Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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: http://foggynightofthesoul.wordpress.com/
I hope a publisher picks up this wonderful work!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
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
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,
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
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
Thursday, November 20, 2008
(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,
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
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
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
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
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: www.baseball-fever.com/showthread.php?t=23420
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
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 www.amazon.com or www.borders.com for the book.
And to all Veterans, we thank you and honor your service!
Monday, November 10, 2008
“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 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
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.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
[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
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
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]