About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Making Angels in a Paradise Sky


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

These are the dog days of summer in Hawai'i, when the cooling northeast trades die away and the humidity rises with the afternoon heat.  In any other place, one could look to the calendar and assume that the cool of autumn lies just over the horizon.  But here, the weather really doesn't change all that much.  I've often said that you could tape record the weather forecast, replay it every day and you'd be accurate at least 310 days of the year.  The biggest difference between winter and every other season is the increased rainfall, and slightly cooler temperatures.  But if you didn't grow up here, you might not even notice the change.  

Being closer to the equator, the sun is far more direct, and many a visitor has suffered the painful indignity of sunburn as a result.  Also, if you come here from a more temperate climate, you might find the heat and humidity to be an annoyance.  But iff you live in a place like this long enough, your skin pores begin to open up, and thus you become acclimatized at least to a point.  A normal day which would be uncomfortable anyplace else, becomes simply normal.

When the sun begins to slide behind the Wai'anae Mountains, and if the winds are blowing at all, the air begins to cool down nicely.  Not October in Denver nice, but still...  All homes here are of single-wall construction with no insulation.  But they still tend to retain a lot of heat even after the sun goes down.  Even with fans, a living room in Honolulu is not the most comfortable place to be.  

Cheryl and I have taken to spending the evenings out on the back patio to escape the still-uncomfortable heat inside the house.  We set up our chairs in that spot where the breeze wafts through between the house and the back fence.  There we talk, read, write, cogitate, or just vegetate as allow the breeze to make us more comfortable.  

The city blasting those megawatts of light upward dims most of the stars and planets in the night sky, but you can still see a few of the brighter ones, Jupiter, Venus, and three of the stars making up the handle of the asterism we all know as "The Big Dipper," Mizar, Alioth, and Megrez.  From where we are, about halfway up Waimano Hill, the lights of the western part of O'ahu spread a glittering carpet almost all the way to the foot of the mountains.  Even when the sun disappears, the sky is still lit, framing the mountains in the most vivid colors you'll ever see.  Here, the sky is the palette; and Nature is Monet and Renoir, Degas and Cezanne, all at the same time.  A person cannot watch something that beautiful and not be changed.  

That evening as we sat there, I was looking up at the sky, thinking about a star whose light had taken some 81 years to reach my eyes, when I noticed the clouds.  These were not the big, looming storm clouds, but rather small cumulus, drifting southward with the breeze.  As they passed overhead, they reflected the light from the city below, giving them a soft, silvery luminescence.  They appeared, I mused, almost like what I thought an angel might look like.  

Of course.  I was in paradise.  Why wouldn't I see angels?

They are graceful, these clouds, and ever changing.  as they slide by, I can see how the edges are continually being remade by those meteorological rules that govern such things.  When I was younger, I remember lying on the driveway looking up at the sky.  (You didn't lay in the grass in Missouri, lest you become inundated by chiggers.)  Clouds are marvelous things.  They can appear to be any shape, limited only by one's imagination.  I could see all kinds of things in them, animals, objects, even people from time to time.  But they were only there for a short time, eventually moving out of eyesight.  But there were always more to follow, more things to imagine.  I still play that game as an adult, for a time becoming a child once again.

I've learned to look for those quiet moments, when I can be swept up in the beauty and rhythm of nature.  In Colorado, there were those evenings on the front porch, listening to the soothing sound of crickets; in California, it was the sound of the ocean waves breaking on the beach, and as I look back, there have been other times, other places, other sensations.  I really need those moments when I can empty my head and just...be.  Perhaps you need those moments as well.

Eventually of course, fatigue sets in and we must fold up the chairs and retire for the night.  It's still uncomfortable inside the house, but as the hours pass, that cooler night air does eventually find its way through the windows, dispelling that stubborn heat.

I look forward to those evenings.  When rain intrudes, forcing us back inside, I become slightly annoyed, as if nature would ever answer to my beck and call.  But even with the occasional showers, there is a remarkable consistency to the weather here, that at times becomes almost boring.  

But it's still way better than shoveling snow.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Forgotten Day

Yep...204 years young
Key's original penned manuscript
Maryland Historical Society

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

September 14th will slip by this year without much notice, not surprising given the drama in Washington and the landfall of two hurricanes, one in North Carolina and another in Hawai'i.  But on that morning in 1814 on board a British warship, an American lawyer, detained by the British, witnessed a heart-stirring sight that inspired the poem that eventually became our National Anthem.

Two years into the War of 1812, British from September 13-14, 1814 conducted a night-long bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, the prelude to an assault on the Port of Baltimore, and an attack on the city itself.  Key and a friend had been detained aboard the British flagship after pleading for the release of an American physician on the strength that he had treated wounded British soldiers and sailors as well as Americans.  While aboard, the two Americans were present during the pre-invasion staff conference where they heard the complete plans for the operation, hence the detention.

Rain and fog moved in, but the barrage was conducted despite the lowering weather.  As daylight faded, the last thing Key saw was the small "storm flag" stars and stripes fluttering from the converted ship's mast over the fort.  All night long, the British cannons thundered away.  Estimates of the number of rounds expended run into the thousands.  At times, air bursts allowed brief glimpses of that tattered flag still flying, signifying that the vital fort was still in American hands.  

As dawn approached, the bombardment tapered off.  The smoke from the shelling and the fog began to clear.  In that lull, the soldiers defending the fort (miraculously, none were killed) hoisted a huge ceremonial flag.  The soft glow of dawn's early light revealed the large flag flying defiantly over the embattled fort.  Key was overcome with emotion and penned the inspired poem.

Despite the powerful words and deep meaning conveyed by Key, the "Star Spangled Banner" actually didn't become the official National Anthem of the United States until resolved by Congress in 1931. It was the sixth attempt by Maryland Congressman John Linthicum to establish the anthem.  This followed a national petition by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which netted some five million signatures. The U.S. Navy had begun official use of the song in 1899, and was officially recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  Other songs were used to celebrate America, such as "Hail, Columbia," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (sung to the same tune as the British anthem "God Save the King), and "America the Beautiful." Interestingly, it is the only national anthem in the world that ends with a question.

Most Americans freely admit to participating in the broad-based ignorance of our own country's history.  There are many -- way too many -- who believe the anthem was written during the Revolutionary War instead of the War of 1812.  Almost none of them will be able to tell you much of anything about that second round against the British between 1812 and 1815.  I think this is important because if you don't understand the context of the crisis that birthed the words to the anthem, you can't really understand the song itself.  

Most Americans sing those words -- however self-consciously -- at sporting events without any real passion or meaning.  There isn't any real ownership of the critical event which occurred during that long night, and what might have happened to our nascent country if the fort, and subsequently the city of Baltimore had fallen.  Remember, Washington, the national capitol had already been sacked and burned.  If we fully embrace that knowledge and understand the risk of that event, then the song becomes far more meaningful. 

The song has not been without controversy.  The NAACP has taken the public position that the third verse is racist and celebrates slavery, although nearly all historians agree that those words refer to the British practice of capturing and impressing American seaman on the high seas, and also England's participation in the slave trade.  Performances have run the gamut from traditional performances to Jose Feliciano's slow bluesy rendition before the fifth game of the 1968 World Series in Detroit, to Rosanne Barr's disgraceful and embarrassing version in San Diego, and Aretha Franklin's 2016 R&B performance before a Thanksgiving Day NFL game in 2016, that lasted more than four minutes.  Of course, everyone remembers the stirring and inspirational Whitney Houston performance during the Gulf War at Super Bowl XXV.  Some on the political left dislike the song because, in their view, it celebrates war, instead of peace.  Others, in sympathy with our current trend of national self-flagellation, are of the opinion that there is nothing about the United States to celebrate, least of all it's history.

It is an enormously difficult tune to sing for non-professionals, spanning an octave and a half.  It's not unusual for singers tasked with the pregame commemoration before sporting events to forget the lyrics.  In nearly all those cases, the crowd loudly picked up where the singer left off, a stirring and rare display of national unity.  

In late May of 2017, we toured Fort McHenry for the first time.  After the tour was complete, we returned to the visitor's center.  In an open auditorium, a video was presented, telling the story of the fort and the battle.  It is a very effective show, helping the visitor understand just what those soldiers had to endure during the attack.  We saw actors representing Key and his colleagues as they anxiously waited out the night, and their joy and pride when seeing the flag still flying in the morning light.  Then, a male chorus begins to sing the national anthem.  The wall opened up, and there revealed is the tall ship's staff atop of which, floating majestically on the breeze, flies the Stars and Stripes.  Spontaneously, the visitors rise and join in.  It was for me, a stirring moment, a reminder that even as deeply divided as we are, and so unsure of where our country is headed, we still haven't forgotten from where and from whence we came, and the crucible of the baptism of fire that birthed the United States.  At a very basic level, we remember the character of the sacrifice through the years that has sustained America through its short, turbulent history.

Today, it is still our National Anthem.  That may change as the shifting winds of the political storm blow across the landscape.  I hope that does not happen.  I have in my lifetime set foot in 32 other countries and have seen what happens when government does not belong to The People.  From that perspective I am convicted of the assertion we need to remember that the freedom we enjoy, and take for granted, has come to us with a cost, paid for with the blood of those "who gave the last full measure of devotion."

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11/18



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It is a quiet, peaceful morning.  Outside my window the twittering of birds is occasionally counterpointed by the mournful sound of a dove.  In one way, it is the calm before a powerful storm, set to arrive early tomorrow morning.  But it is not just a day of preparation.  It is also a day of remembrance.

Seventeen years ago on another beautiful Tuesday morning, men, consumed by hate and twisted by an ideology that made a religion of peace into an excuse to kill, flew airliners into buildings in New York City and Northern Virginia.  A fourth aircraft dove into an abandoned strip mine in the Pennsylvania countryside, as a group of ordinary people, passengers and crew, fought back.  2,996 innocent people died that day, and in the years since, over 1,400 first responders have died, apparently poisoned by the rubble they worked so hard to remove.

The calendar calls today "Patriot Day" A Day of Service and Remembrance."  And there will be ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon, and at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  They will not get the attention and focus as in years past.  As the sage once said, "Time moves in one direction, memories in another."  Children born that year will graduate high school come springtime.  For them and millions more, it is not the searing memories, but the colder, less personal readings of history through which they will remember.  

Time has, in some ways, closed the open wound we suffered.  But the scar that remains has already begun to fade.  Today, politicians and pundits will use 9/11 to launch new attacks against each other, urging and manipulating the rest of us to embrace their hate and anger, and join the ever-widening divide.  The sun will set today on a nation wrapped in mutual loathing, divided perhaps beyond redemption

September 11, 2001 and for a precious few days after was a day of unprecedented unity.  Our political, cultural, social, and economic differences were set aside as we joined hands and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, recognizing that what had happened was not an attack on any political party, but an entire nation.  We honored the police and firefighters who unhesitatingly waded into the disaster in the attempt to save lives.  And in one memorable, heart-rending moment, members of the U.S. congress stood together on the steps of the capitol and spontaneously sang "God Bless America."

While this is going on, across America and the world, families will quietly mourn the loss of loved ones.  Some will remember friends and colleagues who were lost.  Maybe some of us will scroll the internet for those horrifying bits of video and remember the emotions we felt that day.  Others may look at the half-masted flags and remember an honored public servant who departed us recently, and then in a jolting moment will remember today's date and what those numbers mean.

It is important that today we remember those events, those feelings. It is important that we honor the memory of those people whose names are etched in stone and marble, if not in our minds.  

But it is most important that today, September 11, 2018, we remember that it is possible for us to look past that which divides us and embrace that which unites us.  That it is still possible for us to stand as one nation, linked by our common membership in that least-exclusive club the world still recognizes as "Americans."

And maybe, just maybe, find a way to love one another.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Round Two for Paradise


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Between August 22 and 28, Hurricane Lane battered the Hawai'ian island chain with high winds and record rainfall, ranging from 52 inches on the Big Island to just under 10 on O'ahu.  People are still digging out and the soil remains saturated.  Now, some two weeks later, the state is once again bracing for the onslaught of a major storm.

Hurricane Olivia, as of this morning, is about 650 miles from Honolulu.  Still rated a Category 1 with sustained winds of 85 mph, it is expected to weaken into a strong tropical storm by the time it begins to affect the islands.  A tropical storm warning has been issued for the islands of Hawai'i and Mau'i, and a TS watch for O'ahu.  The storm will begin to affect the state Tuesday, with high winds and heavy rainfall.  While not as much as Lane, it will nonetheless be an an unwanted 15" to 20" addition to areas on the Big Island that experienced some 52 inches of rain less than two weeks ago.  

Governor David Ige has declared a state of emergency and local and state officials are urging residents to prepare.  Working at Target last night, I did see a slight increase in water purchases, but considering that folks really stocked up for Lane, it seems as if everyone is about ready.  The only task remaining is to remove loose items from around the houses and properties.  For this island, the forecast is 40 mph winds and 4" to 8" of rain.  Mau'i and The Big Island may get as much as 20" of rain.  Complicating matters is that the storm has slowed from 15 knots to around 8 knots and is expected to slow even more, which means that the effects of the storm will linger much longer, increasing the risk of flash flooding and landslides.

Now this situation is passing almost undetected by the rest of the country because a truly monster storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas as a strong Category 4, perhaps even a Cat 5, affecting an area ranging from Georgia to Washington DC.  The storm will push inland, bring torrential flooding rains as far as the Ohio Valley.  Tens of millions are in the threat cone for this storm, and since the media capitols are all in that area, Florence will occupy the nation's attentions.  But while Olivia is a far less powerful system, it is nonetheless poised to impose significant damage to Hawai'i.  

In my lifetime, I have long experience with significant weather events.  I have been through or very close to severe thunderstorms, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, (earthquakes, not meteorological events, but still...), in fact the only thing that hasn't happened is to be struck by lightning.  At this point, people usually begin edging away from me.  The point being is that I'm no stranger to natural events, so as this storm approaches, I'm not possessed with mindless panic.

Preparing for something like this is pretty straight forward.  I don't think the winds are powerful enough to require putting up plywood on the windows, and in looking around, I see plenty of canned food and water, so I think we're ready to go.  In any event it will be an interesting twenty-four hours.

We humans have this foolish delusion that we are somehow masters of our fate, an attitude that lasts until a close encounter with what journalists colorfully describe as "nature's fury."  This makes nature seem unnecessarily anthropomorphic and possessed with a strong sense of anger or revenge against the planet's human occupants.  In fact, these are all natural events, driven by those as-yet fully understood dynamics of earth's planetary cycles which are largely indifferent to our presence.  But there are places where people have felt particularly picked on.  Moore, Oklahoma has been struck my more major EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes than just about any other place on earth.  Likewise, the folks on the Big Island of Hawai'i have to be wondering what they've done to deserve what has been inflicted upon them.  It's easy to appreciate that ancient peoples thought that things like this were the results of angered deities, which required all manner of sacrifice to appease them.  

But climate, and therefore weather, is not static.  It is dynamic, and I take issue with those who think that if it's not 72 degrees and sunny that there's something seriously wrong.  My default rule is to expect the unexpected, and understand fully the scope of my responsibility in mitigating those consequences.  It's not a matter of fate or fault, nor anger or indifference; its simply the way things are. 

That being said, I am still concerned about those whose lives are about to be impacted by Olivia and Florence, and I hope and pray that they will survive these events with their lives and possessions intact.  But I also know that in some cases, there is nothing that can be done, except to hunker down or evacuate.  And understand that where nature is concerned, it's not personal.

It's business.


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Aloha as a Home



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Tomorrow marks the end of our first week in Honolulu, and as in all moves, this has been a time of transition.  We arrived last Wednesday after a six-hour flight from Seattle, anxious to finally get off a plane knowing that we wouldn’t have to board another one the next day.  Our seven suitcases and one box, all carefully balanced to stay below the 50-pound limit, arrived with us and the five boxes we had sent on ahead were here waiting for us.  Our car had arrived on time, despite the presence of Hurricane Lane and Cheryl’s oldest sister picked us up at the airport using our Santa Fe, and thank goodness she did because we needed every cubic inch of space to load our stuff.

I guess the first thing I noticed was the weather.  Honolulu Airport is different in that the walkways from the gates to baggage claim are open to the outside air, which while warm and humid, is still pleasant thanks to the northeast trade winds.  I’m pretty sure the Hawai’i tourism folks had a say in that particular architectural choice.  Of course, once I started humping luggage out of the terminal and into the car, I sweated up pretty quickly.

When we arrived at the home of Cheryl’s mom, with whom we’ll be staying during our sojourn here, she came out to greet us, small, thin, fragile, but still a dynamo of stubborn energy despite her nearly 92 years.  It was good to see family again, and looking at Cheryl, I could see the joy and happiness written in her countenance.  She was home.

Unloading was done in the context of differing expectations.  This wasn’t a two-week stay.  We were here to live; moving in, as it were.  Before, we just laid our suitcases open on the extra bed in the room.  Now, we unpacked everything, storing it in some plastic container shelves.  The suitcases, once emptied, were relegated to the back of the closet.  All the items of life we had brought with us were placed in convenient places, and after everything was put away, I broke down the extra bed and leaned it against the wall, which gave us a lot more space.

The days since have been spent arranging our lives and finding some measure of routine in our new surroundings.  Mom’s house is not air conditioned – not many homes here are – and for some reason, despite all the windows, it never seems to catch the volume of breeze that’s out there in the afternoon.  Thus, inside the temperatures reach well into the 90’s with the usual tropical humidity.  I have come to the conclusion that while I am here, I will always be hot and sweaty, and hope nobody else minds.

Cheryl’s start date at Tripler Army Medical Center has been pushed back twice.  She goes in tomorrow for orientation and paperwork and will find out what her schedule will be. 

For me, my transfer from Target Aurora, Colorado to Target Ala Moana Hawai’i went through with almost no problems, and I start there on Sunday, the 9th.  Now instead of being a seven-minute drive from work, I will be an hour and a half bus ride away.  I don’t really have a problem with that, as the traffic here is guaranteed to drive anyone around the bend, even a five-year veteran of Washington DC.  The problem I do have is that the bus I ride leaves Ala Moana for the last time at 10:15 pm, and for some reason, they have scheduled me to close five of those first seven days, which means I can’t leave until after 11:15 pm.  So on those days, either Cheryl will have to come pick me up, or I will have to drive.  It is an enormous facility on two floors, formerly a Nordstrom Department store, and instead of one long line of cash registers, there are pockets of them located at all five of the entrances.  The store manager, or Executive Team Leader in Targetspeak, took me on a tour of the store which assured me that I will get lost just trying to find my way to my workstation.

The Target in Aurora allowed us to wear just about any shirt, as long as it was red.The Target here has only one designated shirt design for the whole team to wear, and they won’t give anyone more than two.  Since I’m working 6 out of the first seven days, that creates a laundry problem.  Cheryl’s mom has, like most people here, a washing machine in the carport.  After the clothes are washed, she hangs them up, which is a nice thing, but time consuming and dependent upon the sun.  Since I will have only two shirts to wear to work, that means laundry has to happen every other night after I come home.  So with her permission, yesterday Cheryl and I bought a dryer, which unfortunately won’t be delivered until the 18th. 

I am looking forward to working there.  The Ala Moana store not only has a strong local customer base, it also is the shopping destination for tourists needing items during their stay. Part of the attraction of working for Target is the opportunity I have to engage people as they come through my line.  As a writer and author, I am intensely interested in people’s stories, and the opportunity to hear stories from all over the world is priceless.

Already something significant has occurred.  For several years, the family has been trying to get mom to stop driving, something she has stubbornly resisted.  But on Friday, she got confused and when making a left turn onto a side street, she cut the turn way short and ended up colliding with another care sitting in the oncoming lane.  Nobody was hurt – the airbags didn’t even deploy – but the incident scared her more than anything we could have said.  I told her that if this went to traffic court, she would lose her license.  She finally bowed to circumstances and decided to retire from driving. 

It is one of those watershed moments of life, giving up that last symbol of independence.  I’m not so sure I would have shown as much grace as she did if that change had been thrust upon me.  While I’m only 63, still young by her measure, I can nonetheless see the years flying towards me much faster than with which I am comfortable.  I’m still two years away from Social Security and Medicare, but those are two bridges which will be difficult for me to cross.

I have started walking again.  I had to cut back in the weeks before we left the mainland because the days were so crowded with the jobs and duties we needed to complete our preparation for moving took up all the available time.  Now that things have settled down and a routine is taking hold, I am back to doing my daily five miles.  I had hopes of being able to do some hiking here, but my responsibilities with regards to mom will make that activity difficult to undertake.  But I am using the streets and sidewalks, and the Pearl Harbor trail that circles that historical five-lobed inland waterway.  The trail runs from the HPD academy in the west all the way to where a barred gate announces the entrance to the Navy base, verboten to civilians.  It’s a pretty walk, as long as you’re only looking at the harbor.  That trail has for many years been a place for the homeless.  Authorities have moved them out and into safer places, but the area on either side of the trail is littered with trash, abandoned vehicles, dozens of grocery carts, and the occasional vagabond who has escaped the attention of authorities. It is an ugly place, given the beauty of the natural part of the islands, and I’ve been told by HPD, a dangerous one as well.

Looking around, I can’t help but be disappointed.  There are way too many people living on the bitter edge of grinding poverty, not surprising since the median price for a home is north of $675,000.  The rentals are priced way beyond their value, and those who are lucky enough to afford a mortgage are driven off by cruelly exorbitant HOA fees and leasehold payments.  Even if you own a house, most times you don’t own the land, so you have to pay a lease to those who do own the land.  It’s not unusual to see an obligation that starts with an $1,900 mortgage payment, adds an $1,800 per month HOA fee, all topped off by a $2,000 per month lease fee.  Thus what you thought was an affordable payment essentially triples, two thirds of which are dollars that can’t be deducted off taxes.

Hawai’i has for longer than anyone can remember a Democrat deep-blue state.  But for all their trumpeting about helping the poor, the politicians won’t act to break up the land monopoly and end those leasehold payments.  And lest anyone forget, the real poison is that if the leaseholder decides to end the lease, the homeowner is booted out with no opportunity to collect on the equity they’ve paid into the property.  The still keep the mortgage, and now have no home.  That smacks of hypocrisy, especially since I’m pretty sure that those political campaigns are heavily financed by those very entities receiving tens of millions every month in those lease payments.

The other thing I notice is that outside the obvious tourist areas, this is a dirty town.  There is trash everywhere and nobody seems to care.  The sunsets are still glorious, and the ocean is still beautiful.  As long as you don’t look down, I guess you’d be alright.

Well, with all it’s outward beauty and inward warts, this is home for the foreseeable future, and I will make the best of it.  Cheryl is happy to be here, and that makes me happy as well.  And in the end, that’s really the most important thing.

Aloha!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Perfect Evening


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It was our last night in Denver, the inevitable closing of one set of doors.  Earlier in the day we had flown in from Maryland after tending to some grandparent duties with the East Coast branch of the family.  We were in the home of our youngest daughter, Jamie, having spent most of the afternoon and evening culling through the eight suitcases that constituted most of what we still owned in the world that was still mobile.  We had Chinese take-out, my favorite cuisine and were sitting around, just talking.  Cheryl was getting some tech help from Jamie when Jamie asked me to take her dog, Neil, out for a walk.  Having spent much of the previous three weeks NOT walking, I eagerly assented.  Clicking the leash onto the collar of a happy Neil, we headed out. 

It had been a beautiful day, and the air as we stepped off the porch was delightfully cool and crisp, a welcome change after swampy Maryland.  It was a reminder that fall was approaching, and I was feeling a little disappointed that I would not be around to see, hear, and feel what has always been my favorite season.  The sun had gone already, but the sky still held the vestiges of its dying rays.  Summer skies are different, in that during winter, when the sun goes away, the night moves in rapidly, the blackness taking quick possession.  But during the summer, sunset begins a longer transition.  The bright blue gives way slowly to a darker shade eventually becoming a soft purple.  As the color deepens, the stars and planets begin to appear, one by one, as if they were reluctant to share the stage with each other, the pinpoints of light begin to shine. 

This long, purple twilight has a purpose for summer days are hard to release.  There is so much life in that season, not just in nature, but in each other.  Children play in the gathering dusk until their mothers judge that the day is over, and they must return inside.  Accompanying the delicate end of the day, in the trees, grass, and bushes, crickets begin to chirp.  Like the stars, it begins individually, one here, one there.  Then the entire choir joins the chorus. 

For me, there is something soothing and peaceful in that sound.  It is one that opens the floodgates of memory.

When I was very young, we would go to Sunday night church at an outdoor tabernacle.  There were some wooden park benches, but we would usually bring lawn chairs and a blanket.  Of course, the sermon being utterly meaningless to my young ears, I would grow restless, even stretched out on the blanket.  My mother would gather me onto her lap and whisper in my ear, “Listen to the crickets sing!”  Hearing that sound today, I can almost feel her arms wrapped around me.  After church, we would return home where I would be laid in between cool sheets.  This was before we had air conditioning, so my window would be opened and to the chorus of those rhythmic chirps, I would slide away to my slumbers.

There were the Scouting overnight camps and after dinner and cleanup, we would gather around the campfire for song and stories.  Then we would slide into our sleeping bags and once again, in the company of my friends, the crickets would sing me to sleep. 

On warm summer evenings, when the heat and humidity had reached tolerability, Dad would pile us into the car and we would be taken to the nearby Dog n’ Suds for that most wonderful of summertime treats, the root beer soda, or Brown Cow.  It was a treat; cold sweetness in a frosted glass mug that chased away the heat for a time.  Once finished, now feeling comfortable chilled, we would go back home.  In those halcyon days before seat belts, I would be hanging out of the side window catching whatever humid breeze I could.  While moving, I would listen to the sounds of the tires on the pavement, not only from our car but from those that occasionally passed us going the other direction.  At the red lights, those sounds would fade to the point where I could hear the clicks from the big yellow box that controlled the signal lights.  And beyond that, the comforting and familiar sound of the crickets. 

A lot was gained in the advent of air conditioning, both in the house and car with regards to comfort.  But I can’t help but feel that something else was lost, something important.  To listen to the sounds of the earth, the world around us is to be connected to those things that despite all that happens, somehow never change.  The sound of the wind in the trees, and the sound of rain falling move us into a quieter, more contemplative way of being.  It is a time that fosters deep and profound thoughts, or perhaps no thoughts at all.  A space and moment is created for us to just simply be.

The thoughts and memories gently flow through my mind and heart as Neil and I walked along. It was peaceful.  I could hear the sounds of children playing in back yards, stretching every moment out of the long, purple twilight.  I hear voices behind me and a father and son pass me on bicycles.  The boy is talking a mile a minute about school, Dad contributing an occasional monosyllabic response when he could get it in edgewise.  As they pass, I see the Dad regarding his son with a warm and gentle smile, and I realize I am present at the creation of sweet memory.

It is a neighborhood of older homes, which means lots of front porches.  Long ago, the front porch was a place of retreat from a house still venting the heat of the day.  As some neighbors would pass by on their evening strolls, greetings would be exchanged, perhaps a short conversation might ensue.  Kids would play in the yard, or just relax on the stoop.  Neighbors got to know each other, and became friends.  It was a sense of community; you knew your neighborhood, not as a collection of houses, but as a community of families.  People felt safe because everybody looked out for each other, knowing when things were good, and those other times when someone needed help.

Those times have been lost to us, taken by the comfort of air conditioning and the easy entertainment of cable and satellite TV, and the Internet.  I’ve always wanted a house with a big, welcoming front porch, a place where I could pass the evening in contemplation and communication.  But nobody builds them anymore.  Yes, we now have decks in the back yard, but that space between the front porch and sidewalk was neutral ground, where anyone could come and share.  In the back yard, that's trespassing.

It’s really hard to build a sense of neighborliness and community from behind the barrier of a tall, wood fence. 

On this night, I can see into the lit rooms as I pass, rooms dominated by the bluish glow of a television screen.  On such a crisp night as this, the porches and sidewalks should be full of people sharing, talking, laughing.  What should be a noisy, joyful community is naught but silent streets.

As Neil and I make the last turn and head for home, we pass a young couple, holding hands.  We exchange murmurs about what a perfect evening this has been for a walk.

But it has been something else as well, a sweet stroll along the sidewalks of my memories.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Culture, Weather, and Getting Acclimated


Oh yeah...

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

So, this sojourn we are on has us hopping time zones as we zig back and forth.  We left Denver on the 14th and flew to Maryland.  That's two time zones.  Then we flew back to Denver for about 18 hours. That's two back the other direction. Tomorrow at around oh-dark-thirty, we'll crawl on yet another airliner and hop four more time zones to Honolulu.  When I was younger, this kind of thing would completely scramble my internal clock, leaving me with sleepy days and sleepless nights.  But this time, I am aided by that peculiar time zone that always accompanies us senior citizens.  It really doesn't matter where we are, or when we are, we're always down for a nap.  Or two.That particular freedom that comes from retirement gives me nap leverage at any time of the day.  I'm old, so I sleep.  So, this particular body is on its own clock which seems to operate in its own dimension of time and space.  Were I still working, this would be its own kind of annoyance.  

Where I am struggling is not with the clock, but with the climate.  When we left Denver, it was warm and very, very dry.  When we exited the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International we walked into a totally tropical air mass; warm and very humid, the kind where you break a sweat just getting the keys out of your pocket.  The two weeks on the east coast were repetitious cycles of heat and humidity, except for two really nice days.  This morning I humped suitcases out of our son's house and once they were packed into his mini-van, I was ready for another shower.  But upon arrival back in Denver, we walked out into a day in the low seventy's with low humidity, about as perfect a day as one could ask for.  

Tomorrow we leave for Honolulu where it will once again be warm and humid.  My wife reminds me, "But the trade winds are always blowing," which in my experience is kinda the same thing as describing a Phoenix summer as "dry heat."  The thing is, if you stay their long enough, the skin pores open up and those conditions feel really nice.  Not as nice as a crisp October day in the lower 48 mind you, but still nice.  Acclimatization is a process for every place, though.  Coming to Denver for the first time some 20 months ago, we had to adapt to the altitude.  That took about six months of being chronically short of breath and dealing with some edema as well.  But once that was done, we really didn't notice the effect in our daily routines.  Where it showed  up for me was in hiking.  The first trail I did here involved a 700-foot ascent from a parking lot to a flat-topped mesa.  What had been a simple thing in Virginia darned near killed me here. 

Being a midwesterner, I am accustomed to seasons.  One hot, one cold, and two in-between.  In Hawai'i, you could record the weather forecast, play it every day and you'd be right probably 320 days out of the year.  Winter means lower eighties instead of upper eighties, and rain happens more often, but that's about it.  There are no explosions of fall color, not that the normal flora and fauna need any help in that department, but I will simply have to get used to it all over again.  

Hawai'i is a paradise, as long as you don't look too closely.  There are unpleasant things residents deal with every day which are largely invisible to tourists.  Traffic, for example.  Being an island, you would think that people there would realize that there are only so many cars upon which will fit.  After decades of bitter fighting, a light rail system is being built, albeit very slowly.  It seems that few of O'ahu's citizenry liked the idea, seeing as how the pylons and trackage block the view of the ocean.  But I think the first time those folks zing to work while watching the parking lot that is the H-1 freeway twice a day will bring a lot of converts.  It had to be done, or the government was going to start rationing cars.  

The homeless problem, crisis actually, is one that challenges both the government and the citizens.  It has been calculated that a family of four needs to generate at least $60,000 in income just to live at the poverty level.  You can't get that working at a grocery store.  Police and Public Works crews do regular clean-ups of homeless encampments, and other places wherever they can find a place to rest their heads.  Southern California has learned that such areas can't be ignored, as those places can become vectors for disease outbreaks.

Very few people can afford to live there.  Housing prices are through the roof, so high that younger folks, instead of buying a home are adding a second story onto their parents dwelling, as that is marginally cheaper.  Also, there is a thing called leasehold.  The land in Hawai'i doesn't belong to the homeowner in a lot of cases.  It was bought long ago by any one of the original five companies that started business interests.  Now, when you buy a house, or condo, or apartment, you not only have a confiscatory mortgage payment, you also have the leasehold payment and the HOA fees on top of that, which turns an $1,800 mortgage payment into a $6,000 per month financial disaster.  Bear in mind also that neither leasehold payments or HOA fees are tax deductible like mortgage interest.  And if you buy a place and the lease ends, or the lease holder decides to terminate the arrangement, you are tossed to the curb, having lost every cent of your investment.  Thus, in a state swarming with liberal democrats who say they hate the one-percenters, the whole system is set up to coddle the very rich.

I think that if banks would offer a 50-year mortgage, that might bring the payments down to something approaching affordable, but until the land monopoly is broken, for the common folk, life in paradise will remain an unattainable dream.

Everything is expensive, since it has to be shipped in.  Fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, ground beef, gasoline, all those basic items needed to survive take a sizeable bite out of the monthly budget.  Frankly, I don't see how people survive.

Tourists don't see any of that, of course.  It's hard to see human misery while laid out on the white sandy beaches, or buzzing around the elite stores at Ala Moana Shopping Center.

And yet, we are going there, for at least one and perhaps as many as four years.  Does that make me a hypocrite?  Or is it just a priceless opportunity for my wife to spend time in the place she has always called "home?"  This clash of ethics however is washed away when we see the look on people's faces when we tell them, "We're moving to Hawai'i."

Cheryl grew up there, and we lived there for the first five years of my Navy career, so island life is something we are approaching with eyes wide open.  Balancing against all the negatives I've listed here is the incredible warmth and hospitality of the people of Hawai'i.  That thing they call the "Aloha Spirit" is very real, and something in which the locals take a great deal of pride.  It's easy to get along with folks here as long as you return that welcome as warmly as it is given.  And if you're of the Caucasian persuasion, you are now a distinct minority and you'd better remember that.  Uppity whites are not tolerated there, and for very good and proper reasons.

As I have written here ad nauseum life is an endless procession of changes, a kind of parade if you will.  And now we will march onward.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Age and the Downward Spiral of Time


Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

That age is best which is the first
When youth and blood are warmer
But being spent, the worse, and worst,
Times still exceed the former.
--Robert Herrick

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

They are curious, these feelings that drift through me these days, and it has been a challenge to sort them out.  In this transition time between Colorado and Hawai'i, we find ourselves at a church camp situated on the banks of the West River in eastern Maryland.  The scene is gentle and tranquil, and genuinely pretty.  It is a place where expensive homes stand in splendor along the river's twisting course leading out to the broad reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the homes overlooking a sizable fleet of equally expensive sailboats.  Despite the trappings of the one per centers, it is a place of peace and contemplation.

The first night here during the de rigueur "get to know ya" exercise, I was asked, "where do you live?"  Always an easy one to answer, but this time I came up empty.

Denver is officially in our rear view mirror.  Honolulu still lies just over a two-week horizon, so in a very real sense, we are sans domicile.  Homeless, in other words.  We are on the road, but it is a strange feeling to not have a place to call home.

There is a positive aspect to this situation for us.  We are out of debt, save a car loan (the object of which is on it's way to the Port of Honolulu), thus our financial situation is as secure as its ever been.  Once there, our income will be freed up to accomplish two goals, fill our our rather skinny retirement accounts, and re-establish our emergency fund, three to six months of income.   Having sold or donated almost everything we own, we are no longer laden by thousands of pounds of household possessions.  What we have left, in a closet in Aurora and a small 4x4 storage unit, is substantially less than a thousand pounds which will be re-located at that as-yet undetermined point in time when we finally decide where to settle down.  Our options are freed up now and we can go wherever, whenever, and for however much time we choose.

Time.  That's the only wrench in the gears.  We are both in our 60's and while our health is good, we both know that will not last. At some point our bodies will become enfeebled to the point where we will have to stop roaming and stay put.  That could be sooner or later -- the future being shrouded with nebulous uncertainty.  But the knowledge of that certainty drives our motivations for travel.  We will, in the timeworn phrase, sow wild oats while we can.  

Why we feel this way is something of a mystery.  So many others of our peer group are perfectly happy and content to have established roots, a place where they can always be found.  Their homes are an expression of their personalities and passions.  But they are also a museum, if you will, of their past.  There is a sense of permanence which fills the air and echos from the walls.  Even when they are absent, their sense of presence remains.

We don't have such a place right now, nor the desire to acquire such.  We are oddly okay with that arrangement.  Our "home" it seems is on the road, always on the way from somewhere old and bound for somewhere new.  We have always been restless, anxious to move on to a point beyond the horizon.  We are hooked on the narcotic of adventure; new places, new things.  But always in the background, we hear the clock ticking.  Time is sifting away, and at some point the hourglass will be empty, and then the last great adventure will begin.  We know that time doesn't end here.  We will leave our old and broken bodies behind and our spirits will soar gracefully, blissfully, eagerly to a place where there is no pain, no anger or hate, no judgment...only love, acceptance, and peace.

And there, we will finally put down our roots.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Voyaging Without a Home Port


"Together we're in this relation ship,
We built it with care to last the whole trip,
Our true destination's not marked on any chart,
We're navigating for the shores of the heart."
--John Duhan

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

This situation, technically speaking, might be described as "on the brink."  It's Saturday, and we leave Tuesday, not for vacation, but quite possibly forever.  We go to Maryland for two weeks of delightful grandparent duty.  We do come back to Colorado after that, but only for about 16 hours, a "cup o' coffee" in the old baseball parlance.  After that pause, we board another jet bound for Hawai'i and the next chapter of our lives.  

Of course we've been there.  Cheryl is a bona fide Kama'aina, and we lived there for five years of Navy duty.  Plus, we've been back for visits more times than we could accurately enumerate.  But this time feels different, very much like being between two doors, one closing, and the other opening.

We haven't really been in Colorado all that long, having actually lived here for 12 out of the 20 months since I retired.  Still, it's been a good stay.  We've been with family, two daughters and their families, two grandkids, two granddogs, and one grandkitty.  We found a church home that is very hard to say goodbye to.  And as the time winds down, I am sorta vexed by the thoughts of all the things I wanted to do here, but somehow never got done.  There was always tomorrow, until I ran out of tomorrows.

The past month has been an uphill slog of divestiture of furniture and possessions, paring down to a jam-packed small storage unit, a closet at our daughter's home, and whatever we'll (try to) get on the plane.  While emotionally and physically taxing, it has also been cathartic.  We've almost completely freed ourselves of the chains of furniture and housewares (yes, almost), saying goodbye to things we've been hauling around for over 35 years.  You could possibly stretch the play-doh far enough to call us vagabonds.

Our stay in Hawai'i is indeterminate.  Maybe one year, perhaps four, dependent on Cheryl's tolerance of Army Medical Corps bureaucracy, and her mother's tolerance of us in her house.  At the end of that stretch we will have a decision to make, one the resolution of which has thus far eluded us:  Where to retire.

"Home" has a different meaning for us, the result of a lifetime seemingly spent packing and unpacking boxes.  Home for me now is what I describe as "wherever the motorcycle's parked" even though I am currently sans bike.  Hawai'i will always be home to Cheryl emotionally.  She was born there, grew up there, and is where most of her immediate family still lives, including her 91-year-old energizer bunny of a mom.  But we can't afford to retire there, without either a big lottery win, or voluntarily immersing ourselves in abject poverty.  No thanks.  Besides, as she frequently says, "we've already been there."

Our criteria for picking a retirement location is complex.  It has to be affordable.  It has to be tax-friendly to retirees.  The climate needs to be reasonably temperate, somewhere between Arizona summers and Colorado winters.  Good medical care is necessary.  We aren't young anymore.  It needs to be a "happening place" with plenty to do and see, and close to an international airport where we can easily travel from, and be easily traveled to (9 grandkids, ya know).  For us, retirement will not be about sitting around waiting to die.  It has to be safe.  While we support the letter and spirit of Amendment No. 2, we've never lived in a place where we felt compelled to pack heat, and we really don't want to start.  Now, we enjoy our times at the gun range shooting other people's weapons, but having one or two in the house just to feel safe?  Don't think so.

Does such a place exist?  Or are we chasing a mystical chimera?  I've been told that there are such places overseas, but as hateful and angry as things are politically in the United States, we're not ready to turn our backs on our homeland.

Not yet, anyway.

In the end, our choice will be a compromise, what we're willing to concede to the inevitable hard realities.

I don't think there are too many of us who haven't conducted that mind experiment that poses the hypothesis "What if we won the lottery?"  It's part and parcel of our willingness to indulge dreams, even the silly ones.  As we've batted that around between us, the consensus is that we would own several homes in several places and rotate between them, leaving when we are summoned by the seductive call of the open road.  And yes, we've considered the RV thing.

But it's altogether possible that we'll continue on, rootless and unencumbered by debt or possessions (well, mostly anyway) until the inexorable march of time and senescence forces us either into the prison of assisted living, or the end of our mortal existence.  I, for one wouldn't be sad if my last words in this life would be, "Where shall we go next?"

But that choice is not yet upon us.  Right now, life is still about the journey, and the undiscovered adventure that lies just beyond the horizon.  Life is an ocean, love is a boat, and our voyage remains incomplete.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Moving, Furniture, and Letting Go


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's always a shock when that wily beast known as "times have changed" jumps right up in your grill.  The effect is instant disorientation, and finally, that sense of loss.  

In preparation for our move to Hawai'i, we decided not to keep our household goods in storage.  It seemed easy enough to say, "we'll just sell it all."  As is often the case, easy to say is very hard to do.  What we had was that same mix of large and small that every homeowner acquires over decades.  I finally parted with a lot of those things I had hauled around in boxes for the last two or three decades.  Some got sold, some donated, some just thrown away, albeit reluctantly and painfully.  But those decisions have been much easier to make this time around as our backs are figuratively against the wall.  I wasn't worried about the furniture.  It is excellent quality, the marker of our decision to pay more to get more.  As the days have passed however, it would appear that the time of "big furniture" has passed us by.

The two pieces that lay at the centerpiece of our lives are both Ethan Allen, a china hutch and a roll top desk.  We acquired them around 1982 when the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange had an Ethan Allen sale.  We bought them on layaway, and managed to pay them off.  Along with those two items, we also bought a long dining room table with two benches and two Captain's Chairs, the better to feed our growing family.  The table and benches were sold in Missouri.  The chairs we have still.  But the hutch and desk have remained with us, through multiple moves, decorating six different dwellings over those thirty-six years.  The idea of parting with them was painful, but painfully necessary.  

But like a spoiled twenty-something, those two pieces have refused to move on.  As I talked to those who came to our garage sale, I began to realize how times had changed.  When we were young(er), it was considered culturally necessary to have those big hulking pieces of furniture in your home.  To have them was a sign that you knew value and taste, and were willing to extend yourself to have them.  It was also, I think, a sense of permanence, that we had arrived and we were here to stay.

But times and tastes have changed.  You can't sell big honkin' furniture to the Ikea generation.  They're not in to that kind of thing anymore.  One young man who visited the sale (yes, visited), complimented me on the Ethan Allen furniture.  I asked if he was interested, and he replied, "Nah, I'm the Ikea Generation.  If I can't put it together, it's not real furniture."

I was already beginning to suspect this was the case, given the reaction of those who looked and walked away, and the desultory response to multiple social media postings.  It's axiomatic of any marketplace that in order to sell something, somebody has to want to have it.  And that's where I am at this point.  Nobody wants this furniture, thus I can't sell them.

The final default choice was to donate them, but even that has proven difficult.  Most of the organizations who sell donated goods have limits on the size of the items they will accept.  And it appears that these items exceed that size.  That really leaves us in a quandary.  Being furniture, we can't just haul it down to the sidewalk and hang a "free" sign on it.  For one thing, after a bone dry summer, it has been very stormy here in metro Denver of late.  And not just rain, but high winds, lightning, and hail as well.  For the other...well...it just seems to be a tacky thing to do.

So the items have been reposted with the addendum "make offer."  And I have a sneaking suspicion that the only cost benefit we will accrue will be the labor of someone willing to haul the stuff away.  

In a normal situation, I would be sorrowful to lose that furniture.  But this is not a normal situation.  We have to leave Colorado in ten days, and those things, along with everything else that's left, have to go.  There's no choice left.

Since we've been married, Cheryl and I have moved by count 21 times in 40 years, and for most of those moves, the hutch and desk have gone with us.  But that time has passed, and it is time to start again from the ground up as far as furniture goes.  It's a little like parenting in that when the time is reached when you have to say goodbye, you also have to let go.  

I just hope I can find someone to adopt my furniture.

Soon.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Road Never Traveled. Until Now.


"We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things,
because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
--Walt Disney

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been over a month since I last "penned" some words here.  And there have been some changes.  Back in April, mainly out of boredom, I returned to the workforce, hiring on at a local Target (or Tahrjey as they say).  I actually scouted the store, as I did with about eleven other businesses that were hiring.  What I noticed right away was how happy the workforce was.  They seemed genuinely glad to be there.  Everybody was working hard, not just the going-through-the-motion stuff I was seeing with other companies.  When I asked for help, instead of that bit of hesitation that spoke wordlessly "Can't you see I'm busy?" they were eager to help, and seemed genuinely concerned that my Target experience was a good one.  The place was clean and well ordered.  Now, all of these things spoke volumes to me about a very positive management philosophy that spread good feelings all the way through the workforce.  It was, in my view, the best place to work.  Now, almost three months later, my experience has confirmed my analysis.

It doesn't pay a whole lot, even though its well above the minimum, but what has been valuable has been the opportunity to interact with people again.  

Any writer will tell you that they are very interested in people's stories; what's happening in their lives, how they feel about things, and where they see themselves on the journey of their lives.  I didn't realize how much I had missed that.  I've had many warm and positive interactions with the customers, or "guests" in Target lingo.  And I've heard some amazing stories.

Jenna is 20-something, a bubbly, joyous young lady, but as I spoke to her, she told me that she was a brain cancer survivor.  After an auto accident when she was fifteen, she was being treated for a possible concussion.  But when the MRI results came through, they sent her and her parents straight to a major hospital, where after a round of tests, they were told that she had a tumor in her brain.  Stage IV, they said; a 19% chance of survival.  But Jenna is a person of tremendous faith.  In the brittle silence after the doctor's dark news, she turned to her parents and said, "Mom, Dad, don't worry.  God's got this."

48 hours later, the tumor had shrunk by 75%, and her survival prognosis had soared to 95%.  She still had to endure several rounds of chemo and radiation, but the end result is that she is cancer-free, and celebrating the fifth anniversary of that healing.

Church-going people often talk about faith, but Jenna lived her faith.  The last thing she said to me?  "I never doubted God."  Like those in the Bible who had been touched by Jesus, her faith had healed her.

Then there was the day I offered a Target sticker to a 9-year-old boy, who declined and in a haughty voice said, "I'm too mature for stickers."  Yep. A 9-year-old actually said "mature."  His mother turned and immediately said, "But you're not mature enough to clean your room. Take the sticker."

Lately, I've seen the school-age kids coming through with their moms doing the summer's-almost-over ritual of buying the back to school supplies.  It was entertaining to see the tragic hang-dog expressions on their faces, speaking their inner gloom that summer was almost over and they had wasted the whole thing playing video games.  In contrast, there are the ones who graduated from high school and are headed off to college, that first big adventure of their lives.  They're happy, motivated, and looking forward to the whole adventure.  Meanwhile, at their side stands mom, desperately trying not to cry.  One mom, whose daughter was chattering away about leaving Colorado and going to Boston College, was struggling with a trembling lower lip. She said, "I'm trying to be an adult about this, but I'm just not succeeding."

That's the cruel paradox of parenting.  If you've done your job, and done it well, when your children turn 18, they should be able to stand on their own two feet in the world.  They don't need you anymore, at least not in the way in which you've poured your heart and soul into them for the past 18 years.  In this context, success doesn't bring celebration, but sadness.

There was the grandmother who was living the dream in a house that was only three doors removed from each of her two children and her grandkids.  But that week, she had been told that the daughter was being transferred to Charlotte, and the son to Sacramento.  She was distraught.  I told her to sell her house and belongings, and then plan to spend six months in Charlotte, and six months in Sacramento.  She thought about that, and brightened up.  Sometimes you have to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that each day at work is filled with stories like those, some funny, some sad, some deeply meaningful.  It's been fun.

Now the other thing.

Cheryl finally landed her dream contract, a four-year deal in her home town of Honolulu.  She is delighted, her mother (the original 91-year-old energizer bunny) is ecstatic.  But there have been some logistical mountains to climb. First of all, the 5,000-ish pounds of household goods sitting in the mover's warehouse has been moved back to my daughter's house and put up for sale.  There's just no point in hanging on to stuff for another four years that we probably will never need again.  And no, we haven't decided where to retire to yet.  So, for the last two weeks, we've been going through the stuff already in our daughter's house, and sorting through the mountain of furniture and boxes delivered by the movers.  This week, we began the task of selling.  So far, it's going better than I thought.  A lot of stuff has been sold, and although there's still a ways to go, I can see the top of the mountain appearing in the distance.  

This has meant going through the painful task of saying goodbye to a lot of things we thought we couldn't live without.  When faced by that emotional hesitation, we just remember that we haven't thought about or missed these things for a year and a half. It's time.  Some things we will keep for legal reasons, and others that are just irreplaceable.  For example, I uncovered a box of slides given to me by my father before he died.  I never took the time to got through them until last night.  In that box were photos of me at various stages from a month to 7 years old.  The fascinating thing was that as I looked at my infant face, I could see there bits and pieces of every one of my grandchildren.  It is, I discovered, the true circle of life, the parts of ourselves that are passed to succeeding generations.  

Just before we got the call on Hawai'i, we had committed to watch our grandkids in Maryland while our son and his wife went on an anniversary trip.  So, we leave here on August 14th, return on the 28th, and the very next day board our flight to Honolulu.  Cheryl starts her job on the 30th, so any delays or cancellations will have dire consequences.

What will follow over the next four years is anybody's guess.  The only thing I know...is that I don't know a thing.  The future is impossible to predict because the events of daily life impart twists and turns in that path that point to a plethora of different possible outcomes.  As our circumstances have changed, so will our challenges.  But that's us; we like looking at a horizon, not knowing what lies beyond it.  It is stressful, but change is the only real consistency in our lives, and we have come to embrace the insecurity of that kind of existence.  We thrive on the unknown, and unknowable. Routine is, after all, boring.

In the past few years, we've been shedding chains; the chains of debt, a house, and now possessions, well most of them, anyway.  We feel we are free to chase whatever dream or whim that pops into our minds.  It may well be that when mortality catches up to us, we will remembered by the epitaph, "Well, at least they finally settled down."

But until then, there is a life to be lived.  Clear the decks!  Here we come!


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers Day


"I'm a father.  That's what matters most.
Nothing matters more."
--Gordon Brown

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

I remember clearly the first time I held our first newborn.  I was in awe at the power of life as it lay cradled in my arms, and feeling absolutely unqualified for the task that lay ahead.  I remembered my Dad, and how easy he made fatherhood seem.  He was always confident and resolute.  Never once did I ever see him unsure of anything.  His decisions were perfect, and he always had the right words and the correct solutions.  He was a man of immense dignity and a commanding presence that was always in the house, even when he wasn't.  I thought about all that as my new son stared up at me, and hoping that I would be to him at least a fraction of what my Dad was to me.  

Fathers have a compelling influence on their children's lives.  That's the way it's supposed to be.  For a girl, if she does not get the attention, affection, and support from her father, she will later look for that in other men, in very destructive ways.  Much of the confidence a young woman has will have been instilled by her father.  And when she chooses a young man, chances are he will have some of her father in him.  It is interesting to note that Robert E. Lee had three daughters, none of whom married.  As one said much later, "None of them, in terms of character, courage, and inner strength came close to father."

Boys grow up (although some women would dispute that) and at some point, we become men.  That moment of transition is different for all of us.  For me, it wasn't graduating high school, leaving home to be on my own, or even getting married.  In that moment in the presence of my infant son, for whose life I was now totally responsible, I realized that my childhood was over.

With some exceptions, we idolize our fathers.  Even in those difficult teen years, they are fundamentally vital to our growth.  And when that mantle of fatherhood fell upon our shoulders, we knew the model for which we would follow.  

Children need walls to define proper behavior. They need strong examples of morality and ethics, and the willingness to stand their ground.  They need to know that authority needs to be respected, and there are cultural and societal expectations that must be fulfilled.  Above all, they need to know that life will throw at them some excruciatingly difficult and exquisitely painful moments, which have to be faced head-on.  Dad is the one who teaches these things, and the one who must endure the anger of that malleable soul in order to imprint those most important lessons.  As one who endured such conversations, it is hard to take.  As one who tired to deliver those conversations, they're even harder to give.  

A man is measured by the company he keeps, therefore he chooses his real friends with care. If he associates with men of strong character, high morals and ethics, and unbreakable determination, then he will also be known by these attributes. If he associates with those of dishonest, dishonorable, or even criminal character, then he will be tarred with that same brush. His honor is his most treasured possession and he knows that as his children see the behaviors that he honors in the quality of his associations, they will instinctively strive to emulate those qualities in their relationships. As Thomas Carlyle said, “Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is and what kind of man you long to be.”

As men, as fathers, we will always be held to a high standard. We must choose to rise to that level and live up to those expectations. None of us live in a vacuum; there are too many others who depend upon us and look up to us and we must earn that trust and that respect.

As I look back on my life as a father, I can see, first off, all the mistakes I made and how they hurt my kids.  I can see with painful regret the many times I put other things, in retrospect unimportant, ahead of my responsibilities to my kids.  I know now that all those years I spent trying to find my identity of self, that I should have looked solely to my children and realized that my most important identity was "Daddy."  That's the trap we walk into all too often.  We think that if we're good at a job and bring home a good paycheck providing food and shelter, and sometimes a few really nice things, that ought to be enough.  We strive continually to achieve professionally, to attain a position of honor and respect in the job, while forgetting that the most important job we will ever have are those young lives we have at home.  Don't get me wrong, money is essential to survival.  But in the final analysis, jobs are temporary.  Children are forever.  Our willingness or failure to remember that will mark their lives for better or worse.  

It's not easy being a father; harder still to be a Dad.  It really is the hardest thing we will ever do.  We have only a short space of time, less than ten years really, to mold them into good people, and it is time that cannot ever be wasted.

If we done this task right, or even mostly right, there will come that Father's Day when we look upon our happy, well-adjusted, and successful children as adults.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll hear from them those magic words...

"Thanks, Dad. You did all right."