Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Lachappelle’

I updated my End of the Beginning post and somehow none of it was saved, so, try, try again. The title comes from a song by my good friend and talented singer/songwriter John Flynn : http://johnflynn.net  You can hear the song there.

The lovely and talented John Flynn

The songs resonates with me because I realize there are far more years behind me than there are ahead. I have lost one parent:

Sterling L. Hornsby Sept. 27, 1920-Dec. 24, 2009

My mother is 90 and a half, and I don’t think it will be long before I become a motherless child:

Velma Ruth Stewart Hornsby, April 2, 1921-

Mother and Dad lived for 40 years in the old house where they watched 3 generations grow up:

family on the porch

grandchildren, great-grandchildren, even great-great grandchildren:


Jan. 2010 DFW Cemetery

The time came when Mother could no longer stay in that old house:

Our experiment with sending her to live in a fancy “assisted living” facility didn’t work out. After a mistake with her medication that almost killed her, my sister Gwen took Mother home with her.

Mother's lonely new home

So now I find myself at the beginning of the end, although I hope it’ll be a long time before I get there. John’s song says “The journey of a single step can begin with a thousand miles.” Here was where I started:

Shirley Jean Hornsby Sept. 1946

I grew up, went to college, got married:

Sept. 2, 1967

We had kids:

Baylor and Mom Oct. 1971

Jeff and Mom, Bangkok, July 1973

Then we had some grandkids:

Ashley b. Sept. 1, 1994

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

We got divorced, but later became friends again. I had some adventures, did a lot of traveling, met some interesting people and some great friends, mostly because of Arlo Guthrie:

Shirley, Arlo & Annie Aug. 1989

"Matterhorn" in Okemah, Ok.

Guthrie Center Fall Revival - Blunderites all

Guthrie Center 1996

John Flynn and the Flynettes, Okemah WoodyFest

To quote John again, I’m thankful “for old friends you can count on, even though their ranks are thinning.”

Alasdair and Shirley, Macchu Picchu. Miss you always

Dennis Lachappelle, best bus driver and best friend anyone could ever ask for.

Goodbye, old friend

There are others I dearly miss: dear, sweet Jack Dultz, Gay, who will always be sitting at the front table at the church, Gerry Harper – your daughter grew up to be as wonderful as you were, sweetheart. So many friends and loved ones gone but never forgotten.

Our sons grew up:

Baylor and Jeff

Our granddaughters are teenagers!

So, what happens next? I need to work on that Bucket list – maybe finish the mystery I started writing many moons ago. I have continued to write and get published – here’s the launch of the latest anthology from the Final Twist, Oct. 2011:

Shirley at Murder by the Book

Chorus of The End of the Beginning” “Oh, the journey you make, from the first breath you take, to your last dying day, the mystery will take your breath away …”

Kris Kristofferson, who accompanies John on this song, has a song with a similar line:

From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse, the going up was worth the comin’ down. I do believe he’s right. Journey on …


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I just spent several days in western Massachusetts with some of my dearest friends, hanging out, catching up, and attending 3 mighty fine concerts in the Alice’s Restaurant Church, now known as the Guthrie Center. We were the test audience for the 9 month tour that starts in a day or two – the Guthries Ride Again. Last time Arlo hit the road with the wife and kids, his youngest, Sarah Lee, was a little girl. Now she’s all grown up and has two little ones of her own. So does big brother Abe and sister Annie. Cathy has one little girl, but I have a feeling the Guthrie clan isn’t finished yet. All of them, along with “adopted” drummer Terry a la Berry Hall-Guthrie, will be doing shows all across the country, so be sure to see them if they come to your town.

As part of our attempt to have mini-20th anniversary of meeting each other in the Alps reunions as possible (does this sentence make sense?) Judy B. and I posed in front of the church with Sherry Hochman Bouldt. Sherry was a kid back then, and she dragged herself out of a hospital bed to make the trip. Her mom Joyce and Grandma Pauline came too. We all fell in love with Grandma and she let us be her grandkids too.  Here’s Sherry, Judy, and me, photo by Jay Rury:

Sherry, Judy and Shirley at Guthrie Center Oct. 2009

Sherry, Judy and Shirley at Guthrie Center Oct. 2009

On Friday, Arlo couldn’t make the show because he’d hurt his back. People were offered a refund, but only a few took it. The rest of us enjoyed a wonderful show put on by the Guthrie kids & grandkids – even the littlest one, Sophia, got into the act – in fact, she stole the show. Arlo and Jackie’s littlest, cutest kid, Sarah Lee, took her dad’s role in keeping things more or less together, and a fine job she did! There were too many special moments to include, but here’s a few: The 3 Guthrie sisters singing an old Leadbelly song, “Bring me ‘little water, Sylvie,” Abe’s son Krishna, whom I’ve seen grow up, doing some terrific guitar solos, Cathy Guthrie, who looks like an angel, singing one of the songs from her Folk Uke album (Willy Nelson’s daughter is the other half of the duo, and the songs are not … hmmm … well, there’s adult content and language) – “Sh-t makes the flowers grow” – and the antics of the little ones … Annie’s daughter Jacklyn and Sara’s oldest, Olivia, did a song called “Cousins” and Sophia sang along on “Don’t I fit in my Daddy’s shoes.”

We laughed, we cried, we had fun. The 2nd night, Arlo was able to come on for half the show, walking with the help of a walking stick. You had to look really close to see that he was not feeling quit his best – he’s a trooper and a pro.  The third night, some of the twinkle was back in his eyes, and when it came time to end the show, he sang one encore, and we got ready to leave, then darn if he didn’t start singing another – “This little light of mine” – and then another.  He was smiling when he said goodbye to those of  us still lingering after the crowd was gone. So were we.

Deb Fitzgerald brought a video of her wedding to Arlo’s bus driver for many years, Dennis, who was a dear friend to all of us. We gathered in Sue Schier’s (the flower lady) room and watched it. They were married last summer. Dennis, who worked for the state during the winter, was working 24/7 to clear the roads during a bad blizzard in December, and his big heart just gave out. They did have some years together before they finally married, and I’d never seen him happier. She told us how she would only agree to marry him if Arlo performed the service (he is licensed to do so, but rarely does), and if they could get married in the Guthrie Center church, and that’s what they did. Arlo wore a Hawaiian shirt … As we watched, we laughed, we cried, we had fun. That was the theme for the time we spent together.

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Nothing is inevitable, as they say, except death and taxes. We all pay our taxes to support our democratic government, right? Well, apparently everyone may get taxed, but if you’re high enough above the huddled masses you may get away with not paying them – unless you get picked for a top government post.

Enough of politics, what I really came here to talk about is the one part of life that IS inevitable – death comes to us all. One drawback to getting older is that many of our friends and loved ones, as Kinky Friedman so poetically puts it, start “stepping on a rainbow.” I’m not for sure about what happens to them after that, but I’d like to think they go to a very nice place and reunite with everyone they’ve ever loved, including their dogs and cats and other assorted pets, except snakes. I HATE snakes. And all the pain and all the regret and all the unfinished business they had on earth will be forgotten.

Why this gloomy topic, you ask? Let me tell you — In the last 2 months I lost two people who were very dear to me, and I’ve been wondering where they are now and if they’re okay. They were two very different people, but they were both part of my family – one by birth and one by choice.

I met Dennis Lachappelle almost 20 years ago in an Indian restaurant in NYC. A group of people who were mostly strangers to each other had gone to Europe with Arlo Guthrie, who wanted to avoid the hype and commercialism of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, and we were having a reunion at Arlo’s Thanksgiving show at Carnegie Hall. Arlo treated us all to dinner after the show, and I saw Dennis sitting by himself, looking kinda lonely and shy. That’s the last time I’d ever think of him as shy. He was Arlo’s bus driver for many years, and he and some of the people from the trip and people we met later at Arlo gigs truly did become family – complete with feuds and fusses like all families, but with lots of love too. At one of Arlo’s October concerts at the old church in Great Barrington, he said that a lot of people in the audience had started out coming to the concerts to see him, but now we came to see each other and he was secondary to our get togethers. He was right.

Dennis was a part of our family, even after he stopped driving the big red bus and started working for the state, driving snowplows in the winter. He always had a big smile and a bear hug for us; he rarely got angry, and when he did, he exploded for a brief moment, then got over it in an even briefer moment. He’d always wanted a family, and children, and he finally got that wish a few years ago when Deb “Fitzi” Fitzgerald came into his life. They were married at the old church last summer, with Arlo performing the ceremony. It should have been the beginning of a beautiful life – they should have had many more years together – but one evening in early December, after driving the snowplow almost 24/7 for days, he called his boss and said he wasn’t feeling too well. He never made it home – a co-worker found his truck at the side of the road, and called for an ambulance. Dennis died in the hospital, his big heart worn out trying to help others. He was that kind of guy.

Mary Hart, my first cousin, was a gentle soul, quiet but determined and resourceful. Her mother was many years older than mine, and she was 13 years older then me, so I didn’t know her as well as the cousins more my age, but when I started getting interested in our family genealogy she was right there to offer me all the help I could ask for. She’d worked in big cities, Dallas & Houston, until they just got too big for her, and she returned to our hometown, Comanche, Texas. She started helping out at the library, and before too long she had become a vital member of the staff. About a year ago, after feeling bad for a long time – she never liked to make a fuss – she went to the doctor and found out she had advanced lung cancer – no, she wasn’t a smoker. She called her brother to get her house ready to sell, put all her affairs in order- that was easy, she was always orderly, and checked into the hospital. She went into hospice care a few months later. When we visited her, she was matter of fact, upbeat, ready to go, and made us promise there would be no funeral, no memorial service, no hoopla after she was gone.

I’ve become friends with the Comanche librarian, Margaret Waring, who loved Mary like a sister. She said Mary left a note for her friends and family that said:

“Message from Mary: I love you all, AND NOW I FLY!”

When I started this post, I didn’t realize I might be closer to taking flight than I’d thought I was. My doctor had some tests run, and it seems I have a heart problem. It’s something that can be managed and treated without any drastic measures, but still …

Songs about flying:

I’ll fly away

Don Conoscenti – go to the right side & click on The Other Side:


Poems about flying:

High Flight

By Pilot Officer John G. Magee Jr.

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings …

Goodbye, dear Dennis, sweet Mary, I hope you are flying high now. As Arlo Guthrie’s song goes, My old friend, I’ll see you again … now you’re just around the bend, my old friend

And I will see all those dear to me … when it’s time for me to take wing and join them

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