Author Archives: Chip Dahlke

Charles Wright Elementary School, 1960: Spelling Bees, Rozanne and Mrs. Lamb

Somewhere back in history someone felt it was a good idea to combine our two small towns together for the purpose of educating our offspring. Apparently we didn’t have enough things to talk about, so Region 18 was created to let us fight over the school budget . Not only do we get to go around about what we’re going to spend, but we get to get all heated up about who’s paying their fair share. It all makes for interesting conversation during the winter months when there’s not a lot of anything else going on. But once spring arrives and we need to move on to other things, decisions are made and everyone forgets about the school budget until the next year when we start the process all over again.

This year the school board upped the ante a little bit by inserting into the discussion the concept of “redistricting.” I tried to follow everything for awhile, but it became much too complicated for me. As far as I can understand, the school board had some new projections on student population that were supposedly more accurate than older projections that hadn’t turned out as planned. The result is that a lot of kids will have to be reshuffled into different schools for some reason that still escapes me.  As far as I can tell, no projection has ever turned out as planned. Maybe a first step in the right direction is simply to stop looking at projections.

I knew all this commotion was about saving money, so I suggested to a school board member that if they were really looking for cost savings, they should come at this from a different direction. My thought was that the towns do away with second grade. There’s nothing you learn in second grade that can’t be tacked on the end of first grade or the beginning of third. That’s just the way it is.

Nothing much happened to me in second grade. I bet you don’t remember much happening in second grade either. It’s just a filler year between barely being potty trained and getting your cursive writing down pat. In today’s society, you really don’t even need to know cursive writing except for signing your name on a driver’s license. Learning to write cursive is six months of wasted schooling.

When I was growing up outside of Hartford, I went to the Charles Wright Elementary School. Charles Wright was a famous botanist. Since neither you nor I particularly care who Charles Wright was, let’s just move on. My second grade teacher was named Mrs. Lamb. I don’t think she had a first name.

Mrs. Lamb was an institution at the school. This is a kind way of saying that she had been there forever. Do you know how some old married couples start to look like each other? Well I thought Mrs. Lamb was starting to look like her desk.

When all the kids arrived in the morning, the first order of business was the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Both of them were very important to my formative years, but I always thought that “duck and cover” and everyone’s favorite-the fire drill, should have been added as a daily regimen. In order, these taught us that, A.)There is a God in Heaven, B.) We are patriotic Americans that have God on our side, C.) There are atheist Communists that are bent on dropping atom bombs on us simply because we are patriotic Americans with God on our side, and D.) If the janitor throws oil soaked rags into the school incinerator, we will be able to find our way out of the building before becoming horribly disfigured by the ensuing fire.

I’ve told you before that I grew up in a Beaver Cleaver world. I still see nothing wrong with that.

I know that the Lord’s Prayer can’t be recited in public schools anymore and I can understand why. With the United States being the melting pot it is, once you open the door to the Lord’s Prayer, you invite every religion to have equal time.  Before you know it, you will have kids erecting stupas on the playground, pulling out prayer mats during math tests, and sacrificing chickens in the gym.  We just can’t accommodate all this religious freedom.

We did a lot of spelling in second grade. I was the best boy speller in our class. A girl named Rozanne was the best female speller. When the class had spelling bees, Rozanne and I would be the last two standing. All the boys were rooting for me and all the girls were rooting for Rozanne. Sometimes I won and sometimes she won. We competed like this all through grade school. Once in fifth grade I beat Rozanne  in a contest naming the Capitals of South American countries. My prize was a map of South American that I taped to my bedroom wall.

Where I came up the big loser was in music. Rozanne really knew how to play the piano. Sometimes Mrs. Lamb would invite the third grade class over just to hear her play.

The third grade teacher was named Mrs. Dunn. She was about the same age as Mrs. Lamb which is to say pretty close to retirement. Both teachers liked their hair up in a bun and wore long sleeve blouses with little powdered hankies tucked into the sleeve. When Rozanne was banging out Beethoven on the upright, Mrs. Lamb and Mrs. Dunn would pull out the hankies and give them a little sniff. Most kids thought the hankies were dusted with some kind of scented powder.  Looking back, I think they full of cocaine. I think Mrs. Lamb and Mrs. Dunn just liked to cop a good buzz once in awhile.

When we graduated from elementary school, Rozanne went off to a Catholic school and I moved up to the public Junior High.  I never had a real conversation with Rozanne all during grade school, but I knew she was Catholic from early on. That’s because she always ended the Lord’s Prayer early. I never could figure out why Catholic kids couldn’t memorize the rest of the prayer.  It wasn’t for lack of intelligence. Rozanne was one of the smartest kids in the whole school. Maybe it was because the Catholics had to cram more things into an hour of church than the Protestants did. The one time I went to Catholic Church they kept on ringing bells and swinging incense around. The guy up front had this big hat on and talked in Latin. I’m sure that no one in church had a clue about what he was saying. For all I know he was reciting a recipe for pasta fazool.

I don’t mean to go on and on about the Lord’s Prayer, but we did have one girl in the class that ended the prayer after everyone else.  Instead of just saying,”…and the power and glory forever, Amen,” she added “forever and ever, Amen.”  I thought that was pretty redundant. Forever, itself, seems to cover all eternity. Later on in life I learned she was Episcopalian. Now it all makes sense to me. Episcopalians want to be different. They don’t want to be Catholics, they don’t want to be Protestants. They just want to be different.  That’s why they want a Lord’s Prayer that’s different from everyone else too.

So that’s my story about second grade. A lot of things have changed since then. I heard that when Rozanne grew up she became a doctor. Unless Mrs. Lamb has lived to be over a hundred years old, she’s probably been transferred to the great elementary school in the sky and my days of winning spelling bees are long since passed. On the other hand, Charles Wright School is still standing and educating our youngsters.  That’s the way things are. Some things change and some things remain the same.

In retrospect, maybe I did learn a little in second grade. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to simply wipe it off the charts.  Maybe we should just do away with cursive writing and leave it at that.

Chip Dahlke spends a lot of time thinking about how we can better our education system and is a member of the church.

Delaware, Ohio 1973: The Liberty Club, the Tin Man, and Chicken

by Chip Dahlke

In my senior year of college a couple of friends and I lived in the black section of town. We called it “The Ghetto.” I don’t think anyone else who lived there called it by that name. If you asked folks from that part of town where they lived, they’d say something like, “17 Noble Street.” My friends and I would simply answer, “The Ghetto.” Being a bunch of white boys, I guess we thought we were pretty cool.

The house wasn’t much, but it was better than the dorms, fraternity houses, or the sterile apartments where all the flirty sorority girls lived. To get out the back door, you had to go through the bathroom. To get out the front door you had to go through a bedroom. The structure itself was pretty flimsy. If we were little piggies and a big bad wolf had come along, he could have blown the house down.

Most of our furniture came from the Salvation Army. We did have a black and white television and a telephone. Someone knew had to hook up the phone without paying for the service. I hope the statutes of limitation have run out.

Two blocks from us was a neighborhood bar called the Liberty Club. It was owned by a big black man named Duck. Duck drove a Cadillac and carried a gun. My friends and I treated the Liberty Club as a second home. At first, we were scared to go in, but once we did, and the regulars decided not to beat us up, we became regulars, too. For fifty five cents you could get a shot of bourbon with a beer chaser and a hardboiled egg. The whole combination was called a “chicken dinner.” If you had four dollars with you, you could treat yourself to a pretty good time.

The 2nd Baptist Church was just down the street from the Liberty Club. At some point in its history it had been painted white. At 10am on Sunday mornings, a parade of black women got dropped off by their men in front of the church. For the next two hours the women would hoot and holler and praise Jesus and carry on something fierce. In between all the hooting and praising, they’d sing hymns. The old church organ seemed to really work them into a frenzy. Sometimes you could look in the church windows and see them singing and swaying until you thought they’d lose their balance and fall all over each other.

The minister was a skinny little light-skinned man whose voice sounded just like tin. When you heard him speak it was like listening to an old radio broadcast. When he got on his game he’d start jumping all around and the organ would be pumping and like I said, the ladies would just all go crazy.

Sometimes during the week you’d see the preacher at Banks’ Market buying groceries. In among the eggs and his country sausage was always a bottle of Listerine. Even today when I see a bottle of Listerine, I think of that skinny little man and how he got all those ladies all riled up every Sunday. I wish I had that power over women. I guess it’s just one more thing not meant to be.

Duck wasn’t supposed to open up the bar before noon on Sunday’s, so he started the “Liberty Social Club” that allowed him to have a “private club” on Sabbath morning. You paid a dollar to get in, but the first drink was free. After depositing their women at church, all the black men drove to the club, found their favorite seat and killed time before going back to pick up their cargo at noon. They were all dressed up like they were going to church, but I knew the only place they’d end up on Sunday morning was on a bar stool drinking beer and eating the chicken wings in gravy that Duck’s mother always fried up in the little kitchen out back.

Now once everyone was all settled in, sort of a group conversation started up. We’d usually talk about nothing special. Like everywhere else there were the joys and concerns of everyday living. A concern was if you knew someone who had come down with the cancer and a joy was if your nephew was being discharged from the army without having been killed in Southeast Asia.

“Praise the Lord,” a proud uncle would say, “Home without being killed by a gook. “

“Amen,” we’d all respond before dropping off into silence. Sometimes it took a minute or two before anyone spoke. Things being the way they were, I know that a lot of the members of the younger generation were praying we’d never have the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia much less being killed by a gook.

If one of us had a dime, the jukebox would kick out a popular song. A favorite was, “River Deep Mountain High” sung by Tina Turner. Everyone got revved up over Tina, but after the song was over we’d all just go back and forth for awhile in a quiet way. At some point Duck would come over and lecture everyone about whatever was on his mind. Like I said, he was big and carried a gun, so we all let him go on and on. After a time Duck’s head would run out of thoughts and someone would put another dime in the jukebox. That’s pretty much how it went week after week.

Not going to church was a badge of honor. According to my fellow social club members, the only men who went to church were those who had been caught in a “predicament”. A “predicament” meant you had been found out by your missus or girlfriend fooling around with a little something down in Columbus. Your penance for this indiscretion was doing some time with the Baptists. Your sentence could be as little as six months, but there was talk of a couple of poor souls locked up for years. After being properly cleansed of your sin you were released back into the general populace. Everyone agreed that listening to the tin man week after week cured you of ever wanting to go into Columbus again.

I should stop here and tell you that I don’t mean to imply that my Sunday morning companions weren’t God fearing men. They feared God almost as much as they feared being caught with their pants down in Columbus. I’m pretty sure that some of them prayed that if they were caught, God would throw down a bolt of lightning and send them to the hereafter rather than have them face the trouble waiting at home. Knowing the size of some of the women, you couldn’t blame them at all.

At quarter to twelve Duck rang this big bell to warn everyone they had fifteen minutes to get their coats on and be back up the street to wait for the Baptist church to get out.  A waitress went around and collected everyone’s money. Duck stood by the door and wished each of his patrons a good week, shaking hands and watching the little groups of the congregation leaving the darkness of the bar for the brightness of the day.

After the place cleared out, Duck sometimes came over to us white boys with a big plate of chicken and some bread. He’d sit down next to us and pour us all a glass of cheap red wine and we’d eat, drink and sop up the gravy until there was nothing left but a pile of greasy bones.

Chip Dahlke still eats a lot of chicken and is a member of the church.

Hyannis 1971: The Cave, Rainy Days and Rose Kennedy

by Chip Dahlke

In the summer of 1971 I spent some time on Cape Cod wandering the streets of Hyannis, Massachusetts. It was a different time back then. We really were a divided country. Nixon, Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle- no wonder we all needed summer vacations. Weekly tourists who had budgeted for their vacations had to mix with the penniless, disreputable long hairs. The folks with summer homes tried to ignore everyone but themselves, and the locals I’m sure looked on both groups with dismay. Cape Cod itself just absorbed us all in. Who we were didn’t matter much to the salt water and sand dunes.

There was a church on Main Street in Hyannis. I remember it to be Baptist. I don’t know much about Baptists except they’re always trying to half drown themselves wherever there is water waist deep. I’m told that Baptism is done for adults when they become believers. None of this holy water on an infant’s forehead stuff. I’m sure I’m wrong, but I always thought that you were baptized as a baby because if anything happened you wouldn’t spend eternity stuck in an elevator between heaven and hell. What I know about religious concepts is about what I know about the inner workings of the government of China- in other words, not much.

The church was right in the middle of the downtown strip. The souvenir shops, bars, motels, and a miniature golf course crowded around it. There was a Howard Johnson’s almost next door to it. Next to Hojos was a candy shop that sold salt water taffy to the tourists. At least that’s how I remember it. On Friday nights Howard Johnson’s had an all you could eat fish fry for $4.99. I ate a lot of breaded fish that summer. I don’t remember having any taffy.

In the basement of the Baptist church was a coffeehouse called “The Cave”. I was the unpaid assistant manager. Inhabitants of the counterculture gathered there at night. Mixed in a recipe of coffee, reefer, cigarettes, snuck in beer and wine, patchouli, and sweat, the groupings of hippies, hitchhikers, runaways, and other fringe elements of society ate donated popcorn and snacks and listened to what free entertainment was on stage for the night.

My favorite muse was a girl named Melissa. She played piano and guitar and sang beautiful Joni Mitchell songs. Melissa supported herself with any money gathered from an old top hat we passed around. When she basked in the glow of our tiny spotlight she looked and sounded like an angel.

I slept last night in a good hotel

I went shopping today for jewels…

A number of Cave patrons were just passing through town. Many were on their way to the more exotic destinations of Truro or P-Town, but had only made it to Hyannis before night fell. They needed a place to crash, so it was my job at the end of each set to get up on the makeshift stage and ask if anyone had a place for these travelers to sleep. A bed was a luxury, a space on a floor was dry. A back porch would do. No one had the money for a motel or tourist cabin. All they wanted was to get out of the dampness of the Cape night air. If we couldn’t find someone a place for the night, I told them they could roll out a sleeping bag in the little cemetery behind the church or find their way upstairs to a hard pew. A few of them did.

The Kennedy’s had lots of money and lived in their compound in Hyannis Port. Once I saw Rose Kennedy getting dropped off by a black car to attend mass at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Hyannis. A two day storm was moving through and Rose had a light coat and hat on. A bald black man held an umbrella over her head as she entered the church and I thought, “There’s goes a woman who has buried three sons and she still has her faith.” I wondered if she kept it all there under her hat.

After mass, I’m sure she was picked up and driven to her big white house. I imagine she entered her house and removed her coat and hat. Maybe someone would bring her tea and she’d sit alone by a window watching it rain.

As far as I could tell, everyone on the Cape loved Rose Kennedy. Democrats, Republicans, rich people, poor people- they all loved Rose. She should have been made a saint. She probably had a hundred miracles, all of them revolving around the fact that she hadn’t murdered her husband Joe for all his foolishness.

When it rained, all the tourists were driven from the beaches. With time on their hands many found the address of the Kennedy Compound and would slowly drive by hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous family. With rolled down windows and rain drizzling in on the faces of the children, the Mom would whisper, “That’s where the Kennedys live. They’re very rich. John Kennedy grew up there. You’re too young to remember, but, he was our President. He was murdered in Texas. He gave his life for our country.”

I wonder if Rose Kennedy looked out her window to see them driving by or if she simply stared out to sea and wished it would stop raining so her grandchildren could go outside and play.

Later as the rainy day turned to rainy night, the Cave filled with that marvelous generation of Aquarius. And just as Melissa finished her last set, I rose like every other night to ask who had a bed for the travelers just passing through.

I meant to go over and ask for a song

Maybe put on a harmony

I heard his refrain

As the signal changed

He was playing real good, for free.

Chip Dahlke writes real good, for free and is a member of the church.

Steeples, Sunday School and Catholic Girls

by Chip Dahlke

I grew up in a large suburban town just south of Hartford, Connecticut. I had a happy childhood. I realize that a happy childhood isn’t in vogue these days. If I’m ever arrested as a serial murderer I won’t be able to fall back on the fact that I was locked in a closest for five years and beaten each day within an inch of my life. Sometimes you just have to go with what actually was instead of an alibi that could spare you from lethal injection. Maybe it’s that lack of excuse that’s deterred me from becoming a hardened criminal.

Back in the late 50’s early 60’s, most kids I knew went to Sunday school. The Catholic kids also had to do time on Saturday morning. They were more involved with sin than us Protestant kids. Each week they had to tell a Priest that they had fried a bug with a magnifying glass. The rest of us just fried bugs in the sun and thought nothing more about it. I had no idea what Jewish kids did or thought. I didn’t know any until I was in seventh grade and by that time I was more interested in getting a start on my social life. My only concern about religion was the chance of marrying a Catholic girl. If that happened, I knew that the kids had to be raised Catholic. This was a problem because I wanted my future kids to have their Saturday mornings free.

The church my family went to was in the old historic part of town. It was a large  brick structure  with a wooden white steeple. It was the highest steeple in town. If you crossed the river and went hiking through the hills of the adjoining town, you could still see that steeple sticking up above the treetops. It made you think that you could never get lost in those hills. There was always the steeple and that meant the way home. Many a day I hiked through the hills with nothing more than my jack knife, a book of matches, a compass, and a knowledge of where the steeple lay. Except that my parents were dealing with a man who was going to build a bomb shelter in our backyard, I felt safe and secure.

Attached to the church was a big brick building that housed the church offices, the Sunday School and something everyone called “Fellowship Hall.” Sometimes I went to “Fellowship Hall” with my parents for a potluck dinner and lecture on the Holy Land complete with 35mm slides taken by a lucky church member who had just returned from their “journey of a lifetime.”

I spent most of my church days in the Sunday School. At Sunday School we would color in pictures of Jesus talking to children.  In these pictures there was always a bird resting on Jesus’ shoulder. He always wore long flowing robes and sat on a stone. The children were gathered at his feet. I imagined that he was telling them Bible stories like why you should obey your parents, not chew gum in church and to stay away from Catholic girls unless you wanted your children raised by the Pope. I always colored in Jesus’ beard as brown. All of us kids realized that he didn’t live long enough to have his beard turn gray.

Steve Burt says a lot of brick buildings like the one at my old church were built during the 1950’s. Church going was big back then. Going to church meant you weren’t a communist and Joe McCarthy wasn’t going to put you on his list. I don’t think this in itself was a major concern of my parents. Along with my brother and sister, I was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Senator McCarthy’s hometown.  I was a homie to him. You don’t mess with homies. Steve also claims that because of WWII, women became empowered and needed to express this after the troops came home. As an outlet many turned to teaching Sunday School. During the war, my mother had been a Marine and not only did she teach Sunday school, but ordered my father to teach as well.

World War II had another impact on the church. A man named Anton lived on the church grounds with his family. My parents told me that Anton and his wife were DP’s or Displaced Persons. They had fled their home in Europe when the Nazis had invaded their country and the church brought them to America. In the United States they had a son and named him Peter. Peter was my age and friend of mine. We grew up together. We went to the same school and played on the same teams. Peter spoke only English and was outgoing. His parents spoke little English and kept to themselves. I never saw the parents outside the church grounds. It was evident though that Peter was their pride and joy. He was their access to the outside world and the future that had been ripped away from their own lives.

Some things aren’t meant to be. Peter died in his twenties. It wasn’t like some other friends who had been removed from this earth by Vietnam, drowning, drugs or a car accident. Peter simply got sick and died. Shortly thereafter, his parents moved out of town. I don’t know where they went or what became of them. Eventually, the church tore down their little house and made a parking lot.

I don’t go to church all that often nowadays, but when I do, I sometimes think of Peter. I stare out the window and think of what Peter would have become. Maybe I’m just thinking of what I have become.

The church I attend now is a lot smaller than the one I went to as a kid. My wife, a fallen Catholic, goes a lot more often than I do. The church doesn’t have a particularly tall steeple. I’ve come to realize it doesn’t really need one. For the group of us that go there it still shows the way home.

Chip Dahlke is the owner of Ashlawn Farm in Lyme, CT and a member of the church.

This post is part of our “Ramblings from a Country Church” series where members of our congregation contribute freely with their thoughts about life, in and out of church.