Monday, October 31, 2011

Babushkas, Davenports, Ice Boxes, and Tree Lawns

Growing up in Euclid, Ohio, we spoke an exotic dialect of English--though we didn't know it. My dialect (which was a mixture of family "idiolect" and our socio-regional dialect) might be described as an inland Northern variety of American English, flavored by our lower middle class socio-econmic status and our Irish-Catholic religion--with a dash of family peculiarities! Now that is a mouthful, I know.

There was a Euclid twist on our language because outside of Ljubljana, Slovenia, Euclid probably had the largest concentration of Slovenians in the world. We had Slovenians, Polish, Irish, Germans, Italians, English, and other ethnic groups in our town. We had many Jews and a Jewish temple, Ner Tamid, at E. 250th and Lakeshore Boulevard. As far as I knew, we had no Blacks in Euclid of the 1950's and 1960's. I've since heard that there were a few African American families around Babbitt Road and the railroad tracks (Nickel Plate and New York Central). This might seem astonishing in the year 2011 because Euclid is now around 40% African American (the Euclid public schools are much higher than that).

One possible linguistic contribution of the Slovenians and Polish Euclidians might be the word "babushka." I know the word in Russian means "grandmother," but to us it meant a scarf head covering that women wore. It probably was the most common head covering in St. William's when I was growing up (at the time women were required to wear head coverings in Catholic churches). My very Irish mother always wore a babushka in church. The word was as ordinary and common to us as the word "hat." When my wife moved to Euclid in 1982, she encountered this word for the first time--and I discovered it was not a commonly known word outside of Euclid and Cleveland.

Another common word in Euclid was "tree lawn." A tree lawn is the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street. I found out as a graduate student at Ohio State (1979-1982) that this was also not a universally understood word. In fact, there are interesting regional variations of this. Some people have no word at all for "tree lawn"; in Barberton, Ohio they call a "tree lawn" a "devil's strip." In fact, if you ever hear that term, you can bet the ranch the speaker is from Barberton.

In our family, the long overstuffed chair in the living room was called a "davenport." Now I get a blank look or a giggle when I use the term. I have a feeling we davenport-speakers are losing ground! This is probably also true for the Canadian chesterfield-sitters.

Another term used in our family was "ice box." That's where we kept the milk, the beer, and the Cheez Whiz.

I feel like a dinosaur these days, mowing my tree lawn, wearing a babushka (well, not really), sitting on my davenport, and grabbing a Great Lakes "Edmund Fitzgerald Porter" out of the ice box. Some days I like to eat my pirogi and potica as I drink my beer.

First Attempt to Translate My "Northern Lights" Poem into German

Das Nordlicht

Die Nachrichten sagen: Es trat auf der Buehne letzte Nacht.
So wie ein Geist in meinem tiefen Schlaf,
Erleuchtet den noerdlichen Himmel um Chardon Stadt--
Tanzende Farbenvorhaenge in der schwarzen Nacht.

Und sehe ich das Licht jemals?
Die Erscheinung des Gesichts Gottes,
Der gruene Blitz bei Sonnenuntergang
Der Rotluchs im Urwald.

Es ist mir wie Thomas,
"Wenn ich nur die Wunden tasten . . .'
Dann wuerde ich es glauben.

O wunderschoenes Nordlicht,
Aurora borealis,
Lass mich mit dir tanzen
Eine einsame Winternacht!

(Uebersetzung von Bob Coughlin, 31 Oktober 2011)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Northern Lights Visible Last Night

Northern Lights

The newspaper said they made an appearance last night,
Like a ghost in my deep sleep,
Lit up the northeast skies around Chardon
A dancing sheet of color in the black night.

Will I ever see these lights?
It’s like seeing the face of God
The green flash at sunset
A bobcat in the night woods . . . .

I feel like Thomas—
“Let me put my hands in the wounds
Or I will not believe!”

O Northern Lights
Aurora Borealis,
Let me dance with you
Some lonely winter night.

                                                Bob Coughlin

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mary Ann Ratchko-Gamez: Premier Whistle and Flute Player!

I attended mass today at St. Mary's in Painesville, Ohio. I was struck by the beautiful flute playing, and then blown away by the spectacular whistle playing I heard at mass. I looked toward the choir loft and saw Mary Ann Ratchko, the new music director of St. Mary's. This was the person who played the beautiful Irish airs on whistle and flute at my mother's funeral in 2003.

The whistle music was so sweet and poignant I actually began to weep softly in church. After mass, I climbed up to the choir loft and talked to Mary Ann. She told me that she plays a Copeland sterling silver whistle, which accounts for the pure, sweet tone. Well it accounts for some of the sweetness; but it's Mary Ann's artistry that makes this music transcendental, reaching right for the heart.

One of the beautiful tunes Mary Ann played was "The Hills of New Zealand." I located a youtube version of this--played by Joannie Madden and Cherish the Ladies:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Largest Baseball Crowd Ever--It Happened in Cleveland

Telling Strollers vs. Hanna Cleaners, September 1914
I located this photo at this site: Click on the image to see the full panorama.

I think this is the game my Grampa played in--the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game. And it happened in Cleveland, September 1914, at Brookside Park (near the zoo). This was a semi-pro game, not major league. Hard to imagine from our perspective a hundred years later.

Grampa Connie Coughlin and Telling-Belle Vernon Baseball Team

Telling-Belle Vernon Baseball Team, around 1914 or 1915
My Grampa, Connie Coughlin, played shortstop for a great Cleveland semi-pro team around 1914-15, the Telling-Belle Vernon Strollers. The Belle Vernon Dairy Farms. Co was a Cleveland dairy, and they merged with the Telling Co., makers of ice cream, on the 29th of January 1915. They played a baseball game in September of 1914 or 15 at Brookside Park, a natural amphitheatre near the Cleveland Zoo-- before an audience of over 100,000 fans. There are photos of this crowd available, the largest gathering to ever witness a baseball game (and an amateur game at that!).

The photo above is not clear enough for me to identify my grandfather. I think he is in the upper right corner.

The Great City of Cleveland

You laugh?

Last evening we went to supper in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood, right where Mayfield Road meets Murray Hill, at Presti's. They sell some simple Italian foods, as well as some not-so-simple (spectacular, really) Italian pastries. What a wonderful place to sit, chat, and eat with your family and friends. Presti's is as good as any place, anywhere!

Then we drove a half mile or less north to Severance Hall, and heard the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra, led by Franz Welser-Moest, as they played a ballet by Stravinsky (Agon); a violin concerto by Tchaikovsky; and Bolero by Ravel.

I especially liked the Tchaikovsky piece (Violin Concerto in D Minor), featuring the spectacular violin playing of Nikolaj Znaider. And the wonderful Bolero. When Bolero ended, I spontaneously let out a war-whoop, embarrassing myself a bit.

Cleveland might have its problems, but it has Little Italy, Presti's, and the Cleveland Orchestra!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bobby, Denny, and Mary Ellen, circa 1954

The Coughlin kids, circa 1954: Bobby at age 6, Denny age 4, Mary Ellen, age 1. Euclid, Ohio. Thanks to Kevin for the photo.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Connie Coughlin's Baseball Team-1911

My grandfather, Connie Coughlin, played shortstop for the Marotta AC baseball club, which was the Cleveland Class B champion in 1911. At the time, my Grampa was 20 years old. Sandlot baseball, amateur or semi-pro, was huge in Cleveland early in the 20th Century. Geez, it was huge when I was a kid watching Cleveland Class A ball in Euclid, at Memorial Park in the early 1960s.

Bob Hope participated in the Marotta Athletic Club as a young man--boxing. He even tried out for one of my Grampa's baseball teams (he didn't make it; got cut).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Carolan Plays "O'Connell's Lamentation" on Flute

I asked my daughter Carolan if she could play the great Irish tune "O'Connell's Lamentation." She hasn't played the flute much recently and had very little time to practice; still, the performance came out pretty good! I first heard this tune on Malcolm Dalglish and Grey Larsen's great album, Banish Misfortune.

Fooling the Toothfairy with Luckystones

Anyone who grew up near Lake Erie in Lake County, Ohio knows about "luckystones." They are small stones of milky quartz, usually white (though occasionally tinged with yellow or orange), that are rounded and polished by the wave action of the Big Lake. Many people collect these beautiful lucky stones.

As a kid in Willoughby, Ohio, I learned from my grandparents that you could put an appropriately sized luckystone under your pillow, and voila, the next morning, you would get a dime from the toothfairy. Does this still work? Of course it does, as long as the little kid informs his parents or grandparents about what he or she is doing. Of course inflation has hit this market too.

Once, while studying geology at the University of Notre Dame, I asked my professor what exactly a luckystone consisted of. He laughed and said he had never heard of a a luckystone--that it was not a scientific geologic name. Now every kid in Willoughby in the 1940s and 1950s knew what a luckystone was! And certainly my children know! So much for the limits of these brilliant Notre Dame profs.

My understanding is that these luckystones are washed down some of the local hills in creeks and rivers where they reach Lake Erie, and then are further rounded and polished by the Lake. I think the rock formations they come from are called "Sharon Conglomerate," and can be found on Gildersleeve Mountain in Chapin Forest (Kirtland), at Thompson Ledges, at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges, and around Chardon by the Best Sand quarries. Best Sand produces some of the purest silica sand in the world from these Sharon Conglomerate formations--and that's lucky for them indeed.

Give it a try. Find a luckystone down by the Lake, put it under your pillow--then let me know.

Thinking about the Melonheads of Kirtland/Chardon

Lately, as the winds of autumn howl and the bitter rain falls, as the maple leaves turn red and orange, my mind turns toward thoughts of the Melonheads that roam the deep woods along the Kirtland-Chardon border, where Lake County meets Geauga County, Ohio. I know, friend, that you've been thinking about this too. About these perverse, terrible, and unfortunate monsters, created by Dr. Crowe's despicable experiments, condemned to roam forever the forested hills and ravines of this part of Northeast Ohio.

Yes, friend, I know that you've gone looking for them too (as I first did as a teenager in 1964, with Gary Czyzynski, Jay Neidermeyer, Buster Zylowski, and other Euclid friends from the St. William's-Upson School neighborhood). What we saw was too terrible to reveal back then; in fact, I can barely write about it now.

I can't bring myself to tell you exactly where to look; it would disturb the peace of those unhappy, melon-headed souls and the few normal residents of the area. I wish I could dissuade you from looking. If you don't find them, you will be disappointed; if you do find them, you will have to carry this terror in your heart until you too feel the cold clay of the grave. The Melonheads are nothing to fool with. Not everyone comes back from searching for them. Others come back, but irreparably damaged by their new and terrible knowledge.

Take care, my friend.

p.s. I have 2 other posts on the Melonheads: one from October 30, 2010; and one from October 27, 2009 (that one with photos)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Passing of Marvin Helf, Euclid Homebuilder

There was an obituary in today's Plain Dealer for Marvin Helf, the man who built our family's home in Euclid in 1951. The obit says that Marvin Helf was 92 years old when he died, which means he was only 32 years old when he developed the subdivision in Euclid that extended from Zeman Avenue to Elinore Drive, and from E.272nd Street to E. 260th Street. There were hundreds of inexpensive tract homes built in this area by Helf. When my Mom and Dad had their house built, the cost was $11,900. The house was fairly small and was built on a small lot (maybe a tenth of an acre). The bottom floor of the bungalow had 2 bedrooms; the second floor was unfinished (later finished by my Dad); and there was no basement or garage or even finished driveway (we added those later).

Over the years we had a lot of petty complaints about the house and the small lot. But it did offer our family (and hundreds of families) a nice new place to live and raise  families--for a modest cost. The neighborhood attracted the vigorous World War II vets and their spouses, who populated the neighborhood with lots of children. The area had a neighborhood group called the "Forest Park Civic Association"--which I guess is as close as we came to having a name for our neighborhood. My Mom and Dad sometimes just called it the Marvin Helf homes. This was a wonderful place to grow up, and for that we have much to thank Marvin Helf.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Margaret Ann, Skip, and Don Fitzpatrick, circa 1940

This photo shows my Uncle Skip (Fenton) Fitzpatrick, my mother, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin, and my Uncle Don Fitzpatrick. This photo might have been taken in 1940, when their mother, Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick, died. My mother would have been about 16 years old in March of 1940 when her mother died. Skip and Don would have been in their mid twenties, I believe.