JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

The Music That Makes Me Dance

I was harsh on the music of Legally Blonde: The Musical, and I just wanted to add a few words about that.

It’s true that the style of music in that show was not to my current musical tastes, but that was not why I was so critical of it.

Jonas Brothers

For example, the most recent Graham Norton Show featured a performance by the Jonas Brothers, and although their music is not something I would normally listen to, it did sound like music, and when the performance had completed, I could have hummed the main tune of the song if I wanted to.

Similarly, one of the guests was Gloria Estafan, a singer whose work I was not familiar with, so after watching the show, I decided to listen to a few of her songs on Apple Music. Once again her style of music is not to my liking. Oh, I like the Latin rhythms, which really are gonna get you, but she uses way too much reverb in her recordings, which in general are just overproduced as far as I’m concerned.

Gloria Estafan

But still, each song sounded like music and I recognized and often liked the melodies and harmonies that she composed. Several of the tunes lingered in my mind.

Unlike the music from Legally Blonde, whose songs had a beat that the dancers could dance to, but none of the melodies, no matter how often they were repeated and reprised, lingered in my mind. I truly doubt that anyone in the audience who was hearing those songs for the first time went out of the theatre humming any of the tunes.

Which is a real shame, because as I said, I thought the book of that show was quite good. If it only had a few good songs to go with it, I think it could have a long life. As it is, I doubt it’s going to be revived much.




Legally Musical?

Yesterday I saw the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical and I enjoyed it.

It’s a genuine musical comedy, filled with likeable characters, high voltage dance numbers, and committed performances; the only thing it lacks is music—but I’ll get to that.

Last week when I saw my neighbor Georgia, she introduced me to her future daughter-in-law, whom, she said, was appearing in the Walnut’s Legally Blonde. So I ordered a ticket for yesterday’s performance.

And then I realized that I didn’t remember Georgia’s future DIL’s name. What if I didn’t recognize her under her stage makeup? Or worse, what if I mis-identified her? I checked the production’s web site to see if I could pick her out from the publicity photos, and I thought I could, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.

That’s Lindsey Bliven as Vivienne in the center

So I did the sensible thing and knocked on Georgia’s door to ask. As it turned out Georgia’s future DIL was there, and her name is Lindsey Bliven (check out her web site), and she showed me a picture of herself in her stage makeup (and yes, it was the same one that I had tentatively picked out). Furthermore, she said she plays the mean one.

And although I’ve only met Lindsey for a total of about four minutes, she seems to have a sweet, outgoing disposition, but she absolutely plays mean very well. Really the whole cast is outstanding. As I said I enjoyed myself.

The plot is pretty simple and fairly predictable in its broad outline: The protagonist Elle Woods is dumped by her boyfriend because she, a sorority girl, isn’t “serious” enough for him as he plans to go to Harvard Law School and become a Very Important Person. So Elle resolves to follow him to law school in order to win him back.

One of the sub-plots features a UPS driver, a hair stylist, and a dog

The book of the show was written by Heather Hach (it’s based on a novel and a movie), and I think it’s one of the strongest books for a musical that I’ve seen. It completely avoids the second act problem that plagues so many shows where they get bogged down working out the plot trying to wrap things up and keep the audience engaged. If anything, the second act is stronger than the first.

Alas, the songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin are, how shall I put this? They stink.

If a cat had stepped in spilled ink and randomly scattered some notes on a musical staff, it could have come up with more memorable tunes than these two people did. I don’t seem to be alone in my assessment; Clive Barnes in his review of the original Broadway production referred to the “amorphous, synthetic, and maniacally empty-headed music”. As to the lyrics, I barely understood a word during the ensemble numbers. The solo (dare I call them) “songs” fared better as I was able to make out about 80% of the words, and they were serviceable, no more.

As to the intelligibility of the words, I don’t blame that on the cast, I blame that on the sound crew who had the amplified volume turned up so high it was actually distorting the sound.

But enough negativity. Despite the fact that this was a musical where there was no music, only amplified noise, I did enjoy it and get involved in the story. That is a tribute to the well written book and the excellent performances by a large cast of humans and two dogs (who steal every scene they appear in).

Elco Teacher Charged With Assault and Battery

On Monday morning April 27, 1964, a Myerstown policeman arrived at Eastern Lebanon County High School and arrested Ronald Lee Paine for assault and battery.

Ronald Paine

The charge stemmed from an incident that had occurred the previous Friday when the teacher allegedly struck 16-year-old eleventh grader Candace Christ once across the front of her leg and four times across the buttocks with a yardstick with the last four blows reportedly leaving welts.

Disclosure: I never knew Candace Christ or her parents, but her brother Jeff was in my high school class. Other than a very slight memory of the events, my only sources for this account are the newspaper articles published at the time. As to the incident that triggered the subsequent chain of events, we only have a he said, she said situation. I’ll publish all the newspaper reports at the end of this post. Candace’s last name is pronounced “crĭst” with a short “i” sound.

Oh, and another thing. In those days the use of corporal punishment was very common at Elco, at least among the male teachers. In fact, I had been the recipient of it myself a few times, one time even from Mr. Paine himself when I was in seventh grade. My infraction was talking when I shouldn’t have been. That time he used the paddle from a Paddle Ball set.

Candace’s parents called the school board president after the incident and also spoke to a school principal but weren’t satisfied with their responses. Ronald Paine himself called the parents on Friday evening and explained that their daughter was “antagonistic and doesn’t show any respect”, but again failed to satisfy them. That’s when they decided to take legal action.

Naturally the entire faculty threw their support behind fellow teacher Ronald Paine. One of the few memories I have of this time is a conversation I had with Mrs. Messerschmidt, who was acting librarian that year, in which she claimed that the community as a whole would probably support the teacher over the parents.

Over the next few days there were charges and counter-charges published in the Lebanon Daily News; there was even an anonymous letter to the editor from someone who claimed to have witnessed the incident.

The policeman found himself on the defensive and justified his arrest of the teacher during the middle of the school day as just following normal procedure. Meanwhile, he found himself in a dispute with the Justice of the Peace over whether the JP did or did not say the arrest warrant needed to be served “immediately”.

Finally, a hearing was held before the Myerstown Justice of the Peace Lester P. Frantz on Thursday May 7, 1964. Candace and her parents were present, and according to the newspaper account, District Attorney Alvin B. Lewis Jr. represented the commonwealth and was in effect the attorney for the Christ family. The 26-year-old Paine was represented by counsel L. E. Meyer.

Three additional Elco faculty members were present to lend support: Esther Papson (in the newspaper account she is referred to as Mrs. Christopher Papson), James Beard, and Earl Hess. Also present as observers were three justices of the peace from nearby communities.

Candace was the first to testify. She said she was in Paine’s English class on April 24 “when he kicked me out in the hall.” By “kicked me” she meant he ordered her out. She said he took her arm and “he gave me a push…not really hard.”

She and several other students had been laughing and Paine asked her what she was laughing about. She said, “I was laughing at the boy next to me.” She said that Paine said he wanted it quiet. So she asked him, “Why didn’t you give the others heck? — Why only me? The others were laughing.”

Then Paine ordered her to report to the office. She said she would if he would explain why. “Then he told me to stand against the wall in the hall.”

When she was going out the door, she asked why she was being punished, “and that’s when he got mad and went back and got the yardstick.” She was struck once across the front of her leg and four times across the buttocks. They did not speak to each other, and there were no witnesses in the hall.

She admitted that she and Paine “never did get along” and that this was not the first time he had sent her out into the hall for talking during class.

Under cross-examination by Meyer she admitted that she had been spanked at home.

Her father testified that the welts were “streaks of white, puffed and red around the edges.”

Her mother testified that during their telephone conversation Paine could not recall what Candace had said before he paddled her.

At the conclusion of their testimony District Attorney Alvin B. Lewis advised Justice of the Peace Lester P. Frantz to dismiss the charge against Ronald Paine because Paine “had not been guilty of malicious or excessive punishment” when he struck Candace Christ. A school teacher “has the same disciplinary rights under the state school code as has a parent.”

The newspaper account continued: “The D.A., in an aside remark, said that less sparing of the rod might result in less juvenile delinquency.” Yes, people, apparently the D.A. of Lebanon County actually said that.

Postscript: In 2005 Pennsylvania amended the school code to prohibit corporal punishment.

Lebanon Daily News April 28, 1964 — p 1

Lebanon Daily News April 28, 1964 — p 2

Lebanon Daily News April 29, 1964 — p 1

Lebanon Daily News April 29, 1964 — p 29

Lebanon Daily News April 30, 1964 — p 44

Lebanon Daily News May 1, 1964 — p 4

Lebanon Daily News May 1, 1964 — p 24

Lebanon Daily News May 6, 1964 — p 1

Lebanon Daily News May 6, 1964 — p 26

Lebanon Daily News May 8, 1964 — p 1

Lebanon Daily News May 8, 1964 — p 2

Mr. Ronald Paine

My first exposure to Mr. Ronald Paine as a teacher was in seventh grade, which was my last year attending the Richland school before the new high school consolidating the Eastern Lebanon County communities was built. That year he taught both English, for which he was qualified, and health, for which he was not.

Ronald Paine

I say he was not qualified to teach health because I’m not aware of any specific qualifications he may have had for the subject, and also because I now know that he passed along some quite inaccurate information. That he was required to teach the subject was not his fault, as the school didn’t have a very large faculty; that he passed along some bogus information was also probably not his fault because I think he was just reading it from the textbook that was supplied.

Skip ahead to my Junior year in high school, and once again he was my English teacher. He was also in charge of the Junior and Senior class plays, and in both years I managed to get only a relatively small part. But as the saying goes, there are no small parts, only small actors, so I shouldn’t complain, especially since the part I got in the Senior play was that of the narrator which had been taken by Fred Allen on Broadway and George Burns in the movie version, so there were some great laugh lines. I even got to double up as a reporter in a brief scene at the end of the first act where my reading of the line, “Yes, where did you spend the night?” always cracked up Pam Barry (who had the lead role) during rehearsals.

But I digress.

I have a number of little memories of Mr. Paine, but two main ones. The first occurred during an English class when he was writing something on the board as he was describing an assignment that he was about to give us. I’m not sure just what prompted it, but for some reason he was admitting that he did not assign us enough essays to write and that therefore we weren’t getting enough experience writing.

“You’ll curse us when you get to college,” he said.

From somewhere in the middle of the classroom came a voice, loud and clear: “We’re cursing you already!”

Mr. Paine stopped writing on the board. The classroom suddenly became eerily quiet. He turned around to see who had said that.

But I recognized the voice. It was Debbie Miller.

And for the next couple minutes Mr. Paine and Debbie Miller had a mini-debate about how he should be allocating his time teaching. I don’t recall exactly what was said, but I do remember that he mentioned that activities such as the Junior and Senior class plays ate up a lot of his time.

Ronald Lee Paine was born on 22 December 1937, the only child of Ethel Keener and Leroy Paine. That marriage apparently didn’t last very long, as the record shows that beginning in 1940 Ethel would bear the first of what would be six children with Charles Kreiser.

By the way, Ethel used to come to my mother’s beauty shop in Richland. She never passed along any tidbits about her son, but my mother repeated everything I ever said about Mr. Paine to her (which wasn’t too much or too embarrassing, thank goodness).

Sadly Ronald Paine died in 1998 at the age of 60, and according to his obituary at the time of his death he was an associate manager at Big Lots in Cleona.

The other memory I’m saving for its own blog post.

Mark Reed

Mark Reed was apparently quite a character.

He was my great uncle on my mother’s side, my grandmother Tillie (Reed) Zellers’ brother.

Philadelphia City Hall

And here’s the thing. I don’t know if I remember him or not, as he died when I was not quite three years old. They used to tell me that he would pick me up by my ears, and I have this very vague image of being in my grandparents’ middle room with a big man stooping over me and—picking me up by my ears. But maybe that’s an invented image based on being told what he used to do.

I also have a vague image of attending a viewing when I was very young. Based on the timing of his death, I would still have had my arm in a sling from my mishap with the washing machine wringer.

Mark C. Reed was born sometime in 1909 to Charles and Minnie (Coleman) Reed, the sixth of their eight children. The previous year Minnie had given birth to Mark Fredrick Reed, but he didn’t survive a year, so his first name was recycled, a not uncommon practice in those days of high infant mortality. [Update 22 August 2019: I’ve come to believe that there was no Mark Fredrick Reed and that Mark G. Reed (note the “G”) was actually born on 25 April 1908. Here is Mark G. Reed’s grave.]

I don’t have much information about Mark until sometime in the late 1940s when he invited my aunt and uncle Jane and Allen to live with him in his Philadelphia home as Allen worked his way through college and pharmacy school. Mark was an electric welder, and he helped get Allen a part time welding job, which also helped with their expenses.

This death notice from the Lebanon Daily News of April 2, 1952, incorrectly states that Mark Reed died in his home, when he actually died on the streets on Philadelphia

However, Mark’s wife’s increasingly erratic behavior made life uncomfortable for Jane and Allen, so they soon had to find their own place. Not long after that, Mark and his wife separated, and at some point he obtained a divorce.

On April 1, 1952, Mark Reed helped a woman get into the passenger side of his car. He shut the door and as he walked around the front of the car, he keeled over and died of a massive heart attack, right there on the street in Philadelphia.

Allen, being his closest relative, was summoned by the police to identify the body. When the police turned Mark’s body and personal effects over to the family, his wallet, which had contained several hundred dollars in cash, was empty. So corruption in the Philadelphia police department isn’t anything new.

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

Junior year (1965-66) in high school, Maryann Shelhamer and I were pretty good friends, and after school Maryann and I often called one another. If I didn’t call her, she would often call me.

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

In those days we had something called a telephone, a big black thing that sat on a small table in our hall. And here’s the thing. Unlike today’s cell phones, when it rang, it didn’t give any indication of who was calling.

So when the telephone rang that day, October 28, 1965, around 4:30 PM, I was pretty sure it was Maryann. When I picked up the receiver I was going to answer, “Hi, Maryann.”

But I must have been in a particularly good mood that day, and so without thinking, instead of speaking, I sang the opening line of a song from Hello, Dolly!

“Put on your Sunday clothes there’s lots of world out there!” I sang in my slightly off-key voice.

But it wasn’t Maryann. It was my uncle Curtis.

And he didn’t sound like his usual chipper self, in fact he was downright somber. I quickly found out why.

“Pop died today,” he said.

“Pop” being his father, and my father’s father, and thus my grandfather. If I didn’t feel two inches tall before, I certainly did now.

He gave me some more details, and I said I’d have my parents call when they got home.

My grandfather John Troutman (2 January 1895 - 28 October 1965)

My mother was the first to arrive. That’s when I made my second faux pas of the day.

She was barely in the door when I blurted out, “Pop died.”

And I realized by the look of shock on her face that she thought I meant her father. In our family “Pop” was the name by which all grandfathers were known. Still is.

I quickly added the context that I should have started with. “Curtis called.” And I gave her the details.

She told me to leave it to her to tell my dad.

A smart decision on her part.

It had been a good day for me. Two hard lessons well learned.

My Conducting Debut

I attended school in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, for first and second grades as we were still living on my grandfather’s farm just outside the borough in those days. My recollection is hazy, but I seem to recall that the school held two major events each year, one in the fall and one in the spring (May Day, I think), where all the classes participated.

I only have a relatively clear memory of one of them, which occurred during second grade, probably in the fall so this would have been in 1956. Our music teacher, Mrs. McLean, prepped everyone in our class with percussion instruments of one sort or another and rehearsed us to play them at designated points in sync with a musical selection that she had on a 78 rpm record (remember 78s?). Once she had us sufficiently rehearsed so that we knew our parts, she decided it was time to select a conductor.

Womelsdorf School

Several of us auditioned for the part, including me. I’m not sure why, but I recall it was extremely important to me that I should be selected. Maybe it was because my uncle Curtis was a music teacher and somehow I felt music ran in our family, I don’t know, but I really wanted to be the conductor.

There were maybe two or three other kids who tried out, and when I saw how they lamely tried to beat the time with the baton, I was sure I was a shoo-in. Because I knew I could do something they weren’t doing. My turn came, I did my thing, and I sat down, confident that the conducting position was mine.

Mrs. McLean turned to the class and asked them what they thought. There was some discussion, and then Mrs. McLean asked the pointed question that I had been hoping for, “What did James do that the others didn’t?”

The answer came quickly: “He pointed the baton at whoever had to play their instrument next.”

Yes!

While all the other applicants were just trying to beat out the time to the rhythm of the music, I was also cuing the musicians.

Needless to say, I got the job.

Well, the big night arrived, and we were all assembled on the stage in the auditorium with me standing in front of them with the baton in my hand my back to the audience waiting for the music to start. Off stage to my right was our teacher, Miss Wagner, standing at the record player about to drop the needle on the 78.

Then the music started and—

Oh no! Miss Wagner had put on the wrong side of the 78 so the wrong music was playing!

We all erupted in laughter. Miss Wagner was waving frantically at us from the wings, and we were making motions to her to turn over the record, which just led to more laughter. The audience must have been bemused. (The next day in class, Miss Wagner explained that she realized that she had put on the wrong side of the record, but she was trying to get us to settle down before switching it.)

Then I saw Mrs. McLean moving quickly behind the curtains at the back of the stage. She reached the record player, righted the record, and finally the correct music was playing.

From that point everything went smoothly, and there were no more snafus.

Later on in the car on the drive home, I mentioned to my mother how funny it was when Miss Wagner put on the wrong side of the record.

“You all acted like a pack of animals up there,” she said. “And you were the worst of all!”

Not exactly the response I was looking for.

Mr. Donald Troutman of Sinking Spring, PA

Our ninth grade algebra teacher at Elco was Mr. Donald Troutman, and according to Suzanne Berger, he was related to us, Suzanne having previously informed me that she and I were some sort of distant cousins.

Donald B Troutman in 1963

He turned out to be a pretty good teacher, I thought, as he often assigned projects that weren’t necessarily related to algebra, just so long as they had something to do with some branch of mathematics or at least numbers. I remember doing a chart on large numbers going from billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion (that would be a one followed by 21 zeros), etc. all the way up to a googol, which was a one followed by 100 zeros.

Mr. Troutman (I call him that because although we were allegedly related, I never knew him from any family gatherings, just as a teacher) only stayed at Elco for that one year. My recollection is a bit hazy after that, as I recall he kept in touch with some of the other students (perhaps Suzanne) and I received some second hand reports. I know he joined the Peace Corps and went to Africa for a year, and I recall hearing that a subsequent class of his at some other school got a kick out of my big number chart.

Then perhaps 10 years later I ran into him in Reading of all places. I recognized him, but I’m not sure if he knew who I was. And 10 years after that, I spied him right here on the streets of Philadelphia. Once again our conversation was brief, as I’m not sure if he recognized me or if he was just being polite.

And that was pretty much it. My sister tells me that the year after I graduated he returned to Elco, and she had him as an algebra teacher. She wasn’t as impressed with his teaching skills as I was, but then she never liked math the way I did.

Donald B. Troutman was born on November 10, 1940 in West Reading. He was the fifth and youngest child of Frederick Elias Troutman and Tillie S. Bickel. He was a 1958 graduate of Wilson High School and a 1963 graduate of Kutztown State College. So his first year of teaching was at Elco.

From what I can gather, he lived a good part of his life in Sinking Spring. And I have been able to figure out that he was my third cousin, although how or if he was related to Suzanne remains a mystery, as I have not yet been able to trace a connection between her and me.

On August 19, 2009, Donald B. Troutman died of natural causes in ManorCare, West Reading when he was 68 years old.

The family tree showing our connection. Notice in the rightmost column that John B Troutman and Susanna Moyer (highlighted) are shown twice. Their offspring, Elias Troutman and George Troutman are brothers. Their respective offspring, John Troutman and John Jacob Troutman, are cousins. They in turn beget Frederick Elias Troutman and Arthur James Troutman, who are second cousins. And finally, their sons are Donald and me, who are third cousins. Click the image to enlarge.

Mr. Curtis Troutman of Womelsdorf, PA

We moved to Richland, PA, in June, 1957, so in September I started attending Richland School in third grade. At that time third grade was divided between two classrooms, the division being accomplished by alphabetical order. As my last name began with a “T”, I was in Miss Margaret Klopp’s room along with (and I’m doing this from memory, so I might have a name or two wrong) Skeet Seldomridge, Richie Spitler, Johnnie Steinbach, Steve Weik, Bobby Weinhold, and Pam Barry.

Curtis Troutman circa 1945

The astute reader will at once notice two anomalies: that’s an extremely small class size and Pam Barry’s name isn’t near the end of the alphabet. Both are easily explained. In addition to teaching that fragment of the third grade, Miss Margaret Klopp also had the entire fourth grade class to teach that year. And Pam Barry was scrunched in with us because her mother, Mrs. Helen Barry, was the teacher of the other segment of third graders.

One day shortly after the school year began, our little band of third graders from Miss Klopp’s room was shepherded into Mrs. Helen Barry’s room where I was shocked to see my uncle Curtis standing in front of the blackboard. (If you need a refresher on my uncle Curtis, I wrote about him briefly in the post on my piano teachers.)

As my fellow third graders were being seated, Mrs. Barry turned to me and asked me to do the honors of introducing this man to the class. As I walked to the front of the room, she whispered in my ear, “Mr. Troutman!” It’s good she did or I almost certainly would have introduced him as Curtis!

I had realized by this time that Curtis was there in his capacity as a music teacher; I just hadn’t realized before this that he was going to be our music teacher. So I introduced him to the class as Mr. Troutman. (By the way, Mrs. Barry taught both third and second grades; I don’t recall if her second grade class was present for the music lesson or if they had been shuffled off to parts unknown.)

It’s odd, given that I’m accused of having such a good memory for those days, but I don’t recall very much about Curtis’s music classes. What I recall most (well, besides the flutophone that he taught some of us to play one year) is the yearly concerts that he organized, and thinking back, it must have involved some major organizational skills on his part. I am retroactively impressed.

The concerts involved several classes from grades four, five, and six, I think, from several different schools being rehearsed separately for months. Each grade got to sing a single part of the harmony, with, as I dimly recall, the youngest class singing the soprano or melody line, and each succeeding grade being given the corresponding lower harmony line, with the sixth graders getting the bass line. As I said this was all rehearsed separately for months, once a week during the regular music lesson, until just before the concert itself when finally all the classes from the surrounding schools would come together for a joint rehearsal. The logistics of rehearsing and organizing and trying to control a bunch of elementary school kids in an endeavor like that gives me the willies, and I don’t know how Curtis managed to pull it off year after year.

I only remember one of those concerts, the one when I was in fifth grade. Each of the songs that the amassed students performed was accompanied on the piano by a fellow student, with Curtis (or perhaps I really should refer to him as Mr. Troutman) doling out the responsibility to a suitably worthy student. That year I was given one number to play; I don’t know what it was, but it was probably something relatively simple such as a hymn with nothing but chords to play, as neither Curtis (my uncle) nor Mr. Troutman (our music teacher) had any illusions about my piano playing abilities.

Curtis Troutman circa 1952

All the other songs except one were assigned to two extremely talented pianists, a girl and a boy, who, being that they were from a different school, were completely unknown to me. And if I learned their names then, I quickly forgot them because I don’t think I knew them until years later when the schools combined as Eastern Lebanon County (Elco), and I got to know Steve Sattazahn and Cindy Keller.

The one other song, “Oklahoma!”, that was assigned to another student was taken by multi-talented sixth-grader Carolyn Sonnen. That was the first time I had ever heard that song, and it’s the only song that I specifically recall us singing. I can still remember the thrill of singing “Okla- Homa! Okla- Homa!” over and over as the soprano voices soared over the top with the melody in the final peroration. We gave a thoroughly rousing rendition, I’m certain.

There was only one problem. Multi-talented though Carolyn Sonnen may have been (in addition to the piano, she also played the flute), Mr. Troutman was not satisfied with her piano rendition of that song. At the last minute he decided that he would have to play the piano part himself, relegating her to page turner. She was humiliated by this turn of events, and I’m certain that seeing Steve and Cindy playing all those other songs just rubbed salt into the wound.

The next school day, she took her disappointment out on me, as it was well known that Mr. Troutman was my uncle, not, of course, that I could do anything about it. For my part, I didn’t think her playing had been disqualifying, but it wasn’t my opinion that mattered, and for the record, I don’t recall being particularly uncomfortable when she expressed her displeasure to me.

Curtis Calvin Troutman was born on April 24, 1929, the fourth and youngest son of John and Edna (Moyer) Troutman. I don’t have any details about his early life, but he received a degree in music from Lebanon Valley College and during the Korean War he was drafted and sent overseas. He must have spent some time in Japan (I don’t know if he was stationed there or just went there for R&R), because when he came home, he had a lot of Japanese items and knew some of the language (as did his sister Irene, but I’m not sure when she spent time there).

He taught me three words of Japanese (which much later I was able to verify with someone who knows Japanese, although Google translate does not seem to translate them in the same way), and although he never wrote them down (I couldn’t read at the time anyway), I’ll do my best to transliterate: “skoh-shee” meaning “small”; “kahks-ahn” meaning large; and “voh-kah-teh” meaning “understand”. The last one became the most important, as for some time after that, whenever he tried to explain something to me, he would conclude with “Voh-kah-teh?” to see if I had understood what he had said.

Curtis Troutman as organist at Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg

Somewhere around the time I was five, he made a tape recording of music from Chaikovsky’s Nutcracker (I don’t know if it was just the suite or if it included more of the music of the ballet) along with his narration of the story and tried to get me to listen to it. But I resisted. A story about a nutcracker just didn’t sound interesting to me. From the vantage of 65 years I think I can add another reason that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He was talking down to me, and I could feel that emotionally and I resented it, even if I couldn’t have put it into words at the time. It seems strange that he could have been so successful as a music teacher (and I think he was a good teacher), and yet couldn’t relate entirely successfully with his nephew.

There was one major downside to having Curtis as our music teacher during third through sixth grades, and that downside had a name: Mrs. Helen Barry. You see, not only was Mrs. Barry the second and third grade teacher, she was also Pam’s mother, and from time to time I’d encounter her in that capacity. And she and I would chat, usually just exchanging pleasantries, really about nothing important, but—

Absolutely anything that I said to Helen Barry would invariably make its way to Curtis who would immediately pass it on to my mother, usually entirely devoid of context. Need I remind you how even the most innocent remark when stripped of its context can take on the most embarrassing of connotations? And my mother always took things in the worst possible way. Actually, now that I think about it, this data transmission didn’t stop after I left sixth grade; Helen Barry was still passing info to Curtis and thus to my mom even during my high school years. You’d think I would have learned by then.

Curtis and his wife Arlene with my parents Arlene and Tuffy circa 2002

Curtis remained living with his parents on the farm until they sold it around 1964, I think. In fact, he was quite active on the farm; I remember during the auctioning of the livestock when the farm was sold, he played a very active role.

He continued to live with his parents when they moved into Womelsdorf until they died in 1965 and 66. Shortly after that he married a woman named Arlene Boltz; so not only was my mother named Arlene, but so was one of my aunts.

They lived in Lebanon, and after that I only had sporadic contact with him, chiefly at funerals or my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Curtis was organist and/or music director at a number of churches in the area, including Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg.

His wife Arlene passed away in 2012, and Curtis died on October 27, 2015, at the Lebanon Valley Home in Annville.

Paper Scissors Rock

Sometime during my second year at Penn State, probably during spring term but I’m not really certain, I took a poetry writing course.

“What’s that?” I hear you say. “Why did you take a poetry writing course? I thought you didn’t like poetry.”

That’s true. I’m not particularly a fan of poetry, and I have absolutely no recollection of why I took that course. I didn’t have any aspirations to write poetry, no one else that I knew was taking the course, I don’t think it had a reputation as an easy grade. So it’s a big mystery as to why I found myself in a poetry writing course.

I’m sure I had a good reason, though.

Yeah, right.

As it happens, I don’t recall very much about that course. At our first class we were greeted by a substitute teacher who told us he was a drug addict. Recovering, but once a druggie always a druggie, as the saying goes. He went on to extol the virtues of cocaine, explaining that the greatest high he had ever experienced was from cocaine. Apparently he had had a wide experience.

That out of the way, I seem to recall he was a pretty decent instructor.

It was a small class, probably there were fewer than ten of us, and each week (I think we only met weekly), we’d read aloud whatever poem we had written, and the class and the instructor would offer constructive criticism.

My first offering was met with withering disdain. Which was all right because it was just something I had dashed off in order to submit something, anything, since I didn’t think I had any aptitude for writing poetry.

Remind me again why I was taking this course?

It occurs to me now that I should have submitted that “You’ll Drown” piece, but I suspect I had already forgotten about it.

Somewhere along the line I got the, well, inspiration seems too strong a word, but I got the idea to do a riff on the song “Paper Cup”. Written by Jim Webb (in the days before he definitively became Jimmy Webb), it was included on The Magic Garden, the second album released by The 5th Dimension (one of the many featuring Hal Blaine on drums).

That album was a concept album in that the songs told the story of a romance from first meeting to its bitter ending. “Paper Cup”, the concluding song (except for a brief epilogue), told of the jilted lover’s life inside a metaphorical paper cup and his descent into nihilism.

“I’m free and it’s so easy to get / The things I always wanted / Cause I don’t really want ’em anymore.”

But the despairing lyrics were sheathed in an upbeat, bouncy tune.

So I took that idea and added the concept of the old hand game, Rock Paper Scissors, and suddenly I had a poem. When I submitted it that week, everyone seemed to like it, or at least get it. Even the instructor commented that it had a “nice pop song feel to it.” And that was before one of the other students asked where I got the idea, which I explained pretty much as I just did above.

I don’t know how many other poems I may have submitted in that course, but this is the only one that I remember. I also don’t know what my grade was, but I probably passed.

Somewhere in all the papers that I’ve saved, I’m sure I have the original manuscript, but the poem is short enough that I can recall it, so here it is.

Paper Scissors Rock

They poured him and poured him
Till he flowed into a paper cup,
Never knowing which way his luck would spin.
And so he lived paperly,
And loved paperly,
But loathed with a pair of silver scissors.
And they—they looked on from atop their Plymouths and Gibralters.