Archive for the ‘family’ Category

The rest of my family would probably run their daily affairs entirely through the ether — by synching up their phones and such — if it weren’t for me.

I don’t completely lack for tech savvy, and I run my work life through my Outlook calendar. But at home I’m still used to looking at a piece of paper on the wall.

And so the notion of keeping a hard-copy calendar lingers, at least for a few more years.

Having featured hundreds of my grandpa’s calendar entries and pages over the years, it seems only fair that I post one or two of my own. Here’s what the family tradition looks like in the 21st century:


September 2016. The Mets are headed for the postseason; the Yankees are not.

(No, I don’t have a Leon Trotsky Quote-of-the-Month calendar; it’s pictures of New York City. We’re not too choosy about the images on our annual calendar. Typically it’s something like Ansel Adams. Maybe goats in trees next year?)

Not sure if WordPress lets you click to enlarge pix any more; but if you could see this photo large, you’d know that my handwriting — unlike my grandpa’s — is damned near illegible. I usually settle for writing one word clearly enough to be understood, and that clues me in on the rest.

My grandpa’s old calendar standbys — weather reports, lottery tickets, increases in the price of postage stamps — won’t be found here. Instead, the Blumenau family’s September 2016 calendar includes:

  • Four high-school cross-country meets
  • Two rock concerts (this one and this one)
  • One Lehigh Valley IronPigs minor-league baseball game (the last of the year)
  • One fundraising hoagie dinner to benefit the aforementioned cross-country team
  • One driver’s-ed lesson
  • One weeklong on-call work shift

We keep a separate weekly dry-erase calendar on the fridge, too; it gets updated every Sunday, usually after the grocery run. Not everything on one calendar overlaps onto the other, so they both serve a function.

This is where the family history of wordplay and sketching lives on:


Fat man rockin’” = the first of the two concerts listed above.

M meet – Pokenose” = a cross-country meet held up north in the land of the heart-shaped bathtub. (The booster club buys the kids hoagies for the long bus ride home. We eat a lot of hoagies over the course of a school year.)

“HS meat the teacher” – My grandpa would have liked the hamburger lecturing at the blackboard, I think.


The hard-copy calendars don’t really get saved, and the dry-erase gets wiped clean every week.

So my grandson or granddaughter, if I have one, won’t wonder in 50 years what went down at Meet-The-Teacher Night.

Or what the hell my calendar entry for Sept. 5, 2016, was supposed to mean.

Just as well, I suppose.

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In recognition of the end of another losing season of Philadelphia Phillies baseball.


Regular readers would be excused for thinking that my family is a bunch of maniacal hoarders.

In the five-plus years of Hope Street, I’ve posted things like:
my grandfather’s resume
the license plates he got for his very first car, and the check he wrote the dealership for them
– itineraries and costs for a long-ago train trip on a line that no longer exists
– excerpts from a journal that show every significant improvement my grandpa made to his house, from the 1940s to the 1980s
– an internal company newsletter from 1963
– and, of course, all the day-to-day calendar entries that have defined the blog’s soul.

I suspect these are more mementos, and more obscure, than the typical American family has in its basement.

Now that they’ve turned out the lights at Citizens Bank Park, though, I’m going to write this week about one family item that didn’t make it down the years.


The old baseball cards scattered throughout this week’s entry date to the Fifties, but they aren’t from my dad’s collection.

That’s because, at some far-distant and unnoticed point, my grandma threw out my dad’s cards.

Coulda been while he was off at college; or sometime after he moved out and got married. Who knows? It wasn’t a big enough event to end up on my grandpa’s calendars, that’s certain.

All that matters is that, at some point, they went … the superstars, the bonus babies, the steady veterans, the flashes in the pan, even the umpires … all out to the curb, alongside the wrapper from last Thursday’s pound of hamburger.


Lest you think I am winding up to sing you the blues … no, not really. Despite being an avid card collector as a kid, I’ve never been all that worked up about the ones that got away.

I read about the hobby as a kid, and I was aware that quite a few American mothers had thrown out their kids’ cards — never anticipating that anyone would have an interest in them. It was a common thing, and easy enough to understand.

Plus, this was my grandma we were talking about … the kindly lady who baked blueberry pies. You don’t get mad at your grandma, or at least you didn’t in my family.

So, while I would have found it interesting to have a big stack of Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s to look at, it was no big thing that I didn’t.

I had a friend in elementary school whose dad’s collection had made it through the years. He let me trade some of my Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden cards for some of his dad’s doubles, which fulfilled any desire I had to own vintage cardboard.

At the time — circa 1984 — Dwight Gooden for Jim Greengrass seemed like highway robbery. Now, it doesn’t look quite so skewed.


The cards I’ve collected from my generation, including my remaining Goodens and Strawberrys, aren’t worth enough on an individual basis to buy a sandwich … and my grandma played a role in that too.

See, the supply of ’50s baseball cards is limited, in part because of all those cleaning-happy moms who threw out their sons’ stashes.

The sons, who never anticipated future demand either, are also to blame for doing destructive things like putting cards inside their bicycle spokes to go flap-flap-flap. Things like house fires and basement floods have claimed a percentage of the remaining ’50s stock over the years, too.

Rarity made the prices of older cards boom in the ’80s, as nostalgic baby boomers and new collectors alike pursued cards that were tough to find in good condition.

(The prices of those cards are still booming. Just last year, a pristine example of the famously rare 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle fetched upwards of $525,000.)

The prices being commanded by ’50s cards put the light of future profits into collectors’ eyes. They bought brand-new cards and socked them away in pristine condition — all the better to cash in in 30 years — while card manufacturers stepped up production.

Unfortunately, nobody threw any of the new cards out, much less stuck them in bicycle spokes or doodled on them with ballpoint pens.

So the pendulum of supply and demand swung back on a grand scale. Relatively few cards produced in recent decades are worth all that much. Some cards are desirable, but few are truly rare or command anything close to the older cards’ prices.

This story about the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card, the most famous card of my generation, provides some context. There may be as many as 1 million of these cards in the world, and while examples in absolute mint condition can cost you three figures, you can also pick one up for less than $10.

(The ’89 Upper Deck Griffey has been called “the last iconic baseball card,” a phrase that speaks volumes.)

These developments don’t really bother me either. I’ve never bought a pack of baseball cards, or an individual card, with the intent of reselling it — much less sending my kids to college on the proceeds.

The trends are amusing to watch from a distance, though, as I tell myself that the kindly old lady with the blueberry pies is partially responsible.


I enjoy looking at things from my grandparents’ daily lives, like car catalogs from years gone by. And I’ve made considerable hay from those leftovers on this blog over the past five years.

But I don’t have to have or hold everything that passed through 1107 Hope Street. What went by the wayside is interesting too.

Some things — like the hope that attends the start of each Phillies season — just have to be parted with.


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My dad was a semi-professional pianist all the years he held a corporate job.

One of the more random remnants of his side gig lived in a cabinet where my parents stored sheet music — most of it classical.

It was a songbook with music for maybe a dozen pop hits circa 1977. I can specifically date it because I remember both “Angel In Your Arms” and “Undercover Angel” were in there, and I think “Do You Wanna Make Love” was there as well.

Presumably my dad bought it (or had it given to him) ’cause he needed to learn a popular song on the quick — maybe to accompany a wedding singer, or to please a client who’d specifically requested it.

I never did find out which song in the Book of Mellow Gold he was called on to play. It’s possible that a book of that vintage had “You Light Up My Life” in it, a song that probably everyone who made money playing other people’s music had to slog through at least once in 1977-78.

What’s that got to do with Hope Street? Well, this week’s entry might have found my grandparents and great-grandma — like my dad — adding some sheet music to the family collection.


September 22, 1972. Mets in third, Yanks in fourth. Fall enough for ya?

“Music store” is written in my great-grandma’s precise hand, so I’m guessing it was her errand.

Piano was her only instrument, and she wasn’t buying a new piano. So her trip to the music store must have been for some humbler need — like perhaps buying some new sheet music.

What she bought, I couldn’t guess. I’m sure it wasn’t a songbook of current hits. (A shame, as there was some pretty good music on the radio around that time.)

Still, my great-grandma was closing in on 86 years old as the fall of 1972 began. So the idea of her buying any piece of music she didn’t already have in the house is pretty cool, no matter what it might have been.

I recently heard from a former piano student of my great-grandma’s who said, among other kind things:

I admire the fact that she let me and other students play “modern stuff”—such as tunes from My Fair Lady and Music Man in addition to the usual piano student fare from the masters.

I don’t think my great-grandma was still teaching in September of ’72. But this quote suggests she was willing to acknowledge new and different (and popular) music well into her advanced years.

Who knows? Maybe one of her students opened her ears to something she decided she wanted to play — or wanted my dad to play when he came to visit.

And perhaps the arrival of another autumn found her perched on the piano bench in the family room at Hope Street, silent and attentive, slowly forming the music, one chord or run at a time.

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I enjoy looking at the sketches of my grandpa’s life on his old calendar entries, or in his journals, and trying to fill in the gaps around them. How did an event affect him? What did he think about it?

There are a few days that I don’t have to guess about or fill in, though, because he wrote them out in full detail from dawn to dusk. We’re going to stop in on one of them this week.

My grandfather, in his later years, would sit down on his birthday every year — August 13 — and write down everything he’d done that day.

Since he wasn’t in the habit of climbing mountains or going surfing on his birthday, the letters also serve as a pretty good look at what his everyday life was like.

So here we are on Wednesday, August 13, 1975, my grandfather’s 65th birthday.

The Yankees are in third; the Mets are in fourth. Record-setting miler John Walker is on newspaper front pages. Buddy Ebsen is on the cover of TV Guide. The Bee Gees are at Number One. The Grateful Dead are on O’Farrell Street.

President Ford is on vacation in Vail, Colorado, where he starts his day with a swim.

At 1107 Hope Street in Stamford, Connecticut, the day begins with a bland breakfast and proceeds apace.


The blow-by-blow account, with occasional notations:

Arose at 7:30 – temp 70 degrees – Hot day coming up
Breakfast – Maltex and Wheatena mix, toast, Sanka, orange juice
Brought art stuff down from attic into studio
Took stuff from studio to attic

(Perspective from me: Wonder what his art stuff was doing in the attic? The upstairs studio — formerly my Aunt Elaine’s bedroom — served as his art room all the years I knew him. He wasn’t painting the studio: His journal’s year-by-year list of home projects makes no mention of such a project in 1975. Never mind what I said about knowing everything about the day: It’s not even lunchtime and I’ve already encountered a mystery.)

Lunch at 12:00 – Hamburg – potatoe – tomatoe – peanut butter + crackers – cool tea
Listened to news 12:30-1 pm
Rest period

(I find it interesting that he didn’t watch the news; he listened to it on the radio. He might have been tuned in to local legend Don Russell’s program on WSTC, described in an earlier blog post.)

Petro service man arrived 1:20
Cleaned boiler & burner – left 2:50
Took pics of stuffed bird at bird bath.

(The stuffed bird wants some explanation. My dad played organ at the wedding of a fraternity brother around this time and was rewarded with the gift of a stuffed heron, which lived in the front hall of our house for a good decade before it started falling apart. The wedding was in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and the stuffed bird apparently lived at my grandparents’ in Connecticut for a while until my dad could bring it home to western New York.)


And you thought I was making this story up. My family visited Hope Street in the first week of August 1975, and that’s probably when this was taken. (If you’re a long-timer here, you might recognize the car visible out the window.)

Cut some branches from trees.
Thought of mowing grass – Too hot. 88 degrees.

Went for Stamford Advocate – bought LOT. TIC.

(Yeah, forget the apologia for my grandfather that I wrote a couple years ago. Dude loved his lottery tickets. At least he confined himself to one at a time.)

Surveyed building foundation across street.
Supper at 5:15 – Lamb – rice -beans from garden – orange pieces
Cold Sanka – birthday cake with strawberries + ice cream and candle

(I have heard of Sanka but have never had any; my grandpa seems to have enjoyed it almost as much as he enjoyed lottery tickets. Wiki tells me the name Sanka is a conjunction of the French words “sans cafeine,” meaning “without caffeine.” Whaddya know.)

Recd gifts – travel kit, stick deodorant, 2 LOT TICS & tie from Corine

(Yup, more lottery tix. Er, LOTTERY TICS. Shame that, as far as I know, my grandpa never actually won. Also gotta love stick deodorant as a birthday gift: “Here’s hoping you smell better in Year 66!”)

Car repair book & $10 from Ma
Took rubbish & garbage to cellar

Listened to radio news – 6:30
Listened to TV news & weather – 6:45 to 7:30. Showers on way
Evelyn J. called – a pair of Rod’s brown shoes has gone missing

(So, would it be fair to say that Rod’s brown shoes didn’t make it?)

Sat out on porch – cool breeze coming from N.W.

(I love that he knew where the breeze was coming from. Probably the same innate sense that enables people to know one kind of tree from another. I don’t possess that.)

Watched Merv Griffin show – 9 to 10

(Guests included Polly Bergen and Gay Talese.)

Bedtime snack – shredded wheat & puft wheat
To Bed 10:30 – read magazines

(One of them was probably Time, whose August 11 issue bore a cover story called “Lisbon’s Troika: Red Threat in Portugal.” I do not think the risk of Communist takeover of Portugal unduly burdened my grandfather as he lay down to sleep with a bellyful of wheat.

(Good night.)

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Last week, I explored the roots of the Blumenau family’s summer cottage tradition. While I don’t have a calendar entry to go with this post, this seemed like a logical sequel.

A starter cottage, you could definitely call it.

The place on Keuka Lake my parents bought circa 1980-81 was a no-frills spiritual heir to the lake cottage in Becket, Massachusetts, that my dad visited for several summers during his boyhood.

According to lore, the place on Keuka had been built in a week — or was it a weekend? — by a bunch of like-minded, tool-handy amateurs, back in the days before building permits and zoning inspections. Its septic tank, befitting Keuka’s best-known industry, was said to be a repurposed wine barrel.

There was no heat, except for a space heater. Other operating systems were seasonal: The boat rails, the dock and the water pipe went into the lake every cold April and came back out every cold September.


The Blumenau brothers on maintenance duty, 1981, with the bluff of Keuka Lake’s “Y” in the background.

It might not have been quite as shacky as I make it sound. It never fell over, like a house of cards, and had to be rebuilt.

But it lives in my mind as a place of mothballs, must and mice — regular co-tenants that we would occasionally corner, our sneakers in our hands, and beat to death. A place with a secondhand utilitarian funk I’d never experienced and didn’t much like. A place where what was yellow was left to mellow.

(In fairness, it was also a place where I loved to row a rowboat, chill in an inner tube, clamber up hillsides in search of blackberries, burn marshmallows into blackened goo over a fire, and watch Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola call the Game of the Week on staticky Channel 3 from Syracuse.)

Despite the cottage’s isolated funk — or maybe because of it — my folks were glad to invite friends, relatives, and friends of relatives down to share their newfound getaway. They were never eager to get into the rental game, but guests were welcome.

And, in the summer of 1983, my grandparents and great-grandma joined the roster of guests making the trip down.

They were still living on Hope Street in Stamford then. I’m guessing they came to Rochester and then we drove them the rest of the way to Keuka, rather than force them to navigate the backroads of the Finger Lakes.

I didn’t appreciate the significance of their visit at the time. But now that I’ve thought and written about the rented cottage at Becket, it seems cool and appropriate that my dad would invite his folks (and his grandmother) to the lake.

Like a kind of repayment, or a returned favor … with an element of celebration, too.

You guys introduced me to rustic summer getaways, he might have thought. Now I’m fortunate enough to have one of my own, and I’d like you to come share it. Put your feet up and feel the breeze.

It took a little doing to get them there.

Specifically, you had to climb down a steep old set of concrete steps to get from the road to the cottage. My 96-year-old great-grandma was not denied; slowly, with escorts on all sides, she made it down (and up again).

Here, then, a gallery of pix — some my dad’s, some my grandpa’s — from the Hope Street Blumenaus’ trip to that first cottage on Keuka Lake.

Twenty-plus years past Becket, everyone discovered once again that escape from the world is sometimes the only frill you really need.


My great-grandma and grandma on the pitted concrete porch.


Still life with dock.


Grandma gettin’ in deep. (Note the open toolbox next to the boat. This was a frequent sight.)


Me in the rowboat, dressed for the high seas. My brother fishing (illegally — shhh, don’t tell anybody.) Dad in the water.


View from the porch. Looks like a nice day for a sail.


Always looking for painterly inspiration, my grandpa took a bunch of landscape pix around the lake. Some others appeared in this long-ago post, if you want to see more.


Tom and Huck.

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