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Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

Only about two hours before I sat down to type this, I went down the stairs and into my modest backyard garden, where my jalapeno plants had been busy.

I spent several minutes there, picking enough sun-ripened deep green fruit to fill both hands (and I have big Gil Hodges-style meathooks … as I said, my jalapeno plants had been busy.)

Then I marched my takings upstairs, mixed them with some vinegar and kosher salt, and made a tall jar of vaguely Tabascoid hot sauce that should enliven my food for some time to come if I can keep from sneaking spoonfuls between meals.

July 26, 2014.

July 26, 2014.

It is at times like this that I feel sorry for people who don’t have space to garden, and mildly contemptuous of people who have land but don’t plant anything in it.

I do not deserve to stand on any gardening soapbox — my ‘penos seem to thrive on little more than sun, rain and benign neglect.

But really, it doesn’t take hours of back-breaking labor to grow just a few herbs, fruits or vegetables. They’ll add flavor to your table, while giving you a sense of pride and accomplishment beyond your actual effort.

My grandpa was a real gardener — much more committed and hard-working than I’ve ever been.

This week’s calendar entry finds him both investing time in his garden,¬†and profiting from it.

(I assume “dust toms” means “apply some sort of fertilizer and/or insect repellent to one’s tomatoes.” I similarly assume “1 lb Beans” means “Picked 16 ounces of beans.”)

I bet those beans tasted good, if my grandma didn’t boil the hell out of them, or something similarly ill-advised.

And, I bet my grandpa took pride in harvesting and eating them.

Just like I’m going to savor each spoonful of homemade jalapeno sauce I ladle onto my ice-cream sundaes.

July 26, 1975.

July 26, 1975. Mets win in extras; Yanks lose.

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I mentioned last week I’d probably divert from the calendar entries for a few, and write a couple posts based primarily on my grandpa’s photos. Indeed.

Two years ago around this time, I wrote a post about a gorgeous, timeless heat-of-summer photo my grandpa captured.

Most likely, it was taken July 31, 1975, during a visit to Cove Island Park, a public park in Stamford overlooking Long Island Sound.

The picture I wrote about isn’t the only great photo my grandfather took on that trip. Y’all wanna click on this and look at it full-size for a minute:

Solitude

(Yes, there is a honkin’ big hair-thing in the photo, probably an artifact of the scanning process. I look at it from a Zen perspective: All things manmade must have a fault somewhere, or else they wouldn’t be manmade. Look past it, out toward the eternal sea.)

I am guessing the woman in the picture — laboriously dressed to block the sun, even on a 90-degree day — is my grandmother. She would have dressed like that to go to the beach.

And, since the original calendar entry mentions “lunch at Cove Island,” it’s possible that the bag or basket in her hand has a couple sammiches in it. It’s not a large bag, but my grandparents were not gluttonous.

I’m not hung up on literal reproduction of the day’s events, though. What I like is the story between the lines.

Check out the woman in long sleeves and pants, separated by both height and distance from the faraway figures on the beach.

She is so close to freedom and relaxation and pleasure, she can practically reach out and touch it. And yet, it is not hers to have.

Her clothing and posture suggest a certain fundamental ambivalence about it. She has deliberately brought herself to the place of sun- and sea-worship, but has come prepared to deny herself any participation.

Down on the beach, practically at the photo’s center, is a young family — what looks like two parents and a small child — suggesting fertility, vigor and action. Up on the viewing deck is a single person, suggesting stillness, confinement and loneliness. Is youth a release? The image suggests so.

Both a fence and a road separate the woman from the beach. In the endless dichotomy between civilization and nature, man and wilderness, she is staying firmly planted in the known, sanitized, well-defined world of settled life.

There is no visible threat to keep the woman on the deck away from the beach. No riptides; no thunderclouds; no crush of towel-to-towel, shoulder-to-shoulder bathers.

She just chooses not to go, even though the grass beckons with a wonderful deep green, and the sky presents a tapestry of deep blue dotted with cumulus white.

Also note, while we’re at it, the rich marine blue color of the observation deck. It’s sorta like a copy of the ocean … a flat, tamed version of the sea in which even the likes of my grandma can feel comfortable parking her feet.

I am sure my grandparents eventually made their way down to the beach, got comfortable after a fashion, and enjoyed their lunch.

But in this single fall of the shutter are more complicated possibilities.

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Having spent last week on a depressed rumination about the aftermath of divorce, I’ll swing back the other way and contemplate the ties that bind.

The impetus for this week’s sermon is a picture from my grandpa’s photo archives, of a moment involving my parents.

(I suggested years ago that I might someday write some blog posts about his photos, in addition to his calendar items. You may see some of that in the next few weeks. Scope creep is my friend, at least during the dog days of summer.)

Untitled15

My folks are in an above-ground pool somewhere in Stamford, Connecticut. It might have belonged to a neighbor of my grandparents’ on Hope Street, though it might also have been my Great-Aunt Mary’s. It matters not.

My mom is relaxing in an inner tube, presumably because she does not want to completely submerge in the water.

My dad, cheerfully ignoring that cue, has just doused her with a splash of pool-water. He appears to be heartily enjoying the moment. Smirking, even.

(His sideburns add to the interpretation. Everything a man does seems to acquire a little extra swagger when sidies like that are involved.)

Oh, you dog, my mom seems to be saying as she recoils from the facewash.

splash

(For those who demand fealty to the calendar: This picture was most likely taken during a family visit to Stamford around the Fourth of July, 1975. Here, I’ll show you proof. Then we’ll move on.)

775

The picture of my folks in the pool seems, to me, to encapsulate all the things that spouses and life partners do to piss each other off.

Some are unintended. Others are bald-faced and deliberate and totally without shame, like a faceful of chlorinated water.

Some come and go, and are quickly forgotten. Others rankle, no matter how much we try to reason them away, and require things like professional therapy, or a couple nights on the couch, or a good old-fashioned angry have-it-out.

But — at least in some relationships — it all ends up under the bridge somewhere. As it did for my parents, who will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary just about a week from now, pool rudeness notwithstanding.

This is not to say that people who get divorced — or people who stay single — are doing it wrong, or that lengthy relationships are the only definition of success.

It’s just a recognition of the power of forgiveness, and of the mysterious connection that can make people get over all the inconveniences, slights, pranks and wiseassery that human beings can inflict, even on the ones they love most.

I can’t explain it; but I know it when the camera captures it.

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We all know what happens to a dream deferred — or what might happen to it, anyway.

This week, we’ll use up some words (it’s cool, they’re free) asking the same question about dreams that get abandoned.

What happens to a wedding anniversary after the divorce?

It’s supposed to be a date dearer to us than any other, except for children’s birthdays. We put effort into rendering it indelible.

And then, the change comes.

Perhaps an uncelebrated anniversary chafes and stings its principals all day. Or maybe it only raises its head once or twice, a minor irritant, like a cough stuck in the gullet or a passing cloudstorm.

Perhaps, given enough time and will, it disappears entirely.

I imagine there are always reminders, though. Too many pictures get taken, and too many words get put on paper, to ever be fully excised.

June 19, 1972.

June 19, 1972. The Mets get one-hit.

This is the second straight week I’ve mentioned my cousin Bob, and the second straight week I’ve mentioned his (long-ago) divorce.

I don’t think he reads this; but if he does, I assure him it’s coincidental and not personal.

I was trolling the archives for blog-fodder, and this old mention of his anniversary brought to mind thoughts of faded dreams, frustration and resignation.

Not his faded dreams, specifically — I don’t know them, and I wouldn’t repeat them to the world if I did.

I’m thinking more generally of the hopes¬† of millions of people who pledged their futures together and then, for any combination of reasons, turned away again.

Think of all those unopened (maybe even trashed) wedding albums, and all those promises, and all those shared memories that seem in retrospect like they couldn’t possibly have been that happy.

(Think, too, that walking away from each other is in some cases the correct decision. The intent of this is not to lecture those whose dreams change course on them, but to ponder what the old ones mean after they run out of steam.)

I am no authority on divorce, and neither were the Blumenaus of Hope Street (married almost 60 years) or their children (each past 40 years).

But an uncounted number of Americans — hundreds? thousands? — will, at some point today, remember what this day was supposed to mean to them.

Everything put together falls apart, as the song says. There is no single answer to how we all learn the lesson, or what it means to each of us after we do.

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It’s July 1974.

The economy sucks, the Presidency is a cesspool, and old reliables like gasoline and hamburger meat seem to cost twice what they used to just a few years ago.

And in one little microcosm of America — an aging, none-too-large home in southern Connecticut — 19 people are gathered to celebrate one thing that national trends and tribulations cannot weaken:

Family ties.

July 6, 1974.

July 6, 1974. The Yanks and Mets are both playing home games at Shea Stadium, and they’re both in last place.

It’s easy for an amateur historian to overplay people’s awareness of national affairs.

Even though the problems of mid-Seventies America loom large in retrospect, Americans didn’t spend all their time thinking about fuel embargos, or the cost of living, or the sorry state of the Presidency.

They did their jobs and came home and had fun and raised kids and drank beer and went bowling, without using the woes of the republic as a dramatic backdrop for all their activities.

That said, I still like to frame this week’s calendar entry in that greater context.

I find it comforting to think of people turning to family as a worthwhile source of support at a time when they were getting screwed, betrayed, or at least mildly disappointed by many of their social institutions.

I like the post-Independence Day timing of the family reunion, too. The fireworks are over, as is the obligatory hype over the Great American Experiment. What’s left? Blood kin, sharing food and companionship, catching up in person and marveling at how big the kids are getting.

(Oh, yeah: A belated note to my grandpa. “Family & Relative Yard Party” is redundant. Family is relatives. In some faraway place, my grandpa is surely regretting lending his bloodline to a professional editor. What the hell; we couldn’t all be engineers.)

So what became of those 19 people gathered at Hope Street?

- Five of them — both sets of my grandparents, and my great-grandma — are gone now. (“Tom and Eve” were my maternal grandparents.) Remarkably, my Great-Aunt Eleanor is still chugging; she’ll be 102 this week.

- Both of my western Massachusetts cousins, Ron and Bob, are long since divorced from the wives they brought to the party. They’re still around, though, as are Ron’s three kids.

- “El and Joe” are my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve, who have appeared in this space any number of times. While my grandpa’s writing style makes it look like Eric and Kurt are their kids, that’s incorrect: They welcomed their first child two years to the day after this yard party.

- Speaking of children, young Kurt (son of Rod and Lynn; brother of Eric) celebrated his first birthday the day before the big yard party. He doesn’t remember much about it now. He’s since gone on to become a blogger of no particular repute, and sort of a general waste of space; but he does his thing.

Hopefully, at least a few of you out there have a family reunion lined up over the Fourth of July break — or if not this week, then sometime this summer.

I hope you enjoy it.

Savor the companionship. Ask to hear plenty of family stories. Have another hamburger. And don’t let the perilous state of the republic get you down.

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