Monday, August 31, 2015

IN THE GARDEN OF EVIL, FLOWERS FROM GOD

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Heroes of the Holocaust are not only those who died in that great inhumanity. Survivors who have gone on to endure  thousands of nights in recalled nightmare have articulated against the dark side and championed what is good in humankind. In their selflessness, they have shown that the cancer that was Adolf Hitler and his followers was, like all malignancy, a speck that overwhelmed the much greater good health of the body that is the world, the person.
     In this part of the earth, in the northeastern section of the United States, one such Holocaust survivor who offered continuing smiles and hope for children in particular, has just passed, at age 90 after 10 years of yet another undeserved confinement as a victim of Alzheimer’s.
     Georgine Hyde was an Auschwitz internee, who upon leaving the death camps where her parents and sister were murdered, spent a lifetime of compassion and direct energy in educating children and adults against evil and emphasizing what is good in humankind. She was on the East Ramapo School Board for 36 years, serving as president most of that time and also as chief of the New York Stare School Boards Association. In 2005, Mrs. Hyde was specifically targeted for defeat when district control was assumed by bloc vote in the growing ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. That this Holocaust survivor, this woman of peace and advocacy for all people, regardless of religion or background, should be pushed aside by one persuasion was ironic. Most unsettling, most insulting was that she was termed anti-Semitic because she opposed the loss of mixed views on a public school board. (The district has fired many teachers and other staff,  cut programs and has been criticized for improving transportation and special education placements for the private school community.)
      Imagine terming a Holocaust survivor anti-Semitic.
     Even after her defeat, Mrs. Hyde continued to turn the degradation of her camp confinement into hope for the future, speaking to children  and adults about her life, the Holocaust and other mass murders in the world.
    Survivors of the Nazis fanned out all over the world, and many communities were blessed to have Georgina Hydes among them, “gute mentsh” (good people) who kept memorial candles lit for those killed by underscoring what is truly uplifting and promising in humankind. In the garden of evil, flowers from God.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com.

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