Posts Tagged ‘calendar’

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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A little thematic music. Nothing to do with the subject matter at hand, but I am listening to it repeatedly while writing, and it was in the U.S. Top Ten in the week in question. If you get nothing else out of this post, you’ll get a nice silky earworm.

Ah yes, January 1974. The Nixon Presidency is dying by a thousand cuts; OPEC is squeezing America with an oil embargo; and a recession is just starting to hit the U.S. with a one-two punch of high unemployment and high inflation.

(Oh, and let’s not forget the “toilet paper shortage.”)

Americans did get one added bonus in the first week of that troubled year: An extra hour of daylight in the evening.

And of course my grandfather, with his fondness for miniutiae, wrote it down:

January 6, 1974.

January 6, 1974.

Of course, you and I just set our clocks ahead two weeks or so ago. All my (adult) life, Daylight Saving Time has been an early March jawn, coinciding more or less with the first glimmers of warmer spring weather.

When I saw this entry for the first time, I thought I’d photographed March 6, 1974, and mis-labeled it as January 6.

But you’ll see that the next day’s entry features “Elaine’s Birthday” … and, as we’ve previously mentioned here, my Aunt Elaine’s birthday falls in the first week of January. So that locks in the date as correct.

Wikipedia confirms that, as a response to the oil embargo launched in the fall of ’73, the U.S. experimented with year-round Daylight Saving Time for a period starting Jan. 6, 1974, and ending April 27, 1975. That explains why my grandpa’s calendar entry specifically mentions “Daylight Energy Saving Time.”

Of course, Congress couldn’t resist futzing with the great plan, and the planned year-round experiment was cut short in late October of 1974.

Daylight Saving Time then resumed on its normal schedule in late February 1975. It has continued on that annual schedule since then — except, of course, for the parts of the country that don’t observe DST. But, we won’t go down that rabbit hole right now.

(The safety of students traveling to school in the dark was one of the major arguments against the DST experiment. The National Bureau of Standards later reported a statistically significant increase in deaths of school-aged children in January and February 1974, though no firm link could be drawn to the DST shift. Are there elderly parents somewhere in America still stinging from their losses as a result of an abandoned and largely forgotten national experiment? Middle-aged brothers and sisters who still wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Jesus Christ, why’d they have to turn the clocks forward?” It is a curious and provocative thought, and it makes me wonder about stories untold.)

My grandparents were out of the work force in January 1974, and both of their kids were grown and married.

So the Great DST Experiment didn’t really hit them where they lived — except to the extent that it might have saved them a few bucks heating their humble old home in the first cold months of the year.

As for the specific marking of 30 degrees on the clock … well, that’s pure, uncut Bill Blumenau for ya. That’s my grandpa the draftsman, or my grandpa the precision-minded German.

Or maybe he was just punchy from that hour of sleep he lost.

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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.

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