Sunday, December 29, 2013

LEAN ON ME


By Arthur H.Gunther III

     “LEAN ON ME,” said the healthy pine to its brother, the roots of which were torn from the earth during Superstorm Sandy in fall 2012.   In a metaphor, how many Rockland County, N.Y., residents required help as they did without power and heat, some for weeks?
     The mighty pine, a symbol of the Northeast and a non-deciduous offering to get us through sometimes harsh and colorless winters, has shallow roots, a reminder that life is fragile but enduring. That some pines grow and stand for decades is due to the closeness of their neighbors in a forest buddy system.
     But Sandy was extra-mean, and this poor pine at the Nanuet School District park off Convent Road in the Town of Clarkstown had just one brother, to its left, and none to the right, making it vulnerable. It tilted in a great burst of wind and could not be righted. Nothing could “put this Humpty-Dumpty together again.”
     And so the metaphor went for Rockland in the Sandy aftermath. Not all came back as they were, but in the troubles, there was certain and sure neighborly help.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 23, 2013

MESSAGE AT CHRISTMAS



     For some years, my son Arthur IV, a writer too, offered a holiday story published in this space. Reprinted here is his Dec. 24, 2007, piece.

     Franklin was a man of routine. Perhaps such a person had become an antiquated notion in this day and age, the very word “routine” summoning visions of safe havens and early dinners. Someone for whom risks were akin to strangers at your night door. What a shame to reduce a person to such a narrow universe. There had been a time where Franklin would have been moved to debate and argument over such labeling of his being.
     He was older now and less ready to argue. So old in fact that he would rather not seek new memories for fear of crowding out the old ones which kept him warm, the ones that had made him who he still was. This was easier than it sounded. The year itself, with its familiar cycle, cooperated nicely. The ebb and flow of the seasons lent a rhythm to his days that evoked memory at every turn. Despite the changes that had settled around his town, there was still so much to remind him of his past days.
     Which brings us to Christmas. Here it wasn’t so easy. Franklin himself had never been what most would call religious. He never attended a church or other religious house, even on the most popular of churchgoing days, Christmas. His wife had been another story. Molly had been a regular churchgoer, attending church every Sunday morning for the entire 55 years of their marriage. She rarely spoke of her beliefs, preferring to let the way she lived her life do the talking.
     Franklin did not label himself some kind of heathen. He had plenty of belief in God. Proof was everywhere. Franklin saw God in snowstorms and surprises, laughter, nature and seeming coincidence. Franklin had seen God every day for 55 years in his wife. Church just was never a place where he sought Him.

     Franklin’s wife had been accepting of his ways. She never asked him to attend church with her. On Christmas Eve, she may have dressed a bit nicer and left a little earlier, but she still attended alone. When Molly died a few years back, Franklin was stunned, as he knew he would be, though her passing was not unexpected. Slowly, however, he found those familiar routines and let the memory of all the sweet days before settle in more deeply than ever. In his own way, Franklin’s wife walked with him through his days.
     It was on Christmas that Franklin was at a loss. He had depended more on living vicariously through Molly’s routine on that day than he had realized. Franklin first tried ignoring the holiday, but that didn’t seem right. He had never ignored religion, just celebrated it in his own way.
     The second year after his wife’s passing, Franklin instead sought distraction and tried hiking  in the woods, but this wasn’t much better. Before he knew it, here came the season again.
     By Christmas Eve, Franklin was restless. After trying to distract himself with some of the old Christmas movies that his wife and he had always appreciated, he put on his coat and went for a walk. He decided to head toward town and maybe see if he could find a place open where he could drink hot chocolate. As he walked south on Broadway, he noticed more cars than usual parked on the side streets. People left and right were emerging from their cars dressed quite nicely. Slowly Franklin realized that these must be the extra people who always attended Christmas Mass. Without consciously making a decision, Franklin found himself following the crowds up the hill toward the church. As he crested the rise, he was taken with how the building flooded the normally quiet Tuesday night of the street with light. This was a street where Franklin rarely found himself, never having a reason to walk here. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked this way.
     Franklin stopped at the corner adjacent to the church and stood still. As he contemplated whether to go inside, he suddenly was startled by the noise of a collective standing up. An organ note rang out as all the lights around him went out. His first thought was that a blackout had occurred, but then Franklin saw that inside the church candles were being distributed and lit. Candles were soon being passed around for those who stood outside on the steps, too. Franklin guessed that the church must have been filled to capacity. Thinking his decision had been made for him, he turned and was about to walk home when a little girl ran up to him with a candle. “Here you go,” she said and was quickly gone.
     Franklin had forgotten to wear gloves, and his cold hands dropped the candle as quickly as it was handed to him. Bending down to pick it up, he noticed that he was standing not on a sidewalk but on a brick walkway. The bricks were all engraved with dedications. Franklin read the ones he could see illuminated by his candle: “John, with love from Elaine.” Then another: “Margaret and Stuart, 45 years” and finally: “For Franklin, thank you for your faith, always, Molly”.
     Franklin was frozen in place. He read the brick again to make sure he wasn’t seeing things and then slowly stood up. He could hear the church choir start to sing as he turned to walk away. Maybe next year he would return and go inside, Franklin thought. Maybe tomorrow he would walk down this street again. For once, Franklin was glad he had changed his routine.
      Arthur H. Gunther IV, a schoolteacher, lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., with his wife Laura, son Sam and daughter Beatrice. His e-mail is clausland@yahoo.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013

IT'S ILLEGAL, PEOPLE



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Nanuet, N.Y. -- There’s a shopping center here that’s never been without parking vehicles since it was built in the later 1950s, a remarkable thing because such strips in suburbia -- actually almost all of America -- just seem to multiply, knocking one another off, their inevitable fate weed- and litter-covered lots and empty storefronts. But not the old E.J. Korvette complex.
     This large discount chain of mostly Northeast stores, some with supermarkets, furniture outlets and tire centers, operated in Nanuet, a hamlet 20 miles out of New York City, for about two decades, until bankruptcy in 1980. Ever since, the site has been home to various retailers operating in divided E.J. Korvette space. That means the huge parking lot, about the size of three football fields, has always been used. And therein lies the heart of this essay.
     Since the old Korvette store is a long building, it has a fire lane stretching about 60 percent of the length of the parking lot. And it is usually blocked. Maybe it’s a Clarkstown, N.Y., thing, or a Northeast habit, but the cars are ignored by the local gendarmes, at least the ones I have observed.
     A run into Posa Posa pizza, or A.C. Moore or the UPS store or other shops means some irresponsible motorists leave the motor running in a lane clearly marked by the traditional yellow lines and painted curb. Newly painted.
     Should there be a fire, which certainly is a possibility given the age of the old department store and the modifications made over the years, volunteer firefighters might not be be able to park their rigs, wasting valuable, life-saving moments  setting up  the “job.”
     Motorists park illegally since they are not challenged, at least not often enough. I am in that center about once a week, have been for years, and there is just about always a vehicle or more in the fire lane.
     Nearby, in another shopping center, the same situation. I once asked a state trooper, who was also parked in the fire lane while getting a bagel, why he didn’t  ask the fellow sitting in the car in front of him to move out of the lane. He said that it wasn’t his “jurisdiction.” Did not know that fire hazards were defined by jurisdiction.
     A suggestion beyond the obvious, which is to use common sense and not park in fire lanes, and for police to enforce the law: Keep the fire lane yellow, with diagonal lines and curb in that color, but overlay with deep red markings. This would make the lane more noticeable and make the offenders stand out. It would also pay tribute to our firefighters, volunteer and hired. Red is their color.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. He is reachable directly at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 9, 2013

BREAKING THE VETS SNAFU



By Arthur H. Gunther III

     In this time of holiday parties, we went to see Jerry Donnellan at his West Nyack, N.Y., home. For decades now, he has been the veterans guru for Rockland County, and Jerry’s daily, weekend and evening life is centered around helping his fellow comrades. It is a God-given thing he does, and though Jerry is a local government employee, his job is to muddle through the red tape officialdom creates so that the ordinary soul receives his/her due, sometimes in an extraordinary fashion.
     The holiday affair was just fine at Jerry and MariEllyn’s place, as it always is since they are humble, gracious hosts. What made this year special, though, was that Jerry told us more than half a million souls have now been afforded treatment at special veterans clinics throughout the U.S., apart from the usual veterans hospitals. Not too many years ago, there were no veterans clinics, and those who served under our flag often endured the indignity of the bureaucracy in getting an appointment and/or treatment at the vets hospitals. Not enough funding, insufficient staff, long trips  and the indifference of any large organization made our veterans wait and suffer even more. Government can sure shoot itself in the foot and then trip up its citizens.
     Jerry saw the need for change, and he made his voice quite clear, calling upon a willing C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive, to help provide limited funding for a local clinic in New City. Almost immediately the walk-in was a success, assisting vets in getting checkups, prescriptions and care. It has proven a blessing to thousands of ex-servicemen and women.
     And the idea took off, spreading nationwide from Rockland in great numbers. All without a big fuss. All without D.C. direction, all without legislation that today surely would be debated, filibustered or somehow labeled anti-American.
     Jerry Donnellan saw a need, and he and Scott acted on it, homegrown-style, can-do style, the sort that won a world war in the 1940s when creative Yanks took bulls by the horn and made things work on the  battlefield even as the generals debated tactics.
     Good work, fellows -- those guys then and Jerry and Scott now.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. He is reachable at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

OF A QUIET EVENING


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

December 2, 2013

     For someone like my grandfather Arthur Sr., the Information Age began with a flood of great daily New York City newspapers like The World, the New York Times, and in his early 20s, the New York Daily News. He also had an early crystal radio set, the popular way of bringing in stations as far away as Chicago when the atmospherics were just right. You can just imagine how his own parents, raised in a slower age of communication, reacted to the more instant delivery from the wireless.
     Arthur Sr. would continue his fascination with both newspapers and radio until he passed at the early age of almost 67. After his daily job as foreman of a smoking pipe factory in Spring Valley, N.Y., and supper, he would take to a very comfortable easy chair with ottoman, next to a standing lamp set with 100-watt bulb, and pore over the papers from cover to cover. Then, at about 8 p.m., he would listen to the radio, particularly the “Bing Crosby Show” on Thursday nights. He liked the popular crooner’s voice and also the fact that he smoked a pipe. Between the newspapers and the radio, he kept current with information and was entertained, too.
     This evening time with the papers and the radio shows offered quiet. Unlike television, which brings constant movement in the flickering of the screen and action as well as the the blaring of dialogue, the radio, even with its sound effects, caused the listener to stare into space, to close his/her eyes, almost to daydream in imagination. With newspapers, there was a similar quiet as you mulled what you had just read, or re-read something.
     These were moments that relaxed, unlike the visit with what can be an elephant in the room -- the TV set. That window on the world and society, the foreground and background screen for a fast-paced age of information and entertainment, is also a look at the business of humanity, including dysfunction and the outlandish. It can give you a headache.
     My grandparents did buy a TV in the early 1950s, but the radio programs continued for a time, and so did my grandfather’s habit of listening to them. He would not look at TV during the day, even in retirement, instinctively understanding that to do so, to bring in constant sound and motion, would be to disturb the quiet rhythm required for his existence. His information age might have been busier than his parents’, but he understood their need for peace.

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