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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

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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It’s been a pleasure over the past few years to acquaint total strangers in cyberspace with people who were dear to me.

It’s also been interesting, from time to time, to acquaint myself with people in my family I never really got to know — as in this entry from a few years ago, and this one and this one as well.

We’ll do that again this week, as we step back in time 46 years to the funeral of a relative I wish I could have met.

March 13, 1969.

March 13, 1969.

Bob Kidd would have been my great-uncle, had we lived at the same time; but he could have been my grandfather.

Back in the ’30s in Springfield, Mass., Bob dated a young lady named Corine Wambolt. Then he decided that Corine’s more outgoing older sister Eleanor was more his type, and transferred his affections.

Corine went on to marry a draftsman named Bill Blumenau — the guy who kept the calendars — and, years later, became my grandmother. Bob Kidd and Eleanor also got married, had two sons, and settled in the Springfield area.

Bob and Eleanor on their wedding day, November 1940.

Bob and Eleanor on their wedding day, November 1940.

My dad’s description of his uncle:

Bob Kidd was a fun-loving, athletic, bright, truly funny man. Had kind of a New England nasal way of speaking. Self-made man. Worked for Holyoke Wire & Cable (I believe). High school graduate; was at one point a time-and-motion study person (forerunner of an industrial engineer), and ended up as a vice-president.

(Ancestry.com tells me that Bob’s Scottish-born father, Charles MacEwan Kidd, entered the U.S. from Canada in March 1911 through Rochester, New York — a city that would pop up again in Blumenau family affairs 55 years later. Coincidental, but interesting.)

The Blumenau and Kidd families spent time together fairly regularly when my dad and aunt were growing up. My dad still holds fond memories of those days, and of his funny, fun-loving uncle:

He and Eleanor were a great match; two of a kind. It was always fun to get together with them and our cousins.  Nice, decent, grounded Methodist folks, just a heck of a lot livelier and more fun than the Blumenaus!
The only time my father had beer was with Sunday dinner and whenever we got together with the Kidds.
Bob Kidd hula-hooping, 1958, at 1107 Hope Street.

Bob Kidd hula-hooping, 1958, at 1107 Hope Street. Can’t say whether beer was involved.

Nice, nice people. (This is my dad talking, again.)
Eleanor and Bob Kidd at my parents' wedding, July 1967.

Eleanor and Bob Kidd at my parents’ wedding, July 1967. Jeez, don’t they look happy?

Unfortunately, by my dad’s telling, the stresses of a vice-president’s job wore hard on Bob; my dad describes him as “more high-strung than he used to be” in his last years. Like most men of his age and time, he also smoked.

Both of these things might have contributed to his early death. On March 10, 1969, Bob Kidd died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 54.

My grandpa took it hard. My dad, who still remembers the phone call, has a few regrets regarding his passing as well:

I will forever feel guilty for not making that funeral; I had a bad cold and my ’66 Mustang was acting up with carburetor problems and I apparently had my priorities in the wrong place.  Uncle Bob was a great guy!

Clearly, from his calendar entry, my grandfather, grandma and aunt (who was in college in New Haven at the time) attended the service. He was not so grief-stricken that he couldn’t keep track of his mileage; but I don’t take that as a sign that the day was not meaningful to him.

My great-aunt Eleanor is still alive at 102, and has had the pleasure of meeting grandchildren and, I think, great-grandchildren as well.

I am sure she still feels her loss of 46 years ago. But, if it is any consolation, her husband is fondly remembered by those who met him.

And some who didn’t.

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Time to get in the car. Grab a seat by the window, and settle in. This is going to be a long, long blog post.

The good news? You don’t have to buckle up if you want. This is 1975, you see.

Specifically, it’s Friday, May 23, 1975. My grandparents and great-grandma are about to spend (almost) 10 hours (mostly) in a car, driving from the southwestern edge of Connecticut to (almost) the shores of Lake Ontario.

And we’re all going to ride with them, as I re-create the sights and sounds of an all-day interstate car trip with the Blumenau family elders as faithfully as I can.

Don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to pee.

May 23, 1975.

May 23, 1975. Yanks and Mets win.

Your vehicle for the trip will be a 1969 Ford Fairlane 500, somewhere between cream and pale green in color. It was extensively described in this earlier post, if you want to go have a look at it. It’s reliable and well-kept, though the vinyl upholstery might get a little squirmworthy after seven or eight hours on a sunny day. There is, of course, no air conditioning.

(My grandpa — he’ll do all the driving — has one of those plastic seat inserts that cab drivers use to get just the tiniest bit of airspace between one’s arse and the vinyl. Being The Man has its perks.)

Your fellow passengers will be my grandmother, Corine, in the front seat and my great-grandma, Pauline (known in the family as Grossee, short for the German Grossmutter) in the back. There’s plenty of room; you can stretch your legs.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step on the gas pedal.

And this journey starts on the back roads — specifically, on Long Ridge Road (a.k.a. Connecticut Route 104), which my grandfather takes across the Rippowam and Mianus rivers and over the state line, roughly 13 miles to the little town of Bedford, New York.

Once in wealthy Westchester County, the roads gradually start to get bigger. State Route 172 westbound from Bedford feeds into Route 684 northbound, which connects in turn to Interstate 84.

I-84 wends westbound through the quiet southern chunk of New York state between Westchester County and Woodstock, occasionally watched over by wary staties in ungainly yellow-and-blue Dodge Monacos. The Fairlane does nothing to attract their attention, and they take no notice of it.

Doing a responsible 60 mph or so, the Fairlane crosses the north-south Taconic Parkway in the company of Ramblers and Mercurys, then sits in a bottleneck until it finally gets a chance to  soar over the Hudson River on the 12-year-old but already overcrowded Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

Around this time, you start to notice that the ride lacks for interpersonal stimulation.

My grandfather is largely content to focus on his duties as driver. My great-grandma — while ordinarily affable — clams up during car trips, reluctant to do anything that might distract the driver. And my grandmother’s bursts of chattiness are hindered by her deafness and the engine noise, which conspire to turn any conversation into an adventure.

For a time, the putative conversation turns to the Blumenaus’ beloved grandchildren — one four-and-a-half, the other not yet two — who are waiting for them in western New York. The kids are still at ages when life consists of one big discovery after another, and the members of the traveling party look forward to hearing about the latest.

At the otherwise unremarkable downstate town of Middletown, N.Y., my grandpa turns onto New York State Route 17.

Route 17 carries the big cream-colored car north through Catskills towns like Wurtsboro, Monticello and Liberty. Even at this late date, it is possible to see both billboards for Borscht Belt resorts and the fading resorts themselves from the highway. Billboards for Monticello Raceway are also frequent, some of which feature neon horses waiting for nightfall to come out and trot.

Route 17 flirts with the Pennsylvania state line in the towns of Hancock and Deposit, where my father was stranded for a night in April 1972 by an unseasonally heavy storm en route to Stamford to play organ at my Uncle T.J.’s wedding. No doubt that story comes up among the travelers.

Route 17 meets Route 81 North near the city of Binghamton, and my grandpa turns onto still another major interstate. Traffic is again heavy in spots: It’s Memorial Day weekend, and even in the early afternoon, people are trying to get somewhere else.

By this time, you and your fellow occupants of the Fairlane are hungry and need a break. Once back on a big highway, you start looking for an opportunity to get off the road. (Being frugal Yankees, my grandparents and great-grandmother have packed their own lunches, so the enticements of McDonald’s hold no appeal to them.)

Unfortunately, the nearest rest stop on northbound I-81 is several miles behind you, just north of the New York-Pennsylvania line. You have to wait 30-odd miles until the town of Homer, near the colleges-and-farms burg of Cortland, for a proper rest area.

Once there, you hit the bathroom, claim a shady picnic table and settle down to your delayed repast — ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, apples, and a thermos full of lemonade. The family chats and eats without hurry, oblivious to the cars and trucks grinding past to their own destinations. You make a note to pack some sriracha for the return trip, to lend your sammich something resembling flavor.

At some length, everyone bundles themselves back into the waiting Fairlane. The windows have been closed, and the air has become hot and thick inside, and scented with vinyl. Fighting the urge to drowse, the family sets off again.

But only for a short time. This is 1975, after all, and you’re riding in an American car with at least a V6 engine in stop-start traffic. So my grandfather grabs the first opportunity to pull off the highway again and refill his tank at some small-town gas station, perhaps in a town like Homer, Tully or Preble. He pays cash.

The Fairlane creeps north gradually toward Syracuse. It is roughly 5:15 p.m. by the time you reach the Salt City, and Memorial Day traffic combines with the regular Friday-afternoon drive-time exodus to choke the roads.

The worst of it is leaving the city — not coming into it, as the Fairlane is — but as my grandpa hangs his final left turn onto the New York State Thruway westbound, the pace of traffic slows a bit.

From Syracuse it is a straight shot westbound to Rochester, the last real leg of the trip, roughly an hour-and-a-half in regular traffic. My grandfather, his right foot perhaps getting heavier, manages to make it in more or less that time. (Perhaps there is another bathroom break, quicker this time, somewhere along the Thruway.)

At 7 p.m. or so, as the skies hint at their eventual darkening, you get off at Thruway Exit 45, Route 490, Rochester.

And about 15 minutes later, my grandpa’s Fairlane  is in the driveway of his son’s suburban home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield. A late dinner and family comforts await. The trip is over.

Get out. Stretch your legs. Relax and enjoy.

In three days or so, you’ll be doing it again, the other way.

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