SATURDAY WALK

March 8, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Way back in my time, in my small village where a Saturday morning might begin with a long walk through town to an old schoolyard or a field of winter straw, the settings for thoughts of nothing in particular but sometimes more than that simply came and lingered a bit. It wasn’t a school day.

     This was before computers, smart phones, video games, weekend organized activity for kids. It was “get-lost-for-awhile day,” directive from mom so she could clean the house, that after working all week. So, a walk fit in just right, or maybe some time in the huts we could build in the many woods of our countrified area.

     Such a walk was for all seasons, literally. In all kinds of weather. In any year, from third grade through high school and a bit beyond, until the routine of being employed changed life in its next stage.

     The walk, itself leisurely, no hurry-up steps as when you are late for school or for the dentist, was of nothingness but also of everything, for it was on the two-mile-there, two-mile-back that dreams were made — what would you do in life? Would you have girlfriends? Would you leave your village? 

     Perhaps the thoughts would be more immediate. Would you like sixth grade? A new school, yet filled with the same classmates? Or was the day, that particular Saturday, so nicely warm — but not hot — and the quiet accompanied by an occasional drone from a Piper Cub circling from the airpark as to make all semi-serious thought disappear?

     Walking back home seemed to make you a bit stronger, more confident. For you had solved the world’s problems, you see. And your mom was ready to let you back in the house.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

     — 30 —

      

IN A SMILE …

March 1, 2021

Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     America doesn’t smile as much these days. The virus. Jobs gone, debt, deficit, taxes, disappointing “leaders,” the greedy, less spirit, confused purpose, lost understanding of how, why the nation was founded  — not much to be happy about. 

     Until you see a child’s face.

     Not talking about my own grandchildren, for I am prejudiced. Nor the smiles of any particular kids I know. As with so much of life, it is the anonymous who are seen most acutely, most honestly. We have no direct stake in who they are, where they have been, where they are going. There are no ties, no responsibilities in the seconds it takes to glance at their openness, the smile from non-cluttered thinking in childhood expression.

     Where are they, the young who smile? In innocence, surely. In curiosity, yes. In mile-a-minute thinking as their fertile, inquisitive minds begin to collect and catalog sights, sounds, smells, emotions. Most of all, in imagination, in that magical world where there are few limits, where super heroes are made and trusted, where Cinderella can meet her fella, where right can win out, where the frontier is the jump over the moon into the cosmos.

     And, of course any child can do that. He/she has not been taught otherwise.

     We adults forget so much of a child’s world and come to tolerate it as a growing phase worthy of a nice pat on the head as we plan for college way too soon, not remembering that the best education in our own lives was when we were young and few boundaries had been set. 

     Who is the wisest in the set? The youth in imagination or the “accomplished” adult who has made a mess of things in today’s America?

     The nation no longer smiles as much, but the young still do, in almost any circumstance. All things seem possible in such early time, anything.

     Pity that we grow up.

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

                        –30-

AN ORANGE A DAY …

February 22, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Don’t each oranges much any more, or tangerines, as the march of time has made the delectable juice the foe of my system. But once just the peeling of the fruit, with tangy whiff as you pressed the north or south pole to open it made the mouth water. Better than a Three Musketeers bar. Not better than a Tancos Bakery jelly donut, granulated.

     My father, who did the grocery shopping since my mother did not drive and also had a 9-5 job, kept the household supplied with fruit, especially the oranges and tangerines of the winter season. Fall would bring Concklin’s apples; summer Hudson Valley peaches.

     You began evening television, channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and the partial on-air 13 out of Newark with an orange or tangerine, pressing your thumb into the pole, maybe getting squirted, taking in the rind’s fragrance, setting the scene for taking apart the fruit, section by section.

     My brother did not care for the stringy part covering tangerines in particular, but I enjoyed that, mixing with the juice once you popped a section, much like topping on cereal. Yin and yang.

     You would watch a cowboy movie or “I Love Lucy” or whatever was a regular TV staple, orange eaten but rind still on a napkin in your lap. Too many times, on my way to the kitchen, I’d gather up the bits, roll up the napkin and put in my pocket. Then I’d get a glass of water and completely forget about the drying rind.

     Almost no problem since the fruit remainder kept its fragrance, and finding the rind the next day was sort of like washing your clothes with the high-priced detergent you get today, orange scent, of course.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           –30–

DRIVING MR. G

February 15, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     I recall a particularly down day way, way back when a combination of disappointment, inaction, frustration and inertia had me idling in neutral. Could not see the road ahead. It would normally be one of those times when you just didn’t get out of bed. But fortune stepped in. I had to go with a friend to pick up his 1959 Austin Healey 3000 from a great mechanic on East Willow Tree Road in what was then rural Pomona, N.Y. I was to drive the sports car home. It took my moment out of neutral.

     My own car was a staid and unreliable VW beetle, though most of that make were OK. This one had an inherently bad engine that kept blowing valves. Lack of maintenance did not help.

     In contrast, the friend’s white Healey was in great tune, and I wasn’t going to spend enough time to change its image. Yet it changed my day.

      When I left the shop, revving the 3-litre BMC C-Series motor a bit in first gear, clutch down, clear country road ahead, bright day, whatever mood I was stuck in vanished in tailpipe smoke between shifts. Had it to 60 mph in 11 seconds on the straight Pomona Road run, not fast by today’s standards, but it felt as if I were driving Mr. G at Daytona.

     Left on Route 306, back to East Willow Tree to McNamara, the twists and turns  conquered in numerous shifting and downshifting, gripped  steering wheel aiming the vehicle along the crest of the road (best place to be), that fine machine, its finicky carbs newly ear-tuned by a master in sync like a full orchestra as we revved our way through those great turns. Nothing else mattered. It turned out to be a good day.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           –30–

February 1, 2021

 ‘AMERICAN PROMISE’/acrylic, gunther

  By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     This House, isolated in American vastness, no chimney seen, no doorknob, no curtains, yet it is a sturdy home, not abandoned, people within, green, fertile fields, blue sky floating on rich, yellow, warming sun. Picture of endurance, fortitude, independence, can-do. Not urban, not suburban, not wilderness. All that exists, too, all that celebrates as well. American Promise.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                         –30–

SARA, IN VIRUS TIME

January 25, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     If I had a real conversation with Sara, who is in a room during this virus, as so many of us are, her face not seen though we can imagine her thoughts, it would come after our eyes met. I would wait for that, brush in hand, and then let a quiet rhythm begin in my speech but say few words. 

     I would want her to talk, and I would build on that, she in the painting, me beyond the frame. The conversation would be not so much what she says but what she thinks. That would make the ordinary of this unusual long moment come alive. It surely would direct the brushwork.

     Has this been a time of deeper reflection? We all reflect no matter what, but usually it is on the go, the wavelength competing with other frequencies, like radio stations jumping on your favorite network.  Now there is quiet, utterly so at times, and sitting in a room as Sara is doing, the place very simple, with a strong upright standard lamp assuring light, the heartbeat can slow, and you amble rather than race through your thoughts. 

     More doors open into your inner mind, and you make connections to memory, to unsolved dilemma, to happy thoughts not regularly visited when we are in the hustle-bustle world.

     As I paint, I know Sara will turn — just for an instant, for the piece is about every woman, and so we cannot “see” just one person.

     But I will look deeply into Sara’s eyes, which means everything. And I will understand. So will she. It’s my painting, after all.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                         –30–

     

NO STAMP OF APPROVAL

January 18, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

When you wrote your first letter, no matter how old you were, or sent away a quarter with three box tops to a cereal company to get a baking soda-powered plastic toy submarine that you could throw in the bath water, you took what became a familiar journey: the walk to the street corner mailbox.

My first trip to what seemed a place of magic was in the Spring Valley, N.Y., of my youth, in the 1940s. The mailboxes in those days were small and olive colored, decorative cast-iron affairs attached to sculpted concrete stanchions or to lampposts. They offered a bit of elegance to government.

My grandfather took me to the mailbox at the corner of Ternure and Summit avenues and had to lift me up so that I could open the mailbox lid, which swung on heavy bolts, and then drop the letter in. He told me to reopen it to make sure the letter had fallen in and for good luck, too. The lid came down with a clank, a solid sound, twice.

As we walked back home, I could not help wondering how my mail would arrive where I sent it, in this case, Battle Creek, Mich. Was there a huge underground pipe with air in it that sucked the mail all the way to the post office?

When the battleship arrived five or six weeks later at Box 74 in the Spring Valley Post Office, where my father got his home mail, I was amazed, and assured that government worked. I believed in the U.S. Post Office.

This mailing of the letter, the curiosity about how it got where it supposed to go and the return mail with the treasured item I requested as an eight year old was a wonderful moment of freedom, of opportunity, of growing up, of success, and it encouraged me to use the mailbox — any mailbox — on the corner again and again.

It also instilled trust in government.

Over the decades since, those small mailboxes that introduced youngsters to the mail service’s possibilities, those cast-iron portals of mystery on street corner America where moms and sweethearts posted letters to men and women at war, those durable metal boxes which seemed as strong and dependable as our nation, have disappeared, replaced with larger and many, many fewer mailboxes with rounded tops, a now patented design.

Fewer boxes has made pickup easier and cheaper for the renamed and redefined U.S. Postal Service, whose workers I hail, though leadership — driven by politics — sometimes doesn’t rate a stamp of approval (as we recently found.)

In the later 1950s, the olive mailbox look gave way to red, white and blue, a design encouraged by a citizen’s suggestion. Around 1971, that appropriate, even patriotic, look was changed, unfortunately, to the all-blue, cheaper-to-paint design that we now see. 

Citing reduced letter writing, an overall decline in first-class mail, use of the Internet to write messages and pay bills and the ever-higher cost of running the Postal Service, the people in charge will further reduce the number of street mailboxes. That walk to a corner won’t happen, no satisfying stroll to say you can trust the government, beginning on a corner in your very own American community.

In my own hamlet of Blauvelt, N.Y., in Rockland County in lower New York State, there are no street-corner mailboxes where once there were four or five. You can drop mail in the one box that exists, and not on a street corner but in front of the post office. You can also leave it with the “rural free delivery” mailman, who actually serves built-up suburbia on a motor route that once would have been converted to door-to-door walking delivery given the number of people who now live here. But ever-higher costs prevented that changeover.

I applaud the mailman who usually comes despite the sleet, the snow, the rain, the hail, and it is a bargain that we can send a first-class letter for the present cost of 55 cents.  

Eventually, though, the Internet, however unreliable in power outages and poor signal areas, may take over, and traditional mail service will be gone. And what will also disappear is the walk with your grandfather to mail three cereal box tops for a toy submarine. Guess Gramps can then sit next to his grandchild at the computer, though both could use the walk and the priceless opportunity to go off together on an important life journey.

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

                             –30–

‘PORT IN A STORM’

January 11, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     The painting accompanying this essay is titled “Storm” and is a reworked piece following the tumult of 2020, now spilled into early 2021. It is, despite the movement and color, a work of hope.

     The painting is based in part on “Lydia,” the 1941 Merle Oberon film that refers to an earlier French movie by director Julien Duvivier. The film is set in flashback and looks at the five men in never-married Lydia MacMillan’s life. It features a windswept house by a stormy sea where one love affair was set to sail but never anchored.

    The film affected me in several ways,  particularly the emotion of the seashore house surrounded by churning waters and high winds. A port in a storm.

      Then came January 6 and the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, and again we saw a storm but in the end, the lights stayed on and the historic place of democracy, last assaulted by the British in 1812, endured. Another port in a storm, however challenging the moment.

     So that’s how a painting came to be.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

  

2021

‘AT THE ASTOR’/gunther

January 4, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

‘2021’/acrylic/gunther

     Sometime in 2021, the Astor sign will again be lit metaphorically in tourist spots across the globe; we will no longer just stare at paintings on the walls; but we will remember the quiet, the great gifting quiet of 2020 that slowed the frenetic pace and tilled fertile ground for the seeds of necessary thought. A very Happy, Healthy, Giving, Forgiving, Thankful, Reaffirming New Year to all.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact ahgunther@hotmail.com or FB Messenger.