‘RURAL WINDOW, AN AMERICAN FLAG’

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Memorial Day weekend 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Noting Memorial Day and the many thousands of Americans and non-citizens who have sacrificed their lives in war; bowing in humility to the dying and dead — the champions of this time of virus; hailing the “Rosie Riveters” and all defense workers of the Second World War; saluting the poor, the downtrodden, the essential worker who keep the rest alive, we offer that the American flag need not appear as what we “see” but that it can be the rural window of a Kansas farmhouse, the isinglass curtains of pioneer settlers, the colored cloth covering a 1930s dustbowl window, the blue and gold stars of flags in the windows of those in service, the wet handkerchief held by a farm worker. The list is endless.
Our “flag” is us — all colors, all material, rich silk, threadbare cotton, a flag of tears, of joy, of sacrifice, of caring, of achievement, of pride, of humanity.

 

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

‘LEADERSHIP’ AND A VACUUM

May 18, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     One of the enforced benefits of this time of the virus — sitting at home — can be good for you even though you might want to be out gallivanting. For example, watching PBS. You are the adult student in your living-room classroom, and what you might have not looked at before, or done so only in pieces by flipping channels, you now give attention, albeit helped by that glass of wine.

     Into the Roosevelt series for some Thursday evenings on PBS, we are reminded of the utter necessity of presidential leadership in deeply challenging times. Or what happens with no leadership, as has also happened. Is happening.

    Teddy Roosevelt, thrust into the place he soon called the “White House” rather than the “Executive Mansion,” itself a telling move about rejecting privilege, the man went far beyond anything assassinated William McKinley would have done. Trust-busting, a bold move against endemic greed, the “Square Deal” protecting consumers, the environment and the pocketbook, and building the Panama Canal were major accomplishments.

Foremost, though, was the attitude that the people, potential rough-riders themselves, could climb any mountain and progress. That boosted pre-World War American confidence and growth. Leadership, yes.

     Franklin D. Roosevelt, fifth cousin to TR, offered the “New Deal,” arguably influenced by wife Eleanor’s undying, unswerving humanitarian concerns and also devised by the brilliant “Brain Trust” the president assembled. Yet it was fatherly FDR, in “Fireside Chats” and constant reassuring speeches, who emotionally supported a nation and its people in depression and a world war. His four terms would change the economic and social direction of the United States, mostly in the positive. Leadership, yes.

     You can argue for and against one or both Roosevelts, TR a progressive Republican and FDR a moderate Democrat who was a solution-seeker deeply influenced by Eleanor and others. They both had warts, and each pushed presidential authority to some extreme. What you cannot deny in either presidency is their leadership, envisioned by the founding fathers, who also devised that there should be no king, and that should one begin to build a throne, be proven a wannabe dictator or show no leadership, that the voters, the courts or the impeachment/trial process could boot the person in a full, enthusiastic kick. Repudiation in full, as with Richard Nixon. 

     Today, in the time of virus, which is becoming a wake-up metaphor for ever-existing but in recent decades heightened greed, ignorance, official incompetence and prejudice, it will be a turning point this November if citizens truly see their duty and vote. There is forever in these United States a meanness born of prejudice and a sense of superiority, going beyond political persuasion. In 1930, that mindset said publicly, “Poverty is good for the soul, it will harden you.” In 1944, as selfless Eleanor Roosevelt flew to WWII combat zones, that attitude criticized her for using government airplanes. Today it is blaming all our ills on the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless and immigrants fleeing dictatorships and conditions we have supported. And the blame is cover for more greed, more prejudice.  

     If this virus does anything positive, it must inoculate some of us against utter disregard for selected humanity.

    

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

       

IN THE TIME OF VIRUS …

May 11, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     One of the things about staying home during the time of virus is that you have to escape. The walls can move in a bit, and suddenly the back yard where you never went except to mow the lawn becomes Central Park. But there are other places, too, if only in memory.

     Back in the day, as youth with not much money but with a one-speed, coaster-brake bicycle, or more often on foot, or later with an iffy-running car, there were many places to explore in what was then more country than suburbia. 

     First, there was the quiet of the road, a walk down Hickory over to the closed St. Vincent de Paul summer camp grounds that led to the old Erie branch to Mt. Ivy. Few cars were then about, and usually there was no one on the fields, in the marsh and at the pond. This was the view, too, of my father in his youth. What thoughts he had I cannot know, but all young, in their time, have to think and ponder in solitude. There is so much ahead, we hope.

     If you could muster the leg strength, a bike ride from Hillcrest through the Spring Valley downtown of some generations, past a former home, three old schools, up the Old Nyack Turnpike to Saddle River Road and back home through the Ukrainian and Polish neighborhoods near West Street was not only a challenge but a fortification of more than physical strength. This was a ride of emotion, too, because even younger years, with family, friends, school and varied haunts were re-visited as if watching an 8mm home movie. Reassuring for the coming journey.

     A few years later, the iffy jalopy started, you might have someone with you on the ride, say along a twisting, turning route. It could be South Mountain Road, with the 1700s Concklin orchards in early bloom, followed by the homes of artists, writers and thespians, then to a private lane leading to the Crosby Vineyards and the hike at High Tor.

     The summit always provided a seat for your thoughts. Did then, does now. You share the space with the fabled Dutch sailors lost off the Half Moon whose bowling is the thunder of the lower Hudson Valley. You also share space with your companion, proving that different directions can co-exist for the moment, and you will never forget.

     So, it is in the memories that you can, in the time of virus, leave the house, the apartment, the room.

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

MEMORIES AS CLOSURE

May 4, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There had been many quick jumps across my childhood street in Hillcrest, N.Y., to see my friend Matthew but also to sit down with his grandmother, Molly Weissman. This bubbe, in her late 80s, a survivor of Russian pogroms and with the shared DNA of relatives lost in the Holocaust, offered few words in mixed English but wisdom as plentiful as the promised land of milk and honey. And as with Exodus 3:17, it was all in the journey.

     It was part of my journey. I was then a seventh grader, a goy, not of Molly’s faith, but because she listened to a young fellow and treated me as an equal philosopher, which clearly I was not, I sat.

     There was talk of life, of hardship, of mitzvahs and trying to do good, of respect for humanity. I was polite, I listened. But  also, perhaps unwittingly, I took some wisdom, putting it in my pockets for another day. That would take a long time to arrive.

     The seventh grader grew, there were other interests, I did not see the bubbe. One day came word that Molly Weissman had passed. There had been the quick burial, as required by her Orthodox faith. I could not mourn her.

     Matthew, her grandson, was sent to the local funeral home on State Street to buy a memorial candle, which would be lit for a year. He and I went for that as the family sat shivah for the seven days of respect. The mirrors were covered in ritual, and there were simple orange crates to sit on. 

    Today, as so many must mourn without seeing loved ones and friends after their passing in the time of the coronavirus, when even a shivah cannot easily take place, or a funeral Mass, or mosque tradition or memorial, it will have to be lingering and repeated memories that offer respect for those we lose.

     Yet perhaps that is the best recognition of lives that impact us, as Molly’s did mine.

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

      

GREED, A VIRUS

April 27, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Greed is the virus that never goes away, in good times, in bad ones. It is exploitive, growing exponentially with pandemic illness, for example, its handlers quickly looking to seize any opportunity to rake in more cash. It has no soul, this devil.

     An example: In a recent direct conference call to the White House (a misnomer of a name for this present dark place of non-leadership), top executives of key large restaurant chains pressed Trump on a $145 billion “aid” package . According to a N.Y. Times story April 25, these companies, though “highly profitable in recent years,” believe they need a buffer against major losses in the pandemic.

     Not explained to the White House, of course, was that these chains have not spent their high profits on setting aside a  rainy-day nest egg, nor assuring staff, many at minimum wage with little or no benefits, that they would have their back, for a time anyway, in any big crisis.

     Instead, the companies followed what banks and other large corporations did in the U.S. government bailout after the near-depression of 2008, itself caused by the constant river of greed. The banks, etc., used taxpayer money, borrowed against what will be your now-young grandchildren’s massive debt, to buy back their own stock, thus increasing share price. More yachts, vacation homes, private aircraft. The restaurant chains lobbying Trump took not a bailout but profits to buy stock, accumulating debt that now has them in a pickle during the crisis.

     They were irresponsible. Companies are invested by shareholders who deserve a decent return, but the buck does not stop there. Their products are assembled and offered by the minions who receive comparatively small paychecks in one hand while their wallets are raided by the future instability of the firms’ focus on immediate profit and not on solidifying the companies’ foundation. Future jobs lost. Future taxpayer bailouts ahead. Greed.

     This pandemic has brought sea change — sudden, terrible passing of loved ones, closed schools and shops, greater affliction on the poor and poorer and worries by the ton as to what future life will look like. But it has also boosted profiteers in their fixated run for the money.

If anything needs remedying in this crisis and post-crisis, it is the sinister-driven greed machine. Jam the gears so our society can be rebuilt with economic fairness.

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

               –30–         

‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’

‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’/photograph/gunther

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     “Social distancing” is not new. As kids, we were forced to go to such lengths if we had older siblings who walked faster and who ignored us anyway. Couples always have had bouts of deliberately setting themselves apart. Go to a social affair and see who discreetly moves to the other side of the room.

     In fact, sometimes social distancing is healthy. Obviously now in this most serious of times. But it can also be reaffirmation of the space we all need for ourselves. We can’t always be cozying-up or hovering or being hovered upon. 

     There’s a certain peace that comes with a bit of distance. Time to be quiet, to relish silence, to talk inwardly to yourself, to remember that you are just fine being you without someone else having to tell you.

     Perhaps the absence, even just a few feet for a short time, makes for a fonder reunion.

     My old Regents exams had social distancing. New York State required that our desks be about five feet apart so we couldn’t cheat. You would have needed Superman’s x-ray vision to read the valedictorian’s blue exam book.

     And most teachers enforced social distancing by sending Joey to the office after he threw spitballs at Marge.

     So, maybe in this moment, a bit of humor and observation about what is temporarily a serious rule will actually close the physical gap and bring us together in spirit.

    Stay safe.

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

SIMPLICITY

April 13, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In this staying-at-home time, simplicity seems to have re-appeared, just as cleaner air nationwide is reported, that due to decreased vehicle movement. Not using the car as much, not running off to appointments, visits, stores, brings us back inside the house where we might usually just sleep, to the memory of youthful summers where the school clock gave way to a different, simpler day schedule. Despite the horrors of this gone-viral time, the slower pace perhaps reminds us that we don’t always have to run to the finish line, or at least not to the next hill to climb.

     For me, it has taken a few weeks to realize my pulse can be slower, and the niceness of that moment came in a bowl of cereal, not my usual breakfast these days but in staying-home, it’s been back-to-childhood things. 

     When you eat cereal, which you don’t really eat but spoon it in, crunch and swallow, you must have something to read. It’s required. At my grandfather’s house, it was the Daily News. In my childhood, the cereal box, which sometimes had little stories or drawings on them. Otherwise, you read the ingredients. You had to read something.

     I read the ingredients as I had my 2020 cereal. But then the raisin bran was soon out of the bowl, and I could see a circular pattern, like the rings of Saturn.

     Instantly, I thought of my mother’s old crockery and the patterns I stared at eating cereal. I then thought of my late Mom, heard her voice and got a whiff of the old house smell.

     Such simple but vital memories, all from a cereal bowl during a worldwide crisis. The gods can be good to us.

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

ENDURANCE

 

April 6, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is understatement in almost everything British, and that may be because life’s storms are, indeed, best met by “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The Blitz, almost 15 years of war rationing, great economic and social change and now both the challenges of Brexit, and, more important the coronavirus, have demanded, demand again, a people’s resolve.

     John Lyons of Hartlepool, off the North Sea, my grandfather, set such a tone. When we visited his town, attacked during the First World War by offshore Germans who could have included some of my other European relatives, there was residual reminder of the loss of lives more than 100 years ago now. A museum dedicated to that history stands by the rail line bound north to Scotland.

     The British, especially the older lot, do not forget hardship, however stiff the upper lip. On certain Sundays in London, on war memorial days, you still see chaps with sport coats and suit jackets that have commendation medals affixed. These men, and women, proudly and with upright posture, stroll, whether in Lambeth Walk or elsewhere.

     Endurance, survival are the unseen medals on those chests, and the civilians who lost kin and home in the Blitz and later V2 rocket attacks wear them too.

     The British tradition of tea drinking also is a badge of courage and survival. Any tense moment has its cup of tea, and even a glance at the cozy or the kettle can lower the blood pressure.     My late mother, daughter of an Englishman and an Irish mom, all too soon an orphan at age 8 and with a tough life in the Great Depression, would not be without her tea in the proper Irish way, with a dash of milk (substituted by condensed, canned milk during the American war rations time).

     In this long moment of the spreading coronavirus, with the sad passing of some and the hardships, each of us has a reference to those who came before and endured. It is at least comfort to think back and nod in respect and remember that others have stayed calm and carried on.

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

THE SOBERING OF OUR YOUTH

 

March 30, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     The life-sobering of young people today in this coronavirus world, already shaken to an unsteady footing by Sept. 11, other terrorism, endless military conflict and the hypocrisy shown by often ineffective, bumbling, special interest-driven leadership, is not without historical precedent.

     The Holocaust, wartime Europe 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, many nations’ civil wars, dictatorships, plagues and today’s horrific conditions in parts of the Middle East, Africa and the Americas took and continue to steal childhood. That is the greatest sin of humankind, the willowing of the future as they lack nurturing. The world is supposed to be the mother.

     Each generation, every young person, confronts obstacles, walls too high to climb, though with the progress and enlightenment that are also part of the world’s evolution, so many are matured to bring spectacular achievement, caring, kindness, giving and compassion.

     And most young in war and crisis also exhibit unbelievable sacrifice.

     In 1959, teenagers like myself, living comfortably, mostly in blue-collar families with parents who were thankful for employment after surviving the Great Depression and World War II, were presented with two films that began our sobering, albeit relatively mild compared to today.

     We saw “The Diary of Anne Frank” and placed our hearts, minds and souls in that Dutch attic with a fellow teen. Our own family dynamics of siblings battling over what to watch on TV suddenly seemed so embarrassingly small compared to that in secret space, the Frank family and shopkeeper Kraler who hid them constantly worried that the Nazis would come.

     Life played out, though, as did Anne’s destiny.

      We also watched “On the Beach,” which portrayed Australians following a global nuclear war and the coming end of all life on earth.

     Gone, suddenly, was our very limited exposure to the Cold War and the possibility of hydrogen bombs hitting America. We were never sobered by the school air-raid drills, even thankful to get out of class and put our bodies against the hall lockers instead of the earlier practice of hunkering under desks.

     We emerged from the theater in silence, not joking as usual. The walk home with friends after “On the Beach” added a few years to our growing maturity. Yes, gaiety, a blessing for some youth, those in our circle anyway in our small, typical post-war U.S. village, would continue. There would be proms, graduations, further schooling, jobs, families, but newfound seriousness joined our being, infused within.

     Today, it is not just two life-changing films. It is a pandemic, not seen since my the 1918 flu of my mother’s time, when she  lost siblings. This is as big a challenge to the world as universal war.

     Our young will be overwhelmingly sobered, and the hope is that their natural optimism, vitality and strength will, after the cataclysm, rebuild society and the earth. They can, as adults, better prepare us for another viral assault. They can work against the numbness of inefficient national leadership. They can better empathize with and care for those who have less, who even in the best of times are poor and destitute. The greed can lessen, the hypocrisy reduced.

     There can be a better world from the young who now are sobering.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

ALONG FRANKLIN STREET …

March 23, 2020

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In the very early hours of a Tuesday in Spring Valley, N.Y., my car rolled down Franklin Street past what was Eckerson’s blacksmith shop where during World War II my grandfather Art Sr. worked with other men to pack scrap paper and cardboard in one of millions of such home-based efforts throughout the United States. It was quiet volunteerism, not seeking praise, done almost in anonymity, rolling up sleeves to do what could be accomplished as battles raged in Europe and the Pacific.

     For my grandfather, the scrap drive was also a way to support his son Winfield, soon to lose two fingers in the Huertgen Forest battles.

     Near the smithy on Franklin was the Valley’s memorial board listing men and women in service. The family names there were repeated from the First World War, so small was the village and so little the change between conflicts.

     Also on Franklin was a small, shingled house, No. 16, where about 8 years later, the war over, the scrap drive recalled in memory and fading photographs, my fourth-grade self was able to play games with Tring Butt, my friend. The scrap drive, the selfless service of civilians and military, made that possible.

     Life picked up so quickly in peacetime, the old, realized fears of both a Second World War and the Great Depression proceeding it now pushed into the subconscious by post-war progress and optimism. The wonderful ordinariness of peacetime rapidly sang its song, once again proving the resilience of humankind.

     We are now again “at war,” fighting the coronavirus, another chapter in the story of the world: super-major challenges, suffering, inevitable death. But also the heroics of so many, the selfless-giving, the quiet duty fulfilled.

     When I drove down Franklin Street on March 17, itself a day of import for the great Irish and their knowing souls, I would arrive at a soup kitchen now 35 years old, held just two blocks away at the old Dutch Reformed Church, now Church of the Nazarene.

     Volunteers in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program were preparing bagged hot breakfast and lunches for any comer, who ordinarily could sit down in the church’s meeting room. Now, social distancing.

     The giving of that moment rode on the echoes of the volunteers in my grandfather’s own World War II effort. People are good. 

     This time, too, will pass.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.