October 31, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
For this writer, there is an early Tuesday morning ritual, about 3:30, when a coffee break allows brief respite from volunteer cooking duties in my childhood village of Spring Valley, N.Y. Been doing this for awhile, but now an added twist is like dessert with the java.
Not long ago, I came across an old photo, posted on social media, of the then Dutch Reformed Church gym/gathering room. Taken in 1937, it shows Spring Valley students seated at long tables during religious instruction classes.
There were perhaps 50 students, high school, I would guess, and they are the combined Protestant teaching pupils for religious ed. St. Joseph up the street had the Roman Catholics.
“Release time” was a new activity in New York State, and it was secured largely through the efforts of the Rev. Dr. Alfred Wyckoff, the longtime pastor of the Dutch Reformed, now United Church. The idea was to continue religious instruction for secular students beyond Sunday School.
The gym photo was probably taken as release time began in the village and throughout New York State.
Back to my Tuesday morning ritual. When I grab my coffee from the commercial Bunn machine, a device so well U.S.-designed and built that it has lasted for decades, I head for the gym, but not without looking at the 1937 photo.
I choose a student, look at her or him, and then sit exactly where the person was 79 years ago. I then have a breakfast companion of sorts, and I try to relate to the student’s world of 1937.
It was my father’s time, and he had to know every one of these students in what was then such a small village. These were sons and daughters of shopkeepers still in business when I was growing up. And their own kids went to school with me.
It was the Great Depression, with World War II just two years off. How many of these students served, died, were wounded? Where did their lives take them? Are any with us now?
There is so much promise in these smiling, hopeful faces. Did that happen? In the decades since the 1937 photo, so much has changed in the world, in Spring Valley, in everything.
But on quiet Tuesday mornings when initially I am all alone, when my childhood village is mine again, when I can hear the footsteps of my brother in Memorial Park, when I can feel the excitement of youth as the football game ended at the old high school and a spontaneous parade began on Main Street, I can also go home again by having coffee with Valleyites from 1937.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org