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Posts Tagged ‘1968’

For years now, I’ve been passing along my grandpa’s weather-related reportage to you, the readers.

From the snow and floods of early 1962 to the torrid final week of August 1973, and even to storms that never showed up, I’ve shared my grandfather’s detailed records of temperature and precipitation to bring back long-ago events. He was clearly fascinated by the weather, and he took copious notes about it.

This week I’m here to say that … well, you know all those numbers?

They might not have been 100 percent accurate.

May 29, 1968.

May 29, 1968. The Mets and Yankees are both six games out of first. Neither will play today, for reasons explained directly above.

Four-and-a-half inches of rain is a metric arseload of rain for one day.

That’s wet-basement potential, flash-flood potential, turn-around-don’t-drown potential. (Especially if the preceding days have also been wet, though it doesn’t look like they were in this case.)

It looks like late May and early June of 1968 were pretty crappy, weather-wise, all over the U.S. According to FEMA, flooding and tornado disasters were declared on May 29 in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Iowa, with additional declarations a week later in Illinois and Ohio.

Just last year, the New York Times declared May 29, 1968, still the all-time rainiest May day ever recorded in the five boroughs …

… with a rain total of 3.99 inches.

It’s possible that Stamford, up the coast from New York, somehow got a half-inch more rain than the big city did. (I haven’t been able to find a trustworthy online source for Stamford-specific weather information.)

But they’re not that far apart geographically, and the Times is a pretty authoritative source. Which makes me wonder how and where my grandpa got the weather info he put on his calendars every day.

I’m pretty confident he didn’t just make it up.

And I’m also pretty sure he didn’t have a weather station in his backyard to personally track the temperature and rainfall. Even if he did, he was still working in 1968, and not home all the time so he could keep an eye on it.

If I had to guess, I’d say his weather reports were taken from either the Stamford Advocate or WSTC, the local radio station. The Tri-State area is large enough that the New York papers and stations might not be counted on to give Stamford-specific info.

Wherever he got it from, I’m now suspecting that it might have been an inch off here, a couple of degrees off there — sometimes on the high side, sometimes on the low.

It doesn’t really matter in the long run. Everything I write about is locked safely away in the past. And no one’s looking to my grandpa’s calendar entries as any kind of accurate historical record.

But I always assumed they were accurate to one-tenth of an inch, so I’m a little put off.

Ah, well. It is an important step in all of our personal development to learn that our elders are flawed, and don’t always have the right answers.

Some of us just take longer to learn than others.

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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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It’s that time of year when some of us grab one last opportunity to sneak away for a couple of days before the school year starts again.

My grandparents’ youngest kid was in college in 1968, so they weren’t under the same pressure to get out of town — or, more accurately, the same pressure to get home again.

Still, they chose the end of August for a brief break, heading north to escape the steamy temperatures of Stamford in the summer.

And, because we wish we were there instead of here, we’ll tag along.

August 20-22, 1968.

August 20-22, 1968. The Mets are not in last place; that honor belongs, surprisingly, to Walter Alston’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

My grandparents (and presumably my great-grandma with them) had made a similar trip to Vermont the previous August. I’ve written already about the car trouble they encountered there.

Apparently they loved Vermont enough not to hold that against it. They were back again the following year for a whirlwind three-day, two-night visit.

The Candlelight Motel in Arlington, where my grandfolks stayed that first night, is apparently still in business and looks charming enough.

Nowadays, the nearby attractions include a recreation of Grandma Moses’ studio, as well as the Norman Rockwell Gallery. As an artist, my grandpa would have found both destinations of interest. I’m not sure either one was there in 1968, though.

The next day found them heading north along the western side of the state, through Rutland and Proctor, home of the Vermont Marble Museum … then across the state to the villages of White River Junction and Quechee, on the New Hampshire border … with the day ending not far away in Woodstock.

(The name “Woodstock” still meant “Vermont” to a lot of people in August 1968, not yet having been co-opted by Jimi Hendrix or Charles Schulz. I think the Woodstock Motel might still be in business, but if it is, it doesn’t seem to have a website.)

On the 22nd, they headed back home, stopping along the way in the town of Chester and presumably admiring the granite houses there. They were back in their own beds that night.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the big trip. I’m sure my grandpa took some, but to my knowledge, they’ve not been scanned in. My grandpa took a lot of pictures in his 90-plus years, and we’ve generally focused on scanning in the ones with family members, not the ones with scenery.

I’m sure Vermont in the Sixties was even more placid and rural than it was 30 years later, when I visited once or twice. If I couldn’t be there in 1968, it would be nice to see pictures of it. Maybe I’ll check the family photo albums next time I’m in the same room.

(I did find this picture on Flickr. I suspect my grandpa, a fan of trains, would have liked to have taken it. Perhaps he saw the same station, or even the same train.)

Rural Vermont might have been an especially appealing place to be in the summer of ’68.

In a year of war, assassinations, riots and unrest, Norman Rockwell’s America seems — at least in retrospect — like a welcoming place to which to escape.

Alas, the real world called my grandparents back, as it calls so many of us back at the end of August.

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An unrelated note: Yesterday I posted the results of a long-simmering personal project to my other blog, Neck Pickup. It’s sorta cool, in a goofy way, and if anyone has time to check it out, I appreciate it. Thanks.

Now for this week’s regularly scheduled programming …

In past blog posts, both recent and distant, we’ve explored the routes my family took to get between Stamford, Conn., where my grandparents lived, and Rochester, N.Y., where my parents settled.

It’s not a short trip, even in the best of weathers. Nor is it a particularly direct route. There are a number of road changes to navigate, and some small towns to pass through late at night when things aren’t as well-lit as they might be.

It looks like my aunt took a different way to get to Rochester, 45 years ago this month. It wasn’t the cheapest way, but she might have gotten a bag of peanuts and a Coke out of the deal.

June 15, 1968.

June 15, 1968. (Why anybody would skip town in the middle of a strawberry festival is beyond me.)

It just so happens that I have a scanned-in picture of my grandfather’s, dated 1968, that I’m guessing shows this exact flight on the tarmac. (It was scanned in under the title of “Elaine Flight.”)

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe my grandfather was ever on a plane. So when someone in his family was, it was a big deal, and worth taking pictures of:

Check your bags, ma'am?

Check your bags, ma’am?

“Mad Men” fans, history buffs, and readers over 50 will recognize Mohawk Airlines.

Utica, N.Y.’s second-greatest gift to the world and the first American airline to employ a black stewardess, Mohawk was a successful and well-known regional carrier throughout the 1950s and ’60s. If you were going to places like Glens Falls or Keene or Hartford or Worcester, Mohawk was going your way.

Below, a mid-1960s promotional film for Mohawk. Ah, for those golden days when lengthy meetings with middle-aged men in suits were considered guarantees of quality, rather than the very epitome of stodgy, bullheaded business as usual:

Unfortunately, the little airline that could was already starting to stagger by the time Aunt Elaine bought her ticket.

Only about two weeks after her flight, the national air traffic controllers’ union launched a protest job action that significantly slowed flights nationwide, costing airlines money.

A general economic slowdown in 1969, which blossomed into full recession the following year, hurt all airlines. And a pilots’ strike against Mohawk that began in November 1970 cost the company further money it could not afford to lose.

Undone by this series of body blows, Mohawk agreed to a buyout by Allegheny Airlines in 1971.

A Mohawk jet crash in March 1972 near Albany, N.Y., killed 17 people, providing a bitter coda to the history of a once-successful company. The last Mohawk flight took place the following month.

For those keeping score at home, Allegheny later changed its name to USAir, then again to US Airways, and is now getting swallowed up by American Airlines — a final victory for the national mega-carriers Mohawk used to insult in its TV advertising.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

I don’t know anything about my aunt’s particular flight. I didn’t ask her, and I’m not sure she’d remember it. But clearly she got to Rochester and back.

When we look back at companies that aren’t around any more, there’s a tendency to think of them as failures, losers or relics. If they were any good, the thinking goes, they’d still be here.

There’s some truth to that. But at the same time, some of those companies — like Mohawk Airlines — were pretty good at what they did before the challenges and pressures of doing business brought them down. (It doesn’t take many missteps or much adversity to put a company in the doghouse.)

A successful plane flight isn’t long-lasting currency. The experience recedes quickly in the mind, and we forget how much trust it took us to get on the plane and how much skill it took the airline to get us where we wanted to go, intact and on time.

Somewhere there is a reservoir of karma for these sorts of defunct enterprises … a place where Mohawk Airlines still gets credit for the difficult task of  moving a plane full of people from the New York City area to Rochester one long-ago morning in 1968.

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One of the reasons I keep writing this blog, week in and week out, is that I love the feeling of creating.

I kind of enjoy looking at a blank page. I kind of enjoy looking at a full one, too.

But I love being somewhere in between — filling in the blanks, and taking the journey, and painting the picture, and having sideways diversions occur to me and having to decide whether to take them, and picking up a paragraph or two of text and moving them somewhere totally unexpected, and looking for just the right word to build a bridge from one thought to the next.

I’m not saying I do any of these things well by any means. But I enjoy doing them the way some people enjoy skiing down a fresh slope or skidding an MGB around a hairpin turn somewhere in the country.

A woman I follow on Twitter (she writes for Runner’s World magazine) recently used the term “pain cave” to refer to 5K footraces. It’s a pretty good analogy, and one that I’m sure applies to races of other lengths as well.

Once you’ve been running a few minutes, you enter a private zone dominated by thoughts of your own pain, tolerance and stamina, punctuated by occasional thoughts of the people in front of or behind you. You go into the cave and do battle with the bear for a while, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Writing is kinda like that. You go into the cave, and lose sight of everything else, and see what you can put your hands on while you’re in there. And when it goes well, an hour or two go by without you noticing, and you’ve made something that no one else ever quite has before.

Even though it’s probably fiction, I’m going to assume that this week’s calendar finds my grandfather in his own version of that same headspace.

November 10, 1968.

November 10, 1968.

I’ve mentioned here and there that my grandpa was an artist.

It’s probably a topic that deserves more space than I’ve ever given it, because he was pretty good at it. Painting served as his release valve in his corporate days, and his creative outlet in retirement.

The mention of “Canvas Sunday” makes me think of his medium of choice.

Of course, it makes me think of some sort of church activity as well. (Maybe Canvas Sunday is the day when you canvass everyone in the congregation for the money they didn’t give you on Loyalty Sunday.)

And a Google search for “Canvass Sunday” suggests that it is, by and large, a day when people go door to door to spread the word about their particular beliefs. (It seems to be more of a political term than a religious term.)

But my grandpa, a learned man with an eye for detail, didn’t write “Canvass Sunday.”  He wrote “Canvas Sunday.”

So I’m going to go ahead and interpret it to mean what I want it to mean.

And what I want it to mean is that my grandpa spent Sunday, Nov. 10, 1968, in the creativity cave … communing with a piece of canvas to the exclusion of the outside world, and coming away from his labors with something new and distinctive.

That’s probably wishful thinking. But I can wish, if I want.

I think he enjoyed going into the cave as much as I do, and he wouldn’t complain about the notion of spending time there. Time in the cave helps us creative types put up with everything else in life.

Unfortunately, mine seems to be just about over for this week.  I expect I will crave it, and think about it, and chew on it in the back of my mind, until the next time I can spring myself for another of my personal versions of Canvas Sunday.

See, I’ve got this blank canvas for next week …

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