Prayers

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(excerpted from the November 2022 Grapevine, the International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous)

My mother’s cousin, Father Long, asked to meet me on the wraparound porch of the1900s-era resort hotel in Spring Lake, New Jersey.

I had recently left my husband and was living at my mother’s house with my two-year-old boy. Assuming Father Long wanted to force feed me unwanted marriage counseling, I hung a defiant roach clip from an anti-establishment leather string around my 22-year-old neck to amplify my hippie ensemble.

He talked about my marijuana use. “Give it up, for your mother’s sake,” he said. I paused. “Are you talking to her about giving up drinking for my sake?”

Father Long started his career as a disciplinarian of an inner-city Catholic boys’ school. Realizing I was no match for him, I scrambled out of the painted wood rocking chair and made a fast exit. I heard him call to me as I walked away, “I’ll pray for you.” 

Father Long spent a few weeks every year near Sea Girt where I lived during adolescence and young adulthood. That summer his vacation on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean was interrupted by my mother’s cry for help. She wanted him to help me. My mother’s lips never parted to pray and I doubt her thoughts ever enter the spiritual realm. On the way home, I wondered how drunk she must have been to ask for help from her cousin, a soldier of God. Had Father Long been summoned to help other wayward children sprung from our very wayward relatives?

A few years later, I made it to Alcoholics Anonymous and, after six months sober, I was asked to speak at a large AA meeting in Montclair. In the meeting, I talked about my inability to stop drinking, stop smoking pot, stop consuming illicit drugs. I welled up speaking of gratitude for my father, who had brought me into the Fellowship.

My father had sobered up at Towns Hospital in Manhattan. He attended meetings on the Upper East Side and had been able to sustain abstinence during the time I was dying way out there in some other dimension of addiction. We hadn’t seen each other for five years. Then he showed up at the public mental institution where I had been sent after I overdosed at 24 years old. He suggested I go to the AA meeting on the grounds of the institution.

After I wrapped up my six-months sober talk at that meeting in Montclair, a petite, pearly lady stood out from a line of well-wishers. She approached and said, “I pray for you every day.” “What?” I asked. “Do I know you?”

“I go to meetings in New York with your father,” she said. “We helped him when he went to see you in the hospital. We told him what to say, to just share his story, what it was like, what happened and what it was like now. Like we do with any other alcoholic—and suggest you go to meetings. A lot of us have been praying for you for a long time.” 

 “And here you are.” 

That was the summer of 1971.

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NOTE: Father Long was removed from the priesthood in 1995 for sexual abuse. He’s on the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington DC, lists of accused priests. He died in 2004.

Before There Were Hippies

Before There Were Hippies

Tom Spencer and I sat in slatted wooden seats on the aisle halfway back from the stage in the Asbury Park Convention Hall at our first concert. The Hall’s open doors and th-1windows allowed the peaceful ocean breeze to float in and around to cool us. It was 1961 and we thought we were the only Joan Baez fans on the entire Jersey Shore.The mesmerizing overflow crowd stunned us.

Until then, our only experience at a live performance was the Manasquan High School variety show. We lived in the remains of the 1950’s cultural wasteland where the middle class would never spend time or money on concert-going. Ignorant of concert etiquette, we refrained from singing aloud but mouthed all the words as our folk hero transported us — All My Trials, House of the Rising Sun,10,000 Miles. Just before intermission Joan Baez introduced a friend from Greenwich Village, Bob Dylan. Oh no! I saved my babysitting money to see Joan Baez, not some unknown. Onto the stage came this scruffy little curly-topped blue-jeaned boy who played guitar and sang a solo, “Freight Train Blues”. They sang “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Pretty Peggy-O” together. Tom, even though his favorite singer was the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, shared my instant joy and devotion to the twangy-voiced Bob Dylan.

thDylan and Baez sang their love for the poetry of those old folk songs. And we shared a love for the singers with strangers from our own land.

That summer, Tom and I had created a hangout in my mother’s garage with an old couch and a rickety TV table for our record player so we could listen to music and drink beer undisturbed during the day when everyone else was at the beach. My mother accepted my summertime retreat since she never used the garage and was happy to be removed from the sounds of folk music, Motown and Elvis. She seemed to like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but she had no real interest in listening to music, not even on the radio.

We saved money from our part-time jobs to buy our 45 rpm records. Tom caddied at the Spring Lake Golf Club. I babysat for the neighbors. He had a crush on my younger sister, Erin, ever since we moved into the Sea Girt house down the street from his in 1959. They dated briefly the previous year but she lost interest and he and I became inseparable friends for one important summer.

One day my mother found us in the garage with empty beer bottles, practicing the Twist and the Mashed Potato. She proclaimed us degenerates and told us to go to the beach. We ignored her and roiled with laughter since being degenerate characterized the beat generation. We were reading A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and writing beat poetry. Her proclamation boosted our view of ourselves as beatniks.

The chilly weather and school reopening gradually closed the garage door. Tom’s studies took up his time. And I sought other hideaways where I could drink beer all day and listen to music.