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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The urge is upon me.

I can always tell when it’s time for me to sit down and write. I feel anxious, unsettled; there’s something inside that needs to come out. Usually, I can sit down in front of the computer, or pick up my notepad, or in extreme cases, pull the moleskin out of the back pocket and start putting things down. After a while, some sort of cogent theme will emerge. But not today.

It doesn’t help that I’ve got a lot of thought fishes swimming around in the ol’ brain pond these days. (How’s that for a flashy slice of mixed metaphor?) It’s becoming hard to sort out what my analytic priorities should be, and how long I should be spending on each one.

I’m still trying to work through the passing of our 5-month-old granddaughter in early April.


Why can’t I bring myself to use the word “death?” Is it because of my religious beliefs and the promise of an afterlife? Is it a result of my own near-death experience? Or am I deliberately trying to soft-pedal the harsh reality?

I can’t answer these questions today. Tomorrow’s not looking good, either.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mother's Day*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat  May 9, 2010
as "Mom Loves Us the Most"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A mother is the truest friend we have,
when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us;
when adversity takes the place of prosperity;
when friends desert us;
still will she cling to us,
dissipate the clouds of darkness,
and cause peace to return to our hearts.
~Washington Irving

On the day we were born, hers was the first face we saw. It was her voice we first heard speaking softly those words of joy and affection. And it was in her arms where we first found safety, solace, and love.

A mother is, bar none, the most influential, most dynamic force in a person’s life. There is no more powerful, resolute, or boundless source of love for a child, save God Himself.

"A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity,
it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path."
-- Agatha Christie

She was tough on us, to be sure. But woe betide anyone who sought to do us harm. She laid down the rules and made sure we followed them to the letter. Through lesson and example, she taught us to be good persons. In those moments when our world crumbled, her arms would open. And when those arms closed around us, we knew we were safe from the worst the world could do.

The doctors told me that I would never walk,
but my mother told me I would,
so I believed my mother.
-Wilma Rudolph, U.S. Olympic Champion

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Ride, Or Not to Ride: Weathering the Choice

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Like many other aspects to life in the Laurel Highlands, spring is quite often an acquired taste. We came here from Missouri, a land where sauna-like summers and long, relatively dry winters are sandwiched around a few weeks of temperate nirvana we call spring and fall. We did have weather fluctuations from time to time, but the climate was fairly consistent. And predictable.

This is important to a motorcyclist. The decision to take the bike out for a spin or a commute involves a complex analysis of many climatic factors. Spring, at least around here, is a time when you scrape frost off the windows in the morning and wear shorts, sandals, and t-shirts in the afternoon. Jim, Tim, and Tony may tell you with confidence that the chance for precipitation is low, only to endure a tropical downpour or a snowburst on the way home.

As a weather nut, I understand the orographic influence that mountains have on air masses and how that can make forecasting a crap shoot. This leads to the inevitable question: “Do I ride today?”

Before you jump to conclusions, let me introduce you to the dynamics of my commute.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grief: The Hardest Journey*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 2, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The loss of a loved one is perhaps the most common of the shared human experiences, but people still endure grief as something deeply personal and lonely.

In 1969, Dr. Janet K├╝bler-Ross introduced the now-familiar five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For the first time, grief was understood not to be an emotional state, but a process. Professional counselors could now use specific therapies to help people through their particular stage. Also, people who were grieving not only better understood their own state of mind, but knew that at the end of that process lay the hope of healing.

I thought that the death of our infant granddaughter was a rare event. However, I was surprised at the large number of people whose experience mirrored my own. One young lady stopped me on the street and told me how she had lost her baby at seven weeks old. As she spoke, she began to cry. That tragedy had occurred 10 years before, but the pain had not faded.

Grieving can take years.

For some, it never ends.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Desert: A Forever Land*

The Dragoon Mountains,
near Tombstone, Arizona

*Somerset, PA Daily American
July 10, 2010
as "Putting the View in Perspective"
(May be listed online as "His Headshot is in Snibbets" )
(No, I don't know why.)
(I don't even know what "Snibbets" are.)

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
With its customary roar, the plane lifted out of Phoenix, leaving in its rippled wake Sky Harbor, certainly one of the most poetic names ever bestowed on an airport. We flew west for a bit before circling back east, bound for home.

I gazed out the window, watching as the lights of the suburbs slowly thinned out. Behind us, the sun was setting. A desert sunset is a beautiful sight, all purple and gold, the few clouds lit brilliantly by the fading star. The desert during the day seems bright and harsh, colored by the sharp blue sky, bright yellow sun, the darker yellow of the sands, the dark, brooding mountains. But come dusk, the angled rays reveal a wonderfully subtle palette of colors from the softer, gentler part of the spectrum. As the sun sinks into the west, the sky and earth begin to merge. Both are slipped by a velvety cloak of purple as the day ends.

However, these magical moments never last very long. The sun disappears below the horizon, the darkness slides in from the east and night takes the land.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Zoe Arianny Villon
October 12, 2009 - April 2, 2010

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
April 11, 2010
as "Solemness of Good Friday Hits Home"

These are the most difficult words I have ever written.

On Good Friday, I received a call from our oldest daughter; the call no grandparent ever wants to get. Our five-month-old granddaughter, Zoe, had passed away.

She was born in October, 10 days premature, a tiny 4 pounds 9 ounces. The first two weeks were spent in the Neo Natal ICU, as she struggled to get a foothold on life. She had some physical problems, but none that seemed insurmountable. But after further testing, it was determined that she had a genetic defect. She was missing part of her fifth chromosome. The clinical term was “Cri du Chat,” meaning “Cry of a cat.” This is in reference to the thin mewling cry, sounding very much like a small kitten that is the hallmark of this syndrome. The outlook was bleak. There was a long list of possible outcomes, none of them hopeful. Among them were heart problems, cognitive difficulties, developmental issues, susceptibilities to a hundred different illnesses.
The Coroner called the cause of death "complications from Cri du Chat Syndrome.  But we may never know the actual trigger.  For reasons that still escape medical science, some infants just die.

She had been restless the night before, not going to sleep until after 1 am, long after her two autistic brothers had retired. Exhausted, Nikki and her husband Danny went to sleep. Nikki awoke later than usual, instantly aware that she hadn’t heard Zoe’s good morning cry. Going to her crib, she found her precious baby, already gone.

When she called me, she was frantic, crying and wailing. I yelled back, urging her to do CPR. But over the phone, Danny’s voice in the background, full of anguish, cried back that she was ice cold and stiff.
When the paramedics arrived, they determined that Zoe was beyond help. The Coroner, arriving later guessed that she had been dead for several hours prior to Nikki’s discovery. There were no signs that she had been in distress, or even that she had thrashed about. In fact, she was laying in the same position Nikki had put her in hours before.

Cheryl and I left for California on the next available flight. Our children, responding to my email appeal, rushed to gather from across the country. Upon our arrival, Nikki fell into our arms weeping in the heart-rending way only a devastated mother could. Later in the day, as I talked with her, she made this statement:

A Minefield Disguised as a Store*

*Somerset, PA Daily American  April 23, 2010
as "What's Your Weakness?"

For everyone, there is that one place where we know we shouldn't go; that one store that robs us of every ounce of self control. For some, that place may be a boutique that "sells the cutest clothes!" (I'm assuming that would be a female-only crowd) Guys, being...well...guys tend towards more technical places. The hardware and tools department of Sears was the minefield for one of my friends. He simply couldn’t go there without buying something. It got so bad that his wife, at one point, demanded he surrender his wallet before going. For other men, auto parts stores are supremely seductive spaces. Computer stores, new car showrooms number among some of those favorite places. I enjoy motorcycle shops, but since the cheapest thing there generally runs about 10 large, it's hard to just "pick something up."

Some time ago, big book stores began popping up across the landscape, the most iconic being Barnes & Noble. I've always loved books. To me they were the door left ajar to an author's heart and mind. Within those covers lies secrets from history, forecasts about the future, and the recounting of lives that changed history. Many have become old friends, going back to them for another visit from time to time. I always take a book with me wherever I go. I even stuffed a paperback in my back pocket when we went to Disneyland to while away the hours spent standing in line.