Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Missing Harry Chapin

It was back in July 1981 when I was on Hog Island for the first time, making new friends and having the adventure of a lifetime, when the tragic news of Harry Chapin’s passing reached across the narrows into paradise.  
Story was he was heading for a charity gig driving down the Long Island Expressway when his car somehow went out of control and ended up under a semi in a grinding crash that claimed his life.  
My new buddy Kevin from New Jersey heard the news first.  We went searching on the island for a newspaper for confirmation.  Sure enough, there was the story right there in the most recent New York Times somebody had left behind.  Kevin went on in some detail about how horrendous traffic can be on that stretch of highway.  We both had to sit for a few minutes, poring over the story, hoping somehow it wasn’t true.  But it was.  
I guess I feel the same way about Harry as I do about John Denver.  Both men wrote songs that I not only liked and could sing, but could somehow relate to.  Denver wrote about finding Colorado in his ‘twenty-seventh year.’  I did that, too.  Then he wrote about wild Alaska, peace in the world, the beauty of kids, and loving a woman, all stuff I knew or dreamed about.  He eventually even wrote about divorce, songs I cued up when I was going through my own.  
Harry, on the other had, was more of a epic story teller.  His protagonists were common men, one having given up his dream of being a pilot in order to make a living driving a taxi.  Wouldn’t you believe one night he picked up a fare who turned out to be his first girlfriend.  After smiles and brief stories were exchanged, Harry dropped her off in her ritzy neighborhood and did the only thing he could:  he stuffed the big tip she left him in his shirt -- and drove off into the night into his own, less complicated life.  
Or what about Mr. Tanner?  Here was a dry cleaner from my hometown -- Dayton, Ohio -- who had a lovely voice and was encouraged by his friends to go to New York City for a stage that truly fit his gift.   Reluctantly he went to perform, only to be skewered by a reviewer.  Devastated, he returned home, went back to work, and gave up on singing -- even to himself.  His great love had become his greater pain.   
Or what about the speaker in ‘Dreams go by’ who has his best girl and a whole life in front of him to achieve his dream as an artist.  What happens instead?  Kids.  Life.  Work.  Time spent doing stuff not all that important in the grand scheme of things.  Conclusion?  Dreams are to be lived when one is young.  Where do broken dreams go?  Indeed. 
Harry Chapin was Everyman to me.  He sang in my range, told storied I could relate to, and made some damn fine music.  I saw him once in concert here at Memorial Hall.  A couple of great sets.  I didn’t know all his work like my old buddy John did, a musician in his own right.  John loved Harry’s music.  Both of these beautiful men would be dead at the age of 39.  
Music is a powerful element in my life.  I sang in a few  bands in my day, happy to find musicians in search of a singer.  It started with a small band of us making music for each other’s weddings and turned into a couple of groups over a couple of decades doing rock and roll at local parties.  
My old buddy, John, too, was mighty significant in the music of my life.  Poor guy had a lousy voice, but loved to play.  He told stories of staying up late into the night after gigs just noodling a melody of, say, an Eagles song, trying to find the chords to share with the band.  As a cousin to my first wife, John often played guitar at family gatherings, whether parties or funerals.  More often than not I provided the solo.  Ah, those were the days.
So here I am reflecting on my 60+ years of living, wondering what kinds of great songs Harry would be writing now.  Sure, he wrote of being a grandpa when he was in his thirties, but now, by God, he’d be there.  John Denver, too.   
I wonder what those guys would be up to now?  I know my old buddy John would still be playing -- and I’d still be singing.  That much I know.
Today’s Elder Idea:  
Oh, if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And proved before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen to this world.  
Inscribed on Harry’s headstone
lyric from his song, ‘I wonder what would happen to this world’  

Friday, November 25, 2011


First, a post-Waffle Shop update:  For our four-day downtown holiday event, Christ Church had just over 1,600 guests in the front door while serving about 1,500 lunches.  Every time I passed through the dining room, I was very pleased with the crowd sitting, enjoying their lunches and each others’ company.  A very good event, indeed, for this 82nd running of the waffles.  
Numbers aren’t the real test of a successful Waffle Shop, though.  I always feel that it’s the hospitality offered to the community that is the best part.  We seemed to have folks everywhere in the church enjoying what they were doing.  We had raffle winners for both a flat screen television and an electrified dollhouse, along with lots of shoppers of crafts and discarded ‘treasures.’  
This year, too, we invited organizations that received Waffle Shop outreach grants last round, so they could visit with our guests to tell them just where their Waffle Shop money was actually going and who it was helping.  Thanks to Blue Star Mothers, The Dayton International Peace Museum, Good Shepherd Ministries, and the Delta Phi Zeta Sorority for meeting guests at our outreach table.
Undoubtedly one of the best stories of this year’s Waffle Shop came from our pastor, John Paddock.  He mentioned that one guest he talked to -- a person with lots of time spent downtown -- said that our Waffle Shop was one of the few things in central Dayton where people could gather and still feel like they were part of a downtown community.  Midwestern downtowns, as we know, used to do so much more for their metro areas.  So much shopping and such have now moved out to the suburbs.  It is good to know that a little bit of the vibrant downtown Dayton of yesterday remains, still, in Waffle Shop. 
Second, a big thanks this Friday after for Thanksgiving.  Cindy and I stopped into our local jeweler earlier this week to have a new battery installed in her wristwatch.  As we talked with the gentleman there as he worked, he observed that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.  Why?  Well, besides grocery shopping, Thanksgiving simply is not a commercial holiday.  You don’t have to buy anything to make it a success.  Shoot, you don’t even have to send a card.  All you need to do is gather with family and friends, break bread, and feel good about your own blessings.  I rather like that simple take on a holiday that is people- and meal-centered.  For a church-going guy, Thanksgiving has a real eucharist feel.  I like that, too. 
But all was not joyous in the family this Thanksgiving.  My son-in-law’s father, fighting cancer, had to spend Thanksgiving day at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State.  The original plan was for his whole family crew to join him and his lovely wife for a feast at their Vandalia home.  All the plans had been made and menu items divided out among all participants.  But then this required hospital emergency came up and everything changed at the last minute.  Cindy and I were happy we could set up another table at our place and have the part of their family left in town join in our feast.  
Also, my nephew’s middle child has had a horrible last couple of weeks.  The young man had been in school ten or so days ago when he got sick.  Before we knew it, he was in Dayton Children’s Hospital with major complications.  Story was his parents almost lost him one night when a lung collapsed.  Much prayer has been made in this little guy’s name, I can tell you.  His mom and dad were left speechless with the torrent of sentiment sent their way via the internet, especially Facebook.  Cindy was mightily impressed, too.  Good for social media! 
So, thanks.  Thanks to you for reading The Back Porch.  Thanks to the family who could join us for Thanksgiving yesterday.  Thanks to our friends, the Issas, for being part of that family again this year.  Thanks to Mom for joining us.  Thanks for a warm, safe house and a place for us to gather and be thankful.  
Thanksgiving is, indeed, a fine holiday where just being grateful is what it’s all about.  For that I am thankful, too. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  We’ve made a tradition of offering a special prayer every year at our Thanksgiving table.  This year Cindy Lou cobbled together a few ideas for this special edition: 
Lord God of our Fathers and Mothers; 
God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, 
and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel; 
God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ: 
Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.  We commend to your gracious care those who are suffering in body, mind, and spirit, especially Bill and Jake and their families.  And we ask you to defend, strengthen, and encourage all the men and women of our armed forces and their families, especially Elvin, as they face the perils which beset them. 
Let the grace of this Thanksgiving meal make us one body, one spirit, that we may worthily serve the world in Your name.  Amen.  
Thank you, Cindy Lou, for such a beautiful prayer.  I love you.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Waffle Shop!

If you live in the Dayton area, do take time to stop in at Waffle Shop.  
I can’t tell you how proud I am to take part in this event one more time.  So many stories to tell! 
•  First off, Waffle Shop makes money that it is commissioned to give away to folks and organizations either in need or about good works.  Since 2003 (when I started keeping track of such things), Waffle Shop has awarded over $63,000 in Outreach Grants to groups like the Canterbury Court retirement community in West Carrollton, the Dayton International Peace Museum, Daybreak, Homefull (used to be The Other Place), CROP, a couple of FISH Pantries, and the Society for the Advancement and Welfare of Sierra Leone, Africa.  Trust me, it’s some list. 
•  Such a lunch!  Homemade waffles, local sausage, freshly-made pie, hand crafted sandwiches, kitchen-created soups.  You’ll find something to savor, I know.  
•  But Waffle Shop is so much more than lunch!  
Stop by the Bazaar for special handcrafted gifts and, maybe, an antique or two.  
Just across the aisle is Elsie’s Attic.  Do you like garage sales?  Then you’ll love Elsie’s Attic.  Discarded treasures abound!
And you’ll be asked if you’d like to take part in the raffle.  Again this year we have two separate contests, one for a 32 inch Toshiba flat screen television, the other for a furnished doll house.  Both make amazing gifts!  The dollhouse this year even has lights in it.  A buck a throw, six for five.  Such a deal!  ;-) 
Can’t stay?  Everything on the menu is available for carry-out.  Feel free to fax in your order and we’ll have it ready when you get here.
When you’re at work, don’t you like something sweet to eat about mid-afternoon?  Behold the bake sale, just as you leave the dining room.  Good stuff.  All handmade.   
And finally, live music.  If you’d like, you could even pull up a chair and just sit and listen to our performers:  
Tuesday:  Rula and Rima Issa / accordion and piano
Wednesday:  Percy Jones / keyboards (organ and piano)
Thursday:  The Bisson Sisters / harp, violin, piano
Friday:  Jerry Nelson / accordion
Chat with a Celebrity Baker, too: 
Tuesday:  Georgie Woessner, Classical 88.1 general manager
Wednesday:  Episcopal Bishop Tom Briedenthal
Thursday:  Alan Pippenger, Requarth Lumber president
Friday:  Kim Faris, Lite 94.5 deejay
•  We do our best to support local merchants at Waffle Shop.  While we procure much of what we need at GFS (I like to think of them as a Springfield company), we buy our sausage and sandwich meats from Landes Quality Meats in Clayton/Englewood;  cherry, apple, and pumpkin pie from Ashley’s Pastries in Oakwood;  coffee from Dayton’s own Boston Stoker (fair trade when we can get it); and poinsettias from Stockslager’s Nursery in New Lebanon. 
Heavens, there’s still more to say -- but enough for now. 
Do try to come down.  It’ll be fun.  And you’re helping us do really good stuff.  Thanks!  ;-) 
for menu and fax info: 
Today’s Elder Idea:  It is the role of the church to give of itself for the world's reconciliation, not preparing man for heaven.
Rev. Gordon S. Price
quoted in The Magazine
Dayton Daily News (28 March 1982)