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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

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Still life with dock.

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

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

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

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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.

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Tom and Huck.

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Tired of going to the beach yet?

This week, we’re going to follow the Hope Street Blumenaus on vacation again.

This time, they’re headed inland — on one of a series of trips that, I think, would have a lasting influence on my family’s life.

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On the world stage, the first few days of August 1962 are starcrossed.

They will be Nelson Mandela’s last days of freedom for nearly three decades: The South African anti-apartheid activist is arrested Aug. 5 and remains imprisoned until early 1990.

They are also Marilyn Monroe’s last days of life. Sometime on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 4, the screen icon takes a fatal overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.

Drugs also prove the undoing of Tusko, a 14-year-old male elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who dies a seemingly bizarre and unnecessary death on Aug. 3 after researchers inject him with a megadose of LSD. (The researchers were trying to simulate a state of temporary madness that affects male elephants.)

Other matters that will change the world are simmering this week, but not yet ready to break.

CIA Director John McCone is, presumably, gathering evidence this week and building an argument on an important national security matter. On Friday, Aug. 10, McCone will send President Kennedy a memo raising his suspicion that the Soviet Union is putting missiles in Cuba.

Distinguished meteorologist Harry Wexler is looking ahead this week to an upcoming talk about the possible effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. Unfortunately, he won’t get to deliver it: He dies Saturday, Aug. 11, while vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s later suggested that Wexler’s death is a significant setback to the issue of ozone layer depletion; the first scientific papers on the subject are not published until 1974.

And in England, a young man named Pete Best is approaching his two-year anniversary as drummer with the Beatles, one of the most popular “beat” groups on the Liverpool scene and recent recipients of an EMI recording contract. Best will be sacked on Thursday, Aug. 16; none of the rich and often conflicting lore that has arisen around the Beatles suggests that he saw it coming.

In the midst of all this, the Blumenaus of Hope Street, Stamford, Connecticut, are not on Hope Street. They’re getting away from the increasingly crazy world in a little corner of the Berkshires.

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Becket, Massachusetts, is a small town southeast of Pittsfield, near the edge of Berkshire County. (Mapquest puts it at about two hours and 45 minutes from Stamford.)

I’ve not been there that I can recall, but from the sound of things, it’s a nice woodsy place where camps and cottages mingle with artists’ colonies.

In the ’50s and ’60s, a guy with the marvelously euphonious name of Heimo “Hoot” Huhtanen and his wife Olive owned a cottage on Center Lake (a.k.a. Center Pond) in Becket.

My grandmother was an old friend of Olive Huhtanen’s, and through that connection, the Blumenaus of Hope Street sometimes rented the cottage.

From the looks of it, it was no-frills but cozy, with boating, swimming, walking in the woods, and lying in the sun the chief attractions.

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Boating.

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Swimming. (FWIW, these pix are from a visit in the late ’50s sometime, not August 1962. The place didn’t change too much, I don’t think.)

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Walking in the woods. There’s the conical (not comical) sun hat again.

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Lying in the sun. (My grandma is enjoying the collected short stories of John Steinbeck.)

My dad recalls the place thusly:

Yes, Becket was pretty basic.  The terlet was essentially a large porta-potty, which we had to take out to a specific site in the woods every day and empty.  And there was no running water; perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Elaine or me pumping the water.  But it was a great vacation cottage; I loved it.  And the old AM radio could get stations all over the eastern U.S. at night; I specifically remember listening to Albany and Troy stations as a portent of things to come.  Great stone fireplace where Drawing Boy would make a fire and make popcorn.

June 19, 2011: Dads.

Let a man come in and do the popcorn.

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My aunt on pump duty.

I suspect the Huhtanens’ cottage in Becket planted seeds in my dad’s mind regarding the pleasures and relaxing possibilities of a vacation cottage.

In the early 1980s, as a grown man with a family and a corporate job, he bought his own cottage in the Finger Lakes of central New York. He didn’t feel like renting it, so he sought to get as much out of it as he could; and it became a regular part of my family’s summer weekends to spend time at the lake when I was growing up.

(I don’t know if he gave any thought to buying in western Massachusetts. Probably not; it’s too far from Rochester for a relaxing weekend trip.)

A few years later, seeking more comforts and fewer hassles, my folks sold the first cottage and bought a nicer one. And just a year or two ago, they sold up in Rochester and moved to the Finger Lakes full-time.

So, that first week in August 1962 — as well as other, earlier visits to Becket — would shape the next generation of Blumenaus’ routines and experiences.

I didn’t take to roughing it as comfortably as my dad did, and I never enjoyed the place in the Finger Lakes as much as he did. So I don’t have a summer place of my own, either owned or rented.

But my kids have always enjoyed going to see their grandparents at the Finger Lakes. So maybe someday they will get away to a shack on the water, and the tradition of Becket will leap a generation and continue.

The lake in Becket is still there, of course, but the cottage that helped to start all this may be lost to history. My dad, again:

Went back there a few years ago, circled the whole damn lake and couldn’t find the cottage.  Probably just as good; it lives best in my memory!

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It’s still hotter than heck here in eastern Pennsylvania — forecast to reach 90 degrees all but one day this coming week.

As payback, perhaps, for our record-setting snow of January, we’re now getting plenty of summer. Summer enough for everyone.

Well, it says here that our visit to the beach last time around wasn’t nearly long enough. So, like Frankie and Annette, we’re going back.

Except we’re going back a few years earlier, and to a different beach. Perhaps you’ve been to this one. A lot of people have.

Jones Beach Trip

Note the two young ladies in the brochure trying their skill at archery. It is 1958, and Katniss Everdeen has not yet been imagined. Neither have the New York Mets, but the Yanks are sitting pretty in first place.

I’m not sure why the Hope Street Blumenaus went to Jones Beach State Park, on Long Island, when they could have gone to coastal beaches closer to home in Connecticut. (They could also have hitched a ride to Rockaway Beach … though that trip hadn’t been imagined in 1958, either.)

Jones Beach is a draw for people throughout the New York area. According to Wiki, it’s the most-visited beach on the East Coast. To me, that just screams mad crazy hassles with traffic and parking and finding towel-space.

But, sometimes, the biggest tourist spots seem more desirable because they’re so popular. It is only the sourest and most reticent of us (I am looking in the mirror here) who avoid going places because they draw crowds. To many, the place with all the people is the place to be.

Also, a check of the calendar reveals that Aug. 19, 1958, was a Tuesday. My grandpa might not have been quite so thrilled about going to Jones Beach on a summer Saturday. But Tuesday? Sure, that might be a little more manageable and a little less crazy.

So, off went the bridge-and-tunnel Blumenaus to the big city …

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See? The big city. (I’m too slack to figure out which bridge this is, but I’m sure it’s some span whose name lives in regional traffic-report infamy.)

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Jones Beach’s famous water tower, seen through the windshield of the Ford du jour.

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Compare this to what you’d wear to the beach today.

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My grandpa looks like Marcel Proust at a Parisian sidewalk cafe, not a dude at the freakin’ beach. My grandma’s conical sun hat (I said “conical,” not “comical”) is also smart and styled for the season, in adspeak.

Once the Blumenaus of Hope Street finished their travel and food, and finally got to the beach, it appears that they chose a pretty good day to go. Sunny and not too crowded at all.

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The people at far left are fully dressed; everyone else is in beachwear. Maybe a dressing room sits somewhere between the two sides.

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The dude in the barrel is so charming, it’s easy to miss the wave and the “JB” set into the ironwork on the other side of the pole.

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A pic to prove that someone from the Blumenau family actually put on suits and went into the water. My aunt is at the center of the photo, in the yellow swim cap, and my dad is to her right.

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One of potential historic value: Wiki says there used to be two pools at Jones Beach (east and west). The west one is still in operation but the east one is closed. Wonder which one this is? It’s a little crowded at the right-hand side of the photo but it looks like things aren’t too nuts here either.

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One last from the big trip. Of course my grandma and great-grandma stayed clear of the water. My grandma’s smile indicates that she’s perfectly fine with that. They’re sharing a bench with strangers. The family-history buff in me wonders who they are; I wish I could find their grandson or granddaughter on the ‘Net and say, “Hey, you might like to see this picture.”

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