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Posts Tagged ‘history’

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.)

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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 hopesĀ  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 is part of every boy’s maturation to realize that his dad has feet of clay, and is prone to the same faults and vanities as everyone else in the world.

I learned that some time ago … I don’t remember when exactly, which suggests the process was gradual and without trauma. And now, I can relate to his shortcomings just as well as I relate to anybody else’s.

This week, we — mayyyyyybe — catch my dad engaging in a little self-serving stretching of the truth.

To which I say:

“Well played, Slick.”

June 1, 1961. The Yankees, on their way to a 109-win season and a World Series title, are surprisingly stuck in third place.

June 1, 1961. The Yankees, on their way to a 109-win season and a World Series title, are surprisingly stuck in third place. There are no Mets.

Even in his high school days, my dad was a working semipro musician, playing piano and saxophone in a variety of settings. We wrote about one of his gigs, at a high school prom, just a week or two ago.

As a result of that, there is a steady stream of “JOB” notations on the calendars of 1961-62. (Occasionally, there is also a “NO JOB” note in my grandpa’s writing — usually following two straight nights of gigs. Enough was enough, I guess.)

A few years ago, my dad admitted to me that not all those “JOB” listings were quite what they appeared.

See, the Blumenau family only had one car in my dad’s high school years. And, like most high schoolers, my dad liked getting the keys for a night of cruising the town — or crossing the state line to New York, where the beering age was 18.

So from time to time, my dad would log a phantom “JOB” on the calendar as a means of claiming dibs on the family car.

He couldn’t do it too often, of course. For one thing, phantom jobs didn’t pay. For another, my grandparents would only let him out so often — so if he took too many fake jobs, he might have to turn down a real one.

But, on a limited basis, it was an ingenious way to get out of the house with four wheels at one’s disposal, and no one the wiser.

I have no way of knowing whether this week’s calendar listing is a phantom gig or a real one.

I sorta suspect it might have been real, because it happened on a Thursday night at 6:30, and there’s nothin’ shakin’ but the leaves on the trees at 6:30 on a weeknight.

On the other hand, this particular calendar listing is devoid of all detail save for time. No location, no mention of a leader for the gig.

So, who knows? Maybe my dad threw his saxophone in the trunk right after dinner, and spent the evening of June 1, 1961, drinking cans of warm Rheingold with his high-school buddies.

To which I say, again:

Well played, Slick.

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After a long, trying, arctic winter and a fitfully rainy spring, it’s finally here, effective 6:51 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Nothing looks more promising when it’s coming, or fades faster when it goes away, than summer.

I wonder who the two guys were who came by to scrape off the white paint. With a few strokes of his pencil, my grandpa conferred upon them both immortality and anonymity.

They dwell forever on the furthest periphery of the Blumenau family saga, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, their motivations and machinations known only to each other.

But, anyway.

It’s the start of summer. A time when all but the most cellar-dwelling baseball teams have a chance, every tree looks climbable, every teenage love affair looms as something epic, and every day seems — to the winter-hardened soul — to last forever and ever and ever.

Most of summer’s promises don’t come true, I’m fairly sure. Ask any schoolboy about his summer, the night before he embarks for school, and he’ll tell you what he didn’t manage to get to.

(Maybe that’s why I usually prefer fall and winter, which underpromise and overdeliver by comparison.)

We still relish the arrival of every summer, though.

It’s the brightest and breeziest season, and the most leisurely, and the one where the unpredictable breaks of life seem most likely to bounce our way.

The summer of 1973 would be an eventful one for the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

Between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, they would welcome their second grandson; see their daughter married (as per the “ordered invites” note on this week’s calendar entry); say goodbye to my grandmother’s closest friend; and ride out a particularly vicious heat wave.

I don’t know if there was anything special they left undone at summer’s end. Seems to me they packed plenty in.

Let us all hope this coming summer goes as well — successful, but salted with enough bittersweet to remind us we are human. That seems like a worthy and realistic prayer, no matter our station in life.

Whatever summer has for us, good or bad, we’ll know soon enough.

Because — after a long, trying, arctic winter and a fitfully rainy spring — it’s finally here.

Hooray for promises.

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