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Posts Tagged ‘connecticut’

Still working on the project I teased last week. Should be next Monday. For now …

The Sixties are running out, at least in calendar terms.

And this week, we join my grandfather as — like a stoned hippie staring at his hand against the backdrop of the starry sky — he contemplates a confluence of the extraterrestrial and the deeply rooted.

November 14 and 15, 1969. The Mets are the champions of the world; the Yankees are just one of those other teams wondering how they did it.

November 14 and 15, 1969. The Mets are the champions of the world; the Yankees are just one of those other teams wondering how they did it.

I’ve written about my grandpa’s fascination with the U.S. space program, here and here and here and here, and maybe even elsewhere. As a patriotic American, he appreciated his country’s steps into uncharted territory; as an amateur gearhead and tinkerer, he was interested in the science it took to make space journeys happen.

Apollo 11, in July 1969, was the landmark mission that brought man to the moon for the first time. My grandfather, like many Americans, was riveted to the journey. So it’s no surprise that he would have made it a priority to track the follow-up mission and see what new frontiers would be broken this time around.

The Apollo 12 rocket was hit by lightning during liftoff — not once but twice, according to Wikipedia — which caused a few technical challenges, but did not impair the mission in the grand scheme of things. This must have been publicly disclosed as it happened, since my grandfather made wordless reference to it on his calendar entry.

(According to Wiki, the lightning strikes raised concern in Houston whether the return vehicle’s parachutes would deploy as designed. Rather than worry the astronauts, NASA kept their worries to themselves for the length of the mission. Everything worked out fine in the end.)

Apparently there was not much to report space-wise on Nov. 15, with the astronauts still four days away from landing on the moon.

So, my grandpa turned his attention from the cosmos to his backyard and got his hands dirty tackling a bunch of quintessentially mid-November chores — raking up leaves, winterizing the mower, and either putting up or taking down the storm sash.

(I am not sure exactly what the “storm sash” was, but it sounds like something seasonal. Not sure what my grandpa had to do to his cellar door, either. But whatever it was, it didn’t get done on Nov. 15.)

In the end, the Apollo 12 mission went so well as to be largely forgettable in retrospect.

In one of the mission’s more memorable details, the wrist “cuff checklists” worn by astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad were spiced up by their NASA colleagues with Snoopy-style cartoons and pictures of Playboy playmates (yes, the latter link is NSFW.)

This suggests a certain confidence, comfort and chumminess that was largely borne out by Apollo 12′s success.

The near-disaster of Apollo 13 must have refocused everyone at NASA and knocked the jokes out of the playbook. But in November 1969, that was still five months away and unforeseen, and the business of space was running as smoothly as the business of General Motors.

All of which no doubt came as welcome news to my grandpa, back in Connecticut tending to the health of his own little patch of earth.

Hopefully he got all the leaves off the ground on the 15th. Because, by the time the astronauts splashed down on Nov. 24, a different earthly concern — snow — had entered the equation.

November 24, 1969.

November 24, 1969.

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We all know Halloween traditions differ from region to region.

For instance, the Oct. 30 “Mischief Night”  or “Devil’s Night” is a bigger, more entrenched deal in some areas than it is in others.

Where I grew up, Mischief Night was talked about more than it was ever actually celebrated. In other places, the toilet paper flies wild and free every Oct. 30.

And in still other areas, they skip the petty vandalism and go straight to burning stuff down. (Wiki tells me Detroit has adopted citizens’ patrols, running several nights a year, to deter arson and other serious crimes on Devil’s Night.)

Another example of regional differences: Some areas insist on holding tricks-or-treats on Oct. 31 every year, while others hold them on the Friday night immediately preceding Halloween. My feelings on that subject have already been explored in this space.

I never thought there was any disagreement on when tricks-or-treats should start on the big night, though. Kids aren’t supposed to go out until after dinner, and preferably not until after things get a little bit dark, for proper atmosphere.

Right?

I find myself questioning that after reading my grandfather’s calendar entry from this week 40 years ago.

October 31, 1974. Apologies for the poor photo quality of some of the 1974-75 examples used here recently.

October 31, 1974. Apologies for the poor photo quality of some of the 1974-75 calendar entries used here recently.

The entry appears to suggest that kids began arriving “after 3 p.m.”

If they did, my grandpa would not have been there to serve them, as he would have had to drive my great-grandma (“Pauline”) to her 2:30 p.m. doctor’s appointment.

Presumably my grandma stayed home and handed out the Mary Janes, or Zagnut bars, or whatever old-school candy my grandparents stocked themselves with. Unless they gave out nickels or something. That would have been like them.

This entry seems remarkable to me. I’ve never known anyone, anywhere to make the rounds of houses in daylight.

There’s no indication of rain on the calendar, or anything else that might have forced an early Halloween. In fact, my grandpa’s calendar entries say October 31, 1974, kicked off several days of Indian summer, with temperatures reaching 80 degrees the following day. So, weather clear, track fast, as they say in the racing game.

Also, Halloween 1974 fell on a Thursday. I’m not sure kids of trick-or-treating age were even out of school at 3 p.m. that day. (Not to mention that at least some of their parents would still have been at work and unable to accompany them.)

Hope Street, in fairness, was no leafy cul-de-sac. It was a busy street in the ’70s (it’s even busier today), and maybe not an ideal place to walk after dark. So that might be one understandable argument for holding tricks-or-treats early.

I still find the idea of daytime trick-or-treating too bizarre to accept, though.

So I’m going to stick with the hypothesis I find most believable: Maybe one kid showed up at 3:30 because he was sick, or his family was going out of town, or some other emergency arose. Then all the other kids showed up at the expected time after dark.

That’s probably it … there was one seven-year-old kid back in the Ford administration who had a touch of grippe, and went out trick-or-treating early so he could get his candy before the creeping crud set in … and his tortured meanderings have just occupied a solid hour-plus of my life here in 2014.

Hope you got a good haul, dude.

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A couple of odds and sods to dispense with this week; we’ll start with the biggest one.

I’ve decided that my last regularly scheduled Hope Street post will be written for the week of next April 13, more or less the blog’s four-year anniversary.

I haven’t felt inspired for quite a while, and feel like I’ve used up the really good calendar entries. And, I’ve fleshed out my grandparents’ lives about as much as they can be. They didn’t lead particularly dramatic existences, and I feel like I’m repeating myself each time I mention either their personal attributes or the physical surroundings of Hope Street.

(There have been times in the past week when I’ve wondered whether I shouldn’t end earlier, and whether I have 25 more half-decent entries left in me. I guess we’ll see.)

If I come up with an incredible binge of inspiration between now and next April, I reserve the right to change my mind and keep going.

If not, it’s been fun. Thanks for reading.

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I wrote last week about the dank basement of my grandparents’ home at 1107 Hope Street, noting that, to my knowledge, my grandfather had never taken a picture down there.

My dad was kind enough to do some legwork in his own, considerably less primitive basement. He swears he remembers a photo that was taken in the Hope Street cellar around 1946 or ’47, to document the replacement of the old coal furnace with an oil boiler.

He couldn’t find that one; but he did find another one of himself, taken in the basement during the same period or maybe a year or two later.

It doesn’t show much of the room … but it qualifies as a picture taken in the basement, so I include it here.

roddowncellar

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Finally, I’ll get back to this week’s subject line, which refers to the latest in a series of quixotic searches I’ve been on over the past three-and-a-half years.

My grandfather’s calendar for October 1975 features the following notation, made in the blank space immediately prior to Oct. 1. (Hence, Sept. 31.)

September 31, 1975.

To my 2014 eyes, the acronym BAC stands for “blood-alcohol content.”

I knew DUI laws across America were tightened in the ’70s and ’80s. And a quick Google search told me that stricter drunk-driving legislation was cited as an achievement of Thomas Meskill, Connecticut’s governor from 1971 to 1975.

With those two red herrings tucked safely in my pocket, I went off on a lengthy search, hoping to establish that Connecticut had lowered its BAC limit effective October 1975, and my grandpa was making note of it on his calendar, the same way he would make note of gas rationing or increases in the postage rate.

No such luck, of course. Even the New York Times archives, which provide regular insight into the goings-on of New York’s nutmegger neighbors, offered no information on any change to Connecticut’s drunken driving laws in the first half of the 1970s.

At some point back in the day, most states went from an .015 limit to an .010, but no one seems to want to tell me exactly when, where and how.

My grandfather was a temperate sort who was never known to overindulge in alcohol unless it was literally handed to him for free. So, a change in drunk-driving laws would not have made any direct difference in his life. Still, I could have filed a couple hundred words of comment, interpolation and flat-out gasbagging on the subject.

Instead, I have to assume that the BAC acronym on his calendar meant something else. I scanned a page listing 150 different interpretations of the acronym, but none looked like an obvious match.

I resign defeated, then. Whatever “BAC” meant will remain forever mysterious … along with the sunrise, sunset, news, weather and other occurrences of Sept. 31, 1975.

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If you’d been in Stamford, Connecticut, around this time 39 years ago, you would have seen a side of Bill Blumenau this blog has never entirely captured.

In fact, if you’d really been on the ball, you could have picked up a Bill Blumenau original for your living-room wall.

Talk about lost opportunities.

September 19 and 20, 1975.

September 19 and 20, 1975.

My brother and I called my grandfather “Drawing Boy,” a name my brother coined to describe his artistic proclivities.

And he did draw: My parents still have a colored charcoal portrait he did in the 1930s, and he drew handmade birthday and holiday cards well into the 1990s. The card he did to celebrate my engagement is on display upstairs in the guest room as I write this.

He also won local awards for his photography, a story longtime readers might remember. He was more into photography than painting when my dad was growing up in the ’50s, by my dad’s recollection.

At some point — probably after his kids moved out in the mid-to-late 1960s — the balance of his artistic interest tipped more toward oil, acrylic and watercolor painting.

His calendars from the late ’60s on include several references to painting and art classes. His photographs from those years include landscapes and scenery that he shot with an eye toward turning them into paintings.

(Barns were favorites of his. Among his photos, there exists a decaying envelope full of snapshots of barns in various stages of collapse.)

And, as early as I can remember, the bedroom at 1107 Hope Street that used to be my aunt’s had been converted into a makeshift studio, with an aluminum folding table set out to hold his supplies and an easel pushed back into the corner when the kids came to visit.

A rocky coast in Maine, circa 1971.

A rocky coast in Maine, circa 1971. No barns, but plenty of painterly ambience.

It appears that, once he’d been working in a format for a while, my grandpa was not shy about putting his work in front of others to see.

His entries in the local paper’s photography contest, detailed in the blog post linked above, are examples. So are the local art shows and exhibitions that begin to pop up on his calendars in the late 1960s and continue into the middle of the next decade.

In the early fall of 1975, his work was on display at one of Stamford’s snazziest new addresses, One Landmark Square.

The building, also known as Landmark Tower (hence the “L. Tower” on the calendar entry), had been completed just two years earlier. At 21 stories high, it ranked as Stamford’s tallest building until 2009.

I’ve seen several mentions of the Stamford Art Association holding exhibitions there over the years. (I emailed the art association, trying to find out if Bill Blumenau was ever a member, but never heard back. Alas.)

My guess is that my grandpa might have had one or two of his paintings displayed alongside the works of others as part of a group art show.

That would make sense — bringing a touch of color and some more foot traffic to the new local skyscraper, while giving local artists a distinctive platform to show off their work. And certainly, my grandpa was not well-known enough outside of his own house to command an entire show of his own work.

I don’t know whether my grandpa sold any of his paintings from this show. My limited knowledge of such things suggests there is usually a price tag available for the art on display, and if an art lover wants to make an offer, free enterprise runs its course.

I like the thought that somebody somewhere in western Connecticut has a Bill Blumenau original on their wall, or even in their attic, as a result of one of these kinds of events.

My grandpa’s painting style was realistic, of the sort that would have pleased a general audience. I find it easy to imagine someone liked his work enough to want to bring it home. It is perhaps a long shot to think that one of his paintings is still up in someone’s living room … but I find it a pleasant thought.

A not-very-well-photographed sample of Bill Blumenau's work.

A not-very-well-photographed sample of Bill Blumenau’s work.

The same, only different.

The same, only different. This entry really deserves better photography … but.

At some point when my parents finally downsize, my house will be home to the world’s largest collection of Bill Blumenau’s paintings. Not sure what I’ll do then.

Hold an art exhibit, maybe?

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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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