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November 1984

The Kentucky Colonel

He was an outstanding adviser in the Bright Ideas Department - From the October 1972 Grapevine

NOBODY EVER called him anything but the Colonel. Nobody was sure of his last name or where he had earned his rank, in what army or, for that matter, on what side he had fought. One thing was certain (according to the Colonel): He would have retired with the rank of general if his drinking hadn't blocked the way.

Leaving the hall when the meeting was over, the Colonel got into his ten-year-old Buick. He started the car. He was pleased with the solid hum of the engine. He smiled at himself in the rearview mirror, admiring his steel-gray hair and sky-blue eyes.

Through streets sprinkled with fine snow, he reached the circular driveway in front of Jobelle's gingerbread house. At least, that's what he always called it. She and her late husband had brought up four children here. She had always drunk too much. After her husband died, she nearly killed herself with alcohol. Now, she was sober and happy. The Colonel noticed that she always seemed to find so much to do. He admired her great energy. When he stepped in, he felt the warmth and cordiality of a home filled with mementos and memories, kept tidy with love--more than he could say for his place.

"How was the meeting?" Jobelle asked.

"Okay. As usual, none of the speakers really knew how to address a large group of people. None of them had what you could exactly call a command voice. But then, there are so many bad speakers in AA."

"I've told you before, Colonel--we are not entertainers."

"I know, but . . . " He followed Jobelle into the sitting room, where she resumed her knitting in a stuffed armchair by a huge open fireplace. She was thin and elegant, with eyes that beamed love and wisdom. She had the bearing of a grande dame, yet nothing in her manner implied superiority. Everyone who met Jobelle loved her.

He kissed her on the forehead, then eased into another armchair on the other side of the fire. She poured tea into fine china cups.

"As I was saying, I very well know they are not entertainers, but, well, the General Service Office should have accepted my offer. They should have started a school for AA speakers! I am retired, so I happen to have the time to act as overall chief of such an operation. I could have given them invaluable advice. I couldn't do any of the actual work, mind you."

"Colonel, dear heart, you're always coming up with the most grandiose schemes. I wish you would talk them out with me before putting them in writing."

"Now just a cotton-picking minute, Jobelle! What is so grandiose about a speaking school? I headed one up in the service. God knows, AA needs it. And besides, GSO answered my letter most politely, I must say. I think they really gave it some thought."

"They sure did, bless 'em. But so have I, and I don't think AA needs advisers who don't want to work--Kentucky Colonels who just want meaningless titles after their names."

"Kentucky Colonel!" he roared.

Jobelle serenely knitted on. "And I wouldn't want our speakers trained, anyhow. Would you like to know which speaker I enjoyed the most lately?"

The Colonel's anger vanished. He had spoken recently at a meeting Jobelle attended. He had excelled for her. He had filled the room with sonorous tones. He had dropped his voice to an attention-demanding whisper. He had given a smashing performance. "And who might that have been, my dear?"

"Remember that institution meeting at the town hospital?"

The Colonel sat back in his chair, looking muddled. "But--but--well, for goodness' sake, Jobelle. A mere boy spoke. He'd only gotten out of that hospital four months before. It was his first talk. Why, he stared at the floor the whole time. He actually mumbled."

"I know. Wasn't it grand?"

"Grand? You must be joking. He was terrible!"

She spoke carefully. (The Colonel had been sober two years. She had been sober and active over twenty years.) "No. I am not joking. That boy was very brave. It took a lot of good old-fashioned guts for him to make that talk. It was a display of inspiring humility. I hung on every word. You see, Colonel, I don't hear AA talks as speeches."

"But they are made to an audience."

"I still hear them as conversations."

"In conversations, both sides contribute."

"The group contributes waves of love the speaker can actually feel."

"Humph! Sorry I brought the whole subject up. Every time I come up with a bright idea, you knock it down."

"A lot of people join the Bright Ideas Department at one time or another. Once I did, too. Then, you find out that very few bright ideas haven't been thought of and tried out before."

"Are you saying we should never think of anything new?"

"No. But it doesn't hurt a bit, dear heart, to ask around and see what past experience says about an idea."

Thoughtfully, sparring for time, the Colonel filled his pipe and lit it. He puffed on the pipe, and the knitting needles clicked, and the fire crackled. Finally, he got up to leave, and he was smiling. She walked with him to the door. She helped him on with his coat.

"Jobelle--are you ever going to marry me?"

"Not today. Thank you ever so much for asking. A girl likes to know she can still get herself asked."

The door closed. Jobelle walked briskly back to her sitting room. Her eyes were twinkling as she picked up the teacups. "I just may marry that old fuddy-duddy someday."

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