MORE THAN JUST THEM APPLES …

January 14, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     My grandmother in Spring Valley, N.Y., was a wonderful apple pie maker. In September particularly, she and my grandfather would take a country drive on meandering roads to Pomona where the Concklins offered a new crop of apples so fresh that the skin would still snap when you bit into them. If my brother or I were with them, there would also be the free apple from the bushel basket slid way back on a wooden floor trod since who knows when. Some cider, too, with your own glass jug refilled on the spot.

     The ride back to the village was always calm, serene, with nearing-fall wafts of turned-color leaves, little traffic, the 1950 Plymouth hugging turns on McNamara Road, my grandparents quietly talking as Craig and I sat in the back, swallowed up by old-fashioned big seats.

     Back home, my grandfather would take some of the apples, washed first in the old kitchen sink, out to his garage, the one with a wooden floor with its own history of long use, oil dripped from cars, planks heated by summer sun. A special smell that is recalled forever, a key to memories.

     Gramps would carefully peel the apples in a manner that would make an army sergeant on KP watch proud. Very little waste, his special knife — always kept in the garage — separating the skin as he twisted the apple, one long peel dripping into a basket, the contents later fed to the birds.

     My grandmother, this nana of German heritage, would take the apples, add sugars and spice and whatever secrets from the old country that were passed on and mound the fruit in her own crust, a bit of sweetness added to make it have a slight butter-cookie taste.

     It wasn’t long before the pies baked, the fragrance so inviting and reassuring that a youngster felt very safe and happy. A window shelf for cooling awaited, and we did too. It seemed an endless one.

     Combined with ice cream and coffee for the adults, we all dug with satisfaction into the finished product on a late-summer afternoon in my old hometown.

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

     

THE TREE OF OPTIMISM

 

LAKE ANTRIM/gunther

January 7, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     The tree stands alone, but there is enough evidence in the fog that others are in the background. It is sturdy, seemingly well-rooted, still with leaves and in a field of  pleasing color. Of optimism, this photograph.

     A metaphor, perhaps, for durability in turbulent, uncertain times when roots cannot always be planted, when there may be no one to have your back, when color is reduced to a limited spectrum chosen by the few.

     Yet the tree survives and promises continued growth despite pessimism, for it is the opposite.

     The fog is thick and does not suggest a quick retreat. And that may be to the good, the fog a reflector for the infinite variety of color keeping the tree company.

     Cozy, too, such a scene, for the invitation is to sit a spell, to chill, to forget the commute, the to-do list, the endless appointments. 

     Sunday in the park with a tree. Optimism.

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

‘BUSY USING ELECTRONS’

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‘December 31, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     The painting shows an old colonial house, still occupied and happily, I suggest. There is cozy warmth from the fireplace, as you can see from the smoke. The windows are dark, so it is daylight. Set in a green field and under a blue sky, the home appears to be thriving.

      But one thing is missing: The power line is not connected — transmission is at the pole but not to the colonial.

     Is that deliberate? Is this a “Twilight Zone” episode of old? Is the painting both of the past and of the future? Is the house to enter the modern age with electricity?

     Will the chimney then lose its smoke trail and be used for the central heating afforded by electricity? Will the dark windows light up in daytime?

     Ah, and what of the people inside? What will connecting their cozy abode to the grid do to them? It will make life easier but also more complicated. There will be a utility bill and never-ending rate hikes. Appliances will be added at cost, with future repair. Good grief, next will come a telephone line, the Internet, smartphones that do not need the utility pole.

      No one will look at the old fireplace, except as a background for a selfie. The green field surrounding the colonial might go brown because no one is cutting the grass — too busy using electrons.

     “Twilight Zone?” Could paint out the pole and start all over.

     

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

Relevance of time

December 24, 2018

     Each Christmas, for a few decades now, my son, teacher Arthur H. Gunther IV, has taken my former newspaper column and now online space to offer a holiday story. Here it is for 2018.

 By Arthur H. Gunther IV

     It had kind of consumed him, this quest to slow down time.  Where once he might have tried to possess it, his focus had gradually shifted to simply sharpening his vision.  At least, that was what he told himself.  There were certain tricks he had learned over the years.  Time lived in places that he visited with regularity, but then again, time lived in places he hadn’t yet been.  It was hard to explain, so he really didn’t bother.  He was content to just show by example.  By how he lived his days.

     The trunk of John’s VW rabbit was nothing special.  The car was a hatchback, so opening the back caused the cloth-covered platform behind the rear seats to lift up and reveal the bucket-shaped opening.  It it, he kept an old wool blanket, jumper cables for when the battery died, a lead pipe to help loosen lug nuts, a jack, a full-sized spare tire, a scarf, a few newspapers for whenever he had to wait somewhere, and a weathered gray towel.  Inside the towel, rolled up tight to protect the lens and the metal frame, was his camera.  There was always a roll of film inside, black and white, with at least a few frames left to shoot.  He never left a completed roll inside the camera.  The minute it was finished he took it out to develop the shots.

     No matter where John drove, the camera was always there.  Sometimes he would go for weeks without taking it out.  Before his kids were born, John would often drive just to wander, just to see where he would end up. This is when his camera would come out.  Portraits and sunsets didn’t interest him.  You wouldn’t find panoramic shots of any kind.  John preferred photos with little plan, taken quickly the second the beauty within the frame revealed itself.  A box in John’s basement held the results of his efforts.  There were shadows made by oak leaves on old brick walls, sunlight on side street shop windows, barns nestled beside weathered houses from the last century.  

     John would develop the photos in his basement, look at them for a time, and then put them in a box.  Sometimes he would go back to glance at the old photos, but more often than not the box is where they remained.  It was as if the act of taking the photos, the drive and the wandering, were what really mattered.  The photos in the box were almost beside the point.

     With his kids getting older and his life getting more complicated, John’s drives, his wandering photo excursions, were less frequent.  He would sometimes worry, when he had the time for such indulgence, that not taking the time for the photos actually had a role in accelerating time’s passage.  If he got out, if he took the time to wander and use his camera, everything would slow down and come into focus.  His memory sharpened once again.  Thoughts would form.  The unappreciated became appreciated once more.

     John woke up one December morning, a few days before Christmas, daydreaming about Thanksgiving, about the coming holiday, before realizing it was already past. Later that day he drove home only to find his house empty.  He checked the notepad always left on the kitchen counter and found three notes, all letting him know that his wife, daughter, and son had gone their separate ways for the afternoon.  Shocked at finding his house empty, John’s first inclination was to wash the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or maybe to start a load of laundry.  As he was reaching to turn on the radio, his eyes fell upon a drawing his daughter had recently taped to the refrigerator of one of her old sneakers.  The pause this image gave him was all John needed to grab his coat and get in his car.  The dishes and laundry could wait.

     The wind was picking up as John drove down toward the river and then up the side of Tallman Mountain toward the end of the county and the New Jersey border.  He had stopped listening to weather reports a few years ago.  He couldn’t take the disappointment of the uneven forecasts:  rain in January, 50 degrees in July.  This way, snowstorms and the other beauty of the seasons came as a surprise.  At least he could dream.  For all John knew, a blizzard was imminent.  

     John’s initial plan was to maybe walk the cinder bike path once he got past Piermont, but as was his wont, he changed his mind and instead continued past the entrance before turning down into the maze of roads that made up Sneden’s Landing.  Parking at the old church near the beginning of the neighborhood, John got out, grabbed his camera from the trunk, and started walking.  John descended the hill, once again amazed at the quiet that always pervaded the hillside.  As he rounded a turn that was bordered by a giant elm tree, John came upon a young girl sitting on a bench.  John had seen this bench before.  It was really just a piece of wood balanced on two old stumps.  He assumed it was a place where children sat waiting for the school bus.

    “Hi.”  The girl offered John a smile.  “Going for a walk?”

     “Yes, I guess I am,”  John replied.  “What’s up?”

“Nothing at all,”  she replied.  “I’m just waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”  John couldn’t help but ask.

“Waiting for the snow.  It’s going to snow.  It’s almost Christmas.”

John almost replied with another question, but stopped himself.  He had asked too many already.  Instead, his eyes looked over to the old tree.  On it’s gnarled, imposing trunk was nailed a plain, metal thermometer.  He could see the mercury had settled right under the freezing point, where someone had drawn a red line with a pen.  Taking out his camera, John snapped a closeup of the thermometer with just enough of the elm tree showing in the frame.  Just as the click of the shutter had finished its reverberations, John heard the excited shout of the girl on the bench.          

Swinging his gaze in her direction, John could see that snow had suddenly started falling.  Flakes filled the air.  The girl looked absolutely delighted, but not the least bit surprised.  John stood for several seconds, or maybe even a minute, and then wished the girl a good night.

Walking back up the hill to his car, John’s thoughts settled upon a quote he had once heard by Aristotle:  To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.  John hugged his camera close to his side.  He couldn’t wait to get back home and see his family.

     The writer is a first-grade teacher at the William O. Schaefer School in Tappan, N.Y. Reach him via clausland@yahoo.com

INTO A TUNNEL …

 December 17, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

 thecolumnrule.com 

(also on Facebook)

      There’s this tunnel thing because we all go through them at least once mentally, physically, romantically. Countries do, too. So does anything organized, such as religion. Ah, but is the journey welcome?

      Might have no choice about that. You are on the train, just like in the British mysteries, and as the steam and smoke of the locomotive first hit the tunnel entrance and pull you into the dark, you wonder how long you will be there. Do you breathe differently? Does your heart race?

     One thing you seem certain about in most such moments is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The flickering emergency train incandescent bulbs go out, and you see the countryside again. (Unless you are in the mystery, and “then there were nine …).

     If you are from the New York City area, there is another metaphor in the Brooklyn- Battery Tunnel, the longest, continuous underwater vehicular passage in North America. Children adapt it for a game with siblings — holding your breath from the famed Gotham Battery to the traffic-clogged Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a three-minute ride at 40 mph.

     We have tunnels in our dreams, which some interpreters see as facing fears and emerging victorious — the light at the end. Those who report near-death experience speak of tunnels that tumble you to glory, hopefully.

     “Alice in Wonderland” offers a rabbit hole that becomes a tunnel lined with objects and things. It leads to the Hall of Doors and so much adventure.

     My own view of a tunnel is that it is perfectly black and dark so as to reset our eyes for the full wonder of color when we emerge. Doors leading to opportunity.

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

‘TICKET TO RIDE’

‘Light at Hopper House’

December 10, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Our ancestors, living in caves, then huts, then small cabins, all without much benefit of light — there were no Andersen double-glazed, energy-efficient windows then — must have grabbed, mentally, emotionally, at any sliver of brilliant shining as does a young child marvel at a big, dripping icicle. What power there is in light, the ancestors must have thought.

     In time, first with the light of day to hunt and then with the light of fire to cook, there began a dawn of illuminating existence. We are now all travelers of that first light though enough in humankind have always sought to extinguish it for others. 

     Nor has society fully taken the gift of light and hopped on it to our dreams. The harnessing of light could end poverty on earth through free energy, clean water, crops, but we allow the  ministers of darkness, be they greed, power, prejudice, hatred or just plain evil, to deny a share. 

     The rays of light cast through a window can be mesmerizing to a child, staring through his daydreams, the same young being decades later, a life gone by, grasping at the same light in his/her long hours of reflection.

     Dawn brings newness with the return of light just as dusk and light’s withdrawal tells us to cozy ourselves to sleep, to rest if we can, with the promise of return.

     Perhaps day-dreaming is mostly light, the horse in the sky we choose to zoom away on in a gallop or to amble in a meadow. It is a gift, our ticket to ride.

     

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

     

THE MAGIC WINDOW

December 3, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Before there were smartphone screens to stare into, children looked out the window, their eyes portals for real but mostly imaginary scenes.

     Cars passing, dogs chasing squirrels, a neighbor mowing. Raindrops, snow flakes, the falling sun, a full moon. Millions of kids saw all that if they were lucky to look out windows at all, in peace.

     A day off from school, maybe in a snowstorm, perhaps a hot summer night trying to catch a breath of air at the windowsill, the ledge the edge of a stage for whatever was happening.

     Usually, ordinary things were taking place — still do at the window. Even mundane. Seen before, so many times. Yet reaffirmation in that as ordinary living continues.

     Continues even in boredom, and that was — is — where the window truly could open up. How many noses have been pressed to glass, how many chins have rested on the sill as Acts I, II, III took to the footlights? How many fantasies were seen? How many fake battles? How many romances, wishes, journeys into any neverland?

     Imagination is a free ride, though you must be willing to take the bus. It can make you think, it can make you chill out, it can make you the master of your destiny.

     A window is one place to get a ticket to ride. There are others.

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

WHEEL NOT REINVENTED

By Arthur H. Gunther III

the columnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     One of the non-dynamics of “progress” is that as new technology replaces the old, tried and true habits honed by trial, error, ingenuity, make-do and survival are sometimes cast aside, even lost.

     For example, in this age of omnipresent air conditioning, a simple concept like hot air circulation is forgotten. A few years ago, I was in an old New York village on a very hot day attending a gathering in a late 1800s building, three stories high. No AC, and it was stifling with perhaps 100 people there. The windows were open, but they were awning types, so there was no circulation like you get with double-hung windows. Wiping away the sweat, I looked up, and near the ceiling there were other windows, all shut but with long chains dangling. It was obvious that the chains were pulls meant to open the upper windows so that the heat could escape, replaced by cooler ground-level air.

     Once upon a time this building would have had a sexton whose job it was to open those upper windows, or there would have been a fellow who understood the common sense of air circulation that he simply wouldvhave pulled on those chains. An art lost, it seems, in the modern AC age.

     You can extend this thinking to other things: When I was younger,  there was a neighborhood carpenter who would fix furniture so that you didn’t have to throw it out. Someone brought him a large table, probably 100 years old, most likely made from wood that was 200 years in the growing. The table had split after decades of drying, and it looked lost by today’s standards. But this crafty fellow, after scratching his head a bit, reached into his coveralls’ upper pocket, took out his folding rule, measured along the table’s 8-foot length, went over to an old woodpile, pulled out some oak scraps similar to the table’s stock, hand-cut these pieces into wedge shapes, traced them on the table, cut holes and then glued everything together with huge pipe clamps, the tools also made from scrap — old plumbing.

     That table is still in my friend’s house. Today it might be on the junk pile, replaced by a new one much younger and perhaps less beautiful.

     The lesson of the story is that in a faster-paced world, on the quick journey, we sometimes forget to bring along the skills that once made us survive, those efforts that also instilled pride in what we could accomplish.

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

EDWARD HOPPER AND WHAT’S RELATIVE

Credit: Christie’s

November 19, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Relativity isn’t confined to Einstein. It applies in the art world, too. Most recent example: the Christie’s auction sale last week of “Chop Suey,” the Edward Hopper 1929 painting, which hit a record at $91,875,000. The famed American realist artist netted $1,000 or less from his agent, the Rehn Gallery. Relativity.

     Most famous artists have to be gone from this void before their pieces are worth a fortune. Hopper never took in more than about $8,000 for any of his works, living well enough though frugally in his Washington Square, Manhattan, rental until his 1967 passing.

     Even the locale for “Chop Suey,” an upstairs Chinese restaurant, suggests living on a budget. Such places, in Hopper’s time all over Manhattan and usually on the second floor or in the basement for cheaper rent, offered inexpensive, satisfying food, with wonderful tea in sage-green cups that had no handles.

     Hopper and his wife, artist Jo Nivison, would walk to these eateries. When he returned to his Nyack, N.Y., birthplace, they went to the upstairs Chinese restaurant off North Broadway.

    A look at “Chop Suey” shows two women, neither of which have smart phones, instead having what seems to be pleasant, face-to-face conversation. The meal appears over, since there is only a teapot and a bowl that may have held nuts. A man and woman are at a rear table, she smiling, he looking down. Outside is the iconic neon sign, and in one window is an abstract design, perhaps Hopper’s reference to the then current painting style.

     What does “Chop Suey” say? That depends on what you see, what the artist meant or was looking for. For me, it’s relativity, the state of being relative to the period, the moment.

     Edward Hopper would probably be offended by the auction price, by today’s greed art market, with investors and the one percenters largely unappreciative of what he was searching for in “Chop Suey.” His currency was his interpretation of his innermost feelings and observations. That is what we see in the Hopper works, whether they cost $1,000 or $91,875,00.

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

THE GUNS OF AUGUST …

November 11, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

When, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, 100 years ago, the guns of August 1914 were finally silenced, 40 million casualties could still be heard, their plaintive cries ignored as the path to the next war was already under construction.

So, what do you say to those who sacrificed, who died in their country’s service, no matter the nation? The mechanical horrors alone of the Great War — super-big artillery, first use of tanks, mustard gas — should have been enough to thwart World War II. But no. Even the later atomic bomb and the threat of world annihilation have not ended conflict. Humankind’s thirst for power, and especially money, combined with the embers, then flames of hatred and prejudice, constantly bring us war.

So, what do you say to the soldier, sailor, marine, airman, mother, father, brother, friend of the fallen, the physically wounded, the emotionally struck of the Great War on this centennial? Wasn’t their sacrifice enough? 

One of the  last soldiers, dying in the mud in the Second Battle of Guise, November 4-5, 1918, might have had hope that his son, his baby, would see a better world. His eyes closed on that hope. But the world let him down.

There will be many tributes on November 11 to mark 100 years. Big leaders will come (or not, as Trump, the American president, was a no-show at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in Belleau, France, citing rain though the dead perished in slogging mud). 

There will be articulate speeches, great memorial wreaths. And elsewhere some dictator will be killing the innocent; some horrible people will be practicing genocide; some war-profiteer will be getting even richer.

Yet the hope for a better world persists, as it must, if those who perished shall not have died in vain.

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