Do you remember your first Florida vacation? Mine was a bit of a saga for an old homebody. The result, however, was a wonderful trip with the love of my life and a new song, which led to an opportunity to create lasting memories with my father and sister.
The Back Story: Vacation Planning at its Best
Donna Standing with her second guide dog, Curly Connor, inspiration for his namesake in The Heart of Applebutter Hill
In 1988, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day weekend happened simultaneously. Any reasonable person would know that getting from Philadelphia to Miami at the last minute, for a Florida vacation, was going to be nigh onto impossible. Rich had driven down earlier that week to drop his parents off at his aunt’s to spend the winter.
I, however, planned to take Amtrak. Not that I could have gone with them. They were in Rich’s old Chevy Cavalier. One more person, my guide dog and enough luggage to get us through a two-week trip wasn’t going to fit. Besides, I had a school assembly that Thursday in the Philadelphia area. You don’t cancel school assemblies; they’re too hard to come by.
I’ve always loved trains. I had enjoyed several long trips in the ‘70s. When I learned that Amtrak was booked up, flying reared its ugly head as the most reasonable option. There was one seat left on a Friday flight to Miami, and it was in first class. “Hmm,” I thought, “that doesn’t sound so bad.”
Getting Out of Glenside
The assembly went well. The school kids loved my guide dog Curly Connor. He was a solid black Golden-Lab cross with long thick wavy fur and the sweetest look you ever saw. What’s not to like?
Then, it started to snow. I needed to get to Philadelphia’s Suburban Station on Friday morning to catch the Airport shuttle. I was initially planning to walk to the Glenside train station with my big JanSport backpack with the sturdy hip frame while carrying another bag. Fortunately, the daughter of my dear neighbor was in town and offered me a ride.
The Flight to Miami: a Methodist Minister & an Unexpected Song
First class was wonderful. Curly Connor and I shared a seat with Rev. William Sharp, a retired Methodist minister on his way to a convention, which was a cruise to the Bahamas. We had a nice conversation. Eventually, he took a nap, while I took in the experience. A new tune bubbled up from my subconscious with enough words to hold it together long enough to make it to my tape recorder that evening.
When we arrived in Miami, I told Curly Connor, “Go find your Daddy.” He hesitated as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, right? I’ve never been here before.” Then, he started barreling down a long tunnel where he did, indeed, find his Daddy.
The next thing we knew, we were in the Everglades. It was bright and sunny, and I had enough vision left to see the form of an anhinga. We had a glorious time on Sanibel Island, puttering north through Florida and eventually made it home.
Stones from the Jordan: The Bible Story Behind the Song
This song is based upon Joshua 4:1-24. It’s the account of how the Lord held back the Jordan river, allowing the children of Israel, led by Joshua, to cross on dry ground. The Lord tells Joshua to send one man from each tribe back to where priests stood holding the Ark of the Covenant in the midst of the dry river.
They each took one stone. Joshua would build a monument at Gilgal where they would camp that evening. He explained that in the future when the children asked them what the monument meant; they were to explain what God had done.
Somewhere, I got the idea that there was something important about the fact that they weren’t to carve the stones. I realized that river rocks would be smooth and rounded, unlike the jagged rocks on land. I’m sure that would have interested the children. In the third verse, I talk about the significance of this story nowadays. God gives us souvenirs (memories, blessings and achievements) to remind us of His power in our lives.
Donald Weiss lived out his entire life in Easton, Pennsylvania in the Lehigh Valley. He was a singer from the get-go. He had a beautiful tenor voice despite years of smoking. He sang on the radio for milk, performed in community theater and entertained friends on hayrides. My mother said they called him “the poor man’s Frank Sinatra.” He was a volunteer fireman and one of the founding members of the Easton Suburban Rescue Company.
After high school and a short stint at Lafayette College, he worked at Bethlehem Steel, where he met my mother, Dorothy, who was a meter reader. He joined the Army in WWII. During training in Texas, he sang in a group with other soldiers. A benefactor paid for them to record a few songs. I have the 78 RPM records they made and hope to digitize them someday.
Through a twist of fate, he broke an ankle playing tennis and couldn’t join his fellow soldiers when they left for officer training. They all died. He went to Okinawa just after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When he returned, Dorothy married him, and they started a family. He was never baptized until he joined the Lutheran church, around 1964, when my sister Lisa was born. From then on, he sang in the church choir.
The Weiss Family in October, 1964 – Mom, Daddy, Donna, Jeff and baby Lisa: photo courtesy of Lisa Weiss Robinson.
He got a job with the railroad post office – a route between New York City and Pittsburgh. He was away six days in a row and then home for eight. They bought a house. Mom got a job at Magnetic Windings. When they closed the railroad post office, I was in high school. He started working at what was then the new Lehigh Valley Post Office in management.
Lisa & Dad in June, 1967 Around the Time of Donna’s High School Graduation
When he retired, he joined more choral groups, including a Barbershop chorus. At one time he was in five groups. He participated in many Barbershop competitions. He also started driving school bus – the kindergarten route.
Harvest: Faith Songs & a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity
My Dad and I didn’t always get along. After he pulled federal jury duty and spent a week with me at my Germantown (Philadelphia) apartment, things changed for the better. We went down to Penn’s Landing one evening and enjoyed a big band. He stopped to listen to me do my street singing thing in Suburban Station. He told me that he finally understood why I did it.
Donald Weiss & His Three Children: Donna, Jeff and Lisa, 1980: photo courtesy of Lisa Weiss Robinson.
Rainbow Colors, my first album, came out in 1983 just after my first guide dog, Simba, passed away at thirteen. For the next one, I was determined to do a compilation of songs about faith. “Stones from the Jordan” was high on the list of candidates, and the chorus was crying out for harmony.
I invited my sister Lisa and my father to accompany me on it. I had found a small studio, Kennedy Music and Recording, owned by fellow Glensider Dave Kennedy. Dave and I, along with keyboardist Gene Galligan, and other members of the Johnston Brothers, whom I had worked with on Rainbow Colors, laid down the instrumental tracks first, and then the singing began. Here it is, along with the lyrics, for your listening and reading pleasure.
STONES FROM THE JORDAN: Words & Music by Donna Weiss (Hill)
Moses led Israel from Egypt to Canaan,
And they wandered in the wilderness for forty long years.
Then Joshua took over, and on that special day,
he said, ”Get ready, you’re goin’ home, and dry away your tears.”
(They took) stones from the Jordan, when the Lord held back the water,
And they walked across the river to the promised land.
They took stones from the Jordan, when the Lord held back the water,
And we walked across the river to the promised land.
North of Jerusalem in the town of Gil gal,
build an altar to the Lord made of 12 smooth stones.
When your children stop to wonder who rounded off the corners,
that’s the time to tell them of the grace that you’ve been shown.
Mighty rivers flow through the lives of each believer,
and the only way over is with help from above.
The memories and blessings and the things that we’ve achieved
are evidence and souvenirs of victory in love.