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Posts Tagged ‘august’

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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I’ve spent the past few weeks poking good-natured fun at my grandfather for his creatively salty responses to hot weather.

(I mean, really: “Blisterbitcher” is a masterpiece of improvisatory profanity. Even the East German judge gave it a 9.9.)

Still, my grandpa had at least one good reason to dislike extreme summer heat. So, in fairness to him, I thought I’d devote this week’s entry to telling (cue Paul Harvey voice) “… the rest of the story.”

My grandparents’ old house at 1107 Hope St. in Stamford, Connecticut, has shown up a couple times on this blog, almost as a supporting character. It’s time we took another look at it:

Circa 1973

The house dated to the early years of the 20th century. It was a simple, modest home — three rooms up, three rooms down, a bath-and-a-half, a finished attic and an unfinished basement. Also a shared driveway, a nice wraparound porch from which one could watch fire trucks hustling down Hope Street, and a surprisingly large (in retrospect) back yard.

For all its familiar, familial appeal, 1107 Hope lacked some of the creature comforts that are common in more recent homes. And chief among them — at least in July and August — was air conditioning.

Which led to situations like the one in this week’s calendar entry:

August 3-4, 1975: "90 degrees inside house."

On those days (or weeks) when the air stilled to a thick, muggy halt and no breeze offered respite, my grandparents and great-grandmother had no alternative but to fire up a floor fan, pour themselves a cold Seven-Up and wait for nightfall or a thunderstorm. 90 degrees inside the house? I wouldn’t have liked that very much either, I don’t imagine.

Even if my grandparents had wanted A/C — and maybe they did — they would have had to invest in their electrical service first.

In the early ’80s, my dad installed a ceiling fan in the first-floor family/TV room. My grandparents then discovered that they couldn’t run the ceiling fan and the toaster at the same time, due to the limitations of their antiquated wiring.

(The wiring in the condo that currently occupies 1107 Hope Street can probably handle two flat-screen TVs, a dishwasher and a blender full of margaritas without so much as a flicker. Normally, when I invoke the present, I sneer a little bit; but not this time.)

So, for all my jokes about blisterbitchers, I wouldn’t have wanted to face a weeklong heat wave in 1107 Hope Street any more than I would want to face a tsunami in a 22-foot fishing boat. Lends a little perspective to my grandfather’s comments, anyway.

As a side note, I had no idea there was a “Coast Guard Day.” According to Wiki, the predecessor agency to the Coast Guard was founded on Aug. 4, 1790.

Among other things I learned from Wiki, this sentence is part of the Creed of the Coast Guardsman: “I shall live joyously, but always with due regard for the rights and privileges of others.” What other service agency sets an explicit priority on living joyously?

Sure seems like my grandparents were joyous on Coast Guard Day, 1975, when the rain brought the temperature down 20 degrees and made their home livable again.

As a special reward to you, the faithful reader, there will be a bonus post tomorrow. Or maybe it’s a punishment. You decide.

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The second in a series of blog-posts recalling my grandfather’s salty response to intense heat.

And so it came to pass that in the final week of August, in the year of 1973 A.D., the Devil arose from his sulfurous perch in the hinterlands of the wicked dead and claimed the coast of Connecticut for his own.

From Greenwich east to Pawcatuck, Old Scratch exerted his otherworldly hold, turning the air as hot and thick as chowder, acquainting millionaires and ditch-diggers alike with the fury of blinding daytime heat and the frustration of soul-sapping night-sweats.

Like any God-fearing, cod-eating New Englander, my grandfather tried to take Beelzebub’s arrival in stride. But by Tuesday, it was clear that this was no average dog-days heat wave:

Aug. 27 and 28, 1973: "Scorcherino." Also, note how much darker the number "95" appears, presumably for emphasis. This was no ordinary 95-degree day. No, sir.

By Wednesday, Abaddon’s brutality was clearly starting to skew my grandfather’s mind, spawning twisted visions never seen in more clement conditions:

Aug. 29, 1973. I have no idea what the hell a "Stingerami" is, but I hope to never find out.

By Thursday, my grandfather was clearly in the grip of King Crimson himself, scrawling nonsense words that suggest the final, desperate entries found in the logs of long-abandoned ghost ships:

Aug. 30, 1973. "Broilerissimo."

And by Friday … well, you remember the guy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” who gets a glimpse of the Ark, and then his face melts? Well, I think my grandfather’s face melted after he wrote the following calendar entry:

Aug. 31, 1973. Sweet Jesus, it's a blisterbitcher!

Seriously: I went so far as to Google this, to find out whether “blisterbitcher” is some common colloquial term for a heat wave that I’d never heard, or some distant New Englandism I never managed to pick up in my time there.

It isn’t. This is completely the invention of my grandfather, fed up with a savage and unrelenting blast of heat, venting his frustrations on his calendar, spilling heedlessly over the black lines as he captures just how infernally freaking hot it’s been all week.

Just as Psalm 22 includes the invocation, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” my grandpa’s calendar declares, “BLISTERBITCHER.” They’re really the same thing, if you look at them the right way.

The heat wave of August 1973 spilled over into the weekend, before rains on the night of Sept. 2 and morning of Sept. 3 ushered in more temperate conditions — and freed Connecticut from the tyrannical rule of The Beast Whose Number Is Three Times 222.

Maybe someday I’ll share my grandfather’s calendar entries from Sept. 1 and 2, which are entertaining in their own right.

For now, I’m going to suggest that any heat wave that reaches five straight days over 85 degrees be officially known as a “blisterbitcher.” I might even contact my elected state representative and see if I can’t get that passed into law. (At very least, I expect to hear that term out of the mouths of my local TV weathermen this summer. I mean, c’mon. Isn’t it perfect?)

And I understand that late at night, in certain seedy bars in the shoreline districts of New Haven and New London, when the streets are empty and the mugs are full, the locals still get a certain look in their eyes as they tell stories about the Great Blistahbitchah of ’73.

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