SOUP, JUST SOUP

 

October 28, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

After weeks of little rain, this part of the greater patch — slightly upstate New York — is at this writing getting very wet, the bath due to a storm with its sights set more on Long Island and Cape Cod than Rockland County. Still, like the cozy coat you pull out for fall’s first chill, the sudden appearance of the wet changes the dial. All I could think of was soup.
It’s a bit of the fortunate that there is a change of seasons here, so the coat becomes reinforcement that you can get cozy in the chill, leaving behind long summer days and the fun, yes, but anticipating autumn color and the wonderful smell of fallen leaves.
Rain, especially if it has not thrown a kiss your way in too long a spell, gets the juices going for soup, whether you make it from scratch, pay way too much in a specialty store or simply open a can and have at it. When you have been missing something of a while, discerning is not usually top of agenda.
On such a day as this in my fourth-grade years, my mother, if she wasn’t concocting a red Irish stew, which was really soup with vegetables and her German noodles, had Campbell’s tomato with pepper steaming from the bowl as my brother and I came in soaking wet from the home-built huts in the backyard, our prairie.
Many a good meal begins with soup. It is the civilized way of eating, much like the proper introduction to a home via an inviting foyer: there is pause to anticipate what is next.
So, the day, this one at least, calls for the hottest of soup, simple fare that feeds so well that you could get complex about it.

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

 

 

THE HUMAN REQUIREMENT

As one of the many volunteers in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program and as a strong supporter of the overnight/outreach program Helping Hands-Safe Haven, I was asked to write the following.

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It is 1940, and the Great Depression is persisting after 11 years. At Maud Gunther’s Spring Valley, N.Y., home, not far from the downtown railroad tracks where the homeless slept even then, my grandmother is on her back porch, handing out sandwiches to hobos and other hungry people, made from the meager scraps she, her husband and son must share. But Arthur Sr. has a job. Many do not. Maud does her bit, as do quite a few Valleyites in that sad national time.
At night on any of those dark days, my grandparents sit in the dining room and listen to the radio, that after Arthur Sr.  has read The Rockland Journal-News, the New York Journal-American and the Daily News. Each of those information sources offer the same stories about unique, even groundbreaking relief efforts by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration as well as continuing political opposition in Congress and elsewhere. The poor, the down and out, the homeless are always grist for the political mill. Full bellies pontificate over the hungry.
Radio news says the opposition holds fast to its belief that lesser government involvement is best, that people can pull themselves up if only the economy is rebuilt — an old argument that never gets settled because greed intervenes. People still go without. In Spring Valley. In the nation.
One 1940 presidential contender, Robert Taft, states: “Let no one say that a sound fiscal policy is too hardboiled toward the more unfortunate among our people. It is the poor who will be cared for by a solvent government. …”
America has always had “solvent” government, but the poor, the needy, remain underserved and continue to be part of a false news, “welfare-queen” debate that is really ignorance perpetuated by the judgmental and the greedy. So, even in the best of times, the poor and others in need have been put on a meager budget line. Criticism of the unfortunate,  ignorance as to circumstance and outright refusal to accept that any of us could fall into sad situations are as firmly set in the national fabric as are the often heroic kindness and charity of so many. The needy are always an abstraction, always blamed for their misfortune. They are made sinners for that.
I wish those who contend that free will, gumption and grit alone make you thrive would serve meals any week day of the year, holidays included, in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program at United Church in Spring Valley. Or assist with the Helping Hands-Safe Haven seasonal overnight offering. Then they would witness the debilitating effects of joblessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse and health issues. And just plain bad luck.
RIBP served 18,633 breakfasts in 2016; Helping Hands provided 5,260 meals and overnight accommodations. None of these efforts would have been possible without volunteers, some 3,000 hours given. And not one of us, beyond normal individual human prejudice, openly judged anyone. We were not part of the historical debate between “gumption” and charity, one that continues even in a county as affluent as Rockland.
I am now Maud Gunther, deliberately serving the needy for 15 years in her village, my hometown, my father’s childhood community, the neighborhood of my friends, teachers, mentors. Like all the volunteers, I am paying my own good fortune forward. Privileged to do so.
On Tuesday mornings in the RIBP, we can rustle up a breakfast of sausage better prepared than in some upscale restaurants, slow-cooked for three hours in apple juice, brown sugar, honey and spices. Pancakes are made with eggs, brown sugar, honey and a bit of strong coffee. Chicken soup is simmered for two hours with my Irish mother’s recipe of black pepper and parsley. Total cost? About $2 a serving. In a restaurant, $16, at least.
I am no exception. There are better cooks, including professionals, who work free and offer chicken and other dishes that would pull in $20 a serving in an ordinary eatery.
Lunches, free to all, include freshly made sandwiches, fruit, a treat or two. Juice and coffee, cereal, oatmeal are available at breakfast. All prepared by volunteers.
And the volunteers do more than ready food, serve it and clean up. They bring in donated clothing. They buy clothing. Volunteers purchase food now and then, and kitchen items. If an individual client has a certain need, they are assisted out of pocket.
All this in the RIBP program. Then there is the Helping Hands-Safe Haven volunteer effort that besides all-year counseling and social services, offers seasonal overnight protection from the cold and bad weather, with space long donated by various religious institutions. (Rockland will soon partner on an overnight warming center and other services, thanks to recognition of the great need by the county Legislature and County Executive Ed Day.)
Again, we do not argue whether individuals deserve what we do. Nor do we pat ourselves on the back. We are just people filling a need as best we can. Some of us also do it for the churches and synagogues and mosques we belong to. Others offer service for the religion that is called humanity.
Society has an obligation to attend to the needy, perhaps asking questions later. But only later. We sometimes see babies and other  young children at breakfast, and you can ask nothing of them.
I hope whoever reads this, most especially anyone who continues the forever debate between requiring individuals to tough it out or asking society to meet obvious need, will take away two important points:
* RIBP, Helping Hands-Safe Haven and the other giving groups in Rockland do not ask questions. We do not vet the needy. We serve the needy, as religious belief and human decency command.
* We are cost-effective, probably spending  at least one-quarter what government or private services would require.
Finally, we have many volunteers, but we need more. We operate on a shoestring budget, and while Helping Hands and RIBP are uber-efficient, we still require funding to cover such unglamorous expenses as rent, insurance, salaries for our tiny non-volunteer staff and supplies.
Consider becoming part of the Helping Hands family through the donation of your time, your talent or your treasure.
(You can contact Helping Hands Director Ya’el Williams: ywilliams@helpinghandsofrockland.org)

 

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

THE BRASS NOZZLE

October 16, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

A very long time ago, I bought a nozzle for a garden hose so that I could water new shrubs at a new house. There was then just one child, who at almost three would turn the spray on me. That hose, with that nozzle, took a goodly portion of the free funds for a young family in a home in the ever more-taxed suburbs. But in a way, the nozzle has earned its weight in gold.
Over the decades, with greater income and savings, the temptation to buy a bigger and better nozzle was met over and over. I now have a drawer full of super-duper sprayers than can shoot water 20 feet, or give me 10 spray patterns, or save water. Together they probably have cost 30 times the price of the original, small, old-fashioned, solid-brass piece.
Some have held up reasonably well, though most are machined poorly, made cheaply in overseas factories where tolerances are not exact. But they look good, and that is probably why I bought them.
I had the money in my pocket, you see, and why not buy into the marketing theory that you simply must have the latest gadget?
Yet I always return to the 1973 brass nozzle. Either a new-fangled sprayer breaks down, or its lack of machined tolerance makes me not tolerate it, or it leaks, or I simply yearn for a simpler time when I could depend on an inexpensive, uncomplicated, design-proven nozzle to do the trick.
Besides, that sprayer was aimed at me by not one, but two sons. They washed their first cars with it. Hiking boots and running shoes were freed of mud. And these days, the guys and their progeny visit the old man, who can be found watering the now-big shrubbery with brass nozzle No. 1. It is an old friend, and I hold it in a tight handshake.

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

TWO OLD HOMES

October 9, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — It was easy, at this fund-raiser aiming to protect and restore a 200-year-old village house, to imagine social gatherings in the 1930s-‘50s at which Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur held court. Easy to picture, leaning against the 1800’s living room molding.
Lawrence Olivier might have done that, or later Marlon Brando, or Debbie Reynolds at “Pretty Penny,” the Broadway house costing just that when the famous movie and stage actress bought it with her husband Charles MacArthur, the newspaperman and playwright.
Fund-raisers — most social gatherings — don’t offer interest, maybe because I had to cover so many for the original Journal-News, but this one was a must. It was sponsored by johngreencoalition.org to help rescue Nyack’s oldest remaining Dutch sandstone house, a few streets south from the Hayes mansion. Saving history is always worth the trip.
But back to the Hayes/MacArthur home, offered for the day’s fund-raiser by its present owner, art dealer/map collector Graham Arader.
It is now restored, in part according to the tastes of actress Rosie O’Donnell, who once lived here. When I was in the house about 1967 to photograph Miss Hayes for The Journal-News, the still-stately architecture needed a tune-up. She had been living there alone, but with a secretary, for decades after the passing of her daughter Mary and husband. Their son, Charles, had moved on to acting.
Yet you barely noticed the loose windows and the need for paint in the  mansion because Helen Hayes overtook the scene. She was a true theatrical presence as well as a genuinely charming Nyacker often seen walking into town.
The day I took her photograph for a feature story, I was asked to sit on a couch and wait. A little while after, Miss Hayes came slowly down her elegant staircase, a huge portrait of her as Victoria Regina on the wall. She literally paused for a second, and the shot was better than any photograph I could take. While a more-standard picture was published, I have never forgotten how stage-worthy the moment was.
It also reinforced a sense of history — a noted actress, a famous playwright choosing to live and participate in a old house in a Hudson River town where industry long flourished, in part because of movers and shakers like John Green. (The man was a powerhouse, helping to build commerce from Nyack’s riverfront to Suffern and beyond via the original Nyack Turnpike.)
The fund-raiser to save his home on lower Main Street, which, hopefully will become a community gathering
place along a waterfront that must always be open to the people, was appropriately held in another historic Nyack house, itself just north of the Edward Hopper House, the home of America’s foremost realist artist.
Soon, the Green House will be dwarfed off Main and Gedney streets by even more modern-day “progress” — townhouses for those who can afford them. Yet, as the house is rescued, a herculean effort to be sure, it will increasingly be recognized as an anchor to the past, of growth in its time, too, but also of community involvement, 200 years ago, now and in the future.
Playwright MacArthur could have written such drama. Actress Hayes could have played the part. Now the stage is set for this rescue. Visit johngreencoalition.org.

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

THE FALL SEASON

October 2, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Once, so very long ago, almost in another age but I know it still must relate to the accumulation of living, just part of me, you see, gave someone a small birthday present.
It was the first gift for a new someone, and I thought it out, not wanting to go overboard and push the relationship into uncomfortable territory. Yet I wanted the present to be both meaningful — an expression of deepening interest — and also classy, since the person was surely that.
I ended up at a small corner jewelry store in Westwood, N.J., still there after five decades, staring into the show window on Center Avenue. That was easier for a shy fellow than going to the counter and looking at offerings from the sales person, almost all of which a 20 year old without a job could not afford.
Happily, I did see what I thought was the just-right gift in the show window, and five minutes later, with the equivalent of what some day would be a week’s salary from my first job gladly exchanged for what was a then-popular scarab bracelet, I went home and kept the present until the October birthday.
As these things go, the person I was then, not the fellow I am now, gave the bracelet to the person she was then, and it was appreciated. I don’t think I pushed the relationship to where it was uncomfortable, being jewelry and all, but I am not sure.
This was my first romantic gesture for anyone, and though I have never absorbed the etiquette on that, I just went ahead.
So much growth since then — me, her, people in our separate spheres, the world.
Yet as surely as fall comes each year, and it is a favored season, an older fellow now usually remembers the bright stones of the scarab bracelet, which signify creation and renewal, according to Egyptian thought.
Sounds right. A pleasant memory.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@hotmail.com or thecolumnrule.com