I Still Don’t Like It

My mom spent most of the last six months of her life living in my house before being taken to a hospice facility for three nights before she died in September 2011.  I’m thankful for that time and that she was with me and my family during the final months of her life.

Taking care of her was tough though, and she and I argued periodically, as we always had.  Sometimes we said things that hurt each other, and some things we just couldn’t agree on, particularly politics and religion.

The final such example came about 36 hours before we lost her, late at night with a steady downpour outside.  I sat by her bed in the hospice facility.  She had a curtain for privacy but essentially shared the room with five or six other patients.  Two of them died that night.

I asked Mom about her relationship with God and preached a little, as best I could.  She’d taken morpheein and slipped in and out of coherence.  It was unclear  how much she understood of what I was saying.

“You’re trying to trick me,” she said.

“Trick you into what?” I asked.

“Into saying I believe in God.”

But politics and God weren’t the only areas where we didn’t see eye-to-eye.  I remember being in a Wal-Mart in 2010, a few months after my dad died and a few months before we learned that Mom’s cancer had come back.  At the time, she still lived in her townhouse on Marlow Street.

The subject of my dad came up, and she called him an alcoholic.

“Don’t call him that again,” I said too loud into the phone.  “If you call him that again I’m not going to talk to you anymore.

“My dad is dead, and we’re alive, and there’s no reason to say bad things about him.”

A lot of things my mom said made me mad, but I really couldn’t handle it when she spoke ill of my dad after he’d died.

I wouldn’t like it if anyone said anything bad about Mom now either, but fortunately that hasn’t happened, at least not that I recall.

It still happens with my dad occasionally though, and I still don’t like it.  The most recent example came in a conversation with a Christian friend who I look up to and from whom I’ve learned a lot about God.  We were talking about my life, and I compared something I do to the way my dad did it.

“It sounds like your dad set the bar pretty low,” my friend said.  “And the question is are you going to try and live up to that bar or the higher bar that your Heavenly Father set?”

It didn’t bother me much at the time, but it began to as I walked away.  It still does.

 

 

 

Hell Roarin’ Gulch

A big reason for my recent visit to Butte, Montana was to learn about and honor my father’s family, but on my first full day there I saw something that immediately made me think of my mom.

HRGLS

I know this would have made her laugh.

Hell Roarin’ Gulch is a replica of an 1890’s Montana mining town and is part of the World Museum of Mining, one of Butte’s most interesting attractions.

My mom, Judy Coughlin – who we lost nearly six years ago – was a great reader.  An English major at George Washington University, Mom owned and read more books than anyone else I’ve ever known.  She read out loud to me and my sister Moira when we were kids, and I recall begging for “one more page” before bed of books like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and many many titles from The Hardy Boys series.

She was also a great advocate for the public libraries here in Loudoun County, Virginia and we visited the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg on a weekly basis.  Mom went on to serve on the Rust Library Advisory Board and later the Loudoun County Library Board of Trustees.

Judy Coughlin took libraries and the role they played in her community very seriously.  But she also had a great sense of humor, and I know she would have laughed if I could have shown her the picture of the Hell Roarin’ Gulch Library Society.

 

A Visit to My Grandfather

I never knew either of my grandfathers very well, but I was always fascinated by the Southwest Montana city where my dad’s dad, Cregg Coughlin, grew up.  Butte Montana was a mining boom town in its heyday and was settled by immigrants from many different countries but none more than the Irish.

For some reason, I always thought that my family had gone straight from Ireland to Butte, but on a recent visit to the the Butte Silverbow Public  Archives, I learned that my great grandfather William Coughlin actually came to Montana from Minnesota in 1910.

The friendly staff at the archives helped me find many interesting things about my family and the history of Butte.  Among them was my grandfather’s senior picture.  cregg coughlin

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing can bring back lost time with family and I wish I’d had a chance to get to know my father’s father better.  I left Butte, however, feeling just a little bit closer to Cregg Coughlin.

vigilante club

maroon

Safe and Wise Choices

Someone told me recently to make “safe and wise choices.”  That’s advice I know my parents would like me to follow and that I’m sure they wished I’d done better at in my youth.

Nobody makes the safest and wisest choices all the time, and, like their firstborn child, my mother and father made some mistakes in life.  Cancer killed them both, and it’s possible that some of the choices they made contributed to that; I’ll never know for sure.

I do know that for me to make safe and wise choices now will honor them, however.  I’m 46, and I hope to live beyond the age of 64 – the last birthday each of them saw.  But whether I live another 18 years or another 30 – or even if I don’t live beyond today – I hope to make choices that will honor their memory and will set an example for the choices my own kids make.

Going Home to Butte

our lady of the rockies
Our Lady of the Rockies; Butte, Montana

I decided earlier this year I was going to take a big trip.  Ireland came to mind first.  Then I briefly toyed with Iceland.  My focus later switched to Costa Rica, and I haven’t yet ruled out that trip.  I did decide earlier this week, however, that I’m going to Butte, Montana, and I booked a June trip for myself and my son Jake.

When I tell people I booked a Montana trip, the first question I usually get is if I’m going there to hunt; no, not in June.  Someone asked me if I was going to Glacier National Park; looks like Butte is more than a four-hour drive from there.  No, I’m not going to Montana for any of the typical reasons, and I don’t think Butte is one of the most popular tourist destinations.

I’m going because I want to see the place my grandfather came from.

Cregg Coughlin grew up in Butte and worked as a miner there before going to college and later law school.  He came to the Washington, DC area around the time of the Second World War.

I never knew him real well.  He died when I was a senior in high school, and my dad said it would be best if I didn’t come to the funeral; still not sure what was going on there.  But Cregg Coughlin was an interesting guy to say the least, and he’s not the only interesting person to ever come out of Butte.

Perhaps the best known Butte native of my youth was daredevil Evel Knievel.  More recently, Butte native and former Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill became famous when he revealed his participation in the military operation that brought down terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Butte was a mining town settled largely by Irish immigrants; I suppose my ancestors were among them.  It’s been called Ireland’s Fifth Province and “the city the Irish would have built if the English would said build a city of your own design and consider money to be no object.”

My grandfather often spoke of a Butte neighborhood called Dublin Gulch.

So that’s why I’m going to Butte.  We’ll do some fishing while we’re there and will definitely spend time in the mountains.  As much as anything else though, I’m going to see a little bit of where I came from.

Coach Dad

My dad bought a book on soccer after he agreed to coach my third grade team.  It was my  second season playing the game and the first of a few seasons he’d coach me in soccer and baseball.   My dad being my coach is still probably the best memory I have of youth sports.

The other kids really liked him.  Dad was fair to everyone and he told off color jokes.  They thought it was funny that he had empty beer cans on the floor boards of his Mercury.  One day, two or three of my teammates and I were in the car when another coach came up to the window and gave us a speech about the importance of our upcoming baseball game.

As he walked away my dad turned toward the back seat and grinned.

“Just between us,” he said.  “That guy’s fulla crap.”

Dad worked as a mechanic, and he wore his grease-stained uniform to practice.  He smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes and ran up and down the soccer field with a Lucky dangling from his mouth and the blue shirt with the “Dave” patch unbuttoned halfway down.

I didn’t realize how much having my dad a coach meant to me at the time, but I became aware of it before I had kids of my own.  I wondered if I’d be able to do it and had my doubts.

Opportunity knocked though when my oldest son Jake was five, and his  soccer coach asked me to help out.  I’ve been coaching ever since and in addition to little kids soccer I’ve coached a ton of  baseball, NFL flag football and this year, for the first time, basketball.

I’d never coached  hoops before when someone from the league emailed last fall to ask me to coach my son Brett’s team.  I set about trying to learn to be a basketball coach, and now, many YouTube videos later, we’re wrapping up the season.  We haven’t won as many games as I’d have like to, but I’m pretty sure the kids have had a good time and that all will play the game again.

That’s what would have mattered most to my dad, and he’s always with me when I coach; mechanic’s uniform on and the only person in the gym smoking a cigarette.  Sometimes he still even makes a crude but funny remark, and I chuckle to myself, happy to be right where I am.

 

 

When My Mom Broke Her Leg

My mom broke her leg on a beautiful day at our home in Aldie.  I don’t recall how old I was, but I must have been at least six because it happened when she stepped  in a hole while kicking a soccer ball.  We didn’t have a soccer ball before about 1977.

When it happened, I was inside watching Speed Racer on our little black and white tv.  Mom limped up to the door to tell me she was hurt, and Dad drove us all to the hospital when he got home shortly after that.

It’s a vague memory for me, but I remember clearly that I felt guilty.  In fact, I still feel guilty thinking about it.  What I don’t know is why.  Was it that I felt like I should have been out there  with her and could have somehow prevented it?

Or did I just feel guilty that I was inside watching television on a nice day?

That bothered me for some reason, even at six years old in 1977, long before it became an issue in the news.  Today, you hear it all the time; kids are indoors in front of screens when they should be playing outside.  It’s always bothered me with my own kids.

I’ll never know for sure what gave me that guilty feeling, but I do know that my mom made sure we spent time outside and that she was an active participant.  And I know that I wish I’d been outside with her that day, at least to help her up when she stepped in that hole.