Posts Tagged ‘family’

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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I have a sortakindacool Hope Street-related project brewing, one that I hope to unleash in two or three weeks. Wish it were ready now. But this week we’re stuck with the same old usual…

We’ve visited my grandfather at moments of celebration, and moments of grief, and moments of frustration, and moments of silliness, and moments of sublime Zen quietude.

This week we set the controls for something a little different:


July 1974.

July 1974. The Yanks and Mets both begin the month in last place, and end it in fifth.

I’ve covered the end of my grandpa’s work history a number of times here. In September 1970, he was let go from his last job, and looked fruitlessly for another at least through the end of that year. In May 1971, he had a heart attack, and never worked a full- or part-time job again.

I’ve also written about his inherent frugality before, a trait shared by my grandma and great-grandmother.

And I guess — in between Social Security checks, and the idea that my grandpa probably had a pension, and the idea that they lived on the cheap — I’ve always figured they managed to cruise along OK, wanting little, content with what they had.

July 1974′s calendar heading (“MAKE SOME MONEY”) suggests that maybe things were a little tighter than I thought.

It seems evident that the all-around cost of living was getting my grandpa down. I’ve written posts from 1974 about the rising cost of food, the rising cost of gasoline, and even the rising cost of newspapers. Maybe my grandfather looked all around him and figured he couldn’t just sit still while inflation swamped him.

Another clue can be found on the June 15, 1974, calendar entry, which I do not believe has been featured on the blog before. The taxman (presumably federal, but maybe state or local) was causing a bit of agida on Hope Street as well.


What my grandfather would have done to scrape up some cash is another question altogether.

He might have sold a few of his paintings here or there — like at the Rowayton art show mentioned in the calendar heading. That wouldn’t have made him rich, but it would have recouped the cost of his art supplies and helped out with the gas and groceries.

The June 1974 calendar page mentions a rummage sale in one or two places. But, even if it were their rummage sale, which is unclear, it might have been undertaken more to clear stuff out of the attic than to make money.

One thing I was sure my grandpa would not have done is ask his kids for help. I asked my dad, just to double-check that, and he confirmed my suspicions:

No, I absolutely never provided money to any of the Hope Streeters.  And never had any notion they were in need!  As I recall, Drawing Boy and Pool Boy [Ed. note: my maternal grandpa] each lent us $2K when we were married in 1967 to help buy and equip our house, which we repaid in full in 1968.  (Drawing Boy made the repayment into a newspaper-style photo-op, with smiling people handing smiling people a check, all staring at the camera).

For the record, my family visited my grandparents on Hope Street from July 3 through 7, 1974. Either my father was not paying close attention to his dad’s calendar when he visited, or the “MAKE SOME MONEY” notation was added after the visit. That’s possible — maybe the cost of feeding family visitors cranked my grandpa’s concern up another notch.

The subject of making money does not recur on my grandpa’s remaining calendars, as far as I know. And my dad says my grandpa was financially comfortable when he died, many years later. (This was after he made a decent sum selling the old house on Hope Street to condo developers.)

So — while gasoline and hamburger meat and newspapers never got any cheaper — my grandpa must have weathered the summer of ’74 and come through OK on the other side.

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Everywhere you turn in an election year, you’ll hear people saying that every vote counts … and our brave forefathers died to give us the right to vote … and you can’t complain about politics if you can’t vote.

(This last claim has always chafed me. As if logic built on superior smugness has ever stopped anyone from complaining. As if anything has ever convinced somebody not to complain.)

Even the most loyal patriot occasionally gets tired of doing his civic duty, though.

That seems to be where my grandfather was, more than 50 years ago:

November 6, 1962.

November 6, 1962. Wonder what the numbers signified?

Some Election Days are more gripping than others. This one does not seem to have engaged my grandpa very much — though my aunt seemed quite cheerful about getting the day off from school.

In retrospect, I’m hard put to understand why my grandpa seemed so nonchalant. The November 1962 elections were plenty eventful for residents of southwestern Connecticut, who had two Congressional seats to weigh in on:

- The retirement of Prescott Bush left one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats open. The seat switched parties, as Democrat Abe Ribicoff beat Republican Horace Seely-Brown in a close race (51 percent to 49 percent).

- In Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Abner Sibal held off Democratic challenger Francis X. Lennon Jr. in another close race, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Those races look interesting enough to me. Could be they weren’t as close as the numbers and the distance of time make them seem.

Or, maybe my grandpa was more motivated by municipal races, and there just weren’t many of those to pique his interest. For instance, there was no mayoral election that November.

(There would be mayoral upheaval in Stamford the following year, as Hizzoner J. Walter Kennedy left town to take an unusual new job — commissioner of the National Basketball Association. But that didn’t have anything to do with the 1962 election.)

Of course there was no presidential election in 1962, since the election that year fell at the midterm (or what would have been the midterm) of John F. Kennedy’s only term.

There won’t be a presidential election this year either, but there should be plenty of other activity across the country. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, we’ll be choosing a governor — a new governor, quite likely.

So do get out and vote in tomorrow’s “election,” won’t you?

Even if it doesn’t excite you.

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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.


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.


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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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