Monday, February 27, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
Anyone with a tucked-away 50th high school reunion can tell you the road ahead offers a not-so-distant horizon. Gone is the heady infallibility of youth, the stirring of young love, the great hope and promise that is the beginning of the journey. All of a sudden our earliest yesterdays and the doors we could open then are no longer in the rearview mirror, so quickly does the trip go.
Some of us have already left the trail, and though we hope their reward is what is pray for, we who remain behind -- for now -- must take stock. How many of us could have predicted our lives, the people we have met, worked with, lived with? Or have counted the children raised, the grandchildren there now for some us, already on their own paths? Getting off the school bus for the last time way back when, few if any could have made an accurate prediction of what has come to pass.
That is not to say lives go unplanned, or that standards set were not deliberately met. Good for those who could do that, with some luck surely, as well as due diligence.
Life seems to become so much more reflective 60 or so years out, especially in retirement when the old daydreams of childhood, youth, young life and those that helped get us through the years of maturing in family and workplace are perhaps replaced by the revisiting of long-buried doubt, fear and mistakes, nudged from the sub-conscious with time on our hands.

If we are individually fortunate, we will each go to destiny and finality in great quiet, even the ill among us. We have all lost former classmates and know others who will leave sooner than later. Some are now at that very turn in the road. It is sad, but there is hope, too. We will all take the trip.
In the bond that is group experience -- and that, surely, is high school, even back half a century -- there is gathered, intermixed DNA that marks one as with the other, always, even without face-to-face revisiting. So, when one among us is hurt, is sick or is about to move on over the horizon, the brethren somehow knows and feels.
In that there is comfort, for no one can ever be alone in all this. 

Monday, February 20, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
Park Slope, Brooklyn (N.Y.) -- On a little swing meant for play, someone -- also little -- sat. Just yesterday she was called a child, but now she’s lost that brief, fleeting chance when imagination is a magic carpet to wondrous dreaming, when there is no limit to exploration, when inquisitiveness is so without rules that roadblocks to expression do not yet appear. (In short, literally, the child -- any child -- is the hope of a world run not so well by adults.)
What happened in Brooklyn? Why is the little one no longer a child though she seems just a toddler in the tony brownstone neighborhood? “Babyccinos,” that’s why -- frothy designer drinks that mimic what parents hold whether they drink them or not, as they all mill about the playground and talk of entrance exams for pre-school.
One “barista” (counterperson in New Speak) is quoted in a New York Daily News story: “It’s cute ...  they feel like they’re drinking the same drinks as the bigger people.” Another barista: “(Parents) want to incorporate their kids into their lifestyle.” (That’s at $1.50 a pop for warm, foamy milk served in a regular-to-go cup with a sippy lid, perhaps with sprinkled chocolate on top.)
Why in this “adult” world of constant war, greed, distant, disconnected government and lobbies for everything under the sun save common sense, would you want a small child to get off her small swing and become a little adult swinger swigging a cappuccino-like container called a babyccino? Why would we want children to leave their fertile, seemingly endless frontier of belief in fairies and super heroes to become adults oh so quickly? Where is the proof that is good for all?
What happened to the little one’s playground water fountain, eagerly sought after when hide and seek wore the child out or following a heady run on the merry-go-round? 
Imagination, the stimulant of childhood, needs no extra “caffeine.” 

Monday, February 13, 2012


     The man in front of me in a public place, whose face I could not see, appeared to be my age, judging from graying, thinning hair, posture and movement, but on the seat next to him was a cap that offered a different story. And what a one it must be.
The hat read “B-24 Liberator” with bombing squadrons and group numbers I do not recall. The cap looked fairly new, so perhaps it was a family Christmas present.
For a while I pondered this man’s luck. The B-24 was a faster plane than the B-17 “Flying Fortress,” with greater range and bomb load, but pilots apparently found it difficult to control, and it was extra prone to battle damage since its gas tanks were in a more vulnerable location. Any crew member of a B-17 or B-24 faced heavy odds of being shot down, especially as mission after mission took off.  Thousands of B-24s were built, and the aircraft served in every front during World War II.
So, the man in front of me, who must have 20 years on me at least, is fortunate to have survived. What his thoughts are about his war, about lost, awfully young comrades, about the devastation of bombing, about the aftermath of such destruction, they must be daily, all spinning in that balding head under that proud cap.
His was supposedly the “Good War,” though there never is one, yet given the stage and its principal participants in 1939, battle was inevitable, and so was the Allied response. The man in front of me did his job. We all are here today because of him and others, and many thank him for that. But the war that most living today never knew continues for him, surely.
As I pondered on all this, still staring at his dark blue B-24 Liberator cap, I looked up and immediately caught the body expression of a far younger fellow. I still could not see the man’s face, but there was his back and on it a puffy shirtwaist-style jacket not unlike the shiny nylon bomber’s crew issue. The tell-tale sign of a flyer was there, even for a perhaps 89-year old: A turned up collar. And, after a bit, the man leaned on his left leg, as if standing against a wall, another youthful, even cocky gesture.
Then I knew this man, this survivor of such high-casualty war work, was just a kid again, still. Whatever battles he continues to fight, whatever thoughts he may have about such a deeply moving, disturbing, nightmarish time in his youth, he was given one precious gift other than a pass to live: the special comradery of youth, an eternal thing. 

Monday, February 6, 2012


     Times and necessities change, so what’s cost-saving for one generation is forgotten in the next. Almost gone now are the numerous stories from elders who survived the Great Depression and followed the “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do” rule. The survival innovation found in such scarcity was a tribute to both inventiveness and common sense.
Of course, generational practices are relative. In too many parts of the world, including our own nation, the old rule is still in force. And, as we have seen in the falling debris of the Greed Era, many should not have forgotten it in the first place, though reasonable consumerism, and so economic growth, does depend on replacing things.
Yet some necessities ought not disappear, for charm is lost, as is simplicity. One example: the sprinkle top fitted to a seltzer or soda bottle for use in ironing. A friend’s mother had such a thing, a bright chrome, mushroom-shaped stopper with many holes. It came in handy for more than spreading a few drops to help erase wrinkles.
She had a rhythm in her ironing, this mom, pulling a shirt onto the angled end of the board so that she could get the back of the garment perfectly flat for a quick sprinkle from the repurposed bottle. She just as quickly applied the hot iron so that a sizzle was heard just as steam chased her hand, as it refashioned the shirt for another run of the press.  All this while talking to her guest, occasionally looking at him, which she could do since she had her mojo down pat. The ironer could even reach for another swig from the sprinkle bottle without eying it, so well tuned was her ironing board radar.
I found the stopper interesting. I had never seen one since my own mother used a steam iron. I recall thinking how clever was this device and how simple. Simple often means beauty in my world, so that went down well.
But what worked best for me was that I could stare at the stopper and so distract myself enough not to get tongue-tied as I was trying to make conversation. Young fellows talking to other people’s moms usually don’t have much to say beyond the rescue phrase, “It’s warm today, isn’t it?”
Decades later, I don’t think I have spotted a sprinkle stopper since, but I have not forgotten how long ago one eased the wrinkles from my conversation.