Last week, I told you about one of the loves of my grandfather’s life circa 1969 — his brand-new, eagerly anticipated Ford Fairlane 500.
This week, we follow him as he grits his teeth, swallows hard, and thinks about handing the keys over to the other love of his life — my grandmother.
I’ve been writing this blog for a good 20 months now … and my total failure to define, describe or otherwise flesh out my grandmother in this space has been an ongoing source of frustration for me.
Corine Mae Blumenau, nee Wambolt, was kindly, good-humored, a skilled baker, deaf as a stone post, and prone to occasional periods of depression.
As a child, I witnessed all of these qualities but the last; and all except the deafness have manifested themselves in me as an adult. (Classifying myself as “kindly” may be giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I suppose.)
Genealogy was her chosen habit. And it is her family’s lineage that connects a 21st-century salaryman to the earliest days of colonial America, through distant ancestors like William Keeney (born 1601, Leicestershire, England; died 1675, New London, Conn.) and Levi Beebe (born 1743, East Haddam, Conn.; died 1817, Richmond, Mass.; served as a corporal in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.)
My grandma worked until she got married. It was a point of pride to my grandfather that he make enough money to support them, and they dated for several years until he felt comfortable that he could do so.
I am not entirely sure he did her a solid. I think my grandma’s worldview in her homemaker years was somewhat limited, and she would have benefited from engaging a little more with the larger world.
She was the only one of my grandparents who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her final years; and while social interaction and intellectual challenge have not been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, more of both might have helped her.
(In fairness, millions of other women of her generation chose the same path — homemaking, not Alzheimer’s. I have no evidence to indicate she was anything but agreeable with her switch from working woman to homemaker.)
As far as I know, my grandma never had a driver’s license. I know I never saw her drive, and I do not think she was ever legally able to.
This suited her personality — though I find it difficult to find the exact words to describe why.
Was she ditzy or airheaded? No. But, I could easily imagine her rear-ending somebody because she’d seen a good price for ground beef advertised in a store window, and had started thinking about how she might put it to use.
Was she nervous? Not in a chronic fingernail-biting sense. But, I can easily imagine her going 10 mph under the speed limit — on a street marked for 30 — just to be totally sure she didn’t hit anything.
While my grandma might not have been cut out for driving, she did make some attempts to learn.
My grandfather’s calendar headers for October 1968 and March 1969 both feature notations about my grandma taking, or signing up for, driving lessons.
And the calendar entry that started us off, 500 words or so ago, indicates she went so far as to get behind the wheel and give it her best.
I don’t know at what point the Corine Blumenau Driving Experiment failed. I’m not sure if she ever took a driver’s test, or whether the whole idea was abandoned after a few lessons.
I don’t think the topic was ever raised after 1969, though — or if it was, I don’t remember it ever showing up on the calendar.
My grandfather remained the sole operator of the family celery wagon for the remainder of his life, and they managed to get by with that. My grandma retained firm control over the cooking and cleaning, with help from my great-grandmother.
And that, in the Blumenau household, was the way of things.