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Posts Tagged ‘1966’

Another year has come to an end; and I would be greatly surprised if I am still writing in this space next December.

I’ve always known this blog had a limited lifespan. There are only so many interesting, curious or inspirational entries on my grandfather’s 15 years of calendars.

I’ve used up most of the ones with interesting backstories … so what’s left will involve my own flights of fancy and improvisations, more often than not.

I’m not vain enough to think that anyone comes here for my verbal two-stepping, or that I’m creative or inspired enough to hold people’s interest for long. This isn’t about my fancy words, or shouldn’t be.

There’s also the nagging feeling that I’ve fleshed out my family’s characters about as much as possible.

From a dramatist’s perspective, my grandparents and great-grandma just weren’t that interesting — not a lot of color and conflict. They lived frugally and quietly; they didn’t travel west of Lake Ontario or south of Pennsylvania; they exercised prudence and quiet good humor; they paid the freight and kept rolling.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with living that way,  but after a while it feels like a twice-told tale. Or, at least, it does if you’re the one who tells it every week.

So, we’ll see how much longer this lasts. I am not devoid of ideas, but they are fewer and leaner on the bone than they used to be.

We will send off the old year with a fantasy, then. Which is actually not a bad way to send off an old year. We’ve done it before. (See what I mean about twice-told tales?)

Anyway …

November 30, 1966.

November 30, 1966.

Exhaustion gripped the middle-aged man like a dozen hands. Brushing his teeth had been a test of endurance; so had bending over to pull off his socks.

It had been a long, demanding day — a real pressure cooker.

It had started just about at dawn, with a suspicious yowling noise.

My grandfather was never great with cats, and he didn’t fancy a shinny up a tree on a cold November morning to bring one down. But it was either that or not sleep. So, he bundled up and did a good deed for one of his neighbors.

After that, he was too awake to go back to bed, so he made himself some oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Donning his work clothes, he went up to the attic, fixing to put a coat of paint on some long-neglected walls.

There’s no better time to change your oil than when you’re already wearing dirty clothes. So, paint-spattered, my grandpa carefully backed his car out of the garage, popped the hood and slid underneath. In only a few minutes, with gravity doing most of the work, the ritual was complete.

Rubbing his oily hands on an old rag, he stepped out onto the front sidewalk to clear his head and take some fresh air — only to see an oncoming man, just a house or two away, clutching a purse and running at full speed.

One good old-fashioned Dick “Night Train” Lane clothesline tackle later, the purse was safely in the arms of its owner; the culprit was gasping for breath in the back of a police car; and my grandfather was wondering whether there was any sliced ham left in the fridge.

There was.

One slap-up sandwich to the better, my grandpa then turned his attention to the pile of branches sitting in his yard.

He’d taken down a tree the previous week, but hadn’t had time to cut it up into manageable parts. So he grabbed his handsaw and went to work. Repetitive, draining work. At last, growing tired, he slid his blade through the final branch and stacked it neatly with its brethren.

Stepping back out onto the sidewalk to take another breath, he looked around, half expecting another purse thief. It had been that kind of day.

But instead, there was only a pair of neighborhood girls, short one person to help them with their long jump rope.

So he helped them twirl for a solid half-hour (would they never get tired?) And when they invited him to join in, he’d taken a turn of his own. He was nimbler than he thought he’d be, though he still took a couple stings to the shins.

Walking back into the yard, he noticed a new layer of leaves starting to spread. So he took out a rake and cleaned it up. It was getting dark, and cold. But the work wasn’t going to do itself.

The yard clean, he slapped the dirt from his hands and went inside to wash up for dinner. At last, a moment of calm and repose loomed, and with it the promise of a peaceful evening at home.

Then the upstairs line rang, with news of a visitor. Two visitors, actually.

The East German premier, on a rare state visit, had decided he didn’t much care for the hustle and bustle and brashness of New York City. An international incident loomed, unless a quiet spot could be found — and 1107 Hope Street was nothing if not quiet.

So my grandpa dashed out for an extra package of hot dogs and a few cans of baked beans. And 40 minutes later, when a big black car eased into his driveway, a humble American meal was waiting on the table.

After dinner, the heads of their respective nations – and their handlers – settled into the family room for some serious talk. Like any good American, my grandpa did not eavesdrop. Instead, he went up to the attic and put on the second coat of paint he hadn’t been able to complete earlier in the day.

Finally, the head of the household saw the bulking Texan and his graying, smiling European counterpart out to their limousine, leaving each with a firm handshake and a couple of homemade pfefferkuchen encased in Saran Wrap.

The Cold War would greet the morning ever so slightly warmer, as a presidential manservant vacuumed crumbs out of the back of the big Lincoln.

At 1107 Hope Street, it was finally time to go to bed.

As my grandpa collapsed into bed, nudging his head just a little to the right to catch the sweet spot in the pillow, a thought jarred him:

My calendar. I didn’t write any of this down on my calendar. I ran around all day. Never got an opportunity. And what if, tomorrow, I can’t remem…

He closed his eyes and decided to take the chance.

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Media storm-hype is one of those things, like Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, that seems to get worse and worse every year — and no one seems able to do anything to stop it. Like a gelatinous sci-fi blob, it gains its own malevolent momentum.

If it’s any consolation, it doesn’t appear to be a recent invention.  Go back to this week 47 years ago, and you’ll find my family getting concerned over a storm that never posed any threat to southern New England:

August 31, 1966.

August 31, 1966. The Yankees’ record is only two games better than that of the Mets.

September 1, 1966.

September 1, 1966.

You’ll note that the calendar entries for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 find someone taking notes about the path of a hurricane.

(That doesn’t look to me like my grandfather’s usual handwriting, though I suppose it must be, and I’ll assume it is.)

The Aug. 31 entry is even timelined — 6 a.m. — which suggests my grandpa took the storm seriously enough to have his eye on it early. In that pre-Internet age, he wouldn’t have had those figures on hand precisely at 6 a.m., but he might have caught them on early-morning radio or television.

What’s curious is that the most convenient history of the 1966 Atlantic hurricane season shows no storms particularly close to Stamford.

Hurricane Faith was churning around during that period of time, but it doesn’t seem to have posed any serious threat to the East Coast. Apparently it stirred up some high seas between Virginia and Florida, and that was about it.

The coordinates shown on the Aug. 31 entry are well off the coast of Orlando, Florida, while the coordinates on Sept. 1 are well off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina. Beyond that, there are no further notations.

I assume southern New England had some brief potential, early in the storm’s development, to end up in its crosshairs … and my grandparents got sucked up into the forecasts and decided to keep a record of the storm as it progressed.

If Stamford got any sort of heavy weather from the storm, I don’t see any indication of it on the calendar. (Apparently there was a good soaking rain in Provincetown, Mass., that weekend, but contemporary accounts don’t make it sound like anything epochal.)

We’re just about in hurricane season now, and some pundits believe it’s going to be a heavy one. They may be right.

Or, they may be the spiritual descendants of the weather worrywarts who apparently convinced my grandparents to pay attention to a distant hurricane, long, long ago and (thankfully) far, far away.

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It’s about that time of year when we brace for the annual round of year-in-review news stories.

It’s also a time when many of us conduct our own personal years-in-review — perhaps in the form of a Christmas card letter, perhaps just as a mental exercise.

I assume my grandpa gave his calendars a once-through before he took them down. I can imagine him leaning over the dining-room table, reliving another year of doctor’s appointments, trips out of town, postage-rate increases, and all the other daily events he documented so thoroughly.

(And of course, we know he saved at least some of those calendars; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.)

He didn’t usually write print summaries of each year’s goings-on.

Except for one memorable year:

Recap Record

1966. Click for larger view.

His calendars came with a year-end “Recap Record” page for major happenings. And for whatever reason, in 1966, he decided to use it.

It was a pretty big year:

  • My dad graduated from college, got his first job and got a new Mustang.
  • My aunt was off at college.
  • My grandparents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary — several times, from the looks of it.
  • My great-grandmother turned 80.
  • Various parts of the house got painted and papered.

Other entries, while less obviously historic, must have had some resonance at the time. Like the entries for July 24 (“Lake George – bash”), Aug. 14 (“Lake George – blast”) and Aug. 28 (“Lake George – gasser.”) Whatever went on at Lake George, it must have been fun.

Or the trip on Oct. 2 to see my dad play organ at a Presbyterian church in Albany. Not sure what occasioned a special journey to go see him — my father had been playing church organ for a while — but apparently my grandparents and great-grandmother took one.

As for February ’66, everyone in the Blumenau family must have had their noses to the proverbial grindstone, as nothing from the month was deemed worthy of the year-end roundup. Some months go by like that.

If I looked back over my 2012, I’m not sure my year-end calendar would be quite this rich in occasions. I’ll have to work harder next year.

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From time to time, as I make these weekly forays into the past, I keep David Macaulay’s marvelous book “Motel of the Mysteries” in the back of my head.

Macaulay’s book, published in 1979, tells the story of an archaeologist many centuries hence who discovers a perfectly preserved room in a typical American roadside motel. (The America we know has been buried under a landslide of junk mail, or something like that.)

The archaeologist manages to misinterpret the role and significance of every single item in the room, all the way down to the tub stopper. What we recognize as a typical Motel 6 kind of room, he re-imagines as a consecrated burial chamber, with every item playing a ceremonial role in the send-off.

And, as with the King Tut traveling exhibits of the late ’70s, plastic duplications of the “holy objects” from the “burial chamber” are available for sale.

It’s a wonderful — and wonderfully illustrated — piece of satire, and one I highly recommend checking out if it’s never crossed your path.

And the thought of it reminds me that I’m ultimately just pissing in the wind here, week after week, month after month.

I can take a calendar entry of my grandfather’s and apply some family context to it, or slap it with a couple coats of cultural/political history. And I can guess at what my grandpa was thinking or doing with more accuracy than Macaulay’s 41st-century archaeologist.

Still, there’s always the chance that I’m taking something my grandpa saw as a motel room and re-imagining it as a burial chamber.

Like this item, from April 1964. Anyone reading this through 2012 eyes would surely believe my grandpa was consorting with drug users.

April 1964. I guess since he didn’t cross off “JUNKIE,” maybe they didn’t get together. Still …

And what do you suppose a contemporary reviewer would make of a reference to “meth men”?

June 28, 1966.

Of course, in these cases, perfectly good explanations are only a moment’s thought away.

“METH” in this context means neither methedrine or methamphetamine; it means “Methodist.” My grandparents attended the local Methodist church. And presumably, my grandpa was taking part in some sort of men’s church group that night.

And “junkie” in the context of my grandpa’s calendar is shorthand for “junkman” — the same way that Bostonians abbreviate “package store” to “packie,” “state cop” to “statie,” “South Boston” to “Southie” and “East Boston” to “Eastie.”

Just a few years before, my grandpa brought his water tank to the junkie:

December 1963. (Oh, what a night.)

So, yeah. These particular entries are pretty tough to misinterpret when you actually think about them.

I still keep David Macaulay’s hapless archaeologist in my thoughts when I sit down to write these blog posts week after week, though.

Hopefully, by the grace of fate, I will never turn a toilet seat into a ceremonial headdress.

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Ah, the mother American road.

Two-lane or eight-lane, coast-to-coast or county-to-county, the symbol of American freedom has provided a backdrop for characters as diverse as Jack Kerouac, Bruce Springsteen, Charles Kuralt and Charles Starkweather.

Not to mention you and me. Who among us hasn’t gotten behind the wheel at least once just to drive — to take a road just to see where it leads? Or gone out on the highway and been touched by beauty, squalor or some phenomenon in between?

(One such memory from my last trip to Stamford: Lightning dancing in the darkened sky as traffic crawled across the Tappan Zee Bridge.)

Yes, the American road is generous with her gifts. But there are certain prerequisites you gotta have to join the parade. Like registration stickers.

Sure, if you’re desperate and on the lam, you could drive an unregistered car. But if you want to follow your bliss without having Smokey Bear get all up in your bidniss, you owe it to yourself to get a state sticker (or stickers) on your ride.

This week’s calendar entry finds my grandfather renewing his membership in the Neal Cassady Open Road Club, reclaiming for another year his right to search for satori on the highway.

As soon as that task was completed, he was On The Road:

May 28, 1966.

I doubt Jack Kerouac’s bop- and Buddha-tinged travels ever included a stop in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

But it is perhaps fitting that my grandpa would mark his registration renewal by traveling to the home of the first American gasoline-powered automobile.

You could say that America’s fascination with driving had its earliest roots in Chicopee — though long-distance driving wasn’t a possibility when the Duryea brothers made their first experiments with machine-powered wagons.

I have no idea why my grandpa chose Chicopee as his getaway-day destination. Of course he grew up in neighboring Springfield, so perhaps he was going to see old friends.

Whatever brought him there, he didn’t stay long: It looks like he was back in Stamford by day’s end. The call of the road wasn’t that strong, apparently.

Putting on his registration stickers was just the sort of mundane task my grandpa delighted in recording on his calendar. No surprise, then, to see it turn up in other years.

May 30, 1972.

(See, there’s the water man again. These entries get more and more self-referential by the week.)

It would be ultimate proof of the Blumenau family’s capacity to save everything if I were to produce the license plates my grandfather had in 1966 or 1972, along with the stickers he appended to them.

I don’t quite have those. But I do have Connecticut license plates from 1967 and 1973. I know the ’73 belonged to my other grandpa, who also lived in Stamford, and the ’67 might have as well. So these are pretty well representative of the blue-and-white metal platters to which my grandpa affixed his yearly stickers, even if they’re not the exact same pieces.

Note the poor spacing between the dot, the 1 and the 3. Some convict didn’t earn his 30 cents that day.

License plates were awfully plain then. One of the ways in which the American highway is a richer place than when Kerouac left it is the wide variety of colourful designs one can see while playing license-plate games.

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