A holiday surprise for those who might still be subscribed to get Hope Street via email.

New Year’s Day in a new kitchen, and two people are doing what people do in kitchens on New Year’s Day.

ME, reaching up to the wall: “We have any need to keep this?”

MY WIFE, cradling her coffee: “Nah.”

I take the 2019 calendar — a lovely job, with artsy food illustrations — down off the wall and step toward the tall kitchen trash bin.

But as I do, I think about my family and calendars, and realize this might be a suitable moment for an update.

Since I last posted here two years ago, I have achieved my dream of returning to New England. I live and work in the Boston area, where I long wanted to be.

It was unsettled at first. My wife and younger son stayed in Pennsylvania for the first nine months while I lived in a small apartment near Boston that served mostly as a storage area for our boxes. Every few weeks I would make the five-plus-hour highway trip back to the Lehigh Valley to pack, clean, and try to be some sort of presence in the life of my family.

Once school ended in June 2019, they set sail and joined me; we managed to get our house in Pennsylvania sold; and now we are all in one place again.

My job takes me to Connecticut a few times a year. I don’t usually go any farther than Hartford, so I haven’t gotten to Stamford yet. But I suspect I will at some point, for pleasure if not for work.

Two weeks ago, while burning a week of vacation, I visited my grandmother’s birthplace of Keene, N.H. (as featured on Hope Street in June 2016). It’s got a cute little downtown; I wouldn’t mind going back sometime.



Just yesterday, I brought a special parcel with me on the train to work. It is a painting of my grandfather’s. I don’t have room to display it at home, so I figure it can enliven my cubicle.


I haven’t quite nailed down the best way to display it.


Accept no substitute.

So, the places and people of Hope Street are still with me.

But back to my kitchen in the suburbs of Boston, and back to the 2019 calendar. It’s in the trash now. There really isn’t a reason to keep it: My family does not put the calendar to the same vigorous use my grandfather did. We’re also generally less inclined to hold on to stuff, following a move to a much smaller home-space.

Still, I took a couple pictures as a farewell to a long and eventful year, and as a final recognition of the calendar’s good and faithful service. A good wall calendar is a very useful thing.

Though if you’re reading this, you already know that…




Best wishes to one and all for a happy and healthy new year (and new decade), until we cross paths again.


As I write this I am nursing a bellyful of post-Thanksgiving leftover turkey and gravy, and it’s impossible to tell from here whether we’ll have a white Christmas this year.

It seems unlikely: Where I am, they don’t happen all that often. Indeed, I’m not even sure all the leaves will be off my tree by Christmas. They’re hanging on for dear life this year.

I can get to a white Christmas through my grandpa’s calendars, though, so I think I’ll take the trip. (It beats the alternative, which is to look into a mirror at midnight and say “Bing Crosby” backwards three times.)


December 24, 1966.

The winter storm of Dec. 24, 1966, took place on a Saturday. So unless you drove a city plow or had last-minute shopping to do, you didn’t need to go out in it. Those are the best kinds of winter storms.

(My dad, living on his own in Rochester, N.Y., beat the storm by arriving in town the day before, and my aunt Elaine had been home from college in New Haven for a week.)

It was big enough news to make the front page of the Dec. 25 New York Times, which reported thunder, winds over 30 mph, railroad delays, widespread accidents on regional highways, and the declaration of a snow emergency in the city proper. New York Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes apologized for telling holiday churchgoers to stay home, but said it was the safest decision.

The storm was widespread enough to bring South Carolina its first white Christmas in 95 years and to close the airport in Roanoke, Virginia, according to the Times.

Ironically, the Dec. 24 Times reported on an unsuccessful effort to “bomb” clouds with dry ice in Franconia, N.H., so snow-starved, money-losing ski resorts could start doing better business. It failed.

Unlike some other snow-day drawings on past calendars, my grandpa’s effort here looks like a frenzied mush — no church spires, roofs or TV antennae to be seen. If anything, his drawing looks to me like sea-waves swamping a freighter. Perhaps that reflects the intensity of the event.

Since my grandparents were usually pretty prudent planners who probably had their holiday affairs wrapped up, I’m going to assume everyone stayed in on Dec. 24, 1966.

I don’t believe 1107 Hope Street had a working fireplace, so maybe its inhabitants tuned in to a brand-new TV program: WPIX from New York chose that night to debut its now-famous televised Yule Log.


The Times’ TV listings sum up an unusual new program. Less Yule-y options on the tube that night included “Get Smart,” “Gunsmoke” and a Canadiens-Rangers hockey game.

Maybe the Blumenaus of Hope Street baked cookies or wrapped presents. Maybe they tried shoveling the driveway. Maybe those that played piano, practiced piano.

Or maybe they just stayed cozy and let the meteorological craziness blow past and around them … until the night fell, and they went to sleep.

And when they woke up, it was a white Christmas, and all things peaceful and generous seemed possible.

Edit, 10:40 a.m., Dec. 25: We got one.



December 1968: Flu.

The pandemic drums are beating again.

As I type this (just after Thanksgiving), I’ve been seeing more and more media reports of increased concern about Asian flu. (Exhibit A: The staid New York Times, on Nov. 17, reporting “Bird Flu is Spreading in Asia, Experts (Quietly) Warn.“)

Last time a pandemic threatened the world, which would have been around 2009 or so, my place of employment prepared a mammoth contingency plan. My copy’s been sitting in a file cabinet ever since; I guess I oughta dust it off and see what it says. (It will also be good to have handy so I can throw it at the first person who exclaims, “We need to make a contingency plan!”)

Anyhow, we had a pandemic almost 50 years ago, right around this time of year. So we’ll pack up our tea and tissues and head there this week.


The Cazenovia, N.Y., Republican goes for the seasonal spin, December 25, 1968. Front page made available by nyhistoricnewspapers.org.

According to Wikipedia, the Hong Kong flu of 1968-9 began causing trouble in the Far East in July 1968. It came to America in September — brought home by returning Vietnam War veterans — but did not spread widely until December, when it became front-page news.

An archived U.S. government site says the Hong Kong flu killed about 34,000 people in the U.S. between September 1968 and March 1969. For context, that’s 10 times higher than the U.S. death toll from the 2009 flu pandemic, but only about half as many deaths as the 1957 Asian flu pandemic.

(Of course, all of these events are dwarfed by the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed 500,000 to 675,000 people in the U.S., including one or two of my great-grandparents and doubtless others on the family tree.)

For most people who got it, the Hong Kong flu produced three or four days of discomfort, with high fever, chest tightness, general body aches and fatigue.

In most places, the flu affected society in relatively small ways. The Cazenovia news article shown above (that’s in the Syracuse area, by the way) noted that school absenteeism had risen to 17 percent, and holiday mail in town had seen minor delays because eight Post Office employees had been off work at the same time.

Other areas seem to have sounded the alarm more loudly. The Massena, N.Y., Observer of Dec. 19, 1968 (that’s in the far northern part of the state, on the Canadian border), quoted the American Red Cross as calling it “a disaster situation.”

Officials in New York City estimated one in every 16 New Yorkers had had the flu in the prior two weeks, with 300,000 of them currently at “the most critical stage” of the illness. School absentee rates of 30 percent were reported in the Pittsburgh area.

(Perhaps the highest-profile flu victim: Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was resting in Phoenix. Reports of flu are also frequent in sports reports from late 1968 — victims included Bill Russell, Dave Bing, and 20 members of the Minnesota Vikings — though it’s not specific whether these were cases of Hong Kong flu or just regular ol’ grippe.)

People over 65 were at the highest risk of dying from the disease. No surprise, then, that my 82-year-old great-grandmother was the first one at 1107 Hope Street to get a Hong Kong flu shot. (Everyone had already gotten regular flu shots in early November.)

She took the pencil into her own hand to document it:


December 13, 1968.

Although some news reports at the time said flu vaccine was reserved for the elderly, my grandparents (in their mid-50s) and my aunt (college-age) also managed to arrange Hong Kong flu shots that holiday season.


December 16, 1968. My grandma, Corine…


December 17, 1968. My grandpa, Bill (a.k.a. WHB) …


December 23, 1968. And my aunt, Elaine.

The stuff must have worked, as my grandpa’s calendars through March 1969 give no indication of anyone being sick.

Will we do so well again this year, or in the year to come? We can hope, anyway.

If not, I’ve got this big contingency plan I can read while I’m flat on my back…

As you might remember from my town report post, I’m kind of a municipal-minutes geek.

Show me the official record of some local government board going about its business, and I’m fairly likely to read through it, looking for curiosities, flashes of human personality, and bits of street-level history. They’re always there.

(They’re discussing the town’s first hotel? That’s interesting. There was a problem with people getting hit by cars at that intersection in 1967? Hm, never knew. Jerome from Ward 7 and Pam from Ward 12 disagree often and at length? Every good board has its pair of chronic opponents.)

So, it pleased me to discover that the Stamford, Connecticut, Board of Representatives keeps an extensive online history of its meeting minutes and resolutions — going all the way back to the formation of the board in 1949.


November 18, 1974. The voting machine appears to be in good working order.

I’ve repeatedly bemoaned the fact that the city’s newspaper, the Stamford Advocate, doesn’t seem to have much of an online archive. But the city’s government seems to have gone in the opposite direction, making historic records available in remarkable profusion.

I’d rather read old newspapers than old government minutes, because government minutes don’t have sports scores or ads for long-gone brands of beer.

And, newspapers are a better community record in terms of capturing lots of people’s names and deeds. The people who appear in government minutes tend to be the people around the table, plus city department heads.

(I find no record, and know of no indication, that my grandpa and his family ever went to one of these meetings. For one thing, many of them started around the public-unfriendly hour of 9 p.m. For another, at least some of them were broadcast on Stamford’s radio station, WSTC — and you better believe I’d listen to one of those old broadcasts if I discovered it online.)


July 1, 1974. They met until 2 a.m.! I wonder if WSTC signed off at 1 a.m. as a matter of routine, or if the guy running the board just took off his earphones at that point and said, “The hell with this. They don’t pay me enough.”

Still, a look through the municipal minutes of the ’60s and ’70s — the period captured by my grandpa’s remaining calendars — brings up all kinds of places and topics my grandpa would have known well, and even one or two that I knew well:

– Resolution No. 803, of Feb. 7, 1972, changed the name of Springdale Park to Michael J. Drotar Park. This was a park with a Little League field, a short walk from my grandparents’ home. When the four walls of 1107 Hope Street got too constricting and Little Kurt needed to go run around someplace, he would sometimes go to Michael J. Drotar Park and bat some Wiffle balls around.

– A bunch of minutes from the late ’60s refer to the construction of a “THIRD HIGH SCHOOL.” This became Westhill High, where my grandpa saw Count Basie perform, and where a bunch of high-school track runners saw my brother perform (he disagrees with my recollection, but I still insist that’s how it went down.)

– I found a bunch of references to sewer projects, also; I didn’t look long enough to find the one that finally got 1107 Hope St. off its old cesspool, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

– The city-operated Cove Island Park, where my grandpa took a lovely picture one humid afternoon in 1975, shows up in several sets of minutes, usually so the board can approve the cost of capital improvements there.

– Same deal with the schools my father attended. In June 1973, the board voted to apply for a grant to build classrooms and a multimedia center at Springdale School. In July 1974, they did the same for a project to modernize the auditorium at Stamford High School.

If you’ve ever been back to a school you attended and been astonished at how little of it looks familiar … well, these projects would have had that effect on my dad, if he’d had occasion to revisit his old schools. (I don’t think he has.)

– The board welcomed teenage pages at different points, one of them being future Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy. Malloy is one of several political names from the Board of Representatives minutes who also show up in past editions of Hope Street. (Others include former Mayors Julius Wilensky, Frederick Lenz, Louis Clapes and Thom Serrani.)

And then there’s the randomness, the weirdness, and the signs of the times:

– A resolution of March 7, 1966, inviting the New York Stock Exchange to move to Stamford.

– A brief squabble on Dec. 4, 1972, regarding a still-unpaid bill for improvements made to the Stamford Italian Center in advance of President Nixon’s visit there more than two years before.

– A resolution of April 4, 1973, supporting a meat boycott planned for the following week. (That got mentioned in a long-ago Hope Street post as well.)

– The official creation of a Stamford Bicentennial Committee at the meeting of Sept. 10, 1973.

Also from that same meeting, one example of the intermittent disagreements and outright hissy-fits you’ll find in these minutes. 7th District representative Armen Guroian is the man of the hour here, but if you’ve ever been to these kinds of meetings you’ve heard this speech or something close to it:


– A resolution of Jan. 6, 1975, calling on the FCC to hold hearings over radio station WNCN’s move from 24-hour classical music to rock and pop. (According to Wikipedia, the switch was indeed short-lived, lasting only about a year. More info from an independent source is here.)

– A resolution of May 3, 1976, supporting human rights in the U.S.S.R. and petitioning Leonid Brezhnev to end persecution of Jews and other groups.

This led to an excellent exchange between two board members that December, after the board passed a resolution calling on the city Finance Department to create a pension-related trust fund:

MR. MILLER:  The Chair would simply observe the Chair doesn’t know whether any of these people have any obligation to do this because the Board has passed this resolution.

MR. SHERER: Brezhnev didn’t have the obligation to follow us either.

A little dry, perhaps … but we municipal-meeting junkies take our laffs where we find them.

Nov. 15, 2017: RIP.

The Philadelphia papers are reporting the death of teacher, pastor and activist John Raines at 84.

Raines showed up in this space about two-and-a-half years ago, in his role as youth pastor of my family’s church in Springdale. Of all the stories that have ever been told on Hope Street, his is probably the most remarkable.

Consider checking it out. It’s worth wading through the introductory crap about me to get to the rest.