Monday, August 24, 2015

A MOMENT RENEACTED

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     A day or so before my brother Craig and I recently closed on our late parents’ house, I said goodbye to a place that was never my childhood home, never one of infant, toddler, pre-teen and teen yin/yang that moves one toward the whole. No, all that happened — with failure and success — in six other locations, all within a few miles of one another practically from birth into young adulthood. The house that I gave a last tip of the hat to was instead a short-lived way-stop before the adult growth and development that you hopefully progress into and succeed.
     When my parents bought their second home (the rest were rentals) in 1964 in Pearl River, N.Y., having lived in nearby Hillcrest since 1953, my brother and I came along because we were not yet established in work and life — income, marriage, etc. Craig was there the shortest time, less than a year, and me a bit longer. So this new house was not the “home” of parental authority, of fifth-grade friends playing card games in the backyard, of eighth graders studying for the first state Regents tests, of many Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, of visits by grandparents, of thoughts of young love, of getting a driver’s license, of growing up. All that happened elsewhere, and the 1964 house was for a time lodging, and my brother and I were thankful for that.
     In summer 1964, 51 years ago now, as a young-enough man, my father gave me the address of the new house, and I went over by myself, finding it set off the road a bit within a driveway yet to be paved. I parked my red VW and, with no house key, walked about the property and peered into the back patio door, taking note of how the “basement” was finished, unlike the Hillcrest house. I stared at a wall and thought this house was well constructed and that my parents had made a good choice for themselves. 
     Yet I also realized this would not be a home of growing-up memories, that I had to move myself on soon enough. What part of the yin/yang this place would play out there I did not know, and I would rather have let all that finish in Hillcrest. I saw no reason to move, not then anyway (my father had always liked Pearl River, had long wanted to live there.) But that was selfish, for my parents had already given us so much. 
     My mother would live happily in the new house for about 32 years, until Alzheimers and then her passing a few years later. My father would be there for 51 seasons, living independently quite well until just days before his own death. In those decades when our  parents shared the house, it was a place for grandchildren to visit, for the yin/yang that continues even as sons/mother and dad all grow older.
     After my father died in April and the house was listed but before the sale went through, the house was cleaned of furniture, etc., and I kept occasional watch, not able to stay for long periods out of sadness but there long enough to be as responsible as I had to be in the situation. When all was said and done, just a day or so before the closing, I looked in every room and paused for every memory I could recall. I saw my relatively young parents and a much younger me. I also saw the hallway where my father and I laughed in March as I literally dragged him into his bedroom after he fell, after he stood for the last time in his house of five decades.
     Moving downstairs on that last visit, I locked the patio door that I had stared into in 1964 and went into the backyard. I peered against the glass and looked at the same wall I had first noticed 51years before. I walked over to my present car, also red, left the property and drove the old route back to Hillcrest, pausing there with a tip of the hat to the old homestead, the one where so much had happened in the relative shortness of childhood.
     The journey was complete, that one anyway. Some affairs are now in order as the yin/yang of each life, including my own, my brother’s, too, continue toward equilibrium.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

CHICLETS AND THE TREE

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     In the youth that was mine and so many others in 1950s not-yet-suburbia in Rockland County, N.Y., there would be occasional trips to New York City, about 24 miles southeast. That could be an experience.
     In those days, many Rocklanders had never been to Gotham and quite a few cared not to go, the urban-rural divide that is this nation's history still strong. The usual rationale, fed by a bit of prejudice but also a growing need for survival against “progress,” was that city folk were brash, noisy, nosy and rough. Well, yes, in generalization. How can you survive in  on the streets without armor? True is, was, still is, that such lumping of all fades when you meet the individual, and quite a few fine city people have helped improve Rockland. 
     Yet more than enough new residents have also required bulldozing farms, apple orchards and green space; necessitated numerous  highway shopping strips that are often neglected; brought traffic, noise and astronomically higher taxes; and built a vast suburbia that is now graying as more age into seniors and not enough young people choose or can afford to buy into what was the “American Dream.” How suburbia, which today is more urban that not, will morph is anyone’s guess. It was all built too quickly without regard for the old -- too much of the new -- and yet the new also lost its identity.
     The  loss of countryside and spouting of suburbia also changed old Gotham, all the gothams in the United States. Once, despite some poverty and challenge, they were clearly defined, cherished ethnic neighborhoods where apartment house residents were parents to all the kids on the block; where mom & pop stores went from generation to generation and built reputations of fine food, goods, service. Now the challenges of gentrification and of society itself mean redefinition, often without roots, so often without support. If suburbia is constantly trying to define itself, so is Gotham.
     For a long time, though, which included the youth of my father and me as well as my grandfather, there was a certainty in the rhythm of New York City.
     So, when we took the rare trip there in the 1950s and went on the subway, it was an amazing experience for rural kids who that morning had climbed a 200-year-old oak in the middle of an apple orchard and could see nothing but land in any direction. The underground train, with its noise, rattan seats, slow-moving ceiling fans, blinking incandescent lights and screeching as the cars made tight turns — it all made your head spin.
     On the subway platform, hand in grandfather’s so as not to be swallowed into the ever-present crowd, relief was to be had: Chiclets, in four or five flavors, dispensed for one cent per two-gum package from a shiny vending machine attached to each post on the subway platform, sometimes alternating with peanut machines. What taste this gum offered, if only for a moment. 
Once back on the “farm” as it were, you could take a few packs of Chiclets from your pocket, and if you were prescient enough, which no one was, you could understand that you, too, were bringing “progress” to the countryside.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yayoo.com

Sunday, August 9, 2015

PROGRESS RIDES IN A SUV

   Spring Valley, N.Y.  --  Over on Alturas Road, between Cole and Summit avenues, on the hill once called Red Brick, many deep inches of asphalt are the burial cover of a long-gone era, one that saw much less traffic on the original  Nyack Turnpike, on the Alturas Road section in this once summer resort village north of New York City. The Turnpike is now part of Route 59, a state highway that runs from the old Nyack port on the Hudson River to Suffern and the foot of the Ramapo Mountains.
Once, it was the main route for overland goods and people on their way upstate, until the Erie Railroad came through in the late 1840s. The Midwest and the West fueled their building via the Erie and its railroad and canal, helping forge an ever-expanding American frontier with people and goods  that put in foundations and roots everywhere.
For a long time, from the later 1800s  until about 1968, the  Nyack Turnpike was a busy enough local road, usually called Alturas or simply the Turnpike and not by a route number provided by the state. Now few recall the original name, and the highway is a ribbon of the suburbs, flashing with neon and lined with one shopping strip after another. Though the state, in a bit of welcome wisdom, provided a median of beautiful trees in its widening of Route 59 in nearby Nanuet, most of the highway today is what you would expect of one anywhere. Check into a motel off this road, and you could wake up thinking you were in many parts of the United States, so similar the look and the growth.
But once, until the later 1960s, Route 59 had its quiet passages, especially the Red Brick Hill between Cole and Summit. It was classic Rockland County, once the nation’s brick-making capital, with its many Hudson River yards providing the building block for 90 percent of New York City’s tenements.
Some of that brick, a longer-fired variety, found its way to the steep hill at Alturas and was hand laid against wide cement gutters on each side, a very efficient drainage system that worked for decades. Decades, too, would the red brick lie in its clay sister earth, offering the sleepy toddler on his way to Gramps' house a reassuring bump-bump sound off the tires, a welcome to a bed soon warm.
Red Brick Hill, covered with packed snow and light in traffic, was a popular sledding route when adjacent Dunlop’s Hill was crowded with youth who took delight in activity that cost nothing and which brought laughter and memories.
In the march of progress and the ever-thickening book of rules for standardized highway surfacing, Red Brick Hill was paved over by Albany. And then paved again. And again,   until the red bricks are hardly recalled today.
Today most “natives” of the Alturas Road area of Spring Valley are perhaps 10 years there, certainly the elders of ever-newer people, but without a whit of a clue that the hill they now speed along was made of brick. Once, you had to slow down for the ascent and the descent, maybe not enough to smell the flowers -- the black-eyed Susans -- on Dunlop’s Hill, but with sufficiently lessened pace to feel the history of a road once trod by horses and wagons. Now progress rides in a SUV.


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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WHAT'S IN A FACE?


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There comes a day when you see a certain face on a relative, friend or former acquaintance, and you realize time has passed, that age has added lines, that days of happiness, difficulty, excitement, boredom and the sometime ordinariness of living have left telltale trails on a visage unique to that person. 
     Maybe it is because we don’t really look at each other all the time, or at least notice how someone appears on a regular basis, that we don’t see the individual as he/she collects the years. Nor, perhaps, do we see our own aging. Every once in a while, though, we seem to leave close proximity and step back to suddenly notice the person or ourselves in a detached way, almost as an unbiased observer. 
     It is in that moment that a relative or friend or acquaintance appears to us changed, and that is usually for the better. For we all age, we all have our ups and downs, we all move on, whether it is on the treadmill of life or making the heady climb to whatever is our summit. We are then, at the end, the sum of our experiences, and at any point before that the total of all that has happened so far. 
     Except for the most hard luck-driven individual, or the person who seems unable or unwilling to obtain some good days, people move toward that summit on relatively clear trails, even if some are unmarked, the many experiences etching the face like so many notches on a Bowie knife. Your childhood. School. Romance. Work. Marriage. Hobbies. Hard times. Good times. They all make their mark on our faces.
     Yet nature or your god provides those detached moments when you suddenly get an update on the individual or yourself. One day you spot this person and note the changes, or you get up in the morning and acutely see yourself in the mirror. 
     Such moments seem so true in their depth of insight, in their perspective that time has gone by, that things have happened, that you or he or she is still there, that the journey continues. There can be grand glory in all this, a small smile at noting how well someone is doing, or even that the individual has simply survived his or her travails. 
     It is a reaffirmation of life, surely of our own, that we see such change, note it and store the information in the computer that is the mind and add to the mass of feelings that is the spirit. This brings a reality check which shows we all live sometimes challenging lives, that we are all climbing a mountain of some sort.
     Imagine if we were not able to step back and take that detached look at ourselves or someone else? We might all live in the past, in a time when we were 16 and the face was without wrinkles, just the oiled blemishes of puberty and all the wonder of that promising but quick moment. No, even as we write the chapters in our lives, or have some lines written for us, we are given a chance to sit down and read the proofs of what so far is written. In that, we might still alter the ending, and in that, too, we can appreciate, even savor, what’s been put down so far. 

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

PICTURES FROM WITHIN

By Arthur H. Gunther III




The painter who touches you has already made that same journey inward, for he/she takes a picture of part of the artist's soul and renders it in form, line, color, perspective. If you get goose bumps, you get the picture.

This is a gift, which like all the special qualities any have, comes with the package at birth. Whether it is developed depends on what else happens in life – environment, family, opportunity, using free will to make the gift grow.

So, no artist, no writer, no exceptional teacher, surgeon, bus driver, trash collector, parent, citizen of the world ought ever take an ego trip and proclaim that he/she is the cat’s pajamas. You were just lucky at birth, you see, and don’t let it go to your head.

Now this does not mean everyone with a gift will open the box and take the ball and run with it. Humans are also lazy, selfish or are in hardship that dilutes the potential. So many gifts in so many people have gone unclaimed.

But when the ability is nurtured, when it is given expression, wow, can hearts pound, tears come, skin tingle and connection made. A painting that leaves you speechless or that resonates in your particular being. A novel, short story, play or poem, paintings as word pictures, expressed by the gifted ones, also recreate visits with artists' souls.  And so you say, “Ah, that’s what I mean.”

Life can be so unfair, disheartening, troublesome, challenging while also offering great joy and goose bumps. Yet on both sides of the aisle, no matter what your emotions of the day, a painting, something written, a teacher’s great lesson, a surgeon’s saving hands, a professional’s sacrifice, a trash collector’s quiet handling of your discards in the early morning, just about anything any of us do or can do will express the gifts we all have, whatever they may be.




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

Monday, July 6, 2015

A TRIP TO MCNAMARA

By Arthur H. Gunther III
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 named McNamara, and though the signs still proclaim it, no longer is this a rural place. Nor is Pomona, named by apple farmer Nicholas Conklin 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” that included a summer walk from Hillcrest, a nearby Rockland County, N.Y., 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 Conklin 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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE PAST AT MARION AND FIRST

By Arthur H. Gunther III
It was at the corner of Marion Street and First Avenue in an American town that the echoes of the past not only filled the ears with a delightful, peaceful sound but the fragrance of the moment catapulted me back decades.
On an errand run in Nyack, N.Y., a community that constantly offers so many echoes and fragrances since it was my family’s principal shopping destination on post-world War II Saturdays before suburbia began to roar and many big automobiles filled with families headed in formation to highway shopping strips and then the malls.
The old Nyack — the old American downtown anywhere — was meant for parking the car and then walking and perusing on Main Street and Broadway. Downtowns have largely disappeared now, though Nyack is still highly walkable even if the full component of stores — so many mom & pops — is not there. Restaurants, bars, yes. A hardware store, health food shop, groceries, a wonderful bookstore, clothing and lingerie places and surely varied offerings for the 2015 shopper. Yet not the downtown shopping vitality of yore. It can hardly be so in suburbia  — we never planned to save the downtowns, shame on us.
But back to the echo and fragrance at Marion and First. As I was walking to a grocery on Broadway, I saw a fellow pushing a lawnmower, the kind without a motor — gas or electric. It was an old-fashioned reel-style mower, and as the fellow gave it a slight push, the blades whirred in particular music, ending as quickly as it began until the next push. Pulling it backward, you heard the ball bearings in the wheels, another distinctive sound. Together, the push and the pull were a cadence, and that produced echoes of a much quieter time in downtown life.
Quiet at the house, on the lawn, that is. Saturday shopping was never quiet, with so many kids on Main and Broadway, in parents’ tow or in groups jabbering to one another. That was also music, with its own memorable echo.
The fragrance that day at Marion and First was the icing on the cake. Fresh-mown grass cut by a hand mower leaves the whiff of the sliced blade, not the smell of gasoline and exhaust.
The chaser to all this — the sound echo, the fragrance — was the great quiet. There was no leaf blower in the cleanup, no rattling of teeth in the cacophony. Just a fellow bending over to collect grass clippings. Serenity in itself.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.