Sam Chapman... Unforgettable
To the Editor:
Anyone who knew Sam Chapman well is aware of a very long, deep connection he had with Rolly York, myself and our family. Although I could go on and on… and on, with personal memories of Sam, my hope instead is to share from a perspective where many of you who knew him, who loved him, may relate, and where those of you who didn’t, may learn a little about him. Sam touched countless lives throughout his 60 years, and although it feels as though each and every person who knew him has their own, unique “Sammy History,” at the same time, many of those histories have intertwined, connecting many of us in so many ways.
After people pass, it sometimes seems as though that person is suddenly elevated to a “legendary” status in the memories of those left behind. If we’re fortunate, however, if we pay attention to the moments, we sometimes are aware that we’re in the presence of what constitutes a “legend” while that person is right here with us on Earth. I believe many who knew Sam Chapman, would agree he’s been legendary in our lives all along. After all, do we know anyone else who’s ridden a motorcycle through the Sudbury Inn, out their front doors and down over the steps into Main Street?
Do we know anyone else whose parachute took them into the Androscoggin River, filled with water and sucked them under to drown… actually die… eventually to be retrieved by his brother, Alan, along with a number of desperate, frantic, determined people on shore pulling them both from the frigid, strong current… and then be miraculously revived by what Sam later described as the late Craig Paul’s “sweet kisses” of resuscitation? Evidently Sam’s work here on this Earth was not complete at that time. I know I’m certainly glad as I didn’t meet him until later that year. Thankfully, the 35 years since that drowning allowed him so many more adventures and amazing life experiences, and especially that of he and Sarah Shepley to later bless this world with their two beautiful children, Hannah and Brady.
Do we know anyone else who entertained audiences as a Hank Williams impersonator, handsomely decked out in white from head to toe, crooning and traveling with a 50’s show band? His passion and enthusiasm for music and performing was magnetic, whether playing with bands, or solo… entertaining with an extensive variety of cover tunes or playing his own compositions. Couldn’t he prompt us to tears singing some of his beautifully moving lyrics accompanied by those sweet melodies he played on his guitar? And then transform us to laughter with his humorous songs? Or inspire us to hit the dance floor with one of his blues, rock n roll, or rockin’ country songs, sometimes enhanced by those awesome additions from his harmonicas? And then delight us all as he utilized his various, creative voices in singing those remarkable tunes he wrote for children? Did we often feel he had such tremendous charisma and talent and believe that if it could be harnessed and managed, it could have been unstoppable? Absolutely. At the same time, however, did some of us realize that having all that talent was perhaps a double edged sword for him? Imagine having it, knowing it, and feeling the tremendous challenge and frustration he sometimes felt in not knowing how to bring it to its full potential. Bless you, Sam, and thank you for sharing your talents with us.
Did we highly admire his skill and ability to calculate and execute the “exact” place a humungous tree needed to fall… dropping it precisely where he planned? And couldn’t this same tree expert brush off any sawdust, walk into his kitchen and produce gourmet dishes and amazing meals that left those partaking satisfied beyond description? As one friend said, “A stranger could show up at his door and he’d treat them like a million dollars… and you NEVER left hungry… even if it took his last dollar to make sure you were fed, and fed WELL!!!”
And…did knowing Sam Chapman inspire both male and female namesakes? Yes indeed.
Does legendary status intend to imply that our relationships with Sam were always perfect or smooth? Absolutely not. Did those who loved him always agree with his choices? Absolutely not. Did those who loved him sometimes get extremely frustrated, even exasperated with him? Absolutely. He knew this, and perhaps it even sparked his writing the amusing song, “Everybody Loves Me When I’m Gone.” BUT, regardless of any possible frustrations or ups and downs, did we still always love him beyond measure? Absolutely.
Obviously, knowing Sam added so much to so many lives, and in the most recent years many of his friends were very happy for him because of the lovely addition to his life when he met and fell in love with his fiancee, Kathy Riley Berberian. Sam and Kathy recognized, respected, and nurtured wonderful qualities in each other, created a sweet home and life together, and were looking forward to their future. For those of us who have gotten to know Kathy through Sam, I like to think she is yet another of his gifts to us. And we as his friends, especially in our support to her now, are part of his gifts to her.
When the Sun Journal called asking about Sam last week, my responses felt horribly inadequate. It’s impossible to describe him in a short conversation, or even in these few paragraphs… I’ve only slightly brushed a never ending surface. The upcoming gathering to celebrate Sam’s life at the Bethel Inn Conference Center on Sunday, July 21, will be filled with so many more stories, so many connections, and so much love. We hope there will be many who will share their words over the microphone that day, but we also know there will be multitudes of perhaps the most colorful accounts of memories constantly taking place in the endless conversations throughout the room. We’ll listen, we’ll cry, we’ll laugh, we’ll create music… we’ll remember and honor Sam Chapman.
For those who knew him, I’m sad for us all, yet thankful we had the chance to experience such an extraordinary soul. For those who didn’t, I’m sorry for your loss. Sam leaves a void that will remain forever. I believe one never “gets over” the loss of anyone important to them, but instead can only hope to find ways to go on and manage living with that loss. May we all manage by taking the very, very best ways in which Sam influenced each of our lives, and live the rest of ours inspired by those ways. And may we find comfort believing the words many of you have heard Sam, Rolly, and I sing together so many times: “…someday when we meet up yonder, we’ll stroll hand in hand again.”