THE YELLOW SLICKER

April,12, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     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.

                       –30–

A THEME UNIVERSAL

 

April 5, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

      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.

–30–

SELFLESS

SELFLESS

March 29, 2021

By ARTHUR H. GUNTHER III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

    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.

                                      –30–

  

THE IMAGINARY COTTAGE … and other places

 

March 22, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

     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.

                    –30–

ON THE DRIVE

March 15, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     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.

                      –30–

SATURDAY WALK

March 8, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

     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.

     — 30 —

      

IN A SMILE …

March 1, 2021

Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     America doesn’t smile as much these days. The virus. Jobs gone, debt, deficit, taxes, disappointing “leaders,” the greedy, less spirit, confused purpose, lost understanding of how, why the nation was founded  — not much to be happy about. 

     Until you see a child’s face.

     Not talking about my own grandchildren, for I am prejudiced. Nor the smiles of any particular kids I know. As with so much of life, it is the anonymous who are seen most acutely, most honestly. We have no direct stake in who they are, where they have been, where they are going. There are no ties, no responsibilities in the seconds it takes to glance at their openness, the smile from non-cluttered thinking in childhood expression.

     Where are they, the young who smile? In innocence, surely. In curiosity, yes. In mile-a-minute thinking as their fertile, inquisitive minds begin to collect and catalog sights, sounds, smells, emotions. Most of all, in imagination, in that magical world where there are few limits, where super heroes are made and trusted, where Cinderella can meet her fella, where right can win out, where the frontier is the jump over the moon into the cosmos.

     And, of course any child can do that. He/she has not been taught otherwise.

     We adults forget so much of a child’s world and come to tolerate it as a growing phase worthy of a nice pat on the head as we plan for college way too soon, not remembering that the best education in our own lives was when we were young and few boundaries had been set. 

     Who is the wisest in the set? The youth in imagination or the “accomplished” adult who has made a mess of things in today’s America?

     The nation no longer smiles as much, but the young still do, in almost any circumstance. All things seem possible in such early time, anything.

     Pity that we grow up.

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

                        –30-

AN ORANGE A DAY …

February 22, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Don’t each oranges much any more, or tangerines, as the march of time has made the delectable juice the foe of my system. But once just the peeling of the fruit, with tangy whiff as you pressed the north or south pole to open it made the mouth water. Better than a Three Musketeers bar. Not better than a Tancos Bakery jelly donut, granulated.

     My father, who did the grocery shopping since my mother did not drive and also had a 9-5 job, kept the household supplied with fruit, especially the oranges and tangerines of the winter season. Fall would bring Concklin’s apples; summer Hudson Valley peaches.

     You began evening television, channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and the partial on-air 13 out of Newark with an orange or tangerine, pressing your thumb into the pole, maybe getting squirted, taking in the rind’s fragrance, setting the scene for taking apart the fruit, section by section.

     My brother did not care for the stringy part covering tangerines in particular, but I enjoyed that, mixing with the juice once you popped a section, much like topping on cereal. Yin and yang.

     You would watch a cowboy movie or “I Love Lucy” or whatever was a regular TV staple, orange eaten but rind still on a napkin in your lap. Too many times, on my way to the kitchen, I’d gather up the bits, roll up the napkin and put in my pocket. Then I’d get a glass of water and completely forget about the drying rind.

     Almost no problem since the fruit remainder kept its fragrance, and finding the rind the next day was sort of like washing your clothes with the high-priced detergent you get today, orange scent, of course.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           –30–

DRIVING MR. G

February 15, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     I recall a particularly down day way, way back when a combination of disappointment, inaction, frustration and inertia had me idling in neutral. Could not see the road ahead. It would normally be one of those times when you just didn’t get out of bed. But fortune stepped in. I had to go with a friend to pick up his 1959 Austin Healey 3000 from a great mechanic on East Willow Tree Road in what was then rural Pomona, N.Y. I was to drive the sports car home. It took my moment out of neutral.

     My own car was a staid and unreliable VW beetle, though most of that make were OK. This one had an inherently bad engine that kept blowing valves. Lack of maintenance did not help.

     In contrast, the friend’s white Healey was in great tune, and I wasn’t going to spend enough time to change its image. Yet it changed my day.

      When I left the shop, revving the 3-litre BMC C-Series motor a bit in first gear, clutch down, clear country road ahead, bright day, whatever mood I was stuck in vanished in tailpipe smoke between shifts. Had it to 60 mph in 11 seconds on the straight Pomona Road run, not fast by today’s standards, but it felt as if I were driving Mr. G at Daytona.

     Left on Route 306, back to East Willow Tree to McNamara, the twists and turns  conquered in numerous shifting and downshifting, gripped  steering wheel aiming the vehicle along the crest of the road (best place to be), that fine machine, its finicky carbs newly ear-tuned by a master in sync like a full orchestra as we revved our way through those great turns. Nothing else mattered. It turned out to be a good day.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           –30–