RHYTHM

July 20, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There seems a steady rhythm these days living amongst the restrictions of the time of virus, whether it be the gift of simplicity in just not doing much at home, sitting in a chair thinking or reading, perhaps tea at some hour, a cookie or fruit with that; this routine repeated daily — a steady rhythm. It can keep you sane.

     In the breakfast program where I cook in the great quiet of a large 1865 building these virus days, having a bit of guilt but not much about being alone, for there surely is music in solitude, I have found a steady rhythm, too, in making grilled cheese.

     Ah, simplicity.

     I am at about the 1,000 mark on these sandwiches, part of a breakfast kept warm for those who come after I am gone. The right hand that does the flipping has its own rhythm, as expected but different for the individual, my own modified because of some arthritis.

     But it is in the making of these sandwiches — the arranging of many slices of bread on a big surface, the pulling of sliced cheese from commercial bricks, that there is real rhythm — piecework as it were.

      There is great order in that — lay out the bread, peel off the cheese slices, put a top on the sandwich. Odd, but accomplishment, so very ordinary, absolutely nothing difficult but there it is.

     And for this writer, as always in the village of my youth, my father’s, back to my grandparents, a connection. Moons ago, my mother — now I know she was a sainted one though she chased me with a broom — was on piecework herself as a small-parts assembler at the Briarcraft Smoking Pipe factory where my grandfather was foreman. She was paid by the piece, so she didn’t tarry, though she had to be careful to avoid rejects.

     Today, just streets away from what was Briarcraft, I, too, am paid by the piece, each grilled cheese sandwich going into a hungry stomach. Hope I do not offer many rejects.

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

The Seanchaí

This is the first installment of a fictional piece that I hope offers real-life metaphors for all. The story may be continued. …

The Seanchaí

(shan-a-key)

By Arthur H. Gunther

     It was a bit of an amble on the N15 that Dermont Bonner took to Killygordon from Strabane, but this gave the seanchaí time to perfect the next story, to pad it out. Dermot could stretch words as well as gab, and in Donegal he would have to fit the tale to the Ulster Irish.

     (The story teller, the seanchaí, was the people’s entertainment for centuries, especially in the very rural Irish areas without books and literacy. He was the keeper of legend, folklore and myth, the custodian of tradition, the man before there was the wireless voice and the telly talking-image. To this day there is reverence and thirst for the seanchaí — anyone who keeps the child in him has an ear cocked for the tale.)

     You can be sure Dermot had his grasp on the spoken word, and that day on the N15 he was headed to the local for some trade. The seanchaí had been in County Tipperary last, at a teach tábhairne

with a sign above that identified it as Lyon’s Pub. It doubled as a hardware store and undertaker’s, so there was much to add to the regular story just by knowing the bio, if the planned tale was not already raising the eyebrows or the hairs on the skin or pulling the tears.

     This heritage pub offered the tourist atmosphere, what with its wood paneling and worn brass bar taps, but it was the regulars, the neighborhood, that owned the place. They tarried every day and evening, absorbing the fragrant deepness in its walls of not only a million pints of Guinness but the wakes of many a passing, the taps at Lyons pouring from one generation to another. 

    At the teach tábhairne Dermot kept them hanging on his words by telling the story of Molly McGuire, who had given Kevin Shaughnessy the boot after eight months. He was climbing to Heaven then but soon would be down in purgatory at least. Kevin was intending to walk the marriage path, finally to give up the freedom and opportunity of bachelorhood, something he thought near-impossible. There had been much gaiety in that carefree life, but Molly had eyes leading to soul, and once he took the deep look, he was changed. Alas, she ended the thought, no praise be, with a gentle but firm get lost. 

     This was ordinary, of course, two people not to continue on the same road at the diverge. But Kevin was smitten, had gone past reasoning, and the abruptness of Molly’s answer saw him confined to a long but solitary life on a small farm in Portrane, pigs and all. It was better than ending it at the Cliffs of Moher, though some days Kevin was not sure. Molly? She married Sean, the Market Street butcher, had the five kids, was a good wife and all. But her Sean never saw beyond the great greenish-blue color of her eyes, as Kevin did. It was a life.

     In the booth near the road window at Lyons, Mary Ahern rubbed her cheek of a few tears, recalling her own journey with a Kevin but also tilting her head toward the shoulder of Martin, her Sean. A life.

     It was a popular tale that the seanchaí told, adding local color. It was not always to the pig farm at Portrane that Kevin exiled himself. He could instead be a hermit on the Enchanted Islands off Donegal. 

     But Dermot would not tell the Molly-Kevin story in the far North. No, he had been up there many a time, and it was different than Dublin, or Cork, Limerick or Belfast.

     Dún na nGall, “fort of the foreigners,” is a land of where it’s different. Everything. Bordered by the Republic’s County Leitrim and Counties Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh of Northern Ireland, there is distinct cultural identity. There are also long, gloriously sunny beaches and majestic mountain peaks of great beauty, trade off for some brutal weather and desolation, a place of extremes.

     And why wouldn’t it be, so far north that a quick jaunt might land you in the Atlantic Ocean headed for Iceland if you kept to port 15 degrees. It is this sense of place, perhaps, that keeps a Donegal person on top of things.

(to be continued, perhaps)

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

ALONG MCNAMARA

July 5, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Back when, and “when” is whenever you or I hold a memory about a place or someone or thing, there was a country road in Pomona, N.Y.,  named McNamara, and though the signs still proclaim it, no longer is this a rural place. 

     Nor is Pomona, named by apple farmer Nicholas Concklin in the 1700s, still wearing the robes of the goddess of fruit, for most of the trees are now 2x4s in suburban development.

     There was a ritual in youth back “when”  included a summer walk from Hillcrest, a nearby Rockland County  hamlet, to McNamara, early on before the day’s heat and humidity. It began off Eckerson Road onto State Street, to Hillcrest Avenue, across Rt .45 to Locust (sometimes it was the parallel Faist Drive) to Hempstead Road to Brick Church Road to Union to McNamara, where the hills and valleys, however light, caused young legs to stretch and the heart rate to quicken.

     It was all worth it, for along McNamara, just before the old ASPCA  animal center, were wildflowers and hay-like straw, which in the increasing warmth and bathed overnight in the wet, gave off a fragrance that Nick Concklin himself enjoyed so long ago.

     For youth a bit bored by even summer recess, a walk to McNamara with or without pals brought accomplishment as well as passing the time of day. It was also ritual, and we all want that because regularity means some things in life can be put the shelf where they ought to be, and we can count on having them there and taking them down when we need to do that.

     Back when McNamara still looked like it had for more than 100 years, a simple walk brought a trip to a friendly place, made that way by familiarity. Its many changes now in suburban growth and the equally major modifications and morphing in a youth’s growth to adulthood and its own journey toward sunset mean McNamara Road, now mostly in the Village of Hempstead, can only be a memory. But close the eyes, and a whiff of those wildflowers easily returns.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

‘THE NARROW LAND’

June 29, 2020

“THE NARROW LAND,” a novel about artist Edward Hopper but really about us all

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In this moment — perhaps age — of revisiting our past, heralded national leaders, authors, statesmen, etc., it is vital to place actions that today are deemed unacceptable in the context of their history. Society advances in steps taken forward but also by stepping backward.

     Accept that Teddy Roosevelt, maybe even Lincoln, will have their official portraits remade with the warts that were evident back when but ignored. Criticize anyone for supporting racism, not tackling inequality, for championing the white man as world savior. Yet also know that without the accomplishments of slaveholders Washington and Jefferson, for example, the promise that is America would not have advanced as it has, however incomplete that is.

     In fact, it is in the accomplishments of incomplete “heroes” themselves that humanity can have another chance to do it right, as should have happened in the first place. We can learn from their mistakes.

     Just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Such progressive attitude holds for anyone, of course, including world famous artists such as my favorite, realist Edward Hopper, born in Nyack, N.Y.

     It took years for the genius and “voice” of this 20th century fellow to blossom, and it did not happen until after he met and married fellow painter Josephine Nivison. Yet it is only in recent years that her absolutely fulfilling part in Hopper’s life and works has been revealed. And she paid a price for the gig.

     Not only did Jo give up her own promising art career, but she devoted all her time building up a man who did not, as far as we can tell, appreciate that she was his booster. It was she who contacted his gallery, the Rehn in New York City; she used her inheritance to build a summer studio in South Truro, Cape Cod; she meticulously kept notes on his works; above all, Jo was the light in his dark tunnel of doubt.

     Hopper, world-revered for such works as the urban “Nighthawks” and the Cape Cod paintings, did not marry until age 42. Then his career took off. Yet he seemed unsuited to living with someone, a man “looking” for himself in his works, a loner, a person who did not easily share thoughts.  He painted instead. He ignored at will.

     Hopper has become an American hero, a worldwide artistic interpreter of the need for solitude, the search for simplicity in an ever-more-complex time. The price for his genius was wife Jo, an outgoing woman who was cloistered in the studio home of a man whose expressed being had to be extracted for the world to see, to relate to, to understand. She pulled all that out but received scant thanks.

     There was great good done in that sacrifice, drawing out the language of a gifted man, a giving for us all, but at the cost of a woman’s uncompleted being.

     This is all so very clear in a recent novel, “The Narrow Land” by Christine Dwyer Hickey. Set on Cape Cod in 1950, it brings the Hoppers into contact with two young boys, one fellow’s family and the dynamics of life shortly post-war in a summer vacation spot not yet invaded by the hordes of the 1970s-on.

     It is a journey of a season: loneliness for Jo, more doubt for Hopper in his artist’s block, everyone’s failings shown.

     “The Narrow Land” is in Dwyer’s quite descriptive words an offered puzzle that might be assembled by viewing Hopper paintings. He may have been looking for himself, but he found us all. Warts and all. Heroes fallen as well.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman and a volunteer at the Edward Hopper Museum and Study Center in Nyack, N.Y. (ahgunther@yahoo.com) 

                       –30–

HERE’S TO DAD

Fathers Day 2020

 By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

    As my Dad lie dying in hospital and I on my way to visit his presence for the last time he could speak, not yet in the induced coma that would let him pass, already with the angels beside him, I thought, on that beautifully shaded sidewalk on a glorious spring day that he was no longer beside me. I needed to hold his hand.

     It had been ages since I did that, and not much then, fathers and sons being what they were in the 1940s, ’50s. Yet I would hold his hand many times metaphorically after young childhood: When I was sick, for one of his many careers was as a licensed practical nurse; when I had a nightmare; when my mother chased me, a teen, about the house with a broom, and he offered understanding; when I was learning to drive; most of all when I had the momentary but great desire to be very young again, without much care and appropriately nurtured.

As we grew, the two of us, distinct personalities clashed, and the wall that can rise between father and son did so. It would take decades of having my own family and two sons better than I to realize my father was truly doing his best. It would take his death and the years since to understand and absorb the fullness of his well-met responsibility.

Oh, how I would hold his hand now.

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

STARING OUT A WINDOW

One room, two very different windows, each of individual color and particular perspective. But they co-exist./gunther painting

      ‘TWO WINDOWS’/gunther

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This virus stay-at-home has brought back childhood memories of being in the house an awful lot in the summer though building forts in the ever-present woods of a countryfied New York area and taking walks in the cooler parts of day were also routine.

     Yet the house was a sanctuary. It was quiet, which to me is daily sustenance. It afforded lots of moseying time to let your imagination run its little legs off, and that happened for me when I stared out the window, usually the one in the south-facing living room during the day and the attic sash at night. Both views included Karnell Street cars passing by, which though a fast route between two major roads, never had much traffic. Quiet.

     Those also were the days before weed whackers, leaf blowers and super-sized lawnmowers rendered military-like assault. Quiet.

     So, the imagination liked that, the quiet, assured that it could take you on a journey of nothingness, which, of course, can be everythingness. 

     You read a book, and you are into imagination land, encouraged and narrated by the writer and illustrator. Stare out a window, and you are the author. Works either way.

     Chose a different window, even in the same room, and there’s different fantasy, originality, perspective.

    Sometimes stay-at-home means takin really big trips — with imagination.

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

BACK ON THE BEAT

June 8, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     I will tell you a story or two of neighborhood police back in my older days in Spring Valley, N.Y., a then countrified community north of Gotham. This was the time when officialdom did not have to invent the term “community policing” and seek federal grants for its spot use. Police walked a beat, period, every day. There were perhaps three radio cars at the downtown station.  Police were seen. They spoke to us, and we spoke to them.

     This does not mean everyone was an angel, police or the public. It does not mean every one of the officers was suited to the job. It does not mean police were perfect at “protecting and serving,” nor does it mean all citizens were respectful of men doing a tough job — running into nasty people, seeing the horrors of domestic abuse and other base human behavior that has to give a police officer PTSD. It does not mean officers were not killed or maimed in the line of duty somewhere in the land.

     What it does mean, this time of officers walking Main Street in Spring Valley, in Anytown USA, in the cities of old, too, is that people generally knew the neighborhood police, usually by name. They talked to Officer O’Reilly. And he talked to them. There was less of a chance of “us vs. them” escalation in any incident, and there was the greater opportunity of common sense born of human interaction and communication.

     So, one story from my time. A bunch of bored youngsters, seventh, eighth graders, a few older, a few younger, descended on an empty hotel that was to be torn down for one of the many shopping strips that pushed downtowns out of business. The fellows made their way through the hotel lobby, the bedrooms, etc. Generally speaking, no damage was done, but this was still trespassing. I was trespassing.

     In time, the Ramapo police became involved, as did Spring Valley and Hillcrest community leaders. Instead of arrests and police blotter entries, we fellows, our parents, police and officials gathered for a meeting at the Hillcrest Firehouse where it was decided that we would give up the Columbus Day holiday to clean up the hotel. That we did, and very soon after the spruced-up place was torn down.

     The point is the police were part of that  community, part of the solution for teen shenanigans that, who knows, might have gone to worse behavior if we had been arrested, finger-printed, etc. 

     Another story is of a fellow walking Main Street, Spring Valley, after the regular 9 p.m. curfew. Officer on the beat stops him, tells him to go home after the two have a friendly conversation. The officer even notes that he, too, broke curfew. No confrontation. No escalation.

     Now, these are relatively innocent stories of long ago, in simpler times. No drugs, no weapons involved. No broken homes. No horrors to relate.

     Yet, decades later, when the Ramapo officer who interviewed me after the Hillcrest Hotel adventure had retired, I was able to send him a note that I had never forgotten his fatherly, understanding humanity. Would that happen as easily today when police officers seem to be hidden behind a fortress in brotherhood, yes, but also in an isolated point of view? When escalation seems automatic, as if by military-like training? It cannot ever be “us vs. them.”  

     Black lives matter. All lives matter. Bring back the beat cop in every community, put volunteer officers in food banks, soup kitchens, community service endeavors. Take off the helmets, the military gear. Let the people know you, and they you.  It’s not the entire solution, but it’s a mighty big step. Bless our officers. Bless the people.

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

                         –30–  

JULY 4, 1966

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Decades ago, Rockland County, N.Y., faced an interracial situation that I covered as a Journal-News photographer. I offer my account and image of that July 4, 1966, event in Suffern to report on the non-violent protest and how in that situation the commonsense response from participants, the police and our volunteer fire departments unfolded. This was a day that led to great change and one which advanced race relations in the county.

     When July 4, 1966, arrived, I was nearly 24, a Journal-News photog on the job for seven months, having been promoted from copyboy/engraver. I worked the Monday shift, which including day and night assignments. That Monday was a holiday, so I had those celebrations to handle, too. I was the only one of four J-N lensmen on the street that day. 

The NAACP, CORE and others had joined the growing national conversation over civil rights, and the country, as well as Rockland, were halfway between the famous landmark 1964 Voting Rights Act and the 1967 Newark (and Nyack) riots. 

Bill Scott, an African American and Rockland Congress of Racial Equality leader, who once ran for county sheriff, was a key spokesman in trying to integrate blacks into housing, jobs and the fire departments. 

In newspapers like The Journal-News, police blotter items for such things as small street arrests always noted “negroes,” though the language would quickly change.

Rockland, which was becoming an ever-larger New York City suburb, included leaders and group spokespeople who saw opportunity to enlighten society and integrate, although prejudice surely continued.

By July 4, 1966, tensions were heightened in fire department integration in Rockland, and a Dr. Martin Luther King-type protest — non-violent — was planned for the annual county fire parade route in Suffern. A group of six young men chained themselves together and by signal lay down on Orange Avenue, blocking the route.

I was there covering for newspaper as photog, Ann Crawford as reporter. Also there was the Bergen Evening Record, whose photos printed July 5 showed me taking photos.

I had expected this demonstration, and so, though my heart was beating fast, I checked my old-fashioned 35mm and medium-format cameras for proper exposure, etc. (nothing automatic then), so that I would not lose the shots. The demonstrators did what was planned, very calmly, singing, carrying a banner, and they lay down on Orange with the banner covering them. I was facing north on Orange, just in front of the protesters, who were blocking the Hillcrest Fire Department contingent. I snapped away, and then, quickly, Suffern police and, I believe, a county Sheriff’s Department officer, came over to pull the demonstrators, including Scott, away from the line of march and to make arrests. They were charged with disorderly conduct and released without bail.

I will tell you that the officers never interfered with my work of reporting the facts photographically. They also were polite to the demonstrators. I saw no batons used, no guns drawn, no tough-handling of the protesters, who in Dr. King fashion, had gone limp.

(A July 5 article in the New York Times reported that some of the estimated 3,000 parade watchers shouted that the six and about 29 other demonstrators should be doused with firehoses.)

     I took my shots and some others of the parade itself, as that was the initial assignment, and went off to other assignments that day.

When the parade demonstration photographs were published July 5, The Journal-News was strongly criticized for showing the chained men lying in the street and not concentrating on the county fire parade.

After 1966, the fire departments began to accept  African Americans beyond the four individuals already serving among Rockland’s 3,000 volunteers, and the county morphed into a veritable league of nations, so close it is to the Port of New York.

     July 4, 1966, was perhaps not a turning point in race relations for Rockland, but it put the county on the road toward that, a route still to be trod by all, of course. It was also a day when the free speech of six peaceable demonstrators was recognized while the resulting police action and legal process took place in a peaceful, common-sense way.

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

                         –30–

‘RURAL WINDOW, AN AMERICAN FLAG’

/acrylic-wood/gunther

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