February 1, 2021

 ‘AMERICAN PROMISE’/acrylic, gunther

  By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     This House, isolated in American vastness, no chimney seen, no doorknob, no curtains, yet it is a sturdy home, not abandoned, people within, green, fertile fields, blue sky floating on rich, yellow, warming sun. Picture of endurance, fortitude, independence, can-do. Not urban, not suburban, not wilderness. All that exists, too, all that celebrates as well. American Promise.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                         –30–

SARA, IN VIRUS TIME

January 25, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     If I had a real conversation with Sara, who is in a room during this virus, as so many of us are, her face not seen though we can imagine her thoughts, it would come after our eyes met. I would wait for that, brush in hand, and then let a quiet rhythm begin in my speech but say few words. 

     I would want her to talk, and I would build on that, she in the painting, me beyond the frame. The conversation would be not so much what she says but what she thinks. That would make the ordinary of this unusual long moment come alive. It surely would direct the brushwork.

     Has this been a time of deeper reflection? We all reflect no matter what, but usually it is on the go, the wavelength competing with other frequencies, like radio stations jumping on your favorite network.  Now there is quiet, utterly so at times, and sitting in a room as Sara is doing, the place very simple, with a strong upright standard lamp assuring light, the heartbeat can slow, and you amble rather than race through your thoughts. 

     More doors open into your inner mind, and you make connections to memory, to unsolved dilemma, to happy thoughts not regularly visited when we are in the hustle-bustle world.

     As I paint, I know Sara will turn — just for an instant, for the piece is about every woman, and so we cannot “see” just one person.

     But I will look deeply into Sara’s eyes, which means everything. And I will understand. So will she. It’s my painting, after all.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                         –30–

     

NO STAMP OF APPROVAL

January 18, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

When you wrote your first letter, no matter how old you were, or sent away a quarter with three box tops to a cereal company to get a baking soda-powered plastic toy submarine that you could throw in the bath water, you took what became a familiar journey: the walk to the street corner mailbox.

My first trip to what seemed a place of magic was in the Spring Valley, N.Y., of my youth, in the 1940s. The mailboxes in those days were small and olive colored, decorative cast-iron affairs attached to sculpted concrete stanchions or to lampposts. They offered a bit of elegance to government.

My grandfather took me to the mailbox at the corner of Ternure and Summit avenues and had to lift me up so that I could open the mailbox lid, which swung on heavy bolts, and then drop the letter in. He told me to reopen it to make sure the letter had fallen in and for good luck, too. The lid came down with a clank, a solid sound, twice.

As we walked back home, I could not help wondering how my mail would arrive where I sent it, in this case, Battle Creek, Mich. Was there a huge underground pipe with air in it that sucked the mail all the way to the post office?

When the battleship arrived five or six weeks later at Box 74 in the Spring Valley Post Office, where my father got his home mail, I was amazed, and assured that government worked. I believed in the U.S. Post Office.

This mailing of the letter, the curiosity about how it got where it supposed to go and the return mail with the treasured item I requested as an eight year old was a wonderful moment of freedom, of opportunity, of growing up, of success, and it encouraged me to use the mailbox — any mailbox — on the corner again and again.

It also instilled trust in government.

Over the decades since, those small mailboxes that introduced youngsters to the mail service’s possibilities, those cast-iron portals of mystery on street corner America where moms and sweethearts posted letters to men and women at war, those durable metal boxes which seemed as strong and dependable as our nation, have disappeared, replaced with larger and many, many fewer mailboxes with rounded tops, a now patented design.

Fewer boxes has made pickup easier and cheaper for the renamed and redefined U.S. Postal Service, whose workers I hail, though leadership — driven by politics — sometimes doesn’t rate a stamp of approval (as we recently found.)

In the later 1950s, the olive mailbox look gave way to red, white and blue, a design encouraged by a citizen’s suggestion. Around 1971, that appropriate, even patriotic, look was changed, unfortunately, to the all-blue, cheaper-to-paint design that we now see. 

Citing reduced letter writing, an overall decline in first-class mail, use of the Internet to write messages and pay bills and the ever-higher cost of running the Postal Service, the people in charge will further reduce the number of street mailboxes. That walk to a corner won’t happen, no satisfying stroll to say you can trust the government, beginning on a corner in your very own American community.

In my own hamlet of Blauvelt, N.Y., in Rockland County in lower New York State, there are no street-corner mailboxes where once there were four or five. You can drop mail in the one box that exists, and not on a street corner but in front of the post office. You can also leave it with the “rural free delivery” mailman, who actually serves built-up suburbia on a motor route that once would have been converted to door-to-door walking delivery given the number of people who now live here. But ever-higher costs prevented that changeover.

I applaud the mailman who usually comes despite the sleet, the snow, the rain, the hail, and it is a bargain that we can send a first-class letter for the present cost of 55 cents.  

Eventually, though, the Internet, however unreliable in power outages and poor signal areas, may take over, and traditional mail service will be gone. And what will also disappear is the walk with your grandfather to mail three cereal box tops for a toy submarine. Guess Gramps can then sit next to his grandchild at the computer, though both could use the walk and the priceless opportunity to go off together on an important life journey.

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

                             –30–

‘PORT IN A STORM’

January 11, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     The painting accompanying this essay is titled “Storm” and is a reworked piece following the tumult of 2020, now spilled into early 2021. It is, despite the movement and color, a work of hope.

     The painting is based in part on “Lydia,” the 1941 Merle Oberon film that refers to an earlier French movie by director Julien Duvivier. The film is set in flashback and looks at the five men in never-married Lydia MacMillan’s life. It features a windswept house by a stormy sea where one love affair was set to sail but never anchored.

    The film affected me in several ways,  particularly the emotion of the seashore house surrounded by churning waters and high winds. A port in a storm.

      Then came January 6 and the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, and again we saw a storm but in the end, the lights stayed on and the historic place of democracy, last assaulted by the British in 1812, endured. Another port in a storm, however challenging the moment.

     So that’s how a painting came to be.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

  

2021

‘AT THE ASTOR’/gunther

January 4, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

‘2021’/acrylic/gunther

     Sometime in 2021, the Astor sign will again be lit metaphorically in tourist spots across the globe; we will no longer just stare at paintings on the walls; but we will remember the quiet, the great gifting quiet of 2020 that slowed the frenetic pace and tilled fertile ground for the seeds of necessary thought. A very Happy, Healthy, Giving, Forgiving, Thankful, Reaffirming New Year to all.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact ahgunther@hotmail.com or FB Messenger.

CHRIS MURRAY AND WHAT COUNTS

December 28, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     If the world were a tree, and we brought forth water and pruning and, most of all appreciation no matter the shape, the variety, the location, the age, there would be enough shade for everyone, enough fruit, enough beauty.

     And if the paragraph just written were a metaphor, it would be a description of the life service of a more than decent human who just passed. Chris Murray was a nurturer, and his trees were the homeless, the afflicted, the poor and hungry, the abandoned in a world with individuals too involved with this and that to notice.

     In my time, I knew Chris as the social worker active in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program out of Spring Valley, N.Y., and with the Helping Hands organization assisting the homeless. A “Longgg-Gilander,” as he often and proudly referred to himself, Chris was both a liberal’s dream and a Conservative’s wish.     

     He felt the pain and saw into the dark tunnels of the drug-afflicted, of those officially forgotten veterans whose long nights forever echo with gunfire and bloody screams, the depressed, the mentally ill, those unable to cope.

       Chris Murray also deeply understood that you cannot just offer tears but also the tougher love of giving to some who cannot or will not be thankful. In this mix of compassion and call for responsibility, he was both liberal and conservative.

     That is a lesson for the rest of us, particularly in what may become a new political world in the United States.

     Chris Murray died. But his look-you-in-the-eye compassion is re-born in his memory.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

THE NUTCRACKER

December 20, 2020

     Each winter holiday season, this space is reserved for my son Arthur, a teacher and writer who has been offering stories for two decades.

By Arthur H. Gunther IV

(Contact: clausland@yahoo.com)

The couple had taken to nightly drives right after the clocks had fallen back in October.  Spring and summer had been filled with early evening walks to escape the house but the early darkness had put an end to that.  At first, they drove simple loops throughout their town and the neighboring villages, sometimes talking, sometimes listening to music on the radio.   Never the news.  As the temperature dropped and the darkness deepened, they fought back by heading out on longer routes through unfamiliar towns.  They had fallen into a pattern of taking turns choosing an album to soundtrack the trip.  They had an eclectic collection to choose from and this lent a bit of surprise to the drive.  Mostly they chose albums long neglected.  Songs they hadn’t heard in too long a time. In a way it was like when they were younger, when it was a nightly ritual to fall asleep as a cd played.

The stretch of the last nine months had given everything pause.  Even the things never taken for granted weren’t spared.  The year laughed in the face of tradition.  In some ways, this was fine.  If all you had lost was tradition you should probably count yourself lucky.  Maybe alongside all the suffering was a lesson on the what to truly hold on to.  There was hope around the corner.  As the year drew to a close, ignorance was on the run once again.  The resilience of science and optimism had temporarily laid low those given to wielding fear as a weapon, as a barrier to evolution of thought.

This was heartening.  Sometimes this is where the conversation went.  Other times things grew quiet.  The couple knew each other well enough to revel in the warmth of the silences, the only sound the cd their partner had chosen filling the spaces.  It was then that his thoughts wandered the most.  He thought about the years past and the illusion of time.  How something sixty years before could be vivid in his mind while last week was nothing more than a blur.  He thought of how, in a way, he depended on the rhythms of the year.  Rhythms that had largely been shattered recently.  This was how he appreciated the smallest changes.  This allowed him to hone in and focus on what was precious and new when everything moved too fast.  Like changing one photo in a frame on a wall filled with many, his mind could now absorb the beauty of what was new.  A shooting star in an otherwise static night sky. This was how he appreciated.  This was how he remembered.

His wife was different.  She never had had the need for repetition.  Her mind worked in different ways, never dependent on rhythms to sustain her.  She reveled in the novel.

There was, however, a yearly practice that filled the space in the middle ground between the couple’s two philosophies.  Each year since their children were young, they had gone to see the Nutcracker in December.  At first, they would save up and head to New York City and Lincoln Center, but somewhere along the way this changed.  They started to seek out other performances of the ballet to attend.  It was amazing how many different groups performing different versions could be found within a day or two’s driving distance of their home.  Jazz variations, hip hop, guitar trio, all drums, high school, college.  Once they even found the Nutcracker performed by the characters from Peanuts.  It became a fun challenge to find a new way to do something they did every year.  They never ran out of choices.

Until this year.  He knew, in the grade scheme of things it was no big deal.  This was not life or death.  It just made him a bit sad.  Especially so for his wife who loved this unusual tradition.  He had accepted that this would just be another change in a year filled with many.

The first night of winter it had fallen dark by 4:30 so the couple set out early on their drive.  It had snowed several days before and stayed cold.  Ice sparkled beneath the holiday lights as the car glided up the road.  They drove north and then circled back over the mountain and down toward the river.  He decided to head back along the mountain road that bordered the park, a park finally appreciated this year after a generation of visits solely from neighbors.  Looking to the right past the large wooden sign, he noticed the gate, normally locked at dusk, was open.  The road was even plowed, a practice that in previous years had fallen by the wayside.  Maybe the park now had night hours to give people more of a chance to get out.  He quickly turned into the park road to see.  There were several cars parked in the lot and a few people walking up the path to the old cinder track and stone amphitheater.

Guiding the car into a parking space, the man and his wife buttoned up their coats and got out to see that the track was lit up.  Not a normal occurrence for this time of day and season.  Walking up the hill, they began to hear music playing and occasional clapping.  The lack of voices seemed odd.

Clearing the rise of the hill the scene was revealed before them.  On the grass field, still covered with snow, about twenty people of various ages were spread out, dressed in brightly colored winter clothes.  An evergreen tree that bordered the stone seating had been decorated with lights and ornaments.  The performers, because that is what they appeared to be, moved with varying degrees of grace around the field.  It couldn’t quite be called dancing, but it wasn’t quite walking either.

It was then that the man heard the music.  Out of a speaker that had been set up on one of the stone steps came a sound that he had heard during many Decembers previous.  A sound both familiar and new at the same time.  It was the Nutcracker, the scene where Clara is whisked off to the Land of Snow.  The couple stood frozen, watching as the performers moved, danced, and walked to the rhythm of imaginary falling snowflakes.  The scene ended, there was a pause, and then, rather than moving on to the next scene, the Land of Snow started up again.

The couple stood transfixed at what played out before them.  They must have seen the Land of Snow performed three or four times before the performers stopped, took a bow, and left the snowy stage.  It didn’t appear that the group planned on performing any other scenes.  Grabbing each other’s mittened hand, the couple began to navigate the icy path back to the car.  They didn’t talk.  They didn’t need to.

     The writer lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y.

 

 

 

AH, THE OBVIOUS

December 14, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     Gotta tell you a very human story. 

     The other day, in the middle of this awful virus time, I got a call from a friend who needed help replacing an electrical switch, something not beyond me.

     “OK, I replied, what’s wrong?” The fellow answered, “It’s a three-way switch, and I cannot figure out how to wire it.” “Be right over” was my answer as I suited up with mask and hand cleaner, gathered tools and cast off.

     When I got to the man’s house, he had already pulled out wires from a location upstairs, never a good thing because you invite a mystery: what wire goes where?

     We checked that the power was still off, I looked at his replacement switch and found the right wires. Flipped on the circuit breaker but no overhead vestibule light. I asked the friend why he thought the original switch was broken, and he said that it seemed wobbly and that the light was out.

     Not to make this story complicated, but I told him that 3-way switches, despite the name, control a light from two locations, and that he might have guessed wrong — that the other switch was the malfunctioning one, and besides, you should replace both devices at the same time.

     So, I got another switch and put it in. Still no illumination. Ah, that is when the lightbulb went off in my head. “Did you check the bulb to see if it was OK,” I asked? One new energy-efficient 75-watt equivalent later, let there be light reigned.

     There were two dense people here — myself and my friend, both of whom did not look for the obvious. It was like changing the fuel pump in your car because you ran out of gas.

     Back in the day, in my hometown village of Spring Valley, N.Y., there was an astute, community-friendly, well-known radio/TV expert repairman who often received calls that someone’s radio or TV was completely dead.

     Taking one such call as he leaned on his own Philco radio set in the living room, one leg crossed over the other, John Romaine would calmly tell the anxious caller, who did not want to miss a favorite program, that he would be right over.

     More than once, he found that the power cord had been pulled out when someone plugged a vacuum cleaner in, etc. 

     The fellow never charged for his visit. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.     

–30–

‘HISTORY’

 

December 7, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com

  Just a few words here. After posting a recent painting without text except for the title “HISTORY,” on various internet sites, I was asked to provide a narrative.

     Truth is, we write our own when we look at art work — paintings, drawings, sculpture, collages, etc. Even artists cannot always tell you what their work “means.” And any particular piece is reinterpreted over time, if it’s ever seen again.

     On reflection, though, I humbly think the painting pictured above represents America, its history of barns, grain elevators, industrial chimneys, homes. No windows, so as not to be specific as to region, ownership, period. We all own the structures, our history. Maybe it’s all of us trying to find America after what few can deny has been tumult. 

     Or, perhaps it’s just a bunch of buildings. Maybe just a gathering of colors.

     You can decide, or not. Thank you.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                                                    –30–

ONCE THE QUIET MORNING

November 29, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com

We all have our time and mood anchors, those moments of memory that moor us in the ordinary as well as during the storms that hit our lives. Stress of any sort — financial, emotional, health — drive us to port, and we are grateful for the safe harbor. 

 When I was a youngster, one of my safer slips was early morning in winter, about 6:30, when the house heat had started to come up and I was rousing to get ready for elementary school. My working mother was already off, and my father, on the night shift, would be getting breakfast for my brother and me, a simple affair of Rice Krispies or hot oatmeal, as well as making our lunches. 

 In those years, when there might be a new school to attend (we moved around a bit), friends to make, classes to get used to, different woods to explore in the semi-rural areas in which we lived, having the routine of a small breakfast prepared by a busy dad, in a house just getting nice and warm, with the dark of winter yet to raise its nightshade on dawn, with the wonderful smell of my father’s fresh-brewed coffee and the sound of New York radio’s Martin Block on 1130 AM, there was reassurance that the day would proceed in good-enough fashion. 

 The scene was the same, you see, no matter where we lived, so it was one of those safe harbors. The available anchorage continued through high school, and the memory of it still comforts today. 

 When I was older but not far beyond my teen years, yet some seasons removed from my father’s breakfast morning routine, another early-day moment came my way and also reassured. 

 In that time, I drove a friend daily to a New York City college, and since one of my many faults happily did not include honking the horn for someone to come out, I was invited in to wait a short while. In the winter, the same sort as my youth, in the dark, I again felt the rising heat of a household and the strong whiff of coffee brewing as my friend’s mother prepared breakfast for her daughter. 

 Not much conversation passed between me, shy enough, and the mother, though it was more than what was said between father and son just 10 years or so before. Yet nothing had to be spoken. It was the reassurance of the moment. The memory of this woman’s welcome, as with my dad’s morning routine, was one of those small treasures available in the box that you open to begin your day. 

 A polished jewel, really.

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