FROM THE LAND

THE CONCKLIN FARM, Pomona/gunther

April 14, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     If our lives are just part of the story, with other existence before and more to come after present time, then somewhere, some time, some of us were farmers or perhaps will be. 

     In my own living, there is always deja-vu when passing a barn on a field – hay rounds, front porch, rutted drive, machinery leaning against a fence. In youth in this part of New York State, Rockland County, such a scene was common before post-war growth when suddenly land tilled since the Dutch of the 1600s and before that inhabited by Native Americans quickly sold for $100 an acre, just as quickly plowed for another crop – suburban housing.

     But there are a few farms, barns left, including those of the Concklins and Davies, Van Houtens, etc. 

     There is an instant warm feeling beyond nostalgia in the deja-vu, and while this ignores the hard fact that farming is at least a 12-hour, seven-day tough job with crop, animal, climate and economic worries, it is also the connection to birth and rebirth – animal and crop, the human farm family too.

     So even in the sometime hardscrabble, there is constant reaffirmation of living. A child in late-afternoon sunlight, leaning against the worn, red-coated barn, winter straw popping from the harvested furrows, not a worry in sight. It’s like being tucked in by mom.

     Can’t pass a farm without that thought.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                          -30- 

WOMEN

  April 7, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     An old saying, full of truth as always, proclaims that there’s no such thing as women’s work on a farm. There’s just work. Or women’s work is never done.

Though March 8, International Women’s Day, has gone, whatever women do, and that’s everything, continues.

     A shout-out, of course, from an often haphazard male who can’t find his socks in older age, same as when he was six. My mother was there in the latter, as well as in both the workplace and kitchen, also in the nourishing and affection.

     Many of our teachers, female and male, became lifelong instructors, yet in key moments recalled, it seems the greatest lessons came from the women, who carried the torch as the baton was passed from home to school.

      And then there were the girlfriends who noted deficiencies of all sorts, males oblivious to dress, manner, manners and maturity. We guys didn’t always pay attention, mostly not. Should have.

     In wartime, with men away, women not only worked the farm but the factory. They did anything a male could do and often better since women pay attention to detail.

     This piece isn’t meant to put women on a pedestal, for female faults are there, of course. No one is perfect. But it must be written, even a month out from International Women’s Day, that the gender which births humanity knows how the garden must be tilled, a lifelong intuition.

     Hail women.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                     -30-

‘SHE’/gunther

‘UNIVERSAL GIFT’

March 31, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This is not an Easter story, nor one of  Passover, Ramadan or any religion except that of humanity. 

     Way back when I was taking photos for the former Rockland Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., I was assigned to cover pre-schoolers putting together spring decorations in a small building that was once a one-room school in a community now called New Hempstead. We knew the then hamlet as Brick Church because of the Dutch Reformed structure next door.

     On this day, the children, rustling about as chatterboxes do, especially the day before the Easter and Passover holidays, were in smocks so they could finger-paint flowers and other signs of spring on large, shiny paper.

     As it happened, there were two burial services taking place, one at the cemetery near the church and one right next to that,  a Jewish burying ground.

     The children were largely oblivious – there were such services all the time. They simply went about immersing full hands in the slippery paint they were applying. Their enthusiasm, the sort that disappears so much with growth, was full of little screams and sharing of hand and finger prints on their neighbors’ big white sheets.

     All in all, there was ample photographic opportunity and a chance to escape the usual pre-publicity and political pictures I usually shot.

     As I was wrapping up, I saw a girl walk to her teacher with her rendition of a flower, a bright yellow-orange one in a blue field. She asked the teacher if the flower could be taken to the burials, to add to those visible from the wavy-glass windows of the 1800s schoolhouse. The teacher was quiet for a moment, quickly thinking of a proper response. She told the girl that her thought was beautiful and that sharing beauty at a difficult time for others was a very good deed though the services were private and should not be disturbed.

     As kids do, the girl shook her head in affirmation and leaped back into the colorful fray.

     It was springtime, the time of Easter, Passover, Ramadan, other religious moments. The pre-schooler’s gesture of compassion and sharing was a universal gift of humanity beyond specific doctrine.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                      -30-

‘NATURE’S SYMPHONY’

March 24, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com  

      Living in a small village of about 5,000 some decades ago, there was enough rural land not yet swallowed by post-war growth that neighbors still had chickens. Roosters were alarm clocks for school children, and henhouses were welcome play spots despite never-ending droppings.

     The clucking that chickens make, the crazy moving of their heads as they dance around each other are part of nature’s symphony. They were fun to watch in simpler days when your mom scooted you out of the house on Saturdays so she could both clean and have peace and the pleasure of her own quiet. Also part of nature’s symphony.

     There was a lesson to learn, too, from visiting henhouses. The birds would allow you to take warm eggs from their warmth, but you had to give back. The golden rule was to never remove a chicken’s eggs without a pat in thanks.

     Again, nature’s symphony, and a life lesson.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-

ST. PATRICK’S, A DAY FOR TEA SURELY

March 17, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     You cannot have the Irish without tea. When the person holds a cup, it is the soul that comes to visit, both to nourish and to be nourished. Every sadness, every joy, every birth, every passing, every harvest, every leaving home of a once child, all that is now before you in reflection in that cup of tea.

     My own mother, of pure Irish who were out of Donegal, never had a morning or an afternoon or an evening without her strong tea. During World War II, she gave up rationed sugar and saved on milk by using a canned sweetened condensed mix. But the tea she would not be without.

     There are moments when you have tea. If you stir quickly, you might be nervous. If you sip with two hands on the cup, you may be enjoying your company. If you are a woman in love, you may leave a bit more lipstick on the edge.

     Tea is that friend who never leaves, never ages, never talks back. It is the wisdom, the lessons, the sacrifices of generations there, in that cup. And the future, too.

So, on this day of St. Patrick’s, perhaps another cup, to toast.

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

                                   -30-

‘TEA TIME, 1938/gunther

SAM’S HICCUPS

March 10, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

(From an earlier essay, when a grandson was much younger.)

Had a conversation with a young fellow at a train station in chilly, windy weather when the topic turned to hiccups since that was what the 3.5-year-old was using for punctuation in what otherwise was rapid-fire language. We were waiting for his mom and dad, my son and his wife, to return from an anniversary trip to New York City, and I figured he would like to see the Metro-North local arrive. It isn’t every day that a kid looks at a train these days – it’s still a thrilling sight, as it has been since the first Erie ran in my parts from the late 1840s into the 1950s.

But keeping a youngster occupied at a busy station, even for the 10 minutes I figured were left before the train pulled in, is challenging. I don’t know his world, and he doesn’t know mine. What are Sam’s day dreams? His fears? His concept of time, space? How does he look at people? What does he think of his old codger grandfather, an odd-enough fellow?

Discussing hiccups seemed an excellent way to keep him occupied. We had a conversation, parts of which, maybe even the whole, might seem silly, but then again, pondering the universe in any which way led us to the electric light and other good things, too. In the least, it can be entertaining.

I asked Sam where he got his hiccups. Did his mom put them in his breakfast cereal? Did his teacher give a treat? Since, I, too, wanted hiccups so as to not be left out, I asked Sam where I could buy them.

He answered with a bunch of “no’s” and “I don’t know.” He did so quite seriously, as if we were professors pondering quantum physics. Sam thought it quite natural that his grandfather and he would be having such a conversation, and he pondered every answer. At no point did he think the questions silly. Perhaps in a few years he will see nonsense, but not now.

Now is still time for Sam to have an awfully broad imagination, an unlimited field of dreams where he can race this way and that, chasing this thought or another. Why not? He has not yet been told to limit his thinking, to set boundaries. Sam — any youngster his age — can be what Tom Edison always was, a thinker without qualification whose imagination is without limits.

Soon, thanks to a conversation about hiccups, including asking Sam what color his were, whether he saved a few in his pocket for an after-lunch treat, and whether he could see them on his computer, the train with mom and dad pulled in.

The very sight of his parents made Sam lose his hiccups and eagerly embrace his favorite people. Wonderful. Gramps moseyed on.

Hope Sam had some hiccups later, though.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

-30-

…—…

March 3, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     We all have rhythm – in the way we talk, walk, move. There is rhythm in the workplace – keyboards, factory machines, assembly lines, construction crews. There is rhythm in religious services, certainly in music. And then there was rhythm in Morse Code, International Code.

     Now almost gone from the ether, especially ship to ship, ship to shore, replaced by satellite communication, Samuel F.B. Morse’s 1837 code and  subsequent variations are largely silent except for a few enthusiasts, limited use and some continuing military instruction.

     But in its day, including one of the first SOS (…—… “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls”) signals on the sinking Titanic in 1912 to Johnny Cash’s earphones intercepting Soviet code noting Stalin’s death in 1953 (he was an Air Force  operator), rhythmic transmission, which are the dots, dashes and pauses of keyed code, filled the airwaves.

     When radio was invented and developed, you could not tune to shortwave frequencies without hearing an overlay of code. It could be mesmerizing because each operator had his/her signature.

     Young kids moseying by the train stations of old would hear the operator at his key, always distinctive. Western Union offices would echo with keying and receiving. 

     So, rhythm, and as in life for all of us, though we may not be Morse Code operators, there are the dots, dashes, pauses of our being. Always evident. Listen to Cash melodies – the self-taught guitarist never forget his code rhythm.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                         -30-  

A FARMER’S FRIEND

February 25, 2024

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In another time, in another Rockland County, N.Y., when the rural season was year-round save for perhaps eight weeks as summer vacationers tarried, barns stood proud as do tall majestic oaks and redwoods and pines. They proclaimed hard work, land cleared for grazing, farming, dairy. 

     Barns were durable, post and beam with three, four, five or more bents or sections. They eventually leaned with age, as we all do, but it was rare that any toppled. The buildings were mostly red in the 19th century-on because red oxide found in clay soil was easily mixed with skimmed milk and lime. Allowing the color to age showed thriftiness but also the same respect you would give the lines on Grandma’s face.

    Barns usually rose with neighbors’ help, one of the better traditions in a land of manifest destiny. Some have endured for centuries. In time, “progress” plowed fields under in my county, and housing developments found their way in, pushing barns to dust or leaving the occasional one until an expensive designer repurposed barn siding in a home large enough for a king.

      The true crown though was worn on the metal roofs of barns, one of the farmer’s best friends, his first morning sight. The utilitarian structure housed him milking cows at 4 a.m. His wife and family would join in full enterprise as the chores and sustenance of daily life continued.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                        -30-

‘BARNS IN COLOR FIELD’/gunther

THE BOOK IS NOT A LONELY HUNTER

February 18, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     A gift – a find from the Tappan Zee Thrift Shop in little Piermont, N.Y. – brought renewed life to a small book on art and painting by Winston Churchill, himself an artist beyond British prime minister, statesman and author of very serious and studied histories. Yet it was “Painting as a Pastime” that turned on a dusty reading lamp.

     When I opened the 32-page book with color reproductions of Sir Winston’s paintings of landscape and still life, it was as if no one had done so in decades. After all, thrift shops take in the collections of aged households – lamps, clothes, tchotchkes, books, etc. – that may not have been touched for so very long.

     Old books have musty smell, not rejected but beloved for sure because you realize you have discovered sleeping pages not seen, not read since who knows when but waiting for the human touch, a hand that once again allows them to be turned. So the book has found a new friend, and it’s lonely no more.

     The Churchill book is well-written, of course, flowing in the best English prose from a multi-gifted fellow. It encourages artists, reveals the incentives, the ups and downs in artwork and overall suggests the journey is worth it for the soul, the mind. He discovered painting at 40, and in sure ways, it was a necessary and reassuring companion though the cliff-hangers of World War II, post-war politics and the blues of older life. 

     Thrift shops like the 1966 Tappan Zee and Grace’s Thrift in nearby Nyack are goldmines for connection with the past, a replacement of a sort for the long-gone five and ten, only not with new goods but with affordable items still, and as important, places chock-full of items for a warm day of perusing.

     Churchill wrote, “Happy are the painters for they shall not be lonely.” Well, “Happy are the books awakened for they shall not be lonely.”

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                                 -30-

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SILENCE

February 11, 2024

     Silence is the pull-over spot in life, that second which becomes a moment and then even an hour or so when you idle and say nothing, perhaps do nothing but stare, let yourself drift away. No one else is needed; you are self-sufficient, with  strength, confidence, respect, reliability, even survival.

     “Silence is golden,” for much can be said without speech – to yourself, to others. Much can be decided wisely in silence.

     As others have said, “silence is of eternity,” for when you pull over and idle, there is no horizon on your thoughts.

     – Arthur H. Gunther III. (The writer is a retired newspaperman.)

                          -30-

GET YER NEWS! ‘NOISE’ IN THE CITY

February 4, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     It used to be that the smog from coal furnaces and smokestack industry defined cities, along with dark alleys and film noir scenes, but with the urban renaissance, things now are much more in vibrant color rather than black and white. There has always been the upbeat, of course, and it’s just perspective that is in cyclical renewal. The glass half-full or half-empty thing.

     Yet one constant has always defined Gotham — our New York City — or most cities, overseas included: the tabloid newspaper. Want to see pictures and read stories about murder, mayhem, social oddities, the fellow who feeds pigeons off a tenement rooftop, the Damon Runyonesque characters who are the heartbeat of cities? Read the tabs.

     While the New York Times (or the other city broadsheets, of which there are fewer and fewer as readership declines in a digital age) report on government and politics, finance, social issues of import and investigative matters, it is the tabloid that takes from the fast current which is the urban stream of life.

     Even today, with many immersed in smartphones or tablets, you’ll find tab readers on the subway, in city parks, at the lunch counter, eager to catch the grisly murder (New York Post: “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” or gossip/social news: “Lady is a Trump,” another Post headline, telling readers about Donald’s Trump’s third marriage.  You don’t find those headlines in a broadsheet.

And then there’s the comical. One time, New York City’s two remaining tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, each reported on an unusual 311 hotline complaint. (The hotline is the city’s “main source of government information and non-emergency services.”) Seems 311 had been called numerous times by apartment house dwellers who could not sleep or otherwise enjoy quality of living because their neighbors made too much noise while having sex. Honestly, that was the substance of 311 calls, with the most complaints coming from Brooklyn and lesser numbers from Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan. None from Staten Island, though, which might bear a separate investigation and perhaps a juicier tabloid piece.

     That people might actually call a government hotline over a personal matter which  they could handle by a simple knock on the neighbor’s door  speaks to classic urban anonymity as well as chutzpah. That tabloids report such news in a front-page story is also classic, highly so. (“This Couple Has Their Loudest Sex in NYC:” The Post.)

     Ah, cities never sleep (some people, obviously). Nor do the tabs. Bless ’em. They report on the slices of life that show foibles to faux pas to the fantastic to the familiar. And their reporters always make deadline, then  

head for high mass at the local gin mill. It takes one to know one, reporting crazy news in the tabs.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is updated from a previous one.

              -30-

‘IT’S MINE’

January 28, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     We are all possessive – of things, people, places, memories, even coffee cups. Java tastes different in a vessel not of favorite fancy. It’s like being with pleasurable company, but not the same crowd – something is missing, though the brew is appreciated.

      Extend that “it’s mine” thought to a chair that is your cozy though its springs may be gone, fabric torn. Or a pal’s house where you can always grab a favorite corner or seat at the kitchen table.

     With coffee cups – tea too – it just isn’t the same without “the one” even if the greatest, tastiest, most-aromatic offering is poured. Silly, of course, not unlike the memory of a sixth-grade birthday party where in all innocence, the lights went out and you lightly kissed someone only to hear the call to switch partners. There was always the preferred one you hoped to get back to.

     A day begins with coffee or tea, and for most on the run, it is the brew in a shop’s nondescript paper cup or from a vacuum bottle, but at home, half asleep, looking totally tossed from the night’s passing, your chilled hands warming from their embrace of your favorite cup, there is no greater friend in that  moment.

     No one ever better touch your cup.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                          -30-  

‘QUIET VOICES’

January 21, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Voices, familiar and not, are sometimes the opening lines in a book, and whether you “read on” can depend on the sounds. A shrill voice, a condescending tone, an accusatory one, a scolding one, words of indifference immediately clue you into what the book is all about. Maybe you read it before. Too many times.

     But then there are the calm voices, those of reassurance, thanks, praise, humility, genuine interest, the individual  timbre of which is like the mom tucking the child in, or the teacher who gives a student a B because he climbed past a D.

     Calm voices, what the world needs now in its political and war cacophony, are the soft raindrops on a three-quarters closed summer window, a cooling breeze the chaser.

    No one about, just you in the comfortable chair next to the standard lamp, glasses off for a minute or two, book shared in the lap with purring cat, the tea still warm. 

     You do not have conversation with quiet voices – they are for listening, the whispers of good memory and reassuring people who keep you well-tuned. 

      Hope here that you can tune to that frequency more often in an ever-noisier world.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                              -30-

THE JACKET

January 14, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There aren’t many moments perhaps when you put on a fall jacket, even in winter or spring or the occasional cool summer morning that you do not think of when another such covering  was borrowed.

     That jacket may be long gone as are the shared moments. Just as the garment was not meant to last, so too the pairing.

     No deeply held regret as two people go on to other lives for which both have been grateful, surely blessed. And that growth introduces other people who are now writing their own stories, for themselves, their partners, offspring, the very world. 

     Yet back in its time, a fall jacket borrowed when she was cold is a memory like the deeply moving book you read more than once. 

     A jacket-shared not only chases the cold but warms the heart and its feelings. There is trust and assurance in that wearing, closeness that means more than physical attraction, a hand reached into the unknown and then grasped by another.

     Jackets do not endure beyond use and purpose. True winters come in weather and life, and other apparel is required. The fall jacket-borrowed becomes something to wear alone in season.

     It goes on a hanger or on the back of a chair, pulled off in necessity. Yet with that pull comes memory woven as much in the fabric as is wool or cotton. She put it there.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-

‘LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW …’

January 7, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

There is snow, and there is snow. All relative to where you live and how each storm compares to the previous one. Like life.

In my region of the globe, what we used to call “upstate New York” until the downstate from Battery Park on up in Gotham’s boroughs began moving north, snowfall was once more frequent and in higher amounts. Roads were left with an inch or so of the white stuff so that metal chains on vehicle tires could grab. Schools did close, contrary to modern-day claims from oldsters that “In my day, we walked six miles in deep snow to school.” Perhaps in the pot-belly stove, one-room schoolhouse days but not in 1950s “upstate.”

This morning as I write, the sun not yet up, there is just about two inches of white in a wet mix – temperature now 34 degrees – while a “nor’easter” of 5-12 inches had been hyped online and on radio/tv broadcasts for almost a week.

Now, forecasting is not a slam-dunk, so allow for changes, but to hype to the point of batting down the hatches is the other side of an unbalanced equation. Seems like almost everything these days – government, society, awful politics.

Snow is relative. It is beautiful and dangerous, and that is also in the human equation.

I hope people move about safely; that youth will have a ball; and that the winter wonderland that was once part of the holiday setting can be enjoyed even after the fact.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                      -30-

‘IN SNOW’/gunther

WHY ART?

December 31, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     With the new year – 2024! – upon us and the hope that humanism will again push aside the withering worldwide, nationwide, even at points local, we turn to the artists everywhere, heralded and largely undiscovered who have ties to souls gone, here, in the future.

     They walk up heavily worn stairways to lofts where they seek not only the light from attic windows but that of humankind. There, with talent sometimes brilliant, often more pedestrian or modest, they seek to give voice to what we all feel but perhaps cannot express. Yet when we stand before an artist’s work, even if the vocabulary is limited, we might instantly see the language. 

     The gods give us creative people so that we can have greater faith or belief not yet established. Painting, sculpture, any art all give us a direct line beyond line, form, color. Art taps into emotions within, much as in romance.

     Artists, even “ordinary” though they cannot be that fully given that all are gifted in the heavens for worldly purpose, tread the well-worn stairs to lofts everywhere to add understanding in what the apt Yiddish word describes as a world that is “fakakta.”

     Happy New Year, all. Go look at art. It’s everywhere.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-

‘ARTIST STAIRWAY’/gunther

‘SNOW’ FOR CHRISTMAS

December 25, 2023

This is my son’s annual holiday story, which he has written in this space for many seasons. This year it is culled from favorites.

By Arthur H. Gunther IV

There was too much science.  Too much math.  There was too much thinking in absolutes and definitives.  There were men and women with no patience, no imagination, no faith, who knew it was far easier to paint everything in good and evil, black and white, rather than calling attention to the shades of gray that truly inhabited humanity.  There were those who had forgotten how to take a deep breath, how to slow down, how to ponder, how to think.  Or maybe it wasn’t so purposeful.  Maybe they didn’t know how.  Maybe they were just afraid. And then, on top of it all, there was the weather.

Tommy tried not to care as he put on shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt and, sadly, nothing else.  No hat, no gloves, no thermal pants.  His run right before he went to bed Christmas Eve had accidently evolved into a tradition and, now, many years after it had started, was one of Tommy’s favorites.  He knew the weather really shouldn’t affect his mood, that it truly didn’t matter, and that no amount of thinking about it would change the fact that even at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve  the thermometer still hovered at 55 degrees.  So Tommy grimaced his face into a smile and headed out the door.  He usually ran toward town and the lights.  This year the village had found the money to not only illuminate the town with strings of white color, but to actually extend the lights off the two main streets into a few of the less-trafficked roads.  As Tommy turned off the street where he lived, he headed in this direction, only to have a second thought and abruptly turn around several strides into his run.  Maybe the air would be a bit colder if he headed north, away from town toward the river.  A few degrees might actually make a difference.  He would take anything he could get.

A few minutes later, Tommy’s stride fell into a familiar rhythm, and his thoughts began to wander.  This was only helped by the darkness and quiet that enveloped the streets.  A few houses had left their Christmas lights on, but mostly there was calm.  Despite the unseasonably rapid-rising warmth in Tommy’s body, this solitude felt right.  Soon he reached the end of the road that descended into the park.  The moonless night left it too dark to run along the river.  Tommy’s impulse was to turn around and head back, but he didn’t feel like going home yet.  Without pausing, Tommy made a right turn and ascended the hill that bordered the property kept by a local order of nuns.  Despite the fact that he hadn’t gained much altitude, Tommy felt himself shiver a bit as he climbed.  Getting to the top of the rise he turned around and paused to take in the view of the river at night.  His heart beat in his head as he shivered once more.

That’s when he saw it.  Looking right, toward the cliffs that bordered the nun’s property, his vision went white.  The fields were lit up with snow.  Everything was so bright that it looked like sunrise.  This is impossible, Tommy thought. The temperature hasn’t been below 50 degrees since November.  He turned into the nun’s access road and began to run once again.  The path led toward the main house where the nuns lived.  Tommy had never been down this way before, but he knew there were still several nuns left who lived on the land.  He was suddenly freezing.  Coming up to the house, Tommy could see it was all lit up inside.  He was trying to make out the familiar music wafting out when the front door opened.  A woman dressed in snow gear waved and wordlessly gestured Tommy inside.

Stepping into the house, the woman began to speak, “Little late for a run, isn’t it?  I’ve seen you out on the roads.  My name’s Mary!  The other sisters and I just finished with the snow, and now we’re warming up with some hot chocolate.”

Tommy, previously startled, suddenly was aware of his surroundings.  There were five other women, nuns, Tommy supposed, all dressed in winter clothes like Mary.  The music, louder now that Tommy was inside, was instantly recognizable:  It was the Beatles.  The closing sounds of the plane landing at the end of “Back in the USSR” was segueing into the chiming notes that began “Dear Prudence.”  Mary saw Tommy staring at the record player.

“The White Album.”  Mary announced.  “We play it every Christmas Eve.  Came out right before Christmas in 1968, the year I became a nun.  Always reminds me of Christmas.  Imagine 1968, being blessed with not one, but two Beatles albums at once!  And the cover, white as Christmas snow!  Nothing on it.  The Beatles daring you to use your own imagination.”

Tommy was speechless.  Here he was standing surrounded by nuns dressed for skiing, listening to the White Album on Christmas Eve.  As he was handed a mug of hot chocolate, Tommy finally got it a bit together.

“I don’t understand?  Where did the snow come from?  Did I miss something?”

Mary just laughed.  Tommy stared at her eyes.  The quiet confidence in her gaze was a bit disconcerting.

“Have you seen the filming crew that’s been here for the last couple of months?  We’ve been renting our property to them.  They’re on a break now, but after the new year they’ll be back to film some more.  We’re not even sure what the movie is about.  Last week, before they left on vacation, a bunch of snow-making machines were dropped off.  I guess they got tired of waiting for the snow for their movie and are going to make some when they get back.  Well, the sisters and I were sitting around this afternoon, looking at the thermometer and staring at those snow machines.  I guess you can figure out what happened next.  You know any kids?  Spread the word that there will be sledding tomorrow.”

Tommy, speechless once more, though grinning pretty widely now, just nodded.

“You realize,” Mary said, winking, “that we’re all not here bobbing along for the ride.  Sometimes God needs a little help.”

 The writer is a teacher and lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., not far from the very giving Marydell Sisters, wouldn’t you know.

‘NATURE’S DIAMONDS’

(Gunther photo)

December 17, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

      Early ice is relative in this part of the world – Harriman State Park, about 25 miles from the ever-hot glow of Times Square. Climate change has moved up the date, and we would normally have snow by this time, so close to Christmas when Santa wants to come by sleigh, not a SUV.

     Yet, nature does what she wants, as expected by her nature, and we were all the better for it on Seven Lakes Drive, not far from Sloatsburg, N.Y.

     There on a tree branch in the warming sun, though the temperature mid-day was about 38, were the kisses of dew turned to ice, offering diamonds for the looking.

     Set against an awfully bright and dynamic sky, nature’s jewelry was on display, ready to party.

     You could not have had a bad moment that noontime on the drive in Harriman State Park.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                              -30- 

OF LIGHT AND DARK

December 10, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Gunther photo

There probably isn’t a unflattering photograph, sketch, watercolor, pastel or oil painting of the Nyack, N.Y., birthplace home of Edward Hopper, the American artist. Until at least the one that accompanies this essay.

     And not because I took it. I was just there for that moment. As a former trustee and now the volunteer general handyman and schlepper at the 1858 home, I am about 82 North Broadway at odd hours and in the best light situations. The latter is key since it was the reflective Hudson River light streaming into Hopper’s boyhood bedroom that clearly influenced the man. He said that all he wanted to do was paint sunlight on the wall of a house. 

     That he did over and over, if not always light on a house exterior, then window illumination into urban interiors or from his summer trips to Cape Cod, light spread onto barns and rolling hills.

      So, a painter of light, from his particular language. Yet with light comes shadow, the yin and yang. So it is with ourselves as we navigate days and nights with ups and downs, high moments that can be brilliant in the light of understanding and darker ones that have us seeking mooring.

     When I was at the Hopper House one early week-day morning, in the backyard where the artist sat with his father after church Sunday, and the Hudson light was bursting from the side walls and roof yet the full back was obscured in shadow, it occurred to me that this was Edward Hopper too, of light but also of shadow. His house, his life. His works.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                             -30-

BACK IN THE DAY

December 3, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

    

December 3, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Newspapers are – were – inimitable in our existence for my father and grandfather and seemingly the world, from donut-dunkers on diner stools to Gotham subway straphangers to the lady at home in her tidy kitchen, apron still in place after clean-up, now to settle at table and read the paper, page by page.

     Before the digital world replaced ink-impressioned newsprint with Internet and smartphone word bits, papers delivered the news, entertainment and sports and a whole world of local, national and international photography, with enough depth and interest to encourage a deeper look at events and politics and thought.

     My blue-collar grandfather spent every night after supper poring over The Journal-American and the World Telegram & Sun out of NYC. In the morning before work, the Daily News would fill him in on more gritty happenings, tabloid style.

     You could not ride the subways as commuters rushed home evenings without a sea of heads buried in newsprint. Some would leave the paper for the next rider.

     An entire style of reading a paper was once evident – from the person who licked fingertips  to turn a page easily to the one who folded a tabloid to pore over a column on the left or folded in half when he or she looked at a standard-size newspaper.

     All in a day’s life, those old sheets, at the end good for wrapping fish or lining the kitty’s litter box. No worry since a fresh edition would end up on your doorstep the next morning or afternoon or make its headline appearance at the newsstand. We were informed, were we not?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                 -30- 

  

  

  

HAVING ENOUGH

November 26, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     I took a whiff of an apple, a simple thing, and it made all the difference.

     Passing the kitchen counter, seeing a basket of fruit from a local orchard – once there were many, now just a few, Concklin, Davies among them – I took the apple in hand, rubbed it against my shirt, as you do and gave it a whiff, as you do. 

     I did not bite into it, for I wasn’t hungry, and, besides, the whiff, the fragrance, was enough. Sometimes you don’t need it all to have enough.

     That one whiff, a deep breath, reminded of childhood walks through orchards by myself in such utter but reaffirming quiet that, again it was enough.

     That one whiff brought me into my Nana’s kitchen, she a pie maker, my Gramps the peeler who could do an apple in one peel draped to the floor. An image even now enough to be real.

     That one whiff had me at school lunch when an apple came for dessert in a sage green tin box, after the swiss cheese sandwich. An appetite was met then and now. Enough.

     That one whiff morphed in memory to the stronger one of apple drops off local trees as you walked home. It told of coming winter and snow and sledding. A teaser. Enough.

     So, in a quick passing by of a bowl of fruit, a polished apple, a whiff taken, so many images conjured up. It made all the difference on that one day.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

                          -30-

‘CAN YOU ASK A DREAM TO SPEAK?’

‘ALEXANDRA’S ROOM AT THE HOPPER/gunther

November 19, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

          For a time, the Edward Hopper House, a museum and study center in Nyack, N.Y., had a particular rescuer who came during the Covid pandemic, and despite her early ’20s, took on several jobs usually handled by seasoned administrators. Alexandra Davies has since moved on, but as with others unexpected in life, her mark remains.

     Alex is a poet – her college degree centered around her writing – and while she hasn’t found time or challenge to enter that room in her present museum job in Massachusetts, the stream of both consciousness and not runs constantly in her particular language. It is just a matter of time before the taps flow again to offer such questions as her: “Can you ask a dream to speak?” 

     Hopper House, the birthplace home of the famed American painter, was a gift to him because of the exceptional light off the Hudson River that helped inspire the fellow from earliest age. That so many volunteers and staff have come to the museum in its rescue since the early 1970s is proof that the house still has its magical draw.

     One of those people was Alex, who when higher-level leaders left and in the time of Covid, truly proved her mettle, tackling bills, repair schedules, virtual visits, outside events. All with energy and, when needed, criticism. She was 24 but at times 50, 70.

     Inevitability set in, Covid lessened, Hopper House returned to near-normalcy with great new leadership. And young Alexandra moved on to other heights.

     Her old office remains, and I call it “Alexandra’s Room at the Hopper.” May it ever be so in memory.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

               -30

OPEN BOOK

‘ILLUMINATION AT THE DOOR’/ gunther

November 12, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This is a “mad-as-hell” painting. Forget the style, the competence of the artist. Just – please – look at the doorway to what is your usual, time-honored, cherished, musty-scented, treasure trove of a corner bookshop. Or one in the middle of the block.

     In that entry you see a book on offer, perhaps a best seller, maybe that of a new author, could be a classic there. Whatever is written on those pages can be read in freedom, open to all who come.

     You may not like the words or the subject; perhaps not your taste; maybe the book offends you, angers you, makes you cringe.

But also, there may be enlightenment, a wash against ignorance, prejudice, misunderstanding. You may learn something. You may expand the debate. You may teach others. You may change your views. You may grow. You may be more tolerant. You may gain empathy.

     All that or some of that in a book on offer in your local bookshop, or in the community library or on school shelves.

     However, you will have to pay the price of admission to the “free” event. You must reject the banning of any and all books. No one person, surely no government, president, governor, school trustee should ever have the power to decide what is offered for reading. To claim such power is to play God.

Read what you want; let others decide their bill of fare.

     That’s why the doorway to the corner bookshop is wide open.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

                     -30-

    

  

  

HOPPER AND HIS ‘COMPANION’

November 5, 2023

Gunther photo

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is the birth house of a famous American painter nestled in the Hudson River village of Nyack, N.Y., above Gotham but not of that city although diversity and culture and art have long been tributaries of the spirit in the region.

     You cannot enter and move about at 82 North Broadway, the 1858 home built by Edward Hopper’s grandparents and in which he was born in 1882 without following the extraordinary river light that shoots up Second Avenue.

     At almost any time of day, sunlight turns on at various windows, casts shadows on the pine floors and walls and makes a dance as the sunrise arrives and then goes to sleep in the dark,  with a promise to appear again come morning.

     It is – was – that certainty which informed young Edward, hoping to be an artist from early childhood, encouraged by his mother, who had talent as well. No matter where he walked or sat the light that was to be his art language followed him as tutor, mentor, inspiration, companion. That he said “all I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the wall of a house” and that every painting he did was a search for himself proves the effect of that special 

Hudson River light on America’s foremost realism painter.

     Meant to be.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                   -30-

THE DIAPHANOUS CURTAIN

October 29, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is – can be – a moment lying in an old iron bed of the very early 1900s, mattress high off the wooden floor, fall morning after a sneaked-in summer-style night, when a whiff of the autumn chase comes to say hello. It is brief, like an unexpected kiss that is deeply romantic because its memory lingers long after.

     That scene was not my intention when I painted “Breeze,” principally because some deliberation is involved in most artwork, and I had not conjured up a window with a curtain flowing in the gust. But all creativity, for better or worse, involves intuition and a pulling of self from within your own art language.

     The youth of my time saw little air conditioning, and windows open well into October, even the first days of November, was common. The smell of fall – a better word, “fragrance” – that visits with early sun can be carried in by a poof of air, lifting the thin cafe curtain worn from both season and washing.

     The moment, and its repetition(s) will go with the arrival of winter and a closed window as it will when the grown-up child, now adult, leaves both the antique iron bed and all the dreams within.

     But linger it will that memory of a fall morning and a diaphanous curtain.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

                -30- 

WAXING ON WAXED PAPER

October 22, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Back in ancient history but certainly relevant to today’s school kids, at least half the morning instruction in the lower/middle grades was given less attention because all you could think about was lunch. The other half was spent in standard day-dreaming.

     Take-to-school lunch in my family was put together by my father since my mom was already at work and his shift had just ended. The fare was the usual – cheese or peanut butter sandwich, orange, Hostess Cupcake or Devil Dog. Milk was supplied by the school for two cents, federally allocated across the nation in all schools as part of farm-support.

     The lunch would be in the ubiquitous brown bag, though initially kids started out with metal boxes that included a Thermos. The beverage unit quickly broke, and besides, you couldn’t buy milk for the home at two cents a serving. The boxes lost their handles or hinges; hence the bags.

     Teachers would collect the milk money each morning, yet another task for those over-worked women and men.

     As the hunger pains grew to a summit, and it was about 11:30 or noon, the class marched downstairs to the cafeteria where some students bought a complete lunch of, say, grilled cheese, fruit or cake dessert and milk for 25 cents, soup five cents more. Those hot lunches were prepared in house by some of the finest lady cooks in the world. (I  contend that school spaghetti was the best ever prepared.)

     But back to the take-to-school lunch from home. For me, my mouth in Pavlovian fashion began to water not when I opened the brown bag but when I began to unwrap the wax paper protecting the sandwich. It was automatic.

     To this day, the mouth still waters when I  rip off a sheet of waxed paper.

     Such a simple memory, one shared by millions of kids. Part of school routine, home routine. Reassuring then and now.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                       -30-

BUBBE WEISMAN’S WISDOM

October 15, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     My brother and I, raised in the 1940s-’50s country village of Spring Valley, N.Y., and our father before that in the 1930s, had many, sometimes mostly, Jewish classmates and friends. Their parents were the local merchants, teachers, physicians, lawyers, garagemen. The Valley was also a summer bungalow community when the population of 5,000 could balloon to 20,000, with largely Gothamites from Jewish neighborhoods.

     So we knew Jews, and we were better for it.

     We were Shabbos goys, lighting stoves on the Sabbath. We went to bar mitzvahs and seders and sat in the Succoth lean-tos as well as in shiva on someone’s passing.

     In the sixth and seventh grades, our neighbor, elderly Mollie Weisman, survivor of the pogroms, would ask me to sit by her bedside to hear her wisdom on life. This is what bubbes do.

     So today, as Israel mourns and as other innocents affected by terrorism also die, I recall Mollie Weisman’s thoughts on survival, that though her family and neighbors were massacred in the old pogroms, the evil ones could not destroy faith.      

     Terrorists like Hamas feed off neglect of the people by government and society, by greed, by ego, by pure devil’s hatred. They seek to destroy any glimmer of faith in mixed humanity.

     Mollie knew that this goy should understand that and also that she understood who I was.

     May all who have died in this terrible time in Israel, the Mideast, be a memory for a blessing, alav ha-shalom.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

                    -30-

A CONCKLIN LEGACY/ More than Family History

October 7, 2023

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Family genealogy collections and books are cherished histories that connect the dots in ancestral lines and prove reference for future generations. We should know where we come from.

     But when someone researches and toils for a very long time – a few years – and  comes up with such a collection that isn’t just about one family, its tangents and roots,  but becomes a history of place and time affecting many unrelated people, well then that is special fruit.

     Special fruit literally. Beverly Schultz Csordas, whose mother was Margaret Concklin Schultz of the well-known fruit farming family in Pomona, N.Y., has compiled “The Olden Days, My Mother’s Family History, 1594-1997.”

      It is a well-documented review of the Concklins, from English times – the first Concklins (John and Ananias Conklin or Conkling) coming to America about 1637 from Nottinghamshire – to Nicholas arriving in what became Rockland. He walked on foot from Haverstraw to what is now Pomona after crossing the Hudson River from Westchester in 1711.

      Nicholas is famous beyond the Concklin Family for beginning what is now the beloved Orchards of Concklin with 400 acres from Kakiat Patent, Lot. No. 1, now operated by Richard Concklin and Scott Hill, whose late mother Linda was a Concklin.  The fruit farm, which once extended to the Rt. 202 area of Mt. Ivy,  remains productive today off the South Mountain and near the magical arts colony of the road that bears the mountain’s name (Maxwell Anderson, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya and more.)

     Although Beverly’s book is principally a tribute to her mother;s heritage and to her own (she recalls as a child asking her Mom to tell her about the “olden days”), the deep research this genealogy required has led to a partial road map of the Native-American, pre-Revolutionary War land that became Rockland in 1798; the thousands of early county farms; the farmers’ crafty ways of survival, which included being smithies, carpenters, mechanics, etc.; and the mass supplanting of farms hand dug from the county’s rocky soil by the bulldozers that scooped out holes for the basements of 1950-on suburbia and “progress,” a debatable term given much unplanned growth, however inevitable.

     In that, the book is a tribute to all farmers in Rockland, for it was they who developed land and sustenance for settlers upon settlers, truly into the deep 20th century.

     Margaret, 1908-1997, was the daughter of long-time farmer Ervin Raymond Concklin and Leah Hannah Miller. In 1936  she married Theodore F. Schultz, founder of the present Schultz Ford agency in Nanuet, a business since the 1940s, once operated by Beverley’s brother Ted L., and now by his children Traci Ann Brega and Craig Schultz. 

     Margaret and Ted began their married life in the home where she was born and across South Mountain Road from the family farmhouse. True to upbringing and taste, both Ted and Margaret kept a large vegetable/flower garden, canned fruit from the farm and otherwise participated in rural life, church (Dutch Reformed in Spring Valley), the garden club and many other community and social activities.

     In 1940, the couple drove Margaret’s parents Ervin and Leah to Florida, with Ervin keeping a detailed diary of the trip, noting farms, Washington, D.C., and other sites along the way. What a journey that must have been in the pre-interstate days with standard-shift, no power-anything cars.

     There were educational journeys as well for children Ted and Beverly, arranged by former school teacher Margaret.

     In September 1997, Margaret would pass in the home where she was born, almost certainly in the very room, according to her daughter.

     It is significant, I will offer, that Margaret Elizabeth Concklin Schultz left earth in the gathering shadow of the South Mountain  where fruit farming back to the 1700s has never ceased, where for so long great artistry has thrived. Older folk of Rockland will tell you of the spirit that seems alive in the morning fog from the Orchards of Concklin to the foot of the South Mountain, down the twisting road to the hiking path leading to High Tor Mountain and the ways of the Native Americans whose souls are there.

     Margaret Schultz’ spirit left her childhood/adulthood home and blended with so many others – those of the Concklins, relatives, other farmers, artists, Rocklanders, all that ever lived and toiled by the South Mountain.

     Her daughter Beverly is to be applauded for her book, this tribute first to mother Margaret but in its compilation a history of rural-into-suburban Rockland County. Her newly written tree of knowledge will grow branches that extend way past the next generations.

     The book contains numerous diary entries that relate, written in that almost lost art, about life and times in the 1800s and the 20th century. There are cherished and proven family recipes. There are agricultural statements on farming by Ervin Concklin, with his deep mix of book training, on-the-job learning and that acquired through ancestry.

     So, not just a fine and accomplished book for one family but a wide look into farming Rockland and living back in the day.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com

                     -30-

FORMATIVE TIMES

October 2, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     If we are fortunate, and not all are, we are anchored by early, good memories that literally define life, provide confident reference to the past and offer reassurance with a laugh or two.

     For me, recognizable life – my awareness – began in a small village – Spring Valley, N.Y. – about 25 miles geographically from New York City but back in the 1940s as far removed from asphalt and tall buildings as open fields, dairy farms, fruit orchards and downtowns of a few streets can be. For many, the city life is boffo; for me, the country.

     My earliest memory, which is a life anchor, is   walking in our quiet village of 5,000 with my grandfather, the first Arthur, from his home at 14 Ternure to West Street and then Church Street, or we would be off to West Furman Place where there was an annual merry-go-round run by the volunteer firefighters of the Spring Valley Hook & Ladder Co.

     I was just 3 and 4, and my parents and brother Craig and I were then living with Arthur Sr. and Grandmother Maud.

     As with those with similar family memories, this was a cherished time because everything about my grandparents, their neat home, the quiet of the neighborhood where even grass-cutting was by the rhythmic whirr of a hand mower, and what was reassuring routine – all gave stability. Looking back, as I always do when I happen by 14 Ternure, it still does.

      A funny story about that house, built around World War I by neighbor Frank E. Haera and his son, also Frank. For some years in the 1930s, Arthur Sr. rented it for $25 a month (yes, an entire house), but when better days came to the Briarcraft Smoking Pipe Co. where he was foreman, he and Maud bought 14 Ternure for about $3,000. It took five years to pay the Haeras.

     Mr. Haera, a village trustee and otherwise well-involved community fellow, passed in 1946, so I do not recall him though – degrees of separation – he set up the fire company merry-go-round that we Valley kids enjoyed so much.

     Mrs. Haera – Jennie – was the one I knew because she had a daily ritual of looking out her glassed-in porch window as Craig and I played on the open lawn between 14 and 10 Ternure. She kept a sharp eye so that we two young boys did not get in too much trouble. 

     I couldn’t pronounce “Mrs. Haera” at my young age, so I would tell my grandfather “Mrs. Ha-ha” was watching me. Actually, I think, watching over us. Her attention would be repeated as my brother and I grew up and still tossed a ball or whatever on that side lot.

     As I do when I occasionally pass 14 Ternure and recall my formative times with my grandparents, I also remember Mrs. Haera – Mrs. Ha-ha.

     I am grateful for both memories.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman  who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                  -30-

‘FORM’

‘HER’/gunther (acrylic on linen)

September 24, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Form is the substance of life, whether it be our homes, places we visit, the food we eat, the beauty we admire and that which we do not; it is our bodies, perhaps our souls.

     Admiration, indifference, no opinion, lust, any emotion are there as descriptive adjectives for form as seen by the individual.

     Architects will debate form over function with builders who see the opposite. Women, men, “they” will see form perhaps as extension of themselves, the part that is missing in their own form.

     Government will view form as bridges, buildings, infrastructure of all sorts as well as the red-tape forms we all must complete to exist in ever-structured society.

     Vogue, other magazines will offer highly stylized photographs of models who do not fit reality but who are in the form of breaking fashion, without which there is little progress in dressing our bodily forms. 

     The dictionary says form is “the visible shape or configuration of something,” but what of the soul. What is its form?

     As a verb, form is to “bring together parts or combine to create (something).” Such as “The nations formed an alliance against the enemy,” which collectively is another form.

     Artists make or shape something into a form, which is applauded, rejected or just passed by. As it is with humans, too, which are forms.

     All in all, form, whether it also is function, is part of life’s themes. (You can form your own opinion on all this.)

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                      -30-

IDLING

‘TWO WINDOWS’/gunther

September 17, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In a day’s time, you can sit in a room in thought that is idling like your 1955 English Ford in neutral, the constant turn of the engine pistons reassuring that you can just molt a bit. We all need to be in neutral sometimes, with trust that the motor will not stop. For if it does, that’s another story.

     Hustle-bustle has its place – things have to get done in life, in the daily day – but the treadmill which it can become has to have an idle switch, or you are likely to fall off.

     Sometimes in a room, in the quiet, you glance up and see through a door opening into another room or space. On the couch, in the armchair, it is comforting to know that in idling, in neutral, you do not have to get up and walk into that place. Unless you want to, but then you’ve already decided to put yourself into gear.

     Quiet is enhanced in neutral, and it can be delicious, almost a treat. You don’t need company; you don’t have to mull things over; you can day dream; you don’t have to bring a cup of tea, as comforting and reaffirming as that also can be, for there is a special existence in molting that is other-worldly. You require nothing but to idle in neutral. With the motor purring, of course. (You do have to get up eventually.)

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                       -30

MISSION UNDERSCORCED

September 11, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is rhythm to our lives, and when it is seriously interrupted, the beat rarely returns to the same music.  And, so it was with September 11, 2001.

     When 9/11 hit in terroristic horror 22 years ago, I was at the former Rockland Journal-News offices in West Nyack, N.Y., just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives – forever.

     The newspaper, as all media, scrambled even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.

      Later that day, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.

     About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. 

      Funeral after funeral followed for those whose bodies could be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders who developed cancer from building debris.

     Communities like Upper Nyack, N.Y., mourned hometown heroes, including Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the volunteer firefighter he was.

     Hatred brought on 9/11, and such crop is fertilized when democracies, too,  encourage neglect of the people by supporting dictators, and when countries do not speak out for decency and act according to stated creed. Hate then grows among the people, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.

     At my old newspaper on 9/11, we did what we were trained to do and what was natural intuition — present the who, what, when, where, why and how of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting human reports, presented graphic images and offered commentary on it all. 

     The Journal-News and other media had done this before, of course, covering world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction of the various decades. That is the beat of information delivery.

     What we in the newsroom of my generation did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of  December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the oscilloscope, and now we understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack but also the reaffirming heroism of so many. This could only bolster our future search for truth, the reporting of it and the effects on humanity. Our newsroom saw the blood that day, and it underscored our mission, which is to make sure democracy never withers in darkness.

     This essay is built on an earlier one. The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                      -30-

THE AMERICAN WORKER

Sept. 5, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

     This is crazy time in America in ways political, economic, health-wise, socially, though if you subscribe to the thought that things happen for a reason, maybe eventually we will learn why. But Labor Day is supposed to be free of deep thinking, so I guess any of that should be on hold.
     It’s a time for relaxation — travel, beer, picnics, the beach, puttering around the yard, friends, family getting together.
     On this day, note that the American worker is quite productive, thank you, often the greatest-producing fellow/gal of any nation. And that is true even as the U.S. has lost its blue-collar stiff to the bottomless, mindless greed of the 1 percent who send the jobs elsewhere. Re-investment, re-tooling, re-training could have made for contemporary-era jobs and even more money for the people who, like all of us, can’t take the cash with them. Still could. 

     And that sort of investment could spread to nations that must also build their economies and create jobs for oft-times desperate people held captive by dictators. But the sharing cannot come by destroying an already productive nation.
     The American worker, and that surely includes some of the best of them — our immigrants in an always-immigrant U.S. — generally works off common sense because, well, they would not be productive without that. Profits are not made just by the suits in the front office, but largely by the sweat of the common worker.
And this democracy would not have endured without the worker, despite the idiocy of some political campaigns and all too many sub-standard candidates.
     So, on this Labor Day 2023, cheers for the American worker. As the walls of prejudice that some would build — such as the metaphorical special-interest barrier protecting ever-deeper pots of gold — come closer to reality, U.S. labor will have to be on the job ready to tear them down and craft a river of common sense instead.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact: ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is built on an earlier one.

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AWAITING SEASONAL ‘LOVE’

August 27, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

A peach in season is like long-sought-after love that suddenly makes connection.  The heavens appear, but as in many a novel and short story, consumption does you in, spoils you for the ordinary. You can love no more past this time.

Until the next season.

It isn’t Adam and Eve here, forbidden taste of the fruit that brings guilt and addiction. The peach in season, freshly picked at maturity, never ripened as a green orb by gas in a truck or rail car from this place or that, is like the magical confluence of things out of this world when the tingle, heart patter and goose pimples of human bonding strike as lightning.

You are hooked for the moment. You do not question why this peach is so full of nature’s best taste, why the skin has a snap never arrived in the supermarket variety, picked two weeks ago. You simply savor rich sweetness that almost makes you cry, humbles you so in the process that you thank your god or your lucky stars. You are filled with satisfaction, and that keeps the tank supplying until the next year.

Once, in this region called Rockland, the smallest New York county geographically outside Gotham’s five boroughs, tree-ripened peaches were the norm. But post-World War II hasty development took most farms and some of the greatest fruit ever grown, given our particular climate and glacially derived rocky soil. Now, there are but a few farms, like the Concklins, the Davies family, the Van Houtens. In their place is what is an insult: supermarkets in shopping strips on old farm land that sell peaches from states far away, perhaps wonderfully tasting in their own element had they ripened there, but not in Rockland as gassed creatures that are so grainy inside that you must throw them away, even after you have paid $3.39 a pound in “season.” You had hoped, but. …

No, I await the homegrown, larger fruit that like the lover you recognize in the dark, has its own scent. For a few weeks there is this love affair that has you coming back and back for more, even moving you to tears, for no man-made sweetness is comparable to a fresh peach, the skin of which produces a snap at first bite that is exquisite foreplay.

Once your time is finished, you will have to move on, for the fresh peaches are no more. But that is just fine, thank you. As with the deepest of love affairs, the sort that can be revisited in its season but never sustained in ordinary time, day after day, week after week, you are satisfied so deeply that routine will never do. You await the next rendezvous. It is worth suspended time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact: ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is built on a previous one.

-30-

BERT HUGHES

    August 20, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

From time to time but never often enough, there come among us in a world of ego, greed, power, selfishness, those extraordinary individuals who give from the core of their being because their principal god is the goodness of humanity. Such a person was Bert Hughes.

     This fellow, a musician almost from birth, a jazz guy with all the impromptu and irreverence that are a counter-beat to those who hear only their song, died last week as a longtime Nyack, N.Y., fellow whose good works went way beyond the expected.

     Yes, he was, with Ray Wright, the Nyack Realtor, the founder of the now-cherished summer jazz series at the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center in the Hudson River village,  and with his wife Chris both long served and helped direct the food program for all comers in Spring Valley, N.Y. Yes, he served on councils that sought affordable housing. Yes, he assisted in the renovation of Memorial Park in Nyack. Yes, he was a teacher of music.

     All these things in a full life still hellbent on racing the treadmill before Covid did its sinister thing.

     But Bert was way beyond the giving, the compassion, the utter refusal to deny help to anyone. He was a fountain of goodness that all were welcome to drink at. He sipped little himself, nor did wife Chris. Both saw their mission as a human one: to help where they could.

     Tributes from many will follow for Bert Hughes, well-deserved, which would have been quickly put aside by him as he focused on  the next person in need.

     To be friends with Bert was to don the cloak of humility. It would be difficult to top him.

     Riches, power, possessions pass to others. Reputation does not. Bert earned his as birthright from destiny. Thank you, sir.

                       -30-

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

A PASSING FACE

August 13, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There comes a day when you see a certain face, on a relative, friend or former acquaintance, and you realize time has passed, that age has added lines, that days of happiness, difficulty, excitement, boredom and the sometime ordinariness of living have left telltale trails on a visage that is unique to that person.
Maybe it’s because we don’t look at each other all the time, or at least notice how each other looks on a regular basis, that we don’t see the individual collecting his years (nor, perhaps, do we see our own aging). Every once in a while, though, we seem to leave the close proximity of it all and step back to suddenly notice the person (even ourselves) in a detached way, almost as an unbiased observer.
     It is in that moment that a relative or friend or acquaintance appears to us changed, and that is usually for the better. For we all age, we all have our ups and downs, we all move on, whether it is on the treadmill of life or making the heady climb to whatever is our summit. We are then, at the end, the sum of our experiences, and at any point before that the total of all that has happened so far.
     Except for the most hard luck-driven individual, or the person who seems unable or unwilling to obtain some good days, people move toward that summit on relatively clear trails, even if some are unmarked, the many experiences etching the face like so many notches on a Bowie knife. Your childhood. School. Romance. Work. Marriage. Hobbies. Hard times. Good times. They all make their mark on our faces, and it is other people who see the road map most clearly.
     Yet nature or your god provides those detached moments when you suddenly get an update on the individual (or yourself). One day you spot this person and note the changes, or you get up in the morning and acutely see yourself in the mirror.
Such glimpses seem so true in their depth of insight, in their perspective that time has gone by, that things have happened, that you or he or she is still there, that the journey continues.       

    There can be grand glory in all this, a small smile at noting how well someone is doing, or even that the person has simply survived his or her travails.
     It is a reaffirmation of life, surely, of our own, that we see such change, note it and store the information in the computer that is the mind (logic) and add to the mass of feelings that is the spirit. This brings a reality check that shows we all live sometimes challenging lives, that we are all climbing a mountain of some sort.
     Imagine if we were not able to step back and take that detached look, at ourselves or someone else? We might all live entirely in the past, in a time when we were 16 and the face was without wrinkles, just the oiled blemishes of puberty and all the wonder that that promised. 

     No, even as we write the chapters in our lives, or have some lines written for us, we are given a chance to sit down and read the proofs of what so far is written. In that, we might still alter the ending, and in that we can appreciate, even savor, what’s been put down so far.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                            -30-

TWO WASHINGTONS

August 6, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. – These are not the best of days for America’s capital and Capitol, indeed the seat of democracy worldwide. A thrice-indicted fellow who should never have been president, special interests, the money lobbies, overwhelming bureaucracy and way too many rules and regulations pervert this town, our land. The people’s business be damned.

We have a Congress that does not meet well in congress. It is a torn body of its own and grossly individual aims, of far-out politics, of non-cooperation, of pitches to the ignorant, playing on their fears.

So, little gets done. The middle class dwindles, and the rich grow ever more distant from the responsibility to better us all, that set by the great Republican himself, Teddy Roosevelt.

In our nation so many with higher education or not are unemployed or underemployed. And the war bells always seem to be ringing – as the military/industrial complex of which Eisenhower warned rules.

Yes, a sad, even misdirected town, distant from its people, from the Founders. Yet it is still America’s city. While lobbyists’ buildings grow in size and quantity on K Street, over at the Lincoln Memorial, at night with spotlights on the likeness of humble Abe, the crowds gather in humility and awe. Visit the memorial in daytime, and it will offer its still-unfulfilled hope of an America not to be divided. See it at night, a beacon of light on the Great Emancipator alone in the darkness covering its steps, and you will realize, profoundly, why this nation was born.
And why it must not die.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is based on an earlier one.

-30-

DOING THE JOB

July 30, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III 

thecolumnrule.com

     Exceptional people have always been, but today’s busyness and the strains and demands of growth can hide these folk. Two such individuals from another time come to mind in my area of Rockland County, N.Y.

     One is Sterling Theis, who was the longtime superintendent for highways in Orangetown some decades ago as post-war housing development replaced truck crop farms and the site that was Camp Shanks, the huge Army embarkation site.

     Theis was a principled fellow who was close to residents, to taxpayers, to values he believed necessary to do his job. A sense of duty and neighborliness. 

     Every morning he would get up at 4 or so and drive certain roads under his jurisdiction. Theis would jot down the location of a pothole, a loose storm drain or before they were removed, a deteriorating drainage ditch, etc. He was especially diligent about noting flooding issues, a concern ever more important as flood plains were filled in for homes. 

     Returning to the highway garage off Erie Street, he would give the list to his foreman, and it was understood that as best as possible, repairs had to be made that day.

     The next morning Theis would drive another set of roads and note what had to be done on those.

     Over in Ramapo, Abe Stern, the first police chief in the township, was also a hands-on fellow, noting any sign or other road irregularities that needed fixing. 

     But his greatest gesture was each Christmas Day when he would give all his officers in a small rural township the day off to be with family while Chief Stern would answer the calls.

     He was held in high esteem for that gesture, so much so that when he was hurt in an accident one year, chiefs and officers from other jurisdictions and the state police offered to take the Christmas shift.

     Of course, there are Sterling Theis and Abe Stern fellows and gals with us today, largely unseen, and I guess the message here is to look for them and appreciate the effort in real time.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                            -30-

PATHS TAKEN

July 23, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. – Naturalist John Muir.

     From the earliest days living in a semi-rural New York county not far from Gotham but a great distance from that life, dirt paths crossed my own as my friends and I grew up, lazy hot summers staved from boredom by camping overnight in cool woods and taking many walks on trails in fruit orchards, long-tilled farms and on routes carved by Native Americans.

     To this day, as sleep calls but the body fights entry, a favorite path is remembered and the walk taken again, old shoes or worn tennis sneakers kicking up dust from the dry dirt, June’s wild strawberries mixed in the leftover winter straw.

    Not a sound to be heard from any vehicle, a rabbit jumping past and birds nesting in peach trees. 

     Amazing how walking on a dirt path, so well worn by wagon wheels then motorized ones, does not have you looking toward horizon but at your feet, at the immediate ground.

     Maybe that’s because you are not looking for answers in the horizon – what’s ahead. Instead, you are literally grounded in the moment. 

    In those days, emotions were calmed by a walk on a path. Today the memory of that does the same. Most paths are gone in this neck of the woods, along with the woods. But “progress,” while it can pave a parking lot, cannot change the mind’s video of what once was.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                                -30-

‘THE HUMAN TOUCH FELT’

July 16, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There was a recent social media short of the type that would have made a full feature story back when we were not losing two newspapers a week. It was about a fellow in Massachusetts who passed away in his early 90s, just months after running a hometown diner since 1956. The name escapes, but the humanity does not.

     In this topsy-turvy world when stars, sports figures and royalty are worshiped, but we also might shed a tear when a social media post shows a small child overcoming a disability, it is important to reset our sense of heroes.

     Every village, town, neighborhood in this world has everymen, everywomen who are down to earth, who do not make a splash, whom we might not notice often enough because where is the “star quality”? The answer is that these people are not there to be noticed.

     They do their jobs like clockwork and are therefore essential. They are our support system.

     The fellow who worked the flattop grill in the small hometown Massachusetts diner probably put together millions of eggs for the commuters’ breakfasts, offering chats as he fried and cooked in full sight just behind the counter. How many people felt satisfied after they left, bellies full but also the human touch felt?

     Ah, the unsung. They are among us, thank the gods. The clerk in a store; the cop who walks the same beat and checks the store locks; the teacher erasing her white board as her class walks in; the repairman whom you’ve called through the years.

     There are not Hollywood stars, not on reality shows, not in the news. But they are anchors in our lives as we sweat out bad days and sing along with the good ones.

     The unnamed diner fellow, 66 years at the grill, was one of these angels.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

-30-

THE COOLING EFFECT

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     These are the dog days of August even though it is not the seventh month. The world seems on fire, with temperatures in many places soaring above 110, almost biblical in prediction. The science says “progress,” from the discovery of fire into the Industrial Age, the Automotive Age, the Profit/Greed Age, the Ignorance/Denial Age is to blame. We will see where all this goes: “Progress” toward solutions or Georgia in August in Maine in February.

     At the moment, I’ll push the headache aside and, as I have done all my life, from toddler to old age, go back in memory to my grandparent’s 1912 home in what was the sleepy wartime village of Spring Valley, N.Y., then a quick train ride away from Gotham though not many went there. (Today the trip is not so quick, “progress” having flooded a sleepy village with suburban/urban growth.)

     In the olden days, in a 5,000-population community when no one had air conditioning save the Spring Valley Theatre, people like my grandfather relied on their wits and some commonsense to cope with the summer heat.

     And it was just coping. No matter what it was hot.

Homes then had big, double-hung windows and 9-foot ceilings for nighttime air flow. My grandmother would open the sash at 8 p.m., and my grandfather would close the windows when he got up at 6 a.m., helping trap the cooler night air for a time during the day.

     He also had a trick: He left the cellar door open and opened the attic door. That created a chimney effect and pulled cooler basement air into the house proper. If outside temps went down enough, he would also open a basement window at night.

     To add to that cooling, my grandmother had homemade lemonade and iced tea plus watermelon at the ready for adults and small ones like my brother Craig and me. There were enough shade trees to sit under as well. 

     Today, as the world boils, I am grateful not to be in the true hot spots but also to revert back to the memories of simpler times and simpler solutions.

(We would really need many big double-hung windows for the world in this heating crisis.)

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. (ahgunther@yahoo.com)

                      -30-

MOOING IN THE BURBS

July 2, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Recently, in my suburban, now partially urban/suburban part of “upstate New York,” just 20 miles from the Big City, a local police department marveled at cows moseying on once-rural roads and grazing on a development house lawn. But why not? They were there first.

     Not so long ago, until growth and “progress” came to Rockland County, there were numerous dairy farms here, including in the Monsey/Tallman/Airmont/ south Spring Valley (now Chestnut Ridge) area where the cows were chomping not far from their barn.

     The Ramapo P.D. posted a humorous play on words with photos of the apparent dairy cows, some with little horns, which some girl cows have, too. Not just the bulls. (Women rock no matter the species.) 

     Back in the day, until the 1950s, old Ramapo Chief Abe Stern and even young to-be-future chief Joe Miele might have to slow down the black 1955 Customline Ford cruiser to avoid cows that might have wandered, though few did because the farmers kept after their fencing, and the “pasture” anyway was so large in acreage before development came.

     In summer, the area noted by the modern P.D. was also dotted with numerous bungalow colonies and summer hotels that attracted more people in season than year-round residents. 

     City kids marveled at the cows, and their parents bought the milk.  

     The numerous dairy farms, particularly in the towns of Ramapo and Clarkstown, supplied milk to Gotham via several rail lines then existing.

     Times changed, and most of the dairy farms and fruit orchards were long ago plowed under for homes, strip shopping and other businesses.

     You don’t hear much mooing in the area now. Other notes and rhythms of “progress,” but few cowbells are heard.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                -30-

‘WHAT’S IN A FACE?’

June 25, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     What’s in a face?

     One of the good moments provided by the yin and the yang of the Internet and social media is the republishing or first-time showing of photographs made by the brilliant documentarians who worked with the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression.

     While there was debate about the intent of the New Deal FSA effort under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the many thousands of photographic images under the direction of Roy Stryker remain invaluable as to documenting rural poverty. And humanity.

     Russell Lee was one of the photogs, men and women, during the 1935-1944 gathering. In a recent Facebook post by Traces of Texas, a photograph of a young woman appears as she works in her basic-level kitchen, with Beechnut and Folgers 1lb. coffee tins reused to hold spices or whatever. The woman’s dress and sweater are threadbare, and you can spot a safety pin on it, which Facebooker Blair Craddock noted: “She has a wedding band, and several commenters on the original post at Traces said the safety pin at the waist is a folk tradition during pregnancy, meant to be protective. I’ve seen women wear a safety pin that way, and assumed they just wanted a safety pin readily available – but south Texas is full of folk traditions.”

     Blair emphasized the very human aspect of the photograph, and in doing so, the essence of Russell Lee’s work, of the other FSA photographers like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein, all left pretty much alone to seek creativity, the only way. 

     Those photographs, much like the faces and scenes published weekly by the old Life and Look magazines, gave/give us a deep look into the souls of people whatever their circumstance.

     Search for Traces of Texas in Facebook. Scroll up beyond five or so photos to see a young girl in San Antonio, 1939. See for yourself the humanity in just one person’s face. Look at the safety pin.

     We can only imagine if we all looked more closely at each other. We might have less prejudice and fewer wars.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

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DELIVERING ‘DEMOCRACY’

June 18, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

    

Every profession has its “holy mission,” its reason for being. The brother/sisterhood involved are family that get the work done, almost always in net pride. We can all complain in the daily task about bosses, work loads, unfairness, but this is in family too, however right or wrong. In the end, results.

     In my own workplace – I am a retired newspaperman – the great irreverence needed to secure skepticism, to not trust the political landscape, for example, is a must if scribes and photogs and editors are to ferret out information that literally informs democracy, that is the lifeblood of freedom.

     Supporting that “holy mission,” however flawed the messenger, are those who put newspapers together in composition, printing and delivery. Jack Sutter, my former boss as general manager of the former Rockland Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., told us over and over that while all of the jobs in newspapering were vital, none was more key than the circulation department – the people who gather the printed copies from the presses, wrap them and hand the bundles to delivery drivers, who in turn bring the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of news to candy and convenience stores, to coffee shops too. Others deliver single copies to homes.

     A holy task as it were, in assuring that news gets to the people. But the mission is threatened as newspapers fold across the U.S, landscape, victims of declining readership, loss of advertising, rising costs, the Internet and hedge funds that buy centuries-old newspapers to sell off assets like printing plants and other real estate.

     As newspapers die, those that are left lose most of their staffs to deep cuts, including in circulation. Delivery goes completely to independent contractors who don’t always follow the Jack Sutter dictum of on-time, full delivery, no excuse. This further threatens the necessary spread of reporting information to the public.

     In Kenosha, Wisconsin, one decades-old store no longer carries newspapers, contending that independent delivery without circulation department oversight is spotty, with shortages and lateness.

     Such would never be tolerated by  newspaper circulation. It would not fail its “holy mission.” 

     At the Rockland Journal-News, even General Manager Sutter would leave the office to deliver a single copy if a reader called and said she did not get her paper. He knew that the job had to be done, as in other professions.  

     The writer can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                     -30-

‘GO FORTH!’

June 11, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This is school graduation time – high school, college – and across the nation, across the globe, those who are fortunate to have had chances at learning are moving on to other moments, all relative to who they are, where they live, what advantages they have, what they don’t have, luck, moxie, fate.

     And there are those who do not graduate because where they live or under what conditions they live bring insufficient school learning. How these youth fare will also be subject to what further befalls them.

     Would that life were fair or that there were more or less equal opportunity for all.      

     If the moral equation were figured into the economic one,  many more students and unfinished students could take the advice always given at graduation speeches – “go forth!” – and not only succeed but make the world a better place.

     That is not so, unfortunately. Yet for my Granddaughter Isabella, for every youth on this earth in this moment, I pray there is hope for them all.

     May their short lives before their own eternity be happier, healthier and giving. The world needs them.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                            -30- 

COINCIDENCE?

COINCIDENCE?

June 4, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is every coincidence in life, whether by the gods, by seemingly directed unconscious thoughts, perhaps just by the mere of it all. But it happens.

     You are reading a story about, say, a new dam in 1930s’ Colorado, and that very night the classic movies channel has a movie showing an effort to blow-up Nazi-held dams during World War II.

     Or, romantically, the serendipity of a moment where you are thinking of someone, and, lo and behold, you bump into that person. Adds to the whatever, that.

     This week I finished the fourth or so in a series of abstracted paintings, which is where my voice seems to be coming from these days. In such abstraction, the elements are spare and elemental, really the line, form, color that others might use to paint a more “complete” work. But for me, at this juncture, the abstraction is enough. It may be the “all.”

     The piece I did, “Manhattan Diversity,” which appears with this essay, was an attempt to show 1950s’ painter Mark Rothko’s technique of blending colors, only I set that in between silhouetted New York City skyscrapers. The colors reflect the great ethnic, religious, economic and gender diversity of the city.

     However, since the work appears during the current Pride Month, the national celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals and community, some saw it as a piece deliberately painted for that.

     While it was not, the coincidence of “Manhattan Diversity,” its colors, even its title, make it a fit. And I am humbled that it is so.

     This artist, this human being, is a firm supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, actually of every human being. Good God, there is so much wonderful diversity out there.

     Every painting, each line, form, color, is made up of diversity, one speck of each element combining to create the whole.

     What a blessing it is to see those specks come together, whether in painting or life. Coincidence?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                        -30-

GIFT OF THE FALLEN

GIFT OF THE FALLEN

Memorial Day Weekend

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

On a Sunday morning when I had finished my 6 o'clock coffee and was headed over the mountain to downtown Nyack, N.Y., I saw this fellow and his dog, the man maybe 60, the collie 5-6. Both had left their pick-up truck on Clausland Mt. Road and were bent for one of the trails in this park area, once an artillery range for the World War I National Guard deliberately named Camp Bluefields since it wasn't then PC to say Camp Blauvelt, after the Dutch-German hamlet where it was located.
The fellow looked awfully happy, serene even, and his dog caught the rhythm. You saw it in their synchronized walk. The man had a container of java in his hand. He and the faithful companion, or maybe it was the collie and his faithful companion, were in for a quiet, contemplative Sunday morning respite, away from the week's rigors and worries. Didn't take more than a glance to see their story. Calmed me, too.
 Arriving in Nyack, I parked the car and got my own second helping of coffee at the Broadway shop and then headed to the observation pier built in Memorial Park to peer at the bridge across the Hudson River - the second one that continues to build the suburbs. It was a respite for me, but I was not alone. Any park has its regulars, and they were there again on this weekend morning - the older couple looking at the water; two fishermen; more men and dogs, some women and dogs, too; a police officer on a coffee break; a young skate-boarder; and a woman, perhaps 20, scanning a smart phone but taking long moments to gaze into the distance. Not sure if her romantic life was involved, though that seemed to be the rhythm.
 So, short respites for maybe 20 people in just two locations over a few miles on a Sunday morning in one smallish American hamlet and nearby village. If this were an American symphony by Aaron Copland, it would be notes on the common man, common woman and the rhythm of the downtime, the respite.
 On the ride back from Memorial Park, on Memorial Day Weekend, past the Great War training ground, I realized why the day was so blessedly ordinary but so special in being that. The fallen in our wars - those who sacrificed their lives - gave us this day, now this Memorial Day Weekend, and every other chance to hear the music of America in its people, places and things.
 We owe them all.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from a first version.

NOT EMPTY

May 21, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     These essays are usually written in stillness, a completely quiet time when the spring birds are tuning up in early morning or the coffee pot is percolating its gathering scent in a colder moment. 

    Stillness is a gift that insulates you from the street noise, the later cacophony of lawn mowers, weed whackers, loud music and people chatter. Stillness is that of this morning writing; is that in which you immerse  on a solitary walk; is that of the you-can-hear-a-pin-drop silence on a youthful date with someone you have much conversation with but also cherish the trust of mutual quiet because you completely know that the period of the last uttered sentence is really just a pause. More to come.

     How golden silence is, and it comes from stillness. 

     There is great poetry, too, in stillness because there is no noise, no competing sounds hopping around your head. You have no need in stillness to grab that next breakfast bite, to read the morning tabloid  crime story, to look at the to-do list for yet another busy day. Whatever it is in nature, in the human condition, in romance, writes its own lines of verse in the quiet of stillness.

     “Listen” in stillness, stare at the light; it is yoga of the mind.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                       -30-

STILLNESS

May 14, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     These essays are usually written in stillness, a completely quiet time when the spring birds are tuning up in early morning or the coffee pot is percolating its gathering scent in a colder moment. 

    Stillness is a gift that insulates you from the street noise, the later cacophony of lawn mowers, weed whackers, loud music and people chatter. Stillness is that of this morning writing; is that in which you immerse  on a solitary walk; is that of the you-can-hear-a-pin-drop silence on a youthful date with someone you have much conversation with but also cherish the trust of mutual quiet because you completely know that the period of the last uttered sentence is really just a pause. More to come.

     How golden silence is, and it comes from stillness. 

     There is great poetry, too, in stillness because there is no noise, no competing sounds hopping around your head. You have no need in stillness to grab that next breakfast bite, to read the morning tabloid  crime story, to look at the to-do list for yet another busy day. Whatever it is in nature, in the human condition, in romance, writes its own lines of verse in the quiet of stillness.

     “Listen” in stillness, stare at the light; it is yoga of the mind.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                       -30-

‘GOLDMINE’ AWAITS

GOLDMINE

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     An artist’s painting is in the eye of the beholder, but the language is from the maker, and though the viewer may know some of the words, even sentences, the full narrative is the creator’s. The viewer can miss all of that for lack of interest or simply because you take what you will from any moment. 

     There is lost opportunity there. So many potentially interesting people are undiscovered because we dismiss them for one reason or another. Sometimes quickly.

    That is how we willow out those who don’t hold interest for us so that we have room for those who do. It’s life.

     Ah, but to search below the surface is to discover feelings, views, emotions that can change you. And remove prejudice. And give you adventure.

     Back to the metaphor on painting, an adventure I am personally grateful for, a discovery unimaginable in earlier life. In retirement, I morphed from newspaper images, words and design to brush and paint and canvas and a new form of the “who, what, when, where, why and how” that were the guiding pursuit in my old career.

     It is in the discovery of the overlooked, the under-mined, the “search below the surface” that has given me a chance to see “lost opportunity.”

     This has absolutely nothing to do with artistic skill or gift or the “quality” of the work. It is all about searching. And in that, so much of a goldmine. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                   -30- 

THE AIRPORT BENCH

April 30, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Would that there be equality for all, that every little kid would have a Friday afternoon dream spot, a haven where after school he/she/they could leave the present and get lost in a mixture of the past, future and fantasy.

     Such chill time can not only bring confidence and self-worth, reminding one that if friends are lacking, you can be your best one; that any confusion of the moment passes; that like the afternoon snack every child ought to have as well, this quiet in this haven is nourishing.

     When I was one of those children, in Spring Valley, N.Y., then of country not of suburb, there was a small airport variously named the Spring Valley Airpark, Bolkhe’s Airport, Spring Valley Airport, then Ramapo Valley Airport. It was off rural Smith Road maybe a mile from the North Main Street School.

     On occasion, but only on a Friday after school, because that is the weekly start to the weekend “vacation,” I would take my sixth-grade self up the Homer Lee Avenue hill to the road by the Pascack Brook, also called Pascack, and wind my way to Smith Road and the airport.

     Owners had put a bench off the field, somehow knowing that dreams are made when sitting in a country field watching Piper Cubs take off and land.

     The warmth of the spring sun on that bench was as inviting as a comfortable couch at Grandma’s house, and with a week’s worth of school over and two days off, it was like sitting down to slowly devour a white-iced chocolate cupcake, a treat.

     Somehow, the half hour spent staring at the endless sky and the planes taking off for journeys unknown and coming back from others recharged optimism that after the weekend “vacation” things would look up again. 

     Would that any child, even in poverty and war and a sufferer of greed find such a bench on a country airfield on a Friday afternoon after school.  

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                      -30-

ONCE, AT THE CAPE

April 24, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Time was when the family used to visit old Cape Cod for a summer two weeks, but as children morphed into adults with their own kids, and as the years and the money-elite changed too much of that New England landscape from a largely working-class vacation spot to mega mansions and expensive rentals, the beauty of it all became a memory.

     But that may just be my perspective. Not that anyone need care, but there is brotherhood – sisterhood – in noting that I am an old diner visitor where you sat at a counter in front of the grill man working the flattop for your instant order; not the visitor who awaits food served from under a back-kitchen heat lamp. 

     The old Cape had such a 1940s diner in Falmouth, eggs with home-fries, toast, coffee, all for 99 cents once upon a time. (But isn’t it always once upon a time?)

     Speaking of which, in my time at the Cape, it was magic on an early morn to take a slower walk from the bayside at Dennis to the old churchyard off the Kings Highway and just hear the quiet that was increasingly disappearing back home in the New York suburbs, itself once rural. Recharging the batteries it was, thank you. 

     In later seasons, after painting became a thing, visits to Edward Hopper’s South Truro area would spur interest and appreciation, not only in the American realist’s iconic work but in the spirit of old Cape Cod that drew him and Josephine Nivison, his painter spouse, there for summers 1930s-1960s.

     Every spot in the world, save the killing fields of war and poverty and despots and earth chilled by the effects of greed, has its draw, its magic. God’s gift, whether that be from your religion’s master or that of the woods, fields, stream, mountains and the inherent goodness of humanity.

     My Cape days are over, replaced by a closer look at my immediate surroundings in New York to see what I have overlooked. The memories linger, though, so bless the old Cape, the new one too in hopes someone else is now taking that early walk on the morn to the Kings Highway.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                           -30-

‘LONG BOAT AT THE CAPE’/gunther

HER SOUL

April 16, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     As a newspaper photographer, my images ranged from publicity to fires to politics to sports and other subjects. Now as a painter, I work in abstract, realism, abstract realism and primitive. In photographs and canvas I have tried to depict the essence of people, places, things. But one deep creative moment has eluded me. It is the sitting portrait by photograph.

     It must be a love affair, the true portrait. The intensity of your approach must be felt by your subject. She – I’ll chose that gender for this piece though the truth applies to all sexes – must see your intensity, your eyes, know your heart. You may not yet be in love with her, but when you find her soul – and that is what you are photographing – you will be. She may not, but she will leave having been touched. She won’t forget you.

    In the matter-of-fact of the actual photography – the camera angle, the light setup, the background – there is stimulation. There is the competence, the strength of a lens person who knows the craft. There is the generated confidence that the sitting will be professional. There is excitement for what lies ahead.

     The subject? She should want her portrait taken, and that is what it is, no mug shot, no selfie. It is not undesirable if she has to be coaxed. It takes two to be in the moment, but they don’t have to exist in the same spot in the beginning.

     Lighting is very important, and it must be tailored to the subject, as must the background. Ordinary, “available” light can work, so maybe no lamps, but whatever the light, it must be used to get the best of the facial features, and that can mean not lighting the entire face. Some faces are meant to be photographed head-on; others in left or right profile. Smiles for some, slight frowns for others (the famous Yousuf Karsh portrait of Winston Churchill, for example, after he took away the prime minister’s cigar).

     I have photographed people who are natural subjects. They are at ease with the camera; they simply take to it well, with features and looks that make the photog’s job so very easy.

     But the sitting portrait, even with a natural, is more than all that. Doors must open.

     The photographer and subject will be on a journey, and a rapport must be reached if the image caught on film or digitally is to be honest. Neither will know if there has been a connection until it happens; and it will forever change them both. You don’t normally see someone’s soul.

     No, I have never had the pleasure – perhaps the pain as well – of doing a sitting portrait. We’ve all seen the work of those who have. Amazing.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                   -30-

SAVE THE CHILDREN

Updated electrical code 

can prevent fatal fires

April 9, 2023 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Remember your mom’s warning not to stick paper clips in electrical outlets? Saved lives. Today it seems some, hopefully few, in government in effect tell kids and adults to plug anything into a circuit. Not by intent but by inadequate electrical code requirement/inspection. 

     Elected and appointed officials who write fire and building codes that are insufficient and/or are not enforced are to blame. So is pressure on these officials from landlords or other special interests not to inspect or to look with half-closed eyes. If so, intolerable. 

     In Spring Valley, N.Y., my former third-generation village, five people, including two children, perished in a March 4, 2023, fire in a 1910 single-family home of just 1,500 square feet converted to house 18 people. The quick-moving blaze apparently began with an electrical malfunction.

     That home was overcrowded, wrong in the first place. Should be outlawed. According to news reports, the house had been “inspected,” with violations found and supposedly rectified. Did that include  electrical circuits? Any 1910 wiring still in use? Un-grounded circuits? Overloaded circuits? Sufficient circuits for 18 people?

    My assumption is that if this home had been required to update fully wiring and service to the present National Electrical Code, it would have had “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter” protection that would have sensed a short, even overload before sparks appeared and lit a fire. That can virtually eliminate a leading cause of fires fatal and not in American homes. 

     AFCI circuits are now required in New York State, according to the Electrical Underwriters of New York. If  the NEC code is followed, arc fault is necessary in all living areas in new construction and remodeling. Surely the house that claimed lives in Spring Valley was “remodeled” one way or another to house 18 people. Arc fault should have been a must, at least in the changed area.

     If not “remodeled,” it was still commonsense that the electrical load from 18 people would be problematic for shorts and overload, therefore fire.

      Yes, landlords would have to pay for arc fault and also ground fault, but so what? The changes save lives, those of tenants and responders who tackle the fires. And such protection reduces housing insurance, if the landlords actually carry that. Renters already pay obscene rents in substandard housing, so use some of that income to upgrade electrically.

     It is a no-brainer to follow the NEC code. Any home changing out electric service should upgrade for peace of mind. That includes us all. 

     Politicians and elected/appointed government officials don’t have to hem and haw over this. Just require all landlords to follow the code if they have remodeled  property, even to the slightest extent. Demand  arc- and ground-fault protection, which can be had with the newer combination circuit breakers. Add punch to the NEC code with local regulations requiring full house protection in any rental, not just in “remodeling.”

     To do nothing is to have government tell kids and adults to plug in a toaster or room heater or perhaps anything, go to sleep and never wake up.

     Can officials sleep with that?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman and editorialist who penned numerous editorials on fire safety.

                   -30-

OUR REPORTER

April 2, 2023

Gunther photo

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

The daily birth of a newspaper is a wondrous thing, with news, commentary, photographs, the who, what, where, when, why and how of information light and heavy and everywhere in between. Each edition is from sweat and muscle and emotion held back in required detachment. It is Damon Runyonesque in the effort, reporting on the characters that are people. It is “Front Page” in the newsroom scramble to ready the press run.

It succeeds daily. It fails daily. It is fuller at times, less so on other days. But in all, a daily newspaper, so many now dying on the vine, replaced by word bites and sound bites and gossip and falsehood and layered opinion on social media, is information, without which there is darkness and the threat of it dying in a cesspool of special interest and downright deliberate destruction of values.

A long time ago, yet the passage of years is no matter, the former Rockland Journal-News in a village begun in the 1800s but continuing still, in Nyack, N.Y., there was a reporter, Diana Hurley, an original Pomona, N.Y., resident who was part of the challenging generation that saw John F. Kennedy killed and with him youthful hope and optimism.

The generals’ war, the military-industrial complex war that was Vietnam, was taking more and more youth for canon fodder without defined purpose, and Americans at home were confusing the warriors with the generals and  government. Many mocked those military fortunate enough to return, unfortunate though to come back with nightmares and a veterans system that seemed – seems still – to consider them less of a solider, sailor or Marine for surviving and having any residual injury or mental condition. PTSD was their shame, the idiots who profit from war told those men and women who responded to the call for duty.

In that time, in the late 1960s and very early 1970s, The Journal-News reported on the war, too often on the burials of young men in their hometown cemeteries. Such news was in the daily birth of a local newspaper, even death.

Diana Hurley was one of those who reported, and though in her early 20s and one of the youth affected by the national pall after JFK, and though she opposed the war and though she saw the reasoning of the war protestors who left Woodstock to put flowers in National Guard rifle barrels, Diana was a reporter of facts. Unlike the mixed “news” that all too often appears today as fact layered with opinion, she kept her views out of the typewriter. She was not without flaws, as with all of us, but she tried her best – and succeeded.

Diana covered rightist pro-war protests against students at the community college, wrote of barbers who would not cut long hair on males, told readers of worries that the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a peace group in Upper Nyack, might be bombed.

Like so many of my colleagues at a small community newspaper, Diana reported for the readers facts observed and researched. She left commentary for Norm Baker and Grant Jobson on the editorial page.

Diana would go beyond 53 Hudson Ave. in Nyack, move to New England and work at other than newspapers. And she would pass away much too soon.

Her soul is pooled with others of the ink-stained profession who together gave daily birth to information that has saved and can and must continue to save democracy. Her legacy – their legacy – is so important now in this deliberately assaulted time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                           -30-

GRAIN OF SALT

March 26, 2023 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In a world of super haba-daba lattes, designer donuts at $4.50 and your name written on the coffee container that you must pick up at another counter, it was reaffirming when this morning I reached for the salt shaker.  It was plain Joe, plain Jane, really the best in the house. No-frills day for me.

     Commodity shortages, staff shortages, greed and a sometime philosophy that making less of a product, charging more and having people wait so long for a car or anything now has the consumer bowing in appreciation. But today, at least, I will have none of it.

     I realized that when I opened a kitchen cabinet and reached for the salt. Not the white stuff in a fancy container and marked sea salt from the Aegeans.  Instead, I grabbed a highly recognized, classic salt shaker, the one just about all of us had on our mothers’ kitchen tables, the one filled with iodized table salt from the blue Morton’s container that displays a young girl under an umbrella. From our youth as well.

     In an instant, despite the fact that salt can raise your blood pressure, I was in a sea of calm, not with sea salt, no pun intended.

     I venture that it was the overwhelming simplicity of the salt shaker and its reference to simpler times for me anyway that I was calmed.

       Enjoyed those breakfast eggs, I must tell you, salt and pepper and nostalgia.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther @yahoo.com for contact.

                  -30-

OPTIMISM

March 19, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is indisputable evidence that despite each older generation claiming  the young are going to hell in a hand basket, the truth is otherwise. Always has been. 

     Greed is in every generation. Some bad politicians are as well. Some “leaders” fail. Some dictate in horror. There are wars for profit, to feed racism, to dominate. 

     We seem to make progress at certain points in history – barbarism continues but is less; justice is served by the Nuremberg trials; minorities and others do approach equality. 

      But horrors also march on – in nations, in the environment, in communities, in individuals.

     Yet, as with spring and the crocuses that bloom even in the red-bloodied fields of war, there are the sterling people who sacrifice life, limb and comfort to help others, to give hope. Many of these saviors of humankind are young, with fierce determination, a true sense of right and wrong, fighters against injustice.

     It is the hope that such youth, often fighting against the odds, will continue in adulthood and seniorhood to keep the lamp lit.

     There are more good people than not in this world though the thugs who seek fortune, power and ego-boosts bully their way onto the stage.

     Remember, it is not just the performers at a concert but the people who write the  music, open the curtains, bring you to your seats and even make sure the “stars” can do the gig.

     Optimism is on the bill for me. I see it in the smiles, the frowns and the eyes of the young, however close the world is again heading to hell in a hand basket.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                    -30-

THE OLD POST OFFICE

March 12, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

In a very simple time when things were still complicated for grown-ups of course, country children of the 1940s and ’50s found diversion in rustling through the woods, playing hide and seek with other kids and going on small errands with dad or mom.

Absent the video games, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, HDTV, ballet school, karate lessons and all the other appointments now penciled in the datebook of a youngster, if you were staring at the wall as a 7-year-old, and dad was warming up the 1949 Studebaker Commander (once red, then repainted green), he might beckon you to hop in and travel a few miles to the Spring Valley (New York) Post Office so he could retrieve mail from Box 74.

You weren’t tall enough to see in the small box, set in a long row of decorative brass containers with combination locks. In a year or too, you could actually open the box yourself, anticipating mail as you walked home from school.

But for now, dad went to get what was there, and you would hang around the Art Deco lobby, standing on a grand marble floor and looking up at a Social Realism mural, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Postmaster Jim Farley Post Office rebuilding projects of the Great Depression.

The Spring Valley branch on Madison Avenue was and is a most solid structure, meant to convey the ability of a nation to rebuild itself and to endure. And the inside was deliberately set as a small palace, with wonderful hissing steam heat that warmed you on the coldest of February days. The government could help take care of you, you see, and the mural of laborers, farmers and industrial smokestacks billowing the white smoke of progress underscored this “we-can-do-it” recovery.

A “socialism” view, though it was lost on the 7-year-old in 1949. He was there, escaping boredom with his dad, and he liked getting his fingers warm at the radiator. He also wanted his own mail, so the routine was to head over to the huge wire basket where people threw junk mail that arrived even in those days, and without messing about too much, take out a sealed letter and hold it, then open it, a grown-up thing to do.

The trip home was usually uneventful. Dad might stop for a loaf of Sunshine bread at Mager’s store, the motor and heater left running as he ran in and out. Soon you would be back in the quiet of the house, no TV to watch, and you might seek imagination in adjacent woods, within earshot of mom calling you home for supper at about 5:15.

Like I said, a simple time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one. ahgunther@yahoo.com

-30-

MY TIME

‘OFF THE SOUTH MOUNTAIN’/gunther

March 6, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     On an early morning run in the Northeast, about 6, before the suburban/urban beings start their engines and rev up for the endless trips to shopping strips, the time is mine, and I relish the nearly empty roads and the rising sun on dew that recalls the wet blankets of our former farms, now sprouting development.

     It is both a blessing and a bit of a downer that I was born and raised as third generation in what was once country, hearing neighborhood roosters in morning call and the clang of bottles in the milkman’s metal carrier. Those sounds were the alarm clocks of the day, now replaced by remote-start F250s warming seats and steering wheels on the long, long streets of bi-levels and colonials.

      It makes you wish for the past, which is the  albatross of one born under the Scorpio sign. But it is also a respectful nod to quieter times, even more silent in my father’s day in my land, more so in my grandfather’s.

     Yet “progress” cannot be denied for it offers opportunity for others to escape greater environmental confinement and have their moment, too. I must not be fully selfish.

     But in freedom of speech and since I do not mince words, “progress” should not be “paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell sang the song of hurried growth to us. We have not listened.

     It is all in the planning, which is simply the barricade against greed growth that fills in floodplains and increases housing density, all the while under the false promise of more tax ratables and lower rents/home prices because of greater supply. Ain’t gonna happen; never did. Instead, costs rise and the parking lot gets bigger.

     So, in the early morning I will get up and go on the coffee run, left alone in my memories of a rural time, thank you.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                      -30- 

HAPPY TO HELP

February 26, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     The daughter of a Rockland Journal-News colleague from long ago when the community newspaper still existed at 53 Hudson Ave., Nyack, N.Y., recently sent me an unidentified photograph of her as a very young child, taken in the newsroom. Her mother is gone now, but this discovered picture has her wondering about it, and so her mom.

     Since I was there, in the same newsroom, toiling in the daily birth of news, she wanted to know if I could provide information about the photo.

     Sure. It was taken by the late Andy Dickerman, a fellow photog who usually roamed the city room and snapped pictures of everyone and anyone. I was able to tell the daughter, who was cleaning out her mother’s Cape Cod home, who the lensman was and who the reporter was in the photo.

     Very small thing, of course, and happy to provide the information. Yet for the daughter of my late colleague, a precious gift, for filling in the details helps her write the book of her life and so connect with the memory of her mom as she heals from her loss.

     Humanity seems to provide these moments of small but important reassurance. That also restates individual worth for the receiver as well as the giver.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

                         -30-

THE ANNUAL VISIT

February 19, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There was always anticipation in the 1939 Dodge my father drove to the ferries at Weehawken to begin our rare visits to New York City. A country boy living just 18 miles away, a walk in the fields was the usual day, not shivering on the boat to 42nd Street, though I could have sat warm inside rather than choose the bow where the ferry would slide into its slip, bobbing up and down, me all the while thinking someone could fall between the dock and the boat.

     Once the scissor gates of The Weekhawken were pulled across, my parents, brother and grandparents pushed our way through the crowd and came to Midtown. The tall buildings made canyons of shade and light, the latter gray in winter’s coal burning and urban pollution.

It was an arrival, far from the rural landscape but not scary. Thrilling in the moment, for the sounds of traffic and car horns offered a foreign rhythm to this occasional visitor. It was a score that you could not ignore, one that accompanied your fast pace on the crowded streets. There wasn’t time to stop and think as there was in my country fields.

     The trip was for the benefit of parents and grandparents whose forebears began immigrant lives there in the various decades of the 19th century. Revisiting for shopping gave them a chance to touch roots and remember their past.

     The day in Gotham also included the Horn & Hardart self-service Automat, the wonder of all eating wonders before fast-food unseasoned the palette. Or we might walk upstairs above shops to a Chinese restaurant, its consommé superb and later sweet tea in a no-handle green cup just right for a fellow in gabardine pants that made the legs even colder in the canyon winds of New York City.

     The day done, the return ferry taken, my brother Craig and I would fall asleep in the old Dodge, arriving safe and sound back in the Quiet Land. The annual city visit was over.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman, reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                             -30-

‘GOTHAM ABSTRACT’

Art Gunther/2022

February 12, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is mystery in Gotham, the generic word for any city, ancient or modern. Tall buildings dwarfing others, alleyways in daylight darkness, corners in street lamp shadow, anonymous individuals plugged into crowds on sidewalks almost never left untrod. Urban life is its own mojo, unique to the particular location but common to all.

     The country boy is amazed though overwhelmed by sight and sound, cacophony never heard in the fields and wood. The suburban knows Gotham for she/he was probably born there, raised there. Tolerating the commute to live in reduced hassle, the city’s rhythm is not forgotten, and when it plays again crossing the river’s bridge it is a golden oldie. 

     The visitor from afar is mesmerized, in awe, hot for the museums, the cafe, the streets. Voyeurs looking at people who don’t look up at their city’s tall buildings, caught in the bustle that is a Gothamite’s being.

     City life – abstract, an action painting, a still life, a palette mix.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman, ahgunther@yahoo.com

                     -30- 

POWER OF LANGUAGE

February 5, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     James Joyce, the writer who had to leave Dublin to narrate its soul, is remembered for more than classic works like “Dubliner” and Ulysses.” His story and character quotes are almost unbelievable pull-outs from the recesses of our minds.

     “Shut your eyes and see.” How many of us, tripping over our words so fast they spill from overworked mouths never close our eyes to see truth?

     “Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” Life is a circle, my friend, not always a merry-go-round, and the roundabout journey surely can bring you home again.

     “History,” Stephen said, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The past – our own, the world’s – is forever ours, the bad dreams too.

     “He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.” Writing is rhythm, sometimes a tune, sometimes an opera, Broadway musical, hip hop, Detroit, cultural definition. And then there is music in our own voice.

     “Life is too short to read a bad book.” Not only a book, but an article, a social media post. Twitter.

     “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” Don’t we all at times?

     “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.” Life is the sum of it all, and before its end, the way stops also define.

     “But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.” No existence should be without romance.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

-30-

STILLNESS

January 29, 2023 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Despite the rotation, a doorknob has stillness. You may have gone on a trip, and the handle has not been turned. You will do so, and the great feeling of home will hit, no matter how fine the journey has been. Maybe this isn’t your house, but you are soon to see relatives or friends. Happily. The still knob awaits your hand.

     (Of course there are many reasons for approaching a door and not all happy or welcome, but let’s not dwell on those times.)

     The photograph of a mid-1850’s composite doorknob here was taken by me at the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y., where the famed American painter was born in 1882. How many times he must have turned it, his family before him since the house was built in 1858, and how many visitors have touched it after volunteers restored the house in the early 1970s. The home is now a museum and study center.

     Edward could not have reached this marbled knob in his childhood bedroom until a few years after birth, but once he began turning at the door, it opened to a lifetime of painting and images that endure, that captivate, that throw you into stories which the viewer has to write. 

     Turning the doorknob was not always easy for the painter. It was still for many long moments as Hopper grew his vision over decades before connecting with an audience.

     We all face still doorknobs one time or another.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther.com

                    -30-

UNFINISHED STORIES

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     “Unfinished Story,” the title of this painting inspired by an old doorway on Piermont Avenue in the Hudson River village, speaks for itself. We all have unfinished stories.

     When I spotted the doorway in Piermont, N.Y., once a railroad town, then a factory town and now a sought-after waterfront residential and weekend-visitor town, I wondered about all the blue-collar workers who grabbed that well-worn doorknob after a hard shift at Clevepak or Gair or Federal Paperboard. Supper and the paper might soon be ready upstairs. I thought about youngsters who chased siblings to be the first to open the door, which led to an apartment over one of the community stores once common on American main streets.

      Then there was the question: Did a young man, just drafted in World War II, pull on the doorknob for the last time as he headed for Piermont pier and a troop transport? Piermont, like just about every American town, lost its own then, before then and since then in the wars of the world.

     When I painted the doorway, I added a female figure going up the stairway, having opened the door but also having ignored a note to her, “To Cora,” slipped between the door and the jamb.

     Another unfinished story. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be contacted at ahgunther@yahoo.com

-30-

OF A QUIET EVENING

January 15, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     For someone like my grandfather Arthur Sr., the Information Age began in his 20s with a flood of great daily New York City newspapers like The World, the New York Times and the New York Daily News. He also had a crystal radio set, the popular way of bringing in stations from as far away as Chicago when the atmospherics were just right. You can just imagine how his own parents, raised in a slower age of communication, reacted to the more instant delivery from the wireless.

     Arthur Sr. would continue his fascination with both newspapers and radio until he passed at the early age of almost 67. After his daily job as foreman of a smoking pipe factory in Spring Valley, N.Y., and supper, he would take to a very comfortable easy chair with ottoman, next to a standing lamp set with 100-watt bulb, and pore over the papers from cover to cover. Then, at about 8 p.m., he would listen to the radio, particularly the “Bing Crosby Show” on Thursday nights. He liked the popular crooner’s voice and also the fact that the singer smoked a pipe. Between the newspapers and the radio, he kept current with information and was entertained, too.

     That evening time with the papers and the radio shows offered quiet. Unlike television, which brings constant movement in the flickering of the screen and action as well as the blaring of dialogue, the radio, even with its sound effects, caused the listener to stare into space, to close his/her eyes, almost to daydream in imagination. With newspapers, there was a similar quiet as you mulled what you had just read, or re-read something.

     Those were moments that relaxed, unlike the visit with what can be an elephant in the room – the TV set, and now the computer and smart phones. Those windows on the world and society, the foreground and background screen for a fast-paced age of information, disinformation and entertainment, are also a look at the busy-business of humanity, including dysfunction and the outlandish. It can give you a headache.

     My grandparents did buy a TV in the early 1950s, but the radio programs continued for a time, and so did my grandfather’s habit of listening to them. He would not look at TV during the day, even in retirement, instinctively understanding that to do so, to bring in constant sound and motion, would be to disturb the quiet rhythm required for his existence. His information age might have been busier than his parents’ but he understood their need for peace.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

                                                     -30-

TETHERED

January 9, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is this thing about a woman in the early morning holding her hands around a warm, even mildly hot cup of java or tea. In conversation or not, there is an anchor, and whatever her thoughts, the tether’s for a reason.

     I have never noticed this with men. We seem to grab the cup’s handle once in a while, but there is no tie-down. Yet we both look out the window in those inevitable lulls of conversation between two people who are “regulars” with one another – that is a couple past the giddy talk of early romance where no one looks out the window but instead feed off each other’s talk as if there is so much to be said. No taking a moment to breathe.

     In other times, the woman at her anchor, the fellow teasing the cup’s handle, the look out the window is either a bit of boredom in a workable but also tolerable relationship, or it is the silence that speaks as much as words when a couple is in rhythm with each other.

     Either way, the charm of the woman is found in looking at her hands as she takes comfort from the warm cup. She is holding onto more than coffee or tea.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                   -30-

BE KIND

January 1, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This is the traditional make-resolutions day, the get-fit, renew-yourself makeover start. Sometimes some of us actually do that. I’m still compiling a list from the January Ones of long ago.

     Most of us have good intentions. We do want to improve, to lose habits or food choices or behavior that we hope will be gone with the wind. The trouble is that it is easier to put off until tomorrow. And tomorrow never comes.

     Life – the routine, the unexpected, the rhythm, the bumps, the twists and turns – all of that jumps on the bus and takes over the steering.

     By the time the end of the year comes, what has happened has happened – good, not so good. And so on New Year’s Eve we celebrate not only survival but the thought that a clean start awaits after midnight. That is the hope that is living itself, without which we might all give up.

     Most decent folk – and that, give or take a prejudice or two, is most of us – do not need to actually write a New Year’s Resolution List but simply have the intention to do so. You have to think renewal even if it doesn’t happen.

     So, in that spirit, I wish all a fine, safe, healthy, peaceful, prosperous new year to all.  

Be kind.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com

                    -30-

MESSAGE AT CHRISTMAS

     December 25, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther IV

     For some years, my son Arthur IV, a writer too, has offered a holiday story published in this space. Reprinted here is one of my favorites from some years back – AHG III.

     Franklin was a man of routine. Perhaps such a person had become an antiquated notion in this day and age, the very word “routine” summoning visions of safe havens and early dinners. Someone for whom risks were akin to strangers at your night door. What a shame to reduce a person to such a narrow universe. There had been a time where Franklin would have been moved to debate and argument over such labeling of his being.

     He was older now and less ready to argue. So old in fact that he would rather not seek new memories for fear of crowding out the old ones which kept him warm, the ones that had made him who he still was. This was easier than it sounded. The year itself, with its familiar cycle, cooperated nicely. The ebb and flow of the seasons lent a rhythm to his days that evoked memory at every turn. Despite the changes that had settled around his town, there was still so much to remind him of his past days.

     Which brings us to Christmas. Here it wasn’t so easy. Franklin himself had never been what most would call religious. He never attended a church or other religious house, even on the most popular of churchgoing days, Christmas. His wife had been another story. Molly had been a regular churchgoer, attending church every Sunday morning for the entire 55 years of their marriage. She rarely spoke of her beliefs, preferring to let the way she lived her life do the talking.

     Franklin did not label himself some kind of heathen. He had plenty of belief in God. Proof was everywhere. Franklin saw God in snowstorms and surprises, laughter, nature and seeming coincidence. Franklin had seen God every day for 55 years in his wife. Church just was never a place where he sought Him.

     Franklin’s wife had been accepting of his ways. She never asked him to attend church with her. On Christmas Eve, she may have dressed a bit nicer and left a little earlier, but she still attended alone. When Molly died a few years back, Franklin was stunned, as he knew he would be, though her passing was not unexpected. Slowly, however, he found those familiar routines and let the memory of all the sweet days before settle in more deeply than ever. In his own way, Franklin’s wife walked with him through his days.

     It was on Christmas that Franklin was at a loss. He had depended more on living vicariously through Molly’s routine on that day than he had realized. Franklin first tried ignoring the holiday, but that didn’t seem right. He had never ignored religion, just celebrated it in his own way.

     The second year after his wife’s passing, Franklin instead sought distraction and tried hiking in the woods, but this wasn’t much better. Before he knew it, here came the season again.

     By Christmas Eve, Franklin was restless. After trying to distract himself with some of the old Christmas movies that his wife and he had always appreciated, he put on his coat and went for a walk. He decided to head toward town and maybe see if he could find a place open where he could drink hot chocolate. As he walked south on Broadway, he noticed more cars than usual parked on the side streets. People left and right were emerging from their cars dressed quite nicely. Slowly Franklin realized that these must be the extra people who always attended Christmas Mass. Without consciously making a decision, Franklin found himself following the crowds up the hill toward the church. As he crested the rise, he was taken with how the building flooded the normally quiet Tuesday night of the street with light. This was a street where Franklin rarely found himself, never having a reason to walk here. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked this way.

    Franklin stopped at the corner adjacent to the church and stood still. As he contemplated whether to go inside, he suddenly was startled by the noise of a collective standing up. An organ note rang out as all the lights around him went out. His first thought was that a blackout had occurred, but then Franklin saw that inside the church candles were being distributed and lit. Candles were soon being passed around for those who stood outside on the steps, too. Franklin guessed that the church must have been filled to capacity. Thinking his decision had been made for him, he turned and was about to walk home when a little girl ran up to him with a candle. “Here you go,” she said and was quickly gone.

     Franklin had forgotten to wear gloves, and his cold hands dropped the candle as quickly as it was handed to him. Bending down to pick it up, he noticed that he was standing not on a sidewalk but on a brick walkway. The bricks were all engraved with dedications. Franklin read the ones he could see illuminated by his candle: “John, with love from Elaine.” Then another: “Margaret and Stuart, 45 years” and finally: “For Franklin, thank you for your faith, always, Molly”.

     Franklin was frozen in place. He read the brick again to make sure he wasn’t seeing things and then slowly stood up. He could hear the church choir start to sing as he turned to walk away. Maybe next year he would return and go inside, Franklin thought. Maybe tomorrow he would walk down this street again. For once, Franklin was glad he had changed his routine.

       Arthur H. Gunther IV, a school teacher, lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., with his wife Laura, son Sam and daughter Beatrice. His e-mail is clausland@yahoo.com

OLD IS NEW

December 18, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There’s this thing about radiators. Not long ago they were old-fashioned but are now in vogue with home renovators overpaying scrap dealers. They are unheard of in many parts of the nation that don’t need central heating. And they were once a best friend in the household. All in all, this sounds almost like society and its trends: likes, dislikes, who is in, who is out.

      When central heating began to replace inefficient fireplaces and gravity-feed, one floor-register furnaces in the late 1800s, beautifully designed, even ornate cast-iron, steam-filled radiators appeared in every room, not only bringing unheard-of warmth but probably increasing the birth rate as at least one chill left the primary bedroom. 

     Even more sociology: Radiators, in greater use through the 1940s, came in all sizes, big, tall, in-between. Some were fat, some skinny.

     They invaded the kitchen as well, with models that included plate warmers – little built-in boxes. In the hallway, kids placed their wet mittens, the wool drying out in distinctive fashion. (Close your eyes for a whiff of back then.)

     The delivery man, fresh from the February cold, might linger against a wonderfully warm radiator as the lady of the house signed.

     Steam systems, later replaced by hot water, would bang you awake, and the sweet sound of escaping steam told you that the covers could be pulled down and another day could begin.

     In the early 1950s, as technology “progressed,” radiators were first replaced by convectors, metal-encased wall boxes with hot water piping and aluminum or copper fins. But soon, an even so-called cleaner look came, the baseboard heater, again piped hot water and fins. Today, in early systems installed 60 years ago, the original dust bunnies remain at floor level.

      In the new age, especially in old-home restoration, some are returning to radiators, paying top money for heavy cast iron and rediscovering how warm they can be, and that they are the gift that almost keeps on giving since after the boiler shuts, the metal big boys keep radiating heat.

     Sometimes we should never reinvent the wheel.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-  

THE GUNTHER BOYS

December 9, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Your younger sibling should not pass before you do, though my brother Craig William Gunther always appeared as the older one. He was handsome with blond hair and blue eyes, a different look in a family of brown tops and eyes. He was a fine athlete in high school baseball and afterward. He was outgoing, friendly and a female magnet, with girls picking him up at the house for dates.

     In life, he proved to be a top splicer then manager at the old New York Telephone Co., later Verizon. He helped raise a family of two sons and a daughter and was as a grandfather – almost a father – to six, attending sports games and being there for every major activity and grandfatherly talk.

     His middle name was to be his first, in honor of William Lyons, our mother Patricia’s brother, later lost at sea. But my father wanted a different name, and the parents could not agree. He walked into the bathroom, noticed toothpaste labeled “Craig Martin,” and asked our mom if that was OK. It became family legend.

     We were as different as could be. I was the more serious fellow, a day-dreamer who had to take the road not traveled. Popularity was Craig’s natural suit, and he received that with humility. People thought we were cousins, not brothers.

     Life progressed from our close family in which our parents, raised in the Great Depression, worked themselves to the bone for our futures. Craig and I each would make the same mistake of not appreciating that in the moment. Yet, when our mom and dad became grandparents, then aged, whatever values they instilled rose, especially from Craig, who was my father’s sports and race track companion after our mother passed from dementia. 

     Life has gone too quickly in the shared existence between Craig and me. We did not do enough things together in our youth and early adulthood, though when retirement came for both, the early family bond forged in Spring Valley, N.Y., was renewed. 

     Craig’s passing was difficult and lengthy after autoimmune illnesses that baffled doctors. A good and caring person should not have that fate, though my brother believed no one should.

     In his final days just finished, there were signs his mother and father were with him as he began to disappear from this life. Someday, they will call for me, too, and Craig and I will be the Gunther Boys once again.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                      -30-

A FELLOW’S MORNING

December 4, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     More or less at 6:15 a.m., an older fellow moves across Western Highway in Blauvelt, N.Y., to a small grocery where contractors, refuse collectors, DPW workers and other musicians in the band that keeps daily life moving gather for the quick morning coffee, the egg/ham sandwich, the bottle of water for later-day thirst. The older fellow moves in harmony with the rest for he is in the band, too.

     Don’t know the name of the guy, and I won’t ask, but he’s everyman in a way, his role duplicated in community stores across the nation.

     His job, self-appointed, is to take the bundle of newspapers just delivered, cut the string and place the Daily News, the Post, the New York Times, The Journal News and The Record (New Jersey) in the right shelves of a rack near the counter.

     Small but important task, for it is a way of turning on the morning lights at a local grocery. For now anyway, until newspapers disappear from print. But in the moment, store visitors, on their way to work or back to home, still want to grab a paper or at least stare at the headlines.

     Job done, the older fellow throws the bundle wrappings away, takes his own paper and leaves the grocery, heading for the volunteer firehouse across the street, another local institution. As he does so, he nods back at me, saying “Now my day is started OK.”

     And the music plays on.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                   -30-

THE FINKELSTEIN

November 27, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     You walked out the door not as a different person but with an added layer, as if you had visited a kindly elder who told you what you did not know. You had more chops.

     That was often the experience in the small hometown library, the Finkelstein, in the childhood village of a certain time in Spring Valley, N.Y., then with a population of 4,500. It was eons ago, and while time brings the memory of Hallmark moments that were less so in fact, there can be no denying this quite small library was an oasis as we grew.

     In use, it was really one big room with an equally beautiful downstairs that seemed for meetings and storage only. The Finkelstein was a 1941 family gift to the village and its people, especially the children. The library’s architecture, inside and out, was classic Jeffersonian, quite elegant and welcoming. You felt invited and dressed up even if you didn’t have a nickel in your pocket.

     But you did have a library card issued by Ellen Heitman, longtime librarian, and that was your passport to this oasis of imagination.

     Rainy days, hot summer ones, boring days, school term paper days and the ones when a walk to the Finkelstein and the promise of seclusion in an utterly quiet room, perhaps seated on the window bench looking toward the Ramapo mountains meant respite in the tugs and pushes of growing up.

     You could always count on adding to your being, your soul, after visiting the library and its books. The Finkelstein was a small place but with many windows and doors opening to endless vistas.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30- 

‘OUT OF SORTS’

November 20, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is a hot-metal printer’s expression – “running out of sorts” – which means the typesetting supply of a particular letter, punctuation, character, etc., is low. In civilian terms, if we don’t feel 100 percent, we are out of sorts. An apt comment for these worldly times.

     Thing is, the printer can usually hop to another “job case,” another collection of the sorts or type needed. An apt correlation for these days, too, because somewhere – usually under our noses – there are the “sort” of people we all need to restore the equilibrium or bring it in the first place.

     If you don’t have that sort of hope, we might just as well close shop and do like the Nazis did in destroyed Berlin as the Russians came – go hedonistic in wild parties. But the best pleasure always comes from being with the right sort because it puts you back in the best of sorts.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                     -30-

IT’S LIFE

November 15, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     These virus-changed days have many office workers toiling at home in PJs, unlike the cubicles of 2020 and, blessedly before that regimented isolation, the large open room filled with desks, in turn overflowing with individual collections of paper, coffee cups, stick-it notes, Rolodexes and assorted family photos. Just like the old Rockland Journal-News city room in Nyack, N.Y.

     I was one – also blessedly – of the longtime Damon Runyonesque newspaper characters as a photographer, writer and editor, working alongside truly gifted people,  who in their natural questioning, even irreverent ways, sought the “who, what, when, why, how and where” of local stories. One of those ink-stained stiffs – the term is lovingly applied – was the late Nancy Cacioppo, a general assignment reporter and then history and arts writer.

     After retiring to Cape Cod, Nancy generously schlepped back to Rockland County and introduced me at an event. In her address, she noted some of the seemingly strange moments  encountered both in the city room and by me as a staff photographer. I say “seemingly strange” since, in the news business, the characters that are the information gatherers magnetically attract the characters that live among us. So, really not strange.

     I offer some of the anecdotes related by scribe Cacioppo:

     There was the day that some hard copy got stuck in the pneumatic tubes up to the composing room and came out as confetti, and the time when someone planted a dead mouse in the tubes sent back to editorial.

     We had a tile floor that was cleaned weekly at 4 a.m. A crew would arrive and mop bleach-laden water all over the floor. The staff, busy at their typewriters, would simply lift their feet. We had our nostrils cleared in the process, never missing a beat as we wrote.

     There was the night the police radio call out of Orangetown had cops collaring two burglars on Van Wyck Road in Blauvelt. The crooks, who were from Queens, weren’t too sharp, claiming they were just lost, looking for the Van Wyck Expressway near Kennedy Airport.

     Our colleagues were also memorable. Among them was one managing editor, a brilliant writer and layout genius, who kept a bottle of homemade moonshine in his desk; a scribe who had to sit outside in his car wrapped in a blanket evoking his muse before he could write a story; a reporter who paced the newsroom before he got the “lede” (first paragraph) right; and a scribe who typed all her notes from shorthand before she wrote her story. (It was her way of assuring accuracy.)

     As a photographer, I went to an artist’s home off South Mountain Road in New City to shoot a picture for a story. Her young son opened the door and asked me to sit on the sofa. Twenty minutes later, I asked where his mom was, and he said, “She’s taking a bath, and you will just have to wait.”

     Another time as a lensman, I was puzzled after finishing one pre-publicity shot when the lady of the house asked me to call her dog in since, she told me,  “he only answers to strangers.”

     You can’t make these things up. It’s life.

      The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                          -30-

FOR ELECTION DAY 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A long-ago story, Election Day 2022 relevant. 

     In spring 1960, the General Organization of Spring Valley High School (N.Y.) held its presidential election for the next school year. There were two candidates, both capable of filling the student government office. One was more popular than the other but each had supporters. There were debates between the two, and each candidate had a chance to present a platform. 

     The platforms were typical school-type political promises, such as more school activities and concerts and better food for sale at football and basketball games. 

     Time was set aside for voting, and a real voting machine was brought in to allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to cast ballots.

     Finally, Leland Rickard-Meyer, the longtime principal, opened the back of the voting machine and read the tally. There  were 202 votes for the winner and 198 for the loser.

     The winner’s hand was raised, and the loser shook his other hand. Both candidates remained friends. There was no election challenge, no tears with cries by election deniers. It was a damn good example for students learning about participatory democracy.

      It is a lesson still to be learned today in this great experiment called democracy, ongoing since 1776. May whoever wins Tuesday take up the sacred challenge to keep elections free and fair and fully accessible.

     Final note: the fellow who won, Fred Yatto Jr., had just two months in office, passing away at 17 after heart surgery. The guy who lost was a pallbearer. That was me.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                 -30-   

AT THE WINDOW

October 30, 2022_ 

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Our America, at times wonderful to the point of tears – emotional, caring, giving – is also in its citizens’ fear as mean as can be – from want, loss, uncertainty in great and challenging change. We then fall back on  the temptation that is prejudice, born of frustration, deliberate ignorance and survival. Those who would “lead” only for themselves and their agenda quickly seize the moment and become false pied pipers.

     Such a time is now, as it has been before – in the Civil War, in lynchings, in mass immigration, in urban flight, in the present fear of a world collapsing about us in every which way.

     Yet, standing at a window with both light and dark, we can see possibilities of the future as well as failures of the past. If we open the  window, what will we let in?

     Our nation is 246 years young, an experiment described by founder Benjamin Franklin: “You have a democracy, if you can keep it.” Speaking after a session of the Constitutional Convention, his seeming intent was that democracy is fed nutrition by citizen participation – compromise, tolerance, a get-it-done-for-the-betterment-of-all attitude. Or we lose democracy.

      Time to open the window.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                       -30-

THE PORTRAIT

October 23, 2022

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A face is the door to someone’s being, the eyes the hallway to the soul. It can be a journey never forgotten.

     As a photographer – I was on staff for a newspaper – while the job ends, the skills do not nor the creative pull. My one big regret is that I did not have enough assigned portraits.

     We took many “mug shots,” which were standard head photos of students in sports, politicians, people iin-the-street interviews, but it was rare when you could sit someone for a portrait.

     Yousuf Karsh, the famous photographer, perhaps best related a story about getting inside a person at a portrait session. He was assigned to take a photograph of Winston Churchill in Canada during World War II. The busy prime minister wanted this done quick and puffed away on his signature cigar in a signal to Karsh to click the shutter and be done with it. But the photographer knew he had not yet seen the real Churchill, the bulldog patriot of the free world, the fighter. Karsh grabbed Churchill’s cigar, startling him and bringing to his face fighting spirit. It is a masterful portrait.

     Taking a photograph of someone  depends on the chemistry between the subject and the photographer. That can be instant or acquired in trust over time. In a way, it’s like kissing in mutual attraction. That can be almost instant or later. If pushed, you never get down the hall to the soul.

     There is another way to take portraits, and that is not in a formal sitting with lighting and background tailored to the moment but in candid work. Finding someone staring out a window, that special light joining her face, her eyes fixed in a journey of thought, that can be a real portrait.

     You just have to be there, unobtrusive, ready with camera.

     A portrait session, a candid opportunity as well, can leave you emotionally involved. That happens when you near someone’s soul. And you never forget.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                        -30-  

AMERICAN STORY

October 17, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     America needs a good story, from sea to shining sea, in the hustings, in the gothams, on the farms, in the mountains and valleys, in the panhandle and among the poor, the rich, the in-between, the Republican, the Democrat, the independent, among all of whatever ethnic, immigrant or native background, among those of pessimism and optimism, among the prejudiced and the clear-thinkers.

     We are but one people, forged in both violence – the chasing of the frontier, the Civil War, world wars, survival – and compassion – the tears and neighborly comfort in storm and other loss. But we are also argumentative – the debate of 1776 and what sort of nation we must become and maintain – and we are fixed in our ways – the country fellow who dislikes cities; the urbanite who can’t sleep without the cacophony of car horns and fire truck sirens.

     Now this nation, shuddering in 2022 at brinkmanship from extreme, polarized political belief that seeks no compromise, heads for Pottersville, the dismal town in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that runs on greed, villainy, corruption, hedonism and suspicion when it should keep the sign at “Bedford Falls” where family support, the laughter of small children, the warm smiles of an honest working man who needs dental work prevail amongst real, challenging everyday worries.

     All is not hunky-dory in Bedford Falls, never will be. That’s the point. You have good days and bad days, Just like America.

     That’s our story. We must re-read it.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-

THEY ‘SUNG’ FOR US

October 9, 2022

 By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is no workplace rhythm – this necessary, life-sustaining tempo, this melody, this song – without the interplay of people. Bosses, the ordinary grunts, specialists, the guys and gals who do the job, or who do the job better than others, the slackers, the prima donnas, the ego-feeders and the ego-needers, the rear kissers, the independents, the saints, the sinners, the long-termers and the in-and-outs – all are essential to what makes a particular shop or store or business sing its anthem. Success, the name and reputation, the lasting memory jam on this music.

     In the old-style newspaper business, my craft, when editors “dummied” or sketched pages of stories, photos and graphics on style sheets that printers would try to follow in the upstairs composing room or the “backshop,” usually making corrections that resulted in a much better newspaper, we editorial/city room  types soon learned to “make a friend of a printer,” for you were sunk if you did not. No matter how accurate you thought your story lengths were, or how tight the pictures were cropped, and especially if you believed your headlines would fit the column space, once you stood next to the printer, that compositor making up your page in cast hot metal, you soon realized you weren’t worth a pot of ink.

     That’s when printers like Tom D’Auria and “Big John” DeSevo saved your ass, particularly on deadline. Tom, who was close in age when we worked together in the 1970s, and Big John, who was a bit older as we toiled in the 1970s-’90s, were originally linotypists or typesetters at a country, then suburban, newspaper named the Rockland Journal-News, in the 1950s and ’60s. They also did page makeup, placing type cast from molten metal into “chases” or forms, with photographic and advertising “cuts,” locking that heavy mass  with a special wrench and then sending the form to a “mat” maker. The mats were filled with cast lead in half-cylindrical shape to be placed on rotary presses for printing at 53 Hudson Ave., Nyack, N.Y., then in a facility in West Nyack.

     That precision work gave way to photo-offset printing in the 1970s, and Tom and Big John became “paste-up artists” who laid down columns of type, photos, graphics and ads on full-size heavy-paper sheets, which were  photographed to produce offset printing plates made of tin. It was a less precise process than hot type and eventually was replaced by computer design direct to printing plate, the standard at newspapers remaining today.

    In their time, printers like Tom and Big John, the former always making a joke and the latter puffing away on a cigar and working quickly, were your friends in composing, deftly trimming stories, rearranging the layout to make it jump, helping fill out headlines, etc. They assisted you in making deadline and getting the work done in what is the daily birth of a newspaper.

     Both Tom and Big John were affable, two of the songbirds in the wonderful rhythm of the old and then changing newspaper composing room. Their banter, their yells for trims, for more type, set against the clank-clank of the Linotypes and then the whirring of the offset cameras, gave cadence to a craft.

     Few who read the old Journal-News out of 53 Hudson knew Tom D’Auria or Big John DeSevo, for as in most jobs, the staff was unsung. Yet like the mason who sets the first block best, the foundation for any one day’s newspaper was assured by their presence. Gone now, both of them, as surely as is their style of newspaper composing, but I can still hear their music.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from earlier writing.

-30-

TRUST

October 2, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A fall ride in early evening on a wooded parkland drive when the quiet is uninterrupted, when the moon is full and car lights seem unnecessary, when the engine purrs in low revolution, when the conversation between two is also at momentary idle, the emotions full, this is when trust is there that heaven exists.

     The quiet will end, the car will rev up with the next hill, the talk will resume. This is when utter simplicity is worth more than riches.

     Language is vital in relationships, but words are just one of the instruments. Body movement, eye contact, facial expression and silence are communicators, too.

     Things to do, mutual interests, your own space are also in the vocabulary of relationship of any sort. But the most important is being comfortable – no worry of pleasing, having to give the right answer, sitting up straight, whatever. No need to prove oneself. The trust is there.

     Not unlike the fall drive in early evening in wooded parkland, the quiet as mutually comfortable as a shared, cozy blanket.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                   -30-

ON THE ROOFTOPS

September 25, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
ahgunther@yahoo.com

 In the early Gotham years of the 1900s, and into that century until about the time of the great post-war escape to the country, a Sunday gathering of women on tenement rooftops to hang washing was more than ritual. It was social. It was cathartic.
     There are "Ash Can School" paintings of this, the wash whitened by bleach and red-hand scrubbing in sinks used for cooking, too, or in shared hallway baths. 
     Women, hard-worked day-in, day-out, gathered in sympathy and short weekly escape on the rooftops, breezes from the East River, the Hudson or the Battery drying not only wash but long hair let loose like the women's emotions. 
     There was understanding among them on these Sundays for a time apart from husbands, children and dark, sometimes windowless rooms. The rhythm of the week, dreary enough, was broken in common with other women.
     Conversations had, secrets shared, words only spoken in this Sunday society.  Laughter at absurdity.
     It was city life in a moment of time, an encounter group of sorts, reaffirmation of sisterhood.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                           -30-

‘WE WALK TOGETHER’

September 18, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In a September-near-fall when colored leaves drop in nostalgic scent, some of us can forget the crazy world of war, death, climate, challenged democracy. Some don’t have the luxury since they are caught up in what is not working, what is frightening.

     It has been so every just-pass-summertime throughout history, of course, even worse than in 2022. So there is hope.

     The autumns of my own life are now many, and there is luxury in that, for there is  memory of getting apples and peaches and cider from the old farm stands, the long-gathered scent of aged beams inside, the free apple barrel, the fill-it-yourself cider that must be drank before it hardens. Or not.

     In youth, there is chasing fallen leaves on sidewalks after the high school football games. A bit later in life, if you are lucky, there is the trip in the early evening chill to your girlfriend or boyfriend and sitting together warmly on a couch wondering what the future holds. If it does.

     There is the restart of school and the rush to grow up, the latter regretted in later life. Why the speed of youth? We wish we were there again.

     Lovers of the warm, the heat of summer, regret the move to fall, and some relocate to states where there is nothing but the hot season. As is their choice.

     Not among them, I choose to grab the flannel shirt hanging too long in closet, seeing breath on chilly mornings, no longer looking forward to snow and its danger but instead thankful that in a crazy world there still is – for some – the briskness of an autumn day. It’s a visit with an old friend. We walk together.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                           -30-   

TO NEVER FORGET

September 11, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There is rhythm to our lives, and when it is seriously interrupted, the beat changes forever. And so it was with September 11, 2001.

When  9/11 hit in terroristic horror 21 years ago, I was in the West Nyack newsroom of the former Rockland Journal-News, just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives. Forever.

The newspaper, as all media, scrambled at 8:45 a.m., even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.

Later that Tuesday, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.

About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In death, we are all the same, a lesson not easily learned among the living.

Funerals after funerals followed, many for those whose bodies could not be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders and others who developed cancer from building debris.

Communities noted hometown heroes like Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the Upper Nyack, N.Y., volunteer firefighter he proudly was.

Area municipalities now have annual memorials.

The War on Terror began, and trillions have been spent on the battle, not all of it accounted for.  Sadly, some have profited either financially or by using this long moment of national, human tragedy to push the prejudice of painting all of one kind with a single brush.

Too few have noted that hatred, which is endemic to humankind, helped bring on 9/11, and that such crop is fertilized if democracies lose their moral compass and encourage neglect of the citizenry by supporting dictators or oligarchs when that is convenient and if countries do not speak up for decency and act according to their stated creed. Hate grows then, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.

At my old newspaper on that fateful day, we did what we were trained to do – present the who, what, when, where, how, why of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting reports of heroism and humanity, presented graphic images and offered commentary.

The Journal-News, and much media, had done this before, of course, covering world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction. That is the beat of information delivery. *What we in the newsroom of my time did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the world timeline oscilloscope, and now we of succeeding generations understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack on a nation but also the reaffirming heroism of so many of its people.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                              – 30-

LABOR DAY EXAMPLE

September 4, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

On this Labor Day of late sleeping, barbecues, beach trips and general laziness for many but the same-old, same-old for those who are not “honored” but must toil, a memory trip back 123 years ago recalls a man, Hugh Bonner, who created an example of the best of any who do “labor.”

Bonner, the ever-demanding New York City fire commissioner who docked two subordinates’ pay for being a few minutes’ late, established standards and a sense of responsibility in the FDNY.

An immigrant who survived the notorious Five Points hellhole in Manhattan to become the first Irish-born chief of department and whose fire prevention writings, still in the Library of Congress, include “Tenement House Fire Escapes in New York and Brooklyn,” Bonner demanded and got excellence in meeting fire safety standards. His modus operandi was to prevent fires, not just fight them. Firefighting was an ever-growing science, and he preached it by example.

He and fellow immigrant John Bresnan were firefighter heroes, each having saved lives on several occasions, according to the excellent work, “So Others Might Live, A History of New York’s Bravest” (Terry Golway, Basic Books 2002). They were inventors and perfectors of equipment still in use today, such as the sliding pole, water tower and the life-saving net. Bonner formed the first true training school for firefighters.

These two never missed a major blaze, directing individually at the scene and setting an example for the ranks. Most of all, they emphasized the necessity of establishing a more scientific firefighting force, the need for building design changes and the use of ever-more sophisticated fire response apparatus and on-site water supply, such as standpipes.

Day after day, and more accurately night after night, Bonner would review what happened at a fire scene so as to learn from the experience. He noted how light and air shafts in tenements served as treacherous flues in terrible blazes and pushed legislation to require changes in design.

On March 17, 1899, St. Patrick’s Day, a very holy one for an Irishman, he and fellow firefighters left the line of march after a blaze began at the seven-story Hotel Windsor. The Fifth Avenue scene quickly became one of great disaster as guests jumped from windows, though some used safety ropes, a requirement pushed by the likes of Chief Bonner. He took “personal command of the fire at an early stage,” as Golway puts it, Bonner noting later, “There was not a fire-proof thing in the place, and absolutely nothing to check the spread of flames all over the building once they gained a certain amount of headway.” The chief blamed outdated construction and was quick to incorporate that message in his dealings with the city and Albany.

Bonner, as chief of department, as fire academy leader, as fire commissioner, would fight a never-ending battle with politicians and profit-oriented developers to secure better fire safety in buildings. His political fight would cost him his job as department chief, with President Theodore Roosevelt sending him to Manila to set up that city’s fire department.

When Bonner returned to become the sixth NYC fire commissioner in 1908, he had a clear agenda in mind: fire safety, no ifs, ands or buts. That in these 100 years since there have been tragic fires caused by poor building design and shoddy construction; that the great FDNY itself has not always kept to standards insisted upon by such pioneers as Bonner and Bresnan; that the best equipment (radios, ropes, GPS locators) has been denied the Bravest cannot be tied to Bonner’s legacy.

If he were alive today, Bonner would personally look out for his men. He would know what dangers any building presented, since he made a habit of watching their construction. And there is no way a standpipe would have been severed, as happened in the Deutsche Bank fire that claimed two firefighter’s lives in 2007 as the 9/11–damaged building was being torn down.

Bonner held to personal, on-the-job responsibility to the end, succumbing to pneumonia, “the result of exposure at his post, while devising new methods and establishing new standards of efficiency demanded by the city’s increasing fire hazards,” as a March 14, 1908, New York Times editorial put it.

Chief/Commissioner Bonner demanded accountability and learned from experience, perfecting the art of firefighting so that both civilians and the Bravest even today are less likely to be slaughtered by irresponsibility and neglect. That makes the man one to be well respected on this Labor Day 2008.

The writer, a retired newspaperman, is a descendant of Hugh Bonner.

This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

-30-

CUPCAKES: ‘ANTIDOTE’?

August 28, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There are in this life moments when you need a cupcake. Down day, low energy or maybe you just want to celebrate breathing. Back in the day, my father, who did the grocery shopping in a two-worker family, usually bought a weekly supply of Ann Page delights from the A&P, or, occasionally, the full deal from Tancos Bake Shop.

     It was with mouth watering and visions of those old cupcakes that I recently headed for a local place offering the 2022 version of chocolate with white icing. Not sure if the top was buttercream, as it once was, but the bottom was round as a cupcake is supposed to be. Otherwise, it was difficult to recognize.

     The cupcake was half the size of an Ann Page or Tancos variety, shrunk by the ravages of inflation though the cost was $3.50, a lot more than the 10-15 cents back when I was young. Traditionally, cupcakes are teacup sized, hence the name.  

     The initial savoring of my downsized version was the same as in my youth despite shrinkage and topping. Fresh, satisfying in the moment, but just not a long-enough moment. I wasn’t going to fork over another $3.50 to bring myself back to halcyon days of yore when cupcakes were full-size, so in the end I was left unfulfilled. You should have time to think over your cupcake. 

     These are difficult days for the world – war, viruses, failed politics, climate change, greed. There aren’t enough cupcakes for all in the moment, and the truth is that in good times and bad, too many have never had the pleasure of adequate food, let alone dessert, given continuing world poverty.

     American politicians in the 1920s used to promise a “chicken in every pot.” Maybe they should have required standards for cupcake dimensions that would never change. And the Federal Reserve should have moved against the delight’s inflation.

     Who knows? A cupcake a day, full size, might just be an antidote to it all.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                  -30-

RED LIGHT FOR ALL

 

August 21, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     For many decades, from the very first automobiles, when horse-drawn wagons and carriages were still about, there was a right-turn path at a stoplight intersection in a little hamlet not far from me. It seemed to offend no one; I can recall no newspaper reports in my time as a journalist of accidents at the intersection. 

     Yet now, as “progress” continues in what is now suburbia approaching an urban-suburban existence, the “free-to-go” right-turn path has been removed in favor of a corner planting, which may go to weed if there isn’t a regular municipal work order for same.

     Now, in the great scheme of things – Covid, greed, war, democracy threatened – who should care that some motorists now must wait in line at a stoplight rather than slide to the right and take the path, subject only to a “Yield” sign?

       Why care? Because the path was “free,” taking it reminded you that sometimes in this hectic world you can get a pass, not have to wait in a traffic line, just be careful and yield. Small thing, but sort of like having a school snow day or, as a child, staying up late.  

     We all need a breather. Can’t always have the rules ruling us.

     I imagine that the intersection has been converted to a four-way traffic-light stop and the right-turn path eliminated so as to meet federal/state funding rules, or to reduce liability to municipalities in this over-litigated world.

     Whatever. I will miss the path no longer to be taken at Middletown Road and Central Avenue, Pearl River, N.Y.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                               -30-

THE STASH

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

    With recent early-morning temperatures hitting numbers not seen in months and with – hopefully – no more awful heat waves in sight, our house furnaces and boilers will soon be ready to kick in. For me, the change involves more than a turn of the thermostat dial. There is a memory journey as well.

     Back when I didn’t worry about such things as heating, when the cocoon of early childhood had others taking care of room and board, my only assignment was to watch for the coal man.

     In that time, before there was a massive bridge connecting interstate carpets on both sides of the mighty Hudson River in my lower New York State region, before the hustle-bustle age, we lived in a sleepy community –  Spring Valley – population perhaps 4,500, though summer saw that tripled, maybe quadrupled, since there were seasonal bungalow colonies.

     Our cherished quiet time returned in September, and the assuring hum of small-town life as well, with its Main Street shops, two small public elementary schools, a few small religious schools, one high school, a collection of doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals whose family names had long been known by residents, and the village regulars all communities have and without which there is no small town, USA.

     One regular was the coal delivery man, from Comfort Coal, Beckerle Lumber or the other outfits that received their anthracite and bituminous lumps by Erie rail car. Living at 14 Ternure Ave., corner of Summit, at age 5, I watched for him.

    I would sit on the mound of grass near  small Mountain Pink flowers, day-dreaming as a past time and always an obsession, one ear cocked for the sound of truck gears changing as the coal man’s rig climbed Ternure’s hill.

     The delivery fellow would pull into the gravel driveway and stop next to the Mountain Pinks. I would run and tell my grandfather or grandmother, and they would open the coal chute door above the basement bin. Then the deliveryman would connect a metal chute to his truck and begin shoveling supply into the chute and down into the cellar. The bin would always reach the same level, as the man had done his job for so long and was quite good at it, another community constant.

     When the fellow was finished and had his chute back on the truck, but before he hopped in his cab and left, he would come over to me, give me a lump of shiny coal and tell me to bury it for a day when I might need it as a big boy or an adult, probably when I had to provide my own room and board.

     I did what he said, and if anyone cares to dig into the dirt on that little hill at 14 Ternure, the east side of the house, they surely would find my stash of coal, buried there numerous times.

    That home, long gone from the family, now has natural gas for heating, not coal, and there are no such delivery men in what is no longer a small village, nor a small county. “Progress” relentlessly has been on the march, but if it ever stops, I know where my rainy day savings account lies.

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

                             -30-

THE HEAT

August 7, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

The rule of thumb is that the dog days of August are to be endured, that autumn will bring relief along with the wondrous color of falling leaves. But all this is hooey if August is also June and July, September too. At least in the Northeast where we have been baking with so little rainfall that drought may soon be an unwelcome visitor.

Call it climate change because that’s what it is, naysayers aside. They bake, too, and if they want to attribute dog days – months – to fake news, they’re still gonna be hot.

The idiocy of it all is that addressing climate change would not only make more people more comfortable – save lives, really – but it would provide jobs, a rising standard of living, a renewal of the declining middle class.

Green energy, green space, green rooftop gardens to absorb the sun, as well as solar fields, would reduce the heat sink and protect the ozone layer.

Common sense. The roadblock is greed, those who profit off climate change denial and resuscitation of our earth.

A special hot hell for them.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                     -30-

‘IRISH PHILOSOPHY’

July 31, 2022

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The Irish lady from North County Dublin looked less than chipper, unusual for this get-it-done woman with a sharp sense of right and wrong and a non-nonsense approach to living. She was in the later years, not “old” yet by her definition but past the trials and tribulations of marriage and raising children. Now the day was gone through with the smaller routine of housework for one, with the tea drinking set in its regularity, and in the damp the fire set too.

      So, I wondered without leaping at a question as to why Mary was not quite up to the usual wit and a disapproving eye at the ready. Leaping with that question might  be intrusive, you see.

    Instead, at my regular visit, I waited for the call to sit by the fire, tea at the ready. I have a number of acquaintances, all of whom have their habits, and I find comfort in joining in. I am not a constant tea drinker, but I do so with Mary. My buddy Ginny and I used to have wine, also not a favorite, but it sure fit the occasion and the conversation. 

     It’s nice to have variety.

     Mary took her tea – milk, sugar, the pot in a cozy, the fire grossly inefficient but in this setting as comforting as a good, long conversation during an uncomplicated drive on rural roads. There are few stop signs, hardly any lights to interrupt the flow.

I waited for Mary to speak, and that she did 10 or so minutes into the sitting. “Now, Arthur,” she said, “Sadness is upon me.” I asked her why since she had opened the door to the now, not-intrusive question. “Well, I don’t quite know the why of it. It could be the slowing of my rhythm as I am getting on,” Mary spoke.

     “So what do you do about this sadness that is, as you describe, “upon you?,” I asked.

     “Oh, it will leave, just as an arthritis ache goes after its unwelcome visit. That is why I do not say “I am sad.” If I were so, that would be a condition. Mine is not. Sadness is upon me, but will go.

     Irish philosophy, that.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                              -30-

A ‘SOUND’ MEMORY

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     If you are fortunate before you grow up, you’ll get to spend a few years with a patient, somewhat quiet, a bit odd grandfather like I did, who had a knack for fixing almost anything with a pocketknife or a squirt of oil from the old-style cans, made of metal with a long spout. You pressed the bottom, which was made of spring steel, and out came the oil. My grandfather could handle so many household problems with basic tools that it became a metaphor for building confidence.

     To this day, the sound of the popped oil can brings me to a place where I did not pay bills, where I was fed without cooking for myself, where I was chauffered in my parents’ car, where I was tucked in at night, where the sunrise and chilled air of spring promised a good day of day-dreaming and hope for the future.

     My grandfather did not say much, perhaps because he was raised in a time when you sat at the table with parents and simply ate, speaking only when spoken too. That he came from a Prussian family probably enforced the discipline. Yet he talked a bit at his own table, and certainly went beyond his usual word-thrifty ways when he took time to explain carpentry to me, or a fix for a leaking faucet or to tell me my bike needed oiling. Even if it did not, I would ask him to do so, having ridden the three miles from my home to his for that reason and others.

     Out to the garage he would go, an old, wooden structure with “novelty-style” siding the floorboards of which had absorbed so many car leakings that the warming sun produced a woodsy, oil smell which in time would no longer be an odor but a tug at great and warm memory whenever I come upon a similar scent.

     So out to the garage my grandfather went, grabbing the copper oiling can from a shelf in the corner, just below markings my father made in the garage when he was my age. The bike would be oiled,  as my  dad’s bicycle had been, and I would be off on the same streets he rode upon.

     That ride home would mostly include a look for friends, or a stop at the small downtown A&P for a plum or two or three at 19 cents a pound, or some thoughts about where I would be in a few years, driving a car, not a bike.

    I did not usually think about my grandfather on that ride  because I foolishly took him, my grandmother, their fine home and everything then existing for granted. I never thought that all could go away.

     Now I know better, which is not a better thing. It is simply reality,  so nicely interrupted when I again hear the spring sound from my own oiling can.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is based on an earlier one.

                                       -30-

‘NIGHT CARPENTER’

July 17, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Doors have a way of fitting in, just like long-gone Uncle Jack in town for a comfy visit. He gets that way fast. Or people who initially stand out and are somehow morphed into the crowd, hopefully adding to the whole. It’s as if the universe has a carpenter on staff who, in the secrecy and dark of night, planes here and sands there, making adjustments to assure a fit, whether it’s doors or people.

Some time ago, I replaced six interior doors in my 1973 home with more stylish, molded ones. Now, this house, like me, has lost its plumb and level a bit over the years, so just one factory-produced door actually fit without having to trim an edge, more deeply mortise a hinge or move the height of a lock.

The refitting took time, and when the work was done, despite the usual mistakes and miscalculations by this practiced but non-pro carpenter, and with almost a full vocabulary exercised in the cursing language that is always in my tool kit, the doors looked just fine and worked fairly well. Not perfect, you see, since they were not the original doors, which had been fitted to the jambs on an assembly line, but replacements made by another manufacturer decades later. Sizes were off, as they often are. So was my work, a tad.

It has taken some time since installation to give a nudge here and there to a few doors, and it is nearing heavy humidity, too, when the house moves a bit. That has required further adjustment to the doors.

All is now fine, yet something else is happening. Last night, I went into my office area and flipped the door closed, as I did with the old one. It smoothly went into position, as easily as would a machinist’s pin in a milled location. This is not my “fine” carpentry at work, though. I really believe the doors feel at home, that they finally fit in.

They are now part of the house, as its predecessors were for so long. I miss the history of those doors, two of which were on my sons’ bedrooms, with their signs and posters affixed, different in each season of growth. But today is today, and the hope is the doors will also open to tomorrow.

I am grateful that they fit so well. It must be the finish work of the unseen night carpenter, not me.

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

-30-

GOING ‘HOME’

July 10, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     ANY VILLAGE, USA — Times change, people do, communities certainly. “You can’t go home again,” literally, as Thomas Wolfe put it. Yet, the pull of one’s childhood place is mighty strong, despite the “better” land you may now live in, some memories you might want to forget, the effect of the mind’s eye looking through rose-colored glasses and feeling alien in what was once your territory. Any village, any town where your being was formed is an extension of the womb, that particular place from that particular mother.

     So it was with some goosebumps that I recently drove through my old haunts, on a volunteer errand to install a coat rack for a non-profit. My childhood village, which was also my father’s and to which my grandfather came in young adulthood, has changed so very much, the combined and continuing effects of suburbia eating up downtowns as strip and mall shopping rises; no planning for renewal and growth; older housing neglected, turned into rentals that often gouge immigrants and the poor; a population increasingly of self-interest and exclusion; and a government proving dysfunctional and charging high taxes for the privilege.

     Actually, I am in my hometown every Tuesday, but my 2:30 a.m. entry to cook in a breakfast program is as focused on that task as a horse with blinders is on the race. So, I see little of the streets where I walked and rode my bike; the four schools I attended; my friends’ homes; and the country lanes where young adult emotions began to take hold. I do not see my grandparents going to work at the smoking pipe factory, or, if I had been there, my Dad running the 100-yard dash on the high school track. I cannot find my old teachers or grandparents, the hardware stores, the many druggists, the movie theater, the soda fountain. I do not grasp the sense of what was my shared community in the space of my time there.

     But when I came later in the week, in the daylight to install the coat rack, I saw life on the streets. I saw so many new buildings, encountered heavy traffic, recognized no one.  I saw change, and I felt alienated, though I had no right to be affected, for this was no longer the exact place where I grew up, where life literally formed for me and those around me.

     I then drove through the 1865 tunnel under the old Erie, the line that brought my grandfather to town and the tunnel through which my father took us to swim in a nearby town. I continued on this road and another, taking a route back to my present home 10 miles away that I had not used for  years. I passed this house or that, the remnant of a farm, a hill where I picked flowers for my mother’s birthday when I was 10. I saw my past.

     It was then that while I realized  you can never go home again, emotions set deeply inside always tug at your senses when you are close to your roots. It is like a mother’s reassurance to her child, no matter how old you become.

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

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THE REPUBLIC

July 4, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

      We eat picnic food, watch fireworks and chill out on July 4th in the national birthday celebration recognizing Independence Day, our 1776 Declaration of Independence from Great Britain over growing oppression and denial of human rights. The American experiment had begun. Our founders formed a republic and warned us that it would be so only “if we can keep it.”

     Before the candles are blown out this year, before we chow down and enjoy fireworks, before we take measured pride of accomplishment as year 247 begins in America, we must soberly ask how, as the great experiment unfolds, we are going to offer and protect liberties and rights for all, especially our children. Will we continue to fight the national challenges, the oppressions we took on after we won our freedom? Will we make America better for all, which should always be job #1? Remember, the founders only began the experiment, with the thoughts and tools of their time. Succeeding generations were charged with carrying the ball as times demanded.

     Challenges have been met with strong success, some mixed, some in failure. All this with great loss of life and suffering from so many. The Civil War, two world wars, numerous other conflicts; slavery; economic depressions; battles for civil rights, equal rights, women’s rights; natural catastrophes; economic inequality – all are part of the national fabric sewn from 1776, sometimes seriously rent.

     Sadly, there is enough reason in 2022 to question whether the republic can stand through the darkening night that has come with the unfolding, unbelievable story of a former president seeking a coup over a failed election; with the loss of 1950s-style compromise between the two major political parties that helped us survive, creating the new civil war of red against blue; with growing dislike, even hatred of our fellow humankind flourishing like choking weed in a field of ignorance, misinformation and prejudice; with a high court, once of great respect, now with a political, even “religious” agenda that threatens to destroy the republic.

     There is more than enough reason today to fly the nation’s flag, the great Stars & Stripes earned through blood and sacrifice, but upside down in distress, for the oppressions we have fostered and ignored cause our ship of state to toss and turn in stormy waters.

      Not one of us today, we Americans, should chomp on a hot dog, have a beer, take a nap or watch the night sky light up until we declare our national nightmare is here: We are losing the republic through ignored settled law already set as inviolate precedence; through suppressing women’s right to their bodies, setting them as modern slaves to the state; through sanctioning greed of profit over protected climate for our children; through not recognizing the wrong of a “president” who sought dictatorship and demanding he stand in the court of justice; through growing hate between sections of the nation, orchestrated by those who seek power over the individual and care not a whit about the ordinary person.

     No, this is not a joyous Fourth, secured by those who died and suffered physically and mentally in our wars; by Native Americans, slaves, the chronically poor who helped others succeed but who were – are – not given a piece of the pie; by those who have suffered indignity, pain and loss of life through inequality and prejudice. Until we again recognize the fragile value of the great experiment begun by the founders on July 4, 1776, we will not have a republic for all, safe, sound and promising. Indeed, we may lose it.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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BEGINNINGS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Not all essay writing comes in full paragraphs – sometimes the thought begins in shorthand. Perhaps a form of poetry, or if not to the expected quality level of such, a collection of thoughts worthy enough if the reader cares to nibble.

Some such fodder:

WOODS, solitude, wind whispering as nature writes a melody in a long, wonderful breath.

IN their season, at picking, the best apples first. Then the ones not noticed but still worthy. The poor ones gone begging, just ahead of the drops.

BEACH sand awaiting impression, particles of glass diffused until flesh compresses a life stamp before the next leaves a mark.

ASLEEP, dreams from the mind’s collected bits. On a journey of the fanciful. Alarm sounds, reality returns.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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LAYERS OF HISTORY

June 19, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     You don’t have to dig into eons past to see history.

     A road beautification project in Pearl River, N.Y., a hamlet in the Gotham suburbs but in the country when I was young, has modern planners trying to “calm traffic,” as they put it. Islands of paving stones are being  placed in the middle of a road to reduce speed.

     The idea is to tame the hurly-burly of “progress” which could have been managed a lot more sensibly and cheaply if there hadn’t been overbuilding in the first place. Yet the “calming devices” may not actually tame but frustrate motorists hellbent in a rush. You must navigate carefully around the stone islands, especially in big vehicles.  And most “cars” are big today. Driving with care is sensible, of course, though it may compete with today’s rush living.

     Anyway, not to digress from discovering history locally. In the Pearl River project, decades of asphalt are being removed, down six inches or so, to allow for the traffic islands. The areas uncovered reveal the original concrete pavement, seemingly in great shape, so you wonder why “progress” required paving over. And over. And over.

     The concrete was in place for perhaps 50 years before asphalt covered history. The road in question, Middletown, once state highway Rt. 304 until a new one was built, is a principal route from Nanuet to New Jersey, with Pearl River the border community. The road was busy in the first half of the last century since Pearl River had industry, including Lederle, a leading pharmaceutical developer, a true downtown and neatly placed homes. The next decades, into present time, have seen Middletown Road an even busier route as super growth has hit Rockland County.

     The original concrete road went through a half century of just fine use, thank you, but ever-faster “progress” has required six inches or so of asphalt in the 50 years since.

     A lesson in archeological history. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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WE NEED A HOEDOWN

June 12, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     When in the course of human events these United States, still in experimentation, requires a reset, it is necessary to have a big do – a block party, a hoedown, a hayride under a strawberry moon. Everyone invited, especially the prejudiced.

     A personal recollection: Moons ago, in a quiet village, the one of my youth, my father’s time, my grandparents’ community, when we had long lost house keys, when the mailman on a hot day came in the back door and helped himself to cold refrigerator water, when teachers remembered instructing parents, when a deal was by handshake, when an elderly neighbor got the help she needed, when a tradesman was able to afford free estimates, the long-held quiet rhythm was stirred by a post-war population explosion, eventually quadrupling my village count. The new arrivals were mostly urban. They locked car doors. They installed burglar alarms. They began civic groups aimed at getting sidewalks on country lanes. They wanted shopping centers.

      To many of us hicks, certainly to me as a 17 year old, it was all too busy, too noisy with backyard parties, more traffic, other things that rankled. I was immediately prejudiced against urbanities. Who were they to disturb rural quiet, to live in houses where my beloved woods and trails used to be?

     I held this view in growing suspicion until one day an ex-urbanite befriended me, and after talking and thinking on many walks downtown, I came to see his point of view. He had left the city without choice. There was post-war decay and insufficient reinvestment. His father used the G.I. Bill to get a veteran’s mortgage and move his family to the “country for a better life,” or at least the chance at it. 

     But my new friend missed his pals on the block, the street stickball games, the excitement of urban life.

     I began to realize that he, too, gave up something to move out of the city, just as I and others lost some of our quiet and simpler ways. In our growing friendship, we each developed tolerance for differing perspective. We both lost some of our prejudices, and decades later he remains my best male friend.

     In the course of human events today it has become necessary for similar friendship on a national scale. For example, eastern people should try and understand Texans and Iowans and everyone who comes from other cultures and views and ways of living. We would all learn a thing or two, or many things. The nation’s toxicity and ignorance increasingly fueled by prejudice spread by the word bites of social media would lessen.

     We need a national hoedown.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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EDWARD HOPPER IN NYACK

June 5, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     NYACK, N.Y. — Edward Hopper, famed painter of realism whose “Nighthawks” and other works articulate American solitude as mood, thought and destiny,  is ever-present in this village of his 1882 birth.

     Hopper House, operating as an art gallery, museum and study center for more than 50 years since volunteers rescued the dilapidated 82 North Broadway family home and renewed it through sweat, donation and some debt, continues to awaken us to the incredible Hudson River light that is everywhere. Young Edward, who began drawing at least at age 5, saw that illumination each morning as it shot up Second Avenue into his bedroom. Today at various times, you can almost touch the light as it also baths the parlor, now the principal gallery.

     The museum, which has the combined mission of preserving the home as well as detailing influences on the artist and advancing all manner of art, hopes visitors and villagers alike will observe as Edward did, taking in what contributed to his many paintings, watercolors, prints and sketches, produced almost to the day he died in 1967. 

    Hopper’s works often include someone in contemplation, say a man sitting on a wooden sidewalk in front of a store (probably his father, a Nyack dry goods merchant) or the “effect of sunlight on the wall of a house,” geometric patterns that seem to be windows inviting the viewer to interpret – the sort of lighting you see all over Nyack. 

      You spot the “snapshot effect” of his art, moments in time that have an obvious history and the future of which might well be guessed. Look about the Nyack of today, at the woman catching a bus at Cedar and Main, at the couple leaning on a porch rail, at an upstairs window framing humanity. Always a story – here in Nyack, and elsewhere, too. These are Hopper-articulated moments.

     Today Edward Hopper is iconic, his “Nighthawks” and other works recognizable worldwide. Exhibitions in Boston, Washington, New York City and Europe have drawn many thousands in reverent communication with an artist who said so little by speech but who in his paintings expressed deeply and extensively facets native to the American being. Hopper offered as much in this quote: “If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint. The whole answer is there on the canvas.” 

      The artist’s boyhood home is part of that “canvas,” a source of the light, real and figurative, that was Hopper’s painting harmony. Nyack helped form the vision of an artist who celebrated American solitude and the great quiet, the self-reliance, even the genius within.

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

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THE FALLEN SPEAK

May 30, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

      No Memorial Day, USA or elsewhere, is without heartfelt words and tribute, parades, wreaths, re-mourning. What is always missing, though, are the voices of the fallen. Would that we could hear them. What would they say?

     “Mom, I was as scared as you, but I could not show that with you there. So I never really said ‘goodbye’. …”

     “Dad, you told me about your ‘war stories,’ and I figured we’d swap them when I came back. …”

     “Mary (any sweetheart’s name), I was crying inside when you were showing tears, and we both felt that we had been pulled from our door to the future so that I could enter another, for a time. …”

     “Mr. Singer (any teacher’s name), I know you expected me to be the same distracted fellow day-dreaming in the back row, but I was really awake that final day, and I remembered you telling me to pay attention. It helped my pals in the squad, the ones who survived. …”

     “Mayor Jones (any public official), I know there are speeches every Memorial Day, and parades and gun salutes and tears and then the barbecues, fireworks,  leisure. Understand that all this is fine with me. I’d be there, too, if I could. But also believe that the man who fell next to me, the ‘enemy,’  isn’t one for me any longer, and he has mourners, too. …”

     “I read the ‘Red Badge of Courage’ in Miss Rouy’s literature course and could not understand then the fine line between courage, the chance of it, the millisecond for choice, and the instant when cowardice could win. I thought it was black and white but now understand it is not really so, that military training and society’s expectation may of necessity set it up as clear choice, but in the moment of decision, there is fear, opportunity and the possibility of both heroism and cowardice. There is much more humanity to it. …”

     And it is for humanity that I am ‘gone,’ the hope of it anyway. I am not truly ‘gone,’ of course, since I have not died in vain. The sacrifices of any of us, dead or living, is for betterment, for that continual ‘thirst’ for the world’s life and its great possibilities. Otherwise, why did you all lose me? …”

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

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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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