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When Main St Was the Main Street

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.

Arthur H. GuntherOn an errand run in Nyack, 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.

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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.

Arthur H. Gunther, a trustee of the Edward Hopper House Art Center, is a retired Rockland County newspaperman who writes regularly at TheColumnRule.com.

 




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