The surprise act at a fancy, charitable soiree at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards came from a 94-year-old former Marine with a musicmaker in his pocket and a bone to pick.

Jerry Schiffer was invited onto the stage by Marrianne McBride, chief of the Council on Aging. Jerry is a client of Meals on Wheels, and McBride asked him to come up and say a bit about what the nutrition program does for him.

White-bearded and wearing a Marines cap, Jerry told the crowd at the Derby Day gala he's mighty grateful for the delivered meals — but what's with the okra he sometimes finds on his plate?

"Whoever put it on the menu should have their head examined," he said to the roar of the guests of the Meals on Wheels benefit.

Then he asked from his wheelchair if anybody would like to hear him play a song. Oh, would they.

He pulled out his harmonica and let loose a soulful rendition of "Old Kentucky Home" that got the crowd to clapping along, cheering.

Jerry left the stage with the assurance of the Council on Aging chief that he and his fellow Meals patrons have seen the last of the okra.

IN THE BAG: Imagine that you're hungry and looking into the pantry or cupboard for something satisfying and reasonably healthful.

If you're going to pack a sack of groceries for the postal carriers' drive Saturday, that sensation may help as you choose the food items.

I spoke with folks at local food banks and pantries, and asked what sorts of groceries they and the people they serve would most like to see left beside the mailbox.

They said: Canned tuna, chicken and salmon. Peanut butter. Dried beans, rice and pasta. Baked beans, chili and stew. Soups — especially with poultry or beef, and reduced salt. Canned fruits with no more than light syrup. Breakfast cereal, preferably whole-grain and not sugary.

Naturally, most of the families and individuals that receive the food from the National Association of Letter Carriers drive will be grateful for whatever they get.

But how great it'll be if what they get is good.

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Oh, what most of us would to do to board a rocket ship just once, walk in space and behold our planet from Up There.

Story Musgrave has journeyed to space six times — he retired as the only NASA astronaut to have flown on all five space shuttles.

He'll touch down in Santa Rosa on the evening of May 17 for a public speaking engagement at Sonoma Country Day School.

His hosts with the Pacific Coast Air Museum don't know exactly what he'll say, but they better expect some thoughts on aiming high.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and