The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Ralph Couey

January 29, 2011

RALPH COUEY | Warm memories awakened on a midwinter’s day

— Outside the window, the lake effect snow machine was raging, piling up on the ground. The wind gusted, rattling the shutters and temporarily changing the trajectory of the snow from vertical to horizontal. I turned away from the window and put another log on the fire, trying to ignore the ache of restlessness.

Looking into the flames, my thoughts began to wander.  I could see a blurred white line on a ribbon of sun-splashed asphalt. Suddenly, perhaps rashly, I headed for the back door, pausing to don some warm clothes. I mumbled to my wife that I was going to the garage.  

She looked at me and smiled slightly. No one knows my moods like this remarkable woman.

 The garage was utterly quiet, and in the silence I could almost hear the raspy whisper of the snowfall through the roof and walls. With a sharp click, the hum of fluorescent lights replaced the silence and bright light filled the space. And there, standing patiently and faithfully was my motorcycle.

 Ostensibly, my purpose was to crank the engine over and charge the battery, those necessary things for an otherwise moribund piece of machinery. But on this day, when the midwinter blues were deepened by the grim weather, I felt a deeper need.

I opened both doors for ventilation and swung my leg over the seat, a movement made awkward by the heavy clothes and boots. I inserted and turned the key. My thumb came forward on the starter. It took a couple of tries, but the engine finally roared to life.

I closed my eyes, and the memories came flooding back.  

Rides under a hot sun, through the cool mountains; on Kansas highways flanked by never-ending fields of wheat.  

Twisting through the Colorado Rockies and the Arkansas Ozarks. I thought of springtime rides, reveling in the return of warm sunshine; how marvelous the scent of new flowers and the rich aroma of freshly turned earth; to see the trees budding and the grass turning green.

The marvelous blue of Lake Superior came to mind, and that day I stopped just south of the Canadian border at Grand Portage; gazing across the lake, simply because I had nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there.

Another moment in southwest New Mexico where the bike and I were completely alone, surrounded by the desert’s stark beauty, where the only sound I heard was the restless wind.

I remembered the 4-year-old boy in Tombstone, Ariz., and how big his eyes got when his father lifted his small body onto the saddle of this very big machine. Especially, his broad smile when I started the engine and showed him how to work the throttle. Then his look of gratitude afterwards and the longing in his eyes as his father led him back to their truck. I knew exactly how he felt. Once I had written to a friend, trying to explain the connection between rider and bike:

“You may own the machine, but the machine possesses you.”

I wrapped my fingers around the handgrips.

The view through the windshield into the heavy snow was replaced by a procession of great roads. County Route A between Loose Creek and Bonnots Mill, Mo.; Route 13 south of Roswell, N.M.; The Dragon: U.S. 129 in the Smokies; U.S. 54 from Kingman to Liberal, Kan., under a sky too big to comprehend.  Pa. Route 31 between Somerset and Donegal; Pa. Route 381 through horse country.

I remembered people with warm smiles and big hearts. How wonderful it was to know that meeting another rider practically guaranteed the acquisition of a good friend; and how those friendships had sustained me through the years.

Reluctantly, I shut off the engine. The sound ebbed away; the lights went dark, bringing back the darkness. Somehow, though, it was different now.

I went back through the snow to the house.

Once inside, I wandered back to the living room. My wife looked up, smiled, and said, “How was the ride?” “Great!” I replied. I sat down and looked into the glow of the fireplace. I knew the restlessness would return, but for a few brief moments, the light had shown again.

I was alive once more.

The relationship between a man and his machine is not about the moment. It is a storehouse of memories, made sweet by recollection; it is about the anticipation of the days ahead, the joys added to the treasure trove of golden memories.

In the gloom of midwinter, it is life rekindled.

Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.

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