A SIMPLE (OR NOT) REPAIR

May 22, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     We live in an age of power tools, big-box home improvement centers and a throwaway culture, so when a leaning fence gate needs fixing, the modus operandi may well be to (1) buy a super-duper, lithium-powered hammer drill from the big box store to drive in high-tech fasteners, or (2) kick the gate down with non-battery powered feet and throw it away in favor of a new one, also purchased from the giant, warehouse-like outfit.

     In either case, the relatively simple repair becomes involved, expensive and even frustrating as the trip to the home  improvement center always means traffic and then long lines as you check yourself out (and so you pay the store for your own labor).

    What would my grandfather have done? Well, if he really needed a new, hand-powered screwdriver, which is doubtful since he was still using his Prussian grandfather’s tools, he would have taken a walk to downtown Spring Valley, N.Y., where he would have bought one from the hardware stores owned by K&A, Beckerle, DeBaun,  Scharf and others, all in one village.

     Then, whether he needed a replacement tool or not, he would have looked carefully at the leaning fence gate, sized it up from every angle and without fanfare decided that he would brace it with rocks from his property, hammered in with a small sledge.

     Iced lemonade would await his finish, made by my grandmother and enjoyed on a porch with some slight breeze.

     That day, he would never get in a car, instead perhaps take a good walk that was also exercise, probably greet his neighbors along the way, say hello to others in the hardware store. No traffic, no checking himself out of the store.

    Ah, progress, isn’t it grand?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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PLUMS IN SEASON

May 15, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Once upon a time – this seems a fairy tale of sorts – a 14-year-old youngster with a huge quarter in his pocket – more money than he touched in an average year – found himself in a sudden heavy June downpour on a village street, under the awning of a storefront A&P.

Now – and I told you this is a bit of a fairy tale – storefront supermarkets are today’s memories, as are a lot of village downtowns. And a quarter isn’t much to most kids now. But this story is circa 1957, and plums cost about 14 cents per pound. A quarter brought you perhaps five luscious red ones, so sweetly juicy that you were beyond even candy heaven when you bit into them. Good ‘N’ Plenty or a Mars bar might rush Grandma’s admonition into your head – “You’re going to get cavities” – but she was always telling you to eat fruit.

The awning under which the 14-year-old huddled with other walkers in the downpour made the dim incandescent bulbs in the A&P shine more directly inside and tempt a youngster to look within. The quarter that had been a pocket buddy for a week now, made shiny by much fingering, caused an ever bigger bulb to go off in the youngster’s head. He went into the market, saw the plums, read the sign, “14 cents per pound,” and picked up a few, moving over to the weighing scale his dad used when they went to the market.

The scale didn’t seem difficult, though the young man had never used one, nor had he ever bought plums, nor had he ever purchased anything in a supermarket.

A day-dreamer in the eighth and other grades, he nevertheless had absorbed enough basic knowledge and arithmetic to know how many ounces were in a pound and that at 14 cents per pound, he could get nearly two pounds of plums for his 25 cents.

He weighed the fruit, determined how much he could buy and took it to a sales clerk in a brown paper bag – no plastic ones yet. The woman at the hand-operated register put the plums on her own scale and used that calculation plus the figures she had in her head for the daily produce charges to arrive at the total cost, after hitting a succession of keys. No tax, and that is no fairy tale.

The cost was 23 cents, and the young fellow took his bag of plums, feeling awfully grown up in the process. The summer rain was kept away by the awning long enough to stand in front of the storefront A&P and devour the fruit in rapid order. The boy then continued his journey home, now with two pennies in his pocket, soon to be made as shiny as was the quarter. The money would eventually buy one Bachman straight pretzel.

More than fruit was digested that day in a long-ago time, in what seems like a fairy tale but which was not.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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EDUCATOR

May 8, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In the Spring Valley, N.Y., breakfast program, those volunteers retired come from every former vocation – professional, blue-collar, high-finance, the trades, at home, etc. And we bring our workplace habits with us.

     For example, the late Bob Drennen, once longtime principal at the newer Cherry Lane School in Tallman, could be spotted a mile away as an educator. I had never met him before he became involved in the breakfast program though as a former Rockland Journal-News photographer, I was in most schools on assignment and came to know many teachers and administrators.

It was quickly apparent in the breakfast kitchen at the old Dutch Reformed Church that Bob was a teacher and more. 

     He was quick on his feet, making rounds with participants, talking to people in the kitchen, checking on the guys and gals he would ferry in a van to various places as a volunteer driver.

     You see, Bob, though retired, was still an educator, a principal looking after “students and staff” as it were in his post-professional life, in that moment as an orchestrator of good deeds.

     From all reports, Bob Drennen gave of his time in other ways, too, as an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, at Habitat for Humanity and with the Helping Hands coalition for the homeless and poor. It was with Helping Hands that Bob connected with the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program. 

     But you need not know all this to realize he had been an educator. The tip-off was the moment Bob walked into the kitchen. Before he quickly scanned us all, he looked at the wall clock. It was a reference stare: “Where are we at the moment?”

Teachers, principals always look at clocks.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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OF NECESSITY

May 1, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Years ago, decades actually, this once young man watched as an older fellow carefully straightened bent nails taken from discarded wood. “Why,” I asked?

    The man said he would reuse them, but I wondered why he bothered, since an ample-sized  box of 10-penny nails (three-inch pieces) then cost about 89 cents and could meet home use for a very long time.

     I missed the point, literally. It was “Waste Not, Want Not,” and it was the attitude that counted. And what came with the exercise.

    Now, older myself but not always wiser, for I still don’t straighten bent nails though the cost for a box of 10ds is now about $8, I did find myself in the attitude lesson recently. Of necessity.

     I was into a home improvement project, the sort that seems to come in retirement like bills long overdue, when I needed a caulking gun. Did not want to run to Beckerle Lumber yet another time (my average home repair/renovation seems to be two trips a day, at least), so I grabbed the caulking gun I had in the garage.

     It was caked with old caulk though only about a year old, and the advancing mechanism was frozen. I had once again failed to clean the gun immediately after use, something my grandfather, or the fellow who straightened bent nails way back, would not have avoided.

    After the last use, I figured I would just buy another gun, for about $4. But here it was eight hours into a project, and I was too bone-tired to go to the store. So, I played old-fashioned. Sitting down, half for rest, half for concentration, I carefully and slowly peeled the old caulk off the gun and then cleaned the metal with a solvent and oiled the advancing mechanism.

     Not only did the gun work, but it performed better than when I bought it. There was real satisfaction, too, in not only saving a few dollars and avoiding another stress-filled trip on ever-busier roads, but in silently meeting the approval of the oldsters who “wasted not, wanted not.”

     I may never buy another caulking gun. I like this one too much now.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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PULL-CHAIN LIGHTS

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Many of the older homes I walked into as a youngster had one- or two-bulb ceiling fixtures in the middle of the room, operated by a long pull chain that hit any tall fellow in the head. These lights, the fashion of the time when electricity first came to old houses in old villages, were literally illuminating after gas jets, but they were awfully harsh, directing shadows on people and furniture, as in the film noir treatment of a Raymond Chandler mystery.
    So it is that I have erased any trace of ceiling fixtures in every home I’ve owned, save the kitchen. And even there task lighting not only makes for better veggie cutting but sets the mood. Kitchens, like living rooms, bathrooms and certainly bedrooms are all about mood.
     My Spring Valley, N.Y., grandfather had a wonderful “standard lamp,” which others call floor lamps, but the British moniker sounds more accurate since movable lighting became common fare almost as quickly as did ceiling fixtures. My grandfather had his placed next to a large and comfy chair, and the 100-watt bulb seemed to provide the sun’s touch for any a youngster’s reading of the Saturday Evening Post or a New York City tabloid.
     His lamp, like the original ceiling fixtures, had a pull chain, not a twist knob, not a push-pull contraption, both of which you always seem to fumble for in the dark, almost knocking over the fixture.
    No, a longish pull chain with a glass bauble at its end, which swung and hit the lamp’s upright pole three or four times. It was easy to locate because of the glass and the chain itself. Its action was smooth, and during the 15 or so years I sat next to that standard lamp, the chain never failed.
     There was certainty in its action, yes, and also sureness that I would soon be comfortable in a chair where while others in the family talked, I could get lost in a tabloid or magazine.
    Contrast this pull chain, which turned on a world of delight, to the dangling one from ceiling fixtures that cast harsh light, the mysterious mood of which was dreary.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

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GOODNESS OVER ALL

April,17, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In this especially crazy world right now – “fakakta,” as the Yiddish word well describes, with media focused on the horrors of the war in Ukraine, the killing of children, the raping; in a moment when high inflation is threatening virus recovery; in an hour when corporate profits rise 25 percent in tragedy, calamity, sorrow and greed, the wonder is why the gods just don’t shut down the store and end the earthly run.

     Who can fathom the reasons why? What can be seen however is proof positive that if the world goes up in smoke and flame, there should be a safe space for:

 * Brave Ukrainians fighting against harm and death to save their nation and culture.

* The Polish people, once under Nazi and then Soviet horror who continue to welcome Ukrainians fleeing from madness.

* The long line of women standing before a Russian embassy in seemingly bloodied underwear, hands tied with rope, bags over their heads, protesting the Rape of Ukraine but also the rape of women everywhere before, now and, horribly, after.

* Subway riders and others in New York City who helped each other after a sick person terrorized a Brooklyn train, shooting at random in the haze of smoke bombs.

* People who quietly give to others in need without seeking attention – “paying it forward.”

* Anyone who sacrifices for others; anyone who fights against abuse, greed, indifference.

     Of course the listing of goodness could go on and on; the point is that when this earthly existence ends, whether the planet disintegrates by humankind or nature, the record will clearly show that there was more good than bad. And those who did the right things will exist forever, or there is no reason in all this.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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THE ‘RIGHT-TIME’ D.A.

April 10, 2022

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

    Take a “country” boy who earns a law degree and throw him into an emerging suburb with the first wisps of urban-like crime, and you have someone who calls himself the “Hayseed D.A.” Only the fellow proves no country bumpkin. Or maybe he was one, because rural folk can have a real knowing, sophisticated eye. 

     Robert R. Meehan, raised in the pre-war and wartime era in the Village of Suffern, N.Y., knew old-style downtowns, schools where underpaid teachers had second jobs, where few locked house and car doors, where the look in someone’s eye guaranteed the handshake deal.

     As Bob Meehan matured from high school football player to college and then law school graduate, through Navy service during the Korean War and back into post-war Rockland County, N.Y., he remembered the values of his upbringing.

     In time, he would win a very close 1965 election for district attorney and serve through 1974. Bob would later become a County Court judge and acting New York State Supreme Court justice though from his writings in a book now assembled by Kathleen Meehan Do, one of his daughters, he preferred the D.A. post.

     It is easy to see why. The book is an accident of luck but perhaps intended by the gods. In 2017, long after her father’s 2004 passing, Kathleen came across a bag of her dad’s papers held by her Aunt Carolyn, wife of Tom Meehan, the famed Broadway book author (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”). In the bag with legal pads and assorted papers was an unpublished 1978 manuscript, “The Hayseed D.A.”

     Seems Bob Meehan had sent it to prospective publishers, but though it was deemed story-worthy, it was too rough and needed serious editing.

     That became Kathleen’s devoted job since she is a professional writer with heavy experience in Albany and Pennsylvania. Her mission was aided by sisters Mary and Pat and others but surely by the spirit of her father cheering her on in what was more than a family mission and certainly not an effort by the former district attorney to shine a spotlight on himself.

     Kathleen Do’s careful editing in this book published by State University of New York Press brings to readers fascinating stories of detective work in key cases, including the now 50-year-old tragic Congers school-bus crash that took the lives of five Nyack High School students. It is an inside look at how justice is pursued, how a careful D.A. can win cases, how mercy also applies. It is country values mixing with urban-like realities. It is a district attorney for the right time in a growing suburb.

     The book is a good read, and to fully appreciate it, the final chapter, “Annie,” is especially recommend as it captures the essence of a country-raised fellow sharp in understanding law, full of compassion but also seeking justice, a boss loyal to staff and in deep humility grateful to them.

     “Confessions of a Hayseed D.A.” takes Rockland County justice from the semi-rural age into the beginnings of suburban, even urban-like crime and punishment. Editor Do has put context and interpretation into the coming of age of both a county and an idealistic legal defender and prosecutor. Yet in all her editing and assembly, Robert R. Meehan’s voice is paramount, a tribute to both father and daughter.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who covered Bob Meehan’s career as a photographer and editorialist.

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LIBRARIES

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     This is National Library Week, an annually booked observance that is seemingly unnecessary for readers since every week, even every day, celebrates the great adventure of not only running eyes over words but going to the places where they rest on shelves for the next visit to someone’s lap.

     Reading is fundamental, as the old ads noted in encouragement against ignorance and for success, and it is also a trip. Every short story, novel, essay, non -fictional piece has its rhythm, taking readers down lanes, up hills, into valleys, turning right, left, stopping at intersections, braking, accelerating. From your comfortable chair, or just sitting on edge on a wall, you get to “hear” the music of the individual writer. You will love, like some authors; others not. But you will be forever changed even in some small way by the read, by the acquaintance you have made with the writer.

     Yes, you buy books in stores big and small, from Barnes & Noble to the great marvel of Jack Dunnigan’s Pickwick Book Store in Nyack, N.Y., its jammed shelves beckoning like a bakery full of cookies and pastries for a child. Celebrate these places. Buy from them.

     But also visit, often, the library down Broadway in your community and be welcomed by tomes great and small, tended to with the understanding that only librarians can give, as mothers and fathers to these books, displaying them with paternal pride, keeping them safe, allowing them to visit their friends – readers – but eager for all these words to return, tucked in again on mahogany shelves.

     National Library Week – the birthday celebration reminding us of all the journeys words can take us on, available for free booking anytime.  

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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GIFTS, ALL

March 27, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The Irish carry words in their pockets as others do coins. Even the spare change can become a short story or novel.

     This essay is written after the Feast of St. Patrick and all the religious/cultural moments, parades and green things and the proclamation that on March 17 “We are all Irish.”

     Well not the day after nor the one before. God did not make everyone Irish for the same reason she did not color everyone this or that, or have all speak the same language or look alike. And, of course, not every Irish man or woman can write from the soul and the tears of everyday living.

       But more than enough do, and that is the gift to humanity, for we all need the narrators and explainers to understand this mortal coil, to get through it all and to exhilarate as well.

     Leave it to others too to show their particular artistry, culture, talents and great giving to the world. And may we all celebrate in the differences for would we want to eat off the same menu every day of our lives?

     This piece may be for the Irish in their March month, but really it is for all of us, however we hail.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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