About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"What Have I Done For Him Lately?"*

*Somerset, PA Daily American, April 4, 2010
as "The Meaning of Easter"

Several years ago, I went with a multi-denominational group of Christians to see “The Passion,” Mel Gibson’s heart-ripping portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was a grim and silent group that filed out of the theater after the movie. We stood together, not wanting to be alone after such a traumatic experience. Turning to the man next to me, I asked, “What did you think?”

He replied, “Makes me wonder what I’ve done for him lately.”

Today is Easter Sunday; the traditional celebration of the day the Christ arose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and friends before ascending to Heaven. While generations of believers have intellectually acknowledged this man’s sacrifice, it really took Gibson’s horrifically graphic presentation for most of us to fully understand the extent of that sacrifice.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus blessed and healed thousands, relieving them of all manner of diseases and infections, and granting them forgiveness for past sins. For those people, it had to be a life-changing event, yet the scriptures are silent with regards to the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Heroes

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

What constitutes a hero?  Obviously, it is someone we admire, but the reasons why are often a window into the most private part of ourselves.  Thomas Carlyle said, “Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are.”  But, do we define our heroes, or do our heroes define us?

Some are elevated because of their ability in sports.  Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, and George Brett are just a few of the tens of thousands of athletes who have enthralled fans over the decades.  Some are set apart just because of their statistics.  For others, it is not only what they do during games, but how they live their lives. 

Some are honored because of things they have accomplished for others, often at great cost and sacrifice.  Some are artists, musicians, actors, statesmen, religious leaders, or authors.  The common thread through all these lives is that in some way, they inspired us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"You Can Take the Girl Out of Hawaii..."*

Definitely not Luau weather...

*Somerset, PA Daily American, March 28, 2010
as "She's One of Us"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It should come as no surprise that after 32 years, my wife can still surprise me. I thought I had her all figured out. I can detect that subtle inflection in her voice that tells me when she’s content, as well as that pulsing in her neck and jaw when I talk about buying something for the motorcycle. But even after all these years, she can still pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat.

There is a saying, “You can take a girl out of Hawaii, but you can’t take Hawaii out of the girl.” This particular girl was born and raised in Hawaii and never lived in a cold environment until she moved to Missouri to finish her Nursing degree. It was a tough transition. Even with temperatures in the 60’s, usually shorts and flip-flop weather, she was wearing hat, gloves, and parka. When we began dating, I was amazed at how low her tolerance to cold was. At 70 degrees, she began donning layers. It was a bit of a letdown to find out that her cuddling was less about affection and more about heat.

In the last few weeks, the mountain of snow has melted, delighting us all. The other night, we were reminiscing about this past winter, one for the record books to be sure. I was waxing rhapsodic about motorcycle riding, a far-too common occurrence, I’m afraid. At one point, I remarked, “I bet you’re really glad that winter’s over.”

She sighed, tilted her head, and dropped this bombshell:

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Lawnmower and Me: A Tale of Betrayal*

*Somerset, PA Daily American, March 20, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In the last couple weeks, temperatures have rebounded and the visible legacy of the Long Winter is finally in retreat. Slowly, the piles of white have shrunk, revealing for the first time in five months, the crushed and shriveled remnants of my lawn. As pitiful as the grass looks, after months of endless snow, it’s still good to see.

I’m also finding out that the ebbing of winter’s coat is revealing other things as well. Last week, I found a newspaper that had been delivered during a blizzard back in early February. Surprisingly, it was still perfectly dry, preserved by a double-wrap of plastic bags. One of our hand shears also made an appearance, rusted beyond use, lying at the base of a rose bush I had been trimming late last fall. But the most astonishing item (and potentially the most embarrassing) rose like a Phoenix out of a snowdrift two weeks ago.

My lawnmower.

When I was preparing to do the final cut last fall, the confounded thing refused to start. I yanked on the pull rope until my shoulder ached, but no go. I really wasn’t surprised, after all it was 15 years old and had been on its last legs for some time. The engine blew smoke, the wheels wobbled, and it had acquired an amount of baling wire and duct tape in a vain effort to keep things attached and functional. Despite its long and rugged service, I still felt betrayed enough to exile the cantankerous machine outside the garage.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Dreamlusion of Becoming a Writer

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I was told once that the desire to become a writer was tantamount to volunteering for torture. I laughed at the time, but as I’ve learned since, there’s enough truth in those words to sting a little.

For most people, when the concept of being a writer is brought up think of books. But there’s so much more. A person can write ad copy, tech manuals, short articles, essays, columns, blog copy, longer feature articles, short stories, yada, yada, yada… So there’s no shortage of slots out there for the aspiring among us.

I write short essays, in the 500 to 1000-word range. While I have only two magazine articles to my credit, I did recently score my 65th newspaper column. (Why am I celebrating number 65? Because I was oblivious to the passage of number 50.) I do have three book projects I’m working on, but I find the most fulfillment in short pieces. Those who have read my columns have responded very positively, which is always balm to a writer’s ego. Unfortunately, the attempts to broaden my market have met with, shall we say, somewhat less than spectacular success.

Intellectually, I understand that the market is brutally competitive. Features editors are swamped with candidate essays, not only from local writers, but people like me who communicate via e-mail. An editor’s first responsibility and focus must be the local market. Add to that the conclusion that columns are probably the least-read parts of any newspaper, and you see the problem. But I continue to strive mightily, hoping for that one breakthrough piece of literary brilliance that gets people’s attention.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Restlessness*

*Somerset Daily American May 21, 2010
as "Feeling Restless"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Restless.

If I were to pick a word to describe my state of mind these days, that would be the one.
This is not an unusual feeling for me. All my life I have yearned for the freedom to explore. But as a profession, vagabondery doesn’t pay all that well and over the years that’s tended to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I’ve traveled far and wide over the years for both work and fun. In the rearview mirror of my memories lie 49 states and some 20 foreign countries. My wife and I have lived in several places in the 32 years we’ve been married, such as Missouri, Virginia, Hawai’i, California, Missouri again, and Pennsylvania. Except for the 14 years we spent in Missouri raising a bumper crop of kids, our stays in those places were relatively short. One would think that once I got into my 50’s I would be more inclined to put down roots. But that hasn’t been the case. The clock is ticking, the calendar is turning and as the time I have left dwindles, my impatience grows ever more intense.

I recognize the symptoms.

o On my daily commute, having to push back the strong temptation to sail past my exit and keep on going.
o The sense of adventure I feel when perusing a road atlas.
o The question my mind generates when looking towards the horizon: what am I missing?
o The stifling feeling of being chained to a routine.
o The longing I feel watching the trains pull away from the station.

With my motorcycle out of winter storage, it’s only gotten worse.

If restlessness was a disease, than I would be declared incurable; if it were a crime, I would have been imprisoned long ago. As to why I am afflicted so, I wish I knew. I know there are others in my same condition. Perhaps we could start our own support group...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Testing the Waters

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

As a motorcyclist, this has been a really tough winter.  For the first time in my memory, I didn't log a single ride between Thanksgiving and Tax Day.  A big reason for this has been the Siberianesque winter that was visited upon the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this year.  The roads were never completely clear, and even now when asphalt is finally making it's long-overdue re-appearance, there's so much sand, salt, and cinders on the road that taking a ride means also taking your life in your hands. 

But, the weather is finally warming.  For the first time in two months, we've had two consecutive weekends without blizzards.  The snow packin our yard, responding to the sun and 40-degree temperatures has retreated from neck-high, to merely thigh-high.  Birds have made their return, their cheerful songs filling the once-silent sky.  Hopefully, by the end of this month, or by the latest, mid-April, I will go to Cernic's, the hospitable bike shop and liberate my Vulcan 900 (whom I've named "Wyatt") from his heated garage space.  Once again, I will sit astride my machine, feeling the steady beat of the engine from the souls of my boots right up my spine.  We will take to the road and revel in the joy as the world becomes a blur before vanishing in my rear view mirror.

Tempering my anticipation is the acknowledgement that it has been several months since my last ride.  I must endure some patience, while I carefully re-learn that plethora of skills that ensure a safe return from every ride.  Chief among these are my traffic instincts.  Every experienced rider knows whereof I speak.  Nobody can convince me that driving a four-wheeled vehicle and riding a motorcycle are anything close to analogous.  They require completely different styles, and even philosophical approaches.  Over the years, I have developed the "ability" to judge the difference between a motorist merely looking in my direction, and a motorist actually seeing me.  This is crucial because every accident database I've seen reflects a motorist's "failure to yield" as being the most common cause behind car/truck vs. motorcycle accidents.

"Back in the Saddle Again..." Getting the Motorcycle (and the Rider) Ready*


YEEEEEEEEE HAWWWWWWW!!!!!!
(Deals Gap Photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions)

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat, March 24, 2010
as "Yee Haw, It's Springtime and a Man's Fancy Turns to Motorcycles"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Ahhh! Sunshine, warm days, soft breezes, clear roads…all welcome signs that winter is finally behind us and another motorcycle riding season beckons.

Most of us have watched our bikes sit idle in the garage since October or November. It’s likely that the engine hasn’t been started but once or twice, if at all, during that time frame. Before you give in to Spring’s seductive caress, there are some things that you should do first.

Clean it up good. Not only will it look better, but getting the winter’s accumulation of dust and…whatever…off the machine will make it far easier to spot any problems.

Charge the battery. And if your battery is more than three years old, replace it. While original batteries may last five or six years, most mechanics recommend replacing aftermarket units after three years, regardless of how good they may seem to be. Unlike a car, battery failure will kill an engine, even in mid-ride. This has happened to me twice (yeah, I’m a slow learner), both times far from civilization.

Change the fluids. Oil changes are no brainers, but don’t forget the other fluids, such as brake, clutch, any other hydraulic fluid, as well as radiator and final drive, if applicable. Most bike manufacturers recommend this be done every two years or 20,000 miles. If you decide to do this yourself, make sure you bleed the air completely out of those systems, especially the brakes. Air in the lines will keep your brakes from operating. Not a good thing to happen when you’re approaching a stop sign.

If your bike is chain-driven, check the chain for condition, lubrication (if required), and proper tension.

Friday, March 05, 2010

My Favorite Songs (Some of them, anyway)

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I was asked the other day what my favorite songs were. That took some thought. A tour of my iPod reveals a cornucopia of styles and genres, from classical to country and just about everything in between. So to try to narrow down some 800 songs to a few proved to be a challenging effort. Nevertheless, I persisted and came up with these, in no particular order.

Mahler’s “Resurrection” (the last 8 minutes).

This massive piece, written for orchestra and choir, is long (the 5th movement alone is 37 minutes long) but dramatic. Mahler’s pieces require augmented orchestras and choirs, but in this case it’s definitely not overkill. In the final movement, the conversation between the orchestra, the soloists, and the choir build to a climax that will put goosebumps on a person. It is a heroic affirmation of the Christian principle of eternal life, given voice by these words:

“What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!

Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!

O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!


Its wing that I won is expanded,
and I fly up.
Die shall I in order to live.


Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,”

And with a tear-producing emotion, the choir cries triumphantly:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

My Father's Hat*



*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 20, 2010
as "Tip Your Hat to Dad On His Special Day"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The relationship between fathers and sons is a complicated one. For most of us, our Dad was a towering figure; the source of unquestioned wisdom and authority. We loved him, and yet feared him, or rather, feared that we would be measured and found lacking in his eyes. The good ones taught us how to be men, stressing the importance of integrity, honesty, fidelity, and inner strength. We learned from them how to treat our wives, with respect and dignity.

They made it look easy, but it wasn’t until we became fathers ourselves that we discovered how hard it was to be “Dad.”

My father died in the spring of 2004 from a host of ailments. He was a man of immense dignity and intelligence; a minister who had taken the Word to remote jungles in Africa, the hinterlands of a dozen Asian countries, and across the Iron Curtain during a time when people of faith were being imprisoned and even executed. And this after serving in the Navy on U-boat patrol in the North Atlantic. He lived a full life, touching the lives of thousands. My sister and I still feel his loss deeply, but at the same time we recognized his passing as a healing. He was in Heaven, released from his pain, and reunited with my mother and step-mother, both of whom had died of cancer.

In the days following the funeral, it was our sad duty to collect his belongings. One afternoon, as I was going through his clothes, I found his hat. Dad wasn’t much of a hat man after the popular Fedora of the ‘50s and ‘60s faded from fashion, but in his final years, he had often worn this one. And as I gently ran my hands across the surface, I knew I had to keep it.