‘RURAL WINDOW, AN AMERICAN FLAG’

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Memorial Day weekend 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Noting Memorial Day and the many thousands of Americans and non-citizens who have sacrificed their lives in war; bowing in humility to the dying and dead — the champions of this time of virus; hailing the “Rosie Riveters” and all defense workers of the Second World War; saluting the poor, the downtrodden, the essential worker who keep the rest alive, we offer that the American flag need not appear as what we “see” but that it can be the rural window of a Kansas farmhouse, the isinglass curtains of pioneer settlers, the colored cloth covering a 1930s dustbowl window, the blue and gold stars of flags in the windows of those in service, the wet handkerchief held by a farm worker. The list is endless.
Our “flag” is us — all colors, all material, rich silk, threadbare cotton, a flag of tears, of joy, of sacrifice, of caring, of achievement, of pride, of humanity.

 

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

‘LEADERSHIP’ AND A VACUUM

May 18, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     One of the enforced benefits of this time of the virus — sitting at home — can be good for you even though you might want to be out gallivanting. For example, watching PBS. You are the adult student in your living-room classroom, and what you might have not looked at before, or done so only in pieces by flipping channels, you now give attention, albeit helped by that glass of wine.

     Into the Roosevelt series for some Thursday evenings on PBS, we are reminded of the utter necessity of presidential leadership in deeply challenging times. Or what happens with no leadership, as has also happened. Is happening.

    Teddy Roosevelt, thrust into the place he soon called the “White House” rather than the “Executive Mansion,” itself a telling move about rejecting privilege, the man went far beyond anything assassinated William McKinley would have done. Trust-busting, a bold move against endemic greed, the “Square Deal” protecting consumers, the environment and the pocketbook, and building the Panama Canal were major accomplishments.

Foremost, though, was the attitude that the people, potential rough-riders themselves, could climb any mountain and progress. That boosted pre-World War American confidence and growth. Leadership, yes.

     Franklin D. Roosevelt, fifth cousin to TR, offered the “New Deal,” arguably influenced by wife Eleanor’s undying, unswerving humanitarian concerns and also devised by the brilliant “Brain Trust” the president assembled. Yet it was fatherly FDR, in “Fireside Chats” and constant reassuring speeches, who emotionally supported a nation and its people in depression and a world war. His four terms would change the economic and social direction of the United States, mostly in the positive. Leadership, yes.

     You can argue for and against one or both Roosevelts, TR a progressive Republican and FDR a moderate Democrat who was a solution-seeker deeply influenced by Eleanor and others. They both had warts, and each pushed presidential authority to some extreme. What you cannot deny in either presidency is their leadership, envisioned by the founding fathers, who also devised that there should be no king, and that should one begin to build a throne, be proven a wannabe dictator or show no leadership, that the voters, the courts or the impeachment/trial process could boot the person in a full, enthusiastic kick. Repudiation in full, as with Richard Nixon. 

     Today, in the time of virus, which is becoming a wake-up metaphor for ever-existing but in recent decades heightened greed, ignorance, official incompetence and prejudice, it will be a turning point this November if citizens truly see their duty and vote. There is forever in these United States a meanness born of prejudice and a sense of superiority, going beyond political persuasion. In 1930, that mindset said publicly, “Poverty is good for the soul, it will harden you.” In 1944, as selfless Eleanor Roosevelt flew to WWII combat zones, that attitude criticized her for using government airplanes. Today it is blaming all our ills on the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless and immigrants fleeing dictatorships and conditions we have supported. And the blame is cover for more greed, more prejudice.  

     If this virus does anything positive, it must inoculate some of us against utter disregard for selected humanity.

    

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

       

IN THE TIME OF VIRUS …

May 11, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     One of the things about staying home during the time of virus is that you have to escape. The walls can move in a bit, and suddenly the back yard where you never went except to mow the lawn becomes Central Park. But there are other places, too, if only in memory.

     Back in the day, as youth with not much money but with a one-speed, coaster-brake bicycle, or more often on foot, or later with an iffy-running car, there were many places to explore in what was then more country than suburbia. 

     First, there was the quiet of the road, a walk down Hickory over to the closed St. Vincent de Paul summer camp grounds that led to the old Erie branch to Mt. Ivy. Few cars were then about, and usually there was no one on the fields, in the marsh and at the pond. This was the view, too, of my father in his youth. What thoughts he had I cannot know, but all young, in their time, have to think and ponder in solitude. There is so much ahead, we hope.

     If you could muster the leg strength, a bike ride from Hillcrest through the Spring Valley downtown of some generations, past a former home, three old schools, up the Old Nyack Turnpike to Saddle River Road and back home through the Ukrainian and Polish neighborhoods near West Street was not only a challenge but a fortification of more than physical strength. This was a ride of emotion, too, because even younger years, with family, friends, school and varied haunts were re-visited as if watching an 8mm home movie. Reassuring for the coming journey.

     A few years later, the iffy jalopy started, you might have someone with you on the ride, say along a twisting, turning route. It could be South Mountain Road, with the 1700s Concklin orchards in early bloom, followed by the homes of artists, writers and thespians, then to a private lane leading to the Crosby Vineyards and the hike at High Tor.

     The summit always provided a seat for your thoughts. Did then, does now. You share the space with the fabled Dutch sailors lost off the Half Moon whose bowling is the thunder of the lower Hudson Valley. You also share space with your companion, proving that different directions can co-exist for the moment, and you will never forget.

     So, it is in the memories that you can, in the time of virus, leave the house, the apartment, the room.

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

MEMORIES AS CLOSURE

May 4, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There had been many quick jumps across my childhood street in Hillcrest, N.Y., to see my friend Matthew but also to sit down with his grandmother, Molly Weissman. This bubbe, in her late 80s, a survivor of Russian pogroms and with the shared DNA of relatives lost in the Holocaust, offered few words in mixed English but wisdom as plentiful as the promised land of milk and honey. And as with Exodus 3:17, it was all in the journey.

     It was part of my journey. I was then a seventh grader, a goy, not of Molly’s faith, but because she listened to a young fellow and treated me as an equal philosopher, which clearly I was not, I sat.

     There was talk of life, of hardship, of mitzvahs and trying to do good, of respect for humanity. I was polite, I listened. But  also, perhaps unwittingly, I took some wisdom, putting it in my pockets for another day. That would take a long time to arrive.

     The seventh grader grew, there were other interests, I did not see the bubbe. One day came word that Molly Weissman had passed. There had been the quick burial, as required by her Orthodox faith. I could not mourn her.

     Matthew, her grandson, was sent to the local funeral home on State Street to buy a memorial candle, which would be lit for a year. He and I went for that as the family sat shivah for the seven days of respect. The mirrors were covered in ritual, and there were simple orange crates to sit on. 

    Today, as so many must mourn without seeing loved ones and friends after their passing in the time of the coronavirus, when even a shivah cannot easily take place, or a funeral Mass, or mosque tradition or memorial, it will have to be lingering and repeated memories that offer respect for those we lose.

     Yet perhaps that is the best recognition of lives that impact us, as Molly’s did mine.

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