‘SEASONAL LOVE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

A peach in season is like long-sought love that suddenly makes connection.  The heavens appear, but as in many a novel and short story, consumption does you in, spoils you for the ordinary. You can love no more past this time.

Until the next season.

It isn’t Adam and Eve here, forbidden taste of the fruit that brings guilt and addiction. The peach in season, freshly picked at maturity, never ripened as a green orb by gas in a truck or rail car from this place or that, is like the magical confluence of things out of this world when the tingle, heart patter and goose pimples of human bonding strike as lightning.

You are hooked for the moment. You do not question why this peach is so full of nature’s best taste, why the skin has a snap never arrived in the ordinary supermarket variety, picked weeks ago. You simply savor rich sweetness that almost makes you cry, humbles you so in the process that you thank your god or your lucky stars. You are filled with satisfaction, and that keeps the tank supplying until the next year.

Once, in this region called Rockland, the smallest New York county geographically outside Gotham’s five boroughs, tree-ripened peaches were the norm. But post-World War II development took most farms and some of the greatest fruit ever grown, given our particular climate and glacially derived rocky soil. Now, there are but a few farms, like the Concklins, the Davies family, the Van Houtens and others in the Rockland Farm Alliance, such as Bluefield, Duryea, Pfeiffer Center, Stony Point Center. In their place is what is an insult: stores in all too many highway strips on old farm land that, with some exception, sell peaches from states far away, perhaps wonderfully tasting in their own element, had they ripened there, but not in Rockland as gassed creatures that are so grainy inside that you must throw them away, even after you have paid dearly a pound in “season.” You had hoped, but. …

No, I await the homegrown, larger fruit that like the lover you recognize in the dark, has its own scent. For a few weeks there is this affair that has you coming back and back for more, even moving you to tears, for no man-made sweetness is comparable to a fresh peach, the skin of which produces a snap at first bite that is exquisite foreplay.

Once your time is finished, you will have to move on, for the fresh peaches are no more. But that is just fine, thank you. As with the deepest of love affairs, the sort that can be revisited in its season but never sustained in ordinary time, day after day, week after week, you are satisfied so deeply that routine will never do.

You await the next rendezvous. It is worth suspended time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is derived from an earlier treatment. ahgunther@yahoo.com

ANGELS IN THE ROOM

 

ANGELS IN THE ROOM

August 10, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

“Religion” is no longer organized or traditional for this writer though I have respect for all beliefs and for the utter great goodness of those humanitarians found within them who as reward regularly suffer the slings and arrows and condemnation of some institutional leaders and policies. An old story, lived vividly by the Christ of the Christians.
But this is not an essay on religion. It is about angels in the room whether you believe in them or not. Call the spirits what you will if you do not cotton to any god or hereafter. Yet I challenge you to say you have not met an angel in the room, your room.
A few years ago, off the Kings Highway on Cape Cod, not far from Welfleet, my family and I were gathered at a rented home the driveway of which was deeply rutted, not paved, just like the old orchard paths I walked along as a child in Rockland County, N.Y. On the Cape, on that driveway, I quite suddenly found an absolute calm, a warming feeling much like a comfortable blanket. Others were talking, but all I heard were the chirping birds you notice in your youth on a spring day, and a quieting — and you can hear the quiet — of my soul. I was both in the mortal world of a vacation landscape but also traveling with the angels. For just a very short time, all was right. I was cozy, without fear of any sort.
On only a few occasions in a lengthened life have I noticed the angels. Once on an evening walk on South Mountain Road in my county, again in quiet, another time heading to kindergarten and climbing a small hill to get there. A strong, rising sun, more quiet and those birds. Just 5, I felt life would be OK. Only angels tell you that at such an age.
Who knows what trials any life will bring? What happiness? What is just plain ordinary?
Just expect that out of the blue, faith and prayers or not, a very rare visit of utter calm and affirmation of hope will arrive. Perhaps that is all that is needed to endure. Angels in the room.

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

–30–

 

MORNING VISITORS

August 3, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Ordinarily, birds would not attract notice in the backyard. Laissez-faire: they go about their life, and I do the same. Do like their singing, chirping, fact that they are there, which probably means no horror story like a hurricane is coming or a win by the indecent in Election 2020.

     So, birds are quite welcome, as I hope I am to the creatures, for I both respect and feed them. But now, rather than a fact of living for this human, birds have become morning companions.

     In the time of virus, with so much stay at home, the rituals, the habits, the ordinary doings have changed. No longer rushing out the door to buy the papers, grab the coffee, park the car and read in that great quiet we must all have if only for a moment, the scene has changed to reading a delivered newspaper, making what may or may not be coffee at home, sitting on the back porch and having the birds drop in to eat their morning bread at the feeder/birdhouse.

     Never knew there were so many bluebirds, and that they are hogs, repeatedly swooping in to grab. There are sparrows, too, and a few colorful birds with red heads or scarlet coloring.

     They know when you are heading out to feed them, with the word passed along in rising chatter, the bird world’s telegraph.

     All in all, delightful morning guests. Or perhaps I am the visitor.  

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

A ‘SANITY’ FIND

July 29, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     When in the time of virus you are so bored that you run from the house screaming “I can’t take it any more,” how do you return to normal blood pressure?

     For me last week it was walking about the upper back yard surveying trees and rocks and some grass and more weeds that I usually do not look at. I can see the space just find from the lower lawn or a screened-in porch, so the upper yard is mostly a nice backdrop for the usual passing of time and day-dreaming.

     Walking about the place in Blauvelt, N.Y., a few days ago, I noticed something shiny, trapped by a tree root. Since my back yard was once part of a 1920s home, it is not unusual to find buried things that pop up as trees grow and the land evolves,  In the 1920s-’30s, homeowners did not always have trash pickup. They would burn paper, compost the scraps and bury tin cans and glass jars, though they might reuse the glass. My upper yard includes these items plus lots of coal cinders from the hand-stoked furnace days.

     When I saw the shiny bit, I figured it was glass, which I have occasionally dug up. I first used a small knife to carefully make my archaeological dig, then a shovel. I thought I would eventually pick out broken glass but, lo and behold, what I dislodged was a 1930s jelly glass, the kind that was meant for reuse as a drinking vessel during the Great Depression.

     Took a while to clean it up — nature had filled it with dirt, but it came out nice. Added the discarded wiring from a 1940s Mason jar.

     All in all, great respite in the time of virus.

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

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