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Posts Tagged ‘connecticut’

The summer of 1970 is waning into dust. Labor Day has passed; the kids are back at school; and three of the four pennant races are essentially over.

And in Norwalk, Connecticut, a work career that began in the Calvin Coolidge administration has reached its last day.

September 16, 1970.

September 16, 1970.

I’ve traced my grandpa’s employment history pretty thoroughly in this space. Heck, I’ve even posted the resume he prepared for himself in late 1970, when he still thought he was going to land another job.

(That resume only takes his work history back to 1931. But in this sound clip from another post, he reminiscences about being laid off in 1929 — when he was 19 — and not going back to work full-time until 1931. So he was in the workplace at some point in the late 1920s, before the Great Depression.)

Another, less severe economic slump ended his working days for good more than 40 years later.

As his resume details, he was let go by Time-Life early in 1970 when they cut back their Springdale, Conn., operations.

In April, he landed a  job with John McAdams and Sons in Norwalk, doing what he called “automatic graphic arts machinery design drafting.”

I went to Google to see what I could find out about my grandpa’s final employer. There wasn’t much. In fact, several of the top matches for John McAdams and Sons are previous Hope Street entries.

Apparently the company made printing equipment, and was still in business as recently as 1984. State business records describe the company as “forfeited,” leading me to believe it’s no longer around.

One of the family partners, George McAdams, left the company around the same time my grandpa did. He moved to Long Island in his retirement and lived to be almost 105.

But back to our regularly scheduled timeline:

In September 1970, when business slowed down, my grandpa was laid off again. He was unsuccessful in finding work throughout late 1970 and early 1971, despite turning to the local unemployment office for help. And a heart attack he suffered in May 1971 ended his job-searching — and working — days for good.

(My dad has told me he thought the McAdams job was never supposed to be permanent. That may be, but my grandpa’s resume suggests he expected it to last longer than it did.)

This calendar entry, then, marks the last day my grandpa would ever work.

I wonder if he did anything to celebrate, or if he was too on edge about being laid off to feel much of any happiness.

I wonder whether his final co-workers remembered him for very long, or whether he faded into obscurity after six months: That desk over there? That was where what’s-his-name sat. Bill something. The skinny old guy. He was only here for a couple months. Nice enough guy.

And I wonder when and where my last day of work will be. I wonder whether it will surprise me, or whether I’ll have the luxury of planning it in advance. Maybe I won’t be able to afford to retire, but will do something menial until I’m too blind or stooped to carry on.

Or perhaps my last day of work will coincide with my last day of life, as it does for some people.

Kurt something. Wrote about his family a lot. Nice enough guy.

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After almost three-and-a-half years writing this blog, it doesn’t feel like there are many areas of my grandparents’ life I haven’t retroactively invaded.

This week I’ll stick my nose into a place I’ve mentioned before but have never said much about. There’s no big historical reveal this week, just a snapshot of my grandfolks going about their daily business.

Or, more accurately, their Sunday business.

September 1 and 2, 1972.

September 1 and 2, 1972. The Yanks are still in the pennant race; the Mets aren’t.

I know my grandparents and great-grandma attended the Springdale Methodist Church across the street from their house, but I don’t remember religion ever seeming like a defining part of their lives.

There was no Bible on the coffee table, no chapter-and-verse in their conversation, and no crosses or pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls. There was low-key grace before big holiday meals, but that was about it.

My other grandparents, who were Catholic, would sometimes seek out the local Catholic church when they were visiting us, so they wouldn’t miss Mass.

I don’t remember my dad’s folks ever doing that. I’m sure they visited the church my family attended in the Rochester area, back when we attended one. But I think they were there to meet my family’s friends, hear my dad play organ and generally get a glimpse of our lives, not because they felt like they couldn’t miss a week of worship.

When my dad’s folks moved to Rochester, I think church took even less of a role in their lives. I remember my grandma’s funeral being conducted by a rented padre, which suggests there was no priest in town who knew her well.

(I should be warmer of heart. The man of the cloth did the best job he could given the circumstances. It was clear he was working off a hastily acquired Cliff’s Notes on Corine Blumenau, not from any deep personal acquaintance.)

But I’m getting well ahead of myself here.

My grandparents, while not drum-bangers for the Lord, were regular churchgoers during their years on Hope Street. And this week’s calendar entry finds them taking care of a classic bit of church business — arranging for flowers for the altar.

According to the calendars, my grandparents were responsible for dealing with the flowers throughout September and October 1972. It doesn’t look like they had to buy them, more like they had to get them on the altar before services and dispose of them afterward.

My grandma took extensive and detailed notes on that responsibility, probably to my grandpa’s chagrin. She barely left him room to squeeze in the daily weather, much less any notes on anything else that happened that day.

My grandparents might have climbed Mount Washington on the 1st and held a backyard nudist party on the 2nd. I’ll never know, because there was no room on the calendar to mention it. Thanks, Grandma.

The name “CARRIE” is my grandpa’s other contribution to these entries; it appears to be in his hand. I don’t know who she was. Perhaps she was the “Mrs. Bachman” mentioned in my grandma’s note.

(It wasn’t Stephen King’s Carrie; she was still taking shape in her creator’s head in the fall of 1972. And anyway, my grandparents weren’t horror buffs.)

This fragment of family history, while not fully sketched out, fits my image of my grandparents to a T.

Disposing of flowers or baking oatmeal squares for church gatherings are just the kinds of low-key things they would have done to support the church community — and, by extension, worship the Lord.

I’ll imagine them, then, in their modest Sunday best, each with a vase in both hands, putting the flowers gently on the rear floor of Mrs. Bachman’s Rambler American.

Well done, good and faithful servants.

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It seems like just yesterday I was writing about the promises of summer, both kept and unkept.

Well, damned if summertime hasn’t come and gone, my oh my.

It hasn’t technically vanished yet, of course. If I do the math correctly, the equinox won’t happen until roughly 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on September 22.

And, we might still get a shot or two of summery weather. Indeed, this has been such a tame summer where I am that our September and early-October heat waves might end up being the warmest points of the year.

But, if you’re between 5 and 17, the summer has most definitely ended. Either it has in the past two weeks, or it will this week, when the bell rings. (My own kids have two more days of tadpole-wrangling and seed-spitting left. And by the standards of other kids we know in other places across the country, they’re getting off lucky.)

And, really, when the kids go back to school, the summer’s over. The opening of school casts enough of a cultural shadow over the rest of life that those last few calendar weeks of “summer” just aren’t the same.

When the free are no longer free, neither are the rest of us.

This week, we’ll go back to the calendar entries for one last blast of summer sunshine — a little something to carry us into the season of wither.

July 13, 1966.

July 13, 1966. No baseball today (All-Star break) but the Mets and Yankees are both mired in ninth. RIP, Vowinkel.

Southwestern Connecticut can be a foully humid place in the summer. I can remember wanting to spend my birthday there as a kid and my mom declining, in part because the weather was usually so uncomfortable.

For all that, there aren’t that many times on my grandpa’s calendars when the weather reached or topped the 100-degree threshold.

According to news reports, July 13, 1966, found much of the country caught up in a nasty heat wave and drought.

The Associated Press reported 28 deaths in St. Louis alone — where temperatures had topped 100 for four straight days — as well as 100 people treated for heat-related illnesses at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

Power shortages were forcing utility companies to put rolling blackouts in place in some areas. The weather offered little relief: Severe thunderstorms and high winds were reported in Ohio, the Detroit area and parts of Georgia, while hailstorms were seen on the New York-Vermont line. In Oklahoma, no measurable rainfall had been reported in more than three weeks.

In Chicago, black youth looted stores and broke windows after police turned off a fire hydrant serving as inner-city heat relief. And in Columbus, Ohio, a religious tent meeting came to an early end when high winds stove in the tent — with 600 people inside.

Nothing quite so dramatic happened in Stamford, just an uncommonly stinking summer day. You can see the sun in my grandpa’s drawing dripping heat — or maybe it’s sweating, like everybody else.

I suppose that kind of weather is a little too hot for pleasure, and we should be thankful not to have had any of it this year.

Still, when summer’s over, a 100-degree day can’t help but seem endless and idyllic and lemonade-chilled and open to every possibility.

In the not-too-distant future, the temperature will sink to one-half that … and then to one-quarter that. It will not be entirely unpleasant, this decline, but it will make us miss green grass and sunshine. So, we can take a few minutes and bask in it one last time.

Three weeks ’til the equinox.

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With unrepentant and oddly zombie-ish expressions, the two young lovers (or the two young actors hired to portray lovers) sit on the coffee table at 1107 Hope Street, as uncomfortably as if they were there in person.

They are here — like others in their space, before and after them — to tell the straitlaced elders of the Blumenau family about a problem they didn’t know they were supposed to be concerned about.

From the other side of the generation gap they stare, their blank faces promising little in the way of explanation or enlightenment.

But they must have something to tell the world:

They’re on the cover of Time.

August 21, 1972.

August 21, 1972. The young man, in particular, looks like Scorpio Murtlock.

On some levels, there is nothing about the August 21, 1972, cover of Time to set it apart from hundreds of other red-bordered covers from the same time period. I’m shamelessly using it because it’s attention-getting.

(Which, I imagine, is the reason Time created it in the first place.)

But on other levels, it makes a fine launching pad for a consideration of my grandfather’s relationship to mass media in general, and America’s largest news magazine in particular.

I’ve mentioned a few times that my grandpa worked as a draftsman at Time-Life in Stamford for many years.

He didn’t have any connection with the editorial side of the business; it wasn’t his job to rush off to Haiphong or Paris or Milwaukee on Henry Luce’s behalf to take the world’s ever-changing pulse.

Still, he was a faithful reader of the magazine. In fact, he held a lifetime subscription, courtesy of his longtime connection to the company.

(Time-Life arbitrarily canceled his “lifetime” subscription in the final year or two of his life, which was a rich source of black humor for a couple of weeks there.)

His grandson, in contrast, does not read the slimmed-down, dumbed-up mag that passes for Time these days.

For one thing, I have a very limited tolerance for Joel Stein. For another, I’ve discovered The Economist, which seems considerably more informative, comprehensive and adult than today’s Time.

And for a third, big trend stories — like “Sex & The Teenager” — tend to draw out my BS antennae. I rarely get very far into one before I start mentally punching jagged holes in the research, supporting evidence and conclusions.

It makes me wonder what attitude my grandpa took when he sat down to read stories like that in his latest copy of Time.

I think my grandpa trusted authority more than I do, and if an institution like Time magazine told him something, his default setting was to believe it — especially if he had no firsthand evidence to the contrary.

(There were no teenagers, sexy or otherwise, at 1107 Hope Street in the summer of 1972.)

But, he was not a stupid or credulous person. He had the analytical mind of an engineer, a tinkerer and a shade-tree mechanic, and I have to imagine he turned it to things beyond the merely mechanical.

When he sat down to stories like “Sex & The Teenager,” I wonder if he asked himself some of the base-level questions every consumer of mass media should ask themselves:

Who is telling me this?

Why are they telling me this?

What is their interest in telling me this?

How much of their evidence is one-off anecdotal, as compared to systematic study?

Do they answer opposing arguments with substance, or do they shrug them off?

Are they trying to influence me about the story’s importance through play and space? Is this subject truly as important — to me, and to society — as the story’s prominence would indicate?

And so on.

(Unfortunately, past cover stories from Time are only available to subscribers, so I can’t apply these questions to my own critical read of “Sex & The Teenager.” It might have been a decent story, for all I know … though I doubt it, kinda.)

The proper approach to mass media was just another of a million topics I never really covered with my grandfather.

So I can’t muster an honest guess on how he responded to lusty teenagers, or campaign finance, or the rise of skiing, or the troubled state of the Jesuits, or the bucolic joys of Minnesota, or any one of thousands of stories his favorite news magazine fed him over the years.

Perhaps he swallowed them all whole and unquestioned.

But I’m sure he read them with a decent degree of attention and concentration, anyway, which is a necessary prerequisite for critical thinking.

So I’ll leave him sitting in a comfortable chair in the front room … with the sound of traffic on Hope Street buzzing everpresent through the open window on a humid late-summer evening … furrowing his brow a little bit as he gets the word about Sex & The Teenager.

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I’m taking intermittent breaks from the calendar entries to focus on some of my grandfather’s photographs, which tell just as many stories as the calendars do.

What we have here is a demonstration of how five individual people will interpret the same unambiguous request.

Summer 1960.

Summer 1960. In the back yard at 1107 Hope Street.

It looks like all five members of the Stamford Blumenaus are gathered around the table in perfect concord, at the same sort of al fresco dinner that millions of Americans will enjoy this month.

Here’s the story as I assemble it in my mind:

- My grandpa has set up the timer on his camera to get a genuine family photo, rather than yet another shot that has everybody but him in it.

We can gather this from, among other things, his side-saddle posture (which also gives us an excellent view of his work-stained khaki pants.)

He is either sitting that way because he doesn’t have time to get his legs swung in before the shutter clicks, or because sitting the “right” way will turn his back to the camera and detract from the shot he has in mind.

- In a radical departure, he seems to have urged the family to eat for the camera, to simulate a candid shot. This is not to be one of those sit-and-grin pictures; he wants a slice of life.

Certainly, his own posture leaves no doubt as to what he wants the rest of the family to do for the camera.

XXX

This hamburger has seconds to live.

Behind him is his teenage son, later to be my father. Young Rod seems perfectly fine with the paternal edict, stuffing something into his mouth for posterity.

My grandmother is less convinced. She is obligingly holding a piece of food — a cherry tomato? a strawberry? But her facial expression says: You people can be silly if you want. I’m not going along with these wacky ideas. I’ll eat after I hear the click.

Backyard Picnic Grandma

My great-grandma is old enough to remember when getting your picture taken meant putting on your Sunday dress and holding your breath for five hours. Eating for the camera is an unexpected convenience of modern life, and, judging from the slant of her mouth, she is content to join in.

Next to her is my future Aunt Elaine, a member of a budding generation of women who will go to college and hold jobs and do everything men can do, only better. Game for new experiences and adventures, she chomps right in.

Backyard Picnic Grossee Elaine

So, we have four eaters and one skeptic. That’s a pretty good percentage. I guess there’s a holdout in every crowd.

(I wonder if my grandpa saw the developed picture, looked at his wife and sighed in exasperation. It is possible.)

We will end this post as my grandparents appear to have ended the meal — with a pot of campfire-style grill-brewed coffee, the sort that today’s Starbucks-coddled generation would probably spit, horrified, into the weeds.

Want some?

Backyard Picnic Grill

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