About Me

My photo

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, November 22, 2012

Another Piece of Childhood Lost

Picture from Hostess Corp.
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.
Looking back across the years there are always certain things that define eras of one's life.  It may be something like a baseball glove, or a certain shirt; a ticket stub from a concert. Or something that commemorates the moment when we met that person who completely changed our life.  More times than not however, it's food that whets the appetite of rememberance.
A couple of weeks ago, a labor-management dispute reached a critical point.  Normally, these events come and go in the news without much outside attention.  But this time, the dispute involved the bakery and confectionary giant Hostess, the maker of things like Ho Ho's, cupcakes, Ding-Dongs, Donettes, and the iconic delight Twinkies.  I won't go into the specifics of the dispute, only to note that management, rather than compromise with the union, committed an act of corporate kamikaze and announced that it would close it's doors forever.
The announcement sparked an immediate run on the snack products, especially Twinkies.  A box of a dozen appeared on E-bay for $200,000.  Across the country, shelves of grocery stores and convenience marts were stripped.  In Kansas City, a radio station talk show received donations of several boxes of hostess treats and auctioned them off for charity, garnering almost a thousand dollars for a pile of treats that a week earlier could have been bought for 20 bucks.
The nationwide reaction to this news and the instant appearance of hoarders and collectors no doubt pleased retailers.  It became clear that a latent love affair with the golden cream-filled snack cakes had been revealed.
On the surface, there would appear to be no good reason to eat these things.  For adults, the amount of sugar and calories make them verboten to those with cardiac and blood sugar problems.  And yet, when an adult eats one, you can see in their face the memories that have returned.
Kids can eat just about anything, and usually do, without seeming consequence.  I suppose that's one reason why the affection for Twinkies is so strong.  At that age, it didn't matter how many calories or grams of sugar were in them.  We ate them because...well...we could.
And they were so good. 
On Friday nights after dinner, our family would make our weekly trek to the grocery store.  I was given the empty soda bottles to return for deposit.  For those, I would receive the astounding total of twenty-seven cents.  That left me the exact amount to buy the latest Superman or Batman comic book for fifteen cents, and a two-pack of Twinkies for twelve.  Thus supplied, I was rendered happy and content.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Riding into the Sunset

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
The experience of life can best be summed up as a series of beginnings, middles, and endings. As the years pile up, what changes is that endings begin to outnumber beginnings. Some things are given up simply because we get bored and move on. Others fall by the wayside due to other demands upon our time. This is natural. Time is always in motion; things and people are always changing.
But there are those things we give up because…well, we just can’t do them anymore.
Softball was once my second religion. It was how I spent just about every summer. I can still recall the rising sense of excitement as I walked through the humid Missouri evenings toward the complex of diamonds already lit. I was never a star, but I played hard. The competition was tough and I loved every minute. But as I got older, I grew weaker and slower. Frozen ropes that once leapt off my bat became dying quails. I knew the end was coming, but it wasn’t until I suffered the humiliation of being thrown out at first base by the left fielder that I finally accepted inevitable and hung up my cleats for good.
But there are still times when I can pick up my glove, slip it on, and wait for the aroma of leather, sweat, dirt, and chalk to fill my senses and bring the inevitable flood of memories.
It was in my late 30’s that I discovered motorcycles. In the 20 years since, riding has been my source of joy, freedom, and soul-satisfying inspiration. Although primarily a commuting tool, I’ve done a lot of miles through countless countrysides, mountains, prairies, plains, deserts, and coastlines ranging from 2-hour Sunday jaunts to a 9-day 5,000 mile sojourn through the southwest.
I would tell you that I’m in the middle of this particular activity, but I have to be honest and admit that I can see just over the horizon the sorrowful day when age will force me to lay this aside as well.
I want to make one more long trip while I still can. But a few things will have to happen first.
I have to get a more capable bike. My current ride, a Kawasaki Vulcan 900LT is a great bike for commuting and day excursions. But a lack of luggage capacity and a seat that has all the comfort of a concrete block disqualify this motorcycle for a cross-country tour.
I like the Honda Goldwing, partly because it’s a Honda and therefore will run forever. Mainly though, it’s a known quantity. A few years ago, we rented one and did New England for 6 days. Though relatively gigantic, it was a dream to handle and possessed a perfectly comfortable place to park a tushie for 9 or 10 hours per day.
The passage of many hours contemplating road atlases and gazetteers has resulted in three possible trips.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Time, Life, and That Perfect Moment of Clarity

This road upon which we all travel; this path we call "life"
is one on which we can never see the end.
We cannot know the destination, or the route we must take to get there.
The only thing we can see clearly
is the path that lies behind us;
a past marked by the decisions we have made.
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph F. Couey 

This has been a busy year, to which the reduced production on this website attests.  I lost a job, got a job, moved, sold one house, bought another.  My son, anticipating a possible relocation, is selling his house, and he and his family have moved in with my wife and I.  In the press of these events, I just haven’t had the time to devote to the kind of reflective contemplative writing that I’ve done in the past.  

The election this year left me mentally exhausted and emotionally drained.  As I’ve written before, I was once very passionate about politics, but a course in Critical Thinking, and application of those strict evidentiary processes to the wares of the political marketplace revealed to me the breadth and depth of the blatant lies being sold as fact by both Democrats and Republicans.  I found within myself the startling realization that it no longer mattered to me who won.  I became instead a dispassionate observer, sort of like a visitor to a zoo.  What wore me out was the incessant pounding of my senses with statements I already knew to be false, and the apparent willingness of partisan voters to blindly follow their leaders.

I reconsidered my future over the course of several long motorcycle rides through the lovely and peaceful Virginia countryside.  I am 57 years old.  Over the next 10 to 15 years, I will slowly feel my mental faculties begin to fail.  My circle of awareness, that orb that describes the universe of my concerns, will begin to shrink.  Therefore, it matters little who sits in the White House or who controls the houses of congress.  I will eventually become blissfully unaware of the larger events of the world and stay that way until the time comes for me to board that bus to eternity.

I have a wife who needs my love and concern.  I have children (grown adults, really) whom I love and admire; who still call from time to time and ask my advice.  I have grandchildren whose only desire is to have fun with Grampa.  That’s where my attentions should lie while I still have attention to pay.

One can get so caught up in the routine of life that the passage of time becomes a forgotten thing.  Most people I know have gone through the same experience of waking up one morning and realizing that, as Captain Picard once said, “There are fewer days ahead than there are behind.”  Our bodies have grown stiffer, perhaps more frail.  I’ll never forget the last day I played softball.  I was thrown out at first base by the left fielder.  Going back to the bench, I felt very, very old.  The harsh truth is that things will get worse as the years pass.  I see people in their 70’s and 80’s plodding along the street, if they’re not being rolled in a wheelchair, age having robbed them of their vitality and intellect.  I know now that they are a mirror.  That will be me, all too soon.  

There are two rules about time:

1.  People get old.

2.  No one can change rule Number 1.

Civil War: Events of December 1862

President Lincoln, on the first day of the new congress, December 1st, proposed three new amendments to the constitution.  The first called for a gradual emancipation of the slaves until 1900.  Secondly, all slaves freed during the war would remain free.  And the third stated that the U.S. would pay for consensual colonization.
Following his victory at Cane Hill, Union General Blunt realized his precarious position, 35 miles away from any support.  He ordered reinforcements to march immediately.  He set up defensive positions and waited.  Blunts reinforcements under General Herron, executed an amazing forced march and met Marmaduke’s cavalry south of Fayetteville.  On the morning of December 7th, Herron’s artillery executed a withering 2-hour barrage that disabled most of the enemy’s artillery and forced the troops to shelter behind a ridge.  Herron decided not to wait for Blunt and began moving forward.  Two regiments were attacked on three sides by Confederate troops killing or wounding half of their numbers.  As Union troops retreated, Confederates charged, tragically straight into the maw of canister fire.  Two more Union regiments charged and were forced back.  Blunt, belatedly realizing that the southerners had moved past his flank, ordered his troops to march towards the sound of the guns.  This they did, ignoring roads and taking the direct path through fields and woods.  The burst out of the woods, surprising Hindman’s troops and driving them back up a hill.  The battle continued, charge, and countercharge, until darkness took the field.  Over the next 36 hours, Blunt reinforced and Hindman was forced to withdraw towards Van Buren, Arkansas.  On the 29th, Blunt and Herron closed on the Confederate’s sanctuary at Van Buren, forcing the southerners to leave northwest Arkansas, as it turned out, permanently.
On December 10th, the U.S. House passed a bill allowing the creation of the state of West Virginia.
The next day, Union forces occupied the city of Fredericksburg.
Between December 11th and 20th, a Union army under John G. Foster invaded North Carolina attempting to sever the railroad lines into Virginia.

Civil War: Events of November 1862

On November 2, Union naval forces tried again to neutralize Ft. McAllister which guarded the approaches to the vital Southern port of Savannah, GA.  This was one of several bombardments that took place until the fort was finally subdued in 1864.
Also on that day, General Grant began the first campaign to capture Vicksburg, entering the towns of La Grange and Grand Junction on the 4th.
After the Confederate defeat at bloody Antietam, Union General McClellan failed to follow up the battle by pursuing and possibly destroying Lee’s army.  On November 5th, McClellan paid the price for that lapse, along with many others, when Lincoln relieved him of the command of the Union Army of the Potomac.
November 6th saw the official election of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens to lead the Confederacy.  James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson were also promoted to Lieutenant General (3 stars) that day.
The next day, the Union Army of the Potomac was given it’s new commander when Ambrose Burnside was appointed by President Lincoln.
On November 8th, Union General Benjamin Butler was relieved of duty in New Orleans due to his brutal treatment of the citizenry.  Nathaniel Banks, the loser at Second Manassas, was appointed in his place.
On November 15th, the first indications of strife within the Confederate administration emerged when Secretary of War George Randolph resigned.  Randolph was incensed at President Davis’ insistence on running the war himself.
One of Burnsides’ divisions under Sumner arrived on the north bank of the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksbug.
James Seddon became the new Secretary of War for the CSA on November 21st.
On the 24th, Joseph E. Johnston, CSA, assumed command of the Department of the West.
The Battle of Cane Hill, AR was fought on November 28th when a Southern force under General John S. Marmaduke moved north attempting to retake ground lost during the Pea Ridge battle earlier in the year.  His opponent, Union General James G. Blunt heard of Marmaduke’s approach and moved south himself.  He caught and surprised the Confederates 35 miles further south than Marmaduke expected.  Blunt, held up by a delaying action fought by Jo Shelby’s cavalry, nevertheless pursued the southerners into the Boston Mountains. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Looking Up From Despair

Photo by Denny Medley -- US Presswire.
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 
Written content only

A writer never wants to admit to a state of wordlessness. Creative verbiage, after all, is our sandbox, our playground. But attempting to characterize the Chief's Thursday night tilt against the San Diego Chargers is a true test of any wordsmith.

Ugly doesn’t begin to describe it.  Even a stark and simple an expression as that utterly fails to describe what happened at QualCom.

This was beyond ugly. This was morning-after-the-bachelor-party ugly. This was medical-school-hemorrhoid-training-video ugly. This was 2 A.M.-and-the-bar’s-closing ugly.

It was even worse than Chris-Christie-in-a-Speedo ugly.

I’ve been a Chiefs fan for 47 years. What is history for many are memories for me. I was 14 years old on that early January day at Tulane Stadium in 1970, yet it seems as fresh to me as if it had happened yesterday. Every year since has been a renewal of hope dashed by disappointments too numerous to enumerate.

From that brief scintillating stand atop the NFL pyramid, it has been a long trip downhill. And after watching the Chiefs utterly embarrass themselves in front of a national TV audience, as a fan, I think we’ve reached the floor of a very deep canyon.

The relationship between the Chiefs and their Nation of fans has always been one as deeply passionate and devoted as the perfect wedding night. Now, face-to-face with the harsh reality of a completely wasted season, the love is fading. Estrangement may be imminent.