The Königsee in Bavaria was crystal clear when I took this photograph, free of many of the ravages of climate change, fed by the waters of the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, as nature intended. May the rest of the earth have that good fortune as well.

The Germans are quite strict on protecting natural waterways. No motorboats. No invasive human activity that would pollute the water. The goal is to pay forward nature’s beauty for the next generations.

This was the intention, too, of the Native Americans and of other cultures, who, of course, have always fought against the ravages of “progress.” Necessary for human advancement and betterment, progress can also be fueled by greed and profit and abandoned by  commonsense planning. — Art Gunther



April 19, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther



The half pirouette that the young woman made as she stood on a street corner mimicked a movement many of us have performed, waiting for a school bus, another ride, a friend. It is akin to looking at our watch, staring at our shoes, whistling in the wind.

It is life itself, one of those awfully small but reaffirming heartbeats that keep the current moving through the routine of a day. A pirouette, like looking at your shoes, happens only in the ordinary, not when you are climbing one day’s mountain or descending another’s steep hill. Your pulse is normal, your expectations routine, you know you are breathing, and you expect to continue.

A pirouette – spinning a bit on one foot – is perhaps a subconscious test that you are still here, not that you are worried you are not, but simply a check of the status quo, like a watchman pausing at stations on his tour. The key goes in, it is turned, and life for the watchman is as ordinary as it is supposed to be. No surprise.

I was driving in a small town when I saw the woman do her half-pirouette, spinning on one leg, not in a staged ballet style or serious affectation, but in passing time. I saw her only for an instant, but you could read a life in that time.

She seemed happy, content, life humming along, and whoever, whatever was next in her day was more than acceptable. It, he, or she would be the next watch station, and the lady with the pirouette had the key. She could safely lift one foot off the ground and spin, for there was more than enough trust for that.

We all have our scary days – going to the dentist or the doctor, taking a school exam, facing the boss, getting older – and there are no half-pirouettes on those days. For most of us, thankfully, life does not consist of scary moments, and the motor runs without misfiring. It is in such security that we can lift one foot off this mortal coil and know we will not come crashing down.

I knew that the lady I saw in this small town – and she could have been in a big city or in a rural cornfield – was having a good day.


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




April,12, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III



     There are memory moments for every grade in life, whether that is literally first grade, or making the grade or existing on any level for a particular time. The moments become part of language unique to the individual, and you can go back and use the words again when you must, for whatever reason. They are anchors set to mooring in each of our foundations.

     I actually have such a memory moment from first grade, which was in the still-existing Sloatsburg, N.Y., elementary school. Perhaps the school was encouraging wee young ones to be responsible by giving us hall lockers, extras that you don’t usually get until middle school, if not high school. But there they were, a long line in the hallway. No locks, of course, because most first graders, at least in my time, at least me anyway, would not have fathomed a combination lock, and any key would have to be kept on a lanyard around our necks.

     Each morning, we would, as instructed, find our locker by number, itself a learning exercise, and then hang up our coats and put our bag lunches inside. No books, no homework then. We might have a pencil or two.

     To this day I associate my first-grade locker with a shiny yellow raincoat that my parents bought my brother and me. Inside was fabric that had traffic stoplights on it, and I can recall staring at those momentarily as I quickly hung up the slicker and hustled off to class.

     Don’t recall too much else about that first grade, except the paintings we did with the palms of our hands and the planter on the windowsill that looked like a head and was filled with dirt and grass seed that sprouted green hair. 

     My parents soon moved us to another school district that did not have lockers for first graders, just the usual cloakroom in the back of the classroom. So where I hung my yellow raincoat with its amazing fabric I do not know. Perhaps I left it in the Sloatsburg locker. Maybe it is still there.

      But I took the memory moment with me, and I’ve used it to pull me back to shore when that has been needed. There was a sort of security in that locker, a place of my own, where I stashed my coat with stoplights on the way toward growing up.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.




April 5, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III



      He shuffles in his twilight, this once robust newspaper compositor who could knock someone out with one punch, dance for hours at a ballroom and bellow obscenities in very bad temper, all with a charm that oddly attracted. He could also be giving, loyal and compelling in conversation. Now he is a mouse, in his later 90s, dependent on six pharmaceuticals and the care of the children he often ignored.

Tables turn in life, and because this old fellow has no more fight and no longer has the strength to be the family godfather, the field advantage has passed to his three children: a son who would rather place him in an assisted living facility, one daughter whom he berates – albeit in weakness – as he did his wife, and another daughter who has always reminded him of his beloved mother.

The children could conspire to use their combined leverage and get this man out of the suburban tract home where he has lived for more than half a century. They could exact revenge for some parental neglect, for the man’s selfishness, heave him into a home and be done with it. No more required weekend stays at one home, then another. No more filling prescriptions. No more watching his diet. No more blues when he sits in the dark staring ahead like a zombie.

But they will not free themselves. They will not leave this father in even the best nursing home. They will not force him from the house that was rarely a warm home in their childhood. They will not turn the tables. Blood is indeed thicker than water, and the old man’s children are good people.

So they continue living in guilt, in fear, on the edge, silently praying that the father’s end comes peacefully, in his sleep, not from the cancer or heart trouble or senility which, by luck or design, has escaped this particular human.

Until then, they will endure, waiting for a prayer’s answer, with a gnawing pit in the stomach because they have called for death.

There are sparks of old, times when a light blinks on in this old man, and he recalls moments spent with family and friends and workers that bring a smile to his face and a gleam in his eye, in turn encouraging the same look in his caring children. Such moments are like the rare ones of their youth, when a father suddenly took the family for a spin in the new car, and there were smiles and laughter. We all want parents, and we all want to be happy with them. We all want good memories.

Sometimes, during the nights of his stay-overs, the man cannot sleep, and his children hear him get up and shuffle to the bathroom. It is a long walk, for the steps are small, but even longer, for this is the old age of a man who once bounded into the house and who chased someone down the street after a motorists’ fight.  The morning’s walk in the hall reminds them of not only the father’s own mortality but theirs as well, and such revelation in the early hours of a dark morning are particularly frightening.

The children think, at such times, will I be the same burden to my children? Will they be as obligated to take care of me as I am with my dad?

The weekend gathering includes a dinner that takes twice as long to get through because the old man eats slowly. No conversation at all. Then it is TV — 1930s movies or cowboy shoot-em ups the necessary fare, and, sometimes, some recognition of added awakening in the aged fellow. The children feel comfortable in this setting, in a 10 by 12 room with couch and chairs and heat and light and, well, a family gathered. For a time anyway. That lessens the guilt, even as the child chases away thoughts of the inevitable next day, when the father will return home via a 20-mile drive that seems to last as long as a trip to Boston 200 miles away.

There is no talking in the car, the dead-silence tension eased only by Benny Goodman CDs. Most everything has been said in this lifetime, and what was left unsaid probably will remain that way. If conversation comes, it is one-sided: “How is your sister?” “Is your friend coming this week?” “Are you looking forward to a visit with my brother?” One-word answers to these questions. The same answers to the same questions.

Arriving at the old house, left untouched since the death of a saintly, long-serving wife almost 10 years ago, the old man takes three minutes to get his unsteady feet out of the car, leans on his cane, walks to the front door and uses five more minutes of life to find his keys and correctly insert them in a door opened many thousands of times, including hundreds when the father’s own dad was elderly and also shuffled.

But today’s father never thought old age would happen to him, that he would lose a wife too soon, a wife to whom he rarely gave credit but whom he misses so much today in great and constant regret. Now it is his twilight, and he cannot escape. His prayers, too, are for a peaceful end.

The door now opened, the old man profusely thanks a daughter for being so kind, for talking him in for another weekend, for driving back and forth, for getting his pills, for going to the doctor’s, for calling to see if he is all right, and, most of all, though he does not say it, for not throwing him to the wind. He knows he deserves that.

The daughter, her sister and the son, all very different people with varied emotions and needs, share this man as their father. They make their individual judgments about what he should have done, could have done. They wish he had been a much better dad, a decent husband. But they are the products of the mother, too, and they are the good people who are now the father’s angels. Knowing his end is near, and their own judgment, too, soon enough in the quick spiral of time that is earthly life, they see enough of the good in him to squeeze his hand and say their prayers.

The door closes. The old man shuffles to his easy chair, his own judgment seat, for there he is to be lost in thought, in sorrow, for another day, another week, until the next weekend’s visit.

This essay is from earlier writing, re-published because the theme is universal. The writer is a retired newspaperman.