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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

For those who like a good news-bath, there’s no richer fount of information than a Sunday New York Times.

Even in this vaunted journalistic age, the Good Gray Lady’s Sunday edition is still a potent collection of news, comment, wit, perspective, and what A.J. Liebling used to call “agglutinated sapience.” Few, if any, American newspapers can compare.

Our journey this week involves one of a million such dead-tree doorstops. Specifically, this one made its way to the dinner table of a draftsman and his family in suburban Stamford.

But why?

May 3, 1964.

May 3, 1964. The Mets have played 16 games – and are already eight games out of first place.

I’ve previously written that my grandfather’s newspaper loyalties lay primarily with the New York Daily News — “New York’s Picture Newspaper” — and with the hometown afternoon paper, the Stamford Advocate.

So why would he leave himself a special note to buy the New York Times?

I’m especially puzzled because I don’t think it was common newspaper practice back then to tease what you had coming up on Sunday.

Today’s newspapers are not shy about promoting upcoming stories. (Many of them will get anything really cracking up on their websites ASAP, rather than hold it.)

I don’t think that was as common a practice in 1964. Papers were more protective of their scoops — in part because many cities were still home to more than one paper, and they didn’t want to tip their hands to their rivals. Which leads me to wonder how my grandpa knew in advance that he had to have a copy of the Sunday Times.

Inevitably, this calendar entry sent me searching to find out what was in the May 3, 1964, New York Times that might have interested my grandfather.

I have a book of historic Times front pages big enough to land a Piper Cub on, and the May 3 edition is not reprinted in it. So there couldn’t have been anything truly historic on the front page that day.

The Web mentions a couple items that might have been interesting at the time, though I don’t think any of them would have enticed my grandpa to buy the paper:

- The weekly magazine ran A.M. Rosenthal’s “Study of the Sickness Called Apathy,” a follow-up article about the March murder of Kitty Genovese, who was reportedly stabbed to death while dozens of neighbors did nothing. (More recent accounts suggest that the Times sensationalized the case, and the paper’s initial reports — which fixed the details of the case in America’s national memory — were largely untrue.)

- In the world of arts, Howard Taubman reviewed a production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” telling readers in New Canaan and Mount Kisco that “Mr. Baldwin speaks fervidly for the Negro’s anguish and passion, and none of us can afford not to heed him.” (However earnest Mr. Taubman’s prose might have been, getting an actual Negro to review the production seems in retrospect like a worthwhile step.)

- Timesman McCandlish Phillips — who became better-known the following year after he unmasked the Jewish background of a prominent Klansman and American Nazi — contributed a story about the high cost of food at the recently opened 1964-65 World’s Fair.

- Wikipedia says the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place May 3, 1964, in several locations including Times Square. Maybe that got covered in advance somewhere in the Sunday Times.

Perhaps there was a letter from a Stamfordite, or a feature story about Stamford, somewhere in that Sunday’s Times. Again, I’m not sure how my grandpa would have known about that, but maybe some sort of grapevine informed him.

Given the sheer heft of a Sunday Times, I guess it’s impossible for me to surmise what my grandpa would have considered must-read about it. Unless the Internet gods drop a vintage copy in my lap, I’ll probably never know.

(Note to the Internet gods: If you have a copy, try to drop it on me from a low altitude. Catching those Sunday editions upside the head sure does sting.)

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This week Hope Street reaches its third blog-anniversary. I’ve marked previous anniversaries by taking a week off, and I’m going to do the same this year.

My continued humble appreciation goes out to those who tune in every week.

If you’re new here, please keep in mind that my best stuff is in the archives; I’m kinda scraping the dregs lately. If you want to see Hope Street at its best, poke around in the first two years’ worth of stuff. It’s really better. (The end of this blog is still within sight, though I do not feel it is imminent.)

I’ll throw in some links to some pieces from the past year I actually liked, and you can check those out if you want:

- My grandparents say goodbye to a friend.

- My grandpa and the challenge of creativity.

- My aunt delivers big news.

- Live to ride, ride to live.

- Grandpa gets hammered. No, really.

- My great-grandmother loses reality, then finds it again, more or less where she left it.

- An all-American theme park … in the Bronx?

See you next week, I hope.

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We’re only going back 40 years for this week’s calendar entry, but we find my grandfather doing something I think has been largely lost from day-to-day life.

April 9, 1974.

April 9, 1974. The Yankees, new tenants of Shea Stadium, are undefeated and in first place.

I think — think – there was one time in Massachusetts, close to 20 years ago, when I brought a pair of shoes in for professional repair. It is possible the shoes were my wife’s, and I was just a middleman in the process.

Other than that, I have spent my adult life buying one pair of inexpensive work shoes after another, and discarding each one when they get too cracked, dirty or worn to appear professional.

(Phrased that way, it sounds kinda depressing and Willy Loman-ish, doesn’t it? My life has been an aimless progression of cheap, tired-looking shoes. Excuse me while I go crash my car or something. Nobody dast blame this man.)

I remember shining my dad’s work shoes as a kid, though, with the Kiwi shoe polish and the soft rag. So I can recall a time and place when men put effort into making their business shoes look good.

(Or, more accurately, when men trained their kids to put effort into making their business shoes look good.)

And I am led to believe there was a time when men actually had their formal shoes worked on by skilled professionals, to make a pair last.

Sure, there are still shoe repair stores around, even in Stamford. And some men with a handy streak might work on their own shoes. Look on Amazon, and you can find shoe heels made of Goodyear rubber.

I still don’t think people nowadays view a pair of professional or formal shoes as quite so much of an investment.

I don’t have any studies to prove that; and I recognize that I am falling victim to the journalist’s curse — “I think XYZ; ergo, lots of other people must also think XYZ.” But I’m still willing to put forth that proposition.

There are plenty of reasons to explain why my grandpa would have gotten his shoes fixed up by a pro. Things like tradition, and frugality.

It’s also possible that the shoes referred to on the calendar were actually my grandma’s, and my grandpa was — like me — just a middleman in the process.

(Since my grandmother didn’t drive, it would have been my grandpa’s responsibility to go get the shoes, even if they weren’t his.)

I’m fairly certain I know why the shoes were worked on. Not too long ago, I wrote about a family wedding at the end of April of ’74. My grandparents would have wanted to look sharp for any such occasion, all the way down to their shoes.

I am sure they did, too. Sharper than I look on any given work day.

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Some thematically unrelated but awfully memorable music.

My older son, showing a knack for interpersonal relationships totally missing in his father, got himself elected to his middle school student council this year.

One of his duties as a councilor is to take envelopes under the table — er, I mean, to take part in planning the end-of-year dance.

It’s not a formal event, as far as I know. The corsages and the limos come later.

Still, since it’s that time of year, we’ve been educating him and his younger brother about what proms and balls are … how the girls get their hair all did, and how they look radiant and grown-up, and how the boys rent tuxes and somehow look even younger and more callow than they do in jeans and hoodies.

Not sure whether the kids are looking forward to these events or dreading them, based on our clashing recollections.

(Like most girls, my wife liked the whole trip. Like more than a few boys I knew, I had no particular use for it; I put in my obligatory spin or two on the dance floor and got the hell out. I had no interest, but if you were dating someone, you couldn’t not go. It was an unwritten rule handed down by … somebody. I blame Mike Love.)

Most of us have one or two prom stories.

But what if the tuxes and gowns could talk?

Your average tux and prom gown get at least a couple spins. Heck, I’ll bet some tuxes go to a prom a week during peak season, over the course of multiple years.

Think of what they could tell us about moments of passion, pain, pleasure and good old-fashioned awkward teenage embarrassment.

They probably sit on the racks, like off-duty firefighters around a stove, swapping stories. (“He thought he’d take her to Taco Bell. Guess who ended up with Zesty Cheesapeno Sauce all over his cummerbund? Ay-yuh.”)

Anyway, three hundred and twenty-eight words later, here we are in April 1968, and my grandparents are turning a couple of used prom gowns loose on the world to share a couple more special nights and pick up a few more stories.

My aunt Elaine is attending college in New Haven, and is in the process of leaving childish things behind. And my grandparents aren’t letting her prom gowns gather dust in the limited closet space of 1107 Hope Street.

April 8-11, 1968. "Advertise prom gowns."

April 8-11, 1968. “Advertise prom gowns” — in the Stamford Advocate, presumably. Meanwhile, a young Mets pitcher named Jerry Koosman shuts out the Dodgers for the first of 222 major-league wins.

I note that this week’s admonition seems to be written in my grandma’s handwriting. It doesn’t surprise me that she should be in charge of closet-cleaning duties.

Now that I’ve started thinking about fancy-night clothing, I kinda wonder whatever happened to my aunt’s prom gowns.

I am charmed by the thought that maybe they went to a family of four sisters, each of whom handed them down in turn. Who knows? Maybe the gowns saw fancy-night duty all the way to the Jimmy Carter administration.

Or maybe they went to one or two more balls, and were then deemed unstylish and unsuitable.

What becomes of an unfashionable prom dress, anyway? It’s kinda like the old song says: “What becomes of the broken-hearted?” Perhaps the broken-hearted gather in a big drafty ballroom and wear 10-year-old prom dresses. It seems plausible enough. There’s probably a big tub of Zesty Cheesapeno Sauce there, too.

Or maybe the prom gowns sat in a closet for 15 or 20 years, at which point everything old became new again, and some free-spirited teenage girl embraced them as charmingly retro instead of simply outdated.

And, given a chance by a new generation, they discovered that teenage passion, pain, pleasure and embarrassment are eternal.

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I don’t know that much about the sibling relationship between my dad and my aunt when they were growing up.

I have never heard reference to any great tension; and in any event, the Blumenau household on Hope Street seemed like a pretty low-drama place. So I imagine my dad and his little sister got along well enough.

Except maybe for the occasional dig at each other — like on this week’s calendar entry.

"March 32, 1964."

“March 32, 1964.”

The addition of an extra day to the calendar proves that my grandfather’s puckish sense of humor was passed on to his son. The carefully drawn numbers suggest that my dad also inherited his attention to detail.

As for the wisecrack about the wig-fitter, I have no idea whether that was inspired by a real-life haircut, or was just a big-brotherly twack on the nose. Perhaps my father and aunt remember; perhaps they don’t.

I see Aunt Elaine got a little of her own back the next “day,” underneath the comment about buying presents for Rod’s birthday (roughly two months in the future at that point).  Serves my dad right for getting in a second jab.

I was going to say that this is a rare entry because it shows my dad and aunt seizing total control of the family calendar — generally the terrain of my grandfather.

But my grandpa’s presence makes itself known through the “recess” marking (presumably my dad’s college recess — I bet Aunt Elaine was glad when he went back to school) and a reminder to himself to get a new tailpipe put on my dad’s crungy old Plymouth.

He seems to have taken no notice of his kids’ sniping. Maybe he let it pass by unreproached because it wasn’t interfering with a real calendar day.

Dad and Aunt Elaine, if you want to share any memories of this entry in the comments, please do.

But keep it civil, won’t you?

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