Monday, December 22, 2008

The Communion of Saints

One of the Catholic doctrines that I really love is the belief in the Communion of Saints. The way I understand it is that we are all one big family, those who have passed on, those alive right now, and those not yet born. The doctrine is a kind of time machine, where past, present, and future are one. [Oops. My memory is a bit faulty. I still remember by heart many things I learned from the Baltimore Catechism, but I didn't exactly get the Communion of Saints right. It consists of the Church Militant (the living); the Church Suffering (those in purgatory); and the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven). I like my vision of this concept better!]

In this Communion of Saints, this time machine of love and caring, I think often of my Mom and Dad, of my in-laws, Ruth and Art Sanders, of my Gramma Coughlin, and of certain family and friends (Sr. Franzita Kane, Kenny Przybylski, et al). I pray for them and ask them to pray for me. Lately I've been thinking a lot of my Uncle Jack Coughlin and his tough life. I've been working on a poem about him that I will someday publish on this blog. I've also been thinking about my cousin, Jack Fitzpatrick, brutally murdered one Christmas 37 years ago as he waited in a line at Higbees to see Santa Claus with his small children. This past year Jack's wife, Mary Finnegan Fitzpatrick, died, and I think of Jack and Mary at this time of the year.

I also think about friends with physical ailments. I especially think of Jack Pendergast. He has our fervent prayers and thoughts. And we also pray for his wife Vicki. What a great day when we discovered this long-lost Coughlin cousin. Jack is the great family genealogist and the genius of Irish music with his work with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the association of Irish musicians. We are thinking of you and praying for you Jack! And you too, Vicki!

We also pray for our friends and family members with emotional and psychological suffering. This kind of suffering spares no families--and if you are truthful, there's hardly a person alive who hasn't faced, at least for some period of time, such suffering. We pray for those suffering anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and other addictions.

In the Communion of Saints, we pray for and help each other.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Winter Solstice"--A Dark Poem for a Dark Season

Winter Solstice

The chill creeps into the bones:
December 21 and sun gone long before 5 o’clock;
huge gray clouds roll in off Lake Erie
riding the Witch’s gale, spitting sleet and

fears as real and as organized as the swirl
of pin oak leaves down Lakeshore Boulevard.
This day, shaken by nameless fears,
seems to last forever:

I wonder how I will get through the next minute,
and the minute after that,
and the minute after that,

wonder if I can make it
until hope returns

until peace-which-surpasses-understanding,
as mysterious as winter solstice’s fear--
my heart standing still, turning cold,
my spirit abandoned--

until peace returns like grace like unexpected


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Addresses of Some Family Homes

I've wanted to try to list the homes where we, our grandparents, and many of our relatives lived--as many of these as possible. One thing I've noticed is how small many of these houses are--some are around 700 square feet! I'll keep adding to this list as I get the information.

To look at these houses and to see the date they were built and other information about them, try going to and type in the address you want to view. The addresses below are the current addresses; there may have been different house numbers in earlier years. Certainly there weren't ZIP codes until probably the 1960's.

Mom and Dad, along with Bobby and Denny, lived at 1120 Windermere Drive, Willoughby, OH 44094 from 1948-1951.

Gramma Cora Coughlin and Grampa Connie Coughlin lived at 1136 Hayes Avenue, Willoughby, OH 44094, from somewhere around 1920 to the early 1960's. They lived there with their 5 children, Fran, Jack, Bob, Bill, and Bernice.

Gramma Margaret Ann and Grampa Jack Fitzpatrick lived at or near 1188 E. 169th or 1194 East 169th. Street, Cleveland, OH 44119, in the early 20th Century. They probably lived there until 1926, when the house on Tarrymore Road was built. I assume they lived in that house with children Al, Julia, Fenton, Dick, Don, and Margaret Ann. The family moved to 17301 Tarrymore Road, Cleveland, OH 44119, from 1928 to the 1940's.

Great Uncle Ed and Aunt Helen Sullivan lived at 1098 Hayes Avenue, Willoughby, OH 44094, with children Mary Ellen, Sally, Johnny, and Mickey. This house was very near our grandparents' house, separated only by a field (3 or 4 houses were built in that field circa 2000). Uncle Ed was Gramma Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick's brother.

Uncle Fran Coughlin, Aunt Bee, and children Jerry, Mickey, and Danny lived at 1144 Westwood, Willoughby, OH 44094.

Uncle Al Fitzpatrick, Aunt Catherine, and children Jack, Jerry, Sheila, and Tommy lived at 161 Eastbrook Drive, Euclid, OH 44132. Mary Fitzpatrick and her 5 kids lived there from the early 1970's on (Mary died in 2007 or 2008 and the house is now for sale).

Great Grandfather Frank Bowers (he changed the spelling of his last name from Bauer to Bowers) lived at 1210 East 87th Strret, Cleveland when he died on November 25, 1938 at the age of 79.

On my grandfather Connie Coughlin's World War I era draft registration, the home address is given as 1535 E. 78th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. This registration, which appears to be written in his own beautiful hand, states that he was single, age 26, supporting his mother, of medium height, slender build, gray eyes, dark brown hair, a natural-born American citizen, born May 9, 1891. His occupation is listed as a Clerk (auto) for Neighbors Motor Co. in Cleveland. The form is dated June 5, 1917. Grampa must have been married later that year or the next year. This address is just south of Superior Avenue (US. Rt. 6), just west of Rockefeller Park, and perhaps a mile south of the Gordon Park baseball fields and Lake Erie. It is also near the Bowers family home at 1210 E. 87th Street, where I assume my Gramma Cora Bowers Coughlin grew up.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the passing of my Mom, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin. She was known as Margaret Ann by most people, as "Gertann" by my Dad, and as Marge or Margaret by some others.

Mom was born in Cleveland on November 10th, 1923, the baby of her family. Her older siblings were Al, Julia ("Dudie"), Fenton ("Skip"), and identical twins Dick and Don. Her Dad was John ("Jack") Francis Fitzpatrick, born in the quarry village of Bluestone, Euclid Township, Ohio, and Margaret Ann Sullivan, born in the quarry area of Brownhelm Township, Lorain County, Ohio. Jack worked for the railroad as a yard conducter and Margaret was a homemaker.

My Mom first lived on East 169th [1188, E. 169th, I believe]Street, in the Euclid Beach-Grovewood area of Cleveland. As a toddler she started speaking Slovenian because of her daily contact with Slovenian speakers in that neighborhood. I think that was a signal for her parents to move! And they moved just about a mile away to a house on Tarrymore Road, a stone's throw from Lake Erie (I think the current address of that home is 17513 Tarrymore Rd., Cleveland, OH 44119; gives the date the house was built as 1926). That's where she grew up, and that's where her mother died on March 18, 1940.

My mother was baptized as St. Jerome's Church in Cleveland, and attended Holy Cross Church and school after the move to Tarrymore Drive. She attended Villa Angela Academy for a while, but left that school (she might have been kicked out over a trivial issue, like playing hookie one day--it's not exactly clear to us). Thereafter, she attended Notre Dame Academy on Ansel Road in Cleveland, and graduated from high school in 1943. She loved the Notre Dame nuns and handled the long two-streetcar ride to school with no problem.

I think after high school Mom lived with her sister or brothers in various places, including Willoughby, Ohio. Some time around 1946, she met my Dad, Robert ("Bob") Paul Coughlin, who grew up on Hayes Avenue (nowdays the address is 1136 Hayes Ave., Willoughby, OH 44094) in Willoughby-on-the-Lake. They were married in August of 1947, at Immaculate Conception Church in Willoughby, and I, their firstborn, was born in June of 1948.

Mom and Dad made their first home at 1120 Windermere Drive, in Willoughby, about 200 feet west of my Coughlin grandparents. Their home was a tiny bungalow, maybe 700-800 square feet in size. Denny was born in June of 1950 and the house was beginning to feel crowded so they began thinking of getting a bigger house. Dad's first job after getting out of the Navy (he served on small ships in the South Pacific 1942-45) was in the Cleveland Trust Bank in downtown Willoughby. When he told the bank that he wanted to get a mortgage to build a new house (we're talking a $9000 house here--brand new), the bank told Dad no, that he didn't make enough money to get a mortgage loan. At that point Dad probably told them goodbye (but not in such polite language) and went off looking for a new job. He finally secured a job as an electrician at New York Central Railroad in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland. I have no idea how Dad talked himself into that job. He was no more an electrician at that time than I am now. But when you have a growing family, you do what you have to do to get a job. New York Central was near Mom's old neighborhood, and her brother Skip lived practically next door to the NYC yards and worked there as a welder/machinist. Dad's brothers Fran, Jack, and Bill also worked there, as did his in-laws Skip and Al Fitzpatrick. NYC must have been an Irish-mafia operation back then! Check out this link with all the Fitzpatrick relatives aboard a train at the Collinwood Yards:
Here is a funny story my Mom used to tell me about the Willoughby-on-the-Lake neighborhood: One day when I was a baby or toddler, she was walking me around the neighborhood when a crow landed on my shoulder. My mom was real frightened and left me on the sidewalk and ran into the house. It turns out the crow could talk! It was a tame crow owned by someone in the neighborhood. I think it's just an unsubstantiated rumor that the crow uttered "nevermore!"
Some time around June 1951, a fateful accident happened in that Willoughby neighborhood that affected my Mom, Dad, me, Denny, and, I imagine, the whole family not yet born:
[more coming]

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Coughlin Plants a Giant Sequoia Forest in Mentor, Ohio

I had always thought that the Giant Redwoods and Giant Sequoias were California and West Coast phenomena. But leave it to Kevin Coughlin to begin planting a Giant Sequoia forest in Mentor, Ohio. Why didn't anyone think of this before?

I don't think Kevin's plan will be without difficulties. Giant Sequoia can get, well, giant! I fear that at some point he is going to have to move his house 50 or more feet toward or away from the street to make room for that tree. I'm thinking these gigantic trees can get 20 or 30 feet in diameter and a couple, three hundred feet tall. And how is he going to protect the trees from Northern Ohio cold? Will he drape some sort of gigantic tent over the trees? And don't these trees live a thousand or two thousand years? How's he going to manage this new forest? Does he plan to live as long as Methuselah?

I wish Kev the best of luck. There are some formidable difficulties to overcome here. I'm thinking he ought to revisit his worm-farm idea or help Uncle Bill develop his hydrogen-powered cars rather than get into this Giant Sequoia tree farming scheme!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Addendum or Correction to the Previous Poem

My previous poem might have been a bit too sweet. Den and Sher reminded me that the ride home from Willoughby wasn't always rosaries and songs! Here's a poem that will balance the picture a bit.

The Straight Dope on the Coughlin Family of the 1950’s

Yea, it was a great family, but I forgot to tell you:

On those long rides home from Willoughby,
Denny had to sit by the back window, puking so often from car sickness.
And Jesus H. Christ, was he in trouble a lot at St. William’s!

We teased Mary Ellen mercilessly, but we didn’t
Entice her or force her to drink that glass of bleach—
That was her own doing and probably Mom’s mistake
For pouring bleach into a drinking glass and leaving it within a toddler’s reach.

And Kevin, poor Kevin, we dropped him on his head
More times than I can count—always accidentally, of course.
You can see the results still—it explains a lot, the politics, etc.
And sorry, Kev, about that fishing fly caught up your nose.

And Jim, the baby of the family, was like our toy, or better yet,
Our pet. Sorry about that long walk on the coldest day in Cleveland history.
The frostbite and all. Sorry your toes still get numb at the first sign of cold.

And Mom didn’t intentionally run over me, the apple of her eye,
Her firstborn son. That must have been an accident,
I keep telling myself.

And Dad probably did drink too much. Luckily,
Mom diluted the Cribari wine half and half with water.
Dad probably had no idea what real wine tasted like!

Yea, it was a wonderful family, a wonderful time,
But, when I think about it,

We were more like the Simpsons than Ozzie and Harriet!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Memory Poem

Driving Home From Willoughby, 1959

After Thanksgiving Dinner at Gramma and Grampa’s,
Dad, Uncle Jack, and Grampa located a davenport or bed
For a half-hour’s nap, hypnotized by the turkey, the full belly, the beer.

Denny and I went out to the field between the Sullivan’s and Coughlin’s,
Climbed the wild black cherry, while Mary Ellen and Kev
Played in the piles of silver and sugar maple leaves.
Mom carried Baby Jimmy on her hip, talked with Gramma,
Dried the dishes.

And then, around 7, we hopped into the old Ford,
Mom and Dad in front, 3 kids on the back seat, Kev on the hump,
And Jim stuffed up on the shelf by the rear window
(no seat belts, no rules in those days!).

We’d start the long drive home down Lakeshore Boulevard
Saying the rosary, me leading the prayers,
The Joyful Mysteries, 5 decades of Hail Mary’s,
Sprinkled with Our Father’s, Glory Be’s, and the Apostles Creed.

And when we finished (and we were the fastest rosary sayers on the planet!),
We’d sing every song we knew, full-throated:
“Anchors Away My Boys,” to “Row Row Row Your Boat,” in rounds,
To “She’s My Darling She’s My Daisy, She’s Cross-eyed, She’s Crazy.”

And then, after a bit of silent driving, we’d turn south
Down East 266 Street and home:
By now Jimmy, Kevin, Mary Ellen asleep,
Denny and Bobby groggy,

Mom and Dad spent and quietly happy.

Robert M. Coughlin
Thanksgiving 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Chapter in Bruce Wilson's Novel!

Bruce Wilson, an old friend, has just posted a new chapter in his autobiographical novel Justin's Foggy Night of the Soul. This novel is a work-in-progress, but I find it tremendously good and very interesting, partly because it's my own story and the story of every Catholic of my generation (let's say it will ring a familiar note to those born around 1960 and before).

Who is Bruce Wilson? Bruce is an older brother of one of my college roommates and friends, Brian Wilson. Brian studied with me at the University of Notre Dame between 1966 and 1970. I along with Brian, Chris Cotter, Mike Gerrity, Tim Forward, Tom Heinen, Mike Celizic, and about about 29 other Notre Damers studied together in Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria during academic year 1967-68.

In the 1970's Chris Cotter and I de-tassled corn with Brian and Bruce Wilson (and the rest of his family) around Perry and Jamaica, Iowa. Also in the 1970's, Bruce Wilson was involved with Chris and me with Peacemaker and Catholic Worker (Dorothy Day et al.) activities. And there was one other hilarious (in retrospect) enterprise. These rocket-scientists, Bruce, Chris, Kenny Przybylski, Jack Shereda, and possibly Timmy Jenkins, decided to go into business cutting down dead elm trees (trees stricken by the Dutch Elm Disease blight).The plan was to underbid for the jobs of cutting down and removing trees, beginning in the Iowa City area. Ask any of the above how that went!

Back in the 1970's I would have guessed that Bruce would end up a priest or monk, an artist, or an inmate of an insane asylum (possibly all three of these choices!).

I hadn't heard from or about Bruce until about a year or two ago. He was living in Oakland, California, and working as a massage therapist and holistic healer. And he was writing a novel, chapter by chapter, and publishing it on a blog and a website.

The novel is very funny and very good, and it evokes that peculiar and fascinating time in the 1950's and early 1960's--a time in that for American Catholics will never come again.

Here again is the link to Bruce Wilson's novel in progress:

I hope a publisher picks up this wonderful work!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The great feast of Thanksgiving approaches--and I'd like to reflect a bit on giving thanks.

We always have plenty to worry about, and this year, with the talk of possible economic disaster, it might feel harder than ever to give thanks. There has never been a time without its share of troubles, and yet there has never been a time when thanksgiving wasn't in order.

What do I have to be thankful for? So many things--and I wish that my final prayer at night was a litany of thanksgiving.

Here are some things I am grateful for:

--My Mom and Dad, gone 5 years and 11 years now. They gave me life, raised me with love and care. Nurtured and protected me, brought me into a big and wonderful and crazy family.

--My family. My wife Linda, and her wonderful spirit; my daughters Julia, Carolan, and Emily, the apples of my eye; my brothers Denny, Kevin, and Jimmy, and my sister Mary Ellen; and all the wonderful in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and shirt-tail relatives.

--My own health and energy, and the health of my family and friends.

--I am thankful for my intellect and the great gift of curiosity. Thankful for my facility with language and with music.

--For my home--strangely enough I never expected to have such a home, never expected much in terms of property or wealth.

--For all the odd groups of friends I've had over the years: classmates from St. William's and St. Joe's; neighborhood friends; baseball teammates; friends from all the crazy places I've worked; friends from the University of Notre Dame; friends from Innsbruck, Austria; friends from Lakeland Community College, where I have worked these past 20 years; friends from my Irish-Gaelic study group in Euclid. Thank You, Lord, for friends.

--And I am thankful for many friends and family members who have passed on. Besides Mom and Dad, I especially think of my Gramma Coughlin, Grampa Coughlin, Ruth and Art Sanders, Grandma Hoffman, Aunt Julia Brock, Uncles Dick, Don, and Skip Fitzpatrick, Aunt Mary Fitzpatrick, and so many more. I think of my friends Kenny Przybylski, Maurice McCrackin, Ernest and Marion Bromley, Chuck Matthei, Jack Shereda, and many more.

--And I am thankful for my teachers, living and dead. From St. Williams, Sr. Ruth Marie OSU, Sr. Muriel OSU, Sr. John Leonard OSU (now known as Sr. Alice Brickman), Mrs. Dempsey; from St. Joe's, Richard Pilder SM, Larry Grey SM, Fr. George Reich SM, Mr. Jerry Lennon, Coach Jim McDonough, and so many more. From the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary's College, Prof. Richard Sullivan, Sr. Franzita Kane CSC, Fr. Lawrence Broestl CSC, and so many more.

Thank You, Lord. Let me be true to these wonderful, gracious gifts!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

JFK, Requiescat in Pace

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That day is seared into memory, and I will never forget it. Jack Kennedy was a fallible man but a great man. And he was one of us, an Irish Catholic.

Here's the poem I wrote twenty-five years ago:

November 22, 1963

I remember the very moment
as if it were branded on my soul:

It was 2:05 pm.
We were in Brother O’Connor’s 10th grade religion class,
St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, eager for the end
of the day.

A crying voice came over the PA
saying, Please Pray for Him, Boys,
He’s Been Shot!

For 30 minutes there was stunned,
uncomprehending silence,
punctuated by confused attempts to pray;
but all our prayers were incoherent,
crazed dancing of a chicken, its head cut off.

At 2:35 Brother Matthew’s quavering voice
said, He’s Dead, Boys. Let’s Pray
For Him And For Ourselves

pray that love and light
overcome the furious violence

and darkness
in our souls.

May the Good Lord bless JFK and his entire family, hold them in the palm of His hand.

Let perpetual light shine upon them. May John's soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lake Effect Snow in Chardon

A foot of lake-effect snow fell last night on Chardon, Ohio--and it didn't close the schools! Euclid, 25 miles to the west, got a dusting of snow, and even Mentor, near Lake Erie, only got a couple inches. The photo above shows the snow on my deck table.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Poem--On Being 60 (dedicated to Sr. Franzita Kane)

The World at 60

(in memory of Sr. Franzita Kane, CSC)

I am 60 years old but my mind feels like I’m 16.

I have this insatiable hunger to know more, to understand
This fascinating Creation that I am part of.

It almost feels like a Calling, a Vocation,
A responsibility.

I have been given a sharp mind, facility with language,
And this insatiable hunger to know.

Yet in the back of my mind,
With an athlete’s instinctive awareness of the play clock,
I wonder, Does the time meet the task?

I pray for more time
Adequate energy, decent health.

And thank God for this Holy Hunger
And this gift.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Cost of Things: Bewildering Changes Over a Lifetime

It's so hard to get used to the constant changes in the prices of things. I remember as a kid how my Uncle Paul Rosenfelder used to give his nieces and nephews a dime. Instead of being grateful, we sometimes thought that a quarter would be better! But back then, in the 1950's, you could buy things with a dime. Today, many people wouldn't bend over to pick up a shiny dime on the ground, thinking it's hardly worth the effort.

I'm going to list my memory (my fallible memory!) of how much things cost in my growing-up years (1950's and 1960's). Sometimes the prices seem unbelievable looked at from the perspective of 2008.

--candy bars: most were a nickel; some were a dime.
--pretzel sticks: penny a piece.
--piece of Double-Bubble gum: one cent.
--pack of baseball cards: nickel [I might be wrong about this--I bought these so rarely].
--glass of Coke at Woolworth's: nickel or a dime.
--pack of cigarettes: about a quarter [will continue].
--regular gasoline: 33.9 cents per gallon (and when I worked at Healey's Sohio in 1964-66, we'd wash your windows, check your oil and water, wipe off your headlights and taillights, and do anything else you wanted, especially if you were a pretty girl).
--a brand-new 2 floor bungalow in Euclid, Ohio: $11,900 in 1951 (that's what Mom and Dad paid for our Euclid house).
--a year's tuition (the "book bill") at St. William's School in Euclid: $8 per year; the second child was $4. After that, all other kids were free.
--a year's tuition at St. Joe's High School in Cleveland in 1962: $180.
--a year's room, board, books, and tuition at the University of Notre Dame in 1966-67: $2500.
--a working used car: before the car went to the junkyard, you could buy it for maybe $75 (I went with my Dad when he purchased the family car for that amount).
--a good hardwood Louisville Slugger bat: $3.50.
--a working TV: in the early days of television, the sets were not all that cheap. But Dad picked up our family TV in the early 1960's on junk day for free. He collected it off someone's tree lawn, took it home, replaced the plug, and voila!
--a cheap six-pack of beer, the kind Uncle Bill bought: 89 cents.
--the Cribari wine Dad bought: about $1.25/bottle.
--hamburger at Holzheimer's Grocery: 3 pounds for a dollar.
--cheap loaf of white bread at the Upson Delicatessen: 12-15 cents per loaf.
--a gallon of milk at Lawson's: 60 cents.
--an ice cream cone at Franklin's, 7 cents per dip (39 cents would get you a banana split, with 3 different kinds of ice cream, 3 different syrups, banana, whipped cream, nuts, and a maraschino cherry).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Notre Dame Football (ND vs.Navy); Naval Academy in Annapolis

This past weekend, my brother Kevin and I traveled to Annapolis and Baltimore to watch the Notre Dame-Navy football game. The game was held in the Baltimore Ravens stadium, rather than at the Naval Academy stadium, but Kevin and I stayed in Annapolis, a few miles from the old town and the Naval Academy.

The game was fun and the fans were in high spirits (some were just high from alcoholic drinks!). There was a good-spirited and fun rivalry between the ND fans and the Naval Academy fans. We sat in the top deck, nosebleed seats, what seemed to be hundreds of feet above the playing field (in reality it probably wasn't that high, but it felt that way to me). We were surrounded by interesting people: to Kev's right was a retired Navy commander; in front of Kev was an active-duty Lieutenant Colonel in the army, currently working at the Pentagon. To my right were team physicians for the Baltimore Orioles. And directly in front of me were ND fans who were very very drunk.

A few minutes into the 4th quarter, with ND leading by 20 points, it began to rain, so Kev and I ran for the exits. It was an incredible drenching rain and we got totally soaked. I got so wet that my cell phone was ruined (and it was in my zipped coat pocket!). We ran the mile or so to our parked car and got out of town, avoiding a huge traffic jam. When we found the game on the radio, we were stunned to learn that Navy had scored 2 touchdowns and recovered 2 onside kicks. And they were driving, with time dwindling down, for the winning score. Well Navy fell short, and Notre Dame got out of town with a narrow victory.

Kev and I enjoyed walking around the old town of Annapolis. It is a very beautiful and interesting place, a harbor town (mostly smaller boats) where slaves were imported during that terrible era. It is now the capital of Maryland, with lots of state buildings, an interesting old college, St. John's, and wonderful shops, restaurants, and pubs. Many of the street names reflect pre-Revolutionary days when this colony belonged to England (Prince George Street; King George Street). Surprisingly, there were many Irish pubs in town and Kev and I managed to check some of them out. In one of the pubs, there was a Lake Erie College pennant on the wall--a surprising piece of our home because that college is in Painesville, Ohio.

On Saturday morning, before the football game, Kev and I walked onto the Naval Academy grounds. The campus is beautiful but was very quiet because most of the 4000 midshipmen (both men and women) had been bussed to Baltimore for the game (about 100 buses!). We walked through one of the academic buildings, got a cup of coffee in a converted fieldhouse (now used temporarily as a dining hall), then went to the visitors' center. A highlight of our little tour was a visit to the Naval Academy Chapel, used for Catholic and Protestant services. It is a spectacular structure with a round dome like St. Peter's. It felt pretty "Catholic" to me in that there were holy water fonts at the entrance. There is a crypt below the chapel containing the remains of John Paul Jones, and in the chapel itself there is a pew that is roped off and empty in memory of those missing in action and prisoners of war. All in all, it was an impressive place.

Being on the Naval Academy grounds made me think of my Dad, a sailor in World War II, and my brother Denny, a sailor during the Vietnam era. I myself almost was a Navy man, joining Navy ROTC at Notre Dame. I was in it for only about a week before I figured out that with my Freshman schedule at Notre Dame, I couldn't possibly handle the intense demands of NROTC. So I approached the commander of the unit and asked him if it would be possible to get out of the program--and he allowed me to get out. Probably a good decision both for the Navy and for me, but who knows how different my life might have been if I had remained in that program.

Despite my misgivings about the Vietnam War and the military, I still love the Navy and admire the midshipmen, officers, and enlisted men and women. It really almost seems in my blood.

One little memory: when I was in grade school, St. William's in Euclid, I used to draw pictures of ships and pictures of sea battles. My ships always had a central mast with a crow's nest where the signalman stood. That's where my Dad, Robert P. Coughlin, stood for four years during the war in the South Pacific. I'd draw myself in that crow's nest, with the signal flags in my hands.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Wheels on Fire" by Michelle Zaremba--Now Available

My niece Michelle Zaremba's long-awaited book, Wheels on Fire: My Year of Driving (and Surviving) in Iraq, is now available. I believe it is in-stock in some bookstores and I just ordered it from Amazon at the following website:

Michelle wrote this book with her friend Christine Sima. I played some small role in the process, doing some basic editing of the raw manuscript. We usually hear about wars from scholars, historians, or generals. Here's a view from the ground--from Michelle, a sergeant in the Ohio National Guard. Michelle is the daughter of my sister Mary Ellen Coughlin Zaremba and Ed Zaremba. Michelle grew up in Brookpark, Ohio, a close-in western suburb of Cleveland, and Valley City, a semi-rural part of Medina County, Ohio. Michelle won the Purple Heart in Iraq and works now as a mediator for the city of Dayton, Ohio.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Connie Coughlin, Baseball Player

When my Grampa, Cornelius ("Connie") Francis Coughlin, died in 1960, old men came to the Flynn-Froelk funeral home (this might have been on Mayfield Road, probably in South Euclid, Ohio), and they spent the hours talking baseball, reminiscing about players and games that took place 40 to 50 years before, when they played ball with my Grampa. Baseball was important in Grampa's life, and he was a very good player.

I've been trying to gather in my mind everything I remember about my Grampa's days as a baseball player, and then supplement those memories with what I can find on the internet and in published sources. My Uncle Bill Coughlin is also a source for some of what follows.

Here are some disconnected memories:

Grampa played shortstop. In the days before the live baseball (before the home-run era), he specialized in "hitting them where they ain't" and in bunting. Grampa was an extremely fast runner, and he made good use of that speed in his game. He told me that in his heydey, he was "the fastest runner in Cleveland" (exact words). He could make it from the batter's box to first base in 3 seconds, and he could circle the bases in 14 seconds. If these numbers are accurate, he was indeed one of the fastest runners around! Grampa played shortstop, so besides being fast he must have had a good arm. In those days ballplayers played with very primitive gloves. In fact, to show how tough they were, ballplayers would sometimes cut out the leather from the glove's pocket and catch the ball barehanded. At one time we had Grampa's glove around the family (maybe somebody still has it--Uncle Bill?) and it was a sight to see. You'd wonder how anyone could catch a ball with it! In Cleveland he played for semi-pro teams and once played in the Brookside ballpark, a natural amphitheatre near the Cleveland Zoo, before over 100,000 people, the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game in America. There is a famous photo of that game, between the Telling Strollers and Hanna Cleaners, dated September 20, 1914. To see this photo, click on this link:

Grampa also played minor league baseball, in the Three-I League [Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois]. My Uncle Bill Coughlin told me that Grampa played for the Rockford, Illinois team, a class B team under contract to the New York Giants baseball team (the team led by Hall-of-Famer John McGraw). The Rockford "Wakes" were managed by Howard Wakefield, a Bucyrus, Ohio boy who had played for the Cleveland Naps. The Wakes only existed for 2 years, 1915 and 1916, so Grampa played there one or both of those years. Grampa said that the travelling in the minor league was murder and that he never got to see his family or friends. He finally got tired of living out of a suitcase and quit, coming back to Cleveland. Shortly after he came back from Rockford, Illinois and the Three-I League, he met and married Cora Bowers, my Grandmother. I believe my Uncle Fran (also known as "Connie"--Francis Cornelius Coughlin) was born in 1917, the first of 5 children. Fran was himself a good ballplayer, a catcher, and around 1940 had a tryout with the Cleveland Indians.

The year my Grampa Coughlin died, 1960, he was still very athletic and limber. He had a party trick of weaving a cane through his legs every which way and finally jumping over it. At age 69 he could still do that. He also tried to teach me to bunt a baseball. He'd toss his cap 10 to 15 feet away from him, and we'd pitch a ball to him. He would then bunt the ball to the exact spot his hat lay. To him bunting was an art (a lost art) . He also taught me to slide (though I don't remember him actually sliding at age 69).

Grampa had a stomach ulcer that bothered him off and on. Now days they can treat ulcers with both antibiotics and acid-reducers. But in 1960, his ulcer was bleeding and he entered Euclid-Glenville Hospital for surgery. We never quite found out what happened, but Grampa never recovered from that surgery and basically bled to death over the following days. It seemed almost surely a case of malpractice, but our family had neither the means nor the desire to pursue a legal case.

A little postscript: My Grampa used to say that he "fired Bob Hope" --from his baseball team. This might be true, but I have no way to prove it. Bob Hope was born in England in 1903 and moved with his family to Cleveland in 1908. He lived on the East Side, not far from my Grampa Coughlin. Bob Hope tried everything before becoming a success in Vaudeville and later in movies and on television. He even tried to be a boxer, fighting under the name of "Packy East." So he might indeed have tried out for a baseball team managed by Connie Coughlin. And he probably got cut (or "fired") from the team, just as he failed as a boxer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salute to Veterans

Today let's honor our Veterans. I think especially of three friends who died in Vietnam: my cousin Tommy Fitzpatrick of Euclid, Ohio, who died in Vietnam in 1969; Steve Shields, my classmate from Notre Dame and Innsbruck, Austria, who died in Vietnam in 1972; and Buddy Chasser, a classmate at St. William's and St. Joe's and Euclid, Ohio resident, who died in Vietnam in 1967.

And we honor family members who served in the military during war time:

--Denny Coughlin, my brother, Navy man who served aboard ship off Vietnam in the early 1970's;
--Robert P. Coughlin, my Dad, Navy man who served in the South Pacific during World War II (he was a signalman aboard small ships, the wooden SC, and the steel-hulled PC;
--Arthur J. Sanders, my father-in-law, a Navy mechanic who served in the South Pacific in World War II;
--my Uncles Dick and Don Fitzpatrick; Bill, Connie (Fran), and Jack Coughlin; and Bill Brock, who served in World War II.
--And finally, to Michelle Zaremba, my niece, who served just recently in the 2nd Iraq War and won two Purple Hearts. Michelle has just published a book about her service in Iraq called Wheels on Fire. Check or for the book.

And to all Veterans, we thank you and honor your service!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poem for My Mother

The following poem was written in the last years of my Mother's life. She was blind from macular degeneration, and was fighting 2 kinds of cancer, and yet . . .

“My Mother’s Grace”
-for Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin

My Mother never holds
onto evil, suffering, hate,

In her mind’s eye
is always centered


joy and fun:

It is the most amazing
charism I have ever seen.

The day my Mother dies
she will have in front of her
not pain, regret, or fear,

But the last wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November: Mine Field of the Heart

"I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know the world is going to break your heart eventually." These words have been attributed to John F. Kennedy. Another possibility is that they were the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, after Jack Kennedy was murdered. Whatever the origin, the words are true enough. And it's not just the Irish whose hearts are broken by the world (it's just that maybe we have written about it more poetically, more eloquently). November is a month that will break the heart in my family, break it from joy and from sorrow.

November 10th marks the birthday of my mother, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin--born in Cleveland in 1923. Come December 8th, she will be gone five years, and we her children still mourn her passing.

November 13th is the birthday of my sister, Mary Ellen Coughlin Zaremba. Born on Friday the 13th in 1953--a lucky day indeed for her large family and many friends.

November 14th is the birthday of my mother-in-law, Ruth Hoffman Sanders, born in Cincinnati in 1924. Gone a year-and-a-half now, this force of nature is deeply missed.

And November 14th is also the birthday of my Uncle Bill Coughlin, born the same year as my Mom, 1923. Uncle Bill and Aunt Kay are two of the great people on the face of the earth. Bill was probably my Dad's best friend. He is vital, fun, and a tremendous loving parent and grandparent. Aunt Kay is his partner in crime (for probably the past 60 years!). An amazing woman, full of spunk and energy, the original multi-tasker. Aunt Kay can crochet an afghan, talk on the phone, and organize her family matters all at the same time, blindfolded, with one hand tied behind her back!

Happy Birthday, Mom, Mary Ellen, Ruth, and Bill!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ashtabula's New Covered Bridge

Photos by Kevin Coughlin. This incredible new covered bridge is just a few miles south of the city of Ashtabula, in Northeast Ohio. It spans the Ashtabula River.

Farewell Fall, Hello Winter!

The fall color is almost gone except for the tulip poplars (pyramidal crowns of yellow) and a handful of other trees. In my yard the flowering pears ("Cleveland Select") are covered with yellow, orange, and red leaves; and the sweetgums are also covered with leaves that range from yellow to deep dark red, The sugar maple have lost their leaves; and the red oak (uncommon in Hambden Towbship but common in Lake County and parts of Geauga) are covered with brown leaves.
It's really looking like hunting season. Winter is a-coming!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Reaction of African-Americans to Obama's Victory

I have been amazed by the reaction of so many African-Americans to the election of Barack Obama. It's not just a calm sense of happiness for victory, for progress. In so many cases, Black men and women have broken into tears--even those folks who are as tough as nails: Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, et al. One television commentator who spontaneously broke into tears was Juan Williams of the Fox network. Here is the report from the Huffington Post:

[beginning of the quoted material from the Huffington Post]:

A visibly moved Juan Williams reacted to the news that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States shortly after the race was called on Fox News Tuesday. Williams called it "stunning," noting that African Americans were barely able to vote until just 43 years ago, and saying, "I don't care how you feel about him politically, on some level you have to say this is America at its grandest."

His full comments:

It's a stunning sight. It's incomprehensible. Even a year ago, I wouldn't have thought this was possible. That an African American man could be elected President of the United States. When I think of it from a historical point of view, and you go back and think of people, that fact that black people didn't have the right to vote in this country. There were only black men until 1870. In 1870, black men got the right to vote and of course it didn't mean much until going forward until 1965 and the Voting Rights Act. And at that point, Lyndon Johnson said the Democratic Party lost the South forever and there was no possibility really of full enfranchisement that said black people could somehow be the leader of the United States of America. This is truly an incredible moment of American history. I can't think of another country in the world where you could have a significant minority that was once so maligned and so oppressed finally have one of its sons rise to this level. This is ah... I don't care how you feel about him politically, on some level you have to say this is America at its grandest, the potential, the possibility, and what it says for our children. Black and white, the image of Barack Obama and those little girls in the Rose Garden in these years to come. I think it's just stunning. [end quote of Huffington Post]

Here is a description of the Civil Rights hero John Lewis's response:

Civil Rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis didn't hide his emotions when he spoke about a black candidate's rise to the presidency in a country that fought a civil war over slavery.
"We have witnessed a nonviolent revolution, a revolution of ideas," he told National Public Radio. "I felt like shouting, but I just said, 'Hallelujah, hallelujah,' because I knew Martin Luther King himself was looking down on us saying, 'Hallelujah.'"

I keep wondering how Warren Bowles, my Notre Dame roommate, reacted. Warren is an African-American who, like Barack, was raised partly in a White world (he was a Catholic seminarian in Minnesota; then a student at Notre Dame, which was almost totally White from 1966-70). Warren is an actor in the Minneapolis theatre troupe called "Mixed Blood Theatre." Did Barack's election mean a lot to Warren? [By the way, it still seems so odd to use the words "Black" and "White"--the words are so inadequate and even inaccurate.]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Day for the History Books! And Indian Summer in Northeast Ohio.

What can you say about yesterday, November 4, 2008, that hasn't already been said? It's a day that will go down in American and world history. I fell asleep as history was being proclaimed last night--around 11PM Eastern Standard Time. Then the phone rang--Carolan calling me from Colorado to tell me the news. I was groggy and she was jubilant. Luckily I was able to get to the television to hear Barack Obama's speech. I was especially impressed by his message to those who didn't vote for him. He promised to listen to their voices, to be their president too. I hope he is indeed a unifier, a person who will bridge the political chasm. I was also proud to see Joe Biden on the stage, a man of Irish-American heritage and a Catholic. He will be only the second Catholic in the White House. Oddly, it feels as if my tribe is taking over the reigns of power (and it's funny to say this because Barack is a genuine Black-American and I am, at most, maybe Black-Irish (as my Dad used to say--he thought we had Spanish or Moorish (North African) blood via our Irish heritage)). I guess I can say, a bit ironically, "I'm Black and I'm proud!"

Indian Summer. Today is the sweetest, most gorgeous day of the year in Northeast Ohio. I spent my lunch hour walking through a Lake County MetroPark, Penitentiary Glenn. Where is there a more beautiful forest? Though we are past our autumn color peak, the colors here were still incredible. Mostly yellows, with bronzes, a bit of red, and some browns. I saw a crabapple tree in perfect sunshine, all yellow leaves with the reddest crabapples all over it. I saw beech, sugar maple, and glorious red and chestnut oaks. There were yellow sassafras trees, gigantic basswood trees, red maple, and many species I couldn't identify. Along the edge of the trail was the steep ravine, with lots of Canadian hemlock along the rim and slopes. A glorious cloudless blue-sky gentle day in Northeast Ohio.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama-Springsteen Rally in Downtown Cleveland

Last night, Linda, Julia, and I attended the Obama-Springsteen rally in downtown Cleveland (along with about 80,000 other people!). I hadn't been this excited about politics since September 25, 1960, when I saw Jack Kennedy driving to the annual Democratic Party Steer Roast at Euclid Beach Park. My Dad had found us a spot on the motorcade and we got a brief glimpse of Kennedy as he drove by.

Back to present day--We arrived in downtown Cleveland around 2:00 PM, parking on East 22nd street near Cleveland State University. The parking was free--but about a mile and a half from the rally site (Malls A, B, and C behind the Cleveland Public Library Building and adjacent to the Convention Center). When we got within a half mile of the rally site, we were disheartened by a gigantic line (maybe a mile long!) trying to get to the rally. Everyone who wanted to stand close had to pass through an airport-type metal detector. After about 45 minutes in line, we passed through the detector. Linda and Julia had no problem; but I was wanded and patted down and found harmless enough. When we got into Mall B, we managed to locate a spot near the handicapped seating, only three rows behind a metal separator. We had an unobstructed view of the stage, which was about 100 feet away. The rally seemed like it was starting on time with the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief speech by Senator Sherrod Brown. Then wonderful music began pouring out of the huge banks of loudspeakers. People were singing, dancing, and having a grand time. The audience was a true rainbow coalition, every stripe of humanity. The one flaw was that we had to wait and wait, and for my semi-old bones, the waiting was tough. My feet became nearly numb and my back started hurting. Sometime around 5:45 PM we saw a fairly large airplane coming in for a landing at Burke Lakefront Airport, and we knew that the waiting would be over soon. As we awaited Bruce Springsteen, I noticed the security all around us: helicopters buzzing overhead, police-snipers on the rooftops, FBI, TSA, and Secret Service people everywhere--and I was glad for that. Around 6PM, we noticed that guitars had been set on stage, and minutes later Bruce Springsteen (along with his wife and children) bounded onto stage and began wailing out his great songs, accompanied by his strong rhythm guitar and haunting harmonica--ecstatic, passionate music. He sang "Thunder Road," and a song about Youngstown, Ohio. And then went into a great song called "The Rising" (a term that any Irish patriot treasures). All in all, he sang 6 songs. And then after about a half hour of music, he introduced, in one of the most poetic and beautiful ways possible, Barack Obama, his wife Michelle Obama, and the two Obama daughters. [more coming--with photos]

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! Oiche Shamhna & Dia de los Muertos

Oíche Samhna, Irish-Gaelic for "Halloween." It's been said that Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) is more a genuine Irish celebration than St. Patrick's Day. It's an ancient festival that has pagan roots, but fits right in with the celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November 2nd. This was the day when the boundary between the living and the dead was fluid. And this fluidity also marked the Irish-Catholic upbringing I experienced.

On November 2nd Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (we have many in Lake County, Ohio) celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This might involve a trip to the cemetery, decorating the graves of those who have passed on, and the eating of a meal (with a plate left for the dead) at the cemetery.

Here's a bet you can win. Bet your friends that they can't correctly pronounce the Irish words for Halloween. It's something close to EE-huh HOW-nuh, believe it or not!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Poem about Euclid and Northeast Ohio

Lake Like Euclid Bluestone

From the Chardon Road hill, I can see the November Lake,
Gigantic and wild, the color of Euclid Bluestone,
Material for sidewalk slabs, foundations, millstones,
Quarried just a mile from here by relatives,
Refugees from the grinding poverty of Ireland--

The sky steel gray, a thousand shades, and
Lake Erie clouds rolling in from the north,
Blanketing this hard-ass city,
Spitting sleet and bitter-cold rain.

I love this wildness and toughness:
This is our history
Our present reality

Our very lives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

North Chagrin Reservation and Strawberry Lane: Fall Beauty

The prettiest places on earth in the fall are in Geauga County, Ohio, the maple syrup capital of Ohio, and in the Cleveland MetroParks' North Chagrin Reservation (this straddles Lake and Cuyahoga Counties). This area is home to the magnificent sugar maple-beech forest.
The top photo is the pond at Strawberry Lane in North Chagrin. The middle photo is also in North Chagrin, near U.S. Route 6 (Chardon Road). The bottom photo is in Hambden Township, Geauga County.

Cold Rain, Sleet, Snow, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

On Sunday, October 26, I rolled my snowblower from our shed, in the way-back of our yard, to our garage because of the ominous weather forecast. The prediction was for bitter cold rain, sleet, snow, dark of night, and weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, the normal late October early November forecast for Northeast Ohio's snowbelt. We didn't panic--we are used to this drill.

Last night I heard it--the pounding of wind-driven sleet on our windows. This morning there was just a small amount accumulated on our roofs and lawns; the temperatures are still too warm for the sleet and snow to hang around very long. That will change, we know. We have stiffened our necks and girded our loins. This is what makes us snowbelters tough! We still vividly remember November 10th-16th of 1996 when about 6 feet of snow fell on the Chardon-Hambden snowbelt. We are ready for anything!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Great Readings at Mass Yesterday: Treatment of Aliens and Love of God and of Neighbor

I don't know what's wrong with me, but I've been paying attention to the readings at Mass lately. Yesterday one of the epistles began this way: "Do not mistreat or oppress an alien, for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21). I know immigration is a complex issue, but there are too many in America that incite hatred toward our immigrants (legal and illegal). I keep thinking of many of our own ancestors, Irish and German, who got into our country by hook or by crook. We must treat these new neighbors with kindness and charity! It's a clear demand of scripture and human decency.

The Gospel reading, Mark 12:28-31, also had a stunning statement when Jesus responded to someone who asked him what the most important commandments were (trying to trap him):

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[
e] 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'[f] 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[g]There is no commandment greater than these."

There is almost nothing you can add to that: that is "the law and the prophets" wrapped into a brief and powerful utterance.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Great Poem for Those Who've Had Tough Childhoods

Like everyone, I had my share of ups and downds growing up. But underneath the periods of hardship, sickness, or unhappiness were always the rock solid love and support of my Mom and my Dad (and even of a much broader extended family). Not everyone has that great good luck, and when I read the following poem by Linda Pastan, I thought of a dear friend who every day suffers because of a rough childhood--filled with yelling, strife, and latent violence. Despite that, she has made a great life. Here is the poem (it can be found in Garrison Keillor's wonderful anthology, Good Poems, published by Penguin Books):


By Linda Pastan

Because of the menace
your father opened
like a black umbrella
and held high
over your childhood
blocking the light,
your life now seems

to you exceptional
in its simplicities.
You speak of this,
throwing the window open
on a plain spring day,
after such a winter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

God and Poetry

"Fishing in the Keep of Silence" is a wonderful poem by Linda Gregg and can be found in Garrison Keillor's anthology Good Poems, published by Penguin Books. Here is how the poem begins:

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.

Toward the end, the poem says:

God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

I find this poem both comforting and humorous. I love the lines "God, who thinks about / poetry all the time." Well, that's nice to know! Poetry is such a human thing, so full of fallibility and pain and hope and beauty and transience and eternity, transcendence and immanence. Are you like that, God? If you, dear God, can understand poetry, then you can understand us humans. Let me recommend to you, O Lord, the work of Galway Kinnell, Li-Young Lee, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden, and Seamus Heaney. These folks understand the human heart!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Catholic in the White House? "Life" Issues.

Does a Catholic have to vote one way or another in the presidential race? The issues are complex, and the candidates' views are often contradictory, at least as they apply to the "life" issues. For example, I am against many of Obama's positions on the abortion issue, but favor his stances on many other life issues. For the most part, I favor McCain's position on the abortion issue (but I don't like the extreme stance of prohibiting abortion even in the case of rape, or incest; I'm not in favor of abortion in those circumstances, but I wouldn't want to prohibit it or criminalize it). So how does a conscientious Catholic deal with such issues?

This past Saturday (October 18, 2008), I read a column by Regina Brett that addresses these perplexing issues very well. Brett is one of Cleveland's (and the nation's!) best, most thoughtful writers. Here are some of her comments (for the entire column, visit

"For the first time since John F. Kennedy, we might get a Catholic in the White House, so the abortion issue is hotter than ever. Forget Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber. Sen. Joe Biden stands to win or lose the Catholic vote.
Is he a good Catholic? Depends on how you measure that. Some use abortion as the only gauge, as the only way to measure the value a candidate places on life.
Yet the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago urged us to have a consistent ethic of life that goes beyond the womb.
'Our moral, political and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth,' he said. 'Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.'
Abortion is a crucial issue, but it isn't the only one that should influence our vote.
One of the best guides I've ever seen on voting showed up in my mail four years ago. Spiritual author Megan McKenna wrote it.
She suggested looking at all the issues: war, poverty, health care, jobs, immigration, housing, education, the environment, the death penalty, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Here's her best advice:
Vote for the person you think will do the most amount of good on all issues.
Vote for the person you believe will do the least amount of harm on all issues.
Vote for the person you believe will allow you to do the most good.
Talk to others about what the priorities should be for our country and the world.
Pray alone and with others.
Reflect on the needs of the common good, not just your own.
Look at a candidate's values and their overall record.
Then, vote for a candidate you believe is 'the best hope for the human race, inclusive of the U.S. and every other country in the world.'
Anyone who is undecided should ignore the ads and e-mails and collect the most accurate information. Take McKenna's advice, then listen to that small, still voice inside and answer this:
Which candidate offers the greatest hope where it is needed the most? "

I have weighed these many life issues and have made my decision. I understand that many friends and family members will do this calculus differently--and I respect that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Climbing Colorado 14-ers

Recently my daughter Carolan and three of her friends cimbed 4 of Colorado's "14-ers"--mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. These peaks were not technical climbs, but they were at a very high elevation, and that alone is pretty challenging. I could probably make this climb myself, providing I had oxygen tanks and a helicopter at my service! The peaks climbed were Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, and Bross. They are near the town of Eagle, Colorado. They parked at the Kite Lake trail head, which is near Alma (and Fairplay and Breckenridge) and climbed the four peaks in one day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Prettiest Place on Earth in the Fall?

If there is a prettier place on the earth in the fall of the year than Northeast Ohio--I'd like to see it. Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, and parts of other adjacent counties (Ashtabula, Trumble, Lorain, Summit, etc.) have the trees that create this beautiful fall epiphany. We have the sugar maples, the red maples, and the American beech that create spectacular yellows, oranges, and reds--and sometimes best of all, mixes of all these colors on one tree or on individual leaves. There are other things that contribute to our colors. One not to be missed is the glorious red of poison ivy. Look, but don't touch! I also love the reds of the staghorn sumac, leaves and fruits, and the reds of the fruit of Washington hawthorn. I imagine our colors are caused by a mix of weather, sunlight, rain, species of plants, and soil. Whatever it is, we have it in abundance! I can't believe New England is more beautiful than parts of Lake County in mid to late October! Try walking through the Cleveland MetroParks' North Chagrin Reservation. There you have it: the prettiest place on earth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Glorious Indian Summer & Boat-Out Day

Today is "boat-out day," alas. Last evening I went to my boat dock, unsnapped the canvas, untied the mooring lines, and powered her (Roisin Dubh, the "Dark Rose") up. Then I cruised very slowly, about 3 MPH, through the Mentor Lagoons to take my boat to the Lagoons' storage building for lift out. Normally, I don't sail alone on my boat, and I always wear my life jacket (always! unlike almost everyone else on Lake Erie). Last evening I was alone on the boat and didn't wear my lifejacket; in fact, the lifejackets were locked in the cabin below. When I got to the point where I was supposed to make a left turn, down another lagoon to the storage building, I just kept on going--out to the big lake. When I got to the big lake, the water was like glass. It was calm and spectacularly beautiful--beautiful beyond words. I inched up my throttle and brought the boat old boat on plane. And there I was, going about 20-25 MPH on the calm lake, the sun moving low in the west over the Lake. I thought about taking a long ride--but decided just to make a big circle. I turned the boat to the left and made a beautiful arc.Then I completed the circle and headed back in. This was my one last chance on the Lake for this year. With the spectacular Indian Summer weather, it seemed like such a shame to pull her out of the water.

Back in the lagoons, I headed for the storage building dock. I never ever dock this boat by myself. I usually have all hands on deck to dock the boat. And even then I sometimes screw up! This time, I brought her in slowly to my starboard side. And then just before my bow would smash into the dock, I put the throttle into reverse and turned the wheel hard clockwise--a counterintuitive move that really works. My boat nudged up against the dock; I threw it into neutral, found my hook, and grabbed the dock and halted the boat. Then I tied her down to the cleats, put her canvas back on. And that was it. Done for the year. Like the last pitch of the baseball season, I was a little sad. We know what's coming around here!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The End of an Era? W.B. Yeats and the Apocalyptic Vision

William Butler Yeats had an apocalyptic bent in many of his poems, and when 9-11 happened, I immediately thought of his writings. Here are a few lines from his poem "The Second Coming"--

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Are we at the end of the world as we know it? I know that this question has been asked over and over through the millennia. Most often the answer is no. But occasionally the answer is yes, we are at the end of something and the beginning of something new. The crash of the world economic engine this month has made me ask the questions: Is this it? What is our future? How do I protect my family?

Sometimes, as the country song goes, impossible things fall, mountains are moved. Caesar is murdered; Rome yields to the barbarians; cultures are torn to the ground by war, disease, or forces we don't even understand. Are we at that point right now?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Juju!

Today marks the 26th birthday of our oldest daughter, Julia. She was born at Central Baptist Hospital, Lexington, Kentucky, some time around 8:30 AM on a rainy early fall day. We had driven some forty miles from Berea to Lexington in the middle of the night, Linda in fairly heavy labor. I remember driving over the Kentucky River bridge, Linda having a contraction, the fog covering the highway. Linda did her Lamaze breathing while I decided all I could do was to pay attention to the road and get us safely to the hospital!

Dr. O'Neill was the obstetrician, and what amazed me was his calmness throughout the whole labor and birthing process. I think at one point he was sitting on Linda's bed talking about skiing. I was in full-panic mode, and Dr. O'Neill's wonderful demeanor calmed me (and maybe Linda) down. This was a natural childbirth, no anaesthetics, and Julia was born as I stood at Linda's head (and I might add--proudly--I didn't faint). Julia was in some distress at birth, having aspirated some meconium. But the doctor and nurses aspirated her lungs and brought her back to Linda--and she was OK.

I remember holding her at birth and looking at her dark, intense eyes. She seemed to look right back at me. I should have known: this was going to be a competitor, a person who could focus and concentrate on the tasks ahead--a smart kid with a powerful will. That was the potential and that's what she has become. What a kid! What an adult! Happy Birthday, Julia!

Postscript: When we brought Julia home, we were met by Linda's brother Steve Sanders, who seemed as happy as we were. We have always been grateful for Steve's help and support. There was also an odd natural sign there to greet us: a beautiful fall crocus, purple in color, had bloomed in the garden. This struck us as a miraculous sign, a good omen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Couple Poems by Carolan

We are moving into autumn in Northern Ohio--no doubt about it! Here are a couple of poems by my daughter Carolan on fall and the coming winter:

in northeast ohio

the buckle of the snowbelt
does not rust slowly into
the freeze and gloom and white permanent winter.
it Explodes.
crimson orange flames bursting from the branches
fireworks, a sunset, a campfire
the glory and celebration and excitement

sustain the hidden embers of Warmth
of Color of Life.

when the snow doesn't stop falling and the sun forgets to visit
we will grasp tightly to the fire of fall
and the eternal glow will keep us strong.

(Carolan Coughlin
October 27, 2003)

October Morning on the Yellowstone

The sky was overcast, bearing down, pushing
The wind, spattering raindrops.
Our kayaks slipped
Darkly over the undulating waters of the Yellowstone.

Cottonwood trees lined the river and with steady splatter
They dripped butterscotch,
Decadent and heavy,
Glowing against the melancholy of the day.

Leaves swirled down,
Scattered with the raindrops,
Drifted carefully,
And then with one quick flick and flutter
They changed into birds and flew.

(Carolan Coughlin
May 2007)
Photo above shows Carolan in her kayak on the Yellowstone River in Montana, Fall 2007.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Stone the Builders Rejected . . .

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Psalm 118:22 & Matthew 21:42). I heard this line read during mass this past Sunday. The line is from Matthew, but long before Matthew it was in the Psalms--the great continuity between Judaism and Christianity!

The line makes me think of my Irish and German ancestors: the poor of County Cork Ireland and of the Rhine/Alsace region of Germany. My family may not exactly be the cornerstone of Ohio, of America. But we are significant contributors to this land. America was built by the "rejected"--the poor, the refugees, the hungry, even at times the banished, the accused. And yes, the enslaved.

What an astonishing thing! The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone!

Poems for Autumn

Changes ( haiku)

Sugar maple leaves
Are falling orange against black

Monarchs heading south.

(Linda & Bob Coughlin)

Haiku for Jake-the-Beagle

Snowy mud on boots
I dig your grave, poor dog,
And think of my own.

(Bob Coughlin
October 24, 2006)

October in Willoughby, 1958

the two sugar maples
glisten in the crisp pure sunlight

efflorescence of yellow, orange, red
against the cloudless blue sky:
Hayes Avenue looks like heaven

Grampa rakes the leaves into a grand pile:
Denny, Mary Ellen, Bobby play king of the hill,
somersault, stuff leaves into flannel shirts

the radio is omnipresent
blaring out the Browns struggle against the Giants,
Jimmy Brown against Sam Huff

Grampa lights the pile of leaves,
a fragrance that will linger in memory
until death

Gramma calls out for dinner:
roast beef, mashed potatoes, green peas


(Bob Coughlin
October 18, 1991)
Photo above shows Carolan on the Yellowstone or Missouri River in Montana in the Fall of 2007.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"An Gorta Mor"--the Great Irish Famine

An Gorta Mor, "The Great Hunger," is what the Irish call the terrible famine that began in August of 1845. The famine, as horrific as it was, is the reason (or one of the reasons) my family and I are in America.

A. Introduction.

Nobody knows exactly how many people in Ireland were killed because of hunger and the inevitable diseases that followed the famine. A reasonable guess is about a million people; another million people were forced to emigrate from Ireland, and the ripples of this forced emigration continued for years and even decades. My family, the Coughlin side, came over around 1858, some years after the official end of the famine. Millions of peasants who survived the famine were jobless, landless, and still on the edge of starvation for a long, long time after the famine ended. The majority of those who died and those who emigrated were Irish-Gaelic speakers--a near death blow to the ancient language.

B. Causes of the Famine

1.--population growth in Ireland [coming]

2. Monoculture of the Potato

As astonishing as it might seem, a very large portion of the Irish population (perhaps one-third), especially in the west and south of the island, survived principally on a diet of potatoes. Potatoes were supplemented by a little butter, milk, some eggs, and in places close to the sea, by cockles, mussels, oysters, and other seafood. The poor had very little meat to eat, and the largest portion of their calories came from potatoes. Estimates of how much potatoes the Irish peasantry ate challenge credulity. It is thought that some people ate about 12 to 14 pounds of potatoes per day--and very little else (see the Cormac O'Grada source, pages 17-18). Estimates are that a third of the population of Ireland (nearly three million of an estimated 8 to 9 million people before the famine) survived principally on potatoes. Why didn't they have beef or pork when many of the Irish lived on some of the world's greatest grazing lands? It's because this precious meat was for the rich or for export. Believe it or not, during the Great Famine, Ireland was an exporter of food! While a million people died from hunger and disease! And why a potato monoculture? Because potatoes were the best hope of staving off hunger and disease; potatoes had the nutritional value of maize, but at a fraction of the cost. The Irish fields were incredibly productive in the amount of potatoes that could be grown per acre of land, and potatoes are very rich in vitamins and minerals. By the way, much of these potatoes were fed to pigs and cattle--the export foods. To a great extent, the Irish peasantry did not own the lands they farmed. They had to devote a good portion of their farming and labor to making the rent payments. This land ownership situation combined with many other factors to make the lot of the Irish peasantry very fragile indeed--always at the edge of disaster. And Between 1845 and 1851 (and beyond), in the very grip of tragedy.

3. British Land Policies.

I don't know all that much about the impact of land policies on the Great Famine. But I do know that by the mid 1800's Ireland was mostly a country of renters. Because of the English "Plantation" [this involved ethnic cleansing; removal of Irish Catholics from the land; and in many cases, genocide] and various Penal Laws, it was rare for Irish Catholics to own their own land. The laws were created to keep Irish Catholics landless and in poverty. In the best of times, the Irish peasantry (and that's who many of us are descended from) was that close to disaster and starvation. Some Englishmen said the lazy Irish deserved their fate. But if you take a ride around Ireland today you see the stone walls, fields, and structures built by these "lazy" people. In many cases, they actually "built" the soil. They carried by hand sand, seaweed, and cow droppings and created soil where there was none before. The Great Hunger was not caused by Irish laziness!

4. The Blight Vector.

The vector that caused the potato blight, Phytophthera infestans, apparently arrived in the summer of 1845 and was first noted in the press on September 6 of that year (O'Grada, p. 32). this particular fungus had already infested potato crops in the USA and continental Europe. But the impact on Ireland was particularly devastating because a third of the population utterly depended on the potato for life itself.

C. Impact of the Famine.

1. Deaths.

Nobody knows exactly how many people died of the famine in Ireland. I've seen estimates up to 1.5 million people (the New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1974, estimated mortality at 2-3 million!). The most common estimate I've seen is about a million dead. Some proportion of these died directly from starvation; but a more typical situation involves contracting diseases while in a weakened state: typhus, cholera, "famine fever." Children under 10 and adults over 60 were the first to die and the most vulnerable.

2. Emigration and Overall Population Crash

It is estimated that there were about 8 million people on the island in 1845 (estimates go up towards 9 million). The famine (and diseases related to the famine) are thought to have killed about a million people. Another million people emigrated--to the USA, to England, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. Even after the famine was over, the population continued to crash: the situation in Ireland was still quite desperate, so much so that entire families fled for their lives (including my own!). This emigration continued until the population of the island was about 4 million people at its nadir, around 1940--half of what it had been in 1845. Whole areas of the south and west had been depopulated. Until this day, Ireland has fewer people than it had in 1845. The population of the Republic of Ireland is a little over 4.4 million people right now; the population of Northern Ireland is around 1.75 million people. Altogether, around 6 million people live on the island in 2008, where once 8 to 9 million people lived there.

3. Impact on the Culture.

A culure doesn't come through as devastation so great as the Irish Famine without being changed. I don't think I have the perspective to comment on the cultural impact definitively, but I have some guesses. My guess is that the famine, and especially the British response to it, played a role in Ireland attaining independence from Great Britain. The great Irish patriot John Mitchel once said, "The Almighty sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine" (see O'Grada, p. 3). Independence didn't come right away, but the die had been cast.

I also think that the famine had an impact on Irish cultural and moral values. It probably led to even later marriages and the enshrinement of celibacy--how can you get risk having children outside of marriage in an era before birth control when children are the first victims of hunger. O'Grada states, "Earlier historians usually painted a very bleak picture of social life in Ireland after the Famine. Pre-Famine Ireland, by contrast, seemed a gregarious and cheerful place, where family ties extended far and people were neighborly, where puritanical scruples counted for little, and where peasant life was rudely egalitarian" (p. 65). I wonder if an extreme puritanical Catholicism emerged after the Famine, extending its reach and influence into our own times. I am almost positive that this is the Catholic atmosphere I was brought up in. Recently I've come to think that maybe the American refugees of the Famine have a more intense puritanical Catholicism than even the Irish living in Ireland. How could that be? The conservatism and puritanism seems more intense the farther you get in time and place from the homeland.

4. Impact on the Irish-Gaelic language.

The percentage of people who spoke Irish-Gaelic had been declining before the Great Famine.It is said that one-third of the Irish population could speak Irish in 1845 (still, that's close to 3 million people!). In the generation previous to that, about 40% could speak Irish (O'Grada, p. 67). Already by that time, Irish had faded in the area around Dublin known as "The Pale." And in many parts of Ulster, where the British and Scottish plantations were thriving, Irish was in steep decline (in some parts of Ulster, the language remained very vital and dynamic--think of Donegal). The reasons for the decline are hardly mysterious. If survival demands that you speak English--you will speak English, and you will encourage your children to speak English.

Irish also declined because it was, in some situations and times, illegal to speak the language. And children were often physically punished--beaten-- for speaking the language.

A hugely important reason for the decline of Irish is the cultural imperialism of English (and this is still a powerful factor!). Everything important and many things that are fun, especially these days, appear in English. Newspapers, magazines, textbooks, instructional manuals; music, radio, television, every aspect of pop culture. English is a cultural bully all over the world.

Despite this thousand-pound gorilla, Irish didn't totally disappear. But it did become more like the language of the poor, of the peasantry, and no longer the language of law, business, or the powerful and influential tools of culture. That is why the famine had such a devastating effect on Irish; the people killed or forced to emigrate were, to a large extent, the speakers of Irish. Those who stayed behind had to learn to speak English to survive. The result was an ever-shrinking pool of native Irish speakers who used Irish in their everyday lives.

D. Never Again

There are times when we cannot do anything about a disaster. But often we can do something to prevent, to mitigate, or to clean up. We are currently able to feed everyone on earth--at least at the level of sustaining life. Let's not mistake the "the invisible hand" of capital or the "hand of God" from something we can deal with or have caused. We are God's hands and legs on earth. If people are hungry, let's feed them--even if we think that somehow their starvation is their own fault. "An Gorta Mor"--never again!

Here is a poem I wrote, imagining the anger of the Irish after the Great Famine:

An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger
(Ireland, 1840’s)

Most of the world just watched
As a million of our poor starved to death,
Another million forced to flee to other lands:

They said, “This is the hand of God!” or
“The ‘invisible hand’ of capital will set things aright.”

We won’t forget who gave us bread
Who put their prayers into action
Who gave us shelter—

And who let our mothers and our babies die.

Who could blame us if we slit the throats
Of those who held the “invisible hand” of fate?

Our knives will be cold hard steel.
We’ll make the invisible visible!

(Robert M. Coughlin
12 April 2007)

References. Despite the reputation of Wikipedia as an untrustworthy source, I suggest you check it out on this topic:

Here's a scholarly resource: O'Grada, Cormac. The Great Irish Famine. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Honoring Shannon McBride

Yesterday would have been the 28th birthday of Shannon Lee McBride. Alas, Shannon died on July 29, 2003, from complications of a simple tonsilectomy. She suffered from a nicked artery during the surgery, and bled off and on for days following the procedure. Shannon tried over and over to get medical attention for the problem. In fact, on the day she bled to death in her father's arms, she was sent home from the hospital without any diagnostic testing to determine the cause of arterial bleeding. Shannon was the victim both of terrible chance and human error--and a wonderful young life was lost.

We salute Shannon's life, full of vitality, family, and friends. And we honor her parents, her sisters, her wider family, and her many friends. Nothing is lost to the Lord. Nothing is lost to the Lord.

"I Want My Mommy!"

Here I am, a grown man, and my first thought yesterday when the stock market tanked 777 points and we seemed at the edge of the abyss was: "I want my mommy." I wanted to call her on the phone, or better still, stop by the old house and drink a beer and chat and laugh with her. She would have taken this latest crisis, this latest abyss, with a grain of salt. She, and we all, have been through many crises and many hard times before. We would get through this one together. Unfortunately, visiting Mom would have involved a trip to Heaven, and I'm not ready for that leap yet! Mom died December 8th, 2003, and we, my brothers and my sister, have been on our own ever since. We have to pretend to be the peaceful, confident voice: "Yeah, everything will be all right. Don't worry about it. Let's drink a beer."

Salute, slainte to you, Mom. We'll get through this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman--Passing of a Great Person

This weekend we learned of the passing, at age 83, of a great human being, Paul Newman. Paul Newman is considered one of our own in the Cleveland area. He was born in Cleveland Heights and raised in Shaker Heights. After high school, he briefly attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. After a stint in the Navy during World War II (where he saw combat), he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He came back to the college and to the Cleveland area many times over the years. I vividly remember him campaigning for John Kerry in the Shaker area four years ago. He even canvassed in his old neighborhood, knocking on the family's former home, and showing the current residents where he and his father used to sneak cigarettes.

Paul Newman was able to do what many people find impossible: he balanced a devotion to wife and children with artistic pursuits, hobbies, and businesses. He was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years, and he died in the presence of his wife and children. His family life was not without sorrow--he did lose his oldest son, Scott, to drugs and alcohol and never got over the terrible loss.

He certainly was one of our greatest actors, in films, on television, and in live theatre. His work include some of the greatest, most iconic films in history, including The Hustler, Hud, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Color of Money, and more. He directed his wife and actors John Malkovich, James Naughton and Karen Allen in a tremendous production of Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie (this great work is not widely available, as far as I know). His characters had spunk, spirit, attitude, and left a sharp imprint in memory.

His hobby of race car driving began in mid-life and was pursued, with passion and great success, until the end. Another hobby, cooking, evolved into a tremendously successful non-profit business--Newman's Own salad dressings, popcorn, and sauces.

What is greatest about this artist and family man is his generosity. He gave back to his community, his country, his world in so many ways, not the least of which is an estimated $200,000,000 in profits from "Newman's Own" and his establishment of camps for children with illnesses (The Hole in theWall Gang Camps).

Paul Newman lived a blessed and full life (though not without suffering and personal tragedy). Let us thank God for the likes of him, and somehow let's begin to take on the work of this great human being.