December 28, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I am increasingly asked why I stay in my hometown, actually the county where I have lived my life, and my father before me, and my grandfather a bit and now one of our two sons and his family. My simple answer is this Rockland, the geographically smallest county in New York State, though almost over-populated, is where my roots are. To leave, even though it would bring greater economic comfort and a landscape horizon more like that I enjoyed in youth, would give me a deep ache when I awoke the next morning in a different world.

It is silly, I know, but even as a younger fellow, I did not like to travel, to take a atmosphere break. Now, nearing the year 2016, there is every reason to move on, save the nearness of family and the memories of so many places, even more so, individuals. But you can have family visit when you go, and you can take your memories of people, places, moments with you, for that’s where they reside — with you, anyway. How often do we see the old places, family, teachers, friends and those we connected with in special ways? Most are gone, times have changed, and the stage sets no longer exist. You cannot go home again, yet leaving, for me, would be unplugging. I cannot do that.

But there is reason, logical reason, to move on. The rural quiet is gone, and you still cannot get used to the rudeness of some who brought hustle, bustle and cacophony with “progress.”  The old library you once lived in daily had the rule observed: “Please Be Quiet.” There is no public funding for that place today, yet there is constant, even greedy and self-centered investment in unplanned growth.

You are still angry with the Thruway builders for bulldozing your wooded hut in 1951 (rudely so — they didn’t tell the third grader), and that un-acceptance mushroomed and was reinforced when development after development was built, strip shopping, too, and both helped shove aside downtown community life and fostered suburban isolation. Taxes rose, and still rise.

Perhaps another place would be more affordable; maybe there would be better land-use planning. The diversity must  continue, if you sought such a new place — that would be necessary since you grew up with a mixture of people. Rockland has always been proudly diverse.

So many folk you know have left for warmer climate, or cheaper areas or lifestyles easier to take as life marches on. If peace could somehow be made with myself — with the leave-taking — would I go? On an afternoon, having survived the busy roads, after having paid my tax bill and having opened the utility charges, I seem fortified to look at real estate ads. But then comes the evening, and I am comfortable in a house where long we have lived. Then comes a peaceful enough sleep with memories as a warm comforter —those people are with me — and in the morning, so very early, I drive to buy three newspapers, also my life’s blood, and the roads are nearly empty. Old Rockland is back, in a way, for a short time.

I realize the bills will get paid. And I will have new chance to complain about “progress,” as is my want. I will see everywhere the progression of life — that of my family, some gone, some here,  that of my friends, those I knew in a certain way, or who taught me, who showed me this land and why it cannot be separate from me or I from it or them.

My resolve is reinforced after the morning ride and I purr anew — until the afternoon, anyway.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via


    This is my son’s annual holiday story, which he has written in this space for many seasons.

By Arthur H. Gunther IV

There was too much science.  Too much math.  There was too much thinking in absolutes and definitives.  There were men and women with no patience, no imagination, no faith, who knew it was far easier to paint everything in good and evil, black and white, rather than calling attention to the shades of gray that truly inhabited humanity.  There were those who had forgotten how to take a deep breath, how to slow down, how to ponder, how to think.  Or maybe it wasn’t so purposeful.  Maybe they didn’t know how.  Maybe they were just afraid. And then, on top of it all, there was the weather.

Tommy tried not to care as he put on shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt and, sadly, nothing else.  No hat, no gloves, no thermal pants.  His run right before he went to bed Christmas Eve had accidently evolved into a tradition and, now, many years after it had started, was one of Tommy’s favorites.  He knew the weather really shouldn’t affect his mood, that it truly didn’t matter, and that no amount of thinking about it would change the fact that even at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve  the thermometer still hovered at 55 degrees.  So Tommy grimaced his face into a smile and headed out the door.  He usually ran toward town and the lights.  This year the village had found the money to not only illuminate the town with strings of white color, but to actually extend the lights off the two main streets into a few of the less-trafficked roads.  As Tommy turned off the street where he lived, he headed in this direction, only to have a second thought and abruptly turn around several strides into his run.  Maybe the air would be a bit colder if he headed north, away from town toward the river.  A few degrees might actually make a difference.  He would take anything he could get.

A few minutes later, Tommy’s stride fell into a familiar rhythm, and his thoughts began to wander.  This was only helped by the darkness and quiet that enveloped the streets.  A few houses had left their Christmas lights on, but mostly there was calm.  Despite the unseasonably rapid-rising warmth in Tommy’s body, this solitude felt right.  Soon he reached the end of the road that descended into the park.  The moonless night left it too dark to run along the river.  Tommy’s impulse was to turn around and head back, but he didn’t feel like going home yet.  Without pausing, Tommy made a right turn and ascended the hill that bordered the property kept by a local order of nuns.  Despite the fact that he hadn’t gained much altitude, Tommy felt himself shiver a bit as he climbed.  Getting to the top of the rise he turned around and paused to take in the view of the river at night.  His heart beat in his head as he shivered once more.

That’s when he saw it.  Looking right, toward the cliffs that bordered the nun’s property, his vision went white.  The fields were lit up with snow.  Everything was so bright that it looked like sunrise.  This is impossible, Tommy thought. The temperature hasn’t been below 50 degrees since November.  He turned into the nun’s access road and began to run once again.  The path led toward the main house where the nuns lived.  Tommy had never been down this way before, but he knew there were still several nuns left who lived on the land.  He was suddenly freezing.  Coming up to the house, Tommy could see it was all lit up inside.  He was trying to make out the familiar music wafting out when the front door opened.  A woman dressed in snow gear waved and wordlessly gestured Tommy inside.

Stepping into the house, the woman began to speak, “Little late for a run, isn’t it?  I’ve seen you out on the roads.  My name’s Mary!  The other sisters and I just finished with the snow, and now we’re warming up with some hot chocolate.”

Tommy, previously startled, suddenly was aware of his surroundings.  There were five other women, nuns, Tommy supposed, all dressed in winter clothes like Mary.  The music, louder now that Tommy was inside, was instantly recognizable:  It was the Beatles.  The closing sounds of the plane landing at the end of “Back in the USSR” was segueing into the chiming notes that began “Dear Prudence.”  Mary saw Tommy staring at the record player.

“The White Album.”  Mary announced.  “We play it every Christmas Eve.  Came out right before Christmas in 1968, the year I became a nun.  Always reminds me of Christmas.  Imagine 1968, being blessed with not one, but two Beatles albums at once!  And the cover, white as Christmas snow!  Nothing on it.  The Beatles daring you to use your own imagination.”

Tommy was speechless.  Here he was standing surrounded by nuns dressed for skiing, listening to the White Album on Christmas Eve.  As he was handed a mug of hot chocolate, Tommy finally got it a bit together.

“I don’t understand?  Where did the snow come from?  Did I miss something?”

Mary just laughed.  Tommy stared at her eyes.  The quiet confidence in her gaze was a bit disconcerting.

“Have you seen the filming crew that’s been here for the last couple of months?  We’ve been renting our property to them.  They’re on a break now, but after the new year they’ll be back to film some more.  We’re not even sure what the movie is about.  Last week, before they left on vacation, a bunch of snow-making machines were dropped off.  I guess they got tired of waiting for the snow for their movie and are going to make some when they get back.  Well, the sisters and I were sitting around this afternoon, looking at the thermometer and staring at those snow machines.  I guess you can figure out what happened next.  You know any kids?  Spread the word that there will be sledding tomorrow.”

Tommy, speechless once more, though grinning pretty widely now, just nodded.

“You realize,” Mary said, winking, “that we’re all not here bobbing along for the ride.  Sometimes God needs a little help.”


 The writer is a teacher and lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., not far from the very giving Marydell Sisters, wouldn’t you know. He can be reached via



December 14, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.

The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from  — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.

Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.

The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.

All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.

Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.

So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.

Though my heart and mind are with newspapers — I cannot get through a day without them — this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an “informed democracy?” We shall see.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at



By Arthur H. Gunther III

POSTED on Dec. 6 for Dec. 7 — No American can go through this day without recalling Pearl Harbor, because it is etched on our timeline. Most modern-day citizens have no recollection  of the “Day of Infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt put it in asking for a declaration of war against Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, and not all know their history, but the sudden, devastating attack is common knowledge. That was deliberate action against one nation by another. Today’s Pearl Harbors, like the dreadful San Bernadino killings, are cults against people, and the battle lines are much more difficult to draw.

President Roosevelt properly addressed a joint session of Congress in the constitutional way — the only way we should operate in a democracy — asking for a declaration of war. Subsequent presidents fudged thinking on Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and bypassed the voice of the people, their Congress. Doing so ill-defined the battle lines and even the order of battle, brought death and destruction that need not have occurred and fueled the growth of the military/industrial complex that Gen. Eisenhower warned us about. The argument can be made that while all this was happening, America — and the world — ignored the growth of terrorism, which is our enemy today.

It is time, then, for the president to appear before Congress in the  constitutional way to ask for a declaration of  war on terrorism. Armed with that mandate from the people, America would (1) work with other democratic nations in an allied fight; (2) seek to address worldwide conditions of poverty and neglect — a direct consequence of once-colonial powers abandoning their territories without preparing for democracy — that fuel ISIS and other cults; and (3) deliberately hail and support the “Four Freedoms” that FDR reminded the nation and the world about in a State of the Nation speech to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

I repeat here what FDR told us:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.  The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”

Why is it necessary for Congress to declare war on terrorism? Why must the voice of the people and the president repeat the “Four Freedoms?” Simple: to avoid those special interests who make money on war, who would see us in lockdown and security checks “for our own sake,” who would even deny free speech “for the duration” so as to better fight a “war,” who  would clamp down on all Muslims, denying freedom of speech, who in greed would continue to neglect the backbone of the American economy and its progress, its opportunity, by withering the middle class (“freedom from want”).

Terrorism thrives when these four freedoms are denied, anywhere, in any age.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at This essay may be reproduced.