OF TWO SEASONS

April 9, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Spring has not yet sprung in this part of the Northeast, a bit north geographically of New York City but with a history and flavor set distinctly apart. There may be daffodils in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, especially in the wonderful Botanical Gardens, but they do not compare to those once grown in the Burns greenhouses off Second Avenue, Spring Valley.

That was a long time ago, so many springs past but even a long winter of discontent, of snow and cold, cannot remove the scent of its moment.

Schoolchildren in that area back in the day attended either the North Main Street School or St. Joseph’s parochial. I was at the former, and come spring the walk home was sometimes changed from a straight run up Main to Hillcrest to a longer, leisurely hike up Ewing Avenue then down toward Pascack Road. This took me to the back of Slinn Avenue and the woods there, filled in early spring with daffodils, presumably from the large commercial Burns holdings.

By my time, so much of that was gone, and the “Hill” area of Spring Valley in Rockland County, N.Y., was soon to see explosive housing growth, part of the post-World War II boom. My moment with the daffodils was just two short seasons.

Appropriate, actually, as I was growing up and soon any flowers for a mom would naturally move to flowers for a girl or two. 

Yet in those two spring moments, with the beautiful emergence of seasonal renewal tempting enough to take a longer walk home, a few daffodils were picked and given to a mother who truly deserved so much more.

 

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

KETCHUP ‘PASSED MUSTARD’

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., when you instinctively pulled up your feet as the floor guy came by, splashing Clorox and water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.
Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food, short order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s would not be fancy — it’s clientele would not have that. It was just a down-to-earth comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.
I’d sometimes hit the place after my photographer shift at the also old, original Rockland Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired for that and needed a rest at my back, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.
Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and swing a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too.
It was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.
Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table-knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.
Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

 

JERRY DONNELLAN

March 26, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

The “Barn Playhouse” at the original, small Rockland Community College campus in Viola, N.Y., was left over from the self-sufficiency days of the county Almshouse, the home for the aged and the poor and the near-infirm. In 1966, it had become the center for theatre arts run by the talented James Naismith. It was also where I first met Jerry Donnellan, the late director of veterans services, a properly revered man for all his accomplishment.
As a Journal-News photographer assigned to take a publicity shot for an upcoming production, Naismith brought me to a small table with a 40-watt bulb barely lighting the script. The barn itself had little illumination, and focusing my camera was difficult, but the student at the table made it easy, quickly helping me set up a shot that told the story. He was Jerry Donnellan, son of two native Irish and even then full of wit.
Not long after that assignment, Jerry would be drafted, and his biggest production would begin, this time on the stage of life.
In October 1969, Jerry was shot and hit with a grenade in Vietnam’s central highlands, leaving him barely alive, without his right leg and full of shrapnel. A long rehabilitation followed, then an amazing career as a stage manager for Frank Sinatra.
In the later 1980s, about 20 years after I took Jerry’s photograph at RCC, he, the newspaper and I would meet again when he walked into the West Nyack newsroom, asked for the Editorial Page editor and sat down with me.
Jerry had helped organize the Rockland Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and was wondering if The Journal-News could assist in getting the word out. So, again, Jerry and I were meeting for publicity purposes, neither of us recalling the 1966 photo assignment.
The later 1980s was the beginning of a more educated look back at Vietnam, that unnecessary war driven by government that hid the facts and the need. The unpopular conflict brought protests and confused the warrior with the war. Returning military were spat upon, and for years Vietnam veterans did not get their due, as World War II vets had. Jerry was determined to change that, and fortunately, Rockland government, especially C. Scott Vanderhoef, the former county executive, saw Jerry’s potential and agreed to help.
The newspaper assisted, too, especially through the efforts of Paul Janensch, then executive editor. Stories and editorials were written. Jerry was named Rockland veterans affairs director, and in that long-serving role he created innovative programs copied across the nation, such as veterans’ clinics.
But Jerry Donnellan’s most significant achievement was in sharing his soul with his fellow vets, from all wars, all eras. That was his mission, and he knew it. The day Jerry was so severely wounded, with a lifetime of pain and night sweats ahead, the gods signed him to an enlistment he could never quit until he passed away and saw his old dad again, and his buddies.
He was among those who survived, this Jerry Donnellan, this not-sold on the Vietnam War, average RCC student with admitted warts. He lived, though he thought he would die. For that, he somehow knew there would be payback, and though Jerry spent many working years in the Sinatra days and nights, the gods finally rang the bell and said, “Jerry, time to make the doughnuts. Organize those loosely set, long-disrespected Vietnam-era brothers and sisters and help them stand tall, as they deserve to do.”
It was not their fault that a country reeling from JFK’s lost youth initiative and disillusioned by a military that did not have Ike’s understanding of war would spit at the citizen soldier who turned up at the Whitehall Street induction center and elsewhere, did his job and maybe came home. It was Jerry’s time, when he rallied those vets, and then the gift of organization became evident and he was given the county job.
It was his mission, his reason for being. Hell, maybe he was wounded and maybe he survived so he could do the job.

The gods are proud of him. Anyone who ever knew Jerry Donnellan is proud, even those you argued with him. His mojo happened.
RIP, sir. Your service has been fulfilled. May your soul be at God’s right hand, Irishman.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

THE REAL WAY TO ‘THANK’ VETERANS

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Why does war often begin with a parade and end with one? At the first, youthful excitement, naiveté, innocence, natural inclination and lack of experience and judgment as to horror fuel the adrenalin of patriotism as the quick steps of those who would save the world or avenge a wrong rush to enlistment. On the return, slow march, the wounded, the hardened, the ones now in the know, step forward arm in arm with the ghosts of the fallen, accepting the gratitude of a citizenry that can never grasp the horror of conflict for they were not there.

In each parade, organized first by fever and then on return by politicians, there is the constant cadence of background music for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1930 American film based on a book the previous year by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War.

The novel, the film, describe the extreme mental and physical stress of the battleground and how civilian life is never the same for many, if not most veterans. The book and movie may be about an older war, the frightening technology of which is far surpassed today, but a young, as they now say “warrior,” mind was then as now a heartbeat from the mother’s womb and embrace. It is easily and perhaps irreparably damaged.  Read or see “All Quiet …,” and you know today’s story for post-Iraq and Afghanistan U.S. vets.

The genuine reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, events brought a surge of young people who enlisted for the cause in a parade of honest patriotism for conflicts now recognized as both debatable and mismanaged, war that put us into debt when we need investment for a shrinking middle class, infrastructure and quality of life. And certainly for veterans’ care.

Now, yet another parade is planned in Washington by a president who, like me, never saw war, as a tribute to all who serve and have served. Who can deny these vets their march down Pennsylvania Avenue? Who would not feel pride and a moment of gratefulness for the men and women who went off so willingly and quickly? But the cost alone, perhaps $10 to $30 million, could feed all homeless vetrans for several weeks.

When the parade is over, when our veterans are home alone with their nightmares, thinking of lost comrades; when so many are unable to get or hold a job; when a major national newspaper reports that one U.S. veteran commits suicide almost every hour; when brain-damaged or emotionally disturbed warriors barely exist with seizures and drugs as long waits for woefully underfunded and bureaucracy-laden care never seem to end; when we forget our veterans except to give them a parade, how “quiet”  are we the American people? Too quiet.

Rather than a parade, every American should take a vet to lunch, or buy him or her a coat, or obtain medicine or give a hug. That would be real “thanks”.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier piece..

VOICES NOT HEARD ANYMORE

March 5, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

When someone is asked, “What is your biggest regret?,” perhaps most would recall one particular moment, though for others it surely depends on what year, month, even day (or night) you are referencing.
For example, in the great, immature, developing years of childhood, teenage time too, there are conversations with parents, teachers, friends, even fleeting strangers that, recalled years, decades later, make you cringe. “What was I thinking?” But by then, the only voice you hear is the one in your head, for the others are not there anymore.
Other regrets surely include questions not asked, conversations not made, momentary anger that forever separated you and another, or others, when it would have been better to take a deep breath, walk away in quiet but not let go of the hand you were holding, not sever ties. Again, voices lost, never to be heard again.
In the end, what was it all worth — those silly, pointless arguments, the reasons for them now forgotten? Genuine friendship, even much more, trashed in false pride and ego, a rhythm once a promising tune left as scratched as an old 78rpm record? And it plays again and again.
Yet if you are an optimist, or get yourself busy somehow and believe that anyone’s past is simply that, past, there are new voices to be heard, perhaps listened to this time.

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

 

 

COLOR IN THE GRAY

 

February 26, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

In a world often gray, you wish for a spot of color, because that is always there, you know, even in fog or overcast. It’s all in the eye, literally, as color is reflected or light is emitted.
But that is too technical for emotion, since a very gray day, perhaps at other times sought after for quietude and introspection or a long walk, can also be depressing or oft-putting at least. And we all have gray days. Yet color is — truly — always there.
Otherwise, what hope for humanity, for advances in fighting disease, for fewer wars, for more equality, for freedom of expression and expectation of healthy debate, for the triumph of common sense?
Just as Virginia O’Hanlon was reminded in 1897 by Francis Pharcellus Church of The Sun that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” we must tell ourselves there is color, even exquisite hue, in the grayest canvas.
An optimist might say there is more color than gray, a pessimist just the reverse and a politician whatever the lobbyist intones. A child would almost always find color, as might the aging in the reverie of other times.
Color is volunteerism when there is need. Color is people’s humanity to people when inhumanity casts its gray. Color is not just the reflection of light as perceived by the eye and brain but the reflection of decency.

So, people, yes, there is color, always.

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

‘… OF THE PEOPLE …’

February 19, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It is said that Lincoln frequently jotted words, phrases, sentences on paper scraps that were thrown in a desk drawer. When he neared writing a speech, he took the jottings and assembled his word thoughts as stitched quilt patches, with the whole the message.
That he could do so was his gift; that he did so was ours. Witness the Gettysburg Address, one of the speeches offered in November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at the famous Civil War battle site.
Controversy remains as to which of several copies of the address was given and from where the president mined the gem of the speech, “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The last lines, “… government of the people …,” are Lincoln’s simple but reaffirming nod to America’s founders and the journey they set the nation on, one that was to continue in restatement, commitment, fine-tuning.
How many of those vital, defining words were on paper scraps in the president’s desk, jotted down from memory or the influence of others, we will never know.
Were Lincoln alive today, what would he say about what seems to anyone of any political persuasion a great straying of the nation’s original intent?
The growing oligarchy obscenely supported by hidden, special-interest money and the indifference to the humble greatness of a land now raped by greed, lies and deliberate indifference seemingly have buried Lincoln’s words, along with the war dead of the civil conflict, the wars before and after, the dead of government neglect, the young dead of gunshots in our schools.
No matter where your politics lie, unless you are dressed and fed and tickled by the hidden, even sinister interests, within and from without in this America, you are not even close to protection as a human being with aspiration and hope. Your right to “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” secured by so much sacrifice and once articulated by a gift such as Lincoln, are now empty words.

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

BEARS AND HUMANS

‘Anthony’s  Nose,’ Bear Mountain’s brother

February12, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumrule.com

Bear Mountain, N.Y. — I once overheard, in this verdant wonderland of forestation, an earnest fellow say to his four year old: “They call Bear Mountain that because it is bare on top.” Well, it is bare, but that’s not the reason for the moniker. We local hayseeds know that.
This beautiful part of the heavy mountain ranges off the Hudson River, so close to Gotham, is part of the New York State parks system and specifically in the Palisades Interstate Park network. Despite being underfunded for decades (in tougher times, libraries and parks always get the shaft), Bear Mt. State Park, its umbrella the Harriman State Park, and other New York parks in the Hudson Valley region are full of trails, famous stone structures crafted by Depression-era artists, some pools, quite a few lakes and the historic Bear Mountain Inn, itself long-awaiting fuller restoration when the money — perhaps better said, the will— is there. A hotel, cafe, small eating section and trading post are now at the inn.
For decades, at least since the inn’s construction in 1915, we locals have driven to or hiked to or, once upon a time, taken the West Shore Line train to Bear Mountain on weekdays, when the urban crowds were back at work. No complaint about city folk, of course — they help keep the parks going, too, and what a weekend respite, but it’s like when company goes home. You have the house to yourself once again — it is a delight.
Bear Mountain Inn was designed in the Adirondack Great Camps style, and it never goes out of style, literally. Even a poorly done 1970s retrofit with blonde wood, now removed, could not wither the great oaks and other dark woodwork of this monumental building.
My hope is that the Palisades Parks Conservancy, properly formed to aid “the improvement of and activities in the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, and for the purposes of promoting and expanding the preservation of natural, historical, and cultural resources in the Park for the benefit of the public”  will some day be successful in specifically restoring Bear Mountain State Park, its parking lots, its trails, its zoo, its inn, its skating rink and many other features so that the “great masses” will continue to visit — from New York City and beyond and from local communities, too. That is what was intended so long ago in the Teddy Roosevelt-style founding of the parks nationally. May the bears continue to roam at Bear Mt., but humans, too.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@hotmail.com This column is adapted from an earlier piece.

IN FLU, SOME ZEN

February 5, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Enduring the flu is a cleansing experience, literally and beyond. It is also lucky triumph over what has been a killer this most unusual season as the preventive vaccine has often not worked. It did not for me.
But maybe it was not the flu, though the aches, chills, fever, sore throat, lethargy said “yes.” Maybe it was a cold/flu-like virus, of the adenovirus type. You can get a vaccine for that, but you have to join Uncle Sam’s military machine.
Whatever hit me Wednesday last as I was in usual mode, running here and there, burning one candle at three ends, had me by evening with chills, fever and onstant cough covered with enough blankets to make a polar bear leave the igloo.
The usual concerns, and the stress I bring to appointments, writings, paintings, volunteering, this and that disappeared quickly. Didn’t look at the cell phone, the iPad.
Didn’t eat, either, as appetite left faster than a Yankee fan in Beantown. Even the friend that shakes my hands all the time — arthritis — didn’t call, and for once the finger that needs to relax first thing in the day before it folds again behaved.
In an odd way, perhaps nature’s protection, I slipped into neutral. Yes, lots of aches, feeling 150 years old, disgusted, but it was a blessing not to be concerned about anything.
All I did was drink fluids, especially electrolytes, and watch the fever, which never got to the level and duration requiring a trip to the med people. The complications were few enough, too, so I could stay home.
Meanwhile, back on the treadmill, the volunteering I was supposed to handle was so superbly done by others that I now know how utterly replaceable I am. A rebalancing of the ego, another of nature’s re-tuning.
As the appetite slowly began to return after three days, I found the taste buds rejected salt and sugar as aliens. So why have I courted both so long?
I didn’t touch the cell phone for days, and when I finally looked for it, the phone was in the trash with a gazillion tissues.
Now on the full mend, slowly, I realize flu or adenovirus can be a teacher, however difficult and dangerous the lesson may be. As long as you have a mild case, and that admittedly was my good fortune, you can find peace in simple living, resting, eating minimally and wise, forgoing the constant email checks and appointment worries.
I was blessed to get better quickly, and I do not wish illness of any sort on anyone just so they can have a zen moment, but I found that peace can come in the oddest ways.
Now to maintain the equilibrium.

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

KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL JOB

January 29, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I don’t suppose people use keys to lock bathroom doors anymore, but in downtown Nyack, N.Y., one very old mortise set was stirred to life for perhaps the first time in more than 100 years.
As a volunteer at the Edward Hopper House, the birthplace in 1882 of the famed American realist artist, I was tasked by two concerned staffers with securing a door on the original bathroom, no longer used. They need it temporarily for archival space, and the room must be locked.
I was going to add a small, really non-invasive bolt latch that could be removed but was stopped — literally blocked at the bath door — by Carole Perry, the artistic director, and Jill De Vonyer, Hopper House archivist. Since I rarely seek to encounter the wrath of women (that comes anyway, without trying), I stared ahead, awaiting instruction, a long-ago-learned defensive move.
“You are NOT going to make holes in this old door, are you?” were the unspoken words as the eyes of Carole and Jill darted. I think I mumbled something about there already being a thousand pecks and blemishes in the still-unfinished though stained fir door, a standard 1880s building item.
That was when Jill, diminutive though she may be in height, focused on me as a laser would, or perhaps as a cat annoyed because it has not been fed on time. Carole, meanwhile, stood ground in the hallway with no retreat in mind.
“Ah,” I said, again in tactical defense. “I see this door has a mortised key lock.” (A mechanism set inside a hollowed-out section.) “Maybe I can take it out and make it work.” I could already hear the purring from the archivist and the director, so wonderfully protective are they of Hopper House, along with Jennifer Patton, the executive director, Joyce Byrnes and Ursula D’Auria in the office,  the trustees and the many volunteers over more than four decades.
The lock, common on inside doors back in the day, operates with a simple, “skeleton” key, turning a chunk of metal (mortise) that goes into a strike plate and tenon space on the door jamb.

The old mechanism came out easily, and as was also common back in America’s industrial age, the lock was made so that it could be quickly disassembled. I was able to clean the ancient dust from inside and lubricate the lock with the small tube of Vaseline I carry for dry hands, etc.
Back the thing went, a skeleton key was procured, and we had a working lock. All that was needed was Dave Sirois, also on the House & Grounds Committee, to add a strike plate from his collection as a contractor and old-homes restoration expert.
I hear Carole and Jill are pleased. I can relax because I did not incur wrath. Hopper House has been protected. And we can all say cheers for old-style American hardware that endures into its third century.

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