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It’s been a challenging winter for a lot of people, including me.

As I write this, the Lehigh Valley is about nine inches shy of setting a new record for its snowiest winter ever.

Temperatures this winter have threatened or surpassed records for cold, as well, and the local electric company reported a new one-day record for power demand. (A fair amount of the heating in central and eastern Pennsylvania runs on electricity.)

I used to eat these winters for breakfast when I was a kid in upstate New York. They were just standard operating procedure. I had no more idea than a penguin has that other climates existed.

And I still profess, as an adult, to like this weather. I watch hockey; I wear layers; I eschew a snowblower and hump the snow myself. I’m not near moving to Florida yet. I declare I never will, me, stomping my boot in the ice and setting my jaw firmly against the cold wind.

But … these real severe winters are not as much fun as they used to be. I can only close my eyes and pretend I’m in Quebec (or Rochester) so many times. I can only go back outside to clean up the snowplow’s wet, heavy leavings so many times.

And mentally evoking the hardy ancestors on the New England and French-Canadian branches of my family tree doesn’t work any more.

Tabarnac! they say. You look back too much. Stop invoking your ancestry as though it meant something. We lived our lives; this one is yours. Go live it as if someone 200 years later was looking back at you. And stop whining.

It was nice this past weekend — close to 50 degrees on Saturday, with an invigorating breeze. It felt like the dawn of spring.

But, as my grandpa’s calendar reminds me, we’re not out of the woods. Winter can stick around for weeks yet.

March 29, 1970.

March 29, 1970.

I seriously don’t know what I’ll do if we get nine inches of snow on Easter, in one of those snowstorms that begins with the work day and ends close to bedtime.

Well, yeah, I know what I’ll do. I’ll put on a flannel shirt and my trashy jeans, and go out to the driveway again, and spit defiantly into the snowbank, and start shoveling. That’s what my grandpa did in 1970, give or take a few details.

It will seem like a cold eternity … but I will once again shovel until the driveway and sidewalks and mailbox are cleared.

And when the snow finally melts, I will treasure the first crocuses of the permanent spring as though they were the Stanley Cup.

My dad sold his piano a week or two ago.

It was a seven-foot Mason & Hamlin, made next door in East Rochester, N.Y. And when I was growing up, its voice was almost as familiar in my house as the voices of my family members.

My dad, a semi-pro musician, would keep his chops in shape and wash off some of the mental grunge of corporate life by sitting down at the piano just about every night and playing for 15 or 20 minutes. Often it was stride-style, like Fats Waller; from time to time, if he was preparing for a gig, it might be something more formal.

The piano joined the household either a couple months before I did or a couple months after.

One of my dad’s old college friends has told me a story of coming to visit when I was a toddler, and seeing my dad playing me notes on the piano to try to ascertain whether I had perfect pitch. (Unfortunately, I don’t. Sorry, Dad.)

Now my folks are retired, and shedding possessions, and lightening their load,  and thinking about maybe moving to a different house.

Plus, today’s digital keyboards can capably simulate the sounds of everything from a baby grand to a clavinet to a softly plucked jazz guitar. My dad has a good digital keyboard, and it’s less imperative now to have a big piano in the living room than it seemed 40 years ago.

So off it went, a week or two ago, trucked off to a new owner in Buffalo.

I would guesstimate that my dad has lived 60 of his 70 years in a home with an acoustic piano of some sort, with the exceptions being college and his first five or six years of marriage. So this is a minor but interesting milestone in Blumenau family history, this transaction.

My disheveled dad at the piano with his bass-playing, pajama-wearing younger son. 1981.

My disheveled dad at the piano with his bass-playing, pajama-wearing younger son. 1981.

My folks hosted Christmas parties for many years at which my dad's musician friends would show up and blow a couple sets of jazz. This pic is also probably circa 1981, and early in the night -- these parties drew a fair number of people.

My folks hosted Christmas parties for many years at which my dad’s musician friends would show up and blow a couple sets of jazz. This pic is also probably circa 1981, and early in the night — these parties drew a fair number of people.

I can’t think of a calendar entry from my grandfather’s calendars in which he surrenders anything of that level of significance. (Except possibly for his job, which would be an interesting post, but not here and now.)

So instead, I’ll link this to a calendar entry in which my great-grandma comes to the end of something musical that, I imagine, mattered  a fair amount to her.

June 21, 1969.

June 21, 1969.

I’ve mentioned before that my great-grandma was a piano teacher. She taught my dad how to play. And she held a recital for her students every year at the house on Hope Street, followed by some low-key refreshments.

(A few of her former students have even made their way here to the blog, which is a marvelous thing.)

Anyway, the calendar entry above is the last calendar entry I have a picture of that mentions my great-grandma’s annual recital.

She would have been 82 years old in June of 1969, and probably about ready to stop teaching the basics of piano to the youth of Stamford.

I’m also fairly sure that her piano teaching ended sometime around 1970, when she went through a period of suffering spells of disorientation. (I’ve written about that before too.)

So, while her last recital could have been in 1970 or ’71, I’m going to presume for the purposes of this blog entry that the June 21, 1969, calendar entry represents another Blumenau family goodbye to the world of the piano. Not to the instrument, per se — her upright piano remained in the living room at Hope Street after she stopped teaching — but to a certain connection to the instrument.

My grandparents’ upright piano made the move with them from Stamford to Rochester in the mid-’80s. It was not of the same quality as the Mason & Hamlin, though, and I don’t know what became of it. I suspect it was disposed of without great ceremony, which was in keeping with its age and condition.

The Mason & Hamlin may be the last piano in the  family for a while, as my brother and I have broken the keyboard tradition. (He took lessons for  a while; I was never coordinated enough to manage 88 keys.)

I do have a couple of guitars lying around the house, though. As I write this, I find myself thinking about some future time when my hands are too gnarled to play them and I finally sell them off, bringing another generational shift to the Blumenau family’s long relationship with music.

We quarreled when the rug was up. This went back to the threadbare days on the third floor, cold water for days, a walk in the park. Wan spring blossoms declared their independence. Garage doors paid forth their secrets onto muddy alleyways. The rug hung chilling and crooked off the back deck. And we quarreled.

“We cannot live the way you want,” I said, lighting a cigarette.

“You don’t want to,” she replied, her hand sidewise and angry on her front hip. “You just don’t want to.”

“Dammit,” I said, shushing the match with a wave of my wrist. “Let’s think about the money for a –”

” ‘Dammit!’ ” she exploded. “Always ‘dammit!’ What kind of home are we trying to build? Where did you learn respect?”

“Fine,” I would say, my voice tinged with the bitter cool of the spring breeze, and slip down the stairs …

… and there I was 30 years later, in a home with Japanese maples in the front yard and graduation gowns in the closets, success radiant from here to the avenue, the perfect backdrop to advertise life insurance and prudent mid-length sedans. And again the rug is up, soaking the sun off the back deck; and again we are arguing.

“Do you ever think about the consequences of your actions?” she challenges, her green eyes sparking.

“It was the right thing to do,” I sigh, tearing off a corner of the newspaper and twirling it into a ball between my fingers. “And to hell with the consequences.”

“We could lose everything. Everything,” she says, waving a nicotine-stained hand in the general direction of the kitchen.

I cannot resist the pounce: “Might we lose the blender? I could never face the LeRoys again if we lost the blender.”

She rises, fuming; but before she can speak I am out the door and down the back steps toward the garage. The lawn wants mowing, bless the all-silencing roar of the mower.

A wordless hour later, I am on the deck, rolling the rug into a semi-compliant log and muscling it back into the front room. It sprawls back into its familiar dimension, and in that instant, the afternoon light takes on an added warmth.

I am changing my undershirt and taking the afternoon pills when I hear her voice behind me: “I’m sorry. The way we get going sometimes, you’d never thought we’d been married this long.”

I do not say anything. There is nothing to say. We quarrel when the rug is up.

It has always been this way.

February 19, 1974. This work of purely speculative fiction inspired by no one in particular.

February 19, 1974. This work of purely speculative fiction inspired by no one in particular.

I come from what I’d call a close-knit family. And, thinking about it, I think I owe some degree of that to geography.

My mom and dad grew up in the same city. They’re not from the same neighborhood, I don’t think — I’m pretty sure they didn’t go to high school together. But they both come from the same community.

(Mapquest tells me that the homes my grandparents lived in when I was a kid were less than two miles apart.)

This contributed to a cross-familial closeness that I’m not sure is present in families with broader geographical roots.

When I went to visit Stamford as a kid, we would stay with one set of grandparents, but always spend quality time with the other. The grandparents took turns hosting.

There was never a sense — at least not to me — that we had to work to balance our grandparental time, and never a sense that anyone felt left out. It seemed organic: A visit to one was a visit to both.

My parents’ parents also got along nicely. Again, maybe there were subtle tensions that a little kid wouldn’t catch; only my folks know for sure.

But by the time I came along, it was common for my dad’s folks to get invited to events on my mom’s side of the family, and for my mom’s folks to stop by Hope Street for a dinner or other occasion.

This week’s calendar entry features one such occasion — another link in the knot that binds a close-knit family together.

April 27, 1974.

April 27, 1974. The Yanks come out on the short end of a seven-hitter thrown by David Clyde, who is nineteen years and five days old.

The event, on an unseasonably warm day, was the wedding of my cousin John and his wife, Maria.

John is the son of my maternal grandpa’s brother. I don’t know as he was that close to my paternal grandparents. But by 1974 — seven years after my folks got married — those grandparents were woven strongly enough into the family fabric to get an invite to a wedding on the other side of the family.

Being in a close family has its obligations, of course. I imagine my paternal grandpa might have spent April 27, 1974, working in his garden or washing his car, rather than putting on a suit and going to a wedding.

Still — given the million ugly ways in which dysfunctional families can shatter and wound — it is infinitely better to have the obligations of a close family than the pains of a distant one.

I’m glad to report that John and Maria’s 40th anniversary is coming up this spring. They are grandparents themselves now, and just hosted their kids and grandkids at a family get-together a couple of weeks ago.

My mom and dad were there, too. All these years later, the family ties still exist.

This pic doesn't have

This pic doesn’t have anything to do with the family-ties narrative, but I’m adding it anyway ’cause it’s so great. This is my dad on April 27, 1974, outside Stamford’s Sacred Heart Church after the wedding. The violin is my mom’s, the briefcase probably has organ music in it, and the camera is well-protected against the elements.

Two years ago in this space, I set the scene as a three-generation American family sat around its TV set and met the Beatles.

This week, we watch as the Beatles’ cultural influence — the stamp their words and actions would leave on daily American life — starts to sink in and take root.

It starts with a rare thing among these calendar entries: a direct written exchange between two family members.

Usually these entries are declarative statements, almost always by my grandpa. But here we have actual interaction. (This is like an archaeologist finding the Lascaux cave paintings, and discovering that someone had crossed out all the bulls and re-drawn them.)

February 27 and 28, 1964.

February 27 and 28, 1964.

Something — perhaps two inches of snow, or perhaps a visit by her boyfriend Jess — has motivated my Aunt Elaine to scrawl “YEA” in big blue letters, with a pint-sized “H” added as a humorous coda.

My grandfather, apparently ruffled by such adolescent outbursts, responds, “ERASE THIS IMMEDIATELY!”, with an exclamation point as large as the H in “YEAH” is small. To which my aunt vehemently replies, “NO!”

(And she didn’t erase it, apparently, since here we are 50 years later looking at it under a microscope.)

But the real meat of the story is on the 28th and 29th (and a happy leap year to you, too):

February 28 and 29, 1964.

February 28 and 29, 1964.

Someone has added two more YEAHs (in their compressed form, YA) to the calendar, turning my aunt’s exclamation into that most topical of phrases: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Who was it? Not my great-grandma. Not my dad, who — as the calendar indicates — was off at college pounding keg beer on Saturnalia.

I’m guessing not my grandma, just because she didn’t write on the calendar that much. And it wasn’t my aunt, because that’s her handwriting asking, “Is this supposed to be funny?”

That leaves my grandfather … and a scenario falls into place nicely. Here’s a father on the old side of the generational divide, gently needling his daughter on the younger side, evoking something she’s crazy about and that he doesn’t get at all. It’s a nice bit of cross-generational interaction.

But, to come back to where I started, the exchange tells us something else. It tells us that the Beatles, just a few weeks after “meeting” most Americans, were already inescapable.

I’m sure there are parents of Justin Bieber or One Direction fans who can’t sing any of their daughters’ favorite songs. My grandpa’s generation had no such choice in 1964, it appears: Like it or loathe it, everyone had the yeah, yeah, yeah chorus in their ears.

There would be more such choruses to come.