Lessons at grandma’s

July 22, 2013

Lessons at grandma’s

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

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.

Forgotten skills

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Forgotten skills

One of the non-dynamics of “progress” is that as new technology replaces the old, or brings it on in the first place, tried and true habits honed by trial, error, ingenuity, make-do habits and survival are lost.

For example, in this age of omnipresent air conditioning, a simple concept like hot air circulation is forgotten. Recently, 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 at about three stories there were other windows, all shut but with long chains dangling. It was soon obvious that the chains were pulls meant to open the upper windows so that the hot air 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 would simply have opened 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 in three places 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 would be on the junk pile, replaced by a new one much younger and less beautiful.

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

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Celebration in Nyack

Celebration in Nyack

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

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.