
during their own ‘share’ or during someone else’s
‘share.’ From the beginning, ‘constructive’
cross-talk was a hallmark of the Stratford Men’s Group.
In addition, the group was always dedicated to making sure
that everyone who attended the meeting had a chance to speak.
And finally, the Stratford Men’s Group grew into a
meeting with a strong tradition of sponsorship along with
an equally strong emphasis on AA being ‘a program
the first few months, there were less than twelve members,
all of whom sat around a single table in the grade-school
cafeteria in the basement of the school behind Saint James
Church. Early members included Joe Moran, Buddy Desrosiers,
Meti Fecho, Harry “the Pipe”, Chuck “Jellybean”
Hammill, Joe Becker and Tommy “S.O.B.” Sobalski.
All seven of these men died sober.
group immediately developed its own particularly flavor
by establishing the practice of ‘calling a spade a
spade’ and of asking people direct and difficult questions.
It was not unheard of for someone in the group to suggest
that they take up a collection for some whining, thirsty
member – so that he could go out and buy a drink.
was that kind of a group.
on, the meeting developed a reputation for ‘tough
AA’ and more men came by to see what all the talk
was about. The group expanded until it began to fill the
school cafeteria which – although it wasn’t
the largest room in the school basement – somehow
became known as ‘The Big Room’ meeting.
in the late 1970’s, several members split off and
started to hold a meeting in the largest room of the school
basement – a meeting that was quickly (and derisively)
nicknamed “The Westport Room.” This meeting
lasted until 1983 when it slowly dissolved as members abandoned
it to return to the meeting in the Big Room.
of the group’s ‘tough’ reputation, sponsors
were constantly sending newcomers to the meeting. This practice
became so prevalent that they threatening to overwhelm the
regular members. In June of 1974, a beginner’s meeting
was started in a separate room – ‘The Beginner’s
Room’ – which was for all members with less
than six months of sobriety. (Jack F. and Brian M. were
among the original five members of this group.) Newcomers
were required to attend this meeting and, if you had less
than six months of sobriety, you were not allowed to attend
the regular meeting. From the start, the Beginner’s
Room meeting was (and still is) strictly limited to new
people except for the two regular members of the group (with
at least five years of sobriety) who chair this meeting
every week. In the beginning, these assignments for leading
the meeting in the Beginner’s Room were for two months,
but, in the mid-1980’s – as the membership and
the sobriety level of the group grew – this chairing
commitment was reduced to just one month.
even this group grew too large – there were regularly
50 newcomers in that meeting by early 1982 – and in
the mid-1980’s, someone suggested that the Beginner’s
Room be limited to people with less than 90 days of sobriety
and that anyone with 90-180 days attend the newly organized
‘Kitchen Meeting’ – once again run by
two members who have been sober for a minimum of five years.
This meeting was based on the format that the newcomer with
the most time in the kitchen became the speaker for the
evening, telling their AA story – usually for the
first time. This is always followed by a group discussion.
after the demise of the “Westport Room,” Brian
M. proposed that the group establish a Step Meeting in the
space that had been vacated by the “Westport”
group. This was done and the group continues to this day
with a number of very active members.
final meeting within the group was formed when the Big Room
got so noisy that it was literally impossible to hear people
when they were speaking. After a number of ‘meetings
on the meeting,’ King D. stood up early one Monday
night in June of 1998 and announced that “anyone who
wanted to attend a ‘quiet meeting’ should pick
up their chairs and move out into the corridor.” Half
of the members of that group did so and ‘The Corridor
Meeting’ has been thriving in that long, narrow space
noted, the Men’s Group has always had a strong tradition
of sponsorship and this tradition is ably supported on the
last Monday of every month when all of the different meetings
come together for Anniversary Night. This is a group tradition
that goes back to the very beginning of the group when Joe
Moran used to make sure that there was a whole cake available
for each celebrant. It has also been a tradition that you
can only be given a coin by your sponsor and only after
he has had the opportunity to ‘review’ your
progress (or lack thereof) in the past year. A number of
members have served as regular moderators at Anniversary
Night – with the most years of service coming from
Forbes D. and our present Anniversary Night moderator, Bobby
1978, the Men’s Group held their first Annual Christmas
Party. Always scheduled for the last Monday before Christmas
Eve, this party attracts members (and several ‘ringers’)
from all over and is always the largest meeting of the year.
In the beginning, the party consisted of brief comments
by members followed by a huge buffet dinner that was supplied
‘pot luck’ fashion by the members and their
wives. But over the years, the festivities have grown to
include entertainment – including the annual Stratford
Men’s Top Ten List (ala David Letterman; created by
Jerry V. and Warren M.), the Annual Stratford Men’s
Achievement Awards (which change every year but almost always
include “The Thirstiest Alcoholic Award” –
a five gallon jug of Poland Spring water) and a visit from
our own rather unique version of Santa Claus, who gives
out presents and replies to letters that have been ‘sent’
to him by group members. In the past few years, we have
also been entertained by a lounge singer just before dinner
final Men’s Group event, the Annual Picnic, began
at the suggestion of Rob P. in the summer of 2000. The first
two years, the event was held at Boothe Park in Stratford
but since then has been held near the water at Short Beach
Note: This history was sent by George D.] Contact the group
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