In Memory of Uncle Wally Gunther

1 Nov

When I was a kid of nine, 1947, I spent my first summer in Parkchester, The Bronx, New York City.

It was a magnificent place and still exists. But that is another story.

My Aunt Genevieve and Uncle Wally had invited me. They are both gone now and both of them were amazing people.

My uncle Wally was a self-made man. He ran away from home at fourteen and joined the crew of a merchant ship. It was there that he learned to box and through that skill he became friends with several professional fighters. Uncle Wally was the picture of true manhood.

He also earned his marine engineers license at that time. He departed the merchant ship life and went to work on the New York Central Railroad. It was only a short time before they promoted him to Yardmaster over one level of Grand Central Station in Manhattan. He used to take me down into the bowels of that magnificent station. We had to jump over the “third rail” that carried the electricity and ran the railroad train engines. He also showed me how the men controlled all the trains that were coming and going. And that is yet another story.

What I wish to point out with the above is that he had a magnificent memory and love for life. He often shared those attributes with me on my visits to Parkchester. He would do this while we were walking home from a late dinner at night. One of those treats was to hear him recite the poem of “Ivan Skavinsky Skavar and Abdul the Bulbul Emir” written by Percy French in 1877.


The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.
If you wanted a man to encourage the van,
Or harass the foe from the rear,
Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout
For Abdul Abulbul Amir.
Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.
Young man, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.
So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,
Singing, “Allah! Il Allah! Al-lah!”
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
They parried and thrust, they side-stepped and cussed,
Of blood they spilled a great part;
The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes,
Say that hash was first made on the spot.
They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.
As Abdul’s long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.
There’s a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
And graved there in characters clear,
Is, “Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”
A splash in the Black Sea one dark moonless night
Caused ripples to spread wide and far,
It was made by a sack fitting close to the back,
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
‘Neath the light of the cold northern star,
And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps,
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.


And that gives a concise picture of my Uncle Wally, his life, his mental ability and his zest.

I often think of those walks in Parkchester and his deep voice reciting the poem; and every once in a while breaking into the melody.




But we can’t leave my uncle’s memories in such a dark mood.

He could enjoy a laugh too.





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