Monday, January 31, 2011

Matthew 5: 1-12, The Beatitudes

This past Sunday the gospel at St. Mary's Church in Chardon, Ohio was Chapter 5 of Matthew, verses 1-12, the Beatitudes. As I listened to this gospel, it struck me that this is one of the great treasures of the world. Here is the sacred text:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What really strikes me is how Jesus stands by the poor, the needy, the persecuted, the underdog. I know this great spirit does not arise out of the blue in the New Testament. This spirit has deep roots in the Old Testament. This is our ancient tradition. The Beatitudes should inform our lives, our politics, and all our social interactions.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter of 1976-77 in Cincinnati

I'm pretty sure that the winter of 1977-78 was the snowiest in Cincinnati's history, culminating with the great blizzard of January 26, 1978 (see the previous blog entry). The coldest winter was the year before, the winter of 1976-77. I was living that year in a drafty old apartment on Hollister Street, not far from Vine Street (my rent was $40 a month, and worth every penny!), in the Corryville/Clifton neighborhood. I had a gas space-heater that kept the apartment a toasty 50 degrees on cold days.On the coldest days I tried to stay as many hours as possible at the University of Cincinnati, where I was studying for a masters degree in education. When I came back to my chilly apartment, I often got into a sleeping bed in an attempt to keep warm.

One night, on one of the coldest, snowiest days of that winter, Timmy Jenkins arrived in town, having hitchhiked from Winona, Minnesota. Tim is now a terrific old-timey fiddler and dance caller. Back then he was still mostly playing the harmonica and learning how to play the fiddle. It was always great fun when Tim was in town. Tim had attended Cotter High School in Winona with Kenny Przybylski. Both these guys were legends in our circle of friends.

One day that winter, January 18, 1977, the temperature in Cincinnati hit 25 below zero, the coldest temperature I had ever experienced. It's odd that me, a boy from Northeast Ohio, would experience the coldest weather way down south in Cincinnati, but that is what happened. I went for a walk that day trying to get a feel for that temperature. It was definitely different! I noticed how my exhaled breath resulted in ice on my mustache and beard. And I noticed the effect on my nose, ears, and cheeks. Twenty-five below zero is scary!

In January or February of 1977, the Ohio River froze over around Cincinnati--a very rare circumstance. This led many hundreds of people to walk across the river between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky--what struck me as a dangerous and foolish trick with all the river currents moving below the river ice. Of course I have done many many such foolish things myself, including walking a mile out onto a frozen Lake Erie--off East 260th in Euclid-- around 1962-63. I did this with my brother Denny and my friend Buster Zylowski and his brother Kenny Z. (more on that adventure some day).

[There was an article, with photograph, from the Cincinnati Enquirer of Sunday, December 31, 2000 entitled "Don't look for river to freeze over soon" that talks about people walking across the frozen Ohio in January/February of 1977. Try the following link for the story:]

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Blizzard of January 26, 1978

Two days ago we had the 33rd anniversary of the Great Midwest Blizzard of January 26, 1978. The statistics on this blizzard are widely available on the internet. Check out, for example, the Wikipedia entry at this site:

One notable statistic is the record low barometric pressure measured in Cleveland--28.28 inches, "the lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States." This low pressure caused the furious winds and driving snow of that day.

I was living in the Corryville/Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati at the time. When I went to bed on the evening of January 25th, it was warm and it was raining and the wind was picking up. Some time in the middle of the night, maybe 2 or 3 AM, the sound of the driving rain against the windows changed to the beat of driven sleet--the temperature was plummeting. And a short time later, the sound of the sleet changed to a softer sweeping sound, the sound of snow.

By the end of the 26th of January, Cincinnati was buried in snow, and this in a city unused to a lot of snow and unable to handle it very well. Many places in the Midwest ended up with more snow than Cincinnati, from 3 to 5 feet! South Bend had 3 feet, Chicago about 5 feet, and many places in Michigan had 2-4 feet. Amazingly, snow accumulations were only part of the story. The biggest problem was the hurricane force winds and the giant drifts--combined with the bitter cold. I remember at the time a truck driver near Mansfield, Ohio was stranded--and then buried in snow. His truck was entirely hidden, under a 15-20 foot drift. This man was rescued by his brother almost a week after the blizzard ended.

Here is the story about the buried truck from (March 2007):

"Weather or Not"

Richard Osborne

Our cover headline this month is easier said than done. Think spring? It's not the easiest frame of mind to adopt when the weather outside is spiteful, if not frightful.

But here in Ohio, half the fun of the changing of the seasons is complaining about it. And no matter how uncomfortable it seems at times - too cold or too hot - those of us of a certain age can always cite another time when it was worse.

As we deal with our annual wintry blasts, the blizzard of 1978 is one such blast from the past. That one did indeed qualify for the record books. Tears glistened behind his glasses as Gov. James A. Rhodes spoke of the thousands of Ohioans stuck at home - or, worse, stranded - frozen and in the dark, terrorized by the elements.

Rhodes called it a "killer blizzard." The Cincinnati Enquirer called it a "savage snowstorm." In Cleveland, The Plain Dealer called it the "snow of the century." And The Journal (now The Morning Journal) in Lorain, where I worked at the time, called it "the blizzard that stopped Ohio."

Many Ohioans didn't realize anything was wrong until their electric alarm clocks failed to awake them on the morning of Jan. 26, 1978.

Whipped by wind gusts exceeding 80 miles per hour, snow created drifts that made roads impassable. For the first time in its 20-year history, the Ohio Turnpike was closed from one end to the other.

Only the heartiest of souls - including 2,000 National Guardsmen called up by Rhodes - willingly ventured out. Others simply got caught. Among the latter unfortunates was Jim Truly, a 43-year-old Cleveland truck driver who for the remainder of his life - he died in 1986 - would recall the date as "the day I got buried."

Truly was buried for six days inside the cab of his 40-foot tractor-trailer rig, covered by drifting snow that shut St. Rte. 13 north of Mansfield. Trapped without food or heat for 124 hours, he ate snow, smoked cigarettes and prayed.

A year later, when I interviewed him for the Lorain newspaper, Truly spoke matter-of-factly about his ordeal. "I never gave up," he said.
Calls for help over his CB radio went unanswered. Still, his CB - or, more precisely, his CB antenna - would prove to be the catalyst of his rescue. His brother Don, who braved the elements in a desperate search to find him, spotted the antenna poking up about an inch out of the snow. Rescued, Jim Truly was able to walk out on his own.

Now there's a weather story to remember. Keep it in mind on one of our remaining cold winter's days. But most of all, think good thoughts. Think spring.

We are used to wild winter weather in Ohio--but January 26, 1978 was something else! Something wild and historic.

Thinking about the Economy

To me the economy is about as simple as Chinese or Gaelic (I know the complexities of Irish-Gaelic firsthand and all I can say in Chinese is "hello"). So I am no expert, but there are still some things I can say about it. First of all, the economic crash of mid 2008 was stunning and terribly affected the Greater Cleveland area (we had actually been in a recession for a few years in Ohio before the terrible panic hit). We are still not out of it, especially in the housing and construction areas. But things are much, much better. Cars are selling, restaurants are full, traffic is back to normal, and businesses are hiring. Schools, cities, and the state of Ohio are still suffering, with layoffs and huge budget cutbacks looming (that won't help the state's economy or job situation). But we are coming out of it, thanks in part to the huge governmental intervention that was begun by President George W. Bush and his economic team then continued by President Barack Obama and his team. I believe their brave actions saved us from the precipice. Who knows what a worldwide collapse would have wrought. I think it might have brought on another Great Depression and the terrible war that followed. Bush and Obama's actions were brave because in the end they would not be popular. But that's what leaders do--they make the best decisions using the best advice--and let the chips fall where they will.

So I am glad we are back from the edge of the cliff. And I hope that jobs will be there for my students, my children, and all my family. I am both grateful and uneasy about the economy of the world as we now see it. It often seems so against our religious and moral values--indeed, often against our self-interest. It promotes consumption and greed and materialism. It seems to promote violence and war.

I wonder if there is an alternative.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Passing of an Ordinary Guy and a Hero

Two local deaths have caught my attention lately. One was what you might call an ordinary guy. We called him "Hug" -- Hug Lickert, but his official name was Howard W. Lickert. Here is an excerpt from his obituary:

"LICKERT HOWARD W. "HUG" LICKERT, age 89, beloved husband of the late Louise (nee Kaller); dear father of Mary-Lousie (John) Rusek, Rose-Ann (Victor) Leo and Jennie-Jo (Steve) Tuckerman; brother of Jack and Robert Lickert and Dorothy Lotoski. W.W.II Army Sgt. in the 236th Engineer Combat Battalion (serving in China and Burma from 1943-1945. He was an usher at St. William Church and an umpire for Euclid Boy's League."

I remember Hug from as far back as 1957, when he refereed our 4th grade touch football games at St. William's, in Euclid, Ohio. Hug umpired and refereed everything. He must have loved sports and loved kids (he had three girls of his own). I also remember Hug ushering at St. William's masses; I can't imagine how many years he did this.

Hug Lickert, unknown to me, was a kind of war hero, though he probably would have squirmed at the term. He served in China and Burma during the Second World War--and was probably happy to get back to an "ordinary" domestic life in Euclid. He did a lot for his community and his church; Hug Lickert was no ordinary man!

The other death that came to my attention was the loss of Major Michael S. Evarts from Concord Township in Lake County, Ohio. Here are excerpts from the Plain Dealer obituary of Major Evarts:

EVARTS MAJOR MICHAEL S. EVARTS, age 41, of Concord Twp., a U.S. Army Veteran, passed away Jan. 17, 2011 in Tikrit, Iraq. Mr. Evarts was a pharmaceutical sales specialist for Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals. He was also a 17 year member of the United States Army as a reservist who had been called to serve his country on two separate deployments. Major Evarts served as an executive officer with the 256th combat support hospital in Iraq working during Operation New Dawn. Loving husband of Monique Evarts (nee Telencio). Beloved father of Zachary and Lukas Evarts. Dear son of Bill and Marylyn Evarts. Brother of Daniel (Tray) Evarts and Paisley (Stephan) Frishholz. Son-in-law of Myron and Donna Telencio. He is also survived by many loving nieces, nephews and other family members. Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Gabriel Catholic Church, 9925 Johnnycake Ridge Rd., Concord Twp., OH. The family will receive friends FROM 3-8 P.M. THURSDAY AND 3-8 P.M. FRIDAY AT THE BRUNNER FUNERAL HOME & CREMATION SERVICE, 8466 MENTOR AVE., MENTOR, OH. Interment at Mentor Cemetery, Mentor, OH. In lieu of flowers and other heartfelt offerings, contributions may be made to the "Major Michael S. Evarts Memorial & Boys Trust', 60 W. Southington Ave., Worthington, OH 43085.

This past Monday I waited, along with about 30 other people, as Major Evarts' body was brought to Brunner Funeral Home. I thought about his huge sacrifice, the loss to his wife, his kids, his parents, and his entire family and friends. Our discomfort on that bitter cold day was nothing compared with Major Evarts' huge sacrifice.

This hero will not be forgotten.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 1961--Jack Kennedy's Inauguration

One of the great moments of my life took place exactly 50 years ago today, on January 20, 1961. That day, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. That day was a triumph for Irish Catholics like myself and my family. We felt that a new, vigorous day had dawned for America, and it was reflected in this handsome, young, vigorous man--a man like us, whose family had arisen in a few generations from the outcast post-famine Irish immigrants, to people with power and influence on our society and world. Of course my family was unlike the Kennedy's in so many ways. We were working class, Dad a factory worker, Mom a housewife, living in a tiny tract house in a suburb of Cleveland. But we felt as if they were family: the Coughlin's and the Kennedy's. How's that!

On that day 50 years ago, I listened to Robert Frost read a poem, "The Gift Outright," as part of the ceremony. The venerable old lion of American letters tried to read some new verse off the page. But in the cold, clear glare of a perfect day (after the day before's paralyzing blizzard), Robert Frost couldn't see his own words. So he set the new text aside and recited from heart, from Robert Frost's big heart, his great poem "The Gift Outright" --a poem how we as new Americans had to win the land that we had lived on as colonials. Frost's reading was indeed a gift outright to the new president and to the country.

Jack Kennedy's inaugural address, probably co-written with the brilliant Ted Sorenson, certainly is one of the greatest speeches in American history, up there with Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Tonight I watched a video replay of the speech, and it still gives me shivers, still speaks to the needs of America and the world.

Jack Kennedy, as we found out, was as flawed a man as you and me. But he was a great man too. And his legacy, his words and ideals, live in me, and countless others, today.#

For an article on Robert Frost's reading, check out this link:

The Wikipedia entry on JFK's speech is at this link:

The Wikipedia article may not be 100% correct (in part because of its claim that Ted Sorenson wrote the speech; I'm almost sure this speech was a close collaboration between JFK and Ted Sorenson).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Unbroken"--Laura Hillenbrand's Extraordinary Book

Luara Hillenbrand, the author of "Seabiscuit," has written an extraordinary new book called "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." The true story follows the life of Louis Zamperini and his unbelievable journey from rowdy kid in Torrance, California, to one of the world's great track athletes, to bombardier in the Army Air Force in World War II. Zamperini's B-24 crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Palmyra Atoll in May of 1943, and he and the two other survivors of the crash ended up in a rubber and canvas raft. One comrade (Mac) survived about a month in the raft before succumbing, and the other (Phil) survived some 47 days in the raft, when the two were captured by the Japanese just off the Marshall Islands (some 2000 miles from Palmyra Atoll!). If this world-record survival on a life raft were the whole story, it would be one of the most remarkable stories in history. But that was just the prelude to Louie's trials, involving two years of imprisonment, slavery, and unspeakable torture in Japanese prison camps. [more coming]