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I really only wrote this post so I could use the word “Mamaroneck.”

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June 13, 1973. Mets and Yankees win. The Yanks are in first, but it’s a dogfight.

Some aficionados of New York City delight in the neighborhoods, nooks and crannies of the city proper. They can tell you exactly where Gerritsen Beach is, or the pleasures to be found in New Dorp, or the right combination of public transportation to take to get to Maspeth.

I’ve always been kinda ambivalent about New York City itself. Plus, I’ve had some of the happier times of my life in the suburbs of big cities — whether it was visiting Stamford as a kid, or living and working in the western suburbs of Boston as a young man.

(If you buy Rochester, N.Y., as a “big city,” you could say I spent my entire childhood pleasantly in that mode as well — identifying with the city, reading and watching its news, listening to its radio stations, but from a distance.)

So I’m not that attached to New York City proper.

No, my interest lies with that sweeping, humming, densely populated region called the Tri-State Area … all those bedroom communities whose names bespeak both a close attachment to the big city, and a certain separation from it.

They’re places that got blacked out in ’65. Places where people drive — or drove — station cars. Places where generations of fiction writers have set their comedies (or, perhaps more often, tragedies) of manners. Places sufficiently caught up in New York’s sprawl that their own names have attained a certain amount of familiarity as well.

Places like Secaucus, and Pound Ridge, and New Canaan, and Scarsdale (whose name I cannot hear without thinking, “Where the hell am Iiiii?”), and Englewood Cliffs, and Pelham, and Tenafly, and Massapequa …

… and, yes, Mamaroneck.

I don’t actually know anything about Mamaroneck; I’ve certainly never been there. I have a vague sense of how to pronounce it (heavy on the second syllable), and I know it’s in the Holy Sprawl someplace, and I figure there’s probably a commuter rail station there.

(There is, Wiki says. There’s also a well-known golf course. The town is in southern Westchester County, on the water, and Google Maps says it’s about 25 minutes from Stamford in Sunday-night traffic on Route 95.)

I’ve written before about the various painting and drawing classes my grandfather took, especially following his retirement in 1971.

Bob Calrow was a Connecticut-based watercolorist who taught a number of the painting classes my grandfather took. He was apparently very good: This August 1973 article from a Tri-State Area newspaper mentions that Calrow had won 50 prizes for his work in the previous four years. (You can see Calrow’s name mentioned in several of the images here.)

In October of that year, the New York Times noted that Calrow would be leading an educational painting trip to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas near year’s end. I can’t imagine my grandpa gave an expedition like that any serious thought, but I wonder if the idea tempted him at all.

Anyway, getting back to the calendar entry at hand, my grandpa probably headed out to Mamaroneck to check out his well-known teacher’s work in person and maybe mingle for a minute or two. Perhaps there were other artists on display whose work he found instructive as well.

Since my grandpa hadn’t even met his second grandson yet, he didn’t realize he was feeding his second grandson’s geography jones.

Sure was thoughtful of him, though.

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It’s that time of year when high school kids wrap up a lot of the year’s business. Calendars are full of AP exams; proms; musicals; championships in various athletic and intellectual competitions; and like that.

This week we return to an end-of-year ritual that, while relatively new at the time, might have felt to its participants awfully like old news:

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May 8, 1964. The Mets win. So do the Yankees, beating a young, unknown, but strong-armed and healthy Cleveland Indians pitcher named Tommy John.

My dad apparently won the Masters this week, because he got a green jacket delivered to him … but that’s not the subject of this post.

The weather was remarkable, and not just in Stamford. Tornadoes damaged Midway Airport in Chicago and killed 12 people in Michigan. But that’s not what we’re focused on this week either.

No, my aunt’s writing at the top of this week’s calendar entry is what we’re interested in. I don’t know if she was participating in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” or just wanted to go to support friends, but it was prominent enough on her social agenda to mark on the family calendar.

(I would guess that she was just watching the show, because if she were participating, the whole family would have gone to support her, and then my grandpa would have marked it on the calendar. But I’m just spitballing with that.)

“Bye Bye Birdie,” for those unfamiliar with the plot, is based loosely on the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army in the 1950s.

In the musical, flamboyant young rock singer Conrad Birdie gives “one last kiss” as a publicity stunt to a randomly selected all-American girl on The Ed Sullivan Show just before being inducted. This event precipitates all manner of chaos into the lives of Birdie’s manager; the girl; her boyfriend and family; and others.

This pop-culture confection, introduced on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera in lead roles, was a Tony Award-winning sensation. A movie adaptation starring Ann-Margret hit paydirt too, becoming the most popular movie in America for four weeks in April and May of 1963.

But something happened between May of ’63 and May of ’64. Specifically, a little something called the Beatles.

John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in the U.S. in January and February of 1964, and in no time at all, they owned American charts and minds.

During the week this musical was staged — presumably at Stamford’s old Rippowam High School — New York City’s WABC (“W-A-Beatle-C”) listed three Beatles tunes in its top 20. Just a month before, the Fab Four had attained the legendary feat of holding down the top five spots on Billboard’s national chart in the same week.

Elvis, in contrast, had simmered down considerably since his release from the Army in 1960. He’d starred in forgettable movies like Fun in Acapulco and It Happened At The World’s Fair, and he’d released a series of toothless (if sometimes successful) singles that lacked the rebellious punch of old.

That makes me wonder if “Bye Bye Birdie” had a bit of a faded feeling about it to its teenage participants in May 1964.

Wiggling hips? Sneering? A U.S. Army draft notice? Maybe your older sister got worked up about such quaintnesses. The real heartthrob action on every teen’s mind in May ’64 spoke with working-class English accents and bore no obligation to Lyndon Johnson’s Army. (Nor the Queen’s, either.)

As it turned out, time would be merciful to both “Bye Bye Birdie” and Elvis.

Less than two weeks after the Stamford performance of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the once and future King proved he wasn’t washed up by releasing Viva Las Vegas, the vibrant and energetic high point of his post-Army film career. (In a mild irony, the female lead who brought out his best performance was Ann-Margret.)

And, despite the eventual fading of Elvis, “Bye Bye Birdie” managed to survive through the years as a staple of the teenage musical repertoire. The young thespians of Rippowam — it’s a middle school now — put on an age-appropriate version of “Bye Bye Birdie” as their spring musical just a year ago. Elvis’ induction into the Army is ancient history now, but apparently, the tunes are timeless.

I’m not sure any of that could be predicted in the specific window of time we’re visiting this week, though.

I wonder if the folks who’d written “Bye Bye Birdie” were looking out upon a Beatle-obsessed nation and thinking, “Well, it was a fun ride while it lasted.”

And, I’m imagining an auditorium full of teens sitting through the fictionalized story of Elvis … then stepping out into the still-humid night, starting up their cars, rolling down the windows, and singing along to the radio with a single voice:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

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April 30, 1971, is a Friday. It’s the end of another work week, and as the year hits one-third finished, people stop and wonder where all the time’s going.

In the national headlines, President Nixon signals an interest in visiting China, while Americans await the imminent launch of a new national passenger rail service, Amtrak. (China is much in the news: The covers of both Time and Life magazines feature pictures and stories about a U.S. ping-pong team whose visit to the country indicated a developing thaw in relations.)

It’s a travel day for the president, though not to Peking just yet. Nixon takes breakfast at the White House with former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, then flies to California and eats dinner in San Clemente with the president of Reader’s Digest.

“Summer of ’42” is in movie theaters, as is Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” concert movie, whose ads promote “All Elements of the Truth Captured Live On Film.” On TV, the post-Diana Ross Supremes appear on David Frost’s show, while Fred Astaire visits Johnny Carson and Don Meredith stops in on Mike Douglas.

This being the ’70s, the sounds on the radio are a wild ragbag of the sacred and the profane (“Put Your Hand In The Hand” next to “One Toke Over The Line”), the raging and the conciliatory (“Eighteen” next to “We Can Work It Out”), and the disposable and the eternal (make your own calls here.)

In basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks win their first NBA title. In baseball, the Mets and Yankees both win, and the Mets close out April in first place in the National League East, a game in front of the Montreal Expos. Sportswriters are reporting that New Orleans — with its proposed Superdome — and Honolulu have moved ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth as the favored cities to obtain major-league baseball teams through relocation or expansion.

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April 30, 1971.

Of course, you know how these posts work; you’re just waiting for me to dial the focus in on 1107 Hope Street and, in particular, its head of household.

It seems to be a fairly quiet day for my grandfather. He’s not working. The only event that passes muster to be recorded on his calendar is a phone call to Boston, where my aunt is going to grad school.

My aunt’s car, which was still registered to my grandpa, had been stolen and then recovered two weeks before. It appears the call had something to do with that.

My aunt was also scheduled to graduate in two weeks’ time, so maybe they spent some time talking about commencement arrangements too.

# # # # #

Whatever those arrangements were, they would not come to pass.

April 30, 1971, turned out to be a historic day for my grandpa, for reasons not anticipated and not shown on his calendar.

The next day he had a heart attack that laid him up for a while. As my dad has commented here, it changed my grandpa’s personality and approach to life. He became more relaxed, and less likely to get wound up by daily details.

That change didn’t happen instantly, of course; but you could argue that April 30, 1971, was the last day that Bill Blumenau approached the world in the way he had become accustomed to approaching it. After that, life required something different of him.

The heart attack also officially ended his working years. He’d been semi-sorta-retired before it; he was retired after it.

If you roughly divide my grandpa’s life into periods — we’ll call them Boy, Teenager, Young Workingman and Family Man — April 30, 1971, could be seen as his last day as a Family Man … the last day of that swath of years in which he brought home a paycheck (or wanted to) and provided for a household with kids.

(My dad was already out of the house, married with a kid of his own, by April 1971. My aunt’s impending graduation and entry into the real world also signaled that the family years at 1107 Hope Street were coming to an end.)

The bright side — at least seen in retrospect — is that the transition to a new phase of life ended up working out pretty well. My grandfather lived 29 more years. He met three more grandchildren and a great-grandchild. He painted. He grew tomatoes. He drove to the grocery store. He watched the Buffalo Bills on the television. He took things easy.

So if there’s anything to be learned from April 30, 1971, it’s probably the obvious:

  • The status quo can take a hard left turn on any day. Today could be your April 30, 1971. (Or mine.) So take time to be thankful for those ruts, routines, abilities and daily experiences that favor you.
  • When life does change, it’s not always for the worse, so keep your eyes open, be patient and try to adapt.

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The second episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “One For The Angels,” tells the story of a salesman who outwits Death and saves a child by delivering the sales pitch of a lifetime.

It’s not the most incisive half-hour Rod Serling ever scripted, but it’s fondly remembered, largely due to Ed Wynn’s charming performance in the main role.

This week’s installment of Hope Street — starring my dad — makes me think of that long-ago episode. (There’s a Rod Serling connection in this tale, too, which we’ll get back to in a few hundred words.)

My father is not a salesman by trade, and I don’t expect he could tie up the Grim Reaper in knots of argument.

But 30 years ago, he dedicated himself to the biggest sales pitch of his life — convincing his elderly parents and grandmother to leave their home of 40-plus years and move to a wintry, unfamiliar region in a different state.

Damned if he didn’t pull it off.

Because my grandfather saved much of the correspondence, the story can be retold in detail. (It says something that my grandpa saved these letters. He must have been impressed. Touched, even.)

This week, then, we’ll open the envelope and revisit the sales pitch we’ll call the Rochester Letters.

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By the early ’80s, my grandparents’ home at 1107 Hope Street in Stamford, Connecticut, was showing its age. Bringing it up to date would have required more money than my grandparents could spend.

The residents of 1107 Hope were also starting to show their age. My grandpa was in his 70s and had had two heart attacks, while my great-grandmother was almost 100 and still climbing a steep flight of stairs to and from her room each day.

It couldn’t last as a living arrangement. And finally, the time came when it didn’t.

In the fall of 1984, my grandparents signed a sales agreement with a developer that had plans to demolish old single-family homes and build condos in their place.

In return for a good payout, they agreed to be out of the house by April 15 of the following year, so the builders could begin their work.

(A curious coincidence: April 15, 1985, was my family’s deadline to leave the house on Hope Street. As previously announced, the last post on the Hope Street blog will be the week of April 15, 2015 — exactly 30 years later. I had no idea about that when I picked the date. Cue the Twilight Zone music…)

My grandparents talked about moving elsewhere in Connecticut — to the nearby city of Danbury, or up the coast to the town of Clinton.

But as weeks passed, they didn’t seem to be coming to any decisions or taking any firm action. That concerned my dad.

Starting in November, his letters began to reflect a common thread: Move to Rochester, and we’ll find you a nice house and take care of you.

Consider these excerpts dated Nov. 16, 1984. My dad acknowledges my grandparents’ concerns, like weather, taxes and distance from friends and family …

Click any of these to read larger.

Click any of these images to read larger.

… and then tries to rebut them.

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That last theme — you cared for me; I’ll care for you — shows up a few times in the Rochester Letters. This angle was sentimental enough to hook my grandma, but logical enough to appeal to my grandpa’s German-American ideals of fair play and obligation.

I don’t know if my dad really felt that deeply in debt for his upbringing, but — speaking as a communications professional — I find it an effective piece of messaging.

0109852changeddiapersAs December passed — and my grandma fell on some ice and broke her wrist — my dad kept pushing back against the inevitable pushback.

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And, to set the wheels in motion, my parents began working with a realtor to identify homes that might appeal to my grandparents. The Rochester area has a respectable stock of affordable small ranches and Capes, so it wasn’t hard to find suitable places.

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December 21, 1984.

Christmas ’84 was a pivotal point in the Rochester Letters. My grandparents still hadn’t been swayed to Rochester, but weren’t moving in any other direction either. Apparently, they were even starting to think that they might use my grandmother’s injury as an excuse to buy more time.

Some of the strongest-worded and most affecting messages of the Rochester Letters date to the final days of that year.

Dec26841Dec26842That approach must have lit at least some sort of fire under my grandparents, because the correspondence of January 1985 finds the push toward Rochester gaining some momentum.

My dad recapped his earlier statements that western New York is not the Arctic wasteland it’s sometimes thought to be …

"Winters up here are overstated."

“Winters up here are overstated.”

… and also repeated the notion that he and his family were ready to help in case of any emergency:

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Health care was a major part of my dad’s argument — and it might have been around this time that he made a spoken faux pas that could have derailed all the work of the Rochester Letters.

During a phone call, my dad was reiterating the point that Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital has a well-regarded cardiac care department. Trying to bolster his argument, he cited a famous son of western New York who had come to Strong in his hour of greatest need.

“Oh, yeah, they’re famous for their heart care,” my dad said. Rod Serling died there.

I can still hear my mom’s appalled gasp at that one. But thankfully, one misstep didn’t quash the entire effort.

From my grandparents’ perspective, the fact that famous people went to Strong for heart care seems to have outweighed the fact that not all of them walked out afterward.

That might have helped the breakthrough in January, when my dad finally got my grandmother to fly to Rochester and see some houses. (It might have been her only plane trip. My grandfather, who stayed behind with my great-grandma, was never known to have flown.)

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January 17, 1985.

And, building on that breakthrough, my dad poured on the family messaging:

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

By my dad’s recollection, my grandma saw only a few houses during her quick trip to New York. It only took one to win her over — a small yellow house on Lynnwood Drive in the suburban town of Brighton.

She liked it enough to convince my grandpa to buy the place sight unseen. I was press-ganged into action, along with family and friends, to make all manner of improvements to the place in a hurry, from laying new insulation in the crawlspace to repainting the big central room.

In the spring of 1985, the sales pitch of the Rochester Letters came to a triumphant conclusion as my grandparents and great-grandma moved into a new home in a new town.

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On the back deck in Brighton, summer 1991. My grandpa the keeper of the calendars is in the red shirt; his wife is in the red-blue-and-white shirt. The other older lady is my other grandma, who had also settled in Rochester by then … but that’s another story.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of '91. Winters up here are overstated.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of ’91. Winters up here are overstated.

My grandparents’ life in Brighton went just about as well as my dad predicted it would.

My grandparents were a regular presence in the lives of my brother and I as we were growing up. My folks’ social network welcomed them, giving them connections and opportunities to get out and mingle when they wanted to.

My family handled heavy lifting and home maintenance, while my grandpa got to plant his garden and do tinkering chores that kept him content.

I don’t know whether my grandpa was ever treated at Strong Memorial Hospital, or whether he benefited from the heart specialists there. But I think that being relieved of major housework, and knowing he had family nearby to help with any need, did his heart a lot of good.

The Rochester Letters did not beat the Reaper, then, but perhaps they bought a few years of his absence.

As sales pitches go, they don’t come much better than that … not outside the Twilight Zone, anyway.

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A little thematic music … but whatever you do, don’t dance.

To steal a phrase from the Mennonites, I consider myself to have been in the Eighties, but not of the Eighties.

Growing up in that decade, I spent most of it wanting to be somewhere else. Most of my cultural choices in my pre-teen and teenage years (long hair, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Saturday Night Fever and Midnight Cowboy, to name a few) evinced a desire to escape.

I couldn’t avoid the popular culture of my youth, though.

For instance, I was still listening to Top 40 radio (the late, unlamented WMJQ-92 in Rochester) when the movie Footloose hit big in 1984, dragging a whole raft of hit songs along with it.

The movie told the unlikely but apparently true story of an Oklahoma town that banned dancing, with Kevin Bacon (not yet a pop-culture in-joke) starring as the big-city drop-in who broke the elders’ grip on their children’s hips.

Sounds dopey now — and indeed, I think it was kinda dopey then — but it made its mark on People Of A Certain Age, even those who wished they were somewhere else.

I had to think of Footloose, and all the related Eighties baggage, when I saw this week’s calendar entry:

March 4, 1961.

March 4, 1961.

I dunno what was going on in the red print — something about birthday cards, gifts and Time magazine.

Instead, I concentrated on the black print, which says something about my dad the teenage musician having a gig (“Job”) but stipulating that the gig involved “no dancing.”

I found that curious for reasons having nothing to do with Kevin Bacon.

Stamford and its environs are not particularly fundamentalist, and certainly not the sort of places to prevent people from shaking their tail feathers.

Inevitably, I had to wonder: Where was this gig, and why did the musicians hired in advance know that people wouldn’t be dancing?

And what did it matter to my dad? Did his preparations for the gig somehow change, based on whether or not people would be cutting the rug? Did he have to adjust his musical phrasing to be as corny and square as possible, to discourage any would-be jivers from taking the floor?

I asked my dad, and not surprisingly, he was unable to recall this specific gig at almost 55 years’ distance. Nor did he recall why Terpsichore was not a welcome guest.

He did come up with one interesting suggestion based on the calendar entry. In those days, he sometimes brought musical “fake books” to gigs, to help him navigate unexpected and unfamiliar tunes. If he knew in advance there was not going to be any dancing, that might have been a cue to bring a different book.

In his words:

Pretty mundane, but at the very last “no dancing” would indicate a different repertoire, and therefore would probably be a clue to bring different music.

 I did occasionally play with folks I didn’t play with regularly, and brought a cardboard fold-away music stand (looked like one of those big band stands when assembled) from which I read.  Other times it was probably more a security blanket, but yeh, I brought it.

Funny how much you keep in your head at that age.  Nowadays when I write a gig on the calendar I write the time, who’s on the gig, the place, the dress, sometimes the pay (that’s usually in a contract I have in my filing system).  Can’t believe how cavalier I was about gigs then!

(Apparently, around this time, a Midwestern office of the FBI noted that “practically every professional musician in the country owns a copy of one of these fake music books.” The cultural history of the fake book would be a fascinating blog post … but, alas, this ain’t the one.)

So, who knows what the story was?

Perhaps there is some person in Stamford who recalls going to hear music but not being able to dance to it. Perhaps they were even the Dance Police, responsible for dragging rump-shakers off the floor and administering suitable punishment.

Like Footloose, it’s a long-ago memory now.

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