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One year — 1961, to be specific — in the life of the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, as jointly interpreted by William H. Blumenau (calendar entries) and Charles A. Berry (text):

American history and practical math
You’re studying hard, hoping to pass

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January 23-24.

Cruising and playing the radio
With no particular place to go

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January 27.

She just don’t have the appetite
For gas somehow,
And Dad, I got four carburetors
Hooked up on it now.
I tried to hook another
To see if I’d do a little good,
But ain’t no place to put it
‘Less I perforate the hood

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February 2.

If she’s in the mood no need to break it
I got the chance and I oughta take it
If she can dance we can make it
C’mon, Queenie, let’s shake it

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February 11.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

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February 23.

Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in no mood to dig a mambo

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February 25.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won’t have no mercy on me
‘Cause he told me not to come back no more

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April 7.

Sweet little sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one

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April 9.

Nothin’ outrun my V-8 Ford

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May 1. (The new car in question really *was* a V-8 Ford, if memory serves.)

In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama
Workin’ on the railroad with a steel-drivin’ hammer

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August 10.

Ring! ring! goes the bell

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September 6.

I must admit they had a rockin’ band
Man, they was blowin’ like a hurr-i-can

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September 21.

All day long you’ve been wantin’ to dance

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September 27.

Roll over, Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

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October 2.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

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October 31.

I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat
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November 7.

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
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December 5.

It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me.

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December 30.

Thanks for everything, Chuck.

It was pretty bitter this past weekend in Pennsylvania. Not depths-of-January bitter, but colder than one would have hoped for.

It’s been a mild and uneventful winter. Indeed, the biggest storms we’ve had (just a weekend or two ago) were summer-style wind and lightning storms, even a tornado an hour or so north of here.

Still, you wonder just about until April whether winter has one last blast to deliver. Maybe this weekend was it, as far as cold goes. Or, maybe that whopper snowstorm we never did get earlier in the winter is just starting to assemble itself, high above Saskatchewan or someplace.

This week we stop in on my grandpa as he deals, gracefully, with winter as it stomps and kicks its way out the door:

031873

March 18, 1973. It’s a Sunday.

When I first saw this entry I read “waxes” as a noun, and wondered what he was talking about. Was there some sort of wax you put on your car in the winter for extra protection against road salt? (I knew he wasn’t a skier, so that sort of winter wax wouldn’t have mattered to him.)

But then my mind adjusted and I realized “waxes” was a verb. Things wax and wane; and on this particular Sunday, winter was waxing one more time, in advance of the inevitable wane.

(There is no corresponding “winter wanes” notation on this page of the calendar … but you’ll notice that the temperature reached a sunny 60 degrees exactly a week later. So we know it happened.)

I am looking forward to watching local college baseball games, and running without a hat and gloves, and any number of other signs of spring. So I’m looking forward to the final waning of winter here.

Just wondering how much waxing there’ll have to be first.

How upright were the Blumenaus of Hope Street?

Why, they wouldn’t even cheat Ma Bell.

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February 22, 1970.

It’s early 1970. My Aunt Elaine is in grad school at Boston University, leading a life of her own, but still seeing her folks and her grandma from time to time.

On this particular day, she’s left Hope Street to go back to school (a trip that should only take three hours, according to Mapquest; perhaps the weather or traffic slowed her down).

To let her family know she dodged the maniacal New England highway drivers and got back safely, she’s made just about the shortest possible telephone call you can make and still be polite.

And it’s still cost somebody 3.5 cents per second.

(Not sure whether the call was collect, or on my aunt’s dime … but my grandpa made note of the cost, so he must have known. He may have been paying the bill either way.)

This makes me think of the old practice of collect-calling a previously agreed-on name as a means of delivering a message. The person being called would turn down the collect call request, because hearing the pre-arranged name told them all they needed to know — at no cost to anyone.

As I’ve mentioned before — five years ago to the day; how weird is that? — the name used on my mom’s side of the family for that purpose was “Evelyn Keyes.

In the mid-’80s, when my maternal grandparents either sold their old home in Stamford or closed on their new home in Rochester, we got a collect call for Evelyn Keyes — which we turned down, knowing events had gone according to plan.

My maternal grandma’s name was Evelyn; the “Keyes” part referred to Evelyn either getting the keys to her new home, or handing over the keys to her old one.

(I believe Evelyn Keyes was also pressed into service on prior occasions for we-got-home-safe purposes, though my memories of that are not as specific. Of course, once those grandparents moved to a home five minutes away from ours, our need for such deceptions declined sharply.)

My younger readers — if indeed I have any — might wonder why people went to such lengths to avoid putting through a short phone call. Was it really that big a deal?

Well, 35 cents in 1970 equals about $2.20 today. That’s not a budget-breaker for most people … but it’s a hell of a lot to pay when all you want to do is tell a loved one in Connecticut that you got to Boston okay. From a 2017 perspective, something like that should be free, right?

Plus, your regional phone company was a monopoly back then, and it kinda had things all its own way. It wasn’t doing you a lot of favors, so the tendency was to get your own back, in small ways, where you could.

To accomplish the same errand today, you might send your family an email or a text. Or you might mention on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that you got home safe. Or you might use your free friends-and-family calling plan and make a quick call. All user-friendly options; all instantaneous; all more or less free.

(What do you think the executives of Southern New England Telephone in 1970 would have said if you’d told them that, in the future, calls to friends and family would be free? They’d have metaphorically hung up on you.)

Personally, I kinda wish the ways Americans communicated hadn’t changed so radically, because I miss the fun of the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

If Ma Bell still had a monopoly, I would revel in creating so many collect-call aliases, my friends and family would need a folder to keep track of what they all meant.

A collect call from George Deukmejian? That means “too tired to cook tonight; order a pizza.” James Jackson Storrow? That must be “working late; eat without me.” Tristan Tzara? “Kidnapped by aliens; will be home in four days with curious rashes and significant memory loss.” (Hey, you gotta be prepared for anything.)

But, times have changed, and the old ways have gone.

And anyway, the underlying point of this whole essay is that the Hope Street Blumenaus didn’t take the easy way out. My Aunt Elaine didn’t make a collect call to Montgomery Clift or Kevin White at my grandparents’ phone number, and my grandparents didn’t turn it down with a wink and a nudge.

She put the call through, and however begrudgingly, my grandfolks took it. They noted every cent and every second, and they knew they would pay for it, but they took it.

I guess you need some folks like that in the world, to keep society on the rails and everything working right.

I can vouch for my grandpa being a gentleman. But until this week, I didn’t know he was ever an officer of anything.

This week’s calendar entries open the door ever so slightly, but leave most questions unanswered:

My grandfather was not a big civic joiner.

Sure, he took part in church-related activities. He went bowling alongside his friends from work. And he participated in a group or two that aligned with his personal interests, like the Stamford Art Association.

But, as far as I knew, he was never a Lion, Moose, Jaycee, or member of any other community or social improvement group. Nor did he ever hold any position of official authority.

At least, that was what I thought until I uncovered the above calendar entry.

Then I went backwards through his calendars and discovered that, for portions of 1966 and early 1967, unspecified “board meetings” were regularly noted at 8 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. No other info was ever presented.

(The February 1967 meeting seems to have been the last one he attended. February is a curious time for any board to roll over its members; but, who knows?)

The notion of his serving as an officer on a board, or even attending a meeting, took my dad by surprise:

I certainly can’t picture him either seeking or enjoying such a function.

If I were to assume that he was indeed on some board, my guess as to what it would have been, in order of decreasing likelihood, would be:

1. Stamford Camera Club (although I think he was more active in that during the mid-late 1950s)
2. Springdale Methodist Church, or some sub-group thereof
3. Some Art Club / Society
4. Bowling League
5. Local branch of the Sons of the Alsace Schnitzelbenders

I can’t rule out any of those for certain; but again, in the absence of more specific info, I can only guess.

One potential clue comes from the calendar entry of March 14, 1966.

That word at the top doesn’t look like “officers,” nor does it quite look like “official,” and it’s certainly not “Schnitzelbenders.” But I can’t figure out what it is.

(It looks almost like “offernal,” which I went so far as to Google just to see if it was a church term related to the offertory. It isn’t.)

If I could sort it out, that might give me my answer. Any guesses from the peanut gallery?

March 14, 1966.

 

 

This entry started as me gawking at one of those long-gone activities my grandpa engaged in — something I considered outdated and foreign to my experience.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the quirk lies with me, not with the passage of time.

Maybe I’m wrong.

010665s

January 6, 1965.

What we have here appears to be a home visit from a TV repairman. (His charge of $10 is equivalent to $76.62 in current money. I’m assuming the $10 charge was for the service visit and not for the dancing lessons.)

The notion of a home service visit for your TV brought me back to the days when TV sets were big heavy monsters full of tubes, and sometimes built into big wooden cabinets as well.

Nowadays, it seems to me you’d bring your TV to the repair shop to be fixed– if indeed it went on the fritz at all, which hasn’t happened to me in quite a while.

But some Googling suggests I’m wrong. Here in the Lehigh Valley, I found websites for two TV and electronics repair shops that seem willing to make service calls.

(I suspect they are more interested in fixing a big, integrated home audiovisual system than in fixing just a TV set. One of them promises in-home repair “for your larger items.” But, from the looks of it, they’ll probably come to you and do whatever you call them for.)

And, my perception of in-home TV repair is probably clouded by the fact that my TV stays off most of the time.

I watch literally no TV at all. Zero. I’m even out of the habit of watching hockey and baseball games. My wife has Hulu and is more likely to watch her chosen shows on a tablet than a TV screen. And my kids use the TV mostly as a video-game screen.

So the fact that my previous TV set lasted a good dozen years without repair doesn’t mean the home TV service call is a thing of the past. It just means I’m an outlier … and that a machine that isn’t used very often will last a long time.

If you have experience with home TV repair calls, or lack thereof, let me know in the Comments. I’m curious to hear from others whether this is a thing of the past or a thriving concern.

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One imagines my grandparents, great-grandma and aunt would have wanted to put their newly repaired TV to use that night. What would they have watched?

Newspapers from Jan. 6 say the night’s network lineup included “The Patty Duke Show;” “Beverly Hillbillies,” Dick Van Dyke, Danny Kaye, and — most interesting to me, though not necessarily to them — “Shindig!” with Sal Mineo, Bobby Sherman, the Zombies, Sandie Shaw and the Righteous Brothers.