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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.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Farewell to the Laurel Highlands**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 29, 2011
as "Farewell Somerset County

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
October 30, 2011
as "Farewell, my friends; a new chapter is beginning"

If there is one constant in the universe, it’s that change is the only constant.  If you watch the night skies long enough, even the universe changes.

Human life is fluid and dynamic; never static.  We seek stability; the comfort of routine and familiarity.  But like a hungry predator, change lurks; crouched and ready to spring when we least expect it.  I’ve been its prey many times.  But then I’ve always been drawn to the far horizon.  I’ve never “put down roots” no matter how inviting the soil.  For me, there was always another place to go, another life to live.  But for the last seven years, this place has been my home.

The exigencies of politics in a city 3 hours distant ignited a chain of events that has once again set loose the predator.  In a few days, I will leave this place for another.  A page has turned; a chapter has closed.  

Seven years ago, Cheryl and I left Missouri and came here.  I’d never been to Pennsylvania before and really didn’t know what to expect.  There were only three things I knew about the Keystone State:  The Steelers, Willie Stargell, and Ben Franklin.

In the years since, I’ve come to love this place.  The natural beauty of the Laurel Highlands in all its moods, from high summer to the depths of winter, touched the poet
within me.  I found solace in the cool of the forests and the streams that murmured their secrets as I walked along their banks.  With my motorcycle, I found thrills in the winding mountain roads tracing landscapes vibrant with life. 

In the towns, I found an America I thought had been lost.  Celebrations of holidays that pass unnoticed in larger cities are marked here with parades and celebrations.  Several times a year, the hillsides echo with music; polka, jazz, country, rock, and the ageless classics resound through the valleys. Folks are neighbors in the best sense of the word, looking in on one another and reaching out in times of trouble.  Simple kindnesses are rendered, not for remuneration, but because it’s the right thing to do.  Evening walks around the neighborhood are an institution here, people smiling and talking with each other, even complete strangers. People embrace their ethnicities, but never forget that their story is but one strand woven into the cultural tapestry of community.  Visitors who come here are enveloped in that communal embrace and always leave with a smile and a warm remembrance.

I also came to know the people who live here, who made us so welcome.  Your friendliness and warmth made each day a pleasure. 

Wherever we go, a little trade takes place.  We leave a part of ourselves here, and take with us a piece of the land and the memory of friends.  Every experience flavors our lives, changing us in ways both subtle and significant.  In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” Dr. Graham said,

“Once a place touches you like this,
the wind never blows so cold again. 
You feel for it, like it was your child.”


I have enjoyed sharing with you my thoughts, my feelings, my words.  Some of you have written; others stopped me on my walks and took the time to share their stories and thoughts.  For that, I thank you.  I hope that the piece of myself that I leave here, in the words I’ve written and the friendships I’ve shared, has given you a small space of pleasure and enjoyment, perhaps even a smile or two.  For me, the gift of yourselves that I take from here will live forever among the warmest of my memories.

If someone were to ask me to characterize the people of the Laurel Highlands, I would say it is your unhesitating willingness to support each other in times of tragedy.  And that the word “quit” does not exist here.

You have faced some terribly difficult times, events that would have destroyed lesser communities and yet you survived.  No matter how hard things may have been, you never forgot your neighbor.  Continue to support each other; keep your faith close and alive, and know that by your faith and the strength of your perseverance, better times will come.

I leave you with a blessing from my Irish ancestors:

“May the road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
and the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”

Farewell, my friends.
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