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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

The start of a new year is always a time for hope — whether it has plans and plots behind it (I’ve looked at my budget, and I’ve figured out how I can start saving money for retirement!) or whether it’s simply based on generic optimism (This is going to be my year, I just know it!)

For some portion of us, that hope will be repaid. For others, it will vanish before the month is out.

(I was tempted to write “for most of us, it will vanish before the month is out,” but that seemed exceptionally cynical. Things work out for some people. Who keeps statistics on the pursuance and fulfillment of hope, anyway?)

This installment finds my grandfather at the start of a new year, striking out on a personal project with at least some degree of hope.

Unfortunately, “striking out” seems to have been the operative phrase.

On January 4, 1971, my grandpa made an afternoon visit to the local unemployment office and returned with nothing. (I assume the zero with the dash behind it is a reference to his job search, and not to something else.)

This was not his first visit there — the office is mentioned on calendar entries from the end of 1970, as well. But, maybe the start of a new year rekindled his hope that somebody would be looking for an experienced draftsman.

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A week later, the same thing, only at a different time:

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A week after that, the weather turned cold and crappy. My grandfather made the trudge out anyway, and was rewarded for his persistence with nowt. (The big blue temperature marking only seems like another giant goose egg in this context.)

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One more week of Mondays in January, one more week of sloppy weather, one more week of returning home empty-handed:

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The 1971 calendars say my grandpa made one more fruitless expedition on Monday, February 1, and then — miracle of miracles! — landed an interview on Wednesday, February 10, with a company called Sonic Engineering. (Whether the interview arose from the unemployment office or from my grandpa’s own shoe-leather reading of the help-wanted ads is lost to history.)

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I know very little about Sonic Engineering except: (a) it apparently had an office in Norwalk, a community or two over from Stamford; and (b) it didn’t hire my grandpa.

And after that, the visits to the unemployment office disappear from the calendar, as do any additional references to interviews or jobs. (My grandpa’s heart attack in May of that year put paid to any remaining job-search aspirations.)

Am I trying to rain on the hopes of the new year? Definitely not. As I said, some people’s goals and wishes come true.

Maybe the message is that sometimes, if you don’t get what you want, you end up doing just as well or better in the end.

My grandpa was 60 years old in that first week of 1971. He would only have worked a few more years anyway; I don’t perceive that his life was that much worse because he didn’t. Maybe another job would just have been another source of stress.

He might have liked to have a few more years of paychecks in the bank, just on the general principle that you can never have enough money. Whether he would have spent that money or not is another question. As it happened, he got by without it.

So, hold tight to your New Year’s hopes … but if you don’t get what you have in mind, be flexible and wise enough to move with what you do get. Things have a way of working out.

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I’m having trouble saying goodbye to this year in any coherent way; a stifled retch feels most appropriate, like the sound you make when you’ve emptied your stomach but you’re not done throwing up.

(Setting aside national politics and the deaths of lots of famous people, the Hope Street universe lost a noteworthy person in 2016 — my Great-Aunt Eleanor, the last living member of my grandparents’ generation of the family. That in itself would make it a subpar year. There were other things too.)

Maybe what this year needs to close it out is a good dance. It could be something slow and mournful. Or it could be something fast, for those dancing to forget.

At least one of the Hope Street Blumenaus used to end the calendar year that way, back in the day:

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December 28, 1962.

Assuming the DJ was spinning the hits of the day, the kids at the church dance on Dec. 28, 1962, would have had pretty slim pickings. (“Pepino the Italian Mouse,” anybody?)

At the year-end 1963 dance, the young Methodists of Springdale might have heard something from a certain Liverpool band that was just sneaking onto New York radio and would shortly turn America on its ear. But in 1962, no such radical change was around the corner, and the bland musical interregnum between Chuck Berry and the Beatles was still in force.

It’s hard to anticipate any radical social or personal changes around the corner in 2017, either.

But, who knows? You never see them coming.

So turn out the lights on 2016, find a partner, and we’ll be back to see if next year is any better.

(Keep your hands where the chaperones can see them.)

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On Hope Street, the turbulent year of 1967 came in with fire and went out with ice.

(Granted, there were some pleasant moments in between.)

My earlier post about the Connecticut ice storm of December 1973 is one of the most-read installments in the history of this blog.

So when I learned from my grandpa’s calendar that there was another ice storm in Stamford six years earlier, I figured I’d write about that one too.

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December 11, 1967. Later in the week, just two towns over from Stamford, a child is born who will grow up to be a titanic figure of my college and early-twenties years in New England.

 

If you’ve never heard of the Ice Storm of 1967 … well, there’s a good reason; it turns out that it wasn’t that big a deal.

The New York Times dispensed with it in a 10-paragraph article on page 41 of the Dec. 12 issue, summarizing: “Icy rains pelted the suburbs, snapping power lines.” (The city proper was plagued by blowing, heavy mist and rain, but temperatures stayed above freezing.)

The article singled out classic Tri-State sprawl-spots like Mamaroneck, West Nyack, Ramsey and Nanuet for mention, but didn’t say anything about Connecticut. Presumably that meant there was no news fit to print there.

By the following day, ice had been replaced by what the Good Gray Lady called “muddy fog,” in a story noting that New York had received two-and-a-quarter inches of unseasonable rain in two days’ time. (The author of this shoe-leather mood piece? Future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner J. Anthony Lukas.)

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, ran a one-paragraph brief on page 3 noting that “a sleet storm tore down power lines” in the New York suburbs. This item appeared beneath a similar one-graf news brief noting that the Maui Nukupuu — “a small bird with a large down-curving bill and a tubular tongue for extracting nectar from flowers” — had been spotted in Hawaii for the first time in 71 years.

The relative silence of my grandpa’s calendar suggests that the power stayed on and life went on more or less as usual. The calendar also makes no mention of a day off work, which my grandpa would usually note when heavy weather occasioned it. (Dec. 11 was a Monday.)

I guess, then, that the December 1967 ice storm was nothing epochal. It was just a bump in the road … something to be tolerated amidst the ongoing grind of holiday errands, like retrieving college-age kids, buying Christmas trees and putting up home decorations.

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December 16, 1967.

One hopes the people of Fairfield County tolerated it without too much grumbling. Just a few years later, they would see much worse.

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Once again I begin to run out of things to say and ways to say them … so we will stop briefly in two separate places this week, and leave it at that.

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Just a few days ago I dreamed quite vividly I was on Hope Street again, in my

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Sleeping, 1978. Not on Hope Street but it’ll do.

grandparents’ old house at 1107.

The plot of the dream, such as it was, was farcical. My high school winter track team had been invited to a meet in Stamford, and somehow it’d been decided that about 16 runners were going to save money by bedding down on Hope Street.

(Me and about five others were wedged into the small studio-slash-bedroom where my brother and I used to sleep.)

Even if this had been permissible in real life, it would not have been possible, as my grandparents were gone from Hope Street before I began running winter track.

The setting was not entirely true to life either — a large (totally fictional) aquarium with a small AM radio built in was part of the action, for instance.

And the dream was not entirely pleasant, as much of it revolved around the discomfort of trying to squeeze all these people I knew into this small old house such that they could attempt to sleep, with the resultant fear that they were all going to hate me after their restless night.

But it felt real to be there, and I felt pretty good to be there again, even as I was trying to figure out how to turn off the damn AM radio to get the place quiet enough for bedtime.

I bring this all up, as much as any other reason, because I’ve spent more than five years thinking about my grandparents and Hope Street for the purposes of this blog.

I’ve recalled just about every detail of the now-demolished building — from the location of the cesspool to the medications in the bathroom cabinet. I’ve even recreated a room-by-room walk through the house. I’ve delved into the hearts and minds of the people who lived there, too.

And I’m pretty sure this is the first time in all that time I’ve dreamed about the place.

I buy into the theory that dreams are a sort of funhouse-mirror repository for the things we think about during the day. So, for all the hours I’ve thought about Hope Street, you’d think I’d spend more dreamtime in Stamford.

Or, I dunno — maybe I clear out my Hope Street thoughts so thoroughly via this blog that there isn’t anything left to consider at night.

At any rate, it was nice to be back, even on an overbooked flight, and I look forward to the next time I can punch my ticket there.

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We’ll go here this week, too.

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I have no idea where the hell this actually is: On my thumb drive of my grandpa’s scanned-in slides, my father labeled this photo “Who Knows 38.”

I know it was taken in 1962, most likely in New England someplace. I suspect it was taken as possible inspiration for a future painting, though I don’t recall ever seeing one that looks like it.

Beyond that I have no idea. Sunrise? Sunset? Spring? Late autumn? Your guess is as good as mine.

I lean toward sunrise, because the sky has none of the colors of sunset; and autumn, just ’cause that’s what time it is now.

The people on this farm (we’ll say it’s in western Massachusetts, or one of the more rural precincts of Connecticut) are already up and doing the salt-of-the-earth farm-grind thing.

They did it yesterday and will do it again tomorrow. It wears on them some, and sometimes they daydream about what life would be like without it, but it’s what they know, and it’s what they do.

At least, that’s my suburban-snobby guess of what’s going on in this picture. I have no dirt under my fingernails; it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong.

Who knows? It’s even possible that last night, someplace in America, a grown man dreamed nostalgically of finding himself back in that long-gone barn again.

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I have previously mentioned the young girls with rakes and faces but no names.

They had names then, of course, and friends and schoolbooks and favorite candy bars and maybe posters on the wall.

But they passed through the history of Hope Street — this history of Hope Street, anyway — without anyone writing their names down. They do not seem to have made it onto my grandpa’s calendar, for instance.

Here at my computer in the autumn of 2016 they are only images on a thumbdrive of my grandpa’s old photos … one-dimensional children in short-sleeved T-shirts in the tall fall grass, doing a neighborly favor.

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(Did they shiver and complain about their lot in life? No. Most likely they were quite comfortable.)

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I imagine they were my grandparents’ next-door neighbors, possibly even from the light-colored house in the rear of the photo above. (The folks on the other side of my grandparents had a son my dad’s age.)

If I had a 1975 city directory at my fingertips, I could probably find out their names, or their parents’, quickly enough.

I also imagine their house disappeared in the same condominium sweep that tore down my grandparents’. I wonder if they have been back to Hope Street lately, or if there is nothing for them there.

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If you’re reading this post, you already know the backstory. My grandfather suffered a heart attack in 1971 that required him to scale back his household activities as much as possible.

The house at 1107 Hope Street had a good-sized back yard and a lot of trees. Raking all those leaves would have been one of those jobs my grandpa looked to outsource, either to professional yardsmiths or neighborhood urchins.

How many years of help did my grandpa get from the girls next door? Maybe not many. The older one, especially, looks to be approaching the age where she can invent plausible other things to do besides squatting in the grass to clean up somebody else’s yard.

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Of course I wonder where they are now, and what they are doing. It is that time of year, after all.

Perhaps they have kids who are bracing to spend the coming weekends with rakes in their hands (though some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the girls in these photos are probably empty-nesters already. Time does fly.)

Perhaps they have grown into the sort of people who refuse to dirty their hands with leaves, and hire yard companies to do the work. “I’ve bagged enough leaves for one lifetime,” they sniff.

Or maybe, in a different lawn with different trees in a different state, they are still at it. Perhaps they even enjoy it. Maybe, for reasons they can’t quite remember, it reminds them of good deeds and hard work well-appreciated.

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