Monday, February 28, 2011

Apocalyptic Weather!

Last night, the temperature rose to the high 40s and we got tremendous rains and thunderstorms. Maybe 2 inches of rain fell on top of a foot of snow, causing floods, school closings, creating fog--a huge mess. Amazingly, despite all the rain, the ground is still covered by several inches of snow. So in Chardon, Ohio, where we've had about 150 inches of snow this winter, we end February with about 12 straight weeks of snow cover--and who knows how much to come. Some years very little falls in March and April. Other years we get huge late snowfalls (about 5 years ago we got 2 feet around April 6-8 and 2 more feet April 24-26). I don't dare put the snowblower away until May.

I am ready for the crocuses and daffodils! I'm ready for some balmy 50 degree weather!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Poem

“I Feel Like I’m 27 Again!”
(for Linda Rose)

She said, a tear in her eye,
My own blinded by tears
As we waltzed to the old Gaelic tune, “Eoghanaín Ó Ragadáin,”
Right there in the kitchen, middle of Saturday morning chores,

And knowing just a bit about the meaning of the Irish words,
Sung by Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, but understanding so perfectly

The great sweetness, longing, and ache
Of this music. The chorus came round and Mairéad sang out,
“Mo Rún! Mo Rún!

And I knew what that meant!
“My love! My love!” I’ve known that
These 34 years . . . .

And as the waltz and song ended,
You said, “I feel like I’m 27 again!”

(And to me you’ll always be 27,
The most beautiful thing this boy has ever seen,
And I will always be 29,
Walking you, Mo Rún, Mo Stór,
My Love, My Treasure,
Down the aisle at St. George’s.)

Robert M. Coughlin
February 26, 2011
Chardon, Ohio

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Poem--in German!

Klara im Fenster (Orchard Strasse, Cincinnati 1972)

In der Frueh
Sonne scheinend durch das Fenster—

Da steht Klara
Nackt und wunder schoen

Rotes Haar auf Schultern,
Blaue Augen, nass und klar—

Diese Blume blueht

So spektakular!

[Above is the first draft of my attempt at writing a poem in German. I'll try to get some help from my friends to correct or improve it. I have written a couple poems in German, and one in a mix of Irish and English. And I have tried my hand at some translation. This poem came to me while I was watching (with my class) a movie on Walt Whitman.]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Making Baseballs in Euclid

I spent most waking hours of my summers as a kid at Mudville, known to the uninitiated as Willow Playground (between E. 272nd St. and Willow Drive in Euclid, Ohio). My most precious possession was my baseball glove, a Rawlings, "Finest in the Field!" I often thought as a kid what I would save if we ever had a fire at our house. I liked Mom and Dad, Denny, Mary Ellen, Kev, and Jim just fine. But my first priority would be to save Rawlings--save my baseball mitt. Baseball was very important to me--it was a deep connection to my Dad (who himself was a fine player and a tremendous left-handed hitter); and to my Grampa Connie, minor league player (for Rockford, Illinois,in the "Three-I" League) and a terrific Cleveland sandlot and semi-pro ballplayer. So I'm sure it was part of my love for them that I played baseball so intensely, practiced so hard, played so much.

Our family had very little money and Dad was periodically laid off, especially early in his career as an electrician for Fisher Body. So there was not a lot of money for toys or for sports equipment. Sometimes I was just on my own to get together bats, balls, and mitts. Often I didn't even own a decent bat. Sometimes I had to find a discarded broken bat at Mudville, do a little surgery on it, and voila! a workable bat. It often took some tiny nails and lots of electricians' tape (we had plenty of that around the house). If I could scrape together 3 to 4 dollars, I would go to Koenig's (Euclid Avenue near E. 260th) or Sears at Shoregate and buy a Louisville Slugger. That was good luck indeed when I could buy a new bat.

When it came to baseballs I often found discarded balls without covers, and old thrown-away leather covers--and then I would sew them back together and make a ball almost as good as new. I bought huge curved sewing needles and learned to sew baseballs using heavy-duty thread and these 2 carpet needles. You could not tell the difference between a baseball I sewed together and a new baseball (except the covers of my baseballs were pretty scuffed up).

So we made do, with very little money. And we were able to play ball from morning until night--even if we had to sew together the baseballs and nail together the bats.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I have removed a blog entry and I apologize to my brother. The blog entry was written in some state of anger and was a huge overgeneralization.

I try to live according to the Sermon on the Mount and on Gandhian principles. But I do have an Irish hairtrigger temper and sometimes hurt myself and others because of it. I often fail to live up to my own ideals.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wonderful Irish Music Session at Hiram College

Last Sunday, February 13th, twenty-two Irish musicians, a couple of Irish dancers, and about 10 onlookers met at a Hiram College music room for a "session," organized by Hiram professor Tina Dreisbach. The musicians included a harper, a player of uillean (Irish) pipes, a mandolin player, several fiddlers, players of Irish and classical flutes, whistle players (including a "low D" whistle player), a bodhran player, a bongo player, two players of concertinas, guitarists, a piano player, and so on.

I sat on the edge of the circle, but was able to join in on a few tunes (this time with my guitar). We played a lot of traditional tunes, but were treated to two new tunes: "The Heights Hornpipe," by Dermot Sommerville (who also played guitar and flute during the session); and a beautiful tune called "Ottinger's Lament," played by fiddler and composer John Reynolds. Both tunes were spectacularly beautiful. Toward the end of the session, two fairly young girls did some Irish dancing. I was really pleased with the number of young musicians at this session--there is a future for this beautiful music!

Thanks to all the musicians and organizers: Tina Dreisbach (and her husband,Paul, the uillean piper); Ellen Eckhouse, harper who played O'Carolan's "Morgan Megan" so beautifully; Sheldon Firem, bodhran player extraordinaire; Mike Mazur, a cultural force in the Cleveland Irish community; and all the other wonderful Irish musicians whose names I do not yet know.

One of the beautiful tunes we played at Hiram was the slip jig "The Butterfly." I located a youtube version of this tune, which can be accessed below or by clicking on the title to this blog entry:

Friday, February 18, 2011

What Religious Leaders Say About Labor Unions

There is a good article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that discusses what church leaders say about labor unions. Here's the link:

Catholic bishops and popes have strongly supported the right to unionize, as have other religious leaders (the Journal Sentinel article also mentions support by Methodists and Jews). Unionization and collective bargaining are basic human rights.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spring Is in the Air

At my Geauga County home, 6 to 12 inches of glazed snow still cover the ground despite 50+ temperatures. Only heavy rain will melt all of this snow. Amazingly, a few areas of green grass have peeked out from under the blanket of white--a promise of things to come.

The days are considerably longer than the dark days of late December. What's really amazing is the increase in bird song in the morning. And the solid gigantic ice sheet that covered 10,000 square miles of Lake Erie as recently as last week is shrinking. I'm expecting to hear the annual stories of ice fishermen stranded on ice flows and Cost Guard rescues!

It even smells different outside today. There's an earthy smell, not the blank smell of dead winter. And there's even a bit of color in the trees and shrubs. The willows are turning a yellow color; the red-twig dogwood are really red; the silver maple buds are just swelling and bursting into a strange early flowering. Holy Toledo!

Spring is a-comin'!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Strawberry Lane Adventure, 1963

The cold winter of 1962-63 was a great one for misadventures. In late January, on the coldest day in Cleveland history, Denny and I took our little brothers, Kev, about 6 years old at the time, and Jim, about 4, on a long walk that took us over the I-90/ Rt.2 "Euclid Spur," which was then under construction, over to a cheap-arse discount store called "Fairway Discount Department Store," on Lakeland Boulevard. Well we discovered that you shouldn't be taking out a four-year-old and a six-year-old on such a long walk when it's 18 below zero. Dad had to rescue his little ones, Jim and Kev, and the older brothers, Bobby and Denny, who should have known better.

Not long after that, Denny, Buster Zylowski, Kenny Z, and I walked the new freeway-under-construction from behind Forest Park Junior High up to SOM Center Road, then south on SOM to North Chagrin Reservation, Strawberry Lake Pond to be exact. The route we took was about 7 to 9 miles in length, and we walked that distance through the ice and snow. When we got to Strawberry Lane we skated on the pond and when tired of that went over to the shelter house. It must have been Buster's idea (with help from Denny!) to build a fire--a big fire. We set our rubberized shoe-boots near the fire to dry out. It wasn't long before we could smell the rubber burning and melting. The shoes were pretty much ruined by the tremendous heat of the roaring fire. A guy in the shelter house offered to drive us back to Euclid, saving us from a 2 1/2 hour walk in melted boots.

When we finally got home, Dad wasn't there. When it got dark he jumped into his car and headed to Strawberry Lane to find us. When he got there, the Willoughby Hills Fire Department seemed to be working at the pond around a hole in the ice. My Dad's heart sunk as he thought the firemen were retrieving his sons' bodies from under the ice. Dad approached the firemen and asked them what was going on. No, they were not there to retrieve bodies that had fallen through the ice. They were adding a layer of fresh water on top of the ice to smoothe it out. Relieved, Dad jumped back into his car and headed home--hoping his boys had made it back.

When he got home, Dad was both happy and angry at the same time. Happy to see us alive; angry that we had caused him so much grief. Such was my dad's life with four boys!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Frozen Lake Erie

This morning I drove by beautiful Lake Erie, one of the world's largest lakes (either 11th, 12th, or 13th largest in the world--there's a legitimate debate over this). Lake Erie cover 10,000 square miles, an astonishing size; and right now almost every inch of the big lake is frozen. It certainly looks like you could walk from Mentor, Ohio, to Erieau, Ontario, some 48 miles--if you were crazy, had warm boots and gloves, and maybe a flask of Jameson in your back pocket.

My brother Denny, Buster and Kenny Zylowski, and I tried this many years ago (around 1963). We only got about a mile off the beach at E. 260th in Euclid when a helicopter started hovering overhead. The pilot's hand gestures strongly suggested that we head back to shore--so we eventually did that, but not before trying to chop a hole in the ice with a hand hatchet and doing a little fishing (by the way, the ice was at least 2 feet thick; and we didn't get one bite). So we ambled back to the shore, where we saw two Euclid policemen waving their hands at us.

When we got back to shore one policeman told us, "Don't you guys know? There's a law against walking out on the ice." Now I'm 99.99% sure there was no law against ice walking or ice fishing. Now we did range in age from 11(Kenny Z.) to 14 (me and Buster Z.), and the policeman had a right to worry about our safety. He asked us, "Do your mothers know where you are?" I answered, "I think they know." We gave Mom somewhat misleading info on where we would be ("about a mile from the lake shore near E. 260th"--we didn't tell her it would be a mile out on the ice). I also told the policeman that if there was indeed such a law, it was not a just law. Because according to one of my teacher's at St. Joe's, a law is not just or valid if it has never been "promulgated." I imagine the policeman wanted to slap me right there when the word "promulgated" slipped out of my mouth. Heck, I would have slapped me! Anyway, we complied with their requests and headed back home, with our hatchet, our tackle box, and no fish for the effort.

I have loved Lake Erie all my life. I love it while out on my boat in the summer; swimming at Headlands or East Harbor; eating and drinking at Put-in-Bay--and even standing by the icy lake in February at Mentor Beach Park. Geez, if I had warmer boots and gloves and a drop of Jameson's . . . .

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More on Tony Severino, Former Euclid Resident, Athlete, Football Coach

I was able to locate a photo of Tony Severino, and he looks much like he did when he played baseball 50 years ago at Willow Playground/Mudville. Tony grew up on Briardale Avenue, just off E. 266 Street in Euclid, Ohio. I think his family might have emigrated from Italy. He had an older sister, who seemed a very traditional Italian, and a father who came to all his baseball games. Tony, his sister, and his brother Tom attended St. William's Grade School. He was a great baseball player on the sandlots of Euclid. After St. William's, Tony played football for Cathedral Latin High School in Cleveland. Then he won a football scholarship to Kansas State University. Since 1983 he has been the football coach for Rockhurst High School, a Jesuit school in Kansas City, Missouri (similar, I would guess, to St. Ignatius in Cleveland or St. Xavier in Cincinnati). His high school teams have won more than 200 games and 7 state championships during his career. He must be one of the greatest high school football coaches in Missouri history.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mudville/Willow Playground --Euclid, Ohio (2)

I'll never remember all the guys who played ball--for hours a day, almost every day of the summer-- at Mudville/Willow Playground. I remember running down there early in the morning. Running home for lunch, then back to Mudville to play more ball. A short supper break, then back to Mudville to play baseball until dark. As I think about it, it doesn't seem possible. But what is certainly true is that we spent an incredible number of hours playing ball at Willow Playground. We became very at ease around baseballs, gloves, bats. Very skilled, very adept, very natural players.

More Players.

One of the greatest hitters I remember was Tony Severino, from Briardale Avenue. He once hit a ball over the fence, across Willow Drive, and on to the roof of one of the F&S homes. Tony could hit like this from a very young age. I thought sure he would become a great major league player. He did make a career in sports. After Cathedral Latin High School, Tony played football for Kansas State University. I believe he became a great football coach for a Jesuit Catholic high school in the Kansas City area. [I've found out some things about Tony: he is a teacher and football coach at Rockhurst High School, a Jesuit prep school in Kansas City, Mo. Tony has held that position since 1983 and is the winningest coach in school history. His teams have won many state championships (7, I think). As of 2007, his winning percentage was around 80%. He is in the Missouri Coaches Hall of Fame. In 2000 Tony was named USA Today's coach of the year. Pretty good career for a Euclid boy!].

There was another group of guys from Briardale Avenue: John George, Fred George, Frank Calabro Jr. (and his Dad at times), the Lynch brothers (Danny, Pat, John, et al.), and so many more.

Of course my brother Denny ("Little Cogs") was always part of the scene, as was Buster Zylowski and Kenny Zylowski. There were the Andrulis boys, the Paul and Bernard Bednar, even Mike Sikora at times (Mike was a bit older than we were). This neighborhood was a paradise for kids!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Joy in Mudville/Willow Playground

My old neighborhood in Euclid, Ohio was developed in 1951 by a builder named Marvin Helf. I would guess that the neighborhood was about 1/2 mile north to south and 1/2 mile east to west. On the north side it began at East 266 Street and Zeman Avenue and ran south to Elinore. East to west, at the widest point, it extended from E. 260th to E.272nd Street. The streets were in straight line grids and the lots were very small (my guess is 1/10th of an acre). The homes were built as 2-story bungalows, but the top floor was originally unfinished. Colored asbestos shingles covered the homes. There was no garage, no basement, one bathroom, 2 bedrooms, a utility room, a very small kitchen, and a dinette. The finished living space might have been 800 square feet. The homes were priced at $11,900 when they first went on the market in 1951. Down the road about 1/2 mile was another neighborhood of brick ranch homes, the "F & S Homes." These were originally priced even less than the Marvin Helf homes. Between these two neighborhoods about 10 acres were left for a playground. When I first started playing there around 1956 or '57, it was a muddy mess, our muddy mess, and everyone called it "Mudville," Since that time, the City of Euclid gave it an official name--"Willow Playground. It was there, at Mudville, that I spent almost every minute of my life as a kid.

Some People I Played Ball With at Mudville/Willow Playground.

I remember playing baseball with Clay Lutch from Farringdon Avenue and Dave Kaprosy from Shirley Avenue. Clay was a terrific shortstop and Dave had tremendous athletic skills. I remember the size of his hands--gigantic compared with my small hands. There was Gary Czyzynski, Jay Neidermeyer, and Jim Allsip (I think these guys were from Drakefield Avenue). Wayne Starkey (full name might have been Starkweather) came to Mudville from E. 266 and Shoreview. Pat Mueller sometimes played (he lived on Farringdon at E. 272). There are others I'll mention in another posting.

Thank God for Health Care Reform!

It has been so sad to see my U. S. Representative, Steve LaTourette, and my governor, John Kasich, and state attorney general, Mike DeWine, attack our nation's health care reform. I want to say clearly that these people do not represent my views. And I know they do not represent the view of millions of Ohioans. My guess is that they represent the wealthy funders of their election campaigns--but not ordinary working Ohioans.

Already the life of my 25-year-old daughter has been made better by the health care reform--at last she is covered under my own health care policy and she is now able to go to doctors for medical problems. This became a very serious issue for her and my whole family last year when she didn't go to a doctor when she was seriously ill--and endangered her very life. She felt she couldn't afford medical care and put off going for help until it was almost too late.

This issue also affects many other friends and family members. One old friend will at last not be excluded from health insurance because of her Type 1 diabetes. This could easily save her life.

I believe that health care is a human right. That belief comes out of my basic beliefs about human beings and from my Catholic Christianity. Health Care is a human right.

Don't mess with health care reform. Don't repeal it. Don't take it away from us!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Happened to the Catholics who Ate Meat on Fridays?

Some time around 1964, Gary Czyzynski and I drove over from St. Joe's High School to the new McDonald's across from Villa Angela Academy--right on Lakeshore Boulevard near Euclid Beach in Cleveland. I ordered a fish fillet sandwich, and Gary ordered a cheeseburger. I was astonished. I couldn't believe that my Catholic friend ate a hamburger on a Friday. It was the first time that I ever saw a Catholic eat meat on Friday. I wondered about this sin, about how Gary would pay for it.

Of course the prohibition on eating meat on Friday simply faded away in the mid to late 1960s. And we who had been brought up with an intense sense of sin wondered what God would do with the fallen Catholics roasting in hell because they violated the Friday meat ban.

I had a friend years ago, Chuck Matthei, who fasted totally on Fridays. Chuck was not a Catholic and I never quite understood the roots of his fasting. He did tell me once that he fasted to be in solidarity with the poor and hungry of the world.

Chuck was such an amazing guy that I have no doubt he was telling me the truth. Chuck lived his rather short life in solidarity with the poor, with the oppressed, and those suffering from violence and war. His motivations for fasting were certainly better than mine back in 1964.

As for Gary Czyzynski, I don't know what happened to him. I don't think he will roast in hell for his "sin" of eating meat on a Friday.

The Mystery of Suffering

One of my daughters is suffering from some sort of throat illness--tonsillitis, laryngitis, some sort of painful throat distress that seems to go on and on. I had the same problem growing up--frequent painful sore throats. At times my throat and tonsils were so infected I couldn't swallow. The lymph nodes on my neck would be totally swollen. I'd be so sick I couldn't talk, couldn't think, couldn't function in school--all I could do was suffer.

Sometimes, when I got sick enough and desperate enough, my dad would take me to his doctor, Dr. Landsman, on Euclid Avenue near E. 260th in Euclid, Ohio. Dr. Landsman was one tough son-of-a-gun. I remember feeling so sick and so sorry for myself--and Dr. Landsman would sort of kick me in the rear into one of his patient rooms. I was so stunned that I started to smile and laugh--for the first time in a week. When he saw my swollen tonsils, he knew exactly what to do. One time it involved two shots of penicillin, one in each cheek. And then he'd advise me to gargle with salt water many times a day. And then I would recover, usually within about 3 or 4 days. Dr. Landsman, who had seen people blown apart on the battlefield, knew that I wasn't going to die from tonsillitis. But he did appreciate my suffering--and did what he could to alleviate it (and what he did almost always helped). Dr. Landsman was a great doctor even if his treatments were normally pretty basic. This reminds me of what Dr.Tom Dooley said about his medical practice in Southeast Asia--he practiced 19th Century medicine, but in a medieval society where 19th Century medicine was a great advance. If you think about it, our Moms all practiced the most ancient art of medicine--and it almost always worked!

As a Catholic I grew up immersed in the idea that we all suffer, that suffering was part of life, and that suffering could be redemptive. We were told to offer it up for "the poor souls in purgatory." I don't do that anymore, but I still strongly believe that suffering is redemptive. And I try to bring my spirit into solidarity with the suffering of the world, and remind myself how puny my own suffering compares to that experienced by so many people.

We Catholic Christians, when we suffer, think about Jesus on the Cross. We can't escape from suffering. But it always comes to an end, and it makes us better people because it teaches sympathy and love for others.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The sweep of easy wind and downy flake" (Robert Frost)

This winter I have gone cross country skiing about 7 or 8 times. Often I go to Chapin Forest, a Lake Metropark in Kirtland, Ohio, following the Arbor Trail to Luckystone Loop, climbing up what we used to call as kids "Gildersleeve Mountain." At the top of the "mountain" there is a bluff over an old luckystone (milky quartz) quarry. And from there, on a clear day, you can see Lake Erie and the taller buildings on the Lake in Eastlake, Willowick, Euclid, Bratenahl--and even Cleveland. You can see the skyscrapers of Cleveland, some 18 miles away. The valley underneath Gildersleeve Mountain looks like a vast forested wilderness in the summer. But that is an illusion because hundreds of thousands of people live on the East Side of Greater Cleveland. Still, you start to understand why Cleveland was once called the "Forest City." So Chapin Forest is one of my favorite skiing venues.

I also like to ski at the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, one of the world's greatest arboreta. There are miles of trails through deep woods, through prairie and plantings, around ponds and Corning Lake.

Today I skied at the Mentor Lagoons, another of Lake County's treasures--with hundreds of acres of lagoons, forest, marshland, and a mile of untouched lake shore. I took the lake trail, and as it emerged from the deep woods, I could see a completely frozen Lake Erie--solid ice as far as the eye can see. And at this time of the year, a kind of silent dessert, awesomely beautiful. I stood there on my skis thinking of Robert Frost's great poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I especially thought of the lines, "He gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake. / The only other sound's the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake." That's exactly what I heard--nothing but the sweep of easy wind. This wonderful music and this wonderful silence!

[There is a fantastic Wikipedia article on Gildersleeve Mountain at this site:]