Archive for the ‘family’ Category

My dad was a semi-pro musician during his high school and college years (and after), and this activity shows up regularly on the early years of my grandpa’s monthly calendars.

I’ve written before about my dad putting phantom “jobs” on the calendar as a way to claim the family’s only car on a weekend night.

Lest anyone think he was just a schemer, we’ll go in the other direction this week, and write about one long-ago late-summer Saturday when he worked his arse off.

(As much as playing music for money can be considered working, that is.)


August 22, 1964. Yanks split a doubleheader; Mets lose.

Just to set the scene: At the time of this calendar entry, my dad is 21 and a few weeks away from heading off to his senior year of college at RPI.

He’s got his own car by this point — the infamous Shrimp Boat. And he needs it to fulfill this busy agenda:

-First comes an 11 a.m. wedding at North Stamford Congregational Church  (now North Stamford Community Church), where my dad was a substitute summer organist during the summers of 1962 through ’64. Three summers later, my parents would be married there.

-Next up is a wedding from 1-5 p.m. in Fairfield, about 18 miles up the coast from Stamford. While the first job of the day would have involved church organ, my dad is fairly sure he played tenor sax for this one. I’m guessing he was playing the reception, not the wedding itself.

(The timing between an 11 a.m. gig and a 1 p.m. gig seems awfully tight. My dad was apparently counting on the Shrimp Boat, and everybody else, not to break down on I-95.)

-Finally, my dad drove about 10 miles back down the coast for a 6-10 p.m. gig, again on tenor sax, at Chatham Oaks, a long-established banquet facility and catering hall in Norwalk. No doubt a beer or two kept the tunes flowing.

“Joe” on the calendar was local bandleader Joe Denicola; you’ve met him and his bandmates (including the immortal Shaves the Drummer) in this space before.

My dad was not in the habit of packing his days so tightly, and in fact was surprised when I told him about this calendar entry:

I thought I remembered the only triple-header I ever did, which was in 1962 and started at Springdale Methodist Church with their fair. But apparently I did it again in 1964.

This was pretty tightly scheduled; playing two 4-hour gigs plus a wedding service within 11 hours with maybe 25-30 miles between each gig is no mean feat!  And if it was really 8 hours on tenor sax, wow …  I can’t do 20 minutes now.  Ah, to be young!

As you can imagine, my dad was well-rewarded for his long day:

I think a safe number is between $75 and $100 total.  I remember a number of $25/gig.  Organ for wedding service might well have brought a little more.  But gas was 25 cents/gallon, cigarettes were 25 cents/pack, and a 6-pack of the Schaefer or Rheingold was around $1!  This was a good day’s work for a 21-year-old, make no mistake about it!  Minimum wage was around $1.25/hour.  I think I was making $1.40 – $1.50/hour at Parker Instruments that summer, so it’s a given that I brought home more that day than I had for the whole previous 40-hour work week.

Some of the other specific details of the gigs — like the exact event being celebrated from 6 to 10 — are lost to history.

Still, the calendar tells the story of a footloose young man with a song in his heart and a willingness to travel.

Or something like that.


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For Richard Nixon, August 1974 was the month when he finally reaped what he’d sown long before.

My grandpa (a Nixon voter) spent that month doing pretty much the same thing.

Except, instead of calumny and disgrace, he had his hands full harvesting a much happier crop:



August 10, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win.

My grandfather’s calendar entries from early 1974 (such as this one) indicated he had his mind set on a serious year of gardening. He had his eyes on the seed catalogs in February, and he got an early start.

And in August — just after Nixon shuffled off to California in disgrace and Gerald Ford took office — my grandpa began to reap the benefits of his work and attention.

On Aug. 10 — the first day on the calendar that specifically mentions tomatoes — he harvested a dozen, weighing more than seven pounds. On the next day, a Sunday, the haul continued under sunny skies:


August 11, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win. Again.

Two days later was his 64th birthday, and he marked it with three more tomatoes weighing a pound and a quarter.

By the end of that week, he’d harvested 18 more tomatoes weighing more than nine pounds. The week after that (Aug. 18-24), he took 82 tomatoes weighing roughly 40 pounds.

(Just how big was his patch? I don’t remember it being that big. But he had a decent-size yard to work with. And in this period of time, he seems to have dedicated himself to working with it.)

My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve moved to a new place the following week, which called my grandpa out of town. He made up for it upon returning, picking a one-day record number of tomatoes:


August 30, 1974. Mets and Yanks both win. President Ford meets Woody Hayes.

The harvest continued at a slightly slower pace into September. In fact, you could technically say it continued into the fall, as the last tomato-related entry shows up a day after the autumnal equinox. (It’s slightly unclear on which day the tomatoes actually got picked, but it doesn’t matter at this distance.)


September 23-24, 1974. Mets lose. Yankees are swept in a doubleheader, knocking them out of first place, which they will not regain. President Ford meets Bart Starr.

Actually, I take that comment back about the last tomato-related calendar entry: On Oct. 2, the calendar records “100 green T.” Ever thrifty, my grandpa, and not one to let possibly usable tomatoes wither on the vine.

And at the end of October, he did the math and summarized the season’s take:


October 1974. It is entirely possible my grandpa picked his own weight in tomatoes between Aug. 10 and Oct. 2.

If there’s a downside to this run of calendar entries, it’s that my grandmother almost certainly couldn’t make a marinara, Bolognese or puttanesca sauce worthy of the name.

The idea of all those garden-fresh tomatoes makes the mind reel with recipes, most of them involving olive oil and garlic … but, most likely, the season’s bounty was either eaten raw or put up in jars.

No matter. I’m sure every one of those 347 tomatoes was enjoyed, for flavor, for thrift, and for health.

And I imagine Richard Nixon — ailing and stuck in San Clemente — would have given what little he had that summer and fall to swap harvests with my grandpa.

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I’m imagining the cuckoo clock at 1107 Hope Street counting down the minutes, as the occupants of the house sit quietly locked into small tasks — peeling potatoes, washing dishes, reading Time magazine.

I’d love to imagine them doing something more interesting or significant. Unfortunately, in this week’s post, the silence is the story.


July 1970. The Mets spend the month in first place. The Yankees start it in second, but drop to third.

There are very few months on my grandpa’s 15 years of surviving calendars where he does not make his presence known.

I’ve mentioned that May and June 1971 were slow months for calendar entries, and for good reason. My grandpa’s heart attack at the start of May laid him up for a while. He wasn’t keeping lots of outside appointments, except with the doctor, and he apparently lost his usual interest in the weather.

July 1970, shown above, was another slow month. Almost half of the days are completely blank. Many others are close to it.

And on some days — such as the 8th, the 19th, 22nd and 23rd — the writing appears to be my grandmother’s, not my grandfather’s. He’s not much in effect until the very last week of the month, when he turns in the kinds of entries that I’ve come to identify as much more his style.

Of course, I wonder why he was so quiet.

I haven’t read day-by-day through the month’s newspapers, but a look at Wikipedia suggests July 1970 was a quiet month on the national scene. No space flights, no assassinations, no increases in the cost of postage, and none of the other stuff that used to make it onto calendars.

I know there were fewer people in the house to generate calendar entries. My dad had long since married and moved out, while my Aunt Elaine — not yet finished with grad school — was apparently in California. You’ll note a visit from Rod and Lynn — my as-yet-childless folks — from the 9th through the 12th, and a phone call from Elaine in Palo Alto on the 19th.


That doesn’t explain the near-complete absence of weather, appointments, gasoline prices, long-distance phone calls, church events, meals out, and the million other things my grandpa used to write down, though.

I know he was still working at John McAdams and Sons in Norwalk in the summer of 1970. So he wasn’t out of town all those days in July; he was home and on duty.

(His entries near the end of the month mention a vacation, which we’ve written about before.)

I concocted a theory that John McAdams and Sons had told my grandpa in advance about their plans to let him go at the end of the summer, and the news had depressed him to such an extent that he’d lost interest in his daily routines for a while.

But I don’t think that’s a realistic read. My grandfather was committed to providing for his family, but he wasn’t a wage slave.

It’s also possible that my grandpa was in a funk for no particular reason. I didn’t know him to be depressive, but we can all land there sometimes, and maybe he did.

(His description of the Fourth of July holiday as “CLOUSY” could be interpreted in that direction. It was common for him to note rainy, overcast or depressing weather in straight descriptive terms; it was less common for him to pass any kind of judgment on it.)

All I know for certain is, whatever stilled his hand in July 1970 wasn’t there before or after. I guess that’s a good thing.




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These calendar entries of my grandfather’s aren’t just windows into what was.

From time to time, they’re glimpses into what wasn’t — things that could have become part of the family history, but didn’t in the end.

We’ve looked at the Rambler he didn’t buy, the retirement village he didn’t move into, and the lottery ticket that didn’t make him a millionaire. (More than one of those, actually.)

We’ve got another one of those entries this week featuring an institution that could have been part of the Blumenau family warp and weave, but didn’t make the cut.

Join us in the old Ford, then, on another steaming hot New England summer day. We’re going to visit a college:


July 17 and 18, 1964. Yanks split two. Mets lose two, the latter in sickening fashion. The 4 Seasons are at Number One, but the Beatles have a hot new one on its way up. Rod’s skin is still around today, with Rod in it, so the tests of the 17th must have come out OK.

Google Maps today shows the University of New Hampshire at three hours and fifty minutes away from Stamford, even with an accident in Hartford and a battalion of work crews blocking the way. Either the highways of 1964 weren’t what they are today, or similar long-ago impediments got in my grandpa’s way.

This was my aunt’s trip, so I’ll turn to her to lay out the basic information:

Yes, I visited the University of New Hampshire in the summer of 1964. I was interested in the education program there, so Drawing Boy, your grandma, and a friend who was also interested in the school took a ride there to check it out. I recall the campus was beautiful!

My friend wound up going to UNH and the New England setting was great for her skiing enthusiasm. I chose Southern Connecticut State because I was looking for more urban education programs.

I couldn’t tell you if it was the best choice, but it was the right choice at the time! As I have said previously, college choice was not the huge deal then that it is now!

(As the parent of a soon-to-be high school senior, I can attest that college choice is indeed a huge deal now, and will only get huger between now and next March or so. Maybe I am making too much of it.)

What did my aunt miss by not going to UNH from 1965-69? Let’s see:
– A mob of 2,000 students pelted 20 pacifists with eggs.
– Sargent Shriver spoke on campus, telling students: “There is only one war and we are all in it. It is the same war in Watts as it is in Vietnam. … The war for human dignity and human rights is going on everywhere.”
– Also speaking at UNH: Labor leader Walter Reuther; U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse; poet Stephen Spender; political theorist Hannah Arendt; and socially active priest Father James Groppi.
– Performers on campus included the Shirelles, cellist Janos Starker, and the Juilliard String Quartet.
– The hockey team was pretty good; the football team won some and lost some.
– The Public Service Company of New Hampshire announced plans to build one of New England’s first nuclear power plants in Newington, about seven miles from Durham. (The plan was shelved, then resuscitated in the early ’70s farther down the coast in Seabrook. It became the site of extensive anti-nuclear protests.)
– People attending UNH during that time included Carlton Fisk; future New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill; actor Michael Ontkean, who played on the hockey team; college football coach George O’Leary; and television producer Marcy Carsey.

(Some of the above info comes from Wiki, while other tidbits come from back issues of the Granite, the UNH yearbook, helpfully digitized by the university library. The rant that opens the 1967 yearbook, in particular, is a hoot — though it probably hits home to the members of the Class of ’67.)

After graduating from Southern Connecticut State, my aunt went to grad school at Boston University. I eventually chose to go to BU as well.

Since that visit in July of 1964, the closest the University of New Hampshire has come to being part of the Blumenau family story has been to serve as the target of boos and jeers at the BU hockey games I attended long ago.


I’m scheduled to go back to New England in a few weeks for — yup — a couple of college visits. UNH is not on the agenda, so it looks like another generation of Blumenaus is passing up whatever charms it has to offer.

As I tour the various campuses, I’ll be wondering in the back of my mind which one becomes part of the family’s life, and which ones will end up as a footnote many years from now.

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Rather than one long disquisition this week, we’ll make a couple of stops, beginning with a subject we touched on last time around.

My post on the Pink Tent Festival, an annual arts festival held in downtown Stamford’s Mill River Park in the ’60s and ’70s, raised but did not answer the question of whether my grandpa ever had his paintings displayed there.

A little more calendar digging suggests he did:


June 24, 1974. Mets win, Yanks lose, Phillies in first (what?)

“Koreen” was a family nickname for my grandma, Corine.

Longtime readers will recognize that June 24, 1974, would have been a birthday ending in five or zero for her … hence the dinner out at Chimney Corners, which longtime readers might also remember hearing about.

But what catches my eye here is the mention of “art delivery” at the Pink Tent trailer at two points during the day. (While I didn’t take a pic, the adjoining calendar entry for June 30 mentions “art pickup.”)

I’m taking that to mean that my grandpa must have had a painting or two on exhibit at a significant local arts festival, since he had art dropoff and pickup marked on his calendar.

That’s pretty cool. My grandfather flew the flag for the enthusiastic (and not unskilled) amateur, and I’m glad to know that an event like Pink Tent had space for the likes of him alongside more commercially successful artists.

I also enjoy the thought of thousands of culture-minded Stamfordites strolling through the festival, taking a look at his work, regardless of what they thought of it.

What’s more, I remember that his year-end roundup of art expenses for 1974 mentions two art sales. I wonder if either of them took place at Pink Tent? Maybe he picked up less than he dropped off.

Cool, anyway.

# # # # #

From there, we’ll make two more stops over the following weeks, just for giggles.

The first will be the Fourth of July, which landed on a Thursday that year (making for a super-convenient, beer-soaked, heat-stroked four-day holiday weekend):


July 4, 1974. Mets win, Yanks split a doubleheader, Phillies already back down to third place.

This is what a Fourth of July is supposed to be. It’s wretchedly hot, there’s fireworks, and there’s a picnic of some sort.

(The “J’s” were my maternal grandparents, who also lived in Stamford. There must have been a big family get-together over there, probably full of corn and burgers and macaroni salad. Indeed, I feel full of corn and burgers and macaroni salad just thinking about it.)

And finally, the end of the vacation:


July 8, 1974. Mets and Yanks win; Phillies in second.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day (I sometimes write these entries a week or two in advance.)

While days like Father’s Day tend to focus on Life-Changing Teachings and Formative Moments, this entry strikes me as one of the thousands of smaller-scale times when fathers (and mothers) earn their stripes.

We’re looking at a more than six-hour interstate road trip in a big hot car with two little kids, one three-and-a-half years old, the other just turned one. I don’t know how gracefully my parents got through it, but they did, and that’s as much a credit to them as any Big Lesson they conveyed.

Perhaps my grandpa watched them leave and remembered when he’d been the boss of similar trips, back in the day … and he wondered how the boy in his back seat had gotten to be thirty-plus years old with two kids of his own.

Or maybe he just went back inside and opened a cold bottle of 7-Up and thought, “Damn, it’s hot.”

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