March 29, 2021


    When I came off the crest of the hill heading down Spring Valley’s Main Street at 1 a.m. Tuesday, March 23,  just 8 minutes after the alarm for the fatal Evergreen Court Home For Adults fire in the village, I could see the lights of the responding Columbian Fire Engine Co. No. 1 trucks. A few hours later, Jared Lloyd, one of their volunteer firefighters, would be gone, perishing in a hellish blaze in an old hotel. 

     Oddly, I saw the Columbian rigs just as I passed the old Ramapo Trust Co. building site at Main and Lawrence where another Valley volunteer gave his life some decades ago, rushing on foot from a nearby event dinner to jump into the fire scene.

     This time, in that selfless dashing to save lives, it was Lloyd, a 15-year fire service veteran with the Columbians, the oldest of three Valley fire companies (1861). Jared leapt  into action, immediately responding while everyone slept. Because of his bravery, his life was given. He gave it. Because of him and his fellow firefighters from Rockland’s many departments, as well as police, EMT, Evergreen staff and community members, all 112 residents were rescued with an unfortunate but single fatality among them.

     Training for Rockland volunteer firefighters, men and women, is rigorous, scientific and on-going, the county’s special academy at the Fire Training Center in Pomona so well-respected that some cities and states have sent trainees.

     So, when firefighters like Jared Lloyd hear the fire tone and jump out of bed or leave work to report to the station house or fire call site, they do so with an adrenalin rush, yes, but also with clicked-in super, smart training. Both save lives — courage and education.

     All that bravery, study and practice, though, cannot always keep the firefighter alive. Hellish fire, with flaming lips that change direction like a serpent, smoke that is not gray but black and so acrid that it challenges face masks and air packs; and the disorientation that comes from not knowing the fire scene’s floor plans, door and window exits and actual construction materials can make a crapshoot of firefighting, however well-trained the firefighter is.

     There will be services for the latest Rockland fallen fire volunteer; his name will be added to memorials. There will be studied reviews of the Evergreen fire, and lessons will be learned and then taught in Pomona and at many fire academies.

     But the intangible of any bravery such as Jared Lloyd’s is the greatest lesson, the most significant tribute of all: that one willingly gives a life for others.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.



THE IMAGINARY COTTAGE … and other places


March 22, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     At the end of daily instruction, some of our elementary school teachers used to read from classic books and stories, perhaps to decompress us after the hectic day, maybe even sedate us for the school bus driver. The effect on many was not only to soothe but to open the imaginary door to  people, places and travel.

Most if us like to be read to, and that starts with mom or dad and then the teacher. It is like having the purring cat on your lap, your feet in slippers, warm fire nearby. Tucked in, you close your eyes or stare out the window and hold on as you go wherever the story goes, wherever the characters go.

I remember “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that way, even recalling that I deeply inhaled  L. Frank Baum’s words while seated in the sixth desk back, left side of classroom, first floor, southeast side of the South Main Street School in Spring Valley, N.Y. Miss Helen Rouy was the third-grade teacher and reader.

Each day until the book was finished, she would read us a chapter or two, and there wasn’t a noise in the classroom, not even the antsy shuffling you would expect from young people toward the end of a school day.

Now, when the movie is played on TV, and we see Judy Garland and others in this classic, it is Miss Rouy’s words that I hear. Warm memory that, and thank you, teach.

There were other books and stories that hit the mark in their own way, some not so specific as the plot line in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” There you would really let the mind wander, using your own frame of reference. For example, take a story about children playing in a field, maybe near an empty cottage. When the teacher read such a piece, we could imagine the fields we played in after school, old homes no longer lived in. There were many of those in my countrified youth. For others, urban street scenes and city sights might be the reference.

The important thing was the connection, and the words read to you so well that they had you draw colors, things, people, emotion, places, conversation in your mind.

It was a veritable daydream factory, there to be recalled even decades later.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.



March 15, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     No longer are there country lanes in this life, grateful though as one must be for having once traveled in the heady quiet of a summer night, windows open in non-air conditioned car but the heat of July dissipated both by a sun finally down and the hope of youth taking its place in the brightness of a horizon seemingly without limit.

     Yet it proves just partially reachable as years pass, mostly because the demands of moving on require practicality for the ordinary of us. Life happens.

     No complaints; in fact, grateful again. What flowers bloom in fields where you never expected to be. Much luck, awfully good people, some talents nurtured and opportunities  bring a harvest not deserved. Not everyone is so fortunate.

     In the night of the passing years, after the hustle and bustle and the required routine are done, the country lanes appear in a flash, and you get the summer evening scent immediately, the hair that is now gone catches the cooler breeze in the hollow. You feel what was for a second — those youthful stirrings before you had to grow up.

     Yet you were on the lane once, and as you fall asleep so long after, the car is moving in third gear, the windows open, the summer date over, the goose pimples visible.

     Life happens.



March 8, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Way back in my time, in my small village where a Saturday morning might begin with a long walk through town to an old schoolyard or a field of winter straw, the settings for thoughts of nothing in particular but sometimes more than that simply came and lingered a bit. It wasn’t a school day.

     This was before computers, smart phones, video games, weekend organized activity for kids. It was “get-lost-for-awhile day,” directive from mom so she could clean the house, that after working all week. So, a walk fit in just right, or maybe some time in the huts we could build in the many woods of our countrified area.

     Such a walk was for all seasons, literally. In all kinds of weather. In any year, from third grade through high school and a bit beyond, until the routine of being employed changed life in its next stage.

     The walk, itself leisurely, no hurry-up steps as when you are late for school or for the dentist, was of nothingness but also of everything, for it was on the two-mile-there, two-mile-back that dreams were made — what would you do in life? Would you have girlfriends? Would you leave your village? 

     Perhaps the thoughts would be more immediate. Would you like sixth grade? A new school, yet filled with the same classmates? Or was the day, that particular Saturday, so nicely warm — but not hot — and the quiet accompanied by an occasional drone from a Piper Cub circling from the airpark as to make all semi-serious thought disappear?

     Walking back home seemed to make you a bit stronger, more confident. For you had solved the world’s problems, you see. And your mom was ready to let you back in the house.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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