I suppose I was predestined to become a Harry Chapin fan from the moment I first heard “Corey’s Coming” at the age of three, and heard Harry singing my name (my middle name is Joseph). I knew most of the words to most of his songs before I was really able to understand them … particularly the last line of “Odd Job Man”: “What that man has done to me, I done to his wife!” I loved singing it with gusto, although it took about 10 more years for me to figure out what it meant.

At the age of five, I wrote Harry a letter. He was scheduled to perform at the Warwick (RI) Musical Theatre that summer, just a few days before my sixth birthday, and I wanted him to be sure to play “Old John Joseph” for me. He wrote back, played the song, and after the concert he autographed the cast I was wearing after some reconstructive surgery on my leg. I was, needless to say, quite starstruck that night.

Harry was scheduled to play the Warwick Musical Theater the following year, again, a few days before my birthday, during the last week of July, 1981. I can exactly remember every detail of the moment I learned the show wouldn’t be going on. I was lying in my parents’ bedroom watching the national news on ABC (I was a news junkie even at that age) and Harry’s picture showed up on the screen as the anchor announced that he had died.

I remained a Harry fan over the years, but I really rediscovered his music during the fall of 1997. I was attending school to become a math teacher, and that fall I enrolled in a field-study project at a junior-high school in Loveland, CO. I actually taught several lessons and received a good deal of criticism — not because of any problems with my presentation, but because I was politically incorrect, committing such travesties as addressing the class as “you guys.”

One day I popped in a Harry Chapin tape as I worked on the portfolio I had to create for this class, and “Flowers Are Red” came on. It dawned on me that I was being turned into the little boy in the song, being told what was the “right” way to do things and being expected to fit myself into that mold, rather than finding my own style by trial and error.

And so, a portfolio was born. I called it “Polka-Dot Flowers In the Garden of Education.” I even included the text of “Flowers Are Red” inside….John.

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