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

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Mirror of the Past*

Hazel and Ralph E. Couey, with my Dad, Duane

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
October 23, 2011
as "Family Treasures Discovered"
When our father died in 2004, my sister and I had the sad duty of going through his belongings.  He had been a minister who traveled the world and amongst his things were reminders of his missions to all seven continents and a host of Pacific islands.  He was an avid reader, very much a self-taught man, and had acquired a prodigious collection of books.  They were mostly theology and philosophy, but included some history, and the collected poems of Wordsworth.  What we didn’t donate went into a storage unit, and eventually into my sister’s garage.  

We think we know everything that’s in those boxes, but occasionally we get surprised.  Once, she found a box of letters that our grandfather had written to Dad while he was in the Navy in World War II.  Neither of us ever knew our Grandfather, even though I bear his first name, so this was a priceless opportunity to peer into the life, mind, and heart of a man we wish we had known.

And it was amazing.  He was a man of strong opinions, and was not at all shy about sharing them.  He wrote at length about his life and the times in which he lived.  And those things that all parents fret about, namely the welfare and behavior of their children.   His words opened a window on a life we had never known. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

United by That Moment***

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey 

*Chicago Tribune
September 2, 2011
as "United by remembrance"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 3, 2011
as "United by Remembrance"

*Independence, MO Examiner
September 10, 2011
as "United in moment of remembrance"

It seems like just yesterday.  And yet it also seems like a lifetime ago;  that bright, blue, sun-splashed September morning 10 years ago when our world changed forever.  It was one of those moments, like Pearl Harbor and John Kennedy's assassination, that we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment we heard.
I was working in a Caterpillar factory in Boonville, Missouri.  It was a pleasant day for a change, but the morning air had felt distinctly chilly during my motorcycle ride to work. 
 My co-worker and best friend John and I were working steadily when the phone rang.  John answered, the looked up and said, "A plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York."  We shook our heads sadly and continued working.  I was thinking about an incident  in July 1945 when a B-25 twin-engine bomber, lost in the fog, slammed into the Empire State Building, when the phone rang again.  John answered it and then his face became agitated.  "Another plane hit the other tower!  The whole damn world's gone crazy!"
We tuned the radio trying to find some news.  After several moments we found a station out of nearby Columbia that had stopped their usual soft rock format and gone over to the audio feed from Fox News television.  We kept working, but our minds were churning.  As the reports flowed from the radio, we were shocked by the enormity of what had happened.  We heard about another plane crashing into the Pentagon, and a fourth one apparently crashing in Pennsylvania.  The government ordered every aircraft out of the sky.  And then in a moment of horrible disbelief, we were told that in New York City the twin towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed.  
At lunchtime, we turned on the television in the breakroom.  The reception was terrible, but the images were clear enough.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

EARTHQUAKE! The Sequel

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Well, it happened again.  Today, August 23rd at 1:51 in the afternoon, the earth moved.  No, I wasn’t kissing my wife.  Somewhere beneath the rolling hills near Mineral, Virginia, two pieces of the earth’s crust bumped and ground against one another for a little less than a minute.  The result was a temblor that measured 5.9 on the Richter scale.  Southern Californians may be able to shrug off one like that, but here in the relatively quiet east, it was the most powerful quake in 67 years.

We felt it strongly here in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  At work, we felt our building begin to sway.  It was a gentle back-and-forth movement that began to fade, but then surged even stronger.  Shelves rattled, plants swayed, chairs rolled. The shaking of the earth lasted less than a minute, the shaking of the building a bit longer.  However the shaking inside my fellow Pennsylvanians may go on for some time yet.

Earthquakes are a rare thing around here, even given the two we’ve had in the last 14 months.  So its not surprising that the local equanimity might have been a bit bruised.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fear and the Dark Side*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette
September 11, 2011
as "We've held fast to our freedoms"

"Those who would give up essential liberty,
to purchase a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin

When a country is attacked within its borders, things change, especially when such attacks by foreign entities take the lives of civilians. Some civil libertarians have claimed that individual freedoms have been curtailed by the government since 9/11. But exactly what rights have been surrendered?

The key to Dr. Franklin’s statement above are the words “essential liberty,” which most Americans take to mean those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  Also included would be non-statutory rights, such as freedom of movement.

Freedom of speech is still very much in force. An evening on the cable news channels, the Internet, and in the letter to the editor section of the newspaper provides ample proof. People are railing against politicians and positions on both sides, without fear of reprisal. But when the line between legitimate beefs and actual physical threats is crossed, then, and only then, do the authorities take action.

Freedoms of religion and belief have not been revoked. No religions have been outlawed. The uproar about the new Islamic mosque in New York City was all about location. People are still free to be Muslim.

Reactionaries who call themselves “Christian” have been blowing up clinics and murdering abortion providers for a long time; yet fundamental Christianity is still legal. The violent actions of leftist radicals in the 1960s are historical fact. Yet, today one can still be a communist.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Road Less Traveled*

“Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that made all the difference.”
--Robert Frost, 1916

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
September 5, 2011
as "The road less traveled may lead to greatness"

There is a certain kind of comfort in routine.  Despite the boredom and drudgery, you always know what to expect.  What makes change so difficult, after all, is the mystery of outcome.

On the well-worn path, the branches have been brushed aside, the undergrowth compressed under countless feet. It is easy to follow such a path, both in the forest and in life.  We always look for such signs.  We want to know that the way is safe, the destination known.  With that assurance, we are confident that our journey will follow others who went the same direction.  

However, it is perhaps somewhat hypocritical to walk only in the same paths as others and feel that we have accomplished something ourselves.

On occasion, we will happen upon a branching path.  This one is rougher, shrouded by tree limbs and tall grass.  This path doesn’t appear on our maps; its end is a mystery.  We regard the trail curiously, asking ourselves, “Wonder where that one goes?”  But we continue on the familiar path; the safe path.

Great people have also come across such mysterious paths, and wondered the same thing.  And yet in defiance of logic and sanity, they quit the well-traveled path for the one unknown.  Their curiosity and sense of adventure has posed a question which can be answered in only one place:  At the trail’s end.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Lap-Band Life: Seven months in

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
July was a disappointment, in many ways.  The organization I work for may close in the next month or so and while I’ve been fortunate enough to receive job offers, I haven’t heard final confirmation of my acceptance.  Either way, we have to move, something I’m not looking forward to.  I accept that change is the only consistent thing in life; but upheaval is not and that’s what I’m going through.
In the past, when I was going through stressful times, I would turn to food for solace.  When I chose to have lap band surgery, I knew that this would be the monster crouched on my doorstep.  The disappointing thing was that even though I was aware of this trap, I still fell into it. 
I gained one pound in July.
It was embarrassing to report this to the doctor at my regular monthly visit, especially after losing 14 pounds in June.  The one encouragement I was able to find was him telling me that nearly all lap band patients go through a bad month or two, but more to the tune of 5 or 6 pounds gained, not just one.  He suggested other ways to try to manage my stress, mainly being more active.  That’s good advice because when I’m stressed, my tendency is to shut down, crawl into a corner and mope.  What I need to be doing instead is to get up and move; taking a walk for example.  Not only would this help to fend off a reversal, expending some of that pent-up adrenaline would ease my mind considerably and take a load off my heart, which has been talking to me of late in urgent little twinges.  I'm holding off on another adjustment until I see what happens here in August.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Home Sweet Home**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Somerset Daily American
August 27, 2011
as "Not new for long"

*Chicago Tribune
August 26, 2011
as "Not new for long"

Human beings are wonderfully adaptive creatures. When confronted by new situations and environments it’s amazing how quickly the new becomes routine.


I take occasional business trips, going to such wildly exotic places as Fresno, California.  Now, these aren’t vacation destinations (and who in their right mind would want to vacation in Fresno?), they are full workdays.

The first day, everything is brand-new, from the airport, the rental car, the hotel room, and wherever the business at hand takes place.  But surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for the new to become old, the strange to become familiar, the different to become routine. 

Airports look the same. The gates and wide concourses lined by various shops, eateries, and kiosks. It’s always a hike from the gate to baggage claim. But after several hours in a cramped seat, exercise is a good thing, especially for us in the blood clot age group.

As often as I’ve flown, my bags have never been the first ones to hit the carousel. In fact, I noticed that the first ones down the chute are usually the last ones to be picked up. I remember one trip to Dallas when my bag was the third one to arrive. It was like winning the lottery.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Furballs and Hearts***

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
August 19, 2011
as "Unwavering Loyalty"

*Baltimore Sun
August 19, 2011
as "Unwavering loyalty"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
August 20, 2011
as "Unwavering Loyalty"

The first dog in my life arrived under a Christmas tree when I was 6 years old. He was a Dachshund, small and wrinkled, with eyes that were barely opened. My sister and I took him into our arms and our hearts, naming him "Brownie."

We played with him constantly, taking him everywhere. At night, it was at the foot of my bed where he took his rest.  After only a year, he died when some miscreant threw a piece of poisoned meat into the back yard.

My sister and I were devastated.

But on Christmas Day two years later, our parents presented us with another tiny Dachshund, which we also named Brownie. He was with us for 17 years, a long time for a dog. We loved him and he us, but he didn’t take too well to my fiancĂ©, unnerving her with his relentless silent glare. And every time we came home, he would be standing at the top of the stairs, leaned out as far as he could in order to see around the staircase and greet us with wagging tail and a joyful bark.

But as the years passed, he began to suffer. His back legs became stiff, and then paralyzed. Finally, my Mom could stand it no longer and without telling the rest of us, she took him to the vet and gave him his final rest. I remember that moment of shock and loss; the sudden hole in my heart.

I didn’t get another dog until after we were married.  We turned to the Humane Society, making two trips to the animal shelter. There were many dogs, but amid those jumping and yelping, and silent and quivering, there was one dog sitting quietly; composed and dignified. Cheryl walked by the cage door and suddenly stopped. She knelt down, and the dog responded, licking the fingers she stuck through the mesh. She turned and said definitively, “This is the one.” I know better than to argue with that tone of voice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Only a Moment in Time**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
August 12, 2011
as "Moments of time"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
August 13, 2011
as "Only a moment in time"
It was only a moment in time.

His son was now a teenager, entering into that age where relationships with parents could become difficult.  To be honest, the two had become somewhat distant.  The Dad was still coaching his son’s team, but the two rarely talked much off the field.  Suddenly, an opponent hit a sinking line drive towards the corner.  His son was sprinting towards the foul line and just at the right moment, he dove, snagging the ball in his glove.  The son came running off the field, his face split with a wide grin.  Dad held up his hand for a high five.  But the son, surprising both of them, ignored the hand and leaped into his father’s arms for a hug.  As they pulled apart, the two saw each other with all their fences down, their hearts wide open to each other.

It was only a moment in time.

They were in their 80s, a lifetime of that adventure called marriage behind them.  They had been going to the track at the local high school in the evenings to exercise.  As they walked along, suddenly she collapsed to the ground.  Despite all the efforts of bystanders and paramedics, she was gone.

It was only a moment in time.

He was so nervous.  He had wanted to ask her out for a long time, but fearing rejection, it took all the courage he had to finally ask.  To his shock, she said yes.  After all the anticipation, he was beginning to worry that she would get bored and leave.  Then suddenly, she looked up at him, and smiled.

It was only a moment in time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Finger and Medical Miracles*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 21, 2011
as "Aging men face medical waterloos"
Growing old is curiously both a curse and a blessing.  The blessing part is the accumulation of knowledge and life experience that results in the gift of wisdom.  Make no mistake, we all make mistakes.  Most we eventually learn from, some we never seem to.  Of course, having wisdom promotes the desire to share it, especially with younger people whose lives, we are sure, would be so much easier if they’d just listen to us.  They, of course, are just like we were, living life by the dictum “In order to be old and wise, one must first be young and stupid.”
The curse of age usually involves the infuriating decline of our physical health.  For many years, I played league softball and tennis religiously, although not always successfully.  Last summer at a picnic, I took a few swings in a pickup game.  The ball didn’t go very far and my sprint had turned into a lumbering plod.  I haven’t picked up a bat since.  Just too embarrassed to do it.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Stuff...and Change**


Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
August 5, 2011

*Somerset, PA  Daily American
August 6, 2011

We all know about the tendency to acquire “stuff,” most of which usually seems to end up in the attic, basement, or out in the garage.  These are items that we generally don’t think about for years, perhaps decades, but are too sentimental to let go of nonetheless.  If a family stays in one place, then stuff is not normally a problem; out of sight, out of mind, if you will.
But there are times in a family’s life when homeowners have to confront the monster of their past.  Most times, it’s that moment in late autumn when the first big snowfall is forecast and suddenly you realize that the car no longer fits in the garage.  But the big event, the one we all fear, is that moment when you know you have to move.
Nobody likes to move.  We get comfortable and settled, and resistant to even the idea of packing everything up.  This happens more often when we’re young, moving out of the parent’s house, going to college, getting our own apartment, and then moving several times for various reasons.  But life changes fundamentally when you can no longer pack your entire universe in the back of a Dodge Neon.