Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Poem by Notre Dame's Frank O'Malley

Here's a Christmas season poem by Frank O'Malley, who was a famous professor at the University of Notre Dame from the 1930's to the 1970's:

Let the Christbrand Burst!

Let the Christbrand burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!
Dartle whitely under the hearth-fire,
Unwind the wind, turn the thunderer,
And never, never thinning,
Forfend fear.
Flare up smartly, fix, flex, bless, inspire,
Instar the time, sear the sorcerer,
And never, never sparing,
Save all year.

Let the Christbrand Burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Where Are the Mansfield House People Now? (#4)

In this blog entry, I will talk about the members of and frequent visitors to the Mansfield House, and where they are now.

Greg Haas lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife Dorothy;
John Luginbill, as far as I know, is in Cincinnati;
Joan Levy is a nurse or nursing prof, who lived for many years in Florida--not sure if she is still there;
Kenny Przybylski is deceased, dying circa 1987;
Jack Shereda, like Kenny a former Franciscan brother, is also deceased (circa 1990);
Caroline Bromley died in a freakish automobile accident, probably around 1980;
Bonnie Tompkins--don't know where Bonnie is, but probably in Cincinnati;
Peggy Scherer--last I heard she worked for the non-profit Heifer International;
Anne Weinkam is a nurse in Cincinnati. Anne's sister Clare Weinkam lives with her husband, Manuel Susarret, in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati; Paul Weinkam, their brother, died some years ago of cancer;
Henry Scott, a nurse, lives with his wife Gina in Baltimore;
Mary Alice Shepherd Milnes lives near Elkins with her husband Gerry Milnes. They are renowned in American folk music circles.
Joel Stevens was in a serious bicycle accident years back and suffered a head injury; I think he's still in Cincinnati;
Dan Bromley, as far as I know, lives north of Cincinnati;
Dick Crowley lives near Boston;
Richard Gale--not sure!
Denny Ryan--I believe he works at the University of Cincinnati.
Chris Cotter, and his wife Linda, live in Urbana, Ohio. Chris is a physical therapist.
Andy Meyer became a physician, a radiologist I believe. For some reason I think he lived in North Carolina.

These were (and are!) wonderful, principled, intelligent, talented people, who have contributed much to the world!

A Secret Life (poem by Steven Dunn)

A Secret Life

by Stephen Dunn

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you've just made love
and feel you'd rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you're brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that's unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you'd most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing, it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.#

I guess the immolation (partly self-immolation) of Tiger Woods has made me think of Stephen Dunn's poem. What also comes to mind are lines from Wendell Berry's great poem "Manifesto: The Madfarmer Liberation Front"--

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.#

[For the entire poem, see Wendell Berry's 1973 book, The Country of Marriage.]

Privacy and freedom of imagination are essential for living a life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cincinnati's Mansfield House in Over-the-Rhine (#3)

The Mansfield House was, loosely defined, an intentional community. I guess "anarchists" (and many of these folks were anarchists, but not in the common sense of this term) don't form rigid intentional communities! What held this community together? Well, the community membership was dynamic, with people constantly moving in and out, but they did share many values: a dedication to nonviolence (in the Gandhian and Martin Luther King Jr. sense); opposition to the Vietnam War; and a dedication to living simply. I imagine many members felt marginalized in the normal American world, so there were psychological similarities in many of the Mansfield House's community members. Many came from a religious background. A number of the members were affiliated with the Friends, the Quakers (Dan Bromley, Caroline Bromley, possibly John Luginbill); others found the Mennonites to be friends in spirit; a number of people came out of the Catholic tradition (Peggy Scherer, Greg Haas, Kenny Przybylski, Jack Shereda, Anne Weinkam). One, Joan Levy, was a secular Jew. I didn't know if some others, like Bonnie Tompkins, were brought up in a religious tradition. Some of these people continued to practice their religion; others didn't.

Many people stayed in the Mansfield House for days, or weeks, or even longer, but probably wouldn't have been considered long-time members of the community. Others came over mostly during the day and just occasionally stayed there over night. Among these people would be Joel Stevens, Henry Scott, Mary Alice Shepherd, Chris Cotter, myself, Dick Crowley, Denny Ryan, Clare Weinkam, Paul Weinkam, and possibly Jim Tarbell. There were many others that don't immediately come to mind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mansfield House in Over-the-Rhine (#2)

I'm not sure who established the Mansfield House Community in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. My guess is that the founders were Greg Haas (currently living in Bloomington, Indiana) and John Luginbill (still in Cincinnati, I think). The impulse to establish this community probably came from the Gano, Ohio-based Peacemakers and the movement against the Vietnam War. Also connected to the Peacemakers was the war-tax resistance and draft resistance movements. As you might expect, people drawn to these positions, which could involve prison, were a bit unusual--to say the least! Indeed, most of them were the brightest, most courageous, most-principled people I've ever known.

Other people in on the Mansfield House included Caroline Bromley, Dan Bromley, Bonnie Tompkins, Kenny Przybylski, Jack Shereda, Andy Meyer, and many others I will mention in this blog entry or in another entry.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Holy Anniversary--Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my Mother's death. I thank God for the lucky blessing of having her as my mother. She still guides my life and informs everything I do. I'm sure Denny, Mary Ellen, Kevin, and Jimmy can say the same thing.

Eternal rest grant unto Margaret Ann, O Lord!

And let perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Mansfield House, in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine (#1)

I moved to Cincinnati in late January of 1971. I had been on the phone with my Notre Dame/Innsbruck friend, Chris Cotter, when he said, "Why don't you come down to Cincinnati?" I said, OK, be there soon!"

I had been working for $2.50/hour at Terminal Parking, the parking garage run by Gene Killeeen and his family at West 6th and Superior in Cleveland. I loved the Killeen's, and believe it or not, enjoyed my job. I'm pretty sure we had the best-educated car parkers in the history of the world. At one time, besides Gene (Notre Dame, 1956), we had Earl Hurd (Notre Dame, 1970), me (Notre Dame, 1970), and several other well-educated members of the Killeen family, as well as my Euclid friend Bill Heiss( St. Joseph's, 1966) working there. But I knew that parking cars was not going to be my career. And it was a very tough job working outside that cold and snowy winter of 1970-71. So I decided just like that to make the move. Within days I was in my raggedy old Ford Econoline van, driving down to Chris Cotter's house in Cincinnati .

For a very short time I stayed with the Cotter family in the Western Hills area of
Cincinnati. Then one day Chris and I went down to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and found out that we could sublet Anne Weinkam and Peggy Scherer's apartment on the third floor of 225 Orchard Street. The timing was just downright lucky because Anne and Peggy were ready to leave for a very long roadtrip and they needed subletters. And another astonishing piece of luck was that the Orchard Street house was about 150 feet from the Mansfield House, a raggedy old house at the end of Mansfield Street, just off Sycamore and near Liberty, a hundred yards from the old Cutter Junior High School (which later became the famous School for the Creative and Performing Arts). The Mansfield House was one of the most interesting community experiments in the history of Cincinnati--and Chris and I were nextdoor neighbors! [More on the Mansfield House coming in another blog entry.]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Blow Up Your TV"

"Blow up your TV

Throw away your paper

Go to the country,

Build yourself a home

Plant a little garden,

Eat a lot of peaches

Try and find Jesus on your own"

Thus goes the chorus of John Prine's song "Spanish Pipedream." This past week we sort of blew up our tv. What we did was this: we got rid of our cable TV.

The first day without television was eye-opening. I hardly knew what to do. I ended up reading a bit of Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, The Lacuna. Then I played my guitar and later my Irish whistle. Later I went to the piano and pounded out the few songs that I know. And then back to the whistle and the guitar. At some point I turned on the radio, NPR in Cleveland, 90.3 FM.

I started thinking what life in Geauga County, Ohio was like before television, which probably arrived here in the late 1940's (though reception was probably not good this far from Cleveland). And then I wondered about life before radio; that must have arrived in the 1920's. And electricity, which gradually came in the late 1800's and early 1900's. And the automobile, which probably didn't get here in any great numbers until the 1910's and later. Widespread telephones probably spread to Geauga in the 1900's to the 1920's.

An odd thought occurred to me. Right now, in 2009, we have thousands of people in Geauga County who live without most of the above--the Middlefield Amish (the second or third largest Amish community in the world). Now the Amish have very strict rules and mostly follow them faithfully (though like Catholics, they find creative ways to get around the rules). So you will see Amish people in their horse-drawn buggies--getting Big Mac meals at the drive-through window at McDonalds. Or Amish boys in Middlefield on cell phones.

Anyway, that first day without television was interesting.

New Poem Based on a Powerful Dream

Death Dream

The old woman in my dream said,
“O help me! My shoulder hurts so bad!”
I started massaging the painful cramp
Then hurried to get her a drink of water.

She headed straight for the bed, crying,
“Don’t leave me alone now.
Don’t leave me alone!”

And a crowd of women quickly gathered around her,
Laid her down on the bed . . .
And she quickly breathed her last

In the presence of family, friends, and kind strangers

Who began to weep
As the spirit slowly left the body.

I couldn’t get close to the woman,
Still surrounded by the keening crowd—yet I felt
That I played my part, however small.

This woman was Grandma Hoffman,
Gramma Coughlin, and my own mother—
All at the same time,
The weird logic of dreams.

I wept and felt comfort,
Again, all in the same moment,
Having been in the presence of something


Robert M. Coughlin
November 30, 2009

Miracle of the Internet

The other night I got a phone call from Dick Crowley, a fellow I met in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati some 38 years ago! I last saw Dick, briefly, at a memorial service for Buddy Gray in Cincinnati's Washington Park (not sure when that was--I'm guessing some 13 years ago). I know Rev. Maurice McCrackin was still alive then, at the service in his wheel chair.

I had posted a blog entry wondering about Dick Crowley's whereabouts and just like that, an old friend of his, Bonnie Neumeier, responded to my post; and days later, Dick called me on the phone.

The internet, and the accompanying search engines, are amazing human inventions. I think of them as time machines.

[I just found a Wikipedia entry on Buddy Gray; indeed, it was 13 years ago that Buddy was murdered, November 15, 1996. The entry is at this link:]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Karan Casey, Brilliant Irish Singer

This past Saturday I was listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show (I hear it at 90.3 or 89.7FM in Northeast Ohio) and heard the beautiful voice of Karan Casey, accompanied by a haunting cello. She sang a fascinating cover of Joni Mitchell's song "Fiddle and the Drum" as well as a traditional tune. She has one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. I'm going to find the recordings of the Irish-American group "Solas" and listen to her work.

Garrison Keillor's programs can be found at this link:

Keillor, of course, is an American Treasure. He's always bringing great artists like Karan Casey into the public eye. Thanks, Garrison!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dawn Landes, Singer Song-Writer, and "Straight Lines"

There's a Chrysler Town and Country tv commercial that has attracted my attention because of the beautiful song being sung in the background. The song is called "Straight Lines," and it is performed by Dawn Landes (who wrote the song). Dawn Landes is from Louisville, Kentucky, and now makes her home in Brooklyn, New York. The Chrysler ad can be seen at this link:

Here's the official video:

Here's a cute cover version:

The lyrics are very poignant and make one think about the passage of time and growing up:

Straight Lines

By Dawn Landes

[some of these lyrics might be incorrectly transcribed]

Remember when we were young
How you asked everyone to marry you
All of those songs we sung
Changing all the words you used to make the heroine die

Remember when we were right
God threw his darts at stars in the night
I had a kite
You had a trampoline and a BMX bike
You didn't even like

I don't want to say it's breaking my heart
And I don't know where to start
Old friends are falling apart

??Time like the name of a man
Covered and we both can whine [???]

[??Write your name over mine
cover them both in wine[??]

I miss the straight, straight lines

The old times

Remember when we got caught
Dirty hands and make-believe drugs
We never got
Give me all your money
Bank robbers and cowboy cops
Make-believe rocks

Remember when we held hands
Red rover and marching band
You had a tan
Staying outside that long's gonna make you man
Never going back, never going back again

I don't want to say it's breaking my heart
And I don't know where to start
Old friends are falling apart
Time like the name of a man
Covered and we both can whine
I miss the straight, straight lines

The old times
The old times
Remember when we were young
Remember when we were young

Where Is Dick Crowley? VISTA in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine

Today I was thinking about AmeriCorps and the VISTA program because my daughter Carolan has interviewed with AmeriCorps State and National and, we hope, will soon be offered a position with them. I don't know the history of VISTA, but think it is a kind of natural growth from the Peace Corps program that John F. Kennedy established--possibly coming out of the LBJ years and the "Great Society" programs of the mid to late 1960s. Of course the roots of VISTA must go back long before that! One need only to think of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA projects of the FDR presidency.

So thinking about VISTA led me to thinking about Dick Crowley, a VISTA volunteer in Cincinnati in the early 1970's. Dick was one of several VISTA people I met in Cincinnati near the Mansfield House commune and the Orchard Street house in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine community. Another Cincinnati VISTA name that comes to mind is John Thornton (and his "Thorntonisms"). Dick was a great guy, a giant of a man perhaps 6'5" tall (at least he looked that tall to me!). I'll never forget how Dick recited a Pablo Neruda poem at Chris Cotter's wedding ("I, body of a woman . . .")--slightly under the influence. The recitation was great fun, greeted by hoots and hollers.

In recent years I have found out that I am a direct descendant of Mary Crowley, my great great grandmother, who emigrated from West Cork, Ireland with her husband Daniel Coghlin and her four children, Jeremiah, Bartholemew, Catherine, and Cornelius. Maybe Dick Crowley is a relative--one who got the tall gene. I wish I knew Dick's whereabouts!

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 22nd and the Kennedy Family

Yesterday was a glorious November 22, 2009 in Northeast Ohio. The sky was cloudless, perfectly blue. The temperature was a mild 55 degrees. During the afternoon Linda, Emily, and I hiked the Pearson Creek and Old Valley trails at the Holden Arboretum (the Holden Arboretum is a world treasure, located in Kirtland, Ohio). I felt grateful that my heart, lungs, legs, and knees held up to the vigorous hike, up and down steep ravines. The ravines are full of gigantic hemlock, poplar, sugar maple, and other native trees (red oak, different kinds of hickory trees, beech, and understory musclewood, spicebush, etc.). And there were many varieties of fern still perfectly green. In the arboretum's gardens, a few blooms were still to be seen (especially roses)

The trails in other parts of the arboretum, especially in the open meadows, are lined with tall sticks so that when the heavy snows come (and that could be soon!), the cross-country skiers will be able to find their way. As we hiked around we kept thinking how unusual this warm and sunny weather was. Northeast Ohio in late November can be very dark, cloudy, cold, and snowy. And here was this perfect day!

So for a while I forgot that November 22nd is the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one of the saddest days of my life--and the life of our nation. I was in tenth grade at St. Joseph High School in Cleveland that day. Around 2 PM, Brother Stanley Matthews SM, our principal, came over the PA announcing the shooting. And then, about a half hour later, he brought us the sad news of JFK's death. To Irish Catholic kids like us, this was the most devastating news imaginable.

I've been thinking a lot about John F. Kennedy lately because I've been reading the remarkable memoir written by Ted Kennedy called True Compass. This is an interesting and valuable book, with the genuine voice of Ted Kennedy shining through. He loved and admired his oldest brother, who he always refers to as "Jack." The book makes it abundantly clear how unique and brilliant (and funny and courageous) Jack Kennedy was.

Last evening's news brought more Kennedy news. The bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, has apparently banned U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy from receiving Communion because of pro-choice legislative positions. I think this is a wrongheaded decision, though I myself am very much against abortion (with exceptions for a mother's health and in cases of rape or incest). Catholic bishops often don't seem to understand who their friends are and who their enemies are. Education, dialogue, involvement are the tools we should be using with those that disagree with us--not the sledgehammer of ex-communication. The Church's record with ex-communication is tragic and has often backfired or proven wrong in the long haul.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Lament for Art O'Leary" --in Irish and in English

Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, "Lament for Art O'Leary"

The following was found on the website of the Munster Literature Center (Cork, Ireland). Here's a link:

The famous 'Caoineadh', or 'Lament', for Art O' Leary was written about 1773 by O'Leary's widow, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. O'Leary, who had served as a colonel in the Austrian army, was outlawed and killed in Carriganimma, County Cork, for refusing to sell his much-admired horse to a Protestant named Morris for £5 (at the time a Catholic was not permitted to own a horse of higher value).

The sixth to eighth stanzas are reprinted below, in the masterly translation of Frank O'Connor, followed by the original Irish. Other translations have been rendered by Elis Dillon, Patrick Galvin and Vona Groarke.

My Love and my mate
That I never thought dead
Till your horse came to me
With bridle trailing,
All blood from forehead
To polished saddle
Where you should be,
Either sitting or standing;

I gave one leap to the threshold,
A second to the gate,
A third upon its back.
I clapped my hands,
And off at a gallop;
I never lingered
Till I found you lying
By a little furze-bush
Without pope or bishop
Or priest or cleric
One prayer to whisper
But an old, old woman,
And her cloak about you,
And your blood in torrents ~
Art O'Leary ~
I did not wipe it off,
I drank it from my palms.

My love and my delight
Stand up now beside me,
And let me lead you home
Until I make a feast,
And I will roast the meat
And send for company
And call the harpers in,
And I shall make your bed
Of soft and snowy sheets
And blankets dark and rough
To warm the beloved limbs
An autumn blast has chilled.

Mo chara thu go daingean!
Is níor chreideas riamh dod mharbh
Gur tháinig chugham do chapall
Is a srianta léi go talamh,
Is fuil do chroí ar a leacain
Siar go t'iallait ghreanta
Mar a mbítheá id shuí's id sheasamh.

Thugas léim go tairsigh,
An dara léim go geata,
An tríú léim ar do chapall.
Do bhuaileas go luath mo bhasa
Is do bhaineas as na reathaibh
Chomh maith is bhí sé agam,
Go bhfuaras romham tú marbh
Cois toirín ísil aitinn,
Gan Pápa gan easpag,
Gan cléireach gan sagart
Do léifeadh ort an tsailm,
Ach seanbhean chríonna chaite
Do leath ort binn dá fallaing ~
Do chuid fola leat 'na sraithibh;
Is níor fhanas le hí ghlanadh
Ach í ól suas lem basaibh.

Mo ghrá thu go daingean!
Is éirigh suas id sheasamh
Is tar liom féin abhaile,
Go gcuirfeam mairt á leagadh,
Go nglaofam ar chóisir fhairsing,
Go mbeidh againn ceol a spreagadh,
Go gcóireod duitse leaba
Faoi bhairlíní geala,
Faoi chuilteanna breátha breaca,
A bhainfidh asat allas
In ionad an fhuachta a ghlacais.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin--Born 86 Years Ago Today

[ Photo: My Mother on her wedding day, August 1947. Mom and Dad were married at Immacualte Conception Church in Willoughby, Ohio]

Today would have been my mother's 86th birthday. She was born on November 10th, 1923, to John Francis Fitzpatrick and Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick, their sixth and last child. Mom first lived on E. 169th Street near Grovewood, not far from Euclid Beach Park. I'm not sure of the date, but probably in the early 1930's the family moved to Tarrymore, just off Neff Road, a couple blocks from Lake Erie. So Mom spent her infancy and childhood right near the lake. In fact, she spent almost the entire 80 years of her life within, say, a mile and a half of the Lake. First in Cleveland; then after her marriage to my Dad in 1947, in Willoughby-on-the-Lake (Windermere, near Lost Nation Boulevard and Lakeshore Boulevard); and then in 1951 in Euclid (East 266th Street). The last year of her life was spent in Mentor at my brother Kevin's house. She died peacefully on December 8th, 2003, surrounded by her children and many of her grandchildren, not long after receiving the Last Rites of the Church.

I cannot express or explain how important my Mother was (and is) to my life. I just know that she was central. I am eternally grateful that she was my Mother. I thank God for that great blessing. I still pray for her and for her entire crazy family, myself included. Eternal rest grant unto to her, O Lord. And perpetual light shine upon her!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Peak of My Football Career--Fall 1957

It's been all downhill since the fall of 1957 for my career as a football player--52 years downhill. I was the halfback on a St. William's [E. 260th Street in Euclid, Ohio] touch football team. I was installed as halfback, probably because I demonstrated good running speed in tryouts. And that fall I scored many, many touchdowns for my team, which played right behind St. William's School (now a blacktopped parking lot). As far as I know, the two best running backs in Cleveland that fall were me -- and Jimmy Brown. Brown is in the football hall of fame in Canton, Ohio; I am not.

This was the end of the leather helmet era. The kids on our team had the opportunity to pick over the old equipment used by St. William's CYO tackle team. I checked out an old leather helmet, but the stench (it smelled like vomit) changed my mind and I went for the plastic one.

I believe Mr. Rossa [or Rosa?] was our coach, and his son John was also on the team. I will post a photo soon that shows our team back in those good old days.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sign of the Apocalypse: University of Cincinnati's Football Rankings

The University of Cincinnati's football team is ranked 4th in the country in the AP poll and 5th in the BCS poll. Ohio State is ranked 15th in the AP and 16th in the BCS; Notre Dame is ranked 19th in the AP and 22nd in the BCS.

I attended and have degrees from each of these schools. I even played football for Notre Dame (well, "Interhall Football," for Breen-Phillips Hall, coached by Terry McCarthy). I never would have believed that UC would be better in football than OSU and ND. I remember that when I attended UC in the mid '70's, you could have counted the football fans at home games on your hands and toes. You could even get into the games free of charge back then! The current football rankings are surely apocalyptic signs!

So go Buckeyes and Irish. And congratulations to the Cincinnati Bearcats!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Melonheads of Kirtland/Chardon?

[Top photo: possibly "Heartbeat Bridge" near Kirtland-Chardon Road; middle: this might have been the site of Dr. Crowe's sanitarium, where the terrible experiments were conducted; bottom: near the Dr. Crowe site]

I know you believe in the Melonheads, just as I do. We know they come from somewhere near the Chardon-Kirtland border, where Geauga County meets Lake County. We even think we know the name of the road near their haunt. We know that old Dr. Crowe, with his evil brain experiments and genetic research, unleashed these monsters. We know about "Heartbeat Bridge," and how our hearts beat in terrible unison with the troll-like Melonheads that lurk beneath.

People often ask me if I have seen the Melonheads. The answer is not so straightforward. I began searching for them back in 1964, when I was 16 years old. Once, in the Kirtland woods on Halloween, I glimpsed dark, strange shapes hurrying through the forest near Heartbeat Bridge. I shined my flashlight on them and saw 4 pairs of red eyes and what seemed like gigantic heads. It's well known that Melonheads' eyes shine red in the dark (apparently a result of Dr. Crowe's genetic manipulations). So were these Melonheads? I think so, but I cannot be 100% sure.

Be careful around Halloween, my friend. Think twice about hunting for the Melonheads. We've all heard of the terrible things that have happened to those who hunt for the Melonheads and get trapped and tricked by these monsters. Take Care, my friend!

p.s. Is that Dr. Crowe's headstone in front of the house on Reynolds Road in Mentor-on-the-Lake (near Salida)? What other explanation could there be? How did the tombstone get there?
Astonishingly, there is a Wikipedia entry on the Melonheads. find it at this link:

The article mentions "legendary stories" of Melonheads from Germany, England, Connecticut, Michigan, and Ohio. These might be "myths" or "legends" in these other places; but too many people around Kirtland and Chardon have firsthand encounters to use the terms "myth" or "legend."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jack Pendergast's Funeral at Arlington National Cemetery

[Photos: top, the piper who played a slow tune after the military burial ceremony; middle, a view of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery; bottom, the caisson, pulled by 6 white horses in the procession from the chapel to the burial site.]

This past Wednesday, my daughter Carolan, my brother Kevin, and I drove down from the Cleveland area to Washington, D.C. for the funeral of my cousin Jack Pendergast at Arlington National Cemetery. Jack died in early August, but there is a long delay for burial at our nation's most famous cemetery.

The ride on the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes was beautiful. We exited the Pennsy Pike at Breezewood, and drove through the beautiful hills and mountains of northern Maryland--the hills dressed in their peak fall glory--to our motel in Alexandria, Virginia. I'm pretty sure my old Notre Dame-St. Mary's friend Rene Mirro lives in Alexandria; and I believe my new friend, Jim Sell, lives near there too. Jim is working on a memorial at Gonzaga High School for Steve Shields, my Notre Dame-Innsbruck buddy shot down in Vietnam in 1972. Unfortunately there was no time to visit with Rene or Jim.

We did get to wander around the old town and the Potomac riverside area of Alexandria Wednesday night. Everything there is so different from Cleveland. The area is very busy, very prosperous. Hundreds of people were out and about that night. Stores, boutiques, and restaurants were all busy. The city is dense, traffic is heavy, and there's an air of excitement in the air. All of this contrasts with current-day Cleveland!

In the morning we drove to Arlington National Cemetery and had quite an adventure just trying to get to the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer--just outside the gates to the Cemetery. The problem apparently involved security clearance and we were forced to drive several miles to a special gate where we and our vehicle could be searched. The delay made us almost late for the funeral mass.

The chapel is quite simple and is certainly used for many different faiths. This would be a funeral mass, celebrated by Fr. O'Brien (I think that was his name), probably a family friend of Vicki and Jack Pendergast. I did recognize some faces in the congregation--Vicki Pendergast; and two Hogan relatives who had come from San Diego (Nancy Hogan Acevedo and Kay Hogan Love). I had seen their photos previously, sent to me by my brother Denny and his wife Sher. I'm sure Den and Sher wish they could have attended this funeral!

When the mass was over, the military procession to the burial site began. There was a military band, a caisson pulled by 6 white horses, and a number of soldiers or airmen in the procession. The march to the burial site was quite long, through the winding roads of this incredibly beautiful and holy place.

The burial involved Catholic prayers, songs played by the military band, taps, a 21-gun salute, and the folding of the flag draping the coffin and handing it to Vicki Pendergast. Everything was done with utmost care and respect. The ceremony was very beautiful, very moving. When this part of the ceremony was done, a piper dressed in kilts played a slow tune ("Going Home," I believe).

Three important aspects of Jack's life were honored at the burial: his Catholic religious heritage; his military career of 27 years in the Air Force; and his commitment to his Irish heritage.

After the burial I introduced myself to Vicki and she remembered me from my visit of 4 years ago or so when I met her and Jack for lunch in Baltimore. I then met Dan and Kay, the children of Jack and Vicki. I also said hello to Nancy and met Dan's wife.

Following the burial there was to be a kind of reception/Irish wake at the Dubliner Pub in Washington, D.C. It took Kevin, Carolan, and me a long time to get to the pub because of our inexperience in navigating the Metro subway system. So unfortunately we were late in arriving and I think we missed some eulogies. I'm very sorry that we missed that. We did arrive in time for some Guinness and food and to meet many of Jack's friends and relatives.

At the wake I was able to talk a bit with Dan and Kay Pendergast. Dan and I discovered we attended Ohio State University the same years. In fact, Linda worked at the Horticulture College when Dan was a student there! And Kay attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where my daughter Julia also went to college. I also discovered Vicki was from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, just outside Columbus, and Jack was stationed for a while in Ohio.

We met so many people at the wake my head was spinning and I couldn't keep all the names and relationships straight. We met a Mr. Smith from outside Dayton (Springboro, I think). I found out he is a professional golfer; I told him I was the worst golfer in the world! He attended Ohio University and lived in Reed Hall (and his son is currently at OU and in Reed Hall). My daughters Carolan and Emily both attended OU, and Carolan lived in Reed, and Emily, who's still at OU, lived right next door to Reed.

I also met two other Hogan men. One lives in Aurora or Auburn, New York, where the Coughlin family settled after emigrating from West County Cork, Ireland. This Hogan was surprised the way I pronounced "Coughlin" --as /COG-lin/. He said he pronounced it /COCK-lin/, which is much closer to the Irish pronunciation and the pronunciation of my father and grandfather. I also met another Hogan man, who, I think, lived in the South. I believe his name is Ed. I'm sorry I couldn't keep all these names straight!

After the wake ended at the Dubliner Pub, Carolan, Kevin, and I walked up to the Capitol and then the length of the Mall, stopping at the World War II memorial (which I think of as a memorial to my Dad, my uncles, and to my father-in-law, Art Sanders). Then on to the Vietnam Memorial. We found the etchings of Tommy Fitzpatrick, my cousin, who died there in 1969; Ray ("Buddy") Chasser, St. William's and St. Joe's classmate, who died there in 1967; and my Notre Dame/Innsbruck classmate, Steve Shields, who died in Vietnam in 1972. We rubbed our hands over the etchings of their names and said a prayer for them and for us.

All in all, the funeral and the events surrounding it were moving experiences that we will never forget.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let the Wolf Come Knocking

(“As John Ortberg said, the wolf knocks at the door of every little piggy.” From a sermon by Wendy Rawlins Tuck.)

There is no escaping this Wolf,
Who might be the Lord
Or might be the Devil
Or maybe both.

Just think of his (or her!) visit
As an opportunity for both fear and consolation,
Loneliness and Love,
Despair and Redemption.

Let the Wolf huff and puff all he wants:
You, my friend, are protected by the Spirit
And the Sign of the Cross.

[Robert M. Coughlin
October 12, 2009]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mary Oliver - The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is is you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

This wonderful poem by Mary Oliver reminds me of the work of
Walt Whitman. We are very proud of Mary Oliver, a native of Maple Heights --a
Clevelander. She is one of America's national treasures.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Haiku for the Coming of Autumn

Summer's End--Haiku

This wild lake whipping
Waves into a foamy froth--

Fall descends on Cleveland.

October on Lake Erie--Haiku

Wind roils the wild lake
Gales blow from the west to east--

My soul is swept clean.

[Haiku often have three lines with syllable counts of 5-7-5 approximately. They usually present vivid sense images and a seasonal word or phrase. Often the poem is cut into 2 parts, a kind of juxtaposition. Sometimes at the end there is a sudden insight or epiphany. Haiku are really fun to write.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

October 9th, 1982--One of the Happiest Days!

Happy Birthday, Julia! One of the happiest days of our lives was the day you came into the world, the 9th of October, 1982. Your Mom and I left Berea, Kentucky, for the 45 mile ride to Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington in the middle of the night. Mom was in pretty serious labor by then, and my job was to concentrate on the driving and to get us to the hospital safe and sound. It got a little tricky when Mom had strong contractions as we drove over the very high Kentucky River bridge on 1-75. The river valley was filled with fog and I kept my eyes on the road and tried to ignore the drama in the seat right next to me.

Of course, we made it to the hospital--you weren't born in that rest stop on the interstate--and your Mom gave birth to you, completely natural, no anesthetics at all, that morning. I was there, as was Dr. O'Neill (your Irish Dad and your Irish doctor were there at your birth!). We gave you a beautiful name, "Julia," Latin for "youthful" and the name of your Great Aunt Julia Fitzpatrick Brock and of your Great Great Grandmother, Julia Broughan Fitzpatrick. And the middle name "Rose," after your Great Grandmother Rose Huellemeyer Sanders, who had just recently passed away. We also snuck another middle name in there, "Sanders"; the officials in Kentucky in charge of birth certificates initially rejected a second middle name (think of it: in Kentucky this happened, where people are given astonishing names at times!). We resubmitted our request, noting that the wife of Kentucky's governor had just recently given her own child two middle names. And there you were, Julia Rose Sanders Coughlin, a new light unto the world!

Already, at age 27, you have given much to the world, to your family, and to your friends. Hurray for you, Julia Rose. And Happy Birthday!

Postscript. When we brought Julia home from the hospital, a beautiful crocus was blooming in our Berea yard. I had never seen a crocus bloom in the fall before. We took it as a special sign.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Best Beer in the World--Brewed in Cleveland

Cleveland always seems to be the butt of jokes by comedians (many of whom, by the way, are native Clevelanders themselves: Bob Hope, Jimmy Brogan, Drew Carey, Tim Conway, Patricia Heaton, Molly Shannon are names that immediately come to mind). What outsiders don't know is that native Clevelanders are even harder on themselves than national comedians--we have a wicked self-deprecating humor, stoked by our evil weather and miserable economic conditions, among other things.

We do have some things in Cleveland that are the best in the world, believe it or not. We have the best beer, brewed by the Great Lakes Brewing Company in the West 25th/ St. Ignatius High School/ Westside Market area of town. Try Edmund Fitzgerald Porter or Burning River Pale Ale or Eliot Ness Amber Lager or Commodore Perry IPA. Here's a link to their website, which showcases all their brews:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Death of Bill Husic (William J. Husic, Jr.)

I opened up my Notre Dame magazine yesterday to absolutely stunning news--the passing of my first Notre Dame friend, Bill Husic. When I arrived on the fourth floor of Breen-Phillips Hall in September of 1966, one of the first people I met was Bill Husic, of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Soon after, I met Bill's roommate, Ron Weisenberger, of Fowler, Indiana. Sadly, both old friends are now gone. Bill and Ron's room was to become the main gathering place for the boys of the fourth floor of Breen-Phillips Hall. Some of the members of that floor included Warren Bowles (an actor living in Minneapolis now); Franny McArdle, a National Merit Scholar (at least that was the rumor) who stayed but a year at ND; Emil Collins-Cona, a crazy guy from Brazil, said to be the son of an important diplomat; Mike McAleer, who would go on to a Navy career; Rick Gross, a black student, one of the few at Notre Dame in those days, from Pittsburgh, who died in the Vietnam war [a recent visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington did not turn up the name of Rick Gross; maybe the rumor is incorrect!]; Mike McInerney, of the thick Boston accent, as blind as a bat; and a host of other fun, bright, and crazy guys.

For some reason lost to history, we called Bill "Mad Dog" Husic (we all had crazy nicknames; I was "Wild Man"). Bill was going to major in chemical engineering, a tremendously challenging major at Notre Dame. I remember how hard he worked Freshman year, navigating courses like Emil T. Hoffman's famous workout.

I have a number of disparate memories of that Freshman year involving Bill: his tremendous athleticism when we played football in the field just north of the Notre Dame library (now an area of dormitories)--Bill could outrun, outleap, and outcatch anyone. I often thought he must have been a terrific high school athlete back in the Chevy Chase-Washington, D.C. area. I also remember Bill's odd ability to make perfectly round and hard snowballs, perfect for the many snowball fights we had that snowy winter of 1966-67. I remember visiting Bill's home in Chevy Chase, probably around Easter break of 1967, my first time in the Washington area. And I remember Bill's story about swimming a mile in the Chesapeake Bay when he was in Boy Scouts. In the middle of the swim he encountered a swarm of stinging nettles, jellyfish, yet was still able to finish the long swim.

That last point leads to the great irony of Bill's accidental death. On May 31 of this year, just days after his and Cathy's 38th wedding anniversary, he was swimming with some work buddies near Bahia Honda State Park, in the Florida Keys--snorkeling, I think. His friends lost sight of Bill around noon, and, alas, his body was found a couple hours later. Bill had drowned, but the exact cause is not known--a blackout, some sort of heart problem, muscle cramps--only God knows.

Bill leaves behind Cathy, two children, and several grandchildren (Bill had been recently teaching one of his grandchildren how to swim). Bill also leaves friends from Breen-Phillips Hall days, from Notre Dame, from back home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and from Michigan.

Blessings to Bill's family and friends. May perpetual light shine upon Bill. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The South Wind (An Ghaoth Aneas) in Gaelic and English

YouTube - Gerry Sings An Ghaoth Aneas (The Southwind):

"A ghaoth aneas na mbraon mbog glas
A ní gach faiche féarmhar
Beir iasc is eas is grian I dteas
Is líon is meas ar ghéagaibh.

Más síos ar fad a bhím féin seal
Is mianach leatsa séideadh
Cuirim Rí na bhFeart dod chaomhaint ar neart
Is tabhair don tír seo blas do bhéilse .

Dear South Wind of the soft green drops
Make every pasture sweet and grassy
Bring the salmon leaping up the falls
Bring the heat of the sun
Leave every branch laden with fruit

And when at times my spirit is low
It's your breath revives me
I pray that Almighty God may keep you strong
That you may always bring to this land
The taste of your mouth."

Mick Moloney and Irish Session at Hiram College

There was a wonderful Irish music session at Hiram College yesterday, featuring Mick Moloney, the professor, musicologist, and musician. About 15 people or so were playing music, with about as many people just listening outside the circle of musicians. I recognized a few people there, including Mike Mazur (who didn't play any music, but told a wonderful story, in Irish brogue, about the late Tommy Makem). Also there was Dermot Somerville, a talented musician and singer, who knows song after song by heart, and played Irish flute and guitar. Somerville is a north Dubliner who has lived in America some 30 years or so. I have a CD he made with his group "Shanua" called Salmagundi. That album has the best version of "Wild Mountain Thyme" ever recorded. There were also a bodhran player, two harpists (one of whom also danced near the end of the session), several guitarists, a few whistle players, two people on Irish flute, and a fellow playing a ukelele. Mick Moloney played 4-string banjo and guitar. Probably 3-4 people were playing fiddles (including Gordon Keller), and a man played the Steinway piano there in the recital room. I jotted down the names of some of the songs and tunes I recognized: The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Drowsy Maggie, Maid Behind the Barn, The Rights of Man, Rocky Road to Dublin, Road to Lisdoonvarna, Roisin Dubh, and The South Wind, sung by Mick Moloney in Irish-Gaelic.

Check out youtube for a performance of The South Wind in Gaelic: Search for "An Ghaoth Aneas"

Monday, September 28, 2009

John Brown, the Abolitionist: Hero, Villain, Madman, or Saint?

I was surprised to learn that John Brown, the abolitionist who led the raid on Harper's Ferry (and who was executed because of that raid) spent most of his life in Northeastern Ohio. Brown was born in Connecticut but moved at an early age to the Ohio frontier, living in Akron, Hudson, Richfield, and Franklin Mills, which is now called Kent (the site of Kent State University). Brown was a man of action who addressed the most terrible sin of American history, the sin of slavery. His raid on Harper's Ferry and previous actions taken by him and his cohorts were certainly among the cause of the Civil War--and, you might say, of the abolition of slavery. Despite my admiration of Brown, I'm deeply conflicted by his resort to deadly violence in pursuit of his cause.[more coming]

For more on this, see today's Plain Dealer, "Abolitionist Brown Had Northeast Ohio Ties" (28 September 2009), B-1 and B-3. Also, there is a historical marker on the town square in beautiful Hudson, Ohio, and lots of other resources on John Brown in the Greater Cleveland area. The Plain Dealer article might be available online at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Potato Blight in North America This Year

The vector that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s made an appearance in my
Northeast Ohio garden this year. But in my case, it didn't attack potatoes (I hadn't planted any potatoes), but my tomatoes. Because of cold, wet weather this summer, tomatoes all over the Northeast of the United States (and I imagine Canada) have suffered from "Late Blight," as it is called.

Wikipedia's article on "Late Blight" or Potato Blight begins, "Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete or water mold that causes the serious potato disease known as late blight or potato blight. (Early blight, caused by Alternaria solani, is also often called 'potato blight'). It was a major culprit in the 1845 Irish and 1846 Highland potato famines. The organism can also infect tomatoes and some other members of the Solanaceae." For the complete article click on this link:

I have written about the Irish Potato Famine, An Gorta Mor, at other times in this blog. So there is a biological or genetic basis for the blight. But there also was a human basis for the starvation and suffering that followed. The almost unbelievable human suffering could have been mitigated. Famines are often human inventions.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mary Travers--American Treasure. Rest in Peace.

Mary Travers, an American Treasure, passed away on Wednesday, September 16th at age 72. Mary, along with Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, consituted the singing group "Peter, Paul, and Mary" and gave to America and the World iconic songs and brave witness. When I think of Mary and her group I think of the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Judy Collins. We will miss her voice, her artistry, and her social conscience. Rest in Peace, Mary Travers.

Wikipedia link:

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Poem to Honor 9-11 Hero, Fr. Mychal Judge OFM

A poem I wrote 16 years ago:

Fr. Mychal Judge, FDNY, Requiescat in Pace
Blunt force facts smack us in the face,

proclaim this martyrdom,
raise up this simple priest—

68-year-old Franciscan, Father Mychal Judge,
at an age when he should be easing into retirement,
maybe visiting hospitals twice a week
saying a couple masses on Sundays
taking long vacations to Killarney and Lago di Como . . .

rushes from St. Francis of Assisi Church
in the shadow of Madison Square Garden,
across the street from Engine Co. 1/ Ladder 24,
to the World Trade Center Towers and Armageddon:

Fr. Mike removes his helmet to whisper prayers,
anoints a dying brother fireman with the oils of the Last Rites,
the final comfort . . .


whacked by flying debris, bodies,
steel, glass, paper,
hopes, dreams,

breath punched out, life snuffed.

When his brothers in the Department
see the lifeless body, recognize Fr. Mike,
their chaplain,

Five of them lift him up on their shoulders,
carry him to a nearby church,
place him at the altar.

They cover him with a white cloth and his stole,
lay his helmet and FDNY chaplain’s badge
on his chest
kneel down and

Thank God for Fr. Mike’s life.

Then they hurry back to the Pile, the rubble, the Disaster,
Ground Zero,
the End of the World.

* * *

Life and love will overcome
the furious hatred and darkness

Fr. Mike will not be forgotten:

“His light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness will not overcome it.”

(Robert M. Coughlin September 25, 2001)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Saints of 9-11; Fr. Mychal Judge OFM

There were many heroes and saints on September 11, 2001--many whose names will never be widely known. One only has to think of the policemen, firefighters, and other official and non-official rescuers and helpers on that day and the days that followed.

One great hero, really a great saint and martyr of that day, was Fr. Mychal F. Judge OFM, a Franciscan priest and chaplain of the FDNY. When the WTC was struck, Fr. Mychal immediately rushed to the building, where he offered last rights to the dying. When the South Tower began collapsing at 9:59 AM, Fr. Mychal was killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. His colleagues and friends in the fire department carried his body from the WTC site to a nearby church. The NYC coroner determined he was the first victim of the disaster, Victim #0001. A famous photograph captured the image of the firefighters and rescue workers carrying the lifeless body of the saint from the wreckage. To see this photo and to see the many articles, books, movies, and other related materials on Fr. Mychal can click on the following link:

St. Mychal Judge, Pray For Us!

Here is the homily from Fr. Mychal Judge's funeral:

Fr. Michael Duffy's Homily For Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
September 15, 2001
by: Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM.

Your Eminence, Mr. President, our provincial Father John, family and friends of Mychal Judge, good morning everyone and welcome to this celebration. And it is a celebration. My first thought would be for Michael’s sisters, Dympna and Erin. Our hearts are with you all these days and in the days to come.
After all that has been written about Father Mychal Judge in the newspapers, after all that has been spoken about him on television, the compliments, the accolades, the great tribute that was given to him last night at the Wake Service, I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Teresa’s funeral had it easier than I do. [LAUGHTER]
We Franciscans have very many traditions. You, who know us, know that some are odd, some are good. I don't know what category this one fills. [LAUGHTER]
One of our traditions is that we’re all given a sheet of paper. The title on the top says, "On the Occasion of Your Death." Notice, it doesn’t say, in case you die. [LAUGHTER] We all know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But on that sheet of paper lists categories that each one of us is to fill out, where we want our funeral celebrated, what readings we’d like, what music we’d like, where we’d like to be buried.
Mychal Judge filled out, next to the word homilist, my name, Mike Duffy. I didn’t know this until Wednesday morning. I was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He knew, he seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly more holy than I, people more well known. And so I sat with that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to be called that.
I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and separated, come back together again and pick up right where you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe and hope I was for him …
We as a nation have been through a terrible four days and it doesn’t look like it’s ending. Pope John Paul called Tuesday a dark day in the history of humanity. He said it was a terrible affront to human dignity. In our collective emotions, in our collective consciousness, all went through the same thing on Tuesday morning.
I was driving a van in Philadelphia picking up food for our soup kitchen, when I began to hear the news, one after another after another. You all share that with me. We all felt the same … It was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon that I came back to the soup kitchen, feeling very heavy with the day’s events. At 4:30, I received a call from Father Ron Pecci, my good friend. I was, we were serving the meal to the homeless. And I was called to the phone. And he said, "It’s happened." And I said, "What?" And he said, "Mychal Judge is dead."
At that moment, my already strained emotions did spiritually what the World Trade towers had done physically just hours before. And I felt inside … my whole spirit crumble to the ground and … turn into a pile of rubble at the bottom of my heart. I sat down on the stairs to the cellar, with the phone still to my ear and we cried for 15 minutes.
Later that day, I was in my room. I had my head in my hands, on my desk, and a very holy friar, whom I have the privilege to live with, Father Charlie Finnegan, just gently slipped a piece of paper in front of me and whispered, "This was written thousands of years ago in the midst of a national tragedy. It’s a quote from the Book of Lamentations." "The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. Every morning, they are renewed. Great is his faithfulness. I will always trust in him." I read that quote and I pondered and listened, contemplated. I thought of other passages in the Gospel that said, evil will not triumph, that in the darkest hour when Jesus lay dying on the cross, that suffering led to the resurrection.
I read and thought that the light is better than darkness, hope better than despair. And in thinking of my faith and the faith of Mychal Judge and all he taught me and from scripture … I spiritually began to lift up my head and once again see the stars. And so, I had the courage today to stand in front of you to celebrate Mychal’s life. For it is his life that speaks, not his death. It is his courage that he showed on Tuesday that speaks, not my fear. And it is his hope and belief in the goodness of all people that speaks, not my despair. And so I am here to talk about my friend.
Because so much has been written about him, I’m sure you know his history. He was a New Yorker through and through. As you know, he was born in Brooklyn … He was born, well, some of you may not know this, he was a twin. Dympna is his twin … He was born May 11th, she was born May 13th. [LAUGHTER] Even in birth, Mychal had to have a story. [LAUGHTER] He just did nothing normally, no. [LAUGHTER]
He grew up in Brooklyn playing stickball and riding his bike like all the little kids then. Then, as you’ve heard the story so many times, he put the shoe polish, the rags in a bag and took his bicycle over here, and in front of the Flatiron building, he shined shoes for extra money, when he was a little kid. But very early on in his life, when he was a teenager, and this is a little unusual, because of the faith that he believed, that his mother and his sisters passed on to him, because of his love for God and Jesus, he thought he would like to be a Franciscan for the rest of his life. And so, as a teenager, he joined the friars. And he never left. He never left because his spirit was truly, purely Franciscan, simple, joyful, life loving and laughter. He was ordained in 1961 and spent many years as a parish priest in New Jersey, East Rutherford, Rochelle Park, West Milford. Spent some time at Siena College, one year I believe in Boston.
And then he came back to his beloved New York, whose heart really never left the city. But I came to know him ten years after he was ordained. I was ordained and this is a little ironic … My 30th anniversary of ordination was Tuesday, September 11th . This always was a happy day for me, and I think from now, it’s going to be mixed. But my first assignment was very happy. I was sent to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Mychal was there working in parochial work. And of course, if you know in the seminary, we learned a lot of theory. We learn a lot of knowledge but you really have to get out with people to know how to deal and how to really minister. So, I arrived there with my eyes wide open, my ears wide open. And my model turned out to be Mychal Judge. He was, without knowing it, my mentor and I was his pupil. I watched how he dealt with people. He really was a people person. While the rest of us were running around organizing altar boys and choirs and liturgies and decorations, he was in his office listening. His heart was open. His ears were open and especially he listened to people with problems.
He carried around with him an appointment book. He had appointments to see people four and five weeks in advance. He would come to the rec room at night at 11:30, having just finished his last appointment, because when he related to a person, and you all know this, they felt like he was their best friend. When he was talking with you, you were the only person on the face of the earth. And he loved people and that showed and that makes all the difference. You can serve people but unless you love them, it’s not really ministry. In fact, a description that St. Bonaventure wrote of St. Francis once, I think is very apt for Michael. St. Bonaventure said that St. Francis had a bent for compassion. And certainly Mychal Judge did. The other thing about Mychal Judge is he loved to be where the action was. If he heard … a fire engine or a police car, any news, in the car he’d go and away he’d be off. He loved to be where people were active, where there was a crisis, so he could insert God in what was going on. That was his way of doing things.
I remember once I came back to the friary and the secretary told me, "There’s a hostage situation in Carlstadt and Mychal Judge is up there." So, I said, "Oh, gosh." Well, I got in the car … drove up there. There was a house and there was a man on the second floor with a gun pointed to his wife’s head and the baby in her arms. And he was threatening to kill her. When I got there, there were several people around, lights, policemen and a fire truck. And where was Mychal Judge? Up on the ladder in his habit, on the top of the ladder, talking to the man through the window of the second floor. I nearly died because in one hand he had his habit out like this, because he didn’t want to trip. So, he was hanging on the ladder with one hand. He wasn’t very dexterous, anyway. [LAUGHTER] I was fearful and he was, you know, his head bobbing like, "Well, you know, John, maybe we can work this out. You know, this really isn’t the way to do it. Why don’t you come downstairs, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk this thing over?" I was there, we’re all there, saying, "He’s going to fall off the ladder. There’s going to be a gunplay." Not one ounce of fear did he show. But he was telling him, "You know, you’re a good man, John. You don’t need to do this." I don’t know what happened, but he put the gun down and the wife and the baby’s lives were saved. But, of course, there were cameras there. [LAUGHTER] Where … wherever there was a photographer within a mile, you could be sure the lens was pointed at Mychal Judge. [LAUGHTER] In fact, we used to accuse him of paying The Bergen Record’s reporter to follow him around just to … [LAUGHTER]
Another aspect, a lesson that I learned from him, his way of life, is his simplicity. He lived very simply. He didn’t have many clothes. They were always pressed, of course, and clean but he didn’t have much, no clutter in his room, very simple room.
And he would say to me once in a while, "Michael Duffy," he always called me by my full name, "Michael Duffy, you know what I need?" And I would get excited because it was hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, "No, what?" "You know what I really need?" "No, what Mike?" "Absolutely nothing. [MURMURING] I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth." And then he would go on for ten minutes, telling me how blessed he felt. "I have beautiful sisters. I have nieces and nephews. I have my health. I’m a Franciscan priest. I love my work. I love my ministry." And he would go on, and he would always conclude it by looking up to heaven and saying, "Why am I so blessed? I don’t deserve it. Why am I so blessed?" But that’s how he felt all his life.
Another characteristic of Mychal Judge, he loved to bless people, and I mean physically. Even if they didn’t ask … [LAUGHTER] A little old lady would come up to him and he’d talk to them, you know, as if they were the only person on the face of the earth. Then, he’d say, "Let me give you a blessing." He put his big thick Irish hands and pressed her head till I think the poor woman would be crushed, and he’d look up to heaven and he’d ask God to bless her, give her health and give her peace and so forth. A young couple would come up to him and say, "We just found out we’re going to have a baby." "Oh, that’s wonderful! That’s great!" He’d put his hand on the woman’s stomach, and call to God to bless the unborn child. When I used to take teenagers on bus trips, he would always be around when we left. He’d jump in the bus, lead the teenagers in prayer, and then bless them all for a safe and a happy time, wherever I was taking them. If a family were in crisis, the husband and wife, he would go up to them … and sometimes take both their hands at the same time, and put them right next to his and whisper a blessing that the crisis would be over.
He loved to bring Christ to people. He was the bridge between people and God and he loved to do that. And many times over the past few days, there’s been several people who have come up and said, Father Mychal did my wedding, Father Mychal baptized my child. Father Mychal came to us when we were in crisis. There are so many things that Father Mychal Judge did for people. I think there’s not one registry in a rectory in this diocese that doesn’t have his name in it for something, a baptism, a marriage or whatever.
But what you may not know, and I’d like to tell you today because this may console you a little, it really was a two-way street. You people think he did so much for you. But you didn’t see it from our side, we that lived with him. He would come home and be energized and nourished and thrilled and be full of life because of you.
He would come back and say to me, for instance, "I met this young man today. He’s such a good person. He has more faith in his little finger than I do in my own body. Oh, he’s such good people. Oh, they’re so great." Or, "I baptized a baby today." And just to see the new life, he’d be enthused and enthused. I want just to let you know, and I think he’d want me to let you know, how much you did for him. You made his life happy. You made him the kind of person that he was for all of us.
It reminds me of that very well known Picasso sketch of two hands holding a bouquet of flowers. You know the one I mean that there’s one bouquet, a small bouquet, it’s colorful and there’s a hand coming from the left side and a hand coming from the right side. Both of them are holding on to the bouquet. But the artist was clever enough to draw the hands in the exact same angle. So, you don’t know who’s receiving and who is giving. And it’s the same way that Mychal related to people. You should know how much you gave to him, and it was that love that he had for people, and that way of relating to him, that led him back to New York City and to become part of the fire department …
He loved his fire department and all the men in it. He’d call me late at night and tell me all the experiences that he had with them, how wonderful they were, how good they were. It was never so obvious that he loved a group of people so much as his New York firefighters. And that’s the way he was when he died.
On Tuesday, one of our friars, Brian Carroll, was walking down Sixth Avenue and actually saw the airplane go overhead at a low altitude. And then a little further, he saw smoke coming from one of the trade towers. He ran into the friary. He ran into Mychal Judge’s room and he says, "Mychal, I think they’re going to need you. I think the World Trade tower is on fire." Mychal was in his habit. So, he jumped up, took off his habit, got his uniform on, and I have to say this, in case you really think he’s perfect, he did take time to comb and spray his hair. [LAUGHTER]
But just for a second, I’m sure … He ran down the stairs and he got in his car and with some firemen, he went to the World Trade towers … While he was down there, one of the first people he met was the mayor, Mayor Giuliani, and he, the mayor last night, said, Mychal Judge ran by him and he, the mayor, just put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Mychal, please pray for us." And Mychal turned and with that big Irish smile said, "I always do." And then kept on running with the firefighters into the building. While he was ministering to dying firemen, administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last Rites, Mychal Judge died. The firemen scooped him up to get him out of the rubble and carried him out of the building and wouldn’t you know it? There was a photographer there. That picture appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and USA Today on Wednesday, and someone told me last night that People magazine has that same picture in it. I bet he planned it that way. [LAUGHTER]
But you know when you step back and see how my friend Mychal died, I’m sure that when we finish grieving, when all this is over and we can put things in perspective, look how that man died. He was right where the action was, where he always wanted to be. He was praying, because in the ritual for anointing, we’re always saying, Jesus come, Jesus forgive, Jesus save. He was talking to God, and he was helping someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die? I think it was beautiful.
The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they didn’t want to leave it in the street. So, they quickly carried it into a church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.
And so, in my mind … I picture Mychal Judge’s body there in that church in the sanctuary, realizing that the firefighters brought him back to the Father in the Father’s house. And the words that come to me, "I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... Greater love than this no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends. And I call you my friends." …
And so I make this statement to you this morning that Mychal Judge has always been my friend. And now he is also my hero.
Mychal Judge’s body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number one on the top … and I meditated on that fact of the thousands of people that we are going to find out who perished in that terrible holocaust … Why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. I hope you’ll agree with me. Mychal’s goal and purpose in life at that time was to bring the firemen to the point of death, so they would be ready to meet their maker. There are between two and three hundred firemen buried there, the commissioner told us last night.
Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was physically impossible in this life but not in the next. And I think that if he were given his choice, he would prefer to have happened what actually happened. He passed through the other side of life, and now he can continue doing what he wanted to do with all his heart. And the next few weeks, we’re going to have names added, name after name of people, who are being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal Judge is going to be on the other side of death … to greet them instead of sending them there. And he’s going to greet them with that big Irish smile … he’s going to take them by the arm and the hand and say, "Welcome, I want to take you to my Father." … And so, he can continue doing in death what he couldn’t do in life …
And so, this morning … we come to bury Mike Judge’s body but not his spirit. We come to bury his mind but not his dreams. We come to bury his voice but not his message. We come to bury his hands but not his good works. We come to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.
And so, I think … we his family, friends and those who loved him should return the favor that he so often did to us. All of us have felt his big hands at a blessing that he would give to us. I think right now, it would be so appropriate if we called on what the liturgy tells us we are, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. And we … give Mychal a blessing as he returns to the Father.
So, I’d ask you now could you all please stand. And could you raise your right hand and extend it towards my friend Mychal and repeat after me.

FR. DUFFY Mychal, may the Lord bless you. CONGREGATION Mychal, may the Lord bless you. FR. DUFFY May the angels lead you to your Savior. CONGREGATION May the angels lead you to your Savior. FR. DUFFY You are a sign of his presence to us. CONGREGATION You are a sign of his presence to us. FR. DUFFY May the Lord now embrace you. CONGREGATION May the Lord now embrace you. FR. DUFFY And hold you in his love forever. CONGREGATION And hold you in his love forever. FR. DUFFY Rest in peace. Amen. CONGREGATION Rest in peace. Amen. FR. DUFFY Thank you.

*—Delivered by Fr. Michael A. Duffy, O.F.M., Director of St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, Pa., at the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M., 10:30 a.m., Saturday, September 15, 2001, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 135 West 31st Street, New York, N.Y. Edward Cardinal Egan, Presider. Vested concelebrants: Fr. John M. Felice, O.F.M, Provincial Minister, Holy Name Province; Fr. Peter V. Brophy, O.F.M., Pastor; Fr. Myles P. Murphy, St. Gabriel Church, Bronx, N.Y. (cousin).

Dr. Tom Dooley's Letter to Fr. Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame

This past summer I stopped in South Bend, Indiana, and visited my Alma Mater, the University of Notre Dame. Linda and I visited the famed Grotto of Our lady of Lourdes while on campus, saw the statue of Dr. Tom Dooley, and read the famous letter he wrote about 49 years ago to Fr. Ted Hesburgh, then president of the university. Here is the text of that letter. Hardly a more beautiful thing has ever been written:

Hong Kong, December 2, 1960

Dear Father Hesburgh,

They've got me down. Flat on the Back . . . with plaster, sand bags and hot water bottles. It took the last three instruments to do it however. I've contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that, with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter . . . my mind . . . my brain . . . my fingers.

Two things prompt this note to you, sir. The first is that whenever my cancer acts up . . . and it is certainly "acting up" now, I turn inward a bit. Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fund raising and the like. More do I think of one divine Doctor, and my own personal fund of grace. Is it enough?

It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebrae, accounting for all of the back problems over the last two months. I have monstrous phantoms . . . as all men do. But I try to exorcise them with all the fury of the middle ages. And inside and outside the wind blows.

But when the time comes, like now, then the storm around me does not matter. The winds within do not matter. Nothing human or earthly can touch me. A wilder storm of peace gathers in my heart. What seems unpossessable I can possess. What seems unfathomable, I fathom. What is unutterable, I utter. Because I can pray. I can communicate. How do people endure anything on earth if they cannot have God?

I realize the external symbols that surround one when he prays are not important. The stark wooden cross on an altar of boxes in Haophong with a tortured priest . . . the magnificence of the Sacred Heart Bernini altar . . . they are essentially the same. Both are symbols. It is the Something else there that counts.

But just now . . . and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid and all the priests are bundled in their too-large too-long old black coats and the students wear snow boots . . . if I could go to the Grotto now then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion. This is soggy sentimentalism I know. Cold prayers from a hospital bed are just as pleasing to God as more youthful prayers from a Grotto on the lid of night.

But like telling a mother in labor, "It's okay, millions have endured the labor pains and survived happy . . . you will too." It's consoling . . . but doesn't lessen the pain. Accordingly, knowing prayers from here are just as good as from the Grotto doesn't lessen my gnawing, yearning passion to be there.

I don't mean to ramble. Yes, I do.

The second reason I write to you just now is that I have in front of me Notre Dame Alumnus of September 1960. And herein is a story. This is a Chinese hospital run by a Chinese division of the Sisters of Charity. (I think) Though my doctors are British the hospital is as Chinese as Shark's Fin Soup. Every orderly, corpsman, nurse and nun know of my work in Asia, and each has taken it upon themselves to personally "give" to the man they feel has given to their Asia. As a consequence I'm a bit smothered in tender, loving care.

With a triumphant smile this morning one of the nuns brought me some American magazines (which are limp with age and which I must hold horizontal above my head to read . . . . .) An old National Geographic, two older Times, and that unfortunate edition Life . . . and with these, a copy of the Notre Dame Alumnus. How did it ever get here?

So Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame is twice on my mind . . . and always in my heart. That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored. Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it? I know I never did. Spent most of my time being angry at the clergy at school . . . . . 10 P.M. bed check, absurd for a 19 year old veteran, etc., etc., etc.

Won't take any more of your time, did just want to communicate for a moment, and again offer my thanks to my beloved Notre Dame. Though I lack a certain buoyancy in my bones just now, I lack none in my spirit. I must return to the states very soon, and I hope to sneak into that Grotto . . . . before the snow has melted.

My best wishes to the students, regards to the faculty, and respects to you.

Very Sincerely,
Tom Dooley

(Tom Dooley died on 18 January 1961)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jimmy and Kevin's Fishing Odyssey: A Homeric Tale

[This is a work-in-progress; I'm getting the true story from some of the guilty parties and will periodically add to and correct this story]

"Why didn't we think of this before?" chuckled Jim.

"Because we're not the sharpest tools in the shed," cracked Homer as he grabbed another 16-inch trout out of the narrow stream. "This is like taking candy from babies!"

When you really want to catch some fish, you go where the fish are. And when you really really want to catch fish, you go to the Pennsylvania Fish Hatchery just outside Indiana, PA. That's what my brothers Kevin and Jimmy and several other friends, including Homer, did some 30+ years ago, when they were young and foolish--or just plain crazy.

After grabbing about 20 beautiful rainbow trout, they figured they had enough for a terrific supper. And then, as they say, things went terribly wrong. They heard a booming voice from a PA Department of Natural Resources cop yell, "Stop what you're doing, boys, and put your hands in the air!"

They were caught red-handed--20 rainbows plucked from the hatchery stream. Within minutes, Kevin and his cronies were cuffed and seated in the back seat of the police car, and Jim and Homer were handcuffed to the steering wheel of Jim's old junker. They'd have to wait for another police car for their trip to join Kevin in the Indiana PA jail.

Jim and Homer began to wiggle the steering wheel back and forth, back and forth. And to their amazement, it began to break off the steering column. "Holy smoke," Jim said, "we're gonna break this sucker off. "And then suddenly, snap, it was off, and the boys slid out of the car, still cuffed to the broken steering wheel.

"Let's get the hell outta here," said Homer. And the boys began to run, holding the wheel out in front of them, speeding in the dark in the general direction of Homer's family's home. It wasn't two minutes when they came to a roaring creek. And if they wanted to get to Homer's house, some thirteen miles away, they would have to cross that creek. So they waded in, in the black night, on the slippery rocks, into the raging water. Wow, what a dumb move, Jim thought immediately. And then suddenly, they were swept into the creek, off their feet, both still handcuffed to the wheel, swallowing water, almost expecting they would drown. Then just as suddenly, the water dumped them on a rocky bank on the other side of the creek. They were alive, freezing cold, and soaking wet.[story will continue soon]

[I've embellished a basically true story with some fictional details. To the extent possible, I'll correct any embellishments as I get the straight dope from my brothers.]

Monday, August 31, 2009

Aunt Kay Coughlin's Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Aunt Kay Coughlin! Numero LXXXII. As of this September 11th, she'll be married to Uncle Bill Coughlin for 61 years. Aunt Kay was born Mary Catherine Smith, the daughter of a Smith and a Gilmore. She is a force of nature--knows and remembers almost everything about the family; a pillar of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Willowick for probably the last 50 years or so; a force in her neighborhood and city and family; the original multi-tasker! Happy Birthday, Aunt Kay!

Yesterday's celebration at her daughter Jackie's house involved some 50 or more family and friends stuffed in Jackie's small Mentor house and garage. I saw cousins, their spouses, and their children, who range probably from age 3 to 30's. I try hard but can't keep track of everyone and struggle with the names of the next generation of Coughlin's and Coughlin cousins. But what a wonderful family!

The Summer of the Blueberry

This summer I have had the most spectacular blueberry harvest imaginable. It should be remembered in history, at least here in Northeast Ohio, as "The Summer of the Blueberry." My blueberry bushes are about 5 years old now and have never had a big crop at all. But everything came together this year, somehow: weather, rainfall, maturity of the bushes, pollination, bee activity--whatever. As I noticed the proliferation of flowers early in the season I thought that I better put netting over my bushes as the fruit developed. I think the netting (old netting salvaged from Sage's Apple Farm in Chardon) saved the berries from the birds. And by early July the huge harvest began--and continued into mid or late August. We baked blueberry pies, pancakes, and muffins. We had blueberries on our cereal every morning. And we gave away many containers of berries to family and neighbors.

What a fantastic harvest! The Summer of the Blueberry!

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Love Changes Everything"--Tribute to Ted Kennedy

Tonight, at the wake of Ted Kennedy, his friend and former staff member, Nick Littlefield, sang a song to honor the great senator: "Love Changes Everything." As I listened to the words, I thought--yes, that's exactly right, exactly right. Here are the words of that song, sung by Michael Ball and found in the musical Aspects of Love, book and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart:


Love, love changes everything
Hands and faces, earth and sky
Love, love changes everything
How you live and how you die
Love, can make the summer fly
Or a night seem like a lifetime
Yes love, love changes everything
Now I tremble at your name
Nothing in the world will ever be the same

Love, love changes everything

Days are longer, words mean more
Love, love changes everything
Pain is deeper than before
Love will turn your world around
And that world will last forever
Yes love, love changes everything
Brings you glory, brings you shame
Nothing in the world will ever be the same

Off into the world we go

Planning futures, shaping years
Love comes in and suddenly all our wisdom disappears
Love makes fools of everyone
All the rules we made are broken
Yes love, love changes everyone
Live or perish in its flame
Love will never never let you be the same
Love will never never let you be the same

Here's a link to Nick Littlefield's performance at Ted Kennedy's wake:

There's a performance of this song by Michael Ball at

West Cork Possibilities for Coughlin and Crowley Origins

My cousin Jack Pendergast thought that our families might have come from the Bantry Bay area of West County Cork, Ireland. He focused in, I believe, on the settlement of Glengariff (also spelled Glengarriff). This little town is about 6 miles from the town of Bantry, and only about 2 miles from County Kerry. It is also not far from the copper mines of Allihies and Castletownbere (so many of the Irish miners of Butte, Montana emigrated from the Castletownbere part of West County Cork).

Other possible locations for these families might be Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Schull, Ballydehob, and the surrounding countryside. I think it's likely that these families didn't live in a village at all, but out in the townslands because they were farmers.

Ireland is such a crazyquilt of civil parishes, church parishes, townlands, baronies, counties, etc. I think the Coughlin and Crowley families (and relatives like Lavin's, Sullivan's, McCarthy's, etc) lived, in descending order of size, in County Cork, West County Cork, Carbery Barony, West Carbery Barony. And then we're stuck. But they possibly lived around Bantry Bay. This was certainly an Irish-speaking area when Daniel Coghlin and Mary Crowley were born and when their children (Jeremiah, Bartholemew, Catherine, Cornelius, and probably others) were born. And Irish was probably still the predominant language among the poor peasantry (my family!) when they left Ireland around 1857. I have some reason to believe that they didn't all come to New York State (Scipio Town in Cayuga County) at the same time. In a book Jack Pendergast sent me, I find mention of Catherine Coughlin in the Scipio/Cayuga area before mention of the other family members. I will try to post exact information on this at a later time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Me and the Talking Crow of Willoughby-on-the-Lake

The big black bird landed on my shoulder and said, "My name is Corby. What's yours? My name is Corby. What's yours?"

"Startled" is not the word. Mom, who was carrying 10-month-old Denny over her shoulder, was dumbstruck, flabbergasted, gob-smacked. She immediately ran for the safety of our Windermere Drive home, right there in Willoughby-on-the-Lake--leaving me, her two-year-old, toddling down Windermere with a talking crow on his shoulder.

"I'm Bobby," I told the bird. Our discussion was interrupted when Mom finally came storming out of the house, waving a broomstick, yelling, "Get away from him! Get away from him, you damn bird!"

The bird quickly took off, flying over to Hayes Avenue, where he lived with his owner, a fellow everyone called "Jeep." Mom hopped in the brown '48 Ford, me and Denny at her side, in that era before safety belts, and drove the short way over to Jeep's car-repair place between Hayes and Lost Nation Boulevard, intending to give him a piece of her mind. Jeep was underneath a car, covered with grease.

"Your bird just scared the hell out of my boy, Jeep. Keep that damn thing at home!"

Jeep just laughed. "Calm down, Margaret Ann. Corby is a friendly bird and wouldn't hurt anyone. I'll give him a talking to." He laughed again and Mom finally smiled at the absurdity of the incident. She hopped back into the Ford, pulled her 2 babies close to her, and drove slowly in the April chill back home.

And that's the story of my encounter, at age 2, with Corby, the talking crow of Willoughby-on-the-Lake.

[The above story is essentially as I was told about it by my Mother, but a few minor details are reconstructed or made up. There was a man named "Jeep" in Willoughby. I believe his given name was something like Eugene Hodgson, or something close to that. He was about my Dad's age, born around 1922, and was a good friend to my Dad and the Coughlin family. But he wasn't the owner of the car-repair business and probably didn't own the talking crow.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More thinking on the Coughlin Name and Origins

My family knows that our Coughlin ancestors came from County Cork, Ireland. But, alas, County Cork is the largest county in the country. So where in County Cork are they from? Linguistic evidence indicates that they probably come from West Cork. The name is commonly pronounced something like /COCK-lin/ in the west of the county and something like /COWL-in/ in the east and around Cork City. Also, the name Coughlin has many variants (among these are Coghlin, Coghlan, Coughlan, Cocklin--and sometimes Conklin, Conkling, Cohalan, etc.). In Irish-Gaelic, the name is written Ó Cochláin. I have read that the name is often assosciated with certain baronies in West Cork: Carberry, for example.

Our last name has appeared in many astonishingly different spellings over time (and in official documents)! My cousin Jack Pendergast has said that in some census records the name is listed as "Couthin," or something like that. Other times is is spelled "Conkling" on census forms. The first naturalization papers show "Coghlin," and on a grave marker in Old St. Bernard's Cemetery, Scipio, Cayuga County, New York, I believe it's also spelled "Coghlin." This makes me think that name spellings were more fluid, dynamic, and perhaps less important in the mid 1800's than now. Also, we know that Daniel and Mary Coghlin/Coughlin were unable to read and write, so someone else was transcribing a spoken name. And we know that the Irish pronunciation of Coghlin/Coughlin has a mid consonant sound that is not easily transcribed into English. The sound is somewhere between a breathy /k/ and the/x/ sound found in German (Nacht), in Scottish (loch), and perhaps in Greek (the initial sound of "Christ" as it is spoken in Greek). Transcribers have heard this sound as a /k/, as a /g/, and even as a /t/ sound. They have also heard the vowel preceding this as nasalized, thus begetting Conklin. And sometimes the ending sound is perceived as an "engwa," yielding Conkling. These sound permutations are all quite familiar in the Munster dialects of Irish-Gaelic, spoken by our great great grandparents, Daniel and Mary Crowley Coghlin, and our great grandfather, Cornelius Coughlin.

Senator Edward M. Kenndy, Rest in Peace

Almost exactly a year ago, on August 25, 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy ended his dramatic speech at the Democratic National Convention with these words: "The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."

Ted Kennedy is now gone, God Rest His Soul, but the spirit and goodness of this great Irish-American remains. His strengths and virtues cannot be denied; nor can his weaknesses. But he rose above his human failings to become, in the minds of many, the greatest Senator in American history.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke these words to the Irish Parliament:

"It is that quality of the Irish--that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination--that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country, 'the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.'" [President Kennedy's address to the Irish Parliament June 1963]

The Kennedy's came from New Ross, County Wexford, arriving in America in 1848, in the midst of The Great Famine, An Gorta Mor. On June 27, 1963, JFK spoke these words to the people of New Ross:

“When my great grandfather left here [in 1848] to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great-grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”

Ted Kennedy, with all his flaws, took up the mantle of his brothers, did the work, maintained the hope, and kept the dream alive. Requiescat in Pace.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Dad and Old-Fashioned Asthma Treatments

When I talked to my cousin Tom Quinn recently, he told me of how my Dad treated a severe asthma attack when he was in the Navy (the same approach was used when Dad was a child in Willoughby in the 1920's and 1930's).

The following is pasted from an online version of The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, March 18, 2005. Click here for the original article, with illustrations:

This article explains the use of asthma cigarettes, and in the original version, shows images of these cigarette brands used for acute asthmatic episodes.

In Stedman's Twentieth Century Practice of Modern Medical Science, Stewart and Gibson (
3) suggest that one of the primary treatments for an asthmatic paroxysm was the use of belladonna alkaloids; often these were delivered by smoking "asthma cigarettes" (Figure 1).
Smoking tobacco benefits a few, but the addition of a little stramonium to tobacco, or the smoking of cigarettes composed largely of stramonium, is of far greater service [in the treatment of an asthmatic paroxysm]. There are many forms of cigarettes sold by the druggists.

View larger version (70K):[in this window][in a new window]
Figure 1. Asthma cigarettes were used to deliver alkaloids with bronchodilator properties. They were sold commercially for asthma treatment until just before the middle of the 20th century. (Courtesy of Mark Saunders and his "Inhalatorium,"

Stramonium is the dried leaf and the flowering or fruiting tops of the plant, Datura stramonium. This is also referred to as the thorn-apple plant. The active ingredients in this were alkaloids of belladonna, which we now know had the effect of inhibiting cholinergic neurotransmission and thereby reflex bronchoconstriction.
In 1914, in the eighth edition of the Principles and Practice of Medicine, Osler (
8) points out that hypodermic injections of pilocarpine can be effective in the treatment of asthma. He also claims that the sedative antispasmodics, such as belladonna, "may be given in solution or used in the form of cigarettes. Nearly all the popular remedies either in this form or in pastilles contain some plant of the order Solanaceae ... Excellent cigarettes are now manufactured and asthmatics try various sorts since one form benefits one patient, another form another patient."

Thus, in 1914, anticholinergics by injection or inhalation were considered as first-line asthma therapies. Osler also made the important observation of the intraindividual differences in the response to asthma treatment. We now appreciate that these differences may reflect genetic variations in the mechanisms leading to the asthmatic response among subjects.
In the 1927 edition of Cecil's A Text-book of Medicine, Francis Rackemann (
9) again suggests the use of the smoke of stramonium leaves, atropine, and belladonna. In the seventh edition of Cecil's A Textbook of Medicine, published in 1947, Rackemann (10) still suggests the use of asthma powders or asthma cigarettes with the active ingredient consisting of belladonna-type alkaloids. However, by 1975, when the 14th edition of the textbook was published, belladonna alkaloids were not considered a significant enough part of asthma treatment to be included by J.B.L. Howell (11).

Asthma can still be a serious problem for some people, but today we have albuterol inhalers and other medicines that usually help sudden and severe asthma attacks. I don't know if asthma powders and asthma cigarettes are still available. Still, it happens that many people are still brought to emergency rooms in the grip of an asthma attack (it happened to my youngest daughter one Easter Sunday many years ago).