By Arthur H. Gunther III

BETHESDA, M.D. — Rituals in our lives change, but that does not mean they are easy to get used to, even to accept. Here I was in beautiful Bethesda, a neat D.C. suburb with all modern amenities, expecting 1961 and a few decades after to remain the ruling time. But it was 2013, and I don’t get the language.

An early-morning ritual is to take a walk, have some java and read the local newspaper, in this area The Washington Post. And so I sought a paper. But there was none, at 6:30 a.m., long after morning editions have gone to bed. I asked a very polite but matter-of-fact store clerk when the newspapers might arrive, and I was told,  “When the man gets here, he gets here.” In other words, the news, the information that impacts our lives, which entertains, saddens, enlightens, exposes charlatans and connects us to the full range of human emotions, and  which once would await no man’s delay, would now “get here when it got here.”

I was a newspaperman for four decades and remain one in soul. Never missed a deadline, thank you. No bragging – the first rule of newspapering is to get the info out on time, quicker than that, if possible.

Now, with so many fewer print readers, information delivered in bites via Smart phones and iPads and TV, the morning newspaper no longer seems vital. Sad, for a much fuller report can be had in print, all the better to be informed in a democracy that you want to keep as such.

While I waited in a Bethesda strip mall parking lot for the paper delivery guy to get there, I saw descendants of folks like me, but they were not buying papers as their dads and granddads did or still do. Instead, they were in their cars, lined up at a bank, at ATM machines, to get money for the day.

Once, we carried money in our pockets from our cashed-pay checks for a week or two. We went to the bank to cash the checks. And we used some of our pocket change to buy a newspaper.

I doubt if many of the good, hardworking people on the ATM line buy a paper after they get their bank machine cash. Probably quench their thirst for information via mobile devices or computers.

The world has changed, and so has its ways. I simply forgot to get on the train.

But I’ll never read about it in a newspaper.


The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Lessons at grandma’s

July 22, 2013

Lessons at grandma’s

By Arthur H. Gunther III

For a child staying overnight at grandma’s, the sounds of a kitchen are never forgotten. It is always an adventure to sleep away from home for a four year old, and a grandparent’s house is a special place, full of treats, nooks and crannies in which to seek adventure and a sanctuary from routine. Even a child needs to get away sometimes, if only to grow a sense of security.

And security comes at grandma’s. She has snacks for the youngster and perhaps too many hugs, but such is love, and it is reassuring and certainly remembered more fondly in later decades.

Each grandmother’s house has its idiosyncrasies, as does every child, every adult, and that’s another lesson to be learned at grandma’s. The child newly awake not in his or her regular bed hears a cupboard door creak open, and he knows that breakfast is coming. What child does not want breakfast? We wake up hungry, the child in all of us.

Then the youngster gets a whiff of pancakes grilling, and he can already taste grandma’s brown sugar, honey, vanilla and extra egg in the mix. Oh, and those blueberries, too.

The youngster is thus encouraged to get out of bed, forget the slippers that grandma is always telling him to put on — splinters on the old wooden stairs, you know — and bounce on downstairs to the kitchen where he will sit in that very big chair that will always be huge in his mind, even at age 70.

His grandma will go to the metal spice cabinet tucked away at the top of the cellar stairs and take out what she needs for a pie to be prepared as the grandson eats his pancakes. He will never forget the sweetness of that cabinet, its door held open just a quick moment. He also notices, if only out of the corner of his eye, his grandmother’s kitchen competence and confidence, another lesson.

Life unfolds on another morning in grandma’s house, one so precious that it seems it might burst into a thousand pieces of china but which actually proves so durable that all through life, grandma’s early attention is indeed a form of building security in what can be a tough world for all of us.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Celebration in Nyack

Celebration in Nyack

By Arthur H. Gunther III

NYACK, N.Y. — You would expect July Fourth fireworks — and the gathering in public area that comes with that — to be boisterous, noisy, of course, celebratory. It was all that in this village along the Hudson River just north of New York City, but this year there was an even stronger reason why America celebrates its birthday so heartily: the people who were there.

More than ever, there was a veritable league of nations in Memorial Park, partly because Rockland County, so close to the port of New York and diverse even before its 1798 founding, is becoming more so. Sitting near me in the park, with thousands attending, were women dressed in Islamic headwear, Orthodox Jews, people from India wearing red, white and blue shirts and saris, African Americans whose families who have helped build Nyack for centuries and men, women and children of so many national backgrounds that I cannot remember the total count of different countries.

And all here on July Fourth, a distinctly American holiday that was probably new or certainly newish to many in the park. Some had come from countries where no celebration is allowed save bowing to the national leader.

It is usual practice to recall America’s history on July Fourth and for politicians in particular to make note of how immigrants built the country after the almost suicidal chances taken by those at Lexington and Concord, by our Founders, by Washington and by the citizen-soldier. It is reaffirming to hear our narrative, even if over and over, even if we must accept the flowery praise of some of our speakers.

Yet nothing gives truth to the story like people — free people with many different faces — enjoying July Fourth fireworks on a majestic river, picnic at hand, family and friends there. That this is allowed — yes, allowed — is the greatness of America. It is our blessing. It is our hope. It is our present and our future, built on our past.

On July 5, Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, state and local governments and all officialdom went back to “work.” Today we question what work is being done and how democracy can thrive through special interest, political correctness without common sense and greed. We are a nation in trouble, in a troubling world. A downer if you mull on it. When I do, I switch the senses back to the Nyacks of America, where on July Fourth the people’s faces gave a different perspective.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.